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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reading Group meeting 27/3/10

The Road goes ever on...

76 Sandfield Road,Oxford

10 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

27.3.10
We were looking at the chapters Helm’s Deep and The Road to Isengard, but we didn’t get as far as Isengard, being held up at Helm’s Deep, and even then we overran until Julie reminded me of the time!
As usual this report is in sveral parts.

Mike started our discussion by observing that Wormtongue isn’t all bad, or at least he has proved useful – Theoden remarks that he misses both his counsellors. Mike suggested that being good for part of the time actually enhances evil. Gandalf confirms that Worm hasn’t always been evil, and this does, of course, fit in with Tolkien’s Augustinian position that there is no such thing as absolute evil.

Tim remarked that it is a Shakespearean device to have comments by characters outside the main ones, and the elite – this in the context of the Rider who comments on Gandalf’s sudden departure, as well as other minor or unnamed characters particularly in this chapter.

Julie followed this with the observation that Gandalf has a habit of leaving at bad moments. Tim thought this might be simply a sign that he trusts Aragorn and the King to get on and do what is necessary. Ian noted that Gandalf seems to turn up when he’s not wanted and leave when he is!

Angela had sent comments by post and picked up the pathos of Hama’s comment that he would wait to judge Gandalf’s motive until he saw him again, which of course he never did.

Tim was impressed by Ceorl’s wonderfully loyal response to Theoden, and Carol by email noted that Theoden is more human – and brave- than Denethor. Carol also queried the nature of huorns. Ian pointed out that that they were trees herded by ents and we agreed on the basis of the forest passing down beside the river.

Tim picked up the anachronistic ‘bivouac’ which we thought must be French in origin although none of us had had time to look it up. Julie drew attention to another of Tolkien’s compound words ‘crowhaunted’.

Angela had noted Theoden’s reference to the ‘west wind’. Julie interpreted this in terms of spring returning in fact and metaphorically to Theoden but hints at Gandalf’s origin, while Laura noted that it is specifically opposed to the east.

Laura wondered if during the battle the orcs are hanging back and letting the Men assault the walls of the Hornburg but Ian wondered if this was just a generic use of ‘Men’. Laura went on to note the many times Tolkien uses animal imagery for the orcs. Mike commented on the use of similes such as ‘field of dark corn’, while Laura noted the use of ‘crawling’, giving the feeling of revulsion when turning over a stone and finding insects there. Ian noted that the ‘dark corn’ image is set up and reversed earlier when Gandalf rides off like wind in the grass.

Angela wrote that she and Chris were ‘very interested in gandalf’s statement to theoden that he had sent Elfhelm to Edoras. It is Elfhelm who will aid Eowyn and Merry when they ride to the Pelennor Fields in disguise. Did Gandalf know/forsee something?’

Laura, Tim, and Julie all observed that orcs are never happy, giving rise to the comparison with Eastenders!

Julie went on to note that while the characters usually mirror human behaviour, armed orcs neither get nor give compassion. Laura went on to remark on the way orcs play dead during the battle and Ian saw this as another sign that orcs are not stupid.

End part 1

1:08 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Part 2
Laura then commented on the developing relationship between Legolas and Gimli. However, Angela and Chris wrote that they had a laugh at the image of Legolas trying to ride back to the Forest with Gimli desperate to get off! Tim thought that Aragorn and Eomer drawing swords together had the feel of male bonding about it. Angela had written that there is a great deal of friendship, bonding, and caring shown in both the nominated chapters. She picked out for special notice the ‘friendly Orc-killing competition’ as well as the strengthening bond between Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli; Legolas helping Aragorn when he stumbles, and at other times; Gimli helping Gamling and saving Eomer’s life; Aragorn tending Gimli’s wound, and his support for Theoden at the final ride.

Ian and Tim remarked on the repetition of storm imagery (real and metaphorical) through frequent references to tempest, water, and similar terms. Laura thought the culvert was the equivalent of leaving the sea-cocks open, while Julie wondered at it not having bars across it because it was clearly the Achilles heel of the defences. Mike then observed that ‘heel’ is actually used in the description of the geography, perhaps this kind of weakness was on Tolkien mind?

Laura remarked that the description of the orcs creeping in through the culvert while the defenders talked reflects back to Gimli’s observation that Men talk a lot before acting.

Julie wondered if Saruman had developed ‘blasting fire’ from Gandalf’s firework technology in the way that Europeans had developed Chinese gunpowder. Tim noted that by the 15th century gunpowder had made castles obsolete. Julie then remarked on the fact that Sauron doesn’t have ‘blasting fire’ and wondered why he doesn’t know about? Of course, he does have the Nazgul – a more ‘refined’ weapon perhaps?

Mike wondered if the character of Gamling was drawn from Tolkien’s war experience as he seems like a kind of battle-hardened RSM, perhaps a kind of Roarke’s Drift veteran such as Tolkien might have met during his WW1 service. Tim, however, remarked that his nattering allows the orcs to creep through the culvert.

Laura went on to point out that maybe Aragorn was rightly cautious about Anduril at Edoras. It’s power certainly seems to be known among the Men, defenders and invaders both, but not among the orcs. This suggests that all the races of Men in the battle share the same historical knowledge, but probably from different perspectives.

Mike wondered what Aragorn’s strategy/ tactics might be when confronted with first 1 then another ‘bomb’. Carol and Julie wondered if he was bluffing, though Carol also wondered if he had foreknowledge of the huorns coming. Tim noticed that Aragorn is very human in the way he is described as sweating. Mike suggested he might be afraid, even with the power of Anduril to hand.

We went on to discuss the style of writing when Mike and Ian both noted the change to an ‘Old Testament’ register. Tim noted the very ‘acoustic’ last 2 pages of the chapter. He had earlier remarked on the contrast between the pastoral beauty of the opening paragraphs of the chapter and its grimmer and more martial content, while Julie noted a pre-echo of the paths of the Dead in ‘armies long forgotten’, and an Apocalyptic ‘cowering’ in the final descriptions of the orcs.

Tim then picked up mode of description of Erkenbrand’s red shield, and thought this was a storytelling device if it was known to be this warrior’s shield – a red shield confirms him as Erkenbrand.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Part 3
Mike and Tim wondered if the description of Gandalf at his reappearance means that he came uncloaked. Julie and Mike noted the similarity with Moses returning from Sinai with a shining face. Mike went on to consider the New Testament reference to not doing things like a ‘thief in the night’, and his rebuke to Theoden concerning the King’s doubt. Mike was also certain that Aragorn was glad to see Gandalf back. Tim and I remarked on the use of the word ‘terror’ to describe Gandalf’s effect on the enemy – a term used most often about the Nazgul, and the Balrog. Mike thought that terror was not necessarily either good or bad. Laura picked up Eomer’s comment of Gandalf’s ‘wizardry’, and the wizard’s cryptic ‘not yet’ comment. I was surprised at the way Gandalf laughs, but Tim thought it showed that the weight of anxiety regarding Saruman was lifted from his shoulders.

Julie drew attention to the tending of the dead after the battle as an indication of civilised conduct. Laura, on the other hand, noted the usefulness of blood and bonemeal as fertilizers and was not surprised that the trees of the (New) Forest [Ian’s joke, not mine!] undertook the ‘removal’ of the orcs.

Having run out of time we hastily agreed to finish ‘The Road to Isengard’ next time as well as reading ‘Flotsan and Jetsam’.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

For Angela's defence of Aragorn at the doors of Meduseld see the blog report for our previous meeting.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Given Tolkien's religious views, I have sometimes wondered about Denethor (as a character contrasted strongly with Theoden) - he is Steward of Gondor, holding the kingdom in trust until the King should return. This situation recalls a theme which runs throughout the Bible, i.e. that humanity is the steward of God, holding the Earth on trust until the master should return. Several of Jesus' parables, or teaching stories, recorded in the various Gospels, pick up this theme. In particular, the parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16! In that story the Unjust Steward redeems himself by some last-minute creative legerdemain with the accounts. Tolkien is less forgiving.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Given Tolkien's religious views, I have sometimes wondered about Denethor (as a character contrasted strongly with Theoden) - he is Steward of Gondor, holding the kingdom in trust until the King should return. This situation recalls a theme which runs throughout the Bible, i.e. that humanity is the steward of God, holding the Earth on trust until the master should return. Several of Jesus' parables, or teaching stories, recorded in the various Gospels, pick up this theme. In particular, the parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16! In that story the Unjust Steward redeems himself by some last-minute creative legerdemain with the accounts. Tolkien is less forgiving.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Given Tolkien's religious views, I have sometimes wondered about Denethor (as a character contrasted strongly with Theoden) - he is Steward of Gondor, holding the kingdom in trust until the King should return. This situation recalls a theme which runs throughout the Bible, i.e. that humanity is the steward of God, holding the Earth on trust until the master should return. Several of Jesus' parables, or teaching stories, recorded in the various Gospels, pick up this theme. In particular, the parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16! In that story the Unjust Steward redeems himself by some last-minute creative legerdemain with the accounts. Tolkien is less forgiving.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Given Tolkien's religious views, I have sometimes wondered about Denethor (as a character contrasted strongly with Theoden) - he is Steward of Gondor, holding the kingdom in trust until the King should return. This situation recalls a theme which runs throughout the Bible, i.e. that humanity is the steward of God, holding the Earth on trust until the master should return. Several of Jesus' parables, or teaching stories, recorded in the various Gospels, pick up this theme. In particular, the parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16! In that story the Unjust Steward redeems himself by some last-minute creative legerdemain with the accounts. Tolkien is less forgiving.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Given Tolkien's religious views, I have sometimes wondered about Denethor (as a character contrasted strongly with Theoden) - he is Steward of Gondor, holding the kingdom in trust until the King should return. This situation recalls a theme which runs throughout the Bible, i.e. that humanity is the steward of God, holding the Earth on trust until the master should return. Several of Jesus' parables, or teaching stories, recorded in the various Gospels, pick up this theme. In particular, the parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16! In that story the Unjust Steward redeems himself by some last-minute creative legerdemain with the accounts. Tolkien is less forgiving.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Given Tolkien's religious views, I have sometimes wondered about Denethor (as a character contrasted strongly with Theoden) - he is Steward of Gondor, holding the kingdom in trust until the King should return. This situation recalls a theme which runs throughout the Bible, i.e. that humanity is the steward of God, holding the Earth on trust until the master should return. Several of Jesus' parables, or teaching stories, recorded in the various Gospels, pick up this theme. In particular, the parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16! In that story the Unjust Steward redeems himself by some last-minute creative legerdemain with the accounts. Tolkien is less forgiving.

2:30 PM  

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