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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Reading Group meeting 25/3/06

On this day....

'There was a roar and a great confusion of noise. Fires leaped up and licked the roof.....the Mountain shook....Sam ran to Frodo and picked him up and carried him out to the door.'

'A brief vision he had of swirling cloud, and in the midst of it towers and battlements, tall as hills, founded upon a mighty mountain throne above immeasurable pits; great courts and dungeons, eyeless prisons sheer as cliffs, gaping gates of steel and adamant: and then all passed. Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted....'

The Return of the King, Mount Doom

The 25th of March is the Tolkien society's 'Reading day'.


Blogger Rymenhild said...

25.3.06 Tolkien READING DAY
It was a nice coincidence that the Southfarthing had a meeting on Reading Day itself and we had a especially rich and diverse discussion because we had chosen to revisit and talk about our favourite passages from The Fellowship, and as far as we had gone into The Two Towers. We managed to stick mostly to this plan, with only a few digressions into later parts of the story. The choice had been made in order to take account of the fact that we have several members who either have not read all LotR yet, or have not read it for a long time and are renewing their acquaintance.
Before we actually launched into our chosen topic, Pat passed on her research into the Sting/sting query that had arisen at an earlier meeting. We all knew that Stingan came from the Old English ‘to stab’, and thus supplies the perfect name for Frodo and Bilbo’s sword. But the query had arisen around the biblical/poetic echo some of us remembered ‘death where is they victory / death where is they sting’. Although we remembered a quote something like this, none of us knew the exact derivation, and it seemed significant in the context of everything that happens to Frodo.
Pat’s research showed up three versions. The first is the original reference from the Bible – 1 Corinthians 15: 55-56 ‘O death, where is thy victory? / O death, where is thy sting?’ To this I could add that the lines are included in the Lesson in the Order for the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer, but here they become ‘O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?’ (Cranmer of course). Pat’s findings went further as she had tracked down the use of this funeral version in a poem by Alexander Pope (1688-1744). ‘Ode: The Dying Christian to his Soul’ ends ‘O grave! Where is thy victory? /O death! Where is thy sting’. Something like 2 centuries later Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932), wrote a poem which ends similarly ‘O Death, where is thy sting / Thy victory, O grave.’ With thanks to Pat for clearing up our query (and opening up a new set of questions about Tolkien’s use of Pauline analogues and sources), we moved on.
Everyone seemed to have had the same problem with our chosen topic – how can you isolate just 1 passage and say definitively that it is your favourite part. There are just too many wonderful passages to choose from, and too many distinctions that should be made – favourite quiet bit, favourite battle scene, favourite landscape, the list is remarkably long and complex. So we plumped for different reasons, for a wide range of ‘favourite passages’.
Given the difficulty everyone was having, I offered my own preference first, which is very simple – it is that lovely moment at the start of The Fellowship when Sam leaves the pub and walks home thoughtfully through the twilight. It is very short, but whenever I just happen to think of LotR, it’s almost always that little bit that comes to mind.
This opened up the discussion and lots of other fascinating favourite passages were declared. Diane chose Frodo and Sam’s first encounter with the elves in the Woody End, and especially the glow that fell around the elves’ feet, was linked to the feeling of walking fearlessly in the dark. The unmasking of the hobbits’ conspiracy was nominated for the use of a characteristic kind of hobbit humour. Pat chose some of the descriptive passages including Gimli’s account to Legolas of the Glittering Caves. This was perceived to be extraordinarily lyrical and poetic for the sturdy no-nonsense dwarf, but it was also regarded as apt that a dwarf should wax lyrical about stone and crystal. In a slight digression, Pat also noted the use of bright colours in the description of the exterior parts of Edoras in contrast to the gloom in the throne-room, and contrasting with the cold stone of Denethor’s Hall. We have discussed Tolkien’s use of monochromatic colour schemes in his landscapes, and the Edoras description shows a similarly artistic use of a limited palette.
As his favourite passage, Tim nominated the first view of Strider in The Prancing Pony and Mark nominated the pathos that surrounds Gollum. We discussed the view that he is an enigmatic character, but also addictive/obsessive. Then followed as series of nominations that related Middle-earth landscape to familiar views here in the south. The light in Lothlorien was compared to the play of sunlight among the trees in the New Forest*. The Greenway too has its echoes in The New Forest and a location in Dorset known as Moor’s Country Park, although the greenways there are disused railway lines returned to nature. There’s also a Roman Road close to where Julie lives which is exactly like the Greenway, with the old stones grass-grown but still there. This introduced the association of ruins or ruinous locations with nostalgia and Julie compared her experience of a visit to Glastonbury tor and abbey ruins with the remarks of Legolas about Hollin. She also passed on to us her latest find, which is a St. Drogo – a resonant name, of course, except that he is apparently the patron saint of unattractive people! Laura wondered if people went on pilgrimage to his shrine and Ian observed that his statues probably had paper bags over their heads.
After much nagging, Ian eventually gave in and directed our attention to a significant episode, although still reluctant to declare anything an actual favourite, this being an impossible choice to make in reality. Nevertheless, the passage he chose – Boromir’s encounter with Frodo, apart from all its other large-scale importance, showed up again Tolkien’s impressively precise use of language as he reveals the conflicting aspects of Boromir’s characters. Boromir is pacing about talking to himself more than Frodo, perhaps, and about the Ring, saying ‘It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory.’ He goes on to suggest himself as a potential ‘great leader’ The term ‘fearless’ is apt as a description of Boromir as we know him from his actions in the fights already encountered, it is a term of praise, but ‘ruthless’ is not. Although the adjectives are used impersonally as nouns ‘the fearless, the ruthless’, Boromir’s following remarks show that he is actually thinking about himself. Placing these adjectives in opposition but linking them by their ‘less’ endings reveals the fracture that is taking place in Boromir’s psychological state.
Our next meeting is on 8th April and because some of our members will be away we have decided to take a topic rather than a chapter. The topic will be HAPPINESS AND SADNESS. The meeting after next will return to the chapter ‘The Uruk Hai’. Happy reading!

*A word of explanation for anyone who doesn’t know the geography of central southern England where the members in the Southfarthing live. The New Forest is not new at all but a very ancient area of woodland a few miles west of Southampton, and a few more miles south and west of Winchester, the old capital city of England. It extends roughly between Southampton (in Hampshire) and Bournemouth (in Dorset), where Tolkien spent part of his retirement.
The New Forest was set aside after the Norman Conquest as a royal hunting preserve, but was in ancient times part of the territory of the Ytene tribe. It is dotted with tumuli and ancient earthworks, and the Anglo-Saxons built one of their prestigious minsters at Braemer (pronounced ‘Bremmer’) on its north-western fringe. It is a huge area of mixed woodlands and moorlands that stretches down almost to the coast. It is dotted with villages and small towns such as Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst. It is renowned for its free-roaming ponies, and deer can sometimes be spotted among the trees and grazing watchfully on the open lawns between the trees. Rare birds and plants live there but it is also infamous for the summer traffic jams that clog the major roads that have been carved through it to allow access to the West Country as well as giving access to many areas where people can walk, admire the scenery, and pick blackberries in autumn. The major roads are fenced off, but most of the forest has open access and underpasses under the busiest roads have been made to allow the ponies, deer, badgers, and walkers to move about with some degree of safety, and its is perfectly possible to find places that look as though the Nine Walkers might emerge through the trees at any moment. There are places like the Woody End and the Marish, and even a pub called The Green Dragon in one of the little villages.

12:00 PM  

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