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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reading Group meeting 13/6/09

The 100th entry on the blog!


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

13.06.09 ‘The Shadow of the Past’ Blog part 1

Present: Ian, Anne, Laura, Pat, Vicki, Angela, Tim, Julie, Chris, and me.

Ian began our discussion by commenting on the power of suggestion that we see in the chapter.

Anne noted the background to Gollum’s ‘split personality’.

Chris pointed out the structure and logic of the entire LotR story: Frodo couldn’t commit the Ring to his own fire, so Gandalf has to – and Carol takes this further when she remarks: Frodo can't attempt to destroy the ring in his own home – it’s already getting a hold. How much more so at Orodruin?

I asked if we see evidence that there were ents on the North Moors? Carol is quite certain, writing “Sam, unknowingly, speaking of ents.” We discussed how they would have got there. Tim thought they were looking for the Entwives. Julie wondered if they had made their way via the Gap of Rohan, in spite of the proximity to Orthanc, and Laura thought they went very slowly. Tim wondered if there was evidence for ents elsewhere other than Fangorn and Angela suggested they were in the Old Forest. I remembered Merry’s reference to the trees moving about in there.

Anne wanted to know how the Ring was cut from Sauron’s hand – was it necessary, she asked, for people to sit on him to hold him down! We explained about Gil-galad and Elendil and Isildur.

Julie observed at this point that from her reading of C.S. Lewis’s works it seems that Tolkien’s use of the Ring’s power to confer invisibility is much more subtle that Lewis’s use of a Ring with magic powers.

Anne then asked how the White Council knocked down the Tower of Dol Guldur. There was general consensus that Galadriel especially used her great power, and that even Saruman at this time may have lent his power to the task.

Laura mentioned her delight in the assertion that not even Ancalagon the Black could destroy the One Ring. This led us to the topic of the indestructible nature of Rings of Power, which led to some merriment. We knew that dragon fire could melt the lesser Rings, but we pondered the question “how do you get a dragon to melt a Ring”? Various suggestions were put forward, mainly based around the idea of ‘very carefully’. My suggestion of a long toasting fork only led into a debate on whether or not it would have to be telescopic.

Pat brought some sense back to the afternoon when she asked if Sam already knew Rose Cotton at this point in the story, and we thought he must have done. At which point Angela asked if the observation that Sam had more on his mind referred to his feelings for Rose. Carol picked up the same reference but asked, 'is that his spying for Merry and Pippin? We were less conspiratorial, wondering if he was preoccupied with thinking about Rose/

Laura observed that the interlude with Sam cheers up the tension, Carol takes a very different view based on the way Frodo and Gandalf treat him. For Carol’s full analysis se her Comments posted separately.

Laura and Tim were interested in the sound of Sam cutting the lawn and Tim concluded that Sam could not be using a mower (naturally), so he must be using a scythe. Ian picked up the relevance of this with his observation that if Sam was used to wielding the sharp and dangerous blade of a scythe, it explains how he can use a sword without specific training.

Laura went on to comment on the particular circumstances of Frodo’s life – that he seemed destined never to marry – so he had no ties of the kind that Sam, Merry and Pippin had.

Chris picked up the most contentious reference in the chapter, and maybe in the whole story – the unavoidable conclusion that Gandalf uses a form of torture on Gollum to find out what he has been and what he’s been doing.
Part 2 follows

2:42 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Part 2

We thought it unlikely, because it was unnecessary, that Gandalf used any kind of physical violence, or remembering ‘extraordinary rendition’, that he colluded with the Elves of Mirkwood in its use. Instead, we thought that there was enough evidence in the *text* to show that Gollum had actually been tortured by Sauron or his henchmen. After this, Gandalf would only have had to exert psychological pressure by reminding Gollum of that experience.

Laura and Angela got us away from these disturbing issues when they both remarked that in this chapter we find the first mention of Aragorn, and that Frodo has clearly forgotten all about him by the time they actually meet in Bree.

It was Laura and Anne who briefly conjectured on the administrative structure or orc society when they asked if anyone in charge of orcs should be called ‘Orcward’. Following this etymological flourish, Laura went on to observe the difference between Aragorn and others who travel and so develop and survive, and all those characters who stay and home and don’t develop survival skills.

I then asked about the reference to ‘twilight’ as a state associated with being under the dominion of the Dark Lord. I wondered about this because twilight is a condition most commonly associated with the Elves. Chris said he thought it referred to a kind of ‘half-world’ as twilight is generally a transitional time. Julie noted that the reference to twilight in this particular ‘Sauronic’ context might be suggestive of the state of deep depression in which the world seems colourless, just as it does in the evening as the light drains away.

Angela continued this rather psychological trend in our discussions as she asked if we thought Gandalf was in denial about the power and danger of the Ring as he waited to see what was going on with Bilbo and then Frodo. Chris asked if his constant delaying meant that he was not as wise as might be expected.

This ‘heresy’ reminded Laura that Radagast, like all the wizards, is supposed to be working for the downfall of Sauron but doesn’t ever seem to be helping. Tim reminded us that he’s being used by Saruman.

Tim returned to the topic of Gandalf’s delays and wondered if the wizard had been biding his time until Frodo and the other hobbits were ready and able to take on the dangers of the quest.

Chris, like Carol, noted the significance of Frodo’s premonitions and dreams. Carol thought that Frodo's 'difference' is starting to come out in his dreams, 'strange visions of mountains'.

Julie, however, took a more pragmatic view of what Frodo is experiencing at 50: she suggested that he’s going through a mid-life crisis. There were murmurs that this might have been true for Tolkien himself, since he has again a mature and probably rather unfit hero who goes off unwarily on adventures.

Returning to his earlier concerns, Chris remarked that Gandalf is generally actually gentle towards Gollum, but Sam is definitely not, until after he has worn the Ring for a little while and experienced it.

Because most of us will be away for various reasons, including the Tolkien Seminar in London on 27th June (our next scheduled meeting) we agreed that our next meeting will take place on 11th July. We shall be reading and discussing the next 2 chapters, ‘Three’s Company’, and ‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms’. Watch out for the Ringwraiths!

Carol's comments follow

2:44 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Carol’s comments: part 1

• Good chapter, well paced with lots of information and drama. The exposition chapters are needed because of the background knowledge they impart at such length, rather than revealing bits here and there, which, of course, is also employed.
• 'Bilbo's hundred-and-twelfth birthday...a hundred-weight feast', still cosy and for those who don't remember avoir dupois, 112 lbs makes 100 weight, why I don't know but there it is.
• Introduction in this chapter of Merry and Pippin.
• Apart from visiting elves and walking under starlight and not looking older, Frodo's 'difference' is starting to come out in his dreams, 'strange visions of mountains'.
• At the side of the bit referring to elves leaving and not returning 'no longer concerned with its troubles' I've written 'they caused all the trouble, now they're deserting', a gripe that'll come up again later.
• A segue from TH of the necromancer being driven from Mirkwood only to reappear stronger in Mordor.
• Ted's 'fireside-tale and children's stories', Ted's not the only one to think like that. See also the Riders of Rohan and also somewhere advice not to disregard them, Celeborn I think.
• Sam's getting quite elegaic about elves 'sailing, sailing, sailing' and doesn't seem to care about derision from Ted. Sam's longing and difference, he's desiring dragons.'he walked home under the early stars.' This time next year he'll have been to hell and back.
• Gandalf reappears after a long absence and it's ominous.
• Gandalf starts on the history of the rings of power to 'the sound of Sam Gamgee cutting the lawn.' a red-herring ruse throughout this chapter, to be wary of the spies of Sauron.
• His query 'when did I first guess...?' shows Gandalf's not omnipotent - being clothed in mortal dress. He's just been uneasy and about Saruman too.
• 'he gave it up in the end of his own accord: an important point.' Lots of small points become important in tipping the balance between success and failure like Bilbo gaining the ring through mercy and pity.
• The red-herring of Sam's shears again opposed to the inscription on the ring, and the ominous words: 'this is the master-ring...' and those lovely words: 'all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'
• Even Gandalf doesn't realise the Nazgul have arisen again but it won't be long.
• Gollum's history: Frodo before experience can only use 'loathsome' and 'abominable' about Gollum, whereas Gandalf thinks 'it is a sad story'. Frodo's faced with emotions he's never even thought of before - hate and love of the same thing.
• Hints of other powers working to 'encourage' the ring to Bilbo , as is often seen in later events: not wholesale intervention by the powers - they've learned that lesson - but just enough to give the goodies the edge and to make choices - free-will v. important.
• Gollum's wandering comes in handy when he's leading Frodo and Sam. 'that is a sample of his talk. I don't suppose you want to hear any more.' but Frodo gets to hear a whole lot more before the end of the story.
• First mention of Aragorn but even Tolkien didn't make the connection to Strider at the Prancing Pony for quite a while.
• Red-herring - Sam's shears are silent. The tension mounts.

Part 2 follows

2:45 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Carol’s comments Part 2

• The famous - and wise - word of pity and mercy. 'I do not feel any pity for Gollum.' 'you have not seen him.' Words that come back to haunt Frodo - 'now that I see him I do pity him,' when they meet Gollum in the Emyn Muil. 'do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.' It could be a kind of motto for a lot of Tolkien's writing - even Morgoth is spared and given second chances. And Bilbo's pity does rule the fate of many.
• Hints of Rangers.
• Red-herring Sam innocently whistling outside as Frodo comes up trumps. 'the enemy has many spies and many ways of hearing.' Raises the question here - is Sam a spy for Sauron?
• This episode of catching Sam 'eavesdropping' could be regarded as humorous but this is one of the things that rankles with me, Sam's treatment as a servant. Here I forget the ethos of Tolkien's time and the time of the quest. And Frodo can't help scaring Sam a bit more - as a joke. Sam’s 'springing up like a dog invited for a walk' so demeaning and used later of Gollum, though Frodo does come to realise, as he does in pitying Gollum, that there's more to Sam Gamgee than meets the eye.

2:46 AM  

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