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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Reading Group meeting 8/7/06

On this day....

'...the King.....sitting with Queen Arwen by the fountain, ...she sang a song of Valinor, while the Tree grew and blossomed.'

The Return of the King, Many Partings

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Blogger Rymenhild said...

8.7.06
First, my apologies for being late putting up this blog but I’m still trying to catch up after being away during last week at the Leeds International Medieval Congress where the TS was hosting the session ‘The Mirror Crack’d: Fear and Horror in Tolkien’s Major Works’. It was a good session and very well attended, and I had to be there as I was the organiser. It was a surprise to find that I was not the only member of the Southfarthing attending as Ian was there too, and Christine Ahmed, the ‘virtual’ member of the Lahore Tolkien Reading group was also there. So both the Southfarthing and Lahore were represented. I will get a report on the session written up for the next Amon Hen.
Well, back to the business in hand – the last Southfarthing meeting which was looking at ‘The Road to Isengard’. Laura quickly drew our attention to the profound change in narrative style between the previous chapter and the opening of ‘The Road’. The first words ‘So it was…’ not only change the tone and pace after the wonder and horror of the previous chapter but also recall the storytelling style of the sagas with their formulaic mode.
It was observed that the chaos of the battle ends as the remaining company, and members of Theoden’s household, are reunited, or at least accounted for (poor Hama). We also noted that this chapter does not really concern itself with Aragorn. He has performed his role as war leader and hero but throughout ‘The Road to Isengard’ his presence is played down. We spent a long time debating why he isn’t addressed at all by Merry when he arrives with Theoden, Gandalf, and the rest of their party at Isengard, and we came up with some inventive but inconclusive suggestions, including: ‘maybe Tolkien forgot he was there’. This was not felt to be entirely convincing!
We all remarked on Gimli’s rhapsodic description of the Caves and thought it added significantly to our greater appreciation of dwarf sensibility and aesthetic perception. It was through this developing insight into the particular aesthetic feelings characteristic of dwarves that we made sense of Gimli and Legolas’s friendship. It isn’t just because they are thrown together on a dangerous quest, nor the fascination of opposed cultures.
We went on to consider the ‘friendship’ mentioned between orcs and wolves. A grim joke in a grim location!
Gandalf’s poem interested Pat and we all took another look at what seems like a light-hearted piece of verse. It is playful, and offers a sense of relief after the nail-biting and heroic conclusion to the Battle of the Hornburg, even if it does seem a bit whimsical on Gandalf’s part to tease the King. However, among the suggestions made regarding Gandalf’s whimsy, it was noted that information is power and the wizard likes to control how much information he shares with everyone at all times. This would make a good topic for further discussion! Diane also related his allusive poem back to the prophecies of the sybils and oracles of ancient legend who only ever spoke in riddles. This riddle of Gandalf’s was then compared to the riddles posed by Gollum upon which Bilbo’s life depended. We didn’t get round to discussing the prevalence of riddles in Old English, which Tolkien certainly knew, and most of these seem to be playful for the sake of being playful (including those that create really bawdy double entendres).
Treebeard’s take-over of Isengard, threw up some playful ideas of our own. We considered briefly Treebeard’s management skills, and the creation of Isengard as a ‘branch office’. All the feasting and lazing and smoking prompted the idea of it being ‘under new management’ like a hotel. This attention to humorous ideas led us on to consider Legolas’s own sense of humour. It pops up twice in the chapter and counterbalances the ‘otherworldly’ or detached view we get of Elves. We find out that he enjoys a drop of wine – well, growing up in Menegroth he would, if Bilbo’s experiences are anything to go by.
Mark drew attention to the limiting of choice in the whole story by referring us to Legolas’s fascination with the eyes of the Ents and Huorns. He wants to find out more but is prevented by Gandalf, who again displays a kind of prophetic knowledge that he does not explain when he tells Legolas ‘Now is not your time’.
We also touched on the vexed question of Tolkien’s construction of evil and the wider question of a need for evil. We did not go far along this Manichean and Zoroastrian (I think) line of discussion as none of us are very well versed in it. But Tom Shippey has a small section on Tolkien’s approach to the Manichean separation and autonomy of good and evil. This may be a topic we shall have to come back to.
I think, although I forgot to make a proper note, that we were intending to continue with the next chapter but also have something to say about our favourite topic or theme in LotR. However, I could be misreading my notes, so if anyone knows exactly what we agreed, please email me!

11:58 AM  

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