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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Reading Group meeting 11/12/10


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

This was our last meeting for 2010, and brought us to the point at which we needed to consider what we shall go on to when we finish LotR (for the second time). Actual decisions will be made in January. We also had to revise our January meetings to take account of the fact that Jan. 1st 2011 was a Saturday and being Bank Holiday the Library would be shut. So our meetings in January will be 15th and 29th.

Our chapters for this afternoon were ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘The Steward and the King’.

Angela began the discussion by proposing that Aragorn’s ‘far-away’ look is because as defeat seems inevitable he is thinking of Elendil and his mistake, and of Arwen. I wondered if he might be thinking of Numenor, because of the references to ‘foundering in a gathering sea’ and the hordes of Mordor breaking like a wave. Angela remarked that the description of Aragorn’s eyes like stars is a reminder of his portion of Elvish blood. Carol, by email, remarked that she loves the opening of this chapter, “such doom and then such hope”. She went on to comment that even as Aragorn loses hope, there seems to be no fear in him and we get another glimpse into his mind, and Angela thought his eyes were shining with hope. Angela also noted the description of the great Shadow and recalled that at the Drowning of Numenor, Sauron escaped as a shadow.

Chris observed that the eyes of all the Captains of the West are commented upon for the power they have to terrify the forces of Mordor once Sauron’s will is withdrawn.

Angela then wondered if Gandalf and Aragorn know that Manwe is working – she cited this in the context of Aragorn being more perceptive after his use of the palantir. Ian responded that if this is so, Aragorn becomes more preoccupied by victory and becoming king, and aware of what this will require in a practical sense.

Ian thought the reference to ant society was disparaging, and I wondered why Tolkien chose such a description of the queen ant. Ian and Angela saw it in relation to Shelob. The pejorative association of evil and mindless totalitarianism with female rule was not discussed in detail, but we all commented upon the form of evil servitude.

Chris remarked on the repetition, word for word, of Frodo’s comment to Sam at the end of the previous chapter. The only instance, apparently, of exact repetition. Ian responded that Tolkien has to bring both strands of the story together now, and uses this technique. Chris noted Frodo’s feeling of the futility of leaving the Sammath Naur, and Ian whimsically commented on his (Frodo’s) lack of interest in vulcanology! Carol’s response was that while Sam and Frodo are facing death, ‘Sam still prattles on about being in a story “to keep fear away until the very last”; priceless!’

3:46 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Ian observed that for the rescue, Tolkien uses eagles again, having already used them, so they are not a deus ex machina device. Carol remarked ‘I think Tolkien writes the rescue with such affection as if he were watching over his own children. And with relief too; he'd finished the quest. And a bit of relief too for the reader: it's been a gruelling few chapters’.

Carol also asked: ‘I know Cormallen has a meaning but don't know what it is. Does anyone know?’ Having forgotten to ask everyone at the meeting, I’ve looked it up and it means “circle-golden” in Quenya. According to Robert Foster it was so named for the culumalda trees that grew there. He sees it as quite appropriate for the celebration after the destruction of the One (golden) Ring.

I went on to comment on the fact that all four hobbits end up experiencing the healing power of the King at different times. Angela noted that Sam and Frodo present his greatest challenge. Chris remarked on the fact that they were sleeping again, as they had been earlier. Carol queried whether both Aragorn and Gandalf do obeisance to Sam and Frodo, thinking it quite right too. She went on to observe that there must have been a lot of clearing up done on the Pelennor Fields.

We went on to ‘The Steward and the King’ as Angela noted Legolas’s sea-longing, and Ian remarked that Eowyn is a difficult patient. Carol pointed out that ‘we're back in time again just after the army of the West has gone east.’ In contrast to Ian’s thoughts on Eowyn, Carol also noted that ‘it's been discovered that getting folk moving in hospital helps the healing process. So in that case Eowyn is right not to stay abed. However, Carol also remarked that
‘she only wants to get up to go and fight. I often think she could have done some cheering visits to the other patients instead of peevishly wanting to go to war. And who, I wonder, looked after the folk of Rohan when she'd secretly ridden to war before?’ We all picked up this latter point and discussed the problem of disobedience again, finding the whole matter full of complex considerations. Carol compassionately added that Eowyn is still quite young, and behaves like it, and only the felix culpa saves her from condemnation.

Chris directed our attention to the use of pity in the story, as so often before, this time as Faramir’s response to Eowyn. Angela picked up Faramir’s plea not to scorn pity, referring back to the Histories of Middle-earth where 2 forms of pity are defined, including respectful pity. Ian define this as a blend of empathy and compassion, especially in the case of Gollum, where Bilbo and Frodo do not look down on him, but recognise a shared situation. Angela commented that Sam feels this too in the end, and Ian observed that Sam does not feel moral superiority by empathy. I thought the exercise of pity was a quality linking all the truly virtuous characters.

Carol thought that in the growing relationship between Eowyn and Faramir, ‘here's the other healing that Aragorn spoke of. At last Eowyn starts to grow up and can even joke about being tamed. She also picked up the only mention of Finduilas 'who died untimely', and of the possible relationship to Imrahil.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

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3:47 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

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3:47 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Carol also remarked that Faramir seems like John the Baptist, paving the way for 'one who should replace him'. Aragorn's having come up Anduin from Pelargir is also symbolic. 'out of the great sea to middle-earth...' 'ancient of days he seemed...' this is very biblical too. Angela noted the affectionate naming of Aragorn as ‘our Elfstone’, and Carol thought Ioreth is incorrigible. We discussed the way Aragorn uses Cair Andros as Beregond’s ‘punishment’ and the meting out of justice in this difficult situation. Carol noted that Aragorn is most merciful and magnanimous in victory. Angela observed that Faramir also gets a new staff of office because Denethor broke the old one.

Like Carol who wondered what makes a hallowed place in Gondor, I was interested in the frequent references to ‘hallows’, and Ian considered the difference between those that were constructed and those that were natural. He thought they were all signs of societal and cultural respect, and in the primary world they are usually places for a priesthood to administer, but here they are most closely linked to the kings.

Carol picked up the simplicity of the coronation, and the restraint shown in the eventual meeting of Aragorn and Arwen.

Having run out of time, we agreed to read the next 3 chapters. That will mean that we will then finish our second read through at the end of January with just The Grey Havens, leaving us the option of discussing again any of the Appendices.

3:49 AM  

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