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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reading Group meeting 22/5/10

Reporting of the 'Middle Earth Weekend', Sarehole Mill, 14-15/5/10

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Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

We started this afternoon with a discussion about the forthcoming Mid-year’s feast, and hoping what we agreed upon would suit everyone who couldn’t be with us at the time. Ian picked up the fact that this year’s TRD had had Seafarers as its theme and that being in a port we should acknowledge that theme and go an watch the ships that would be leaving on the afternoon of our planned ‘feast’. There should be 4 leaving, 3 of which at least will be visible from Mayflower Park. So we agreed to meet at 4pm (if fine) and watch the cruise ship leave.
Taking nothing to chance, Ian has already checked the weather forecast and it should not be wet.
We will repair to a local hostelry after this, before moving on to the feast proper (probably less of a feast and more of a curry or chinese or Italian – whatever happened barons of beef and roast sucking pig?)
Having made our decisions, we moved on to the chapters for the afternoon: ‘The Black Gate is Closed’ and ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’. As always, Carol sent her comments by email, and in this instance, so did Angela and Chris. Some of Carol’s comments are included among our deliberations, but most are added at the end because they deal with additional things. All Angela’s and Chris’s comments are added separately because they are so detailed.
Laura started us off with her observation that the title ‘The Black Gate is Closed’ is ominous, and taken with the first sentence sound like the ending of the whole book. We didn’t take the idea as far as we might, because it points to all sorts of significant aspects of the change from the Rohan chapters.
Julie picked up Tolkien’s description of the ‘fallow sun’, and suggested that he uses rare words sparingly but when he does they are ‘like grenades’ chucked into the text. This seems to explain their effect very well.
Laura and Vicki together followed this with another rare, or at least unusual word, when they both remarked on the ‘brazen’ trumpets. The word has its own strident sound, but Julie whimsically wondered if they were playing jazz! Images of orc combos entertained us.
We spent some time considering other matters to do with language based on the fact that Sam uses a ‘rustic’ or unlearned double negative in ‘We can’t go no further’, while Gollum doesn’t use these markers of either dialect or poor literacy. We pondered the possibility that Gollum’s language had not changed during the long time he had spent under the mountains, and noted that he had been brought up by his grandmother, so must have learned to speak as she did.
When we got on to the topic of eating, Julie commented on Sam and his hopeful attitude. Although we wondered if it was entirely reasonable, Carol picked up his optimism in: 'we might be wanting to get back. We might.'
Laura went on to observe that the evidence from Gollum shows that Sauron must be embodied as he was at the Last Alliance - not just a disembodied eye – and so there would be every possibility of seeing him, as well as feeling his power. Laura also went on to note that the sentries at the Black Gate are called ‘black guards’, exactly the terms that make up the 18thC insult ‘blackguard’ [pronunc. blaggard], and Laura wondered if Tolkien was making a point about this as the exact process of derivation of blackguard < black guard.
Julie and Laura then considered the change in Frodo’s tone outside the Gate. Laura proposed that it might have been the influence of the Valar. Tanya, who was joining us for the first time, thought that at the Black Gate the real decision has to be made, and Frodo responds with appropriate solemnity and sternness.
Ian picked this up and suggested that the hobbits are now at the start of another quest, and this time Gollum serves as an agent of choice.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

We moved on to the Herbs chapter and Laura remarked on the gruesome hints at the orc fire. Ian contested the need to assume orc cannibalism on the grounds that bones and skulls also belong to rabbits. Laura and I were not persuaded that the remains were those of rabbits. I thought the association of orcs, feasting, remains, and what we know of orc dietary preferences pointed to cannibalism, and perhaps the fate of any captured Gondorians, or stray Haradrim.
Thankfully, Julie got us back to the picturesque aspect of Ithilien when she picked up the ‘dryad’ reference – uniquely classical for Tolkien. I drew attention to the fact that references to dryads occur in texts of Anglo-Saxon date. The texts themselves are in Latin and the scribes who translated them used the term ‘wudu.aelfe’ [wood elves] for dryads. As Tolkien had already created the sylvan elves, he was clearly looking for a different concept.
Carol mentioned Sam's bravery in standing up to Faramir questioning Frodo, his indignation and his humorous comment after Faramir says that elves are wondrous fair to look upon. Laura and Ian both picked up the ‘foul and fair’ reference noting that what Frodo had said of Aragorn in Bree is now reused of the hobbits by Faramir and his men. I have always thought the ‘interrogation’ was quite brutal, but as Laura and Ian pointed out, Faramir had to be as certain as possible about these strange small people.
Laura went on to comment what she perceived as the impractical bits of camouflage – the mask and gauntlets of Faramir’s men. I thought that although they might be hot and uncomfortable they were practical means of concealing every area of skin – and a sign of how profoundly they felt the danger of orc patrols. Laura also noted the very obvious way Tolkien avoids any hint of the Robin Hood myth – she remarked that Tolkien avoids the humour this would provoke. Ian meanwhile picked up the specific Gondorian dialect with its use of ‘archaic’ forms and contractions.
Laura then turned our attention to episode with Sam and the fallen Southern warrior. Ian thought Sam consideration of who he might have been and why he was there reflected quite plainly situations Tolkien may have confronted himself in the trenches of Flanders in WW1.
Laura added that there is a more than a hint of ‘Moby Dick’ about the way the Mumak warrior has become entangled in its trappings and is hanging dead from them.
Ian changed the gloomy tone with his assertion that Sam must surely have a fish and chip shop back in the Shire when he promises Gollum fish and chips cooked by ‘S. Gamgee’. Sam also tells us [according to Ian] that the variety of ‘taters’ served in the shop are know as ‘the Gaffer’s Delight’!

On that note we agreed to read the next 2 chapters ‘A Window on the West’ and ‘The Forbidden Pool’, and went hungrily home!

6:27 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

*Carol’s Comments*
'and here he was a little halfling from the shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside, expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go.' Again I'll reiterate hobbits doing the great ones' dirty work but it is precisely because Frodo is a simple hobbit, not wanting power or glory, that enables him to carry the ring without being tempted. The great ones might be powerful and brave in arms but Frodo and Sam are dogged, able to stick to a single uncomplicated task. The section dealing with the winged Nazgul is filled with dread, including the horror of the place and soldiers coming. The oliphaunt song and Sam's eagerness brings the light relief: 'But now I don't suppose I'll ever see an oliphaunt.' Just wait till the next chapter Sam!
In ‘Of herbs and stewed rabbit’ Tolkien displays his botanic knowledge. This interlude is also the closest Sam and Gollum ever get. It's a bit pantomimic. Then Sam starts to learn compassion, not only for those he loves, when he sees the dead Southron. And here you are, Sam, seeing a real oliphaunt. Delightful!
When Damrod says: 'May the Valar turn him aside,' it's the only reference in the whole book to any higher power. Later the standing silence is the closest we come to any religious ceremony.
Tolkien once commented that there was a young man walking towards him out of the fields of Ithilien and that he liked him - Faramir - as if Faramir were not invented but a distant memory coming back. I like Faramir too. And again something else we take as a given if we're really familiar with LotR, that Boromir has a brother called Faramir but it isn't until now that Faramir says that Boromir was his brother. Heaven have helped the hobbits if Faramir had gone to Rivendell instead of Boromir and it was Boromir they encountered in Ithilien.

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

Angela’s comments

‘The Black Gate is Closed’
One tends to forget that the towers either side of Cirith Gorgor were actually built by the men of Gondor.

Interesting and moving to think that the young Gollum heard tales about the Kings of Gondor and the White Tree, and the building of Minas Ithil by Isildur. He recalls them with obvious pleasure and nostalgia referring to them as "wonderful tales" and weeping as he remembers it all: " ... in the evening, sitting by the banks of the Great River, in the willow-lands ..."
He also says, referring to Sauron's lost finger: "He has only four on the Black Hand, but they are enough" and shudders. Recalling his torture in Barad-dûr?

As Frodo ponders Gollum's alternative way into Mordor, reference is made to Gandalf's thoughts going out to Frodo and Sam at the Same time as the Palantír is being thrown out of Orthanc. Aragorn's thoughts too were on Frodo at this point - early the following morning he would look in the Palantír to draw Sauron's attention away from the Hobbits.

The description of Gollum as a "famished skeleton" as seen from an eagle's view-point emphasises what a state of starvation he is in.

Of herbs and stewed rabbit
To return to the theme of hygiene: Frodo and Sam have a wash when they reach the lake in Ithilien. Also there is the reference to the "pit of uncovered filth". Nasty, but does it imply that even the Orcs have some standards and reserve a specific place for such things?!

Interesting (but not surprising) that all hobbits learn to cook before reading and writing. Cookery is obviously not regarded just as women's work, though perhaps men only do it when there are no women around - I seem to remember that it was Mrs. Maggot who prepared the meal in "A Shortcut to Mushrooms" and not the farmer himself!

I found the incident with the rabbits quite disturbing:
Sam speaks nicely to Gollum when he wants his help in catching something to eat, but then adopts a bullying manner when the two of them have a difference of opinion about the fire and whether rabbit should be eaten raw or cooked. E.g..
"I've another job for you."
"Don't you damage one of my pans, or I'll carve you into mincemeat."
"Go and catch another" (rabbit, that is).
"Smeagol'll get into real true hot water, when this water boils, if he don't do as he's asked ... Sam'll put his head in it ..."
As is subsequently proved Gollum was right about fire exposing their whereabouts. Also he seems genuinely frightened by fire: "It burns, it kills". Was he thinking of something which happened to him in Mordor? Also Gandalf says (in The Shadow of the Past) that he put the fear of fire on Gollum to make him speak.
Gollum had presumably got used to raw food during his 400-odd years under the mountains - not much opportunity there for cooking!

Faramir's comment that Frodo and Sam cannot be Elves as "Elves are wondrous fair to look upon, or so 'tis said" shows that he can't have seen an Elf before.

The similarity between the Northern and Southern Dúnedain is emphasised, in their appearance and their use of Elvish in their conversations.

Note the Rangers' awareness of fate and the higher powers. Mablung says that Faramir's life “is charmed, or fate spares him for some other end.“ Also Damrod invokes the Valar when the mûmak comes.

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

*Chris's notes*

The two chapters show the best and worst of Sam's character. He clearly cares for Frodo “I love him. He's like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.” but he does not make much effort in being friendly to others especially Gollum “'Then what the plague did you bring us here for?' said Sam, not feeling in the mood to be just or reasonable”. When Sam feels he is the “master” in his dealings with Gollum, he treats him like a slave rather than a servant (as shown in the rabbit scene), compared with Frodo's treatment of Sam in that master-servant relationship.

Gollum's complex character is further developed. We learn about his happy youth listening to tales by the river, hints of his torture at the hands of Sauron “Yes. He has only four on the Black Hand, but they are enough,” said Gollum shuddering. “And He hated Isildur's city”, his hurt when considered a liar even when he tells the truth, his understanding of the plight of Frodo “Gollum returned quietly and peered over Sam's shoulder. Looking at Frodo, he shut his eyes and crawled away without a sound.” Gollum's skill as a hunter and tracker are confirmed as is his ability to make himself scarce when danger is about – for instance Faramir says “he gave us the slip by some fox-trick”. He also warns Sam about lighting a fire and proves to be right when Faramir discovers then from the resulting smoke.

The most prophetic moment occurs when Frodo says to Gollum “If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command.” As we learn later this may have been the case.

6:30 AM  

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