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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reading Group meeting 12/1/07


Blogger Rymenhild said...

This is going to be a short blog, not because our meeting was unproductive, but because the first one of 2007 took a rather different form. During our last meeting before Christmas, as e came to the end of The Two Towers, we had been talking about the distances the Fellowship had journeyed and the spatial and temporal relationship between those who remained on the west side of Anduin and Frodo, Sam and Gollum on the east. We had all welcomed Ian’s offer to do a ‘plot’ of the journeys up to the point at which we finished, as a way of seeing the distances and relationship between all the groups, and individuals.

In spite of suffering the after-effects of a very unpleasant post-Christmas virus, Ian turned up with a folder full of maps, a pot of coloured drawing pins, and a packet of those neat little pins that have coloured ‘flags’ on them. While the rest of us made tea and coffee and settled into the afternoon, he was busy pinning up the sequence of maps from the Shire to Minas Tirith and out to the mountain fringes Mordor on the convenient green baize wall panels in our meeting room. It took a lot of hard work, but it gave a most startling impression of the distances that some of the members of the Fellowship had to travel even before the main quest began. We could see Gandalf’s blue flag way down in Rohan while the five white flags of the hobbits were still at Crickhollow. Yes, Fatty Bolger was included, and his isolation, with the Black Riders closing in around him was suitably scary. We didn’t know exactly where Aragorn’s green flag should be at that time, but he joined the white ones in Bree and then we followed the journey of Gandalf east as Aragorn tried to get the injured Frodo to Rivendell, and we realised, as Ian pointed out, that the travelling time for Gandalf probably meant that he was trying to draw off the Back Riders from the Road. We understood better, well, I certainly did, the slow and difficult process of getting to Rivendell and then proceeding on the rest of the quest when it all had to be done on foot. We weren’t sure how far Gimli and his party had to come, but we assumed from the Lonely Mountain, and Legolas was coming in from Mirkwood – both substantial journeys, while Boromir was trekking up from Minas Tirith, and the process of their independent journeys revealed the question of how much was chance and how much was logical process about their arrival at Rivendell at or around the same time.

The long slog down to Caradhras and the backtracking from the Redhorn gate brought us to discuss whether it was Sauron’s arm that had ‘grown long’, or Saruman’s influence, as shown in the film. Either way, it suggested extensive and growing power, but we all recalled Gandalf’s words ‘His arm has grown long’ and this plainly refers to Sauron. We could see from the maps what Aragorn meant about being ‘so far south, and even the massive detour involved in going through the Gap of Rohan, and this without the threat of Saruman. Ian’s two dimensional plot definitely showed up relative distances, including the long dark of Moria! We all sighed a little when he moved the flags from Moria towards Rivendell and reminded us that Gandalf stayed there, but it was enlightening to SEE how long his battle with the Balrog and ensuing incapacity actually lasted. Of course we know it took days, but somehow it was more startling and poignant to know he was still alive and battling while the others trekked away from him into the shelter of Lorien.

There was some difficulty with positioning Gollum during this time, and I realised I had quite the wrong perception of what had been happening with him as Ian moved his red flag around from Mirkwood to Moria and down to the borders of Lorien. There followed the breaking of the Fellowship, which in two dimensions showed up more like a fragmentation. With two sides of the River to organise, Tim now took charge of the western shore, leaving Ian to work out the dates and locations and handle the eastern shore.
It was interesting to see how far north again the groups in Rohan were taken, while Frodo and Sam were going East. The sense of backtracking was much more pronounced that I had ever felt it from the narration. The groupings, divisions, and regroupings continued as Gandalf rejoined the Rohan group while Merry and Pippin continued to be split off. Then Gandalf and Pippin broke away from Aragorn etc. so the groups of coloured flags really helped us to track the pattern of meeting and parting. Over in Ithilien, of course, Frodo and Sam lost Gollum but gained Faramir – loss of one red flag, gain of a blue one, but then sadly the blue one stayed behind while the red and white ones went off. There was no flag for Shelob (thank goodness). Meanwhile, during all this slow time on foot in Ithilien, Gandalf and Aragorn and everyone else could be ‘seen’ charging about all over Rohan and doing so much more because they were on horseback. The scales of distance, progress, direction and grouping really showed up on the maps, and made Frodo and Sam look properly and poignantly isolated. We also understood the distances flown by the winged Nazgul.

Having got our heroes, and others, as far as Cirith Ungol, Minas Tirith, and Dunharrow, we had come to the end of The Two Towers. It had been a fascinating visual trip, but now we turned back to our books and gave Ian and Tim a chance to sit down and relax a bit.

Denethor, and his surrounding were the first topic. Mike suggested that Pippin recognised the regal aspects in Denethor as well as his likeness to Gandalf, and both Mike and Ian made the connection through Denethor’s apparent abilities beyond the purely visual, like those of Gandalf. Pippin is clearly impressed by what he sees, and what he perceives is something also beyond the visual, for he seems to pick up the Numenorean connection between the Maia who founded Numenor, and those who are descended from the original Men of the West.

It was noted with some interest that there is nothing soft, nothing but stone in Denethor’s hall, as opposed to the many tapestries in Meduseld. It was suggested that this replicated an impression of Roman Imperialism. We were reminded that even the stone is decaying, and I suggested that the physical surrounding reflect the physical condition of the rulers in both cases, for the tapestries of Meduseld are faded. The links between the physical state of rulers and their surroundings was an ancient Celtic belief, and still echoes in legends such as that of the Fisher King with the unhealing wound. In Celtic tradition a wounded, impotent or maimed ruler would be ousted because it was believed that his ill-health would be echoed in the infertility and decay of the land. This belief seems to underpin Tolkien’s depiction of kingship, stewardship, and the state of the lands. Only the return of the vigorous and healthy King can change the decay. It is not only for injured and sick people that ‘the hands of the King are the hands of a healer.’

We went on to consider how the story sets out the conditions that make a king, and the problem of stewardship. I said I’d always thought Denethor and then Faramir were Tolkien’s rewriting of the usurping of the Merovingian dynasty of the Franks by the mayor of the palace, the steward of the Merovingian king. We were having such an interesting discussion about all these matters that we ran out of time, but we shall go on with the Minas Tirith chapter at the next meeting.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Rymenhild said...

I'm posting these comments on behalf of Omer in Lahore who sent them on 6.12.06, but I've only just had time to do this. Apologies to Omer for the delay especially in view of his interesting contribution.

A."The Journey to the Crossroads"
1.Regardsing the images of the 'sickly glare' of the Moon-ring, the broken/shattered images (the 'broken king' etc -- I am always reminded by these of the Fisher-King and the Grail Legend, both 'waste lands' of legend and T.S. Eliot's famous poem (1922). Has anyone ever highlighted or pointed out these echoes in this particular chapter/sceene? It is very interesting. The chapter, as you say, is not without hope. It is as if 'hope' has come with the coming of the heroes, the ones who will 'do the right thing' (Ask the right question?)

B. "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol"
1. The talismanic effect of Galandriel's phial seems to me to simply signify security or 'good', which has the power to dissolve/dissipate 'evil': alike all such amulets, talismans and such mystical sources of succour in life and literature. I suppose we have more examples of people wearing or having or using such agencies in their daily/normal lives, out here. Lots of Roman Catholics also have such talismans in the West, I recollect one Spanish student when I was in Edinburgh, who never went anywhere without a small talismanic pouch around her neck that she claimed 'soothed her' whenever she needed this. But I believe that people everywhere, even today to some extent, have some sort of 'security' that has the real, psychological effect of relieving them of fear and/or affliction. It's all about faith. Of course, in LotR, there is magic at work but then faith is also a 'magical' expression in unseen powers, isn't it?

2. The matter of Gollum's 'goodness' and 'evil' has always fascinated me and I found it interesting, being reminded of this particular, poignant scene. And of this question. I always used to perceive Gollum-Smeagol as a rather 'schizophrenic' duality but am forced to re-examine this perception. Is it that even the most evil being(s) have a reverse side, or some element of good? Rather Manichean!

2:11 AM  

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