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Monday, October 26, 2009

Reading Group meeting 24/10/09

3 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

24.10.09
Present at the meeting: Tim, Laura, Julie, Mike, Vicki, Angela, and me. We were discussing ‘The Ring Goes South’ and a bit of ‘The Journey in the Dark’.
Julie opened proceedings with the observation that in ‘The Ring Goes South’ Tolkien introduces his readers to lots of his languages. In fact Julie referred to the ‘Rosetta Stone’ effect of the naming of the mountains – each one given its elvish, dwarvish and Common Speech names. Of course mention of the Rosetta Stone reminded me at least of Ian’s paper at Oxonmoot last year, at least I think it was last year. Unfortunately, Ian wasn’t with us for the meeting but it would be good to have his comments on this, even though his paper developed the RS idea in a different way.
Tim picked up Julie’s comments and remarked that the multiple languages contribute to the richness of the text.
On a lighter note, Julie then picked up Pippin’s impatience with the deliberations of the Council of Elrond. Tim, among others remarked that Pippin is actually more prominent in the chapter than Merry, which is rather unexpected. Laura commented that Pippin often displays to ability to open his mouth before engaging his brain, and she also noticed that when Gandalf is talking to the hobbits at the start of this chapter this is the reverse of the Sam/window/Gandalf incident at Bag End. Here it is Gandalf who is outside listening to the conversation – although he isn’t eaves-dropping.
Although Chris couldn’t be with us as he was on a journey of his own going south, he sent comments with Angela and she relayed to us his observation that this chapter provides lots of links with other parts of the story. In another reversal Boromir refuses to set out ‘like a thief’, as opposed to Bilbo who is taken as a thief when he goes after Smaug’s treasure with Gandalf and the dwarves. There is an unsettling prediction from Sam, again involving Gandalf, when he predicts that whatever lies in store for the wizard ‘it isn’t a wolf’s belly’ – it is of course the balrog. One further observation from Chris was Sam choosing Frodo over Bill the pony just as he chooses Frodo over Rose Cotton.
Tim picked up a similar kind of echo when he noted that Boromir sounding his horn, and Elrond’s rebuke look forward to the events at Parth Galen. This remark led on to the contrast between Boromir and Aragorn, who Tim described as messianic. Laura thought Boromir’s upbringing meant he would not recognise Aragorn’s worth if it was concealed beneath his usual scruffy travelling clothes. Boromir only gets to Rivendell at daybreak on the day of the Council so he doesn’t see Aragorn dressed like a lord in the Hall of Fire.
Mike suggested that Boromir needed to establish himself in Rivendell when he found himself among an unexpected throng of other people also seeking Elrond’s advice at the Council.
Tim remarked on the contrast between Aragorn’s sword and Frodo’s – the shards of Narsil were kept and reforged, but Frodo’s broken Barrow blade was not. Tim thought however that the mithril shirt was the equivalent of passing on an heirloom, but also symbolised passing on the mantle of responsibility. Julie thought this was a touching moment as Bilbo turns away. Mike likened it to a lad going off to war – encapsulating the pain and pride of a parent. It also reminded him of Just William, with colanders used for helmets.
As usual this blog comes in several sections. The next section follows -

11:39 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Mike then took us back to the scene farewell in Rivendell and the way Gimli and Elrond seem to be outdoing one another with their remarks. He found this a bit hard to cope with – perhaps because there is a change of linguistic register from naturalistic to formal, even archaic. Tim commented that this parting contrasts with the merry farewell in The Hobbit when the elves are singing.
I wondered about Legolas’s reference to the stones of Hollin lamenting the passing of those who built with them. I wondered if it was an echo of the Orpheus myth. Julie, however, drew attention to the story of Palm Sunday and a similar reference to the stones of Jerusalem. Mike added that stone circles also seem to resonate with ancient memories. Julie thought the idea of lamenting stone might also have a connection with the Dissolution of the Monasteries because this gave rise to so much sorrow. Laura added that when the Berlin Wall came down people claimed chunks of it as a memorial, and Tim noted that someone had actually married the wall. So we built up a picture of stones as symbols of a way of life infused with metaphysical and social meaning by those who knew them or regarded them later as memorials to a past time. Tim added that their lament would have been part of the Song.
Laura noticed the inclusion of part of the ‘backstory’ and went on to wonder that it was Boromir rather than Aragorn the experienced ranger who thought about taking faggots (of wood) onto Caradhras, but Mike took this as a sign of good leadership – Aragorn was leaving space for Boromir to contribute by coming up with the idea.
Chris observed that it is Boromir who lifts Frodo up out of the snow, and wondered if this was a sign of the emerging ‘problem’. I’d always seen Boromir at this stage of the journey as simply helping out when there was something practical to do. He doesn’t seem to like situations that are out of his control, and I have always thought that he is oddly marginalised from important discussions even though both Aragorn and Gandalf must know how experienced he is in all the elements of their journey up to the Doors of Moria. But Chris does have a point!
Julie was rather disconcerted by Frodo’s dream apology to Bilbo in the context of Bilbo’s rather unkind comments – as though Frodo needs to please a father-figure. She compared the situation to Boromir’s relationship with Denethor. It would be interesting to explore this further. Is there perhaps some significance to Boromir helping Frodo in the light of the dream?
Julie also went on to notice the importance of the holly trees, and we ended up talking about elder tress as both have ancient significance and holly remains symbolic of regeneration while elder is the witch tree. Vicki remarked that these days a distillation of elder is hailed as preventing colds if taken quickly enough.
We all commented on the amount of symbolism, and especially on the references to eyes and surveillance in the chapter. Julie observed the passing of the crebain – responsible for a good deal of ‘looking’, and noted that the name is a real (archaic) word.
Mike then directed our attention to the importance of uncertain information in the chapter suggesting that this is a device that encourages the reader to identify with the characters
We then got into a discussion about the Watcher in the Water – what was it, where did it come from originally, how did it get to be under the mountain, what relation was it to the balrog, if any, and was it something Melkor made? Laura reminded us that he made cold drakes as well as hot ones, but we didn’t get far with our speculations.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Mike went on to introduce the idea of the Doors as an icon in the most proper sense. The drawing in the book is set out in a very regular and particular form which reminded him of the ancient rules for creating religious icons. They are famous for their strange perspective and particular arrangement of elements, and even the colours are symbolic and redefined. The various elements of the mithril lines on the Doors are also highly symbolic, as is the material.
Angela took us back to character study with her observation that Pippin shows no remorse at any time for causing so much trouble with his stone. He is always trying Gandalf’s patience but again shows no real remorse for adding to the wizard’s workload, and seems to get away with it. Tim noted however that he is very miserable as he sits on watch, whether we interpret this as contrition for annoying Gandalf or simply misery at his own tiredness and getting told off depends I suppose on whether we make allowances for his spirit and curiosity, or regard him as still something of a spoilt brat at this stage of the story.
We are going on to finish The Journey in the Dark, and The Bridge of Khazad Dum.

11:41 AM  

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