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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reading Group meeting 25/10/08


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

25.10 08
With thanks to Tim for the notes for this blog, and to Carol for her responses to the chapter which I will post at the end of this.
Angela picked up a thread from the previous meeting, relating to Gollum finding out about the Shire. She referred the group to the second chapter of The Lord of the Rings, “The Shadow of the Past”, in Gandalf recounts how Gollum came out of the Misty Mountains and learnt of the Shire.
Julie showed the group her copy of There and Back Again, a science fiction reworking of The Hobbit by Pat Murphy. There were some bemused reactions to it.
Anne commented on how dependent on Gandalf the dwarves and Bilbo are. Tim noted how Gandalf then leaves them to it (to head south on “business” at Dol Guldur with the mysterious “Necromancer”).
Angela compared how the Eagles come to the rescue of the dwarves & co., and then Gandalf gets a horse, to how they rescue Gandalf from Orthanc in LOTR and then he acquires a horse – Shadowfax.
Mike noted that Tolkien made up stories for his children rather than buying books and reading from them. He wondered how great Tolkien’s imagination was. Mike then observed that Beorn’s hall is a great hall for just one person. Tim mused as to whether the other animals are also shape-shifters. Anne said that bjorn is Scandinavian (Old Norse) for bear. [A Swedish friend of mine has a little son called Bjorn, but she usually refers to him as Bear.]
Bilbo is developing as a character, Julie said, starting to think of others, despite the Ring.
“Confusticate him!” Anne shed light on this unusual word – “May he be damned!”
The scree slope incident is based on a real-life Alpine incident, Julie informed the group.
[I was surprised that there would be cliffs of any size in the Shire.]
Anne wondered if Tolkien was a fan of honey. Tim thought it was very “Famous Five” – lashings of bread and honey.
Is “verandah” an Indian word? Mike asked. (Later reference to the dictionary gives it as coming from the Portuguese varanda railing, from the Hindi varandā railing) Julie called it a “balcony” moment – one of those words of real foreign origin used by Tolkien.
Julie liked the reference to Gandalf wanting a helpful giant to block up the hole in the mountain pass.
Angela felt that Gandalf is minding his Ps and Qs with Beorn. Mike speculated that Beorn might be a sub-spirit (i.e. Maia), which would explain Gandalf’s deference. Chris noted that Beorn doesn’t know Gandalf (although he does know Radagast) but Gandalf knows him. Mike thought that Gandalf isn’t his usual tetchy self. Tim wondered if Gandalf was just being deferential to Beorn as it’s his manor and they’re seeking shelter. [I wondered if there was a case to make for Radagast living too close to Dol Guldur?]
Bilbo and Balin’s very polite exchange caught Julie’s attention.
Mike identified some rudimentary arithmetic in the book – counting dwarves. Tim picked up on the children’s story style in the similarity of the dwarves’ names: Dori, Nori, Ori – Glóin, Óin – Balin, Dwalin - Fili, Kili - Bifur, Bofur, Bombur. Julie referred to the oral tradition – helping to memorise poems through the use of similar names.
Is the Lord of the Eagles Gwaihir? Tim asked the group; the general consensus was yes. Carol also asked this and came to the same conclusion.[The reference to the lord of the eagles looking into the sun is, of course, Tolkien repeating the legend that only eagles can do this. In the eyrie there was an entertaining case of misprision/ prison – another of Tolkien’s word games]
Chris noted how Beorn and Gandalf check up on each other. Gandalf keeps the horse, as he’s off to check on Sauron in the south.
Chris then drew attention to the goblins’ gruesome song, when they are setting the fires under the trees where the group is hiding. Anne made the comment about the goblins playing with fire.
Mike drew attention to “yammer” again, although this time in connection to blues music.
Anne talked about the image of Bilbo’s stomach “wagging like an empty sack”. Tim then read out some descriptive prose coming just prior to that, which he felt was “classic” Tolkien:

“The sun had long gone behind the mountains… There was no wind that evening to bring even a sea-sighing into the branches of the trees.” (pp. 88-89)

[I thought the language describing what happens when Gandalf got to the tree top was also impressive – ‘The sudden splendour’ seems to describe perfectly the revelation of Maia power.]
Mike was interested how Tolkien hyphenates words to make new words. [This technique reminds me of the Anglo-Saxon habit of making new words when necessary by putting together two existing ones. German still does this, and I’ve probably mentioned this before.] He then went on to pick up on the “Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!” proverb, which is the Middle-earth equivalent of our “out of the frying-pan” saying. Tolkien appears to be using this to explain to/educate children.
Angela described Beorn’s giant bees. Tim said we don’t seem to encounter many insects in Middle-earth, apart from bees and midges, to which Angela added Mordor flies, midges, neekerbreekers. [Interesting that these are all associated with Mordor, being unpleasant, while bees, being useful, are associated with the helpers, or am I mistaken about Tom Bombadil’s garden having bee hives?]
Julie spoke about the Carrock, the great rock lying midstream in the Anduin. In Welsh carreg means “stone”; Anne thought it was carr “stone” + rock. Later research finds that the Welsh carrog means “stream” and craig “rock” – perhaps another of Tolkien’s word plays – Carrock meaning “stream-stone-rock”?)
[Gandalf’s statement about this is fascinating for what it seems to say about words and their meanings. There’s also a fascinating statement about how to make a story interesting by using interruptions during the stay in Beorn’s hall. The Hobbit seems at times like a series of statements about language and its use.]
Picking up on an earlier comment by Mike about sub-spirits, Tim drew a comparison between Beorn and Tom Bombadil – they are both enigmas who live alone in the wilderness and render help to the central characters.
Anne spoke of the veil of tears, how they all struggle to get along. Mike wondered if Tolkien felt that life was a struggle. The Roman Catholic view is that you start life at the bottom and work your way up. [Surely Tolkien must have felt deep and continuing personal grief being orphaned, deprived of his connection with Edith for some years, then losing many of his ffirends and comrades in WW1.]
Julie gave a further insight into the origins of Beorn: Elkfrothi (Elkfrodo) was in Norse mythology a half man, half elk – like a centaur. Mike described Machiavelli’s The Prince in which he refers to how a young man is sent to centaurs to learn the best qualities of man and beast. Tim added that Beorn is a kind of berserker, berserkers were men of certain tribes who got themselves into a frenzy for battle. The dictionary defines a berserker as “a member of a class of ancient Norse warriors who worked themselves into a frenzy before battle and fought with insane fury and courage” (from the Icelandic berserkr, from bjorn bear + serkr shirt).
Julie picked up on the goblins coming out after the group, setting scene for the later battle, and showing that they are not just another obstacle that’s been overcome. She also talked about Gandalf and the loss of sense of time whilst in the goblin tunnels – perhaps alluding to a vestige of their Elvish origins. Chris suggested that when they were in the tunnels they had no sense of day or night, thus losing track of time.
At this point the local seagulls were making a lot of noise outside, leading to a flurry of eagle/seagull comments: “The Seagulls are coming”; “Where Seagulls Dare”; “The Seagull Has Landed”… (there may have been more…)
Julie picked out one or two of Beorn’s anachronisms: the “jack-in-the-boxes” and the “travelling circus” (p.107)
Mike said that the description of the various herbs was another example of Tolkien teaching children that these are worth knowing.
It was noted that Bilbo lost his buttons. It seems as if he is continually being wrong-footed.
We ended the meeting at 3.40 p.m.
At this point, we are half way through the book. For the next session, the group agreed to look at Chapters VIII “Flies and Spiders” and IX “Barrels Out of Bond”. The next meeting is on Saturday 8th November 2008, at 1.00 p.m.

After the caves episode you'd think Bolbo would be grateful for cold mutton and rabbit. Again as in everything else between LotR and TH, the eagles are less fearsome in the latter.
(p.104) "Farewell wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey's end". This is the polite thing to say among eagles. "May the wind under your wings bear you where the sunsaisl and the moon walks." answered Gandalf. I like these little bits of other cultures' etiquette, and I always imagine the king of the eagles wearing his golden crown at a rather rakish angle.
(p.105) "pressing business" - with the White Council as we later learn, 'that somebody' hint of mystery. Gandalf is more avuncular here than in LotR. I like the exchange 'skin-changer...furrier'. I'd call Beorn a shape-shifter. Like Bombadil 'under some enchantment of his own'.
(p108) The company descend on Beorn after the manner in which they descended on Bilbo at the start.
(p.110) I'd forgotten that Radagast was mentioned but it's the mythology creeping in again. Beorn's hall, especially when you see JRRT's drawing of it, is like an Anglo-Saxon hall and Meduseld.
(p. 115) the serving animals are a bit twee and the only part of the story that really grates with me.
(12608) Thorin and Gandalf are full of dour cheer - we may meet again or we may not, food running short, no safe paths etc.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

Carreg: I don't know Welsh but there is that song "Dafydd y carreg wen"... the terribly sentimental yet nonetheless irristible Welsh ballad about the legend of "David of the White Rock".

1:59 PM  

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