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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reading Group meeting 13/2/10

‘In a hole in the ground . .’

2 Darnley Road, West Park, Leeds.

The Tolkiens lived here between 1924 and 1925 when,

'. . it was surrounded by open fields. .'


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

The first attempt to post the blog went wonky, so here goes again.
As usual it is in several parts:
Part the First


Note: some of Carol’s comments on Ch 4 ‘Treebeard’ are posted in full following here.
This meeting threw up lots of points for discussion. Laura began our deliberations on the Uruk Hai with the observation ‘Aren’t they wonderful!’ Carol, by post, had wondered about the orcish ‘Saruman-glob’ taking it to be an insult. Angela had brought along a book that explained as far as possible the meaning of the exchange between the orcs, and very nasty it was too. Various insulting terms did indeed emerge, and Saruman seems to have come out of it as a ‘fool’, among other things.

Laura remarked that the orcs always seem to come over as Cockneys, and noted that they also have very grim sense of humour. Carol commented that she sometimes thought Tolkien liked putting in the gruesome bits such as ‘lie quite or I’ll tickle you with this.’
Angela added that they are by no means stupid, they have a command of different kinds of orcish as well as the Common Speech, and Carol’s choice of quote shows an ability to substitute euphemisms for cruel intentions. They also have knowledge of healing. Julie likened their brutal attitude towards one another to that depicted in Wilfred Owen’s bitter poem ‘Deadbeat’.

Ian noted the amount of orc v. orc prejudice and suggested that in this latest reading we were not observing the horror of the orc abduction, but discussing the attitudes appropriate to martial men. Even though Merry and Pippin are wrenched from their companions, they, like the orcs, are all on quests. Ian also suggested that the Orcs represent Tolkien’s impression, as a junior officer, of the attitudes and behaviour of the Regular officers he encountered.

Mike proposed that with the Uruk Hai Tolkien inverts readers’ feelings because the Uruks protect Merry and Pippin from worse treatment. This sense of inversion was noted by Ian in the way orcs follow orders, and seem to confuse good and evil with their liking for ‘pleasant darkness’, and other instances of apparent oxymorons that empty out the expected moral or emotional significance of things. Laura was impressed by Grishnak’s fear of the Nazgul.

In response to my observation that chaos seems to be associated with orcs so that discipline seems to define the virtuous characters or races, Ian suggested it came down to the difference between ideal and real ‘on the ground’ – when things are happening. Mike added that it perhaps represented the British understanding of discipline as necessary. Laura picked this up with reference to the Battle of Hastings when the troops of Harold Godwinson broke ranks (although as she pointed out, they were already exhausted from their forced march south). The pejorative sense of discipline was noted in the context of Roman discipline v. British skirmishing. Chris picked up a similar comparison when he reminded us that Nelson was renowned for his successful lack of discipline while the strict discipline of the British at the Battle of Jutland (1915) led to the loss of a number of its ‘dreadnaughts’.

Changing direction, Chris wondered ‘why Pippin?’ He has been in trouble quite a bit before this, but now becomes quite prominent. I remarked that he seems more active in this chapter, and Laura wisely noted that Merry has had a bang on the head. Mike wondered about the wisdom of provoking Grishnak by saying ‘gollum, gollum’ to him. Laura noted that Grishnak’s fingers twitch. Angela reminded us that the existence of the Ring was known to him, but it still seemed a risky tactic. Laura and Julie found Grishnak articulate.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Part the Second:

Continuing the development of our appreciation of orcish intellect, Angela noted Grishnak’s ironic comment that kindness wasn’t one of even Ugluk’s faults! Ian remarked that this suggested that orcs know what kindness amounts to, and I thought they counted it as a weakness.

We went on to an in-depth discussion of trees and tree-lore. Julie noted that Quickbeam is another name for Aspen, because of its quivering nature. Ian remarked that in Irish mythology the first female was created from a Rowan tree. Carol had noted that the rowan is also called ‘quicken’ or ‘wicken’ and that she had once lived in ‘Wickentree Lane’. We cannot rule out dialect variations in these names. It was noted then that druids lit fires of rowan wood to predict battles and invite the sidhe to fight with them. Ian had done a lot of background research and found that in the Book of Taliesin there is an account of the Battle of the Trees when trees are called into existence. He also read for us the Book’s list of trees and their special attributes.

Mike and Ian noted that the rowan, noted for its white blossom, belongs to the rose family, in the chapter of Treebeard this is called the ‘people of the Rose’. And the Rose was one flower symbol (together with the white lily) for the Virgin Mary – which made it particularly special to Tolkien.

Chris wondered if the relationship between the ents and the entwives in any way reflected the relationship between Tolkien and Edith. The entwives prefer order, and to control living things, while ents prefer the wild wood. Ian thought Tolkien was combining religion, love for his wife, and love for literature. Laura associated the entwives with domesticity and Julie remarked that they don’t seem to be eating the produce, but maybe they produced wine. Carol asked “what makes the ent draughts so efficacious, and does it lose its power as it flows out of Fangorn. Does it depend on minerals or some such that are in the waters here and nowhere else? Or do the ents brew their won draughts?”

Carol also noted that ents have stone jars and wondered “do they trade for these? And the lamps – Treebeard has his own ‘magic’.

Angela noted that Men learned horticulture and perhaps agriculture from the entwives.

Chris went on to wonder what it was that Treebeard can’t remember? None of us could come up with a suggestion for that! Laura wondered about the naming of Man as ‘master of horses’, it seems less aggressive than it might. Julie was interested in the Entish way of naming so as to tell a story about the person or thing named. Ian distinguished specific names from descriptive ones, and we all recalled the Welsh name ‘Llanfair….’ – that was as far as we got. Carol commented that their naming patterns seem “shamanic, not chosen because parents fancy a name, but naming something as it is. We all change over the course of time and in this scheme we’d have different names for the different stages in our lives. Then all our names would tell our story likethe names Turin acquires, or Strider.” Carol added, “because the word hill has diminished to 4 letters, perhaps our respect for that hill has been diminished. Even the names of Lothlorien given here “show how the wood had progresses – or regressed.

Angela was struck by the similarity of descriptions of ‘light through new leaves’ in a natural sense in the ‘Treebeard’ chapter and the exact same description used metaphorically for the colour of the Elessar stone when it is given to Aragorn by Galadriel.

Laura observed that Treebeard doesn’t really react when told of Gandalf’s death. We thought that this was because he knows Gandalf is alive, but this doesn’t account for his comment that the wizard seems to have fallen out of the story. This needed further consideration. Carol picked up the cross talk and change of tense at this point ‘did you know G.’ … ‘do you know G’ which hints at Gandalf’s survival.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Ian thought that the description of ent houses was reminiscent of pagan shrines. Mike thought they seemed like hermit cells. Ian reminded us of the Green Chapel in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – which is hardly more than a grotto. He also wondered if the healing liquid poured onto Merry’s wound was in any way related to the extraordinary use of crude oil that has a long history in the middle east and Caucausia where it was once drunk as a remedy and today in Azerbaijan is still used for healing baths. This begs the question how much might Tolkien have known of such things?

Next time we will be reading The White Rider and The King of the Golden Hall.

Carol’s other comments on Ch 4 ‘Treebeard’

This about the most charming and poignant chapter. Merry and Pippin take their first ent-draught and lean against another tree – didn’t Old Man Willow teach them anything? Another instance of walking legends – the ents walk out of legend while hobbits are a legend to all. We get an indication of survival in Pippin’s ‘future’ account of Treebeard’s eyes.

Why does Treebeard think it ‘very right and proper’ for hobbits to live in holes? They could be manky for all he knows.

I likke the bit of lightheartedness after the song of the lost entwives ‘I am going to stand up and take a little sleep. Where will you stand?’

We find out a bit about the origins of trolls – made in mockery of ents. And the last march of the ents ‘may be worth a song’ – just as Theoden says of the last stand of the Rohirrim at Helm’s Deep. Even if these characters perish, they’d like to be worth remembering in song, which would indicate they’d died bravely. How can anyone ever think of trees in the same way after listening to Treebeard and Quickbeam.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Admin said...


The longest town name in the world means,

"The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave".

Orc medicine,

Azerbaijans 'petroleum baths' are better known as naphtalan baths.

Bitumen - used historically by the Sumerians, Akkadians and the Arabs of Iraq. Muslim physicians began prescribe it for skin ailments and wounds.

Uruk - the city of Gilgamesh cited in southern Iraq.

5:01 AM  

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