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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reading Group meeting 27/1/07


Blogger Rymenhild said...

It was a pleasure to welcome a new participant in our deliberations today as Angela made the trip up from Portsmouth to be with us for this busy meeting.

We are now into The Return of the King and were completing our reading of the first chapter ‘Minas Tirith’.

Pat started us off with her observations concerning Pippin, and this proved to be a rich vein of material for comment. Pat saw Pippin as decidedly more ‘prescient’ or clear-sighted, or perceptive following his unfortunate gaze into the palantir. Diane remarked on the sense of Pippin changing, that he is now no longer overshadowed by Frodo or Merry, his older cousins. Mike commented on the sense of Pippin’s adulthood and the difference in him as he enters Denethor’s service, a difference that seems to account for his impulsive decision to offer his service to the Steward. My feeling was that after a very child-like start to the chapter as Pippin huddles and sleeps in the shelter of Gandalf’s cloak, this chapter charts the process of his growing up as he physically and emotionally achieves that symbolic separation that Freud and Lacan identify as a necessary step in development towards selfhood and independent adulthood. I was also a bit concerned about what I suggested was a ‘Gollum moment’ right at the start, when Pippin cowers at the sudden sight of the moon. In his case it is instantly understandable, but nevertheless, he does shrink momentarily for the sight of the ‘white face’!

The chapter is especially significant not just for Pippin’s personal development, but for the shift in his relationship with Gandalf, who seems much less irritable with him, and even puts an arm round his shoulders.

Pat again remarked on the chessboard imagery in the chapter and Pippin’s remark about it being the wrong one. Diane picked up the potential reference to the chessboard of the Norse gods who use it to control human activity, while Mike picked up the reference to pawns as Gandalf reassures Pippin.

As we moved on to consider other matters, Mike raised a challenging point when he remarked that the Citadel reminded him of the Vatican in its stony, monumental aspect, he also remarked that the Steward sits remote from his people and wrapped in a delusion of knowledge. Even the spectacularly liveried guards reminded Mike of the ancient uniforms of the Swiss guards of the Vatican which hark back to medieval times as the liveries of the guards of the Citadel hark back to Numenorean symbolism.

Tim followed this ‘Roman’ train of thought to remind us of Minas Tirith as Rome just before its fall when the empire was in decay, and he pertinently remarked ‘barbarians at the gate’ in both instances. He also reprised our discussion from last time about how long it takes for a man to become king, asking what the conditions are that must be fulfilled before a Steward could become the King. We all commented on things like belief in the ‘blood royal’ as the guarantee of legitimate succession, but noted that ancient British kings had been elected.

We went on to consider the confrontation Pippin witnesses between Gandalf and Denethor, and his perceptive but confusing observations about them both. Mike thought Gandalf in his resurrected state has more power and it is this that Pippin perceives in him. Diane thought ‘beautiful’ was a strange description of an elderly ruler and we spent a long time trying to work out exactly how to interpret Tolkien’s choice of the adjective. I thought it was worth considering it not in isolation but in the context of the other adjectives with which it is associated in the text, but it is clearly a term to which we attach significations defined by our own time, while Tolkien is using it in a less conventional or readily accessible way.

In a short lull, I asked what everyone thought of the sudden use of Peregrin rather than the homely ‘Pippin’ at the point where the narration describes Gandalf and Pippin riding up to the city in the sunrise. It was more or less unanimously felt that this formality and the altered tone of this short passage echo the oral storytelling tradition and the heroic register associated with describing the arrivals of heroes in myth and legend.

Tim then suggested that Gandalf’s real mission to Minas Tirith has less to do with counselling Denethor than with looking for Faramir. Having Boromir to the power of the Ring, and having lost control of Denethor through his seduction by Sauron, Faramir is Gandalf’s last chance to keep control of the defence the city. We also noted that orders were given for a blackout in Minas Tirith (shouts in the Lampwright’s Street of ‘Oi, put that light out!’), certainly something Tolkien would have known all about after 1939.

Angela brought us almost full circle after this as she referred us to the moment when Pippin and Bergil walk together hand in hand. As she perceptively observed, in view of the exchange between Bergil and Pippin at their first meeting, when matters of height and age are sorted out, although Pippin is shorter than Bergil, when he takes the lad’s hand this is the act of an adult comforting an anxious child. Pippin comes long way in this chapter, as he has come a long way from the fields of Rohan where he was still a rather innocent, unwary, impetuous young hobbit. In the circles of Minas Tirith his real stature, rather than his height, begins to be apparent.

We agree to go on to the next chapter, and we agreed to go forward with a Reading Day dinner, if I can find a suitable location!

11:38 AM  

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