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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Reading Group meeting 24/3/07


Blogger Rymenhild said...

We were meeting as close to Reading Day as we could manage, and almost everyone turned up. We were 13, it was consequently a lively meeting, and following that we all reconvened in the evening for our Reading Day Dinner, which was an even livelier affair.
We were looking at ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’ and ‘The Battle of the Pelennor Fields’. The afternoon started with Anne asking about the pronunciation of ‘eored’. We couldn’t help laughing when she mentioned her uncertainty because she had been pronouncing it to herself as ‘ee-ord’, which prompted gales of laughter as most of us thought immediately of Eyore in Winnie the Pooh. We explained the pronunciation to Anne, and the laughter set the tone of the afternoon.
Words, their derivations and meanings, formed something of a minor theme to the meeting. The history of ‘wose’ was examined, its particular place in the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, its association with the Green Man myth, and its general proliferation in medieval stories, and in the corbel heads of many Gothic cathedrals and churches. We went on to consider the many reverberations set up by the frequent references to ‘bag’, ‘baggage’ at the start of chapter. I thought that they served as a reminder that while all the main action is in front of the reader, Frodo Baggins is far away, and his fate is most uncertain. It was also remarked that Elfhelm’s references to Merry as Master Bag, recall Merry’s determination not to be left behind like so much ‘baggage’.
We all noted the use of ‘bivouack’ as a ‘non-Tolkien’ word, of the kind we identified when we discussed the use of ‘balcony’ (at Orthanc), and ‘pavillion’. These are etymologically strange in the context of Middle-earth – the linguistic equivalents perhaps of the infamous ‘express train’. However, Mike pointed out that ‘bivouack’ is a Boer word which came to mean a very temporary military camp. It is perfectly suited to Tolkien’s use, and would have been part of his vocabulary during WW1.
The question of whether names in LotR have meanings arose, and I was able to explain briefly that Tolkien takes Old English words for the names of his Rohirrim. We got a bit close to Dernhelm at this point, and as Anne had not yet read The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, it seemed important to avoid too much attention to Dernhelm. I mentioned this to the group, and everyone was suitably cautious.
We discussed Gan-buri-Gan, and the problems he directs our attention to. More than a hint of colonialism comes to the fore during his conversation with Theoden and Eomer. The echoes of the treatment of native Americans, and the assumption that incomplete fluency equates to stupidity prompted some comment. I have always been troubled by Gan’s comment regarding not being hunted like animals any more. We all worried rather that the wonderfully heroic Rohirrim should have indulged in such a vicious action until Ian pointed out that the horsemen of the plains would not have been able to ride on a hunt among the rocks and trees of Gan’s mountain retreat. It was therefore more likely that it was other Men who had hunted his people. These others may have been the original Numenoreans, or earlier inhabitants of the region, but Ian suggested that to Gan and his people all Men looked the same. It made me feel a lot better in one way, but still left the taint of genocide as part of the history of Gondor.
The problems of colonialism that all this raised also introduced the possibility that Tolkien is giving us a picture of human nature complete with all its fundamental weaknesses. He creates heroes, but they are not perfect, they are humans in a recognisable rather than a wholly idealised world. This seems to run counter to the popular perception of fantasy but is, of course, much closer to older and more intelligent forms of fantasy that said serious things about the real world.
In a welcome change of topic (almost), Christopher drew our attention to the importance of laughter in these chapters. No one else had noticed, but as he perceptively pointed out, whenever someone laughs, it marks the start of a significant event. This made some of us think of instances of biblical laughter, and with or without the Christian context, Christopher’s observation raises a fascinating are of investigation.
The role of both Gan and Gollum as guides was an interesting observation that sheds light on the plight of Frodo by comparison. Gan, who is of a completely different race to the Rohirrim, asserts his fidelity by declaring his expectation of death in case of treachery, while Gollum is treacherous and constantly plotting Frodo’s death, even though he is still enough of a hobbit to play riddle games and remember his delight in storytelling. Gan’s fidelity heightens the sense of Gollum’s treachery.
We had gone far enough through this chapter and were becoming more and more in danger of letting the cat out of the bag, or the hair out of the helmet, and as it seemed only fair to Anne to preserve the surprise for her that the rest of us had already experienced, I suggested a radical alteration to our meeting. Fortunately everyone agreed, and so we started to read around the group, each person taking a paragraph at a time, and starting just before the Nazgul attacked Snowmane. It was SO worth doing. Anne didn’t pick up the truth until the moment Eowyn swept off her helmet and it was declared who she was, then we were all delighted to hear Anne’s gasp of astonishment!
Of course we went on to consider the effect of the black ships arriving, and some of the other great moments in the chapter, and once again we started to run out of time. I had not got round to our poetry which we had intended to have as part of the afternoon, but everyone kindly agreed to bring their poems to the dinner and we made our own entertainment while ‘filling up the corners’ as Tim and Ian regaled us with their Middle-earth limericks, Julie gave us her poem based on Tolkien’s ‘Errantry’, and Mike entertained us with The Silmarillion in 600 words. His resonant diction suited the topic perfectly, although personally speaking I could have preferred not to hear Ungoliant saying ‘SHINY!’ as she looked at the Trees. But the Valar simply going ‘la’, every so often was most enjoyable. Laura had been busy editing the Southfarthing Mathoms, a collection of the groups pearls of wit (!) which she had been gathering almost since the group started, and she passed these for our amusement.
Taken all round, it seemed to be a most memorable Reading Day.
We will go on to the next chapter and everyone is now so into the reading that we agreed to read as far as we each had time, without limit, as so many of us just want to keep reading.

12:27 PM  

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