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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reading Group meeting 23/10/10


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...


We were a smaller group than usual today as both Ian and Chris were doing or preparing to do Ranger-type things. However, we tackled the chapters for consideration ‘ The Houses of Healing’ and ‘The Last Debate’ with enthusiasm, and a few digressions into other areas.

Julie opened proceedings with her comment that Merry is enduring a second dose of the Black Breath when Merry finds him, following his first dose in Bree. Angela thought Faramir may be undergoing a second does too, assuming that he got caught in it before Gandalf rescued him the first time.

Carol noted by email that “the meeting of Merry and Pippin after the battle is always left out in full from adaptations and it's an episode I like.” She also observed that “Pippin’s growing up a bit being Merry’s encourager.’ Angela also remarked on Pippin’s change from the inquisitive adolescent who threw the stone down the well to his role now. Laura found great pathos in Merry’s question to Pippin: “Are you going to bury me?”

Angela commented on the number of ‘dark vale/ valley’ references in the chapter, and drew out the relevance of these to the feelings of despair that afflict those who come under the influence of Sauron by whatever means. Saruman and Denethor via the palantirs and Merry via the Black Breath of Sauron’s emmisaries. Laura noted however that Pippin leaves Merry in a patch of sunlight while finding help. Mike observed that this contrasts with all the ‘dark vale’ references. Mike, Angela and Laura all mentioned the connection between Saruman, Wormtongue and the despair that overwhelms Theoden.

Mike was interested in the contrast between the dignified transportation of Theoden into Minas Tirith and the undignified carting of the body of William Rufus into Winchester after his hunting ‘accident’ and he wondered why so little honour was given to Rufus. Laura and I were both convinced it was because Rufus was a most unpopular king, and not only for being the son of the Conqueror. We digressed for a while into high medieval history and the geography of the New Forest. Laura noted Aragorn’s praise of Theoden as a keeper of oaths.

Laura then picked up the World War One imagery at the start of ‘The Houses of Healing’ with all the trenches. In place of the wrecked tanks stuck in the Flanders’ trenches Tolkien has Mumaks – his version of the war elephants recommended in Aristotle’s Secreta Secretorum – the handbook for princes throughout the Middle Ages.

Mike was impressed by Aragorn’s refusal to enter Minas Tirith openly and related this to protocol because he doesn’t yet know that Denethor is dead. Angela thought Imrahil’s support for his hesitancy is borne out of the prince’s knowledge of his brother-in-law as his sister was married to Denethor.

Carol wrote “and there came Gandalf on foot and with him one cloaked in grey...and they saw as he stepped into the light of the lantern by the door that it was Aragorn.” This always reminds me of Holman Hunt’s ‘The light of the world’ depicting Jesus in the darkness holding a lantern. Carol added ‘I find if very iconic.’ We all noted many instances of biblical echoes in the chapter including the messianic likeness between Aragorn being sought out by the sick and the sick flocking to Jesus to be healed. Mike remarked that the reference to the sons of Elrond reminded him of James and John ‘the sons of thunder’, and a similar sense of everyone trying to get close to the ‘magic’, irrespective of illness or injury.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Angela noted that Gandalf was floundering until Aragorn arrived to do the healing. She then wondered how Aragorn managed with only 6 athelas leaves, bringing comments about ‘loaves and fishes’. More seriously, Angela noted that Aragorn seems to benefit from the athelas as much as his patients, and she wondered if he used it as much for himself as for them because he was so tired and says he is missing the skill of Elrond. Carol remarked that the scent of athelas seems to smell like the smell the sniffer most cherishes.

Laura was surprised that Faramir wakes not knowing Denethor is dead but still hails Aragorn as his king. Angela pointed out that Frodo told Faramir about Aragorn. It was then noted that Eowyn has been touched by despair before her encounter with the Witch-King, through the despair of her uncle, and then through her love for Aragorn. Laura approved of the fact that Merry gets ‘equal billing’ when it comes to being healed. She had once feared that being a hobbit he would get sidelined in this sequence.

Carol noted that when Pippin recognises Aragorn crying ‘Strider! how splendid!’ Imrahil on his dignity says to Eomer, ‘Is it thus that we speak to our kings?’ Aragorn says that Telcontar doesn’t sound so bad and claims it as the name of his house. Carol added ‘I think this is a sign of how his reign will be, still dignified but perhaps a little more relaxed than under the old order.’

We got on to the topic of Aragorn’s sense of humour because Angela had read an article that says he doesn’t have one. We all agreed this isn’t correct, and Laura noted the way he teases Merry over the pipe and tobacco. Carol observed that his 3 encounters in the houses of healing show Aragorn in a very sagacious light. We see him interacting with 3 very different characters. He can change his register to suit the occasion which he’s learned from his long lone travels and will hold him in very good stead as a humane king.

I noticed Aragorn’s rather self-deprecatory comment on Rangers not being used to stone houses and wondered if this might be true. Laura and Angela thought it was surely not true for Aragorn and probably not true at all, merely togue-in-cheek.

Carol picked out the treatment of Ioreth for special comment, observing that the warden berating and the verse, like so many in this book who have ignored old wives’ tales to their detriment. The warden's pomposity and his egotistical display of ancient languages is highlighted when it’s Ioreth who gets it right, a woman of less lore and more wisdom. Angela and Julie commented on the garrulous herbmaster, while Laura remarked on her discomfort with the stereotyping of Ioreth but contrasted Tolkien’s treatment of her with the impressive sensitivity he shows in his writing of Gandalf’s comments on Eowyn.

As we moved into ‘The Last Debate’ we noted the change of narrative mood. As Carol remarked, Galadriel’s foresight proves true: Legolas has caught the sea-longing, very lyrically spoken. But he won't follow his star for a long time yet.

Laura also noted the difference between Gimli’s and Legolas’s outlook. Gimli spoke of Men’s works being frosted and blighted but Legolas spoke of Men coming back, although he seems more doubtful about Aragorn’s success than Gimli. Laura thought this a practical observation that only 1 battle has so far been fought successfully. Mike thought it one of the useful reminders that all is not over. Carol noted that Legolas senses the wind-change but whatever they do, evil won't be wholly eliminated.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Angela and Laura commented on the seamless inclusion of the story of the Paths of the Dead. Carol observed that we know that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli survived because they fought at the battle but we don't know the details till now. Laura wondered if the slaves and the later rowers were the same.

Carol commented “I think this is a crucial chapter for ‘showing’ Aragorn, his command over the dead, the way he holds people by his will to do deeds greater than they thought themselves capable of. Contrasted with the ‘Houses’ chapter where he shows his compassionate side.”
At the debate itself Angela thought Eomer and Imrahil come across as ‘creepy’ for their unreserved willingness to follow Aragorn. I took issue with this on the grounds that I thought both characters respond in a show of properly feudal fealty to the man they accept as their king and liege lord (but then I’m a medievalist!)

Laura raised the question of Imrahil’s laugh, and we discussed how this would sound. The vote was generally for deep and manly. The problem of Aragorn’s unsheathed sword was also considered on grounds of ‘elf and safety’ as Julie put it (chestnuts! As Gollum would say). But it was thought to be a symbolic gesture and we considered the possibility that it may have been carried before Aragorn as a symbol of power and intent rather than being carried unsheathed in his belt (with the attendant danger of cutting his leg off!)

Ending on this flippant note we agreed to read the next 2 chapters which means tending Book 5 and beginning Book 6. We have plenty of time as we don’t meet again until 13th November.

12:27 PM  

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