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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reading Group meeting 28/4/07


Blogger Julie said...

I couldn't be present at the meeting but I did some very sketchy notes which Mike Dolan kindly took along with him. Here they are, for what they are worth, not at all polished or coherent, I'm afraid.


Gimli and Legolas are planning a Garden City (very 1920s-1930s)! They have a little optimism. Nonetheless they are allowing themselves to believe in the future. Someone else’s future, but they are glad. Gimli is the more positive. “When Aragorn comes into his own…” Legolas less so. “If Aragorn comes into his own…”

Enter Imrahil. Now I see the point of Legolas singing that prissy song about the Elf-maid on the borders of Lorien. Otherwise it’s unfathomable. Legolas quite naturally refers to Imladris rather than Rivendell when speaking with Imrahil. Elvish legacy of Dol Amroth seems stronger than in the line of the kings of Numenor.

Gimli’s comment about human failure and Legolas’ reply. Yet seldom do they fail of their seed. And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. Calls to mind John 12.24 : Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

The sea-longing stirs in the hearts of Englishmen as well. Even in those who live far from the sea. “Sea Fever” ! John Masefield came from Herefordshire.

Aragorn – “To know him is to love him” – ahhh!! His struggle with Sauron in the palantir seems to have greatly enhanced his will to something almost superhuman. It was his will that held Gimli to the Paths of the Dead, and his will which prevented the Dead overtaking them in Lamedon.

(I so wish JRRT had called it Lamedos! Then applying the Dylan Thomas Llarregub principle…)

The Dundain release the slaves in Aragorn’s name. Another Messianic-type act. Isaiah. The Year of the Lord’s Favour.

Legolas: “Strange and wonderful I thought it that the designs of Mordor should be overthrown by such wraiths of fear and darkness. With its own weapons was it worsted!” Truly, a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand!

“Is he not of the children of Luthien? Never shall that line fail, though the years may lengthen beyond count.” Well, we are all stardust.

Another spear/staff breaking incident when the King of the Dead lays down his authority.

The point about not being able to overcome the Dark Powers by force of arms strikes me very much as the sentiments in “A Mighty Fortress” (the “battle-hymn of the Reformation”).

Sauron becoming “a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows” – like Gollum in other words.

Gandalf actually uses the phrase “the fields that we know” – Lord Dunsinay!! (“The King of Elfland’s Daughter”). Evil is a problem which will endure to the end of the ages, evidently. We can only do our bit in our own time. He must have had a bit of a problem squaring this assertion with his own Christian belief.

Incidentally, is this chapter the source of the popular phrase “The New Age”, and if so, why?

“…many were bidden to follow me up river in any craft they could gather…” sounds remarkably like Dunkirk – only in this case, it’s an advance and not a retreat. Another example of Tolkien taking an apparently negative incident and turning it around, giving it a positive outcome?


So action-packed it doesn’t need any comment from me. Save regarding the alliteration perhaps.

Argh! Poor Pippin at the end of the chapter. We have to wait ages to find out he isn’t dead!

12:33 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I got my penn'orth in before Rymenhild! Now I have guilt! Sorry.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Rymenhild said...

Rymenhild is now catching up after a Battle of Unnumbered Tears against the creature of darkness herinafter known as Google! (Well, it wouldn't recognise my password so there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth!) However, all is forgiven, and here is the missing report for this date:
A strangely coincidental day! I will explain as we go. We were a bit shorthanded, as Pat could not be with us, nor could Claire, nor could Diane, nor could Julie. We missed them all. However, Pat had sent her input via a phone call and she suggested that the theme of the chapter ‘The Last Debate’, and indeed the overall theme of the whole book, could be summed up as HOPE. She noted the use of the word in various forms 12 times in the chapter and thought hope was at all times opposed to despair. I asked if she thought we were being asked to consider the power of hope, and she agreed with this, highlighting Denethor’s despair, brought about by his perception of his loss of power, which becomes a willed renunciation of power when he breaks his staff on his knee.
Pat noted, in a neat deconstructive reading, a similar act of breaking which also renounced power, but in a positive way! The King of the Dead (not Aragorn, but the king of the Oathbreakers), breaks his spear when Aragorn releases them all once they have fulfilled their oath. The is an act symbolising the renunciation of such power as resided with the Oathbreakers – the power to terrify mortals.
Pat’s topic of HOPE prompted a long and complex discussion that included associated topics. Julie sent a detailed printout of her responses to the chapter, kindly delivered by Mike. In it Julie, noted Gimli’s optimism at the return of the king, and Legolas’s qualifying of this at the beginning of the chapter. Angela, who is our expert on the Appendices, reminded us that Aragorn’s mother uses the name Estel meaning HOPE, for him, and hope is constantly associated with him. ‘Estel’ is the last word his mother speaks, and Arwen reminds him that if his quest fails then all hope fails. Ian remarked that Aragorn is the hope of his own Numenorean line.
Hope as a wider topic was taken further as it was remarked that the remaining fellowship hope to assist in the process of achieving the destruction of the Ring. Mike added that Sauron has hopes of getting it. We also noted that after Moria, Aragorn loses hope without Gandalf. Tim remarked that the elves are generally without hope because they are all leaving Middle-earth, and even if the Quest succeeds it will doom their works.
This brought us into a new aspect of the discussion as Ian observed that elves, being immortal, don’t need hope, and this situation leads perhaps to their state of lingering melancholy. With this in mind, we considered the apparently odd idea that death is Illuvatar’s gift to Men. Mike added that art is a response to mortality – a means of living on after death and this raises questions about elvish art. We know they create beautiful artifacts – swords, bowls, ewers, fabrics, architecture, even rope, but these have practical purposes. Do they also create purely decorative objects?
Ian noted that in Tree and Leaf Tolkien described the immortality implicit in literature not in its most basic sense, that the works of great authors keep their names alive, but in the power of a writer’s words to inspire in others the desire to create. The genes of language, so to speak.
Laura brought us back to our first topic when she observed the number of gardening images in the chapter which she thought brought together hope and creativity, as expresses something beyond the self and relies hopefully on natural cycles. Julie’s printout also linked the natural world our topics as she had pointed out the reference in St John’s Gospel to the grain of wheat which must die to bring forth a new crop of grain. This, of course, brings us back to the issues of dying and rejuvenation, and the need to die in order to rejuvenate. Since the elves don’t die, there can be no such rejuvenation. The theme of course relates strangely to the return of the King, since this is an elderly man, not a new king. In myth and carnival, the old king has to be uncrowned, or even killed, in order for the new king to rejuvenate the society. This would seem to be a problem with Aragorn, but other structures of power are destroyed as he restores a lost kingship.
We went on to less weighty and detailed matters after this. I mentioned the special relationship signalled when Legolas introduces Gimli to Prince Imrahil as ‘the Dwarf, my friend’. Ian was surprised that in the midst of all the destruction Legolas is suddenly singing, even if it is a melancholy song about the sea. Anne observed, as most of us have done on our first reading, that everyone in LotR has lots of names and they confuse her at times. I recommended noting names down in a notebook with a specific colour assigned to each character and using the same colour to note down each character’s names as they appear. She thought she might try it, especially when I remarked that we have a new name to deal with ‘Ringlord’, not assigned to anyone, but to the next potential holder of the Ring and its power. Ian pointed out that it was a name assigned for a new kind of Ring holder. Christopher drew our attention to another clustering of important images. He has previously noted the important sequence of laughter, followed by change or significant action. This time he noted the use of the word ‘terrible’. It is used in connection with Denethor and the palantir, of Aragorn as potential Ringlord, by both Gandalf and Galadriel in their rejections of the Ring. Even the Oathbreakers are described as ‘terrible’ and Ian remarked that they are also ‘striding’, not hobbling, prowling, moaning, or other ghost-like actions as they move, but are still moving as warriors, and by the use of this present participle are linked with the king who called them – Strider. Now that’s what I call a clever use of vocabulary and grammar!
By this time we were starting to move towards the next chapter ‘The Black Gate Opens’ and a number of observations came from this. Mike wondered if there was an implicit link between Sauron being described as in a state of ‘gnawing’ at himself, and the gnawing images associated with Gollum. It seems highly likely. Mike also thought the armada that followed the Black Fleet recalled for us the ‘little ships’ of Dunkirk, when almost anything that would float was pressed into service. Chris noted that while the forces of the West were assembling the victory was actually unarmed, not by force of arms, and Tim added that battle strategy, morale, and not might of numbers were associated with the unarmed victory. Right was might in this instance.
I remarked that the assembled Nazgul hovering over the Towers of the Teeth seemed particularly threatening, and we all considered the effect of the Mouth of Sauron on the ‘troops’, recalling the effect of Saruman’s voice. We noted the use of black propaganda, disinformation, and insulting language, as well as this herald’s retreat into his officially protected status as soon as Aragorn gives him a hard stare. Has he experienced the power of the Eye? Or is he just a coward? He is very nasty, but interesting nevertheless, because he is apparently human. We all noted on a more serious level that the hope of the previous chapter has gone, except that the Mouth only mentions the captive in the singular. It is plain that they have Frodo, but they don’t seem to have Sam.
It was strange and quite unexpected, but as we discussed the end of the chapter the most impressive symphony music could be heard from the Guildhall adjacent to our meeting room! It could not have been more appropriate in its majesty. None of us seemed to recognise it, it might have been Elgar, but as Pippin fell and hear faintly ‘The Eagles are coming!’ we were treated to this wonderfully serendipitous accompaniment!
What a way to finish an afternoon, and Book Five. We move on to Book Six, reading as much as we each have time for, but our discussion will begin with The Tower of Cirith Ungol.

8:08 AM  

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