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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reading Group meeting 14/11/09

8 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

14.11.09
What a stormy day! Once or twice we thought the Orcs had come to get us as the wind caught the door and windows of our meeting room. We also had a band rehearsing nearby – drums in the deep! Apart from this we enjoyed congratulating Ian on his birthday (and eating the cakes he’d brought). We then tackled ‘A Journey in the Dark’ and ‘The Bridge of Khazad Dum’.

There are two Appendices this time as well as the main report and Carol’s insightful comments. Appendix 1 is on Holly and its significance. Appendix 2 is Julie’s observations on the title Pontifex Maximus and its relationship to Gandalf on the bridge. As usual, the report itself is in several sections.

Julie began the discussion with a question – has Gandalf forgotten the Pippin in a hobbit when he is expected to leap a 7 foot gap? We all expressed our own doubts about being able to jump across such a distance, especially as it is over a chasm. Tim offered a possible answer when he suggested that it might be on a downward slope – so the leap would be downwards rather than horizontally.

I mentioned the first instance of Frodo having enhanced senses after what seemed like the entirely negative encounter with the Morgul knife. He senses evil before and behind and can see better than Gandalf. It was thought that Gimli would also have enhanced vision in the dark, being a dwarf, but Frodo’s seems very sharp now. I also wondered about the churning water – was this just natural or a sign of orc industry? We came to no absolute conclusion, but Chris also mentioned the wells as evidence of natural water in Moria.

Julie thought the KD chapter addressed our primal fears of darkness underground, and Ian noted that Moria was not mapped by Tolkien so its complexity remains unknown and only hinted at. Ian went on to remark that the dwarves attempted to reclaim what in fact was more like an enclosed ‘country’, withing which there are smaller areas dedicated to various industrial activities such a mining and smithing. He interpreted the Dwarrowdelf as the eastward city, and suggested that the 9 actually journey through this ‘country’. All this was prompted by my passing comment that I find it hard to imagine going 40 miles and more underground from one side of the mountains to the other. Ian’s interpretation of 40+ miles in terms of a country or maybe a county, made it easier to understand.

Mike followed this with his observation that it is a well-known device in horror literature to transform familiar things. The transformation evokes terror because of its difference especially in darkness and silence. So things like wells and doorways take on a different feeling.

Laura noted that Terry Pratchett follows Tolkien in his use of dwarf characters and even creates different kinds of dwarfs, some of which never leave the depths of the mines. Julie linked all this metaphorically as she remarked on writers examining the depths of people’s psychology through their fears. Diane picked this up and suggested that the Balrog may represent every individual reader’s deepest fear. She also suggested that walking through Moria was equivalent to walking through one’s mind>

Tim observed of the Balrog thatwhen its mane kindles it is light as well as shadow, and light is that which is most wanted in the darkness, but now it is that which is most feared! It is that fear we might feel walking down a shortcut on a dark night.

1:43 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Chris took us back to the encounter in the Chamber of Mazarbul with his observation that when Frodo stabs the troll’s foot this is the last time he wields Sting with the intention of wounding or killing. Although he uses it to cow Gollum he does not seem to use it again in this way. Laura noted of the troll’s hide that its green scales seem to recall the mammalian fear of the reptilian. Tim thought its description made it Grendel-like, while Laura and Angela observed that Boromir’s blade was not strong enough to cope with the scales. There was some discussion of the power an ancestry of blades in relation to the giant’s sword that Beowulf uses to kill the troll-wife when Unferth’s ancestral blade breaks.

Diane and Tim were impressed by Sam’s lucky duck, it’s actually a quick duck which is lucky for Sam, and everyone was amused by Sam and this remarkable water-fowl. Tim went on to note that part from another duck a quail is mentioned later in the chapter. Tim also wondered – along avian lines- if the duck might be a Mallard, since it would relate nicely to the express train in chapter 1!

Having worked our way through the customary comic interlude, I launched us off into consideration of the many echoes of Beowulf and the Battle of Maldon in the Khazad Dum chapter. It has occurred to me before that certain episodes in LotR seem to be the occasion for Tolkien to use whole clusters of literary references. Ian observed that rather than merely ‘popping in’ useful bits or creating bits to fit things he remembered, the *HoM-e* provide evidence of the way Tolkien created his stories as he wrote bits of stories that were working towards a bigger story.

Laura took us out of the structural and into the story again with her observation of the creepiness of the footsteps that are barely heard. Julie noted that Frodo is now sensing evil.

Angela and Laura were impressed by the preservation of the manuscript in the Chamber – it always reminds me of the fate of the unique Beowulf ms. that is charred around the edges having barely survived the great fire that destroyed much of Sir Robert Cotton’s Library in the 18th century. It was remarked around the group that it seemed a bit hard on Gimli to expect him to carry the tome that records the last days of the dwarves, no matter how significant the text.

Diane and Angela were both impressed by the relatively small stature of the orc chieftain who attacks Frodo. I recalled my own surprise that orcs are only dwarf or hobbit sized and only Uruks are really man sized.

Ian then asked us a question – is there a link between Pippin and Boromir? He was thinking of the fact that it is Boromir who throws a stone that awakens the Watcher in the Water, and it is Pippin who throws, or drops a stone that wakens the orcs, and probably the Balrog. There is the association of water and stones between the two characters, as well as the fact that neither apologises for the trouble they cause; but Ian proposed a degree of discrimination in the way they are treated. Gandalf never says a word of reproach to Boromir but gives Pippin a ticking off and a hard time. It was noted that there is another connection between Pippin, stone and water when he is the one who picks up the palatir out of the flood around Orthanc and almost gives the game away to Sauron.

Julie brought up the concept of the name Pontifex Maximus – the title given to the Pope – which means the Great Bridge-builder, and she connected it to Gandalf who is the bridge-destroyer. Her full analysis of the significance of applying the Roman title to Gandalf follows in the Appendix 2

1:45 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Tim then posed a question – can the Balrog speak? It is after all a Maia in corrupted form. Diane said it seems to pause and think. It was also noted that it gives ‘no answer’ but we wondered if it could communicate like other Maiar by thought. Gandalf, we thought, would need to vocalise his challenge in order to quell the orcs and reassure his companions. I remarked that Boromir’s horn call halts the Balrog, and we all considered how to interpret its ‘cry’ – is it fear, or anger as Diane suggested, or frustration, or as Angela suggested, a mix of all 3.

At this point Chris wondered what Gollum was doing all the time. I wondered how he got out after the bridge went down. Mike, among others, suggested he found another exit while the fight in the Chamber was going on.
By the time we had discussed Gollum’s recent escape from captivity – was it chance or by arrangement, the tempting prospect of a cup of coffee and then a glass or two of something stronger got the better of us. As it was past 3.30 anyway we agreed to read the next three chapters, 6, 7 and 8 because they are all about Lothlorien, and went in search of the Old Winyards.


Appendix 1 -- Tim:

The Holly

Holly Ilex aquifolium L.
Holly is of the family Aquifoliaceae. Ilex is a very large genus of nearly 400 species which occur all over the world, except in the Arctic .

Other names
Bein-Viar (Norse), Cuillen (Old Irish), Helver, Berry Holm, Aunt Mary’s Tree, Poisonberry, Christmas Tree, Christ’s Thorn.

Derivative place-names
Bainley Bank, Holdenhurst. In Ireland , many places that have ‘cullen’ in their name.

The Holly: Tree Lore and Folk Beliefs

“Young leaves when boiled have been recommended as a cure for colds, bronchitis and rheumatism, and a few berries can be taken as a purgative.
“Holly is one of the ancient symbols of the midwinter festival and has been incorporated into Christmas celebrations; its scarlet berries are much admired, red being a colour to ward off evil. It is associated with many other country beliefs, partly because of its evergreen habit, as a result of which it remains ‘fresh’ throughout the winter. It is unlucky to cut down a holly tree, especially in Ireland where it is an abode of fairies; it should not be grown near the house and it can even be dangerous to sweep a chimney which a holly branch. In England it used to be planted near houses to ward off witches and lightning, as well as to repel poison. Inside the house, it would also ward off goblins, especially at Christmas. Alcohol was often sold at fairs and markets under holly trees: public houses called The Hollybush or The Bush may reflect these early licensing arrangements.”

Source:
J. Edward Milner: The Tree Book (Collins & Brown Ltd., London 1992: pp. 55-57)

1:47 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Appendix 2 -- Julie:

When I was burbling about Pontifex Maximus etc, I totally forgot to mention the point of why the pagan Romans called their chief priest "Chief bridge-builder". He was the go-between between the Gods and Men, i.e. the chief intercessor for men to the Gods, and the channel of the will of the Gods to men. It was totally natural that the new Christian chief priest under Constantine should inherit the old title without a murmur.

The Christian Pontifex Maximus inherited other things too, like the pointy hat and the staff... but we don't talk about that really.

Another thing I forgot to mention, the single narrow arching span of the Bridge of Khazad-Dum reminds me of the rainbow. To the Judaeo-Christian mind this suggests the sign of the covenant between God and Noah (the new father of mankind), and of course, to the Norsemen, the rainbow was Bifrost, the bridge linking Midgard and Heaven.

I just thought, how typical of Tolkien, to show Gandalf explicitly for the first time as the ambassador of the heavenly powers and advocate to Manwe for the free peoples of Middle-earth, by making him break the bridge literally instead of building it metaphorically!

1:49 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

CAROL’S COMMENTS (in 2 parts)

It's never explained how, when or why Aragorn has been through Moria before. Aragorn's warning to Gandalf to beware of Moria. Boromir's done a bit of griping in this chapter and does so again. He's just not used to being a follower. This first paragraph is ominous. They've been walking through the country where all the ring trouble started. The drawing of Moria gate always reminds me of a 1950s juke box.

p.324 I think at this stage Pippin thinks if Boromir dares to challenge Gandalf, then he'll have a go too. Gandalf snaps at him and not for the last time. Boromir throws that fateful stone into the water after bad-temperedly griping again. It's almost as if his foul temper is attracting mischief. His action is peurile, like Pippin in Moria but Pippin's only a tweeny.

This is gripping stuff, Gandalf unable to remember the words to open the doors, while the ripples in the lake grow wider, but there's no let-up, even when Gandalf finds the right word: the watcher in the water gets Frodo. I often think I'd have been absolutely useless on this journey. My phobias are heights, enclosed spaces, snow; and going in near dark through Moria with 7' leaps and the bridge of Khazad-Dum, I'd just have crumpled with fear.

Enter Gollum.

Aragorn hints again at Gandalf's demise and youthful Pippin feels curiously attracted to the well. p.331 and in he drops the stone and gets another tongue-lashing from Gandalf. poor Pippin; though he does have his brighter moments later on.

The brief glimpse of the greatness of Moria even in its ruin: Sam gives a brief idea of how long it must have taken the dwarves not only to delve out caverns but to make their stonework so beautiful. Gimli's poem is really good: simple rhyming couplets, plain words but conveying so much. Like many of Tolkien's poems in the book, this one is relevant to the place they're in and gives a bit of dwarf background. Then Gandalf expands. So comes out the secret of Frodo’s mithril coat - in value at least. When Frodo thinks about 'walking about with the price of the shire under his jacket' I often think it could be referring to the ring as well.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Khazad-Dum
The revelations of 'the Book of Mazarbul': it relates just enough decipherable information to convey what happened to Balin and co. - clever device - ending with the ominous 'they are coming'. Trolls in TH are hobbit trolls as in Sam's troll song: vulgar, comic, but in LotR they're far more scary. Sam killing his first orc: 'a fire was smouldering in his brown eyes that would have made Ted Sandyman step backward, if he had seen it.' I love this bit, that slowly-roused hobbit courage, Sam's courage.

There does seem to be a conspiracy to get Frodo, first the Watcher and now the orc makes straight for him in attack but Gandalf's immediate concern isn't for the individual but for the group. How does Gandalf get his bearings?

His state is an indication that using spells can be draining, also that some need time to prepare. I get the heeby-jeebies just reading about the bridge. It's my contention that Gandalf had to fight the Balrog and fall in order to purge him of the human dross he's acquired during his sojourn in Middle-earth. Both are Maiar of the element of fire, the Balrog's destructive, Gandalf's benign, but in order to become Gandalf the White he has to go through the cleansing baptism of fire and water. You might think of Jesus' descent, harrowing of hell and resurrection.

This has got to be one of the most momentous episodes in the whole book. First we think that Gandalf has defeated the Balrog, next thing we know he's falling with the Balrog. Gandalf out of the story – unthinkable, but it means that whenever Gandalf disappears the others have to fend for themselves: practice runs for when Gandalf is no longer there at all. It also gives a window for the use of mortal free will without the powers-that-be intervening, and it's automatic that Aragorn now leads.

1:53 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

I think that in harping on Water and Stones Tolkien was warning of the impending doom of the independent serious book-shop! 8-)

2:35 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Moria Gate - 50s juke box! Yes. It's late Art Deco - 8-) (although those curly stems give it a Nouveau touch).

2:40 PM  

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