Send your email address today and be part of this Blog

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Reading Group meeting 28/10/06

On this day....

'So it the last days of October the five travellers rode up the South-gate of Bree.'

Homeward Bound, The Return of the King


Blogger Rymenhild said...

So, Winterfilth is almost over and Blotmath is upon us, or it’s almost Samhain. It is certainly All Hallows’ Eve and as soon as the sun goes down I shall be dusting the cobwebs onto my broomstick ready to give any lingering wraiths a run for their money! Nimbus 2000? Child’s play!

In the meantime, we had a really intense meeting last Saturday. Everyone had lots to say, as always, but the chapter provoked a good deal of serious debate and comment. It was described as a chapter of exposition rather than action and Mike remarked that as a chapter it had left him rather puzzled.
The title was explored for the fullest range of its significance and we realised that it did not only refer to the waterfall, but to the content of the chapter itself, which includes substantial amounts of information about Numenor and the founding of Gondor. So what we have is a ‘window’ onto the history of the Men of the West. This also means that we are given a rare glimpse into the material of The Silmarillion. We had a passing one in the last chapter, when Damrod sees the charging mumak and cries ‘May the Valar turn him aside!’ This is also a rare insight into the belief system of the descendants of Numenor and their reverence for the Valar, whose significance is only fully explained in The Silmarillion. The sense of historical depth that Tolkien creates by such fleeting references has long been held to be part of the ‘enchantment’ of LotR. Mike remarked on another Roman similarity, in keeping with those he had picked up last time. He suggested the Fall of Numenor paralleled the fall of the Roman Empire.
We naturally spent a long time discussing Faramir, Frodo, and Sam. We noted Faramir’s 3-part interrogation of Frodo, and how their dialogues displayed Faramir’s character in a more effective way than mere narratorial declarations. We noted his caution about what he says, at least to start with, but then Frodo is equally cagey about saying too much. Both characters show the precariousness of the situation through their reserve, and for the reader, Faramir’s questions and Frodo’s finely judged answers create tension.
Faramir, we all seemed to agree, comes across as the Ideal hero, gracious, courteous, and wise. And we noted with interest his use of a pronounced poetic register in some speeches. It was proposed that this may have signalled a Numenorean characteristic, although there could be other reasons for its use, such as defining Faramir’s learned status, for he comes across as something like a Renaissance man, deeply literate, educated in more than just the arts of war.
The moment when Faramir stands up, looming over Frodo when Sam has put his foot in it, was drawn to our attention, and the connection to those moments when Gandalf draws himself up to his full height, as when he looms over Bilbo. Given Sam’s comment that Faramir reminds him of Gandalf at times, this may not be surprising, even though the act serves primarily to crank up our anxiety about Faramir’s actual ‘quality’. This concept of ‘quality’ demanded some consideration, and drew our attention to Sam.
The chapter seems to be largely a series of dialogues between Faramir and Frodo, but it has some important interventions by Sam. He is bold in defence of Frodo, and his confrontation with Faramir adds a momentary touch of light relief as he treats the Gondorian lord like a scrumping hobbit-child. But a similarity between Sam and Faramir was drawn to our attention. Both live in the shadow of dominant fathers who ‘define’ their sons’ senses of selfhood. We thought Sam’s Gaffer was critical but in the ultimately kindly way of a father who loves his son but wouldn’t be caught letting it show. We had nothing so generous to say about Denethor who seems unable to understand the son who is capable of more than just being a great warrior. I wondered if Boromir represented ‘a man for the times’, while Faramir was a man for all times, including peace, and we considered to what extent the chapter and its characterisations and opinions represented Tolkien’s own. The evidence is clear enough that he disliked warrior heroes for whom fighting was its own reward, but Faramir seems to offer a more balanced view of a man who can and will fight valiantly for what he believes in, but without enjoying the fight.
This brought us on to consider other examples of the ‘disregarded son’ story motif. Mike pointed out the biblical example of Jacob and Esau, and I chipped in with Edgar and Edmund in King Lear, not that I’m comparing Boromir to the Vice-like Edmund, but Edgar is seriously disregarded by their father. Diane added the younger son in the story of the Golden Goose, and we all thought we could be looking at a folk-motif. Mike was especially interested in the relationship between the two brothers, as was Tim. We discussed the fact that the brothers are faced with parallel choices, but from the point of view of different motivations, and Faramir wants information before taking action. It is of some interest that in Faramir’s eyes, Boromir wants glory. We know this is a fair assessment of Boromir, but it is also part of what seems to be Faramir’s clear-sighted understanding of his brother, who he nevertheless loves as a brother.
We moved on to discuss the other wars that Gondor’s earlier warriors had fought, and these confront readers with a few problems, as a certain degree of colonialism raised its head. We discover that Faramir perceives a fine distinction between the attitude of Gondor and that of Rohan towards martial prowess. Then we considered the concept of the ‘good steward’. Laura noted with some satisfaction that this was not like the Frankish mayors of the palace who usurped kingship from the Merovingians, and I was pleased to be able to draw attention to the connection with the good steward in Sir Orfeo, which Tolkien edited. We allowed that Denethor’s determination to maintain the stewardship and not claim kingship was a redeeming feature, and we noted the different attitudes of Faramir, who agreed with his father, and Boromir who clearly desired kingship.
The relationship between the brothers was explored a little further in terms of possible sibling rivalry as Faramir’s desire to seek Rivendell is ignored in favour of Boromir’s insistence. It is noticeable that Faramir allows that his ‘bossy’ older brother (Tolkien’s term) is stronger and hardier, and as Diane pointed out sardonically, the riddle dream come twice to Faramir, so naturally Boromir must go! This was almost our only moment of light relief in the afternoon, which is unusual for the group. We ended with a short chat about Faramir’s reference to his ‘beloved’ brother. I wondered if this was a true reflection of their relationship, or an emotional response to grief and loss, but it was suggested that it might refer to a Socratic sense – as beloved of the gods. This is an interesting thought which we didn’t have time to follow up as it was almost time to go and Mark fortunately reminded me that we hadn’t discussed our Yule arrangements. With these resolved we then agreed to move logically on to the next chapter ‘The Forbidden Pool’ for our next meeting. Ah, nice fissh!

2:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home