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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reading Group meeting 29/1/11


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...


This week we finish our second reading of LotR, and Ian has calculated that the Southfarthing has been meeting for about 7 years in March, so we might have been expected to have read it more often in that time, but even our second reading has raised new points and demanded additional discussion of old ones. We have also read The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, all the short stories, and taken a few sessions on particular topics, so our 7 years have not been all tea and biscuits!

We did not delve into the Appendices this time round. It seems right to move on now as we move into a new month, but we did get a good deal out of ‘The Grey Havens’.

Laura initiated the discussion by remarking on the three ‘unnatural heroes’ freed from the Lockholes. Carol commented by email that ‘good old Fredegar has come up trumps in the end. He wasn't quite the softy wimp we thought he was. Even Lobelia does a turn-around: becoming both popular and charitable.’ We noted in passing the state of the mayor. The incident with Fredegar (no longer Fatty) and the Black Riders has always impressed me with its creepiness and his bravery, but once again it seems impressive that he has been organising a resistance movement that needed to be ‘smoked out’.

I wondered about the tactic of escorting ruffians to the borders. Laura thought there were not many left, while Ian pointed out that hobbits were concerned with their own governance and peace in The Shire. He also wondered if some might have remained as outlaws in the woods, but we noted that in any case there didn’t seem to be any mention of POWs.

Laura approved of the recycling of bricks after the ruffians barracks were demolished, but it rather reminded her of the robbing of stone from Roman buildings during the Middle Ages, and later. Laura also noted that the gaffer seems to rewrite Shakespeare and we observed Tolkien’s dislike of, but frequent borrowing from, the Bard.

We got on to the topic of new names, such as the sensible naming of New Row, and the local choice of ‘Travellers’ in contrast to other group names such as the Nine walkers. Laura commented that this constitutes a compliment when contrasted to characters like Denethor, and Sauron who remain firmly in one place.

Laura also remarked on the dust in Sam’s box, wondering what exactly it was. I proposed that its special quality was due to Galadriel’s own special virtue. Mike, however, suggested that it was due to Yavanna and her connection with the Elves that it had a kind of ‘magic’. Julie wondered if the special virtue came from the Elves or from the West. Laura wondered if Galadriel actually blessed it. Ian observed that the dust is less important as a gift than the nut it supports. But of course Galadriel does specify the ‘earth from my orchard’ when she presents the box to Sam.

Mike remarked that as 1420 is described it seems that there is fertility in the air. On a less happy note, Julie observed the strangely incongruous mention of heaped skulls, which she thought sounded orcish. Laura thought it was a reference to violence only recently past, and Julie added – a reminder of conquest.

I was amused by the idea that no one was ill even after eating all the fruit, but Ian qualified this by suggesting that no one * admitted * to being ill after all the food shortages.

Mike then noted that there seems to be no real reason for Farmer Cotton to be included in the chapter except as a device to enable Frodo to express his preoccupied feeling of loss. Ian raised the question of ‘whose bed’ he is in, because it isn’t perfectly clear, and Julie thought that made the episode seem like the Goldilocks story. But Ian wondered if it was a sign that in his disturbed condition, Frodo was sleepwalking, or in a daze. Julie thought the wording was ambiguous as a reference to Cirith Ungol and Ian thought Frodo was suffering a Flashback to his fear in the Tower that the Ring was indeed gone. Mike was impressed by the structural placement of this dark episode after all the descriptions of fertility.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Julie expressed concern about the once-mentioned Widow Rumble. Visions of an archwife came to mind.

Laura and Julie remarked on Frodo’s willingness to have Sam and his family in Bag End, but Mike wondered if this was selfishness, and we considered whether he wanted to have someone to look after him, or, as Mike suggested, if the bustle would help to alleviate his darker moments.

I asked if the way Frodo clutches Arwen’s jewel implies it has become a kind of Ring substitute, or fills the place of the Ring. Laura thought it might be a reassurance to hold on to it since it will effectively function as his ‘boarding pass’ when the time comes.

I then expressed some surprise that Elrond had the mightiest of the 3 Elven Rings, rather than Galadriel. It was suggested that since it is the ring of air it is appropriate to the son of Earendil.

Carol quoted ‘and the ship went out into the high sea...' remarking I love this bit. It's so poignant and beautiful and I want to go with them and see for myself that 'wide green country under a swift sunrise'. Mike observed that Frodo’s dream comes across like a ‘trip’, but approved in any case of the ‘swift sunrise’. The green country does, however, have some echo of the description of the ‘Blessed Isles’ in Celtic mythology.

Carol commented ‘Cirdan is the only elf reported to have a beard.’ And ‘now we know where all the 3 rings were bestowed’. I wondered why as an Elf Cirdan has become old and grey. Laura noted that he is not older than Galadriel. Mike suggested it might be because he gave up a Ring. Ian suggested it might be because he has spent Ages watching others leave for the West and his appearance manifests his weariness of spirit.

Carol picked up a number of points that we did not have time for, so they are included here:
Of the many titles altered by Bilbo and Frodo she noted - I think of some books today having long titles always with a colon.
‘A Elbereth gilthoniel' this is the 2nd time this song accompanies Frodo as he leaves the Shire.

Just as they had to face danger without Gandalf, now Sam has to carry on without Frodo. From humble - too humble at times - servant, Sam becomes master of Bag End and much more. But there's still a hint that he might sail West one day.

West, autumn, sunset - all metaphors for dying but then that's the way of Middle-earth under the sun

Last word to Carol: well, we're at the end of it again. I'll go on to the appendices as a sort of gentle letting down process. Good health Sam, wherever you are.

It seems sad to spoil the mood, but at our next meeting we will begin investigating Beowulf and its connections to Tolkien’s work. We will all bring whatever editions we have.

11:43 AM  

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