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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Reading Group meeting 10/10/09


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

It seems such a long time since I last wrote up a blog report, and this one will not be as full as usual because at the first meeting after Oxonmoot I had to dash off after the first hour.
Personally, I love being into October because Tolkien describes the weather so beautifully. It is a little melancholy, but it is also the time when the Fellowship forms and determination is in the air, along with some excitement (ill-informed perhaps but very positive).
Present were Mike, Julie, Laura, Ian, Chris, Angela, Vicki, Carol (by email), and me. We began the meeting with congratulations to everyone for recent presentations and publications.
So to the text: Many Meetings and The Council of Elrond.
Mike started us off by asking how much we thought chance or fate really played a part in the gathering of all the representatives at just the right moment. Was it perhaps Elrond putting some kind of ‘spin’ on the situation?
Laura thought it was down to Elrond’s wisdom: everyone wanted to consult him; while Angela reminded us that through his ancestry he was almost uniquely close to Iluvatar. Laura added that from his own account of his lineage and history he is coming out of myth.
I thought it was not so much Elrond’s spin, or even Iluvatar’s influence, so much as the influence of Mordor that accounted for the gathering of the spokesmen of the Free Peoples at that time and place. I couldn’t respond to the question about the prophetic ‘Seek for the Sword that was Broken’, except to conjecture that the rhyme may have been known to both brothers at some stage of their early life. On balance it does come across in the text as an external intervention, but this could have been initiated by the increasingly apparent spread of Sauron’s influence.
Julie then asked Chris about the connection he had made in his recent article between LotR and War and Peace and he said that as War and Peace depicts the consequences of small events building up, so LotR shows the effect of small events. The conclusion was that a lack of predeterminism is revealed – one cannot know all the factors contributing to any event.
Mike described this as a concatenation of events. Chris added that the individual doesn’t know of predeterminism anyway.
Everyone was then taken over with a discussion concerning the role of Boromir. The comments addressed his pride and arrogance and this was attributed to his upbringing and his warrior status. As Carol remarked, he’s not the only one exhibiting ‘hubris’: ‘The white horses - here Gandalf suffers from a bit of hubris.’
Ian posed the question – what would have happened if it had been Boromir that Frodo and Sam encountered in Ithilien? This begs the question –would Faramir have been up to the journey his brother made? Tolkien himself said he gave too little acknowledgement to Boromir’s achievement in getting to Rivendell.

Next section follows:

12:35 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

This section goes on to show Carol's comments too, but before that:

Angela wondered why Boromir did not notice Aragorn until he spoke, and we thought that in his old travelling clothes he may have been mistaken by Boromir for some servant of Elrond’s. It was also proposed that he may have been too perfectly camouflaged!
Julie wondered if we should understand a pun on Council/counsel and it seems very plausible.
Mike and Angela both wondered what Cirdan’s envoy was doing – what kind of advice was he seeking or bringing? Maybe something to do with the ships leaving?
Julie gave us some light relief when she picked up the reference that ‘the Nine were abroad’ which gave rise to various remarks along the lines of holidays, sunbeds, etc. It was an afternoon for wordplay!
Laura turned to more serious matters when she wondered what form Sauron would have taken if he had won the War. It was remarked that although he had been able to take a fair form in order to deceive the Numenorean kings, he had lost this ability when Numenor was drowned. It was also observed that if he won, he could exploit a fearful form in order to terrify the conquered peoples into obedience.
At this point, I had to leave the meeting, but Carol’s comments follow
‘Many Meetings’: mirrors 'Many Partings' at the end. Frodo's waking also mirrors his waking on the field of Cormallen. Gandalf's back and he's smoking in a hospital ward! Hints at Strider's heritage don’t sink in with some of the hobbits for a long time. Gandalf hints in his thought that Frodo will be the bearer to Mt. Doom.

My gripe again about Frodo doing the Wise's dirty work for them - that's the best reason they're being nice to him, but being elves wouldn't they have taken in and tended any wounded wayfarer they found.

I love the interlude with Gloin. Of course it's left out of adaptations like so many other small interludes that add a bit of flavouring to the story: the power of elven poetry, even though not understood verbally, to create visions in the mind.

I've tried singing 'Earendil was a mariner' to the Donald Swann tune of 'Errantry' and it could fit. This is quite some poem. I can't begin to analyse it. [Actually it is Tolkien’s version of the Welsh form called *cynghanedd* which is said to be the most complex form of poetry in the world because it has internal rhymes and well as end rhymes, and a pattern of alliteration and assonance.] As Strider said to Bilbo, he has a 'cheek to make verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond...'

chapter 2 The Council of Elrond

This is possibly my favourite chapter because of all the stories it tells. Now, in the appendices to film FOTR, Jude Fisher says if she were editing LOTR she's take a blue pencil to the Council. She's on my Tolkien hit list, mostly because she has no room to criticise Tolkien's writing! Her own books accompanying the films were AWFUL. She didn't seem to know when she was writing from her own imagination, the films or the book and she has the cheek to say she's excise one of the most important chapter in the whole book.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Carol's comments continue:
To me Tolkien is a consummate story teller and this chapter is a good example of that. He could have written the whole thing in a straight narrative like Elrond beginning the story of the rings, but we've just had Gloin relating a more recent bit of the story and there'll be more jiggling as the chapter proceeds. This is how you hold interest - different styles, different modes, different voices - plenty of those. The words of Elrond are binding together some of what's gone before. It makes me wonder what would have happened to the allies' hosts had Isildur destroyed the ring. Look what happens when it does go into the fire. May be it was a felix culpa. Right from the start we see Boromir the boss, always too ready to bombast about what Gondor achieves. He always makes a show of not naming Sauron but the portentous 'nameless enemy'. I know Sauron is portentous but Boromir makes a right meal of this and everything attributed to Gondor's - and thus his own - glory. He even enumerates the number of days he's been travelling but it's the way he says it, always emphasising how proud he is, his flaw. A regular ploy in fairy tales is the youngest least likely son succeeding. Sam's the Gaffer's youngest and the dream comes to the younger of Denethor's sons first, not Boromir. And Boromir had to make the journey to Rivendell. Otherwise if Frodo and Sam had met him in Ithilien instead of Faramir, the quest would have failed. I like bilbo's indignation at Boromir. He even gets sarcastic about the number of days Boromir says he's travelled. Boromir vaunts about his deeds. He wants all to know how great he is whereas Aragorn shows the opposite side: the Dunedain don't constantly remind Shirelings or Breelanders that they're being guarded by them.

Tolkien's theory of languages implying ethos as the paragraph after the Black Tongue quote shows. Gimli indignantly interrupts Legolas' account of kindness shown to Gollum. Gandalf shows that he's not above making mistakes or not knowing what was ahead of him at Isengard, just an uneasy feeling. Saruman is breaking what I call the prime directive - whether Star Trek or Istari, not to seek to govern lesser races with power, only counsel and weigh up. It's funny that the overreachers/baddies Saruman and Sauron are Maiar of Aule and Aule himself gets a bit presumtuous at one point in creating the dwarves before Eru has created all his children. Now we know why only 5 wraiths attacked Aragorn and the hobbits at Weathertop. Questions answered, gaps filled in. Boromir's first lusting after the ring. Elrond's really patient with him. Then the tragedy of the 3 rings is revealed: if the one is destroyed then the power of the 3 will also be destroyed.

From 'I am just writing and ending for it' could almost be Tolkien's thoughts. 'There will evidently have to be several more chapters...' lots of severals as it turns out.

A bit of light amusement at the end between Elrond and Sam, ending with Sam saying: 'a nice pickle we have landed ourselves in, Mr. Frodo.' ending this grandiose chapter on a bit of Sam's homespun is masterly.

Just a few more words about Boromir. Though he comes across as an arrogant vaunting braggart, he is used to getting his own way at home. There there's nobody to gainsay him so he's not used to being spoken back to in correction. This is all strange to him. He's also more than a little wary of elves and their powers as we see more clearly in Lorien. He'd rather fight something tangible than be netted by sorcery.

This is on amazing chapter, estimated 15,000 words, I've tallied 20 voices, telling different parts of the story in different ways and aspects. It isn't rambling. It never gets out of Tolkien's control; probably told in the most economical way possible. Brilliant!

In the absence of infor to the contrary, I've assumed that the Group are reading the next chapter or two for the next meeting.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I love it when "Mercury descends" on our sessions and the wordplay starts to spark! (I was thinking there of the episode towards the end of CSL's "That Hiddeous Strength" when the planetary deity Mercury actually does come down upon the St Anne's community in a kind of "pentecost" experience.) I do rather suspect that CSL had in mind the Inklings' pub sessions when the ale had been flowing more freely than usual! But I think the Southfarthing doesn't do too badly on our modest cups of tea. 8-)

3:19 PM  

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