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Friday, July 21, 2006

Reading Group meeting 22/7/06

On this day....

'...and they came to the Grey Wood under Amon Din;and there they heard a sound as of drums beating in the hills....'

The Return of the King, Many Partings


Blogger Rymenhild said...

There was a definite touch of Helm’s Deep about the start of this meeting as the dark clouds gathered above the stone edifice and thunder began to roll overhead. Laura, Diane, and I looked out as the rain began to pour down drenching the trees and grass. Fortunately there were very few orcs about and the trees were all very peaceful horse chestnuts just holding out their fingers to catch the rain. Sadly, Tim came in drenched, but he dried out quite quickly while poor Mark did not. In spite of the downpour the meeting was well attended: Claire had travelled with the speed of Gandalf on Shadowfax down from Winchester to get to the meeting!
We noted that ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ is a kind of ‘catching up’ chapter in which a regrouping takes place, metaphorically and physically as separated members of the fellowship meet again. Events are recapitulated for the benefit of those characters who have been absent from earlier parts of the action, and events not wholly explained to the readers have their significance and circumstances developed and explained. So we learn more about the process by which the Huorns contribute to the aftermath of the battle of Helm’s Deep; what Gandalf had been doing when he rode away; how Treebeard and his forces have dealt with Saruman; and other events that have served as a kind of ‘back story’. We were also pleased to note that, as Pippin observed ‘Strider the Ranger has come back’.
We discussed the altered tone of the narrative in the chapter, which is often more ‘homely’, and down-to-earth, and we concluded without much debate that this is because Merry and Pippin are central characters again. Pippin offers to make everyone some toast because the bread is stale, Legolas is making small elvish jokes again, and Aragorn has time to relax and stretch out his long legs, lean back, and smoke a pipe. As in the previous chapter, he doesn’t have much to do or say, but what there is reminds us of the Man as distinct from the hero or warrior.
The smoking caused us briefly to wonder if LotR would ever be subjected to the bowdlerising process demanded by the fashion for being PC. We considered the nature of pipeweed and hoped it was naturally low-tar, but, of course, although it is a species of nicotiana, it may also be a more herbal and less harmful variety. We noted that Shire pipeweed seems to have ‘vintages’ like wines, but we also observed that finding pipeweed at Isengard was a bad sign because it suggested treason in the Shire, and one possible channel of information-gathering.
This brought us on to Saruman’s intelligence gathering and network of agents, an essential for someone who doesn’t seem to converse widely, and whose palantir doesn’t seem to see very deeply or widely. I suggested it was ‘locked into’ Sauron’s as radar can lock on to a target. Among Saruman’s agents, the squint-eyed Southerner encountered in Bree is plainly acknowledged, and in Rohan, Grima is his most effective agent. We find out more about Grima, but Pat asked if his father Galmod was mentioned in The Hobbit, as so many characters move into LotR from that book. We assured her that Galmod was there simply as the ‘patronymic’ appropriate to the manner of naming among the Rohirrim. However, some of us also mentioned that in OE ‘galmod’ means ‘licentious’ or ‘lecherous’, and this subtly defines Grima’s briefly noted lust for Eowyn.
Knowledge seemed to be the theme for our discussion of the chapter, so it could be taken as a definition of it – a chapter about who knows what, and how, and how is that knowledge used. We considered why it was that Aragorn and Legolas don’t seem to know anything about the ents and their huorns. Some of us found it strange that Aragorn had not visited Fangorn Forest during his many years of wandering and familiarising himself with the societies and regions that would one day make up his kingdom, but Ian pointed out that he only went where he needed to go – to centres of power and regions associated with the defining moments in his ancestry. We wondered at an elf of the Sylvan folk knowing nothing about ents and being fascinated by their eyes, but, of course, from a narrative point of view, this only adds to the wonder that is communicated to the reader. Knowledge came to our attention again when the question arose of what Merry and Pippin knew about Boromir’s fate. We concluded that they had only known that he was badly wounded when they were snatched and that it was Gandalf, probably via Treebeard, who told them of Boromir’s death.
The significance of the flooding of Isengard was raised, and its religious connotations were explored. Firstly, the Flood in Genesis was recalled – a washing away of the sinful element, but the baptismal significance was also mentioned -–a cleansing and purification that renews and integrates. This seems especially relevant as Saruman had set out to isolate himself amid his power base and thus excluded himself from all the societies and social structures that were a force for good. While Isengard itself could be cleansed and restored to its former position as a symbol of Numenorean skill, Saruman could only be excluded from it. The water could not purify him.
The power of the ents to purify and cleanse was defined as the power of nature over wizardry and we noted with some ecologically biased satisfaction the way the trees and the water took back the region that had been industrialised.
I commented on Aragorn’s care in returning Pippin and Merry’s swords and his reverential comment on the preciousness of the elven leaf brooch. As Diane (I think) remarked, it seems uncomfortably significant that he calls it a ‘very precious thing’. Perhaps, on further reflection, this is an instance that might be cited in the argument concerning the Tolkien ‘heresy’ – the idea that Tolkien believed words and their meanings were not mere signs with significations assigned by social convention or tradition, but were somehow essentially bound together. The fact that Aragorn can use the same word for the elven brooch that Gollum uses for his ‘precious’ rather argues against this view. But it is a large topic and we did not discuss it further.
Up till this moment we had been rather restrained, perhaps because we had been shifted to a different room and felt more constrained by the more formal space, but while reading Pippin’s comment on dropping the brooch: ‘it was a wrench to let it go’, Tim remarked that this must be the wrench to go with the van! Groans and laughs all round, swift jotting from Laura, and we await the fruits of her labours as a slim volume.
Pip’s remark and Aragorn’s following comment does make a serious point though. Gollum cannot let go of the evil Ring and follows it desperately. Pippin can relinquish the lovely elven brooch when he needs to do something to help their plight. The psychological difference between balance and obsession needs to have the potent effect of the Ring added in, but there is a point about intrinsic and extrinsic value to be explored here, but we didn’t. On a hot and thundery Saturday afternoon, especially after such a mind-melting week of high temperatures, the heavier philosophical questions fell by the wayside.
Hopefully our next meeting will have a cooler and more comfortable atmosphere. We shall be addressing ‘The Voice of Saruman’, and also looking into the ‘The Palatir’. We have decided to tackle two chapters as we have a two week gap between meetings, and these w two will bring us to the end of Book 3 in The Two Towers.
If you are able to join us on 12th August, please check with the librarians when you arrive to find out which room we have been given for our meeting. It is by no means certain at this time where we shall meet, but it is certain that we shall still meet in the library somewhere.

10:25 AM  

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