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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reading Group meeting 12/8/06

On this day....

'...'Now this is the funeral feast of Theoden the King; but I [King Eomer] will speak ere we go of tidings of joy, for he would not grudge that I should do so...'

The Return of of the King, Many Partings


Blogger Rymenhild said...

Apologies for the lateness of this report, but the hobbit hole was in need of refurbishment. After 3 weeks of upheaval no treasure has been found in spite of holes being knocked in walls (well the plaster fell off, actually!), and it all looks less like the Mines of Moria now and more like home again, so I’m back to the routine at last.
We were looking at ‘The Voice of Saruman’ and ‘The Palantir’ chapters in this session so that we finished the Rohan ‘Book’ and could begin the Frodo, Sam and Gollum Book. ‘The Voice of Saruman’ was described as a chapter in which we witness a rebalancing of power as Gandalf and Theoden confront Saruman. It was felt that we should pay proper attention to the altering relationship between the two wizards as Saruman had been Gandalf’s superior, and greatly respected for his wisdom. We noted the significance of the breaking of the staff and the Shakespearian, biblical, and other echoes, as well as the act as a sign of Gandalf’s elevation through his ‘resurrection’.
Saruman’s loss of power, sgnialled by the breaking of his staff, parallels Prospero’s renunciation of power when he breaks his staff in The Tempest. Of course, Prospero’s act is voluntary while Saruman’s is not, but in both cases the staff is a sign of magical or occult power and it’s destruction as sign of the loss of that power. Wotan’s staff in the Norse mythology is a pagan sign of the god’s power and control which is eventually broken in combat with the young hero Siegfried – a sign of the diminishment of the Old Order, at least in Wagner’s Ring Cycle (much favoured by Tolkien). In Christian mythology, as Diane pointed out, Moses carries a rod which turns into a snake when cast down before the priests of Pharaoh, another occult sign of power and supremacy, since the rods of the priest also transform into snakes when thrown down, but these snakes are eaten by that of Moses.
The power of Gandalf’s staff, we noted, leads Grima to instruct Hama to forbid it when Gandalf enters Meduseld, and while the staff does not itself transform, it is Grima who becomes snake-like in its presence.
We remarked on the battle of words (an instance of medieval style logomachia) that takes place in this chapter, and Saruman’s ability to switch from subtle, diplomatic, and colleaguely language to insult and vituperation defines his evil nature in terms that would have been familiar to a medieval reader! Gandalf’s language is restrained and more powerful in response, but we did note that he was not confident or complacent about his power to confront his old superior. This of course gives the reader an enhanced understanding of the hierarchical difference between them as well as emphasising the power of Saruman’s speech.
It was suggested that Saruman’s abusive naming of Meduseld as a ‘thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek’ might have Shakespearian echoes, but so far I have not found them. His personal insult to Theoden ‘Dotard!’ has come in handy among the members who drive as a new and unusual exclamation when cut up by other drivers!
The chapter introduced a number of words which we particularly enjoyed, as well as ‘Dotard’. ‘Darkling’ caused some comment, we all enjoyed the ornate ‘elsewhither’ (a word for a more leisurely age) and ‘forsooth’. Carrying on the archaic tone, Mark noted that in Dante’s Inferno political traitors and those who betray friends or guests are shut in the 9th circle of Hell gnawing one another, as Saruman and Worm are incarcerated together in Orthanc.
After this meeting Julie did great work discovering the etymology of the word ‘balcony’, while Ian sought for the secret of the explicitly 27 steps up to the door of Isengard.
We went on to the next chapter.

3:53 AM  

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