A bitterly cold afternoon was enlivened today by some intense observations and discussions, and I can’t claim to have kept up with the vigorous exchange of opinion in all cases, but I hope the report that follows will give a good indication of how opinions differed, flowed, and enlightened. Carol’s comments are included in the main report, as far as we went. Our intended matter for discussion had been ‘The Last Debate’ and ‘The Black Gate Opens’ – we still have not finished this last chapter, but as we shall hopefully have Carol and Rosemary with us at our next meeting we will all be together to finish Book 5.
Ian began proceedings today with observations concerning Gimli’s remarks on the state of the masonry in Minas Tirith – he added a good deal of detail but has asked for this to be omitted from this report because it is intended to form the basis of a research paper.
However, Laura picked up Gimli’s remarks and commented that the deterioration of the stonework of Minas Tirith is symbolic of the deterioration of Gondor as a whole.
Chris then questioned whether Tolkien was thinking of a sequel to The Lord of the Rings when he wrote of ‘other evils there are that may come’ even if Sauron is destroyed?
Ian thought that in Gandalf’s speech Sauron has a personality that has previously been absent when he has been referred to as the Dark Lord. Here Gandalf refers to him as Sauron. Ian also proposed that when Gandalf refers to Sauron’s ‘plight’, the rhetoric of the speech encourages us to feel sympathy for this enemy.
Angela supported this idea when she observed that when Aragorn confronts Sauron in the palantir he remarks that the Dark Lord is not so mighty as to be free of fear, so Aragorn himself reveals Sauron’s weakness.
I wondered if Gandalf’s remarks reveal one Maia considering the ‘plight’ of another Maia, who is not – to Gandalf – simply a disembodied or remote evil force.
Chris noted the repetition of the thematic motif of Pity and Redemption underlying Gandalf’s rhetoric.
Ian went on to assess the relative strategies of Mordor and the Captains of the West when he remarked that Sauron is expecting a show of force that will inevitably reveal who has taken possession of the Ring. Ian continued that the Captains don’t have the strength to challenge him but Sauron doesn’t know that.
Carol commented “This last debate is one of desperate counsel and such heroism as deserves more than a song. I’m sure they all think they’re going to certain death whichever way it turns out. In such a war what would you do?”
As we moved towards ‘The Black Gate’, Laura echoed a comment by Angela at our last meeting when she noted that east of Anduin, Aragorn considers the plight of the traumatised soldiers, comparing Sauron’s attitude to his forces, which are treated as ‘cannon-fodder’. This is another example of Aragorn’s ‘humanity’ such as that noted by Angela last time when she drew attention to Aragorn sending the Dunedain individually to each ship they had taken to comfort the captives.
Carol also commented of the journey through Ithilien “with the Nazgul’s constant attendance as a force of doom and gloom, I can just relate to a smidgeon once having been in the presence of malice against me for a short time. It’s awful. Here we have men trudging to certain death, ‘a hopeless journey’, through the end of the living lands and mutilated lands, and the Nazgul to boot. No wonder some of the men quailed – ‘some of the host were unmanned…’ what follows for me is the defining of Aragorn – ‘there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath’. So instead of having them executed for cowardice, as many suffering fron shell shock were in WW1, he gives them a job they can do, to guard Cair Andros, ‘ a manful deed’, within their capabilities.
Others ‘overcame their fear and went on’ to fight for this Man who showed such tolerance and mercy. When tolkien describes the ordinary men in the army of the West, he’s describing the lads on the western front. Brilliant moment for Aragorn.
I think some actions slightly tip the balance in favour of the west with the Valar who won’t interfere heavily, kindness, mercy, and this act of Aragorn’s will certainly go towards the west’s merit.”
Ian added another dimension when he commented that in the narrative there is no view of Sauron agonising over decisions.
Chris then observed that the Mouth of Sauron presents an echo of Saruman as the power of his speech creates doubt in the minds of onlookers, but the spells are broken in both cases.
Laura reminded us of the designation of Satan as ‘Father of Lies’ and I suggested that Sauron might be regarded as a master of duplicitous communication, and included in this his effect on Denethor. Ian objected that Gandalf asserts that the seeing stones do not lie and Sauron can’t make them do so, although he can show what suits his purpose.
I went back to the end of the Debate chapter to question the paragraph in which Aragorn unsheathes Anduril and says it will not be resheathed until ‘the last battle has been fought’, and I asked if this was just a storytelling flourish, and subversive of the high tone of most of the chapter? Ian thought its comedic bathos deflates any appearance of pompousness. Chris pointed out that Aragorn addresses the sword itself. Angela observed that this echoes Turin’s relationship with the Black Sword that has its own voice. Laura remarked that that it has the effect of being a great oath taken ON the sword.
Ian added that it seems like a rhetorical counterpoint to Imrahil’s sudden laugh at the folly of the Captains’ enterprise, but is also a ‘Jerusalem’ moment – “nor shall my sword sleep in my hand!”
Chris thought Imrahil’s wry comment about a child with a bow of green willow confronting an armed knight had the feel of David and Goliath about its inequality, a suitable image of the inequality between the forces of Gondor and the hosts of Mordor.
Chris also noted that the Black Gate chapter continues the motif of the young hobbits being separated.
Laura thought the title worthy of consideration because as a whole it is chilling although ‘gate’ is such an ordinary word, even though it derives from Old Norse.
Chris noted that when the Mouth of Sauron emerges it is only a door in the Gate that opens. We decided that it must be a large door even so, to allow a mounted man through with a retinue.
Chris also proposed that maybe the Mouth of Sauron would have been the character around whom Tolkien might have planned a sequel because he is already ‘more cruel than an orc’, and that when Sauron’s ‘essence’ dissipated – in the way Saruman’s dispersed – it might have entered into the Mouth of Sauron in a version of metempsychosis.
Laura added that it would still be the Age of Men because the Mouth of Sauron is a Numenorean.
We did not appoint any reading for our next meeting because Rosemary and Carol will be with us and we will have plenty of material to discuss from the end of Book 5.
This means that we will officially begin Book 6 in March.