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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reading Group meeting 14/8/10


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

This week we were supposed to be discussing the chapter ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’ and ‘The Muster of Rohan’, although we spent rather more time on ‘The Passing’ than on ‘The Muster’. We were only 5 in the group, but we found a great deal to comment upon, and Carol as always sent her comments to add to ours.

Carol notes of the ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’, “here we start interlacing again - back to Dol Baran.” Laura remarked that the ‘Passing’ title of the chapter carries overtones of death making it gloomy. Angela picked this up and commented that ‘passing’ will indeed be enacted because everything will change and pass if Aragorn succeeds in his quest. Angela went on to suggest that after his encounter with Sauron Aragorn may well be in shock, hence his lack of appetite.

I remarked that the arrival of Halbarad and the Rangers never loses its tense apprehension for me even though I know who they are. Chris observed that the ‘dark shapes’ echo the descriptions of Black Riders and the Nazgul have just been seen overhead.

Laura noted the repetition of the image of the hobbits as baggage, first used by Saruman, now used by Merry about himself. Angela remarked that Pippin also uses the ‘baggage’ image during their Orc captivity. Angela also wondered how Merry felt at having to share a horse with the profoundly taciturn Aragorn.

Laura observed that there are a number of prophecies in the chapter, such as Merry telling Theoden ‘As a father you shall be to me’. I wondered if he was really expecting not to see Saradoc again. Carol compared Theoden being friendly to Merry with Pippin’s treatment by Denethor: “Merry's allegiance is sworn in a castle keep in the middle of a meal, while Pippin's is sworn in all formality in a great stony hall.” Theoden doesn't keep Merry waiting on him long whereas Denethor does with Pippin. Denethor would never have someone like Pippin share his troubles. 'and also to do as I bid' - this is the only time Theoden pulls rank on Merry but Denethor, with his very demeanour, does this all the time with Pippin.

I proposed that Tolkien at times uses the term ‘man/men’ in a generic sense to name any male who is not an orc or undead. We had an instance in the previous chapter when Gandalf names Pippin as a valiant man – which Pippin corrects to ‘hobbit’. The narration in ‘The Passing’ names the sons of Elrond as ‘two tall men’. This led Laura to consider whether they would be full elves, as their mother was an Elf, while Angela suggested that ‘Half-elf’ was a generic term for having mixed blood.

The phrase ‘in other guise’, describing Aragorn’s appearance before Sauron, prompted me to ask what that would be? Angela reminded us of Aragorn appearing before Eomer for the first time, and his lordly demeanour then. Chris was sure he appeared as a king should do. Laura picked this up in the context of the effect it seems to have on Sauron and reminded us of Macbeth, when the line of kings ‘stretches out to the crack of doom’. This reminded Angela of the vision Merry and Pippin have on the Barrow Downs. Ian thought that use of the palantir was ‘interpreting’ the relevant aspects of kingship and projecting them.

Carol commented that Aragorn’s words 'but I say to you, Eomer, that in battle we may yet meet, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between.' is “one of my favourite moments in the whole book.” Laura and Angela both thought that Elladan could have waited for Gimli, and Laura thought the flowing fear reminded her of ectoplasm.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Laura and Angela then took us into the episode between Eowyn and Aragorn and the (un)vexed question of the way Tolkien handles the role of women. We have debated this at length during our earlier read-through, but Ian noted that in earlier versions the relationship had been handled in more detail. The version in LotR has been abstracted from the earlier forms. [As a passing note, I have just heard from our colleague Christine Ahmed in Newcastle that her webpage comparing Eowyn’s famous remark on the ‘cage’ with the historical caging of one of the aristocratic ladies of Scotland has received more hits than all the other pages on her site.]
Carol adds this comment “Eowyn's words ‘all your words are but to say...' are so bitter and so pertinent. She's dead right and top marks to Tolkien for voicing it. Carol also notes of Eowyn that at the end she changes to ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, and says “I know it means something but don't know what. Who will read this riddle for me? Well, I will for one! In the medieval (literary) tradition, coming from the French, ‘you’ was the respectful form of address, ‘thee, thou, thy’ were the familiar forms used among friends and family. They could be used inappropriately to show disrespect. In Eowyn’s speech, however, they register her desperate love for Aragorn. She speaks of the love others bear him and by changing to the familiar form expresses her own love without saying ‘I love to just as much as they do’.

Angela noted that Merry’s first meeting is significant for their later actions together. Chris thought Merry was more sensitive than anyone else because he notices that she has been weeping.

The ringing of the bells on the far side of the mountain made me wonder what kind of bells and what they were doing there. In a Christian or medieval setting they would be church bells, but that can’t be the case here. Ian suggested they were old ships bells from the Numenorean ships. Laura thought they might be hand bells of the kind once used in schools and on fire-engines. Angela pointed out that as the Dead were known to wander out of the mountain at times the bells were probably kept as an alarm.

Carol commented “I always wonder why Isildur lugged Erech all the way from Numenor. Surely there were other more vital things to bring.” We wondered about the practicalities too, and I proposed that in fact the bringing of the stone may have been a legend created in the valley to explain the strange appearance and occult associations of the stone. This led me to suggest that the story at this point touchs on all sorts of post-colonial issues as we hear about earlier inhabitants and their treatment – a topic that reaches its limit in the encounter with the Pukel-men.

We went on to discuss the black flag, and Chris noted that its full description is held over until later. Kathleen thought it was merely obscured by the dark night. Ian observed that it only reflects light, and Chris noted that the Dead could see it.

Laura then protested that it was mean of Isildur to curse the horses along with the Oathbreakers. This led Angela to commiserate with the horses of the Nazgul. Carol noted that the ride is seen largely through Gimli's eyes, and only later do we learn who the dead warrior is. This really exercises Gimli but the thing that brings him back is the sound of running water, a potent symbol in Tolkien's Middle-earth to all. Laura commented that the Oathbreakers is a good story. Carol added “and so we're left hanging. Aragorn pops out of legend to pop right back into it. We have to wait ages to find out what happens, but a brilliant piece of very claustrophobic writing.” She went on: “I always seem to have more to say about the action parts than about Frodo and Sam.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...


Carol’s notes on Chapter 3 ‘The Muster of Rohan’
The Rohirrim are seen largely through Merry's eyes and the Ride starts Merry's interest in the similarities of language between Rohan and the shire. He eventually wrote his musings. Merry sees the pukel-men and later meets the real mccoy. In this chapter we get some explanation of the Paths of the Dead and some indication as to who was the fallen warrior found by Aragorn and co in the last chapter. Tolkien gives us the young man with a face 'that was in search of death' - another indication of survival. Then comes the song, one of my all-time Tolkien favourites. But I've come to realise that I really like alliterative verse. Rohan place-names are simple and describe what the places are - Underharrow, Upbourne, Westfold etc. Merry and dernhelm ride away to war together and do great deeds on the fields of Mundberg. Indications of war at their backs but, as we learn later, this is sorted out by the ents. Laura and Angela also picked up the topic of other battles in the earlier chapter when Legolas remarks that his kinsmen are facing war in their own lands of Mirkwood.

Our chapters for next time will be ‘The Siege of Gondor’ and ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’. Prepare for battle!

8:58 AM  

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