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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reading Group meeting 25/7/09


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Present at the meeting: Laura, Vicki, Pat, Julie, Angela, Chris, Diane, and me (Lynn)

We were discussing chapters 5,6, and 7.

After many months of being unable to join us, Diane was back in the group and got us started with her question – we know that the Ring is giving Frodo extended life but has he aged in his body. Angela observed that Gollum is 500 years old at this point in the story but is still able to move around in a very agile manner because he had the Ring for so long. It was also noted that Frodo would be very fit because he walked a good deal anyway, but I found a reference at the end of Chapter 5 that seemed to suggest that not even the Ring and the exercise prevented him from feeling some effect of his journey because we are told that he could get to sleep because ‘his legs ached’.

Pat took us forward with her observation that the unravelling of the conspiracy is a clever device because it isn’t narrated, it is fragmented between all the characters and is so much more entertaining. Frodo’s own ‘conspiracy’ of silence is shown to have been unsuccessful, he doesn’t get a chance to reveal his plans but is spared this difficulty as his friends reveal their own conspiracy.

Laura remarked that Merry and Pippin are behaving like students taking a ‘gap year’, although she allowed that Merry is quite grown up and sensible. Pat agreed, seeing Merry as an organiser, while Pippin is already hasty, thus establishing their characters at this early stage. Pat also thought that Sam’s ability to sleep like a log suggested his ‘solid’ character. Diane thought there was much about Merry and Pippin that recalled public-school boys, and Laura remarked on Fatty having ‘nurses’, both observations carrying on the theme of Merry and Pippin, and Fatty’s more affluent upbringing, as distinguished from Sam’s honest rusticity. I picked up Carol’s concern from her last comments that Sam doesn’t have a ‘bower’ made for him by the elves above Woodhall, but from what we learn in this chapter he probably wouldn’t have wanted one as he could eavesdrop again very easily while pretending to sleep at Frodo’s feet. His ‘spaniel’ imitation takes on a whole new perspective! Julie noted that Sam is wiser than Merry and Pippin. Angela then commented that since Merry has seen the Bilbo’s Book this suggests a more intellectual side to his character. Diane noted in the context of the ‘public-school’ characterisations that the younger hobbits refer to ‘Captain Frodo’ and that their ‘dancing’ was hard to imagine.

Diane turned our attention next to the imagery associated with the opening of the door at Crickhollow, especially the light streaming out. This she thought recaptured war imagery, especially the blackout, but also moving into spies and espionage. Laura picked up this theme with her observation of the contrasts between horror and homeliness.

We got on to the subject of Farmer Maggot after this. Julie had found some information and posted it on the last blog with regard to Maddock the Welsh name. She noted the little cluster of Welsh names – Gorhendad, Meriadoc, as well as the possibly Welsh derived ‘Maggot’. Angela remarked that Maggot was known by Merry, and Diane commented on the contrast between Maggot’s defiance of the Black Rider and his anxiety on the road to the ferry, saying that it is very unsettling when the brave show fear. Pat picked up the connection with mushroom and observed that as a girl she used to be warned off eating raw mushrooms picked straight from the field as they often contain maggots.

2:36 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

25.7.09 cont:
Laura took us back to Gorhendad Oldbuck with her reminder that he changed his name on settling in the Shire, implying a sense of belonging to the land.

I was interested in the ease with which everyone seemed to relax and enjoy themselves at Crickhollow, as if they recovered very quickly from the fright of being chased by Black Riders. Of course their boyishness bears out Gandalf’s opinion that they do recover quickly and are remarkably stalwart.

Pat led us into the Old Forest, wondering about the magic and the power – was it something else? Laura said she felt sorry for the Forest at first. She also remarked on the earlier reference to hobbits in Buckland being inclined to swim and wondered if this was a reminder of Frodo’s parents.

Diane noted Frodo’s dream of the sea and Laura wondered if it was evidence of a ‘race memory’.

Pat took us on to consider her favourite character – Tom Bombadil, and she noted the many references to colour in the chapter. Diane remarked that they all seemed very bright and Laura said they reminded her of stained glass, while Goldberry’s clothes and the water-lilies reminded her of the art nouveau style, especially in jewellery. Vicki, however, observed that the love of colour is also very medieval.

Diane remarked on the way the rhythm of Tom’s prose mirrors the rhythm of his lively ‘poetry’ and Laura commented that Tom IS the power of words and that the rhyme he teaches the hobbits is in fact a spell. Carol comments on Tom perhaps being the ‘last chord’ of the originary Music’ [see her complete comments which follow]. Laura then concluded that Tom existed not just before Sauron but before Morgoth too!

Pat was interested in Goldberry’s reassurance to the hobbits ‘heed no nightly noises’, and proposed that she actually visited Merry and Pippin in the night to comfort their sleep, but not Frodo’s. Diane likened this possible presence to the Angel at the foot of the bed. She went on to conclude that it was being trapped in the willow that caused Merry and Pippin to have bad dreams, and also that perhaps Goldberry regards Frodo and Sam as tougher.

Laura wondered then about the Ring that seems at this point almost forgotten by us all. She also brought up the consideration that maybe Goldberry is related to Uinen, Ulmo’s female Maia, whose streaming hair reaches into every river an stream. Could she be Uinen’s daughter? Angela observed that in the long poem The Adventures of Tom Bombadil she is a more of a ‘saucy wench’.

Angela went on to wonder if the Witch-King is using Old Man Willow in the same way that he is stirring up the Barrow wight.

Pat picked up Goldberry’s remark that Frodo bears a light in his eyes that shows he is an elf-friend – and Pat wondered what kind of light this was. Diane said it was the visible effect of the meeting with Gildor, and Laura thought it might be a certain look of confidence as a result of that. Diane observed that Goldberry showed the greater susceptibility of a spirit in her perception.*

2:37 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

25.7.09 cont:
Laura then asked how it was that Tom knew about the coming of the hobbits. Angela suggested that Tom, Maggot and the elves represented a network who were all looking out for the hobbits. Laura added that the Rangers must have been included in this. Julie noted that Maggot, Tom and Gandalf, all seemed to enjoy long life.

In a brief lull, Julie considered Tom’s ‘nonsense’ singing, and she came prepared with background context in the form of a book of Goon Show scripts. There she found, in the episode known as The Sahara Desert Statue a short interlude in which Eccles enters ‘singing’ “bim bom biddle…”. As Julie observed, the 1940s and 50s were a time when ‘scat singing’ like this was popular. We were all much amused at the unlikely connection between Tom Bombadil and Eccles.

After this we moved on to the Ring episode, and Diane remarked on Frodo’s irritability. Pat and Chris observed that he seemed to have felt as though the Ring had been taken from him, but as Julie commented, it was not Frodo’s Ring at all. Diane than added that Tom is not always cheerful.

Diane and Chris then wondered if Frodo’s next dream was a vision of Gollum, but Laura thought it was a left-over version of the first night in Lothlorien. And we pondered the possibility of a pattern of ‘pre-echoes’. Diane added that the sound of wind among leaves is often reminiscent of the sound of the sea.

We agreed to read the next 3 short chapters ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’, ‘At the Sign of the Prancing Pony’ and ‘Strider’ for our next meeting. Good luck with the Barrow wights!

Carol's full comments follow

2:38 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Carol’s Comments in full:
Chapter 5 ‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’

Pp.112-3: at this moment the Brandywine is quite symbolic - a boundary 'old life lay behind...dark adventure lay in front', like crossing over Styx; it's misty, it's dark, [cf.] Eliot's brown river in 'dry salvages'. potent, outside the 'real' shire. P.115: I often wonder how they heat the copper. Since then Marion Kershaw has explained that when she was a kid they had to heat a copper with a fire to have a bath or do the washing. P.118: Sam will prove that he doesn't fall over his own feet and will achieve far more than Pippin. P.119: and why is the Red Book secret? P.122: comfortable Fatty, scared by bogey stories of the Old Forest, really does come out differently in the end. and the bogey stories just might be true. Frodo's recurring 'dreme' about the sea, the sea-longing - his eventual destiny.

Chapter 6 ‘The Old Forest’

I like this opening. It's very atmospheric - fog, dripping branches and cobwebs glistening. ‘Fowls chattering in a yard, someone closing a door of a distant house.’ It reminds me of getting up very early, the rest of the world seems sound asleep apart from a distant car speeding along. Nothing seems real when you're up so early and not used to it.
Pp.124-5: there are going to be lots of tunnels before they finished. Freud would have a field-day but I'm sure if Tolkien knew anything about Freudian psychology, he wasn't thinking about it when he was writing. A forest is a very apt place to start their adventure. Forests are the first places ventured into in lots of tales, on the borders of 'civilised places', unknown, potentially dangerous with wolf and boar, or magical seductresses or mysterious knights to challenge. P.125: already Merry's talking of trees as if they're sentient. 'they do say the trees do actually move' - hints of Fangorn. And 'something makes paths', but what; spooky. P.127: are these trees sentient then, a bit like Huorns? Or is it just the hobbits' imaginations? P.128: what is the forest's 'queerness'? Good building up of suspense. P.129: added to by the Barrow-downs' sinister reputation.
The whole countryside seems to be conspiring against them. P.130: 'they were being headed off' right in the direction they don't want to go. P.131: the sleepiness, p.132 earthy Sam can hear Old Man Willow 'singing about sleep'. It's he who stays alert. Pp.132-3: the first time you read of Merry and Pippin vanishing inside a willow it's like 'catastrophe'. However will they escape. P.134 the synchronicity of Tom - his singing's so light after the heaviness of the Forest and irresistible sleep and the prose turns sing-song. P.135 'old grey willow man...I know the tune for him...I'll sing his roots off. I'll sing a wind up...' bearing in mind that creation came from the great music, and Tom knowing the tunes of things, and later when we learn that Tom is 'eldest and fatherless', I think he's one of the last remaining true chords of the great music. He isn't master of the Forest but more like a steward and as forests have diminished, he's chosen the Old Forest as his last little domain, indicating the smallness of his chord. I'm sure Tolkien meant nothing at all by Tom Bombadil other than a quirky character who rescues the hobbits from a fix, but all that's said about him makes me wonder.
P.136: I love the way Tolkien turns the noun 'gloom' into the verb 'gloomed'. P.137: love also 'as young and as ancient as spring' because every year is young in spring but spring's been around for an awful long time.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Chapter 7 ‘In the House of Tom Bombadil

P.138: MAGIC - Frodo finds Tom's magic 'less keen and lofty' than that of the elves, 'deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange'. Tom's kind of magic is the magic of nature, older and deeper than the fabricated magic of the elves. The place is such that Frodo bursts into song - impromptu.
P.139: Goldberry's reply to Frodo's question 'who is Tom Bombadil?', 'he is' has prompted comments about him being Eru, going off the biblical Jahweh saying 'I am that I am' or some such. But Tom just IS, like an animal IS, like the lilies of the field ARE. He is Tom Bombadil, himself, neither master nor servant, understanding the little place he's chosen to live, answerable to nobody but luckily being on the benign side. Tolkien said he was the spirit of the vanishing Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire countryside. He could be viewed as a sort of green man living in complete symbiosis with his surroundings. So Frodo's idea of this strange land belonging to him would be complete anathema as Goldberry explains. To own the land would 'be a burden' to him - 'the trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves.' If we all had this attitude there wouldn't be such an ecological crisis but unlike Tome we have to possess and dominate. Yet Tom has power over the Forest when he chooses - as in rescuing the hobbits. But that's the greater thing, and a Ring message. Tom has the power to become the Forest tyrant but chooses not to. Tom and Goldberry only seem to eat what they don't have to kill.
P.140: the hobbits seem 'expected'. P.141 Tom's 'being there' - enigmatic as usual. 'it was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you.' In Eru's scheme of things does everything have its own musical theme, one it responds to and one that it sings, may be one and the same?
P.142: another of Frodo's 'dremes' where, very synchronously, he 'sees' Gandalf's escape from Orthanc. Frodo has these prophetic dreams but can't make them out yet.
P.145: a potted history of the topography of the next stage of their journey. P.146 Tom goes right back into history. I think he's probably been around from the beginning - a Maia perhaps? Here under 'ancient starlight, when only elves were awake', before 'the first raindrop and the first acorn, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless.' one of my favourite sentences in the whole book. P.147: 'morning, noon, and evening' the hobbits have sat listening to Tom without even a thought of food! P.148 the alarming incident with the ring: it doesn't make Tom disappear but Tom makes the ring vanish and can also see Frodo when he's wearing the ring. Very strange. I suppose something could be said about the traditional female role Goldberry performs - cleaning and laundry while the men sit by the fire and talk, but I don't think it's really applicable. Tom and Goldberry seem to weave around and in and out of each other, get things done effortlessly because there's no conflict

2:39 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

The Ring and invisibility: some have observed that the one who puts on the Ring becomes invisible because they are then totally under the domination of Sauron. Tom puts on the Ring and doesn't become invisible. In fact, he can make the Ring itself invisible. You wonder then that perhaps he actually outranks Sauron in some way. Sauron is a Maia. Tom can't be one of the Valar but he is at least older than Sauron. Perhaps he is analagous to Judaeo-Christian Wisdom, who was in the beginning with God, but not quite identical with the Logos (i.e. the Word, i.e. Jesus).

2:49 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

"Wisdom" is an important concept in Old Testament and Apocryphal writings (i.e. writings which though godly didn't make the final Biblical cut). Called "Sophia" in Greek. It was a forerunner of the Christian concept of "The Word" (Logos).

It lingered in Greek thought. The great mosque (now a museum) at Istanbul was once the equally great Christian church dedicated to Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia).

3:04 PM  

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