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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reading Group meeting 22/10/11


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

(TA 3018 – Frodo was being healed by Elrond in Rivendell – I only mention this because the autumn weather reminds me of the journey up to Rivendell)

We began our meeting with a discussion about the possible effect of the film next year on recruitment to the TS and whether we should participate in any way. The possibility of one or more ‘open days’ when we could invite new people to come and get to know The Hobbit as a book before the film was considered. This will need more thought.

The Letters this week were 200 – 215

Angela then turned our attention to Tolkien’s continual preoccupation with Death in all its various forms, options and possibilities. He often asserts in response to questions that LotR is about Death.

Laura was interested in the glimpse of Tolkien’s professional technical erudition in 209 and his use of what looked like a square root symbol to enclose words or parts of words was discussed. Having checked the use, it is in comparative linguistics used to show that the word which it precedes and/or encloses is in fact a ‘root’ and not a ‘free form’.

Anne then drew our attention to a curious imbalance between the draft version of 215- very long and detailed, and the five or six lines of the letter actually sent.

Laura described 210 as ‘blistering’ because Tolkien tears apart the 1958 LotR film story line with many justifiably acerbic and angry comments. Angela observed that much of what Tolkien objects to could now be said of Peter Jackson’s attempt to film the story. Chris noted particularly Tolkien’s objection to Aragorn picking up a sword early in the proposed film. Vicky asked if the film was actually made, but we thought the first version was the 1980s Bakhshi cartoon. Laura thought Tolkien wisely pointed out the problem of over-using the eagles as a ‘machine’. I was surprised at Tolkien’s use of this word in the context of Manwe’s eagles, but it was pointed out that Tolkien used this word where we might prefer ‘device’. Mike remarked that if Tolkien had been alive the films would never have come out.

Mike went on to observe that his impression of Denethor from the book was of a more ‘Egyptian’-style ruler, not the cruel, capricious, gorging figure of the films, as indeed Tolkien notes in 211 the connection in his mind between Gondor and ancient Egypt. It was noted in passing that cherry tomatoes were avoided by some of us after that scene! There was some division of opinion over the effectiveness of the acting and staging.

Anne mentioned her delight in the names of tobacco varieties as Tolkien refers to the hospitality of the Dutch booksellers who entertained him to a dinner and hung up posters decorated with the names of hobbit Pipe-weed. Angela expressed sympathy for Dutch misunderstanding when they served ‘maggot soup’, which was – reasonably enough – really mushroom soup without realising the unfortunate confusion to be had from the personal name ‘Maggot’.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Mike noted in 214 that Tolkien treats the ‘error’ over birthdays pointed out by a fan with great – perhaps mocking – elaboration. This was regarded as a subtle hitting back at someone who seemed to be nit-picking, and was taken as a sign of Tolkien having fun.

Kathleen wondered if Smeagol had been making up the idea of his birthday as an excuse to get the Ring from Deagol. We noted that this was not the case as Deagol had already given him a present.

Laura noted Tolkien’s use of an Anglo-Saxon word ‘byrdyng’ < byrd = birth, while addressing the ‘erroneous’ birthdays topic. Mike thought it showed a touch of genius to add in this bit of reality and demonstrated his scholarship. Julie enjoyed the archaic ‘nuncheon’, a word we had noticed once before in Tolkien’s work.

Kathleen noted that this letter 214, although only a draft, took 4 months to compile. It was remarked that the delay was due to Edith breaking her arm after a long period of ill-health, and that this would have meant Tolkien taking on domestic duties besides his academic and creative work.

Laura observed that there is no mention of any home help or char-lady, and we assumed Tolkien and Priscilla coped alone.

Chris moved us on when he remarked on Sam’s rule about needing witnesses to anyone going ‘over the Sea’ before they could be presumed dead. Sam seems to have instituted several laws according to this letter and Laura thought it fitted well with hobbits’ interest in legal process.

Kathleen remarked that it must have taken Tolkien ages to make up all the detailed backstory in this letter.

Chris noted the way Tolkien onjects to particular kinds of critics in 213 and Ian by email had also picked this up, wondering if we were seeing an Edwardian attitude that pre-dated modern Freudian influenced criticism. Tolkien cites the case of Beethoven’s bad treatment of his nephew as of no consequence to his music. Julie observed that the nephew seems to have been an bad lot anyway.

On a different topic Julie noted Tolkien’s response to someone wanting to name their cats after his characters, declaring they were all creatures of Mordor! (Signs of discontent from us alurophiles.)

Mike noticed in 211 Tolkien’s explanation of the derivation of Middle-earth, and was surprised at such a mundane meaning. Ian had sent a comment about Tolkien’s reluctant biographical details, which, he suggested, made it seem as though Tolkien had been born in the Shire. Kathleen picked up Tolkien’s assertion ‘I am in fact a hobbit’ thus making up a biography. Ian also wondered at Tolkien’s omission of any mention of the Mill at Sarehole, and preference for a description that suggested the mechanisation of farming post-dated his childhood. Laura thought he was not to blame for picking out the good bits of childhood, and pleasant memories even if they did not conform to reality.

Kathleen asked why Tolkien went so often to Ireland? I mentioned his work as an examiner, and his award of an honorary doctorate was also noted.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Ian had posed the question of whether the assignation of blue to the 2 lost wizards was a product of additional thinking spurred by the enquiry about this. The matter of the change to the Glorfindel’s bit and bridle was clearly a result of the reader’s objection that Elves wouldn’t need them. And ian commented that interaction between Tolkien and his readers brings out more detail.

After enjoying Tolkien’s gentle ‘put down’ of the reader of ‘birthday errors’ we were directed by Angela to real error of detail. In 211, Tolkien assign the wrong kind of ancestry to Ellandan and Elrohir. He calls them ‘half-elven’ like their father, but in fact their mother was Celebrian daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn and thus a full Elf, so they cannot be half-elven.

Anne remarked on the description of lembas in terms of the Eucharist, but the increased effect of eating them after long fasting reminded her of Freud’s theory of delayed gratification.

After so much detail and backstory, Chris thought some letters were really blinding the correspondents with science, but it was noted that we learn a great deal from them.

Our next reading will be Letters 216 – 240.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

ON ANGELA'S behalf, I'm posting her detailed comments on the matter of Elladan and Elrohir as half-elven, which I think I misrepresented in my note-taking, so here is proper clarification:

I've just read the latest blog and wanted to clarify the following passage:
"After enjoying Tolkien’s gentle ‘put down’ of the reader of ‘birthday errors’ we were directed by Angela to real error of detail. In 211, Tolkien assign the wrong kind of ancestry to Ellandan and Elrohir. He calls them ‘half-elven’ like their father, but in fact their mother was Celebrian daughter of Galadriel and Celeborn and thus a full Elf, so they cannot be half-elven."

I felt at the time that I wasn't explaining myself very well, so I will try again!
The text of the relevant passage in Letter 211 is as follows "Elrohir, Elladan: these names, given to his sons by Elrond, refer to the fact that they were 'half-elven' (III 314): they had mortal as well as Elvish ancestors on both sides; Tuor on their father's side , Beren on their mother's."
The error I was trying to point out was that it was Elrond himself, not his children, who had Tuor's blood on his father's side and Beren's on his mother's: his father Eärendil was the son of Tuor and Idril and his mother Elwing was the daughter of Beren's and Lúthien's son Dior. Elladan and Elrohir therefore had both Tuor's and Beren's blood on their father's side but pure Elf blood on their mother's.

I don't have a problem with Elladan and Elrohir being called 'half-elven' as this term covered several people with mixed Elf and mortal blood (in various proportions): Dior, Eärendil, Elwing, Elrond, Elros, Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen. All of these were offered a choice as to which race they wanted to belong to, except Dior who for some reason seems to have been an exception and was regarded as a Man without having any choice in the matter. Thinking a bit more about that, it must have been because Lúthien had become mortal before she gave birth to him - therefore he was the child of two mortals. The same scenario arose with Aragorn and Arwen I suppose, as she became mortal before her children were born).

6:37 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:38 AM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Posted on behalf of Rosemary one of our 'vitual' members, on the topic of the elves and half-elven:

… about the 'half-elven' status of Elrond's sons - what I have never been able to account for is the fact that they stayed on in Rivendell after the last ship took their father and all the rest. Tolkien says (Appendix) that Galadriel's husband Celeborn also stayed on, and with them; and nowhere does he say when the twins had to make their final choice, nor when any of those three left. However, in the draft (thankfully unpublished) endings to LotR about Sam and his children, Sam promises that yes, if they go to King Elessar's court, they'll meet real elves -- so Tolkien might have thought, vaguely (?) that enough had to stay around to send bloodlines down to a future Middle earth ....though perhaps only the Mirkwood lot.

2:54 AM  

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