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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reading Group meeting 24/7/10

Writers of Influence presented by the National Portrait Gallery

4 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

26.7.10
As usual, this blog report comes in several parts.

We began The Return of the King at this meeting. Our chapters were ‘Minas Tirith’ and ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’, in the event, we only managed to get through ‘Minas Tirith’.

Many of Carol’s comments by email are included in the main report. A few more are added at the end.

The meeting began with interesting news of a touring exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery which includes one of the well-known images of Tolkien. Ian had been to see the exhibits which are in the Art Gallery above the room we use for our meetings – very convenient!

We also congratulated Chris on his latest article in Amon Hen. This led us into an intense discussion on possible options for ending LotR, on the levels, functions, and forms of betrayal in the book, then on to the subject of grace, and finally onto the matter of Frodo’s curse, its effect, and the notion of culpability.

Mike and I were both rather bothered by Tolkien’s attitude to grace, because grace is a difficult theological point and Catholicism and Anglicanism do not share the same kind of belief in its operation. It was one of the controversial matters of the Reformation.

Mike lifted us out of the slough of religious controversy by picking up Chris’s point – made in his articles – about Tolkien’s use of the word and concept of ‘wavering’. Mike wondered if this related in a some way to Tolkien’s view of life as full of daily self-doubt and difficult options.

More pragmatically, Ian suggested that LotR is revealing a ‘pathway’ that is more complex than just the choice between good and evil.

Mike observed that Tolkien’s techniques amount to good storytelling because they take the reader along with the choices made.

Julie lightened the intensity of the discussion with her observation on unTolkienian vocabulary. She thought the mention of the ‘knob’ on Denethor’s staff was uncharacteristic of Tolkien’s lexis. This seems to be borne out by Carol’s observations about the language in this chapter
“More old-fashioned words: thence, thus, fathom. It seems that now being in the real old heroic society, Tolkien adjusts his language likewise. ‘Carven, goodly hangings, well-clad’. I think Tolkien likes using these kinds of words. I certainly like reading them, though it's one of the brickbats that critics throw at LotR, the use of old -fashioned language and modes. Denethor uses old-fashioned words too: twain, verily, kine, but when Frodo and Sam were being guarded by Damrod and Mablung, Tolkien said they heard the common tongue but as it was spoken of old. Pippin can rise to the occasion if need be (as in 'the mightiest man may be slain by one arrow...and Boromir was pierced by many.' ) and this is one of his finer moments, stressing Boromir's endurance and bravery. Old modes of speech are used for Pippin's oath.”

Laura went on to pick up the use of the word ‘esquire’ from Latin via Old French. The Latin original means Shieldbearer, which recalls Eowyn’s description as a shield maiden.

Still on the topic of words, Mike picked out ‘nuncheon’, which we all had a go at defining, without quite knowing the derivation. My dictionary defines it as an obsolete word for an afternoon snack – a few cherry tomatoes perhaps?

‘Chess’ also caused us some disquiet, but we accepted the idea that it represented a board game requiring some intellectual input. Laura pointed out that ‘pawns’ were a well-known image for those sacrificed for the sake of a wider strategy, and this illuminates the fate of Faramir and others.

Chris wondered why Gandalf introduced Pippin as a valiant ‘man’, only to be corrected by Pippin. We didn’t seem to come up with a definitive answer for this.

Laura noted that Beregond is a ‘real’ traitor as he disobeys standing orders and then kills a comrade. Angela added that this betrayal leads to the rescue of Faramir. So we have yet another instance of the complicated balance between forms of good and evil.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

26.7.10
As usual, this blog report comes in several parts.

We began The Return of the King at this meeting. Our chapters were ‘Minas Tirith’ and ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’, in the event, we only managed to get through ‘Minas Tirith’.

Many of Carol’s comments by email are included in the main report. A few more are added at the end.

The meeting began with interesting news of a touring exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery which includes one of the well-known images of Tolkien. Ian had been to see the exhibits which are in the Art Gallery above the room we use for our meetings – very convenient!

We also congratulated Chris on his latest article in Amon Hen. This led us into an intense discussion on possible options for ending LotR, on the levels, functions, and forms of betrayal in the book, then on to the subject of grace, and finally onto the matter of Frodo’s curse, its effect, and the notion of culpability.

Mike and I were both rather bothered by Tolkien’s attitude to grace, because grace is a difficult theological point and Catholicism and Anglicanism do not share the same kind of belief in its operation. It was one of the controversial matters of the Reformation.

Mike lifted us out of the slough of religious controversy by picking up Chris’s point – made in his articles – about Tolkien’s use of the word and concept of ‘wavering’. Mike wondered if this related in a some way to Tolkien’s view of life as full of daily self-doubt and difficult options.

More pragmatically, Ian suggested that LotR is revealing a ‘pathway’ that is more complex than just the choice between good and evil.

Mike observed that Tolkien’s techniques amount to good storytelling because they take the reader along with the choices made.

Julie lightened the intensity of the discussion with her observation on unTolkienian vocabulary. She thought the mention of the ‘knob’ on Denethor’s staff was uncharacteristic of Tolkien’s lexis. This seems to be borne out by Carol’s observations about the language in this chapter
“More old-fashioned words: thence, thus, fathom. It seems that now being in the real old heroic society, Tolkien adjusts his language likewise. ‘Carven, goodly hangings, well-clad’. I think Tolkien likes using these kinds of words. I certainly like reading them, though it's one of the brickbats that critics throw at LotR, the use of old -fashioned language and modes. Denethor uses old-fashioned words too: twain, verily, kine, but when Frodo and Sam were being guarded by Damrod and Mablung, Tolkien said they heard the common tongue but as it was spoken of old. Pippin can rise to the occasion if need be (as in 'the mightiest man may be slain by one arrow...and Boromir was pierced by many.' ) and this is one of his finer moments, stressing Boromir's endurance and bravery. Old modes of speech are used for Pippin's oath.”

Laura went on to pick up the use of the word ‘esquire’ from Latin via Old French. The Latin original means Shieldbearer, which recalls Eowyn’s description as a shield maiden.

Still on the topic of words, Mike picked out ‘nuncheon’, which we all had a go at defining, without quite knowing the derivation. My dictionary defines it as an obsolete word for an afternoon snack – a few cherry tomatoes perhaps?

‘Chess’ also caused us some disquiet, but we accepted the idea that it represented a board game requiring some intellectual input. Laura pointed out that ‘pawns’ were a well-known image for those sacrificed for the sake of a wider strategy, and this illuminates the fate of Faramir and others.

Chris wondered why Gandalf introduced Pippin as a valiant ‘man’, only to be corrected by Pippin. We didn’t seem to come up with a definitive answer for this.

Laura noted that Beregond is a ‘real’ traitor as he disobeys standing orders and then kills a comrade. Angela added that this betrayal leads to the rescue of Faramir. So we have yet another instance of the complicated balance between forms of good and evil.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Laura went on to remark on Gandalf’s statement ‘I too am a steward’ as indicating his stewardship of the earth. Carol too commented “This shows Gandalf's concerns are far wider than Denethor's. It doesn't even matter if Gondor perishes, like Gandalf says, if anything can grow again then he'll have done his job of stewarding.” Julie observed the humility implicit in Gandalf’s statement as he does not claim power in his own right. Carol noted his comment to Denethor “unless the king should come again?”.

Carol wondered if Denethor had seen Pippin before in the palantir? Angela was certain this was so. Mike and Carol both picked up Pippin musing on just who Gandalf really is. As Carol notes “We know nothing of the Istari yet.”

Laura picked up the theme of the blood of Numenor and wondered if it was not in Boromir, but Angela suggested that Boromir represents a ‘standard’ while they are the exception. Coming almost full circle, Ian suggested that Faramir is the ‘virtuous knight’, Denethor is not a good steward, but cowardly until pushed to courage by the visions in his palantir.

Having spent all afternoon on this one chapter we agreed to go on to ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’ next time, and also to read ‘The Muster of Rohan’, in hopes that we may get through both.

Carol’s Comments:
If I’d have had to wait over a year for this volume, with the ending of TT as it is, I’d have gone nuts. Now we're back in the heroic again with Gandalf's great ride and the war beacons being lit. I can never remember to names of the peaks. The riders going west are for Rohan - we see 2 of them later at Dunharrow and then again but dead just before the riders reach the Pelennor. For once Gandalf praises Pippin.

Gandalf 'prophecies' the unusual way Aragorn eventually does come to Minas Tirith 100 pages later.

Pippin sees heroic architecture: the Numenoreans were monumental i.e. building monuments. Compare Theoden's and Denethor's halls: one natural and homely, the other stony dead and stark.

Another indication that the quest is successful. 'Pippin never forgot that hour in the great hall...' Why is Gandalf experiencing great joy?

These episodes like the one with Beregond and then Bergil are among my favourite parts of the book and are always left out of adaptations. This particular episode is seen through Pippin's eyes, away from the mighty and powerful. It's sort of ordinary folk getting to know each other and a bit more about each other's societies and cultures, and even Pippin's appetite. Beregond is one of the few characters acknowledged as having any family. Never a mention of a wife. I think Tolkien enjoyed writing Pippin's spiel to Bergil. I think he would talk to children in a sort of teasing way but not condescending. If only inducement to children nowaday were as simple as 'I can tell you some tales of far countries in return' for Bergil keeping him company. Pippin saying 'so ends a fair day in wrath' brings us back to the fact that he isn't really a child after all.

Little bits keep popping up about the black fleet, slow build-up to a surprising climax. The start of this chapter was very upbeat but the end is entirely opposite: 'there will be no dawn.'

11:47 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Laura went on to remark on Gandalf’s statement ‘I too am a steward’ as indicating his stewardship of the earth. Carol too commented “This shows Gandalf's concerns are far wider than Denethor's. It doesn't even matter if Gondor perishes, like Gandalf says, if anything can grow again then he'll have done his job of stewarding.” Julie observed the humility implicit in Gandalf’s statement as he does not claim power in his own right. Carol noted his comment to Denethor “unless the king should come again?”.

Carol wondered if Denethor had seen Pippin before in the palantir? Angela was certain this was so. Mike and Carol both picked up Pippin musing on just who Gandalf really is. As Carol notes “We know nothing of the Istari yet.”

Laura picked up the theme of the blood of Numenor and wondered if it was not in Boromir, but Angela suggested that Boromir represents a ‘standard’ while they are the exception. Coming almost full circle, Ian suggested that Faramir is the ‘virtuous knight’, Denethor is not a good steward, but cowardly until pushed to courage by the visions in his palantir.

Having spent all afternoon on this one chapter we agreed to go on to ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’ next time, and also to read ‘The Muster of Rohan’, in hopes that we may get through both.

Carol’s Comments:
If I’d have had to wait over a year for this volume, with the ending of TT as it is, I’d have gone nuts. Now we're back in the heroic again with Gandalf's great ride and the war beacons being lit. I can never remember to names of the peaks. The riders going west are for Rohan - we see 2 of them later at Dunharrow and then again but dead just before the riders reach the Pelennor. For once Gandalf praises Pippin.

Gandalf 'prophecies' the unusual way Aragorn eventually does come to Minas Tirith 100 pages later.

Pippin sees heroic architecture: the Numenoreans were monumental i.e. building monuments. Compare Theoden's and Denethor's halls: one natural and homely, the other stony dead and stark.

Another indication that the quest is successful. 'Pippin never forgot that hour in the great hall...' Why is Gandalf experiencing great joy?

These episodes like the one with Beregond and then Bergil are among my favourite parts of the book and are always left out of adaptations. This particular episode is seen through Pippin's eyes, away from the mighty and powerful. It's sort of ordinary folk getting to know each other and a bit more about each other's societies and cultures, and even Pippin's appetite. Beregond is one of the few characters acknowledged as having any family. Never a mention of a wife. I think Tolkien enjoyed writing Pippin's spiel to Bergil. I think he would talk to children in a sort of teasing way but not condescending. If only inducement to children nowaday were as simple as 'I can tell you some tales of far countries in return' for Bergil keeping him company. Pippin saying 'so ends a fair day in wrath' brings us back to the fact that he isn't really a child after all.

Little bits keep popping up about the black fleet, slow build-up to a surprising climax. The start of this chapter was very upbeat but the end is entirely opposite: 'there will be no dawn.'

11:48 AM  

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