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Friday, January 14, 2011

Reading Group meeting 15/1/11

4 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

da@clara.co.uk15.1.11

A new year, but we are quickly coming to the end of our reading of LotR, and so we began our first meeting of 2011 with a consideration of what we should do next. We had discussed this before Christmas and so many options had arisen that I suggested we should go down the most obvious path with our choice and try to take in as many preferences as possible on the way. So it was agreed that as soon as we finish LotR (at our next meeting), we should then move on to read and discuss Beowulf, for its many resonances in Tolkien’s stories. Alongside this we have the option of reading Tolkien’s own seminal essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. After that we will tackle Finnish epic The Kalevala, again because of its importance to Tolkien’s work, including his created languages. Beowulf is available in many editions, translated, parallel text etc.; we agreed not to nominate any particular version. The Kalevala is available in translation. So we have one more meeting to finish LotR and any appendices we choose, before starting Beowulf

Having sorted out our way forward we began our discussion of 3 chapters, ‘Many Partings’, ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire’

Angela wondered, as Theoden is to be taken back to Rohan, it is actually Eomer and Aragorn who carry him from Rath Dinen? It seems a degree of respect to the old King in keeping not only with the courtesy of the younger kings, but in keeping with the scale of events that Theoden’s bravery put in train.

Carol noted by email that in this chapter Arwen speaks for the first and only time in the whole story.

I noted that Merry and Pippin ride separately now, not together. Laura observed that their oaths continue, and Angela commented that Aragorn specifically does not release Pippin from his oath of fealty.

Angela went on to note that Aragorn now uses the familiar ‘thee’ pronoun when addressing Eowyn now.

Julie picked up the use of the word ‘trothplighted’ in the context of Faramir and Eowyn’s betrothal – a word which itself contains ‘troth’ – but Julie said ‘trothplighted’ made her think of ‘spatchcocked’ just from its awkwardness as a word.

Laura picked up the list names that take the form of ‘son of’… remarking that this is like the Anglo-Saxon genealogies that went back through known ancestors and on to Adam.

We briefly discussed the pronunciation of ‘…wine’ with reference to Tolkien’s diacritics and Anglo-Saxon pronunciation.

I noted that Merry kisses Eowyn’s hand and this is an act of courtesy I would not have expected of a hobbit in the Shire. Angela pointed out that it represents his love of the Lady in the particular context of the terrible events they have shared. Laura suggested that Merry has absorbed and learned much from the courtly environment he has experienced.

We discussed the way Theoden is wept over, and remarked on similarities in Beowulf. Mike commented that women weeping allows the men to stay strong and experience grief by proxy.

There was approval of the inclusion of Baldric (!) and then Laura noted a hint of threat in the mention of Scatha the Worm. She wondered how the silver horn was obtained from this dragon.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Mike went on to remark that Treebeard seems charming but simple. I wondered if Gandalf’s trust in him counted as an error of judgement, and Julie wondered how the old Ent was able to bow, given that he’s not very ‘bendable’. I then wondered if the reference to hobbits ‘growing’ could be taken as a myth about how modern humans attained their height. Ian wondered if growth alluded to cultural or physical development.

Carol noted the overall motif of sadness in victory, and Laura observed that Celeborn has given his ‘treasure’ to Aragorn, and we discussed other possible forms of that ‘treasure’ – I mentioned the loss of Celebrian, and the loss of Galadriel was included, but it was pointed out that Celeborn could be reunited with both in the West, but not Arwen. Like Carol, we all wondered why Celeborn did not accompany Galadriel at this time, unless it is because the journey is to be just for Ringbearers.

Angela commented then that Saruman seems childishly spiteful. Laura thought he had been traumatised, and Julie observed that it would have been worse for him if Sauron had won. It was noted that Saurman still has the power of cunning speech, as evidenced by her persuasion of Treebeard, but that it doesn’t work when he encounters the riding party. Mike remarked that he is still capable of the clever use of partial truths and put-down lines to attack Gandalf and others.

Laura went on to note that Sam is the quiet voice of common sense again when Saruman hints at the trouble in the Shire. Mike remarked that all through the story Sam’s heart has still been back there.

Chris responded to my comment that Grima now seems very like Gollum, grovelling and suffering in Saruman’s company, by pointing out that Saruman’s power over him is not like the domination of the Ring. Julie added that it is more like the paradigm of abusive relationships which are disempowering.

Angela noted that this time there is no snow on the Redhorn Pass, and Ian suggested the gritters have been out! Angela also remarked that everyone can see Galadriel’s Ring now.

Julie observed that in Rivendell only Bilbo’s birthday seems to be celebrated. Angela remarked that he seems to be feeling his age now that the Ring has gone, and he actually forgets that Frodo left for that reason. Mike thought Frodo’s reference to having ‘lost it’ was the ultimate reduction of its power and significance. Laura said the sequences with Bilbo reminded her of a nursing home. Ian thought Bilbo’s reference to the ‘Smaug vintage’ was a sign of Bilbo getting confused. The rest of us thought it he was just using it as a figure of speech. Laura wondered at Bilbo’s mention of there being ‘elves when you want them’ because it makes them seem like servants. Ian suggested it connoted the fact of not having to look for them, as would have been the case in the Shire.

Julie went on to comment on the process to having to tidy all Bilbo’s papers. Laura linked this to the state of Tolkien’s own study in the room over the garage. Sympathy was expressed for Christopher who had to tidy all his father’s papers.

Laura noted the link between the king’s road being repaired and the return of the King’s Peace.

Angela observed that Frodo is not given immortality but a right to travel and to healing. Laura specified this in terms of him being a Ringbearer and part of the process of defeating Sauron. She then asked if, on this account Gollum would also go West? Mike pointed out that everything that happens is declared to be part of Iluvatar’s plan.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Mike went on to observe that there are different levels and arenas of activity, and that Bombadil is different, being unaffected by the Ring, unlike the Maiar. Chris noted that Bombadil is before the elves. This led to a long discussion on his nature. Ian suggested that Tom IS Time. Mike linked this to the idea of Tom as a ‘moss gatherer’ for whom time has now meaning, Laura linked it to the fact that the Ring has no effect on him, and Carol’s previous comment that Tom’s song may be part of the Original Song was cited as further evidence of his existence outside the time frame of Middle-earth.

Carol commented 'Four hobbits like riders upon errantry out of almost forgotten tales', I like this phrase but don't know what to do with it except perhaps to note that the hobbits were 'upon errantry' and were riding out of that part of the tale that was legendary.

As we came to the change of chapters Mike noted that the hobbits have now grown in confidence. Angela observed that they are less concerned about Gandalf going off than Aragorn was, and Chris pointed out that they haven’t known him so long, or in such depth. Carol commented that Gandalf is only being faithful to his remit of not using his power to intervene. He has fulfilled his mission.

Angela thought calling a rough evening ‘a ruffian’ evening was an odd choice of word. But it does link the rough inhospitable weather to the situation to come. Carol also noted that the pipe-weed shortage indicates that all's not well, and that what follows is like a larger mirror of the trouble Bilbo found at the end of TH.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Mike remarked that The Scouring is a very political chapter and Chris observed that in Rohan and Gondor the inhabitants do not harm their own kind. Mike picked up the condition of the proletariat, no noted in the other realms, as miserable and as collaborators. Chris pointed out that this was because Rohan and Gondor had not been occupied. Ian added that in those realms and occupation was very long ago. Chris and Laura wondered if the chapter referenced the wartime occupations throughout Europe. Carol suggested that all the drabness and lack of merriment, like a dictatorial state, no ale, no weed and lots of rules, no decent fires may be Tolkien's railing against these things because they're things that make his life tolerable.

Chris pointed out that in the chapter corruption spreads in association with commerce and trading.

Laura reminded us of Tolkien’s assertion that The Scouring was the most important chapter, and we wondered again that it was left out of the film. Chris thought it was more realistic than other chapters, and Angela noted that there are ‘ordinary’ folk on both sides. Chris commented that at all times Frodo’s attitude is most peace-loving. Carol noted that while Frodo steps back, Merry comes to the fore and takes charge.

We ran out of time at this point, but Carol had a few more observations including Rosie's 'if you're been looking after mr. Frodo all this while, what d'you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?'

Like the Breelanders, the Shireings are concerned with what's been happening to them, nobody takes much interest in 'doings' far away. Even their shake-up by the ruffians hasn't jolted them out of insularity and why should it? Strife in their own land will only make them care about it the more because it's happened to them.

Ted Sandyman works cleaning wheels for the Men, where his dad was the miller and his own master.
This really clarified for me the industrial revolution: leaving the countryside to go and work in factories where once people might have spun and woven at home to their own rhythms, not some one else's to satisfy the needs of industry and 'progress'.

I find the following humorous: 'What's come of his weskit? I don't hold with wearing ironmongery, whether it wears well or no.'

Saruman really is beyond the pale and even the West rejects his wraith, but Frodo is merciful to an extreme extent. I won't say he's Christ-like but he's certainly altered from his first opinions of Gollum in ‘Shadow’.

Next time: The Grey Havens, and any of the Appendices that you want to revisit.

12:15 PM  

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