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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reading Group meeting 14/7/07


Blogger Rymenhild said...

We had the chance at the start of the afternoon to congratulate Ian on his latest contribution to Amon Hen, but he reserved the reading of his poem until the end of the afternoon. Tim and Mark couldn’t get to the meeting but sent their comments as Virtual Members. After our usual digression into any other business we got started.
Our chapter this time was The Steward and the King, a title that strangely ignores the central figure of Eowyn. Maybe it was due to a preponderance of females in the group, or a reaction to the treatment of Eowyn, or maybe it was only chance, but our after Laura had remarked on the beauty of Faramir’s references to Numenor, our discussion continued with the focus firmly on the remarkable characterisation of the shieldmaiden.
The evocation of Numenor is not unconnected to Eowyn, as Faramir’s comments are made to her as they stand watching the great black shadow lowering like a huge wave above Mordor. Laura drew our attention to the association at a deeper level than some kind of ‘folk memory’. She reminded us that Sauron had risen from the destruction of Numenor by the punishing wave to continue his evil activities. She also noted that Tolkien had been troubled by bad dreams about great waves.
A reference in the text to the ‘sea-kings’ called forth witticisms about helicopters, including Tim’s comments in ‘virtual’ form as he was again suffering a nasty attack of the black breath and was at home waiting for the athelas to work (there being a sad lack of kings in his vicinity).
And so we turned our attention to Eowyn. Diane remarked on the change in her while Pat observed that she declared her intention to become a healer and took this further by commenting on the healing process that Eowyn undergoes, and her initial rejection of it. Pat remarked that healing the body is not always enough, and bodily healing does not necessarily lead to psychological healing. Besides, as Pat remarked, Eowyn at the start of the chapter is suffering from a broken heart, for which there is no cure. It is something the King cannot cure, being the cause of it!
Ian picked up Tolkien’s use of a particularly interesting lexis (vocabulary) in this chapter. More words than usual could easily be seem to derive directly from French, specifically from chivalric traditions. Ian picked out ‘puissance’ and ‘pavillions’, to which was added ‘courtesy’ rather than our usual curtsey. Anne picked out the less courtly but unusual ‘gainsaid’, and we were all rather stumped by the sudden reference to a pencil. In a slight digression we noted that the Eagle’s message takes the form of a Psalm and includes the unFrench term ‘tidings’, which reminded us all of ‘tidings of great joy’, in the Christmas carol ‘O come all ye faithful’ as well as in the Authorised Version of the Bible, where it is used by the Angel to announce the birth of Christ. We might more properly have remembered this the other way round, but it was the carol we remembered first! This picks up Mark’s observation of other uses of a biblical register and references, such as that used to set out the lineage of the Tree.
The French vocabulary was a step towards Ian’s detailed observations on the role of courtly love in this chapter. Of course Tolkien uses various forms of the courtly love convention, and I drew everyone’s attention to the significance of C.S. Lewis’s important book on courtly love. It may be that Tollers and Jack discussed the topic over a potation at the Bird and Baby, but Tolkien would have known a great deal about the topic, with or without Lewis. Anyone who studied and wrote on Chaucer as Tolkien did would have been immersed in courtly love, its discontents, and satires.
Ian’s researches provided a very detailed plan of the classic stages of courtly love, and he contended that Eowyn herself showed many of the symptoms of courtly love that had been conventionally associated with the male lover rather than his lady. She suffers the love-sickness, but Tolkien’s version of courtly love ebbs and flows in a kind of incremental way as it forms only a part of the chapter. It is a fascinating observation that Tolkien depicts the ‘thawing of the lady’s heart’ convention in exactly these terms. It is of course a powerful moment when we are told that Eowyn seems to Faramir like a flower that is thawing after she had seemed to Aragorn like a flower touched by frost (much to Eomer’s distaste). The effect of these men on this lonely young woman requires a longer discussion!
It was noted that Eowyn is still ailing when the Eagle arrives, but after Faramir recognises her valour in battle, i.e. recognises her worth in terms that matter to her, she begins the process of renouncing her earlier despairing ambition to die in battle. This culminates in her intention to become a healer, and as Tim remarked, ‘It might be said that [she] is symbolically healed by one of Numenorean descent (an echo of the hands-of-a-king-can-bring-healing)’. There’s a more complicated point lurking in here, I think, because the King could only heal her body.
Several of us were very taken with the description of the mantle of Faramir’s mother that he gives to Eowyn as they stand on the cold battlements, and we were similarly delighted by the description of their hair mingling in the wind. The chapter has a whole range of different colours to those Tolkien uses in the previous chapter, in which green seemed to be the symbolic colour. In this chapter the colours are a little more subdued, because we are backtracking again to the distant view of the fall of Sauron.
We remarked on the emotional content of the chapter, and Angela drew special attention to the fact that Aragorn still wants his friends about him as he waits for the final resolution to his long labours. Diane picked up his absolute need for a sign, and took the Tree to be a sign not merely of his right to the kingship, but because he set so much store by it, to be a superstition with him, rather than some kind of ‘Divine’ authorisation.
We all thought it a nice touch that Aragorn acknowledges his debt to Frodo and Gandalf in the ceremony of his coronation, and we commented on the difficult situation that Faramir and Hurin of the Keys found themselves in as they were called upon to ‘invent’ a ceremony for the new king since previous ones were no longer applicable. The sequence offers an interesting insight into the way ceremonies come about in the primary world, and what it is that really invests them with meaning.
There was some discussion of the sequence of event from the finding of the Tree to the arrival of Arwen as it is not clear how Elrond knew when to set out with Arwen. I confess this had never bothered me, but there is a lacuna in the text for those who like to know all the details.
We had had the most interesting musical accompaniment at times during the afternoon, being adjacent to the Guildhall where musicians regularly rehearse and do sound checks for evening performances. We also had another seagull calling us into the West! And so we ran out of time again and agreed to move on to the next chapter. Discussion continues as to what we should tackle once we finish LotR.

10:30 AM  

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