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Monday, April 26, 2010

Reading Group meeting 24/4/10


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

It was strange to be without Ian this afternoon – his first committee meeting – but we have all congratulated him on becoming a member of the TS committee. It was a nice surprise to see Tim back with us again, except that we may not see him again – at least for a long time. On the other hand congratulations were due on his new job and a whole new start. As Laura said, we shall miss our Ranger. And so we made the most of his input, especially as he had brought along his Middle-earth Atlas, and could show Vicki the shape of Orthanc.

In her email, Carol focused on the hobbits, their attitudes and their treatment, so most of her comments are added at the end of this blog.

As usual this blog report comes in several sections:-

Angela began the afternoon’s discussion on the last 2 chapters of Book 3 ‘The Voice of Saruman’ and ‘The Palatir’, with the comment that the palatir must be made of tough material because the Ents are barely able to chip bits off Orthanc, but the palatir smashes bits of it. Tim agreed that it must be stronger than Orthanc, and Angela reminded us that all the palatirs had been made by Feanor.

As we detailed the damage done to the tower and its fittings Julie quietly drew a parallel between the shattering of bits of Orthanc and the ‘shoddy shacks Sharkey’s men put up in the Shire’. Laura dubbed this a hobbit tongue-twister.

Laura also reminded us of her previous research into the un-Tolkienian word ‘balcony’ which comes from Italian. Julie added that ‘balk’ meant a jutting beam. It would be possible to make the case that the ‘balcony’ at Orthanc is yet another sign of its ‘foreign’ construction, foreign in the sense that the Numenoreans were originally colonisers of that part of Middle-earth.

We were considering the significance of the 27 steps when Chris remarked that there were 27 steps up to King Solomon’s temple, and it was generally agreed that Tolkien often uses ‘magic’ or significant numbers such as 3s and 9s. And most of his really significant numbers are odd.

Laura thought the state of Isengard echoed images of the shattered landscape of WW1 – imagery more often associated with the desolation before the Black Gate. When Chris picked up Merry’s warning to everyone to be careful of the unstable paving – a subordinate member of the company instructing the high and the mighty – Laura was reminded of the specialist knowledge that the WW1 officers wouldn’t have had in a frontline situation.

As our discussion moved on Julie made the very pertinent observation that Eagles and Nazgul could apparently fly through volcanic ash!

Chris was impressed with the fact that Gimli speaks for Legolas, and I was impressed with the developed relationship implicit in Legolas’s comment to Treebeard concerning Gimli who he calls ‘my friend’. Angela described it as a committed friendship.

Laura noted the wistful remark from Treebeard concerning the entwives who might have sought out such a ‘pleasant land’ as the Shire, and this was taken to be a pre-echo of it not being pleasant at all when the hobbits get back.

Angela and Tim raised the matter of Grima throwing down the palantir and wondered if he knew it was precious. Laura thought probably – from the way it would have been kept. Tim wondered if he threw it out of malice, and/or was he trying to kill Saruman with it? We did not reach a conclusion about this.

Laura thought there was a distinctly ‘Norman’ moment when Saruman arrogantly and furiously refers to ‘brigands and brats and thatched barns’. Carol remarked: Saruman's contempt really comes out now and they see him for what he really is, but his voice can still hypnotise the riders. She adds, I like the architecture of Rohirrim dwellings!

4:25 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Chris noted that dwarves never seem to be affected by the Ring or the other trappings of evil.

We went on to discuss Saruman’s voice and Julie thought it a lifelike depiction of the power of historical rabble-rousers. Tolkien’s depiction of wizardry as oratory, and vice versa became complicated when Julie wondered if it was entirely Saruman’s own voice as it is depicted as having a kind of life of its own, when Tolkien writes; ‘Come now’ it said. This we compared with the Mouth of Sauron. This led Tim to wonder to what extent Sauron was exerting power over Saruman.

Angela commented of the resistance to the Voice of Theoden who cites the loss of Hama, and the children, and Eomer who cites the loss of Theodred. Laura was interested in the way Saruman rationalises this slaughter.

Carol commented: ‘The bloke who voiced Saruman in the radio 4 serial was brilliant at this juncture. Spot on! 'a corrupter of men's hearts' – I get the feeling that this is the worst of Saruman's crimes to Tolkien. '…for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired.' This is a defiant statement for a nation state to be left alone by empire builders who would dictate and take. What were Tolkien's feeling about the empire? It means that no man, however much better he may regard himself, has the right to impose on another people his own rule, however defective and backwards he regards them. It is a statement for free will. It's like the prime directive. The Istari were told not to coerce by force or the use of that power that Saruman has been using.

Tim regarded the chapter as very dramatic but as a battle of wits not as physical action. Laura directed attention to the number of snake images in the ‘Voice’ chapter, and Julie remarked that Saruman doesn’t seem to notice Legolas or Aragorn. Tim thought this was because Aragorn was in the armour of Rohan.

Carol noted that 'the rods of the five wizards' statement has caused much speculation.

Then we pondered how Saruman knew Gimli. Angela and Chris thought it may have been via Grima, but Laura wondered if Saruman knew of Gloin because of his involvement with the finding of the Ring and therefore knew he had a son.

Julie observed that it was strange and stupid for Sauron to put so much of his own power into a Ring that could be lost or stolen.

And so we moved on to ‘The Palantir’ chapter.

It was observed that Gandalf thinks Saruman would be very preoccupied with Merry and Pippin.

Chris thought Gandalf was being dense when he wondered what the connection was between Orthanc and Barad Dur when he’s actually holding it!

We all commented on the scream – trying to decide whether it was Grima being assaulted or Saruman finding his palatir was gone. We also noted that Saruman was never entrusted with any of the great Rings.

This led Chris to consider whether Gandalf is getting himself and Pippin away from the temptation of using the palantir (again). Tim noted that Aragorn uses it to distract Sauron, and everyone wondered what exactly Pippin saw. Julie commented on the palatir’s evil fascination, likening it to the ‘draw’ of the Ring. Angela noted that the palatir is now under Sauron’s control. I was interested in the scale of Pippin’s guilt and growing possessiveness over the stone. Chris recalled the similar pattern of possessiveness when Deagol and Smeagol find the Ring.

4:26 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Tim and Julie both remarked on the comment about ‘wizard-wheedling’ and Julie thought it sounded like something that might be done in the Harry Potter stories.

Laura remarked on the great description of the Nazgul and Angela thought Gandalf’s comments to Pippin about it placed it in the ‘bogey-man’ category. Laura then picked up Gandalf’s passing remark about Tirion the fair and wondered if this was a sign of his homesickness. Carol also picked this up writing: ‘not until The Silmarillion came out in 1977 did we really get to know Feanor. Gandalf remembers the brilliant craftsman. This also shows Gandalf's longing for the undying lands and what they were before Morgoth marred them. Gandalf voices his desires about wanting to look into the palantir, about testing himself against Sauron, but also being able to look back to Valinor as it was. It's has always struck me as a lovely few lines.

I remarked on the way Sauron turns everything to evil, and Julie observed that this is a comment on the way humanity twists good and beneficial things especially towards weaponry.

Laura and Angela considered the significance of the 7 stars and realised that there a 7 stars in the Plough, which Tolkien names the ‘sickle’, and the 7 stars are taken as the 7 stones the ships carry from Numenor.

Julie thought the title of the book was enigmatic as there are several ways of pairing towers, but she noted that Tolkien hadn’t settled exactly on which towers he intended for the title.

4:28 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Carol’s comments on the hobbits begin with the narratorial comment on them:
‘feeling unimportant and unsafe.' Pippin also comments: 'we are not wanted', when not long before they've felt brave and important, followed by the three hunters, all greats in their way, listening to Merry and Pippin tell their tale of the downfall of Isengard, being politely spoken to by Theoden. Now here they are unimportant and not wanted. What better sulk for a tweeny hobbit to dwell on and turn it into near disaster.

Gandalf doesn't realise at first what's been thrown down but he's mighty eager to wrest it from Pippin. And he's very peremptory with the yet innocent Pippin. In fact, he's more considerate to Saruman and Wormtongue in showing mercy, than he is to Pip at times

Pippin and the palantir: Pippin's a very susceptible soul so, with a mixture of Sauron's influence on the palanti and Pippin's susceptibility - due to being important then not important - Pippin's just in the right frame of defiant mischievous mind to dare to look into the ball.
'do no meddle...' 'but our whole life for months has been one of meddling in the affairs of wizards...I should like a bit of information as well as danger.' Now, even though we know that Pippin's being manipulated by Sauron, there's some truth in his words. I know they're anti-wizard words but the hobbits are being used, particularly Sam and Frodo, so if they're fit to face the danger then they shouldn't be treated like children about being informed.

Pippin's looking into the palantir turns into a sort of Felix Culpa in that this and Aragorn's later viewing draws out Sauron more hastily.

There's a truth in Gandalf’s rebuke 'don't shudder! if you will meddle in the affairs of wizards, you must be prepared to think such things', showing that love of elves or adventure is one thing, but if you step over the parapet - or onto the road - to experience these things, you might also come to harm, for the world is still wild and unexpected things can happen to you, not always pleasant. Alan Garner once said that myth was spiritual dynamite. And for once Gandalf is sympathetic and forgiving.

Gandalf bows when he presents the palantir to Aragorn and the others are surprised. They never seem to realise that he's Isildur's heir. Just like Pippin at Minas Tirith.

With that we had finished the Book and agreed to read the first 2 chapters of Book 4 – ‘The Taming of Smeagol’ and ‘The Passage of the Marshes’, so we are off to the other side of the Great River to creep about the Dead Marshes. Don’t look at the tricksy light, my precious!

4:28 AM  

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