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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reading Group meeting 13/11/10


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

We were missing Julie and Mike this afternoon for our discussion of ‘The Black Gate Opens’, the last chapter of Book 5, and Book 6 chapter 1 ‘The tower of Cirith Ungol’. Carol as always joined in with her email comments.

Carol remarked of ‘The Black Gate’, “This is a very forlorn chapter. They're going to almost certain death and defeat and the environment doesn't help. Laura commented on the unnerving silence of the Nazgul, always till now associated with chilling screams and cries, but Laura drew parallels with the effect of the first aeroplanes flying over the trenches during WW1 and the silent threat from the skies they implied.

We picked up the plight of the young Gondorians and others who succumbed to the fear and horror created by the silent Nazgul. Angela remarked on the vulnerable young men and I noted Aragorn’s compassion for them. Angela thought this was likely to be because he had been in such situations himself? But it was also thought that besides compassion he showed great common sense in his treatment of the ‘unmanned’. Carol commented “Aragorn shows his pity for those who can't go on. If he wins through he'll have their hearts forever.”

Angela noted that the young men who go on as a result of being shamed by Aragorn’s compassion echo the companions who go with him through the Paths of the Dead, where only his will keeps them going forward.

Ian, Chris and Angela all commented on Aragorn’s tactics of the disposition of his forces as he defended the Crossroads and Caer Andros. However, Chris went on to note that if Sauron thinks Aragorn has the Ring, tactics don’t matter. Ian commented that Sauron would assume this because of the separation of the forces. Sauron’s perception of the disposition of the Ring was considered at some length.

Laura then raised the matter of the ‘night-walkers’ in the very Gothic passage relating the night-camp of Aragorn’s forces. I mentioned that in Beowulf there is the famous and resonant ‘sceadugenga’ – walker in darkness (or shadow), but as we recognised, anything simply described as a night-walker and associated with Mordor must be very nasty in fact and even worse in imagination. Tolkien doesn’t describe the creatures so they remain the more disturbing.

I commented on Imrahil and the heralds. I was interested to see that Gandalf is named as the chief herald – an unusual status for him, but it is left to Imrahil to insist that Aragorn should be named as King Elessar by the ‘working’ heralds. Gandalf has nothing to say about this. Ian thought Imrahil was now Aragorn’s ‘spin doctor’.

We spent a good while discussing the Mouth of Sauron, and I mentioned that I had only just realised that he does not arrive alone but as the head of an ‘embassy’. This is not to do with the films, I’d just never remembered that other rode out with him. It was noted that he is not ‘undead’ like the Nazgul, but completely corrupted. Laura remarked on the unpleasant description of his horse, contrasting this to statements earlier about the horses stolen from Rohan but not ‘modified’. The Mouth’s horse reminded me of a thestril (with apologies!)

As the shirt, sword and cloak are revealed, Angela wondered if Sauron at this time still thinks Frodo is a prisoner. Carol noted that “Sauron had already laid his plans, and he had a mind first to play these mice cruelly before he struck to kill. This delay will cost him everything. Kathleen remarked that the ‘teasing’ is a sign of evil and Laura noted that it is carried on in terms that are opposed to ‘human’ feelings.

I remarked that the Mouth seems to rely on the honour of Sauron’s opponents. He asserts the conventions regarding heralds, and, as Laura noted, he demands oaths, presumably expecting them to be kept, thus attempting to employ the other side’s virtues against them.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Carol observed that “at this stage we don't know what's happened to Sam and Frodo. When we left them at the end of book 4, Frodo was captive. So the 'tokens' might mean that he's been sent to Baradur. Yet Gandalf holds to the mission.” Chris was sure that if Sauron had the Ring he wouldn’t negotiate.

Chris also noted that Sauron’s influence through the Mouth, has a similar effect to the sound of Saruman’s voice during the confrontation at Isengard – bystanders assume the worst and are persuaded of betrayal. It was pointed out that at Isengard, Gimli ‘breaks the spell’ with his assertion of Saruman’s deception.

Laura picked up the extent to which the Mouth registers shock as Gandalf confronts him angrily. Sauron seems to give up on the exchange and his messenger is suddenly alone and cannot speak coherently without the words from Sauron.

Angela noted that as the battle begins Pippin understands at last how Denethor felt about dying quickly. To this Angela added that Bergil too seems to have grown up since we first met him.

Ending on a whimsical note, Chris observed that the battle around the hill is reminiscent of Custer’s last stand. However, Carol noted “ 'the eagles are coming.' but Pippin doesn't make the connection that Bilbo's story is his story. (see my next nff). Despite a seemingly black ending the eagles coming should tell us something hopeful is afoot.”

We moved on to The Tower, and Carol commented “now it turns out to be the right thing in the end but prudently should Sam have gone to rescue Frodo.” Chris remarked that Sam, contrary to recent opinions expressed elsewhere, is showing signs of the influence of the ring taking hold on him because he puts it on when there is no real need and is reluctant to relinquish it when Frodo wants it back. Angela pointed out, however, that it is still easier for Sam to take it off, and Carol remarked that “the orcs fighting among themselves is Sam's gift for showing his bravery with Gollum and Shelob.”

Angela then remarked that the Tower, like Minas Ithil, was created by the elves. Laura was reminded of the fact that Sauron is unable to create of his own accord and power and can only corrupt. Ian pointed out, however, that Sauron built Barad Dur, and probably Dol Guldur. Another whimsical moment followed as this was suggested to be Sauron’s summer retreat.

Laura wondered if Sam’s singing didn’t seem a bit odd under the circumstances. Carol suggested “'oft hope is born when all is forlorn', Legolas' adage. From feeling really defeated, Sam find the hope he needs: 'and then suddenly new strength rose in him, and his voice rang out, while words of his own came unbidden to fit the simple tune'. How far Sam has come in stature and experience from when he sang 'Gil-galad', to sing a beautiful song of his own making, and it's defiant.”

In the legends of the primary world it does recall Blondin singing outside Richard the Lionheart’s prison. Angela thought it related to other earlier tales.

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

We considered the breaking of the Gate. Laura reminded us that in the Chamber of Mazarbul when Gandalf contested the door with the balrog the power of the competing spells broke the door just as the power of Galadriel’s phial together with the elvish incantations causes the evil gateway to collapse. Laura and Chris wondered if there was some degree of divine intervention in the way Sam remembers the phial at crucial times, and both Frodo and Sam speak Elvish words without setting out to do so. Carol observed “ ‘as if to do honour to his hardihood, and to grace with splendour his faithful brown hobbit-hand that had done such deeds, the phial blazed forth suddenly...' I just love this sentence. It places Sam up there with Beren and Hurin. I think that mortal bravery and endeavour is always rewarded but only just enough to allow further bravery and endeavour, or not - free will?”

Having seen Frodo and Sam leave the Tower, and with the Nazgul perched on the battlements above, we agreed to read the next 2 chapters ‘The Land of Shadow’ and ‘Mount Doom’.

1:03 PM  

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