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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Reading Group meeting 11/8/07

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Blogger Rymenhild said...

11.8.07
If you have been waiting, apologies for the lateness of this blog. I hope you will find the report as lively and enjoyable as the meeting was, and worth the wait, but apologies too if anyone who was at the meeting finds my recollections from the notes rather less than accurate after this long delay.
It was indeed a very stimulating meeting. We were happy to have Diane and Shirley back with us again, as well as most of the ‘usual suspects’, except Julie who was busy and Angela and Christopher who were up in the mountains in the shadow of K2 and other wonderful places. Hopefully their experience of the mountains will be more benign that that of the Fellowship on Caradhras!
Picking up on Tolkien’s scholarship, Laura brought us news of the new Beowulf film in which Angelina Jolie will be playing the role of Grendel’s mother in a shiny cat-suit! Not my idea of a troll-wife, but I’m not a Hollywood director, or male. Happily, Ray Winstone will play Beowulf (I hope he does it with an east London accent!) and Sir Anthony Hopkins will play King Hrothgar. He could also usefully double the role of Grendel and reprise his Hannibal-the-cannibal role!
We then went on to the chapter Homeward Bound. This is only short but gave us a whole afternoon’s discussion and intense debate. Diane, Anne and Mike thrashed out some of the spiritual v realist/pragmatic aspects which the chapter offers to readers, but we started the discussion back-to-front, with Mark querying what Frodo means at the end of the chapter when he says coming home is like falling asleep. Laura reminded us that at the start he says ‘where shall I find rest?’ suggesting that for him there will be no real rest even in the sleepy Shire. Tim remarked that Frodo is not the same now, so he cannot find the peace that he once associated with the Shire. Diane suggested that Frodo fears returning to what he perceives as his former torpid state. Ian remarked that Frodo once wanted adventure and is returning to the ‘dream’ he wanted to leave. When he left he had lots of dreams of strange events and places, some of which have or will happen, and Tim added that his ‘dream’ in the Shire is about to become a nightmare. Mike added to this the observation that to Frodo the Shire-folk had seemed ‘sleepy’, but things have changed. Frodo’s ‘falling asleep’ may seem like a comfortable, or anticlimactic, or rather belittling comment, based on his assumption that the Shire is still as he left it, and the life he foresees for himself will be much the same as before. But he has already acknowledged that while he may ‘fall sleep’ again, that sleep will not be a wholesome, restful, or restorative sleep. Merry’s comment that their Quest seems like a dream that has faded was not completely discussed as a context for Frodo’s ‘falling asleep’ remark.
With all the problems in the Shire, Tim suggested a system of triage might be necessary, an responsibility he thought should be given to the ents! Groans all round!
Mark noted that Gandalf’s final speech in the chapter reminded him of Christ’s words to his disciples at the Ascension, and we commented on this in terms of parental separation. The acknowledgement that the hobbits have ‘grown up’ is a physical and psychological fact for the younger three, but must be different for Frodo, who was older and rather more responsible than them at the start, but in his case there is a development in his perception that has been acknowledged by Galadriel, among others.
Anne remarked approvingly on Gandalf’s description of Tom B. as a ‘moss-gatherer’, and we were all interested in what Gandalf and Tom would say to one another. Mike suggested that Tolkien uses a new word-order in places and was ‘retro-constructing’ the very roots of ‘saying’ things when at last two such different entities CAN talk to one another. It is as if the defeat of Sauron enables the exchange of language between the earth spirit and the air spirit, since Gandalf is a Maia.
When I asked about the conversation between Gandalf and Tom, Diane asked ‘who knows what angels say to one another?’ and it is not always easy to remember that two such ‘solidly’ familiar characters are essentially spirit, or other. Ian noted that Gandalf has more power now he is ‘white’, but Diane extended her idea and thought Tom and Gandalf presented pagan and religious elements in the story – two different types of spirit.
Tim also suggested that the meeting was actually a ‘debriefing’ as Gandalf explained to Tom everything that had happened, and its implications. I noted that Aragorn’s words, during the Fellowship’s gathering in Rivendell, about Butterbur’s complacency are neatly repeated by Barley himself when he complains about the ‘dark shapes in the woods, dreadful things that it makes the blood run cold to think of.’ Aragorn, of course, speaks of ‘foes that would freeze his heart.’
We thought there was an amusing mismatch of size between Nob the ostler and Shadowfax, which is probably why Gandalf has to take his own horse to the stable! And in my role as devil’s advocate I asked if we see xenophobia in Barley’s rejection of the idea that lost of folk will be coming up the Greenway to settle and cultivate the northern kingdom. Diane picked up Barley’s short-term views of everything and it was remarked that the proposed development along the Greenway may have echoed the fate of Birmingham! But generally, my proposal was regarded as overstating the case.
So we move on to the Scouring of the Shire and ‘next things’. Julie, via Mike, sent a very interesting etymological analysis of Shire/ Scour for us to think about for the next chapter, and has sent lots of suggestions for ‘what comes next’. I’ll make up a list of everyone’s ideas, suggestions and preferences, including putting them all into a hat and drawing one out at each session. Anne thought this undemocratic and suggested a vote, but we were running out of time so I proposed the motion to end the meeting. This was seconded, and as we were more than a quorum and a bit late, we all packed up and went home.

11:12 AM  

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