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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Reading Group meeting 24/11/07

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Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

24.11.07
This date marks the end of the 3-year journey of the members of the Southfarthing through The Lord of the Rings. It has taken us more than 3 times as long to complete our journey as it took Frodo and Sam to complete theirs, but then we haven’t had the Nazgul chasing us! We’ve had the company of an orc band or two sometimes, as opposed to bands of orcs, when the rock groups have been rehearsing across the courtyard, but we battled on, and we have got there. It was a shame, then, that two of our founder members and most constant companions, Laura and Ian, could not be with us for this final afternoon.
We finished the whole book today, including all the Appendices. It has been a thought-provoking experience and we all agreed that reading and discussing the book in a group has added to our individual understanding. Everyone who has participated has learned new things, even if they have read the book many times before. The members who were novices have made their own insightful contributions to our debates.
There have been some memorable occasions, like Ian’s visual presentation of the consecutive and parallel steps in the Quest on both sides of the Great River. And his highly inventive T-shirt slogans and ‘traffic signs’ also shown this year at Oxonmoot. We have laughed a great deal all as sharing moments of heroic elation and profound pathos. We have occasionally disagreed, but always in a most civilised manner as different points of view make for greater insights. We have had our sense of the visual impact of the descriptions sharpened by Pat’s attention to Tolkien’s highly significant use of colours –whether this falls into the category of a limited palette, or of a symbolic range of colours, or of a bright and lively suggestion of normality. Julie and Mike have, with considerable wit and tact directed our thoughts towards some of the deep religious potential of the text, as well as joining Tim and Laura in picking up myths, legends, and folk-tale echoes. Claire and Mark, as relative newcomers to the book, have come to it with clear-eyed interest and asked some tricky questions as well as coming up with some very perceptive comments. Our most recent members Angela and Christopher have, from long acquaintance with the story, quietly given us insights into their favourite, and much researched, characters. Angela’s knowledge of Aragorn’s biography has been very instructive, and Christopher will not allow Gollum to be hastily categorised. We have missed Shirley’s probing questions about socio-political matters since she has had to be away recently, and we have also missed Diane’s rigorous enthusiasm when she has not been able to be with us.
It has been exciting to see articles, poems, and reports appearing in Tolkien Society publications, and at Oxonmoot – to think that the Southfarthing has so many creative members! We have celebrated Yule and Reading Day together. Various members have attended Oxonmoot other events together, so we have created our own extended Fellowship. But if you were to ask me what I remember most from the last 3 years, I would say it’s the laughter.
If you are wondering when the blog itself will begin, I must confess that I have very few notes from last Saturday. As the Appendices were mostly language related, I got rather involved in the topic. The Calendars themselves gave us a plenty to talk about. We discussed the names of the months and the fact that Tolkien gives the calendars in Westron, Quenya, and Sindarin, showing how the names relate to one another, how the calendars can be collated. I said I liked the name Winterfilth, and that although it looked amusing to us, it is simply the Anglo-Saxon for October - winterfylleth. We can see from this that the ‘filth’ element is actually a contraction of ‘fylleth’, which has a third person present tense case ending ‘eth’.
Julie picked up another month name – Blotmath, and as it corresponds to November, she wondered if it related to the ancient custom of slaughtering the family pig at this time of year to provide meat, and light, through the winter months. Blot, we thought, could well be a form of Blood. It seems we were pretty much right, except that the Anglo-Saxon word for November is Blotmonath, meaning the month of sacrifice. It seems to be exactly what Julie suggested except that blood = sacrifice.
It took us a while to discuss the regulation of the hobbit year with its two extra days at Yule and 3 in midsummer. I mentioned my own fascination with Tolkien’s etymological prowess and the perfect way creates words out of common elements. It was noted that German operates like this, and so did Anglo-Saxon. One simply took two or more elements and put them together to make a new word.
We discussed the usefulness of the Tengwar and its organisation, and noted Tolkien’s admission of the influence of Frankish and Gothic, and Welsh in his creation of names, although he constructs this as part of his attempt during ‘translation’ to represent the sounds and significance of the ‘real’ names of characters. We considered the significance too of the secret names of the dwarves, and related this to both modern feminist theory and more relevant folk and fairy tale conventions where giving and withholding names affects selfhood. We especially comments on stories such as Rumplestiltskin whose name, if guessed will confer control, and Lohengrin, where there is a taboo on knowing his name. It was also noted that the convention of secret names in picked up by T.S. Eliot who not only states that the naming of cats is a serious business, but that cats have their own secret names.
Mike wondered if Tolkien knew much about Romany, but the rest of us did not know. However, this got us into discussing Tolkien’s fascination with Finnish, which is unrelated to other Indo-Eurpoean languages, but which, Mike told us, is related to Magyar (Hungarian), which itself came out of the far north-east of China.
In a pause in our linguistic deliberations Anne remarked that she had not enjoyed the Appendices very much and had at times thought we were all rather intense about our interest in The Lord of the Rings, until she read Appendix E and F. Then suddenly she saw why we were so enthusiastic – the detail and the coherence with which Tolkien set up his Middle-earth were revealed and won her over. It was so nice to think Anne had at last seen what we had seen and her patience with us and with the text had paid off!
At our next meeting we shall begin to consider The Silmarillion. Our plan, suggested by Ian, is to look at the section headings and discuss these so as to ease in gently everyone who is wholly new to the book. Reading the Ainulindale is as much as is needed, and I have recommended that anyone coming new to the text should try making lists of who is who, and who is related to whom. I’m going to do it myself this time and then I might be able to remember the difference between the Noldor, the Vanar, and the Teleri. I also suggested to Anne and Pat that they should prepare themselves for a text that is radically different in tone, style and content from LotR, and that it might help to think in terms of myth and legend rather than in terms of story as they start reading.

1:08 PM  

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