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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reading Group meeting 12/6/10


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

The meeting this afternoon saw a brief change in personnel as Diane and Mike were both able to join us again, while Angela, Chris, and Kathleen weren’t. However, Angela and Chris both sent their comments by email, as did Carol as usual. At times, my note-taking lapsed while checking through the print-outs, but as ever, emailed contributions enriched our discussions.

Laura and Diane both thought the chapter titles ‘The Window on the West’ and ‘The Forbidden Pool’ had a hint of fairy-tale titles about them. Laura thought this particularly true of ‘The Window’ and Diane noted the more ominous tone of ‘The Forbidden Pool’.

Laura went on to remark that the opening of ‘The Window’ chapter reminded her of the kind of open air ‘moot’ associated with Anglo-Saxon governance at all levels. We discussed the significance of this and the need to ensure that things were seen to be done and that there were witnesses to what was said and decided. Diane and Ian thought there was a sense of rumour control about Faramir’s conduct of Frodo’s ‘interrogation’.

Laura went on to note that Faramir is actually in deep mourning for his brother at this point, and that his restraint is noble.

Laura then observed that Faramir interprets the idea of the ‘bane’ and the ‘halfling’ in his own way, and back to front.

Mike noted the emphasis on truth in the chapter and I mentioned Chris’s reference to Frodo’s tricking of Gollum at the pool. The two concepts were held to be different as Frodo didn’t exactly lie about anything. Mike had wondered if the insistence on telling the truth was a reflection of Tolkien’s own feelings and related to the social and moral background of his upbringing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We considered this likely. Laura remarked on Tolkien seeing himself or his own qualities reflected in Boromir, and Mike observed that we usually think of a greater likeness between Tolkien and Treebeard – the ecological sensitivity, wisdom, care for words and what they contain etc, but of course Tolkien was once a Faramir – a young, thoughtful warrior, but not ‘in love’ with warfare.

Chris also noted Faramir’s interest in knowledge and academic study, remarking ‘I feel that Faramir is used by tolkien to warn his contemporaries about the spread of decay in societies and how easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Diane observed that to being with, Tolkien only gives Sam’s point of view in the chapter and doesn’t tell us about how Frodo is feeling. Laura noted that Frodo quite soon brings Aragorn into the account and she wondered if this was a means of giving himself courage: ‘My gang’s tougher than your gang’ was mentioned!

Laura also picked up a ‘psychiatric’ moment when Faramir makes Gollum meet his gaze and comments on the ‘locked doors’. Diane referred us back to the sense of Faramir’s nobility when she remarked that Gollum cowers before that noble gaze. Laura went on to remark on Gollum’s fear of torture as Faramir gives Frodo a small knife to cut his bonds. Diane thought the recollection of Gollum’s suffering in Mordor made Faramir’s goodness so much greater.

Ian wondered what additional information we might find in HoM-e about Aragorn’s hunt for Gollum – and is it Gollum’s memory of Aragorn, who was none too gentle with him, that frightens Gollum so much when confronted with Faramir? This is related both to the fact that Aragorn and Faramir are Men, about whon Gollum knows little, and to Sam’s comment about a similarity between Gandalf and Faramir, which Faramir calls ‘the air of Numenor’.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Diane picked this up and wondered if Tolkien was indulging in one of his little plays on words shifting between ‘air’ and ‘heir’.

Chris noted in his comments that ‘Faramir shares many of the same characteristics as Aragorn,’ and that ‘his comments on the issue of possessing the Ring are almost identical.’ Chris then posed the question: What were Tolkien’s motives in introducing such a similar character. However, Carol commented that ‘Tolkien once wrote of Faramir’s appearance in the story that this young man came striding out of the fields of Ithilien and he liked him.’ We didn’t consider the implications of these various elements, but maybe it is a topic for next time.

Mike was interested in the motif of broken weapons, because Boromir’s sword is broken as was Narsil, and we tried to recall other tales with broken weapons without success. Carol, however, had noted that “the broken sword on his knee is almost like a metaphor for past power being broken. Narsil the sword-that-was –broken has been reforged to symbolise the coming of ne wpower, the end of the third age and a new mind-set.” Laura commented on the need for the ‘broken sword’ or Sauron would have taken over and there would have been no Anduril.

Angela in her comments raised the puzzle of Frodo’s comment that Boromir always treated Aragorn with honour. We thought this was just Frodo being diplomatic.

Laura and Diane both commented on Boromir’s boat being half full of clear water, and the elvishness associated with this and, as Mike mentioned the similarity between this ‘transparency’, and Sam seeing a certain ‘transparency’ about Frodo in Rivendell, and a quality about him shining through in Ithilien.

Ian posed the question ‘what about this daffadowndilly?’ We mostly thought it must be a very old world for a daffodil, and Julie recalled a rhyme about a character in a yellow gown and a white petticoat. But it was a trick question! Ian had found the first instance in a book of the same name by Nathaniel Hawthorn. We though the description referred to a small girl, but it was in fact a moral tale about a small boy. I have heard elsewhere that small boys in the 19thC would be dressed in frocks and petticoats. We noted that when Sam uses the word it is part of the way he expresses all the aspects of Galadriel in his own way. Diane thought it sounded as though he was thinking of Rosie at that moment of describing special beauty.

Julie thought Sam’s comment about being ‘drowned like a hobbit’ was a bit of a gaff in front of Frodo!

We got on to a couple of difficult issues next: Mike asked if pride was the overall weakness that the Ring seeks out and preys on. Then Diane posed the question would it be ‘good’ if Faramir really was confronted by the Ring and simply walked past it and left it. Mike added – would it be better to pick it up and take the danger away? Ian and Diane ended up coming at this problem from different angles, and in the end the rest of us suggested that Faramir’s statement could be better seen as a metaphor for his resistance to the ‘draw’ of the Ring. Ian, however, pointed out that when he had made his original statement he had not known what the Bane was.

Diane noted a ‘Galadriel’ moment when Faramir sits down after discovering what the Bane is: she suggested that it is a physical ‘diminishment’ (of his looming height), while Galadriel’s ‘diminishing’ is her rejection of power and pride when confronted with the Ring. Laura added that this was also a Bree/ Aragorn moment, with Faramir seated and his intentions unknown.

We all went on to discuss the topic of magic and technology because, in the context of Sam’s rope, I asked if elf-magic was just technology other races didn’t have access to or understand.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Like, Carol, we also noted that Frodo and Sam’s encounter with Faramir echoes Aragorn’s encounter with Eomer, legends springing to life… As Carol remarked both leaders go against their lord’s commands, but as she pointed out Eomer doesn’t suffer for his disobedience as long as Faramir does.

Angela remarked on Faramir’s comment about Gollum’s coney-snaring that he and his mme ‘had been aware of Gollum’s activities all along. Angela also picked up Faramir’s farewell statement referring to the Seeing-stones, writing: ‘He obviously knows about the Palantiri.’

Both Chris and Angela picked up Faramir’s comments about the Rohirrim. Angela thought it quite natural then that he should fall for Eowyn, while Chris saw Faramir’s comments as prophetic.

I mentioned that I had recently come across a definition of the difference between fantasy and imagination in a work by the contemporary philosopher Roger Scruton. Although I disagree with him a lot of the time, this differentiation seemed interesting in view of the distinction that can be made between ‘fantasy’ writing, and Tolkien’s works. I have written it up and will add it below for interest.

We agreed to read the next 2 chapters ‘Journey to the Crossroads’ and ‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol’.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Fantasy and Imagination, from Roger Scruton, *Beauty* p.105:

True art appeals to the imagination, whereas effects elicit fantasy. Imaginary things are pondered, fantasies are acted out. Both fantasy and imagination concern unrealities; but while the unrealities of fantasy penetrate and pollute our world, those of the imagination exist in a world of their own, in which we wander freely in a condition of sympathetic detachment…. The ideal fantasy is perfectly realised, and perfectly unreal – an imaginary object that leaves nothing to the imagination…. Imagined scenes, by contrast, are not realised but represented, they come to us soaked in thought, and in no sense are they surrogates, standin in place of the unobtainable. On the contrary, they are deliberately placed at a distance, in a world of their own. Convention, framing and restraint are integral to the imaginative process.

1:06 PM  

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