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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Reading Group meeting 28/1/06

On this day....

"They remained some days in Lothlorien, so far as they could tell or remember....The air was cool and soft, as if it were early spring, yet they felt about them the deep and thoughtful quiet of winter."

The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mirror of Galadriel


Blogger Rymenhild said...

It was more than usually great to see everyone this week. It is the first time we have all been together as far as I can remember. Julie and Claire were able to join us again, and it was especially nice to welcome Anne and Mark to their first meeting. We were 11 in all and that made for a rich and varied meeting.
Our topic was the last chapter in The Fellowship – The Breaking of the Fellowship. We covered some difficult matters, such as Frodo’s enhanced ability to see on the seat on Amon Hen, and got into the science and technology of Middle-earth again. We understood that the Seat of Seeing and the Ring together enhanced Frodo’s ability to see distant things but the question arose as to whether what he saw was actually taking place at that same moment, or whether he was seeing ‘things that are, and things that yet may be’. There is often a certain prescience in the story, things are constantly foreshadowed. Frodo’s seeing, and the role of the Ring in this, led us on to the moment when Sauron perceives him, and this in turn led us to debate the power of the Elven rings as another influence instructs Frodo to ‘take of the Ring’. We decided this must be Gandalf as the ‘voice’ say ‘Fool, take it off’, and Gandalf is in the habit of calling people, especially Pippin, ‘Fool’. We debated the power of Galadriel’s ring and it was felt that Nenya was the protection of Lothlorien. I had never considered this, having always thought that Galadriel had ‘inherited’ or possessed Melian’s protective powers. This is the great benefit of belonging to a Reading Group.
The complexity of Tolkien’s work and the many ways it may be approached became a matter for discussion and it was a shame to have to explain to our new members that research into his work is still in its infancy when compared to that done of other writers of similar complexity and cultural significance. There were mutterings of disbelief at the sorry state of Tolkien studies in UK. It was good, but also painful, to read in the latest Amon Hen that a group of Tolkien enthusiasts in Rome have established an association for the further study of Tolkien’s work, and it is devoted to academic research. This is a great idea, but why don’t we have anything like it here?
The overall importance of the chapter was also noted and the scale of ‘breaking’ received some attention. Of course we know everyone goes off in different groupings in different directions, but it was pointed out that right from the start of the chapter the groups fragment, most significantly, Frodo goes off without Sam, and this seemed significant, as though he became more vulnerable without Sam’s presence. But indeed, the individuals in the fellowship form and break groups throughout the chapter. The sense that everything is in flux is obvious, but the need to form the right groups, those most necessary to the Quest overall, does not emerge until the end. And there is no real sense of reasoned and rational decision-making. Aragorn is indecisive and pre-occupied with his own sense of inadequacy – not a good state for a future king, and it is Sam who drives the final fragmentation as he races off in search of Frodo.
We naturally discussed Boromir and his part in this chapter, and realised that in his chat with Frodo he says more than usual. We debated the way the Ring had got hold of his mind and we also thought he showed signs of a classic ‘fatal flaw’. We didn’t get into the link between hubris and tragedy, although his ending was regarded as tragic. He was identified as proud, but this was taken to be more patriotic than just personal vice. I raised the possibility that we might be seeing a ‘Fortunate Fall’ akin to the Fall of Man in Eden to the extent that without Boromir’s outburst, a bad thing in itself, Frodo may not have steeled himself to get away, and there would have been no diversion created by Merry and Pippin’s capture to draw away the attention of the Eye.
Tim drew our attention to a most interesting aspect of the chapter when he noted that the last paragraph has a particularly poetic rhythm to it. Pat attempted a quick bit of scansion and thought it broke down into tetrameters. This poetic aspect of Tolkien’s prose is readily identifiable in The Old Forest, in some of the Rohan sequences, and in the Gondorian material, but we shall have to keep our ears open for more of it in unexpected places.
I asked about the wider significance of the Cracks of Doom. Some of us already knew the reference echoes Macbeth’s question ‘Shall the line stretch out to the Crack of Doom?’ and this ‘crack’ is the sounding of the last trumpet on Judgement Day. We noted that Old English ‘dom’ meant any legal judgement and became ‘doom’ in later English. It seems that Tolkien did with this what he often did with Shakespearean ideas he borrowed, and developed it. The reiteration of ‘doom’ in other parts of the LotR story was noted, particularly in Moria, but we didn’t get round to developing the connection with the demonic balrog. Tolkien clearly didn’t want to do anything as obvious as including a great red dragon (Book of Revelations Ch. 12.), but there is more than just Tolkien’s linguistic playfulness to be considered here.
The question arose again of how far it is legitimate to impose our own interpretations onto Tolkien’s work regardless of his stated ideas as far as they can be known from biographical material, letters, interviews and similar sources. Some of us took the ‘Death of the Author’ as defined by the French critic Roland Barthes as our justification for reading what we can see in the text without being constrained by authorial intention, where this is known. Not everyone in the group is familiar with this concept, which greatly benefits the breadth of our discussions.
Overall, it was a thought-provoking afternoon, diverse in scope, but by no means unreservedly serious in tone.
Next time our topic is going to be SWORDS – now there’s a meaty topic. Julie has already started looking around and found information on the web. I’m sure everyone will have their own favourite legendary sword story, sword name, or other insight to contribute, so it should be a busy afternoon. Now where’s my Beowulf!

11:45 AM  

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