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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reading Group meeting 23/6/07

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Blogger Rymenhild said...

23.6.07

We began with a minor digression as Pat introduced us to Harold Munro’s poem ‘Overheard on a Salt Marsh’. In fact this is not as much of a digression as it seems. Although the dialogue in the poem is between a nymph and a goblin, the goblin is very much like Gollum in its desire for the green jewel possessed by the nymph. It’s another of those instances where one immediately goes ‘Oh, I wonder if Tolkien ..?
Laura also introduced us to something special when she brought the book, leaflet, and DVD relating to the course on Anglo-Saxon and Beowulf that she recently attended. This course turned out to be pleasingly aware of Tolkien’s important work in Anglo-Saxon studies.
We eventually got ourselves into The Field of Cormallen and began by noticing that when characters weep now, it is for joy. We also noted the significant parallel between Frodo and Sauron both losing fingers as they lose the Ring. Tim accompanied this observation with some ‘interesting’ and appropriate sound effects of a rather grisly nature!
We noted that the narrative style had changed after the Ring is destroyed. There had been much back-tracking and parallelling as the story of Frodo and Sam’s progress was compared to events happening on the other side of the mountains. This chapter introduces a linear narrative again as the divided Fellowship is reunited. The fragmentation that took place under the advancing threat of evil has been replaced by unification under the rule of the returned King, but this is only achieved by Frodo and Sam’s (and Gollum’s) determination, not by war itself.
We were all delighted by the beautiful language and imagery that accompanies the arrival of the minstrel and it was remarked that although his is the one song that it would be good to hear, we do not get to read it. Of course, this is because his song is the story we have just experienced, but we might have been treated to just a bit of it in fine verse.
It is a strange and slightly uncomfortable fact, as we remarked, that the destruction of the Ring and Barad Dur does not mark the end of all the conflict, even though the Fellowship reunites. There are still odd skirmishes going on even while there is celebration. This is not only quite realistic, ceasefires often mean less than they proclaim, but it also draws our attention to the fact that not all Sauron’s forces are slaves of his will. Many are discontented, rebellious, or savage Men, and they are not destroyed automatically when Sauron falls from power. This Axis of Evil also reveals the presence of a ‘free will to evil’ as distinct from the other kinds of free will we have noted. But of course, those who ally with Sauron may not have regarded their alliance as wholly evil. The complaints of the Dunlendings noted during the battle of Helm’s Deep provide an undercurrent of displacement and resentment that should not be ignored.
It was proposed that the image of Gandalf at the start of the chapter signifies more of his special characteristics. It seems as though nothing now can touch him, not even shadow, and something else is happening which we conjectured might mean that he is MADE aware that the eagles are coming. The text seems to imply this before Gandalf actually sees the eagles.
These eagles gave us food for thought. It was suggested whimsically that maybe the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford initiated Tolkien’s use of eagles to carry characters to safety – which is possible. We considered whether the eagles in Middle-earth are still Manwe’s eagles and sent by him at this time, or whether Gwaihir and his brothers are acting on their own. Ordinary eagles have great sight, and the great eagles of Middle-earth would hardly have been ignorant of the flights of the Nazgul, it’s not as though there is a lot of air traffic over Mordor or Gondor until they take off. The eagles certainly know their enemy, and overcome them.
The eagles are also a problem. It was raised discreetly, but it is undeniable that from a certain perspective, the eagles do come across as something of a deus ex machina device. They turn up in a very handy way at difficult moments. We had no real answer to this, except that maybe Tolkien was enjoying one of his little games and deliberately using the concept of divine intervention in this naturalistic way.
In a chapter packed with startlingly vivid imagery and emotive language, the actual fall of the Dark Tower, and Sauron’s ‘evaporation’ were moments picked out for special comment. Our appreciation of the power and the beauty of these and other moments was suddenly interrupted by Anne’s query about the ‘swollen brooding thing’. We pointed out the resemblance to the queen ant, or bee, or termite.
After this rather unlovely ‘aside’, Pat remarked on the predominance of green in the chapter and Tim suggested its symbolic function in heralding rebirth and regeneration after the fall of Sauron and his mechanistic and industrialised evil works. While we were discussing colours, the significance of the 3 banners was questioned and explained. It’s a nice bit of heraldry to have the King’s black banner flanked by the blue of the Prince of Dol Amroth and the green one of the House or Eorl.
The question was posed – how does Gollum see Frodo when he is invisible in the Sammath Naur? This may be one of those literary quandries that cannot be answered, but we tried a range of ideas, none of them quite worked.
We became conscious during our discussions that we were making frequent references to all sorts of poetic echoes that we thought we found in the chapter. And Julie remarked that there are eagles carrying people in the Book of Isaiah. There are moments in the narrative where a biblical ‘register’ seems to take over, but this was the most definite biblical echo.
It was observed that after everything that has gone before, this chapter has no ‘gung-ho’ moments. After the ‘special forces’ mission to Mount Doom, it acts as a relief, and that it is part of a very English ending, reflecting those in English music. The crescendo is not the final element. In fact, it was noted that the new musical was criticised in Canada for sticking too closely to the book and including a hint of the Scouring of the Shire. To the majority of non-Tolkien spectators, this did not appeal and it has been dropped from the London production, so I am told, as audiences expect the climactic destruction of the Ring and Sauron to be the end!

We were missing a few of our friends again, and felt their absence in our discussions. Hopefully the blog will keep everyone informed of our discussions. Don’t forget, comments and observations from ‘virtual’ Reading Group members are always welcome. We have already started discussing what to read once we have finished LotR. The Silmarillion has already been suggested, but for now, we just move on to the next chapter.

2:52 AM  

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