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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Reading Group meeting 11/4/09

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Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

11.4.09
Present this afternoon were Vicki, Angela, Chris, Tim, Laura, Mike, Julie, Carol (by email), and me (Lynn). Ian was in the Northern Kingdom, appropriate really as this was our topic for the meeting.

We were actually discussing the lost realm of Arnor, and I have to confess that I went in a most unproductive direction, searching through The Histories of Middle-earth because other members of the group were intending to investigate Unfinished Tales, and the Appendices to LotR. My choice was rather unproductive but everyone else had found really useful material.

However, we started with Vicki’s account of her medieval weekend, which sounded wonderful, and then we went on to congratulate Julie and Carol who had both had poems published in the latest Mallorn, no small achievement after the new editor’s original interdiction against poetry. They had clearly been effective advocates in favour of its remaining part of the journal. Angela had also received compliments in Amon Hen from another member who had appreciated her article on Disobedience in the previous issue.

Angela opened the discussion of Arnor with her detailed ancestry of the line of the kings of the realm. This could be regarded as her topic anyway as she specialises in the biography of Aragorn. Her charts were most informative, as was the coloured map she presented. Tim added to the visuals as he had brought along his Atlas of Middle-earth. We were reminded of the extent of the kingdom of Arnor, and its tripartite division.

Carol had written that by the time of TH and LotR the northern kingdom was a wild and dreadful place inhabited by evil wights, where trolls lurked and the resort of robbers and ne’er-do-wells like Bill Ferny, while we remarked on the centrality of The Shire, and its apparently autonomous state, as well as discussing the political status of Bree, prompted by Mike asking if it was not something like a Greek City state. I said it had always reminded me of an Anglo-Saxon ‘burh’ in its configuration, but Mike’s point was about its administration. In contrast to the Shire with its Thane, mayor, shirrifs, and bounders, Bree reads as though it is an autonomous collective. Laura remarked on the fact that bowmen from The Shire were sent to war with the Witch King of Angmar.

At this point, I asked when Angmar first arose as a power against Arnor. Angela and I were busy conjecturing until Tim found in an Appendix entry that the Witch King was himself a Numenorean who had been sent north from Minas Morgul to crush the Dunedain. This led to discussion about whether he was one of the Black Numenoreans, which led in turn to the old question of political correctness and colour assignment in Tolkien’s work. Of course he was working within the medieval framework that understood colour to be an external sign of the inward or moral condition of a character so that white and gold were signs of holiness and purity while black and red were external signs of evil and moral corruption. It was remarked too that Tolkien was working in a different cultural context when the issue of blackness and ethnicity was not as controversial as it has become. We went on to consider whether the blackness of the Black Numenoreans was defined by their location – further south leading to darker skin colour, or to their demeanour – defining their corrupt nature in the medieval manner.

Angela went on to declare that she liked the topic for the afternoon because, like ‘real’ history, it required research. Chris added that the lost realm was a factual topic, not one requiring the analysis and debate that we usually engage in. Angela, however, said that the lost realm remained mysterious and Tim observed that it was an enigma and Tolkien had provided just enough information to get on with. Laura noted the fragments of Gondorian architecture.

Any discussion of Arnor obviously includes discussions of his royal house and Angela and Laura both commented that the films reveal too quickly who Aragorn really is, destroying the sense of mystery surrounding him, and Mike noted that in the text he names himself as Captain of Arnor – which is naming himself by his job not in his own identity. Tim suggested this showed how he was avoiding the arrogance of the earlier kings.

Tim and Angela recalled the episodes where Aragorn is depicted not just as a warrior but specifically as a healer. They noted the messianic potential of the depiction and that Aragorn is also the healer of the kingdom. Tim went on to remark that all this hints at a back-story and creates a picture in one’s own imagination. Angela noted that Aragorn’s home (apart from Rivendell) and the homes of his people are not known.

Laura gave us a less bleak set of images to think about when she remarked that the hobbits seem autonomous under their Thane after the loss of Arvedui the last king, although they still believed in the king. It was also noted that the Stoors were driven out of their own lands and resettled, having fled from the wars in Arnor, so these battles had in fact influenced the history of the hobbits, and there had been kings when the hobbits settled The Shire.

Carol had remarked that even without consulting the Appendices, Arnor was always present in some form, even if it is only a ruined form. And it was an example of the way strife is also never far away when the ‘eternal enemy’ is absent. In that absence there is still ‘disunion’ in the north, and that can be exploited. As she noted the division of Arnor reduces its effectiveness against Angmar so the whole northern kingdom diminishes because of both internal and external strife. Gloomily, she pondered ‘it makes one wonder how long the newly united kingdom [under Aragorn and his heirs] will last because the distances are vast and there is no palantir for communication.

We took a short diversion prompted by questions from Vicki, who only joined us recently. We tend to throw references around forgetting that while we understand them, she has only seen the films so far. She wanted to know about a reference to the Sun, so we explained about the Trees and the Lamps. This led to Tim quietly suggesting that they must have been gas lamps and certainly not solar! This was followed by Laura’s discreet observation that this would have resulted in ‘Feanor by gaslight’.

Laura then went on to draw our attention to the far north of Middle-earth and the icy wastesinto which Arvedui the last king travelled trying to escape the Witch-king. As she noted, the Snow men tell him not to go but he goes anyway and finds Cirdan’s ship trapped in the ice. We all remarked on the image as it conjures up the famous pictures of Shackleton’s ship that was trapped in the ice. It was remarked that the icy landscape and the power of the ice are not LotR environments and that even Cirdan cannot build an icebreaker. Tim suggested that we see an overconfidence in technology in the situation.

Angela noted that the palatir was lost and Arvedui was defeated by Angmar because he disregarded the Snow men, but that the last king gave the Ring of Barahir to the chief of the Snow men, and so it was preserved. She also commented on the presence of Glorfindel in the confrontation with the Witch-king, the fate of Earnur’s horse and the Witch-king’s laughter – all pre-echoes of the confrontations at the Ford of Bruinen, and especially during the Battle of the Pellenor Fields. It is Glrofindel who makes the prophecy regarding the killing of the Witch-king. Angela remarked on the pattern of everything being too late.

We decided, in response to a suggestion from Vicki, and one from Carol, that: for our next meeting we would consider the symbolism in any favourite poem from The Fellowship of the Ring. As there are so many and we all have different favourites, it should make for any interesting meeting!

We may have a second meeting on this topic so that Angela and Chris can join us again right at the start of LotR, and this second reading will be from the very start – The Prologue!

12:01 PM  

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