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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reading Group meeting 13/3/10

After the war, and before going to Leeds,

50 St John Street, Oxford

Alfred Street, Oxford

After Northmoor Road but before Sandifield Road,

3 Manor Road, Oxford


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

As usual this blog comes in several parts.
Part 1

We were a slightly smaller group than usual as Mike, Chris and Angela were not with us, but it was good to see Tim back again.

Ian reminded us all to check the links to Google maps that he has put on the blog page. This I have done, and this I have read … they show all the addresses of places where Tolkien and his family lived from the time he was teaching in Leeds, but not yet including Bournemouth.

It was Ian who opened the discussion with more information about orc ointment. We had discussed this last time too and Ian had observed the use of crude oil and its by-products as salves and medicines in the Middle-east and Caucasia from ancient times. At this meeting he explained a use of petroleum by-products as an anti-lice preparation. It all sounded very unpleasant, and highly inflammable, as well as probably inflammatory, but it did shed more light on Tolkien’s inclusion of the nasty brown orc ointment.

Carol noted by letter that in ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ we begin to gather information with which to make comparisons between Theoden and Denethor – both have lost their heirs and both their seconds-in-command come in for disapprobation. Carol saw significance in the architecture around them – Edoras is built of wood, Minas Tirith of stone. The doors of Meduseld creak; those of the Citadel open soundlessly. Meduseld is full of decorated wood and tapestries whereas Denethor’s hall is stony – both environments reflecting their owners’ characters.

I commented on the opening of the chapter that it contains so many allusions to Beowulf, including the demand that guests should give up their weapons before entering the hall. Ian wondered at Aragorn’s unusual show of arrogance, (what Carol calls Aragorn’s ‘stiff neck’), especially as he had once live among the Rohirrim and seemed to know exactly how to insult their social practices. He thought this all inconsistent with what we understand about Aragorn.

Without Angela to defend Aragorn’s reputation in person, it fell to Tim to put a different theory forward. He suggested that perhaps the order to leave weapons outside is actually NOT routine policy at Meduseld, but a new order from Theoden under Grima’s influence. Angela observed by email that Gandalf ‘the only one who outranks him, tells him to do as Hama says.’ Angela goes on ‘I like the way Gimli backs him up and also the way Aragorn persuades Hama to let Gandalf take his staff in.’

Carol noted that the storm could be read as a metaphor for what’s happening and going to happen as it comes from the east and moves south. It also reflects the fact that Faramir and Eomer are both ‘under a cloud’ – suffering the displeasure of their lords. Carol remarks, however, that Theoden is human, although his voice is grim when he recalls Eomer, he smiles. Denethor only condemns Faramir to death. The difference that humanity makes between the 2 lords is pointed up in their handling of bereavement. Theoden grieves for Theodred but his son’s death does not prevent him from acting, whereas the apparent loss of Faramir ‘unthanked’ drives Denethor finally to despair.

[I was horribly close to writing ‘over the edge’!! Sorry Carol!]

I went on to wonder how it was that Gandalf still had Glamdring after his battle with the Balrog. It seemed to destroy everything about him. Julie suggested it was like Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver that is always to hand when needed, while Ian thought the sword may have been attached to Gandalf by a device like the wrist-strap on a surf board! Serves me right for asking the question!

3:21 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Part 2:
Tim returned us to sensible matters with his suggestion that Aragorn’s behaviour towards the Door wardens may be a bit of misdirection: by creating such a fuss and drawing attention to the almost mythic nature of Anduril, its scabbard, and the curse on it, he deflects attention from Gandalf’s staff. Gandalf gives up Glamdring willingly enough so with the 2 elvish swords accounted for, it is easier to make the case for letting a ‘walking stick’ pass. Angela wondered whether ‘when Aragorn says that death will come to anyone else who draws Elendil’s sword is he prophesying? Surely he doesn’t mean that he will kill anyone who draws the sword?!’ I had always interpreted this as a prophecy but the ambiguity lies, I think, in the difference between what we know and what Hama knows.

Julie then asked in the context of Legolas’s remarks about his knife and bow, ‘where did the Rohirrim learn to fear Galadriel?’ Ian thought Gandalf’s Song held the answer, while I wondered if the Song was a reminder of the relationship between Galadriel and Saruman at the White Council. Laura commented that the Song reveals Galadriel’s power through the reference to the white ring, against the power of Saruman. Ian then wondered if the Song was actually directed at calming down Gimli’s anger against Grima. Carol, on the other hand noted how Gandalf switches from the Song to show a rare flash of real anger. Julie thought Gandalf’s statement to Grima about not ‘bandying words’ was a great put-down. Laura noted however that Grima still has the ability even under Gandalf’s pressure to blame someone else. Ian concluded that Wormtongue came across as a frustrated line manager!

Time remarked that the way Gandalf then speaks to Theoden reads like an incantation intended to counter Saruman’s ‘poison by proxy’, fed to Theoden by Grima. Angela noted that Gandalf ‘whispers’ something to Theoden that is kept secret from readers and characters. We didn’t discuss this in the meeting but I wonder now if it is also part of the ‘incantation’ that effects Theoden’s ‘healing’.

Laura went on to observe that the description of Eowyn is really lovely. Carol sympathised with Eowyn in her frustration at being merely convenient to look after things and people. We didn’t discuss Eowyn and Aragorn because we had done so in our last reading of the book, but Carol commented that first-time readers might wonder if there was a bit of romance brewing because Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship has not yet been clearly explained. Angela wrote that she didn’t want to comment on Aragorn and Eowyn’s relationship as she wanted to research it in more detail, but she remarked that Grima’s lust for Eowyn is ‘very nasty’. I would add “what can you expect from a character whose name Grima son of Galmod means ‘Mask son of Lechery’” in OE? Angela also noted that Grima is likened to a snake, just as Saruman is in “Many Partings”. Thinking about it now, Grima’s seems fairly straightforward – the corrupter like the tempter in Eden perhaps. But given Treebeard’s Old List ‘serpent wisest’, in Saruman’s case the snake image seems to address both his old persona as the wisest of the wizards, and his later corrupted form.

Laura noted the many references to stones while Julie wondered how much of the ‘stone’ references could be counted as ‘stock phrases’ of the kind most associated with Anglo-Saxon poetry. Laura then raised the matter of dwarf language, and wondered if it was not susceptible to punning, but more direct, and not at all like Theoden’s verbal trickery concerning Grima’s wish to stay at his lord’s side.

3:21 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Julie expressed an interest in the etymology of Mundberg, the genuine Anglo-Saxon meaning is ‘protecting hill’. The configuration of Mundberg (Minas Tirith) reminded Julie of OT imagery of Jerusalem as the city on a hill and she wondered if there was any association between the 2 names in Old English OT texts. As far as I’ve been able to check, the form ‘Ierusalem’ is used in The Fates of the Apostles, not an OT text, but ‘Mundbeorg’ is used in the ms. now known as the Paris Psalter specifically in Ps. 124. Checking this solitary ref. for Mundbeorg we find in the Vulgate ‘Qui cofidunt in Domino sicut mons Sion / non commovebitur in aeternum / qui habitat in Hierusalem / montes in circuitu populi sui …’. In the AV this is Ps. 125: “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever. / As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people…” As I haven’t got the A-S it is impossible to know how close it may be to the figurative Latin and Jacobean English.

From the Anglo-Saxon perspective we discussed the configuration of the defences of Edoras, and wondered if thorn pallisades were used in Anglo-Saxon burhs. From the high medieval perspective, Tim observed that if parallels were being drawn between Minas Tirith and Jerusalem the ride of the Rohirrim would parallel the crusades.

Still on the topic of Anglo-Saxon Carol remarked that ‘Where is the horse and the Rider’ – taken from the later part of ‘The Wanderer’ has the same tone of regret for times past as the end of Gimli’s Moria Song.

I put forward a potentially controversial question when I asked if anyone else thought Gandalf might be seen as manipulating Theoden. Laura was sure this was not so. Tim thought it was a question of ends and means, and backed up a more positive view of gandalf’s actions with the observation that Gandalf is surprised when Theoden insists that he will ride with his men. Julie commented that Gandalf has the ring Narya precisely for the purpose of encouraging folk to withstand and resist the evil in Middle-earth.

We agreed to read the next 2 chapters.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Angela has sent comments in defence of Aragorn! As follows:

Thank you all for your interesting comments on the subject of Aragorn's behaviour regarding weapons having to be left outside the hall.

Now I can't pass up an opportunity to defend him can I?
Surely the point is that the sword is Andúril, a great heirloom of the Dúnedain which has been broken for 3000 years, but has now been reforged so that Aragorn can fulfil his destiny with it. Also Galadriel has given him a special sheath for it which will prevent it being stained or broken.
I don't think I would want to let such a sword out of my sight - even if I did have the satisfaction of knowing that death would come to anyone who tried to use it! Aragorn himself states that he would be willing to leave any other sword outside however lowly the dwelling and its inhabitant - it's only because the sword is Andúril that he makes a fuss.

Also perhaps he felt it was insulting to his rank to be told to leave his weapons outside: Gandalf had introduced him as "Aragorn son of Arathorn, the heir of Kings" and stated that he was on his way to Minas Tirith. When he had been in Rohan before he had been incognito as a subordinate. I think that Tim is right to suggest that it wasn't in fact normal policy to leave weapons outside and that the order came from Gríma rather than Théoden. This would increase Aragorn's sense of insult.


12:15 PM  

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