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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reading Group meeting 26/2/11


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...


It was a rather special meeting this week as our friends and colleagues Carol and Rosemary came to join our discussions in person.

We also began arrangements for our Reading Day dinner. As the theme of TRD this year is ‘TREES’ we agreed on a restaurant with a ‘tree-ish’ name.

I usually forget to say this, but if your recollection of the proceedings is different to the notes in this blog, please either let me know or comment to that effect on the blog. Mike’s collations reminded me that one person’s notes may not always be entirely representative.

Our topic for this meeting was again Beowulf and its connection with Tolkien’s works, and it was nice that Carol was able to start the afternoon’s discussion with her comments face-to-face. She began by expressing surprise that we had not addressed the topic of heroes in our first meeting, and began the process with comparisons between Theoden and Beowulf. A discussion of the issue of ‘ofermod’ developed from this.

Laura picked up the ‘ofermod’ theme and considered the connection via Tolkien’s knowledge of the OE poem of The Battle of Maldon and his version of the battle’s aftermath in his short verse drama The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth.

Ian picked up the idea of battle fury found in Beowulf and in Maldon, and suggested that this could be likened to the modern perception of ‘red mist’, but in all cases it referred to a sense of a different perception in a particular situation.

Carol picked this idea up and related it to the modern concept of ‘fight or flight’, but in the ancient situation flight would have disgraced a warrior.

Ian noted that Beowulf is the idealised warrior, and he is also everything that is positively representative of the Geats.

Laura thought heroism was being developed as family power because Beowulf, Hygelac and Hrothgar are related in various ways.

Angela noted the importance of fostering [Wealtheow even asks Beowulf to looks after her sons], and Rosemary picked up the significance of fostering for the development of networks of loyalty.

Carol and Angela went on to note that Helm, like Beowulf, only uses his hands in battle, and there are hints of cannibalism in Helm’s story that push the ‘legendary’ character closer to Grendel!

4:02 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

I asked whether there were any relationship in Tolkien’s works like that of Grendel and his mother. We mentioned Gollum and his grandmother, and Lotho and Lobelia, but found no similar examples of murderous maternal devotion. Carol, however, proposed that the Grendel/mother story may be not only mythologise ancient matriarchal society, defining the fractures between matriarchal and agrarian from patriarchal, and consequently Christian from pagan.

Laura observed the importance of Christian optimism, but there was also sympathetic support for both Grendel and Cain, referring to Grendel’s supposed ancestry as one of Cain’s kin.

We continued to discuss matters of marginalisation and Angela noted that Gollum is not immediately driven out by his Grandmother, but only after some 7 years of disturbing their community. Carol commented that he doesn’t immediately disappear underground even then, but wanders in the wild.

Julie returned us to Beowulf when she questioned the exact significance of the Anglo-Saxon ‘ringlord’. Laura and Carol commented on the patterns of loyalty in the poem, and the use of arm-rings as rewards. Much is made in existing OE heroic poetry of terms such as beagifa, and mathomgifa [‘ring-giver’, referring to arm rings, and ‘treasure-giver’]. We noted the importance in A-S society of reciprocal loyalty supported by lords rewarding their thanes, and thanes remaining loyal to their lords to the point of giving up their lives in his defence.

We remarked on the perfect expression of this in both The Battle of Maldon and Return of the King, as well as its antithesis in B of M when the 2 sons of Odda flee the battle, and in Beowulf, when the old kings household thanes desert him leaving only Wiglaf to support him against the dragon.

Carol then drew our attention to the sense of depth in Tolkien’s works and in Beowulf, both of which use the technique of looking back to earlier ‘history’. I mentioned the depth of LotR, and Carol observed that in The Hobbit, Tolkien is also looking back to heroic times.

Our discussion moved on to structural matters, as we considered the episodic nature of LotR and Beowulf, both of which make use of non-linear structure as additional tales are inserted, and other aspects of the story are referred to. Ian remarked that these days during advertising breaks we get trailers for forthcoming programmes, and in LotR, TH, and Beowulf, we are told about other stories that we might enjoy delving into at other times.

Rosemary observed that there was, however, no need to look outside the text, and I wondered if there was any possibility of feeling sorry for Tolkien’s dragons as being marginal creatures, since we had been considering marginalisation and the sense of ‘monsters’ as representing kinds of evil in Beowulf.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Julie commented that in LotR the forms of evil are structural, while they are simply elements in TH. Angela then picked up the connection between Bard and Beowulf as slayers of dragons. Laura noted that Bard had a significant lineage suiting him to the hero’s role.

Ian then expressed an interest in the kennings for which the Beowulf poem is famous.

Chris observed that Tolkien had disapproved of attempts to treat Beowulf and a documenting history.

Julie proposed that Unferth is as bad as Wormtongue, and wondered why he lent his ancestral sword to Beowulf after being so scathing. I suggested it might be a sign of acceptance and social cohesion once he had seen Beowulf in action.

Carol and Angela noted of Worm that as Grima son of Galmod his name means roughly ‘mask /ghost son of lechery’.

After a busy afternoon we agreed to move on to consider the relationship between Tolkien’s creative work and the late fourteenth-century English verse romance
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Our meeting on 26th March will of course take TREES as its topic.

4:03 AM  

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