First in October


With Chris, Angela, and Tim away, the rest of us met this afternoon to finish discussing ‘The Siege of Gondor’ and ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’. As usual we did not get very far into this second chapter but found a good deal to say about ‘The Siege’. Carol’s comments follow, when not included in the main report.

Laura began our discussions with her observation of the ranking of the seats in the hall of the citadel; the throne remains empty, Denethor sits below in a chair, and Faramir is seated in a ‘low chair’. Laura also noted that Faramir’s report of meeting Frodo and Sam serves to recap that part of the plot for the reader.

Eileen remarked that Faramir is more intellectual than his father.

Carol commented on the ‘cheering and crying of the names of Faramir and Mithrandir’: Denethor wouldn’t like that but he didn’t go to the rescue of his son.

Mike remarked that a character like Denethor would see Gandalf as a threat as he is only the Steward and could be held to account for his actions, and asserted that it is possible to extrapolate Denethor’s psychology.

Eileen observed that Denethor does not behave in a kingly way, and Mike commented that his insecurity is based on his less than kingly power and that this is the reason for his desire in madness to take Faramir into death with him because he has been a witness.

Laura  noted that Denethor, like Sauron, and to some extent Saruman, stay within their strongholds so they have no real grasp of what is really happening. Mike added that they all rely on third parties for intelligence-gathering.

I questioned Denethor’s motivation in questioning if Pippin can sing. Laura thought it was perhaps a form of psychological abuse and Mike remarked that Denethor plays with words and exercises a petty kind of power over subordinates.

Eileen observed that Denethor takes Pippin into his service and we discussed the motivation of both the Steward and the hobbit. Laura remarked that she had thought it might have been due to the intervention of the Valar. Mike thought Pippin was implicitly pressurised by Denethor to declare his fealty during their audience, while Eileen proposed that perhaps Pippin awakens something in Denethor by linking back to Boromir, and that Denethor is made up of human contradictions. It was also noted that Pippin doesn’t know of Boromir’s treachery.

Mike and Laura both noted the Christian significance of the cockerel crowing, Laura adding that it echoes the idea of the traitor doing good he does not intend.

Julie observed that the pattern of confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog, even down to some of the vocabulary, is repeated in Gandalf’s confrontation with the Lord of the Nazgul.

Mike and I wondered if the Lord of the Nazgul, being undead and having no physical form is anything more than a cipher for Sauron.

As we moved into ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’, Laura remarked on the strange use of the word ‘bivouac’, that it is of Swiss/German origin via French and meant a night watch in the open, having nothing to do with tents, and the circumstances of the encampment in this chapter are evocative of camps in World War 1.

I then wondered if the description of the Druadan made them sound like small versions of Ents. Mike thought they seemed more like trolls. Ian observed that Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin that trolls are perverted Ents.

Mike noted Gan-buri-Gan’s stories of his people before the arrival of Men and wondered if they were the ‘aborgines’ of Gondor. Laura remarked that Gan does not approve of the ‘Stone-takers’.

Carol commented: Ghan-buri-ghan, a pukel man come to life. Every sort of human has a part to play in Tolkien’s war from the highly sophisticated Men of Dol Amroth to what we  would call an underdeveloped people, the woses. Each has something to offer and Tolkien makes the point that though the woses seem simple-minded, they are far more savvi than appearance would suggest.

I remarked that lots of things that seem ancient or legendary are discovered to be still in existence as if the past is not over and gone in Middle-earth. Ian commented that in our world our perceptions are governed by a lack of observation.

Mike noted that Tolkien adds 3 dimensions to his world by its infinite depth of history, and Eileen observed that it is as if déjà vu is manifested. Mike added that Tolkien creates an horizon and lets you know there may be more beyond it but does not explain it.

Ian remarked that things the trigger the subconscious in the real world have to be made explicit in literature, except in allegory.

After an afternoon of quite intense discussion and thought we reached the point where we had to take further thought for our next reading. As we have our Wessexmoot next time (22nd Oct), we will not be reading for that day but for the first meeting in November. We agreed to read ‘The Battle of the Pelennor Fields’ and ‘The Pyre of Denethor’ for that meeting.

After noting the mention of ‘hills of slain’ in the text, I said I would look up the Irish significance of a place of similar name. This I have done, and include a link to one of a number of sites other than Wikipedia –

Carol’s Comments

Chapter 4 The Siege of Gondor

Having recently experienced several gloomy, low-clouded days I can appreciate at bit of what Minas Tirith is going through under Sauron’s fume but how much more so  with Sauron’s malice behind it. All sent to demoralise.

In his narration of Faramir’s deeds, then going to his aid, Beregond is showing the kind of devotion that Pippin will shortly experience for Faramir, a captain who goes back to save his men. Brave heart indeed.

‘yet for Faramir his [Pippin’s] heart was strangely moved.’  Here a mere hobbit is a better judge of character than a high Gondorian.

Poor Faramir, having to face the ignimony of his father’s undeserved rebukes and heart-wrenchingly to be wished dead in favour of Boromir, in front of people too, and decorum allows no retort. Then ‘Famamir’s restraint fave way…’ well, if this is losing restraint, Faramir’s a man of steel. then he gets told ‘stir not the bitterness in the cup…’ he can’t win.

The small hope of Sauron opening war sooner than intended and what caused it – Aragorn and the palantir, giving Frodo hope and scope to continue while Sauron has his eye drawn towards Gondor.

Faramir: ‘I will go and do what I can in his stead – if you command it.’ ‘I do so.’ ‘Then farewell…but if I should return, think better of me!’  ‘That depends on the manner of your return!’ What can one say about this exchange? It’s cruel and heart-breaking. In his father’s eyes Faramir just can’t compare to Boromir. It’s about the saddest exchange in the whole book.


‘not by the hand of man shall he fall’: Glorfindel’s prophecy of long ago that the Witch King won’t die by being killed by a Man. We’ll soon see if that’s true.


It’s gruesome having decapitated heads flung into one’s midst, and frightful to have to see, but Tolkien makes sure that some of these men don’t die anonymously and are recognised. It’s very poignant. In the midst of the horror, the ordinary things that these men did are remembered.


The enemy is doing it’s level best to crush Minas Tirith without a fight. ‘The nazgul came again…’ It’s getting to seem pretty hopeless.


Elrond was against Pippin’s going on the quest but so far he and Theoden have’saved’ Boromir from a fate worse than death. And now I think Pippin is in Minas Tirith for the purpose of saving the brother, Faramir, from death itself.


Even in realisation of how badly he’s treated Faramir, Denethor will still kill him if he can. I don’t care how much Sauron has drained him through the palantir.


‘men are flying from the walls and leaving them unmanned.’ I think ‘unmanned’ could have 2 meanings: leaving  the wall without men and leaving men despairing and doing nothing.


‘but from my word and your service…’ here Pippin behaves far more honorably than this scion of Numenor, a young hobbit not yet come of age who’s behaved rather stupidly in places, shows us the meaning of fealty.


Ithis time of trouble, Tolkien covers overy angle of war: the personal in Denethor and Faramir, the battle Pelennor fields, and the houses of healing.


‘ever since the middle night…’ is a great piece of writing, building up tension and despair. ‘the drums rolled…louder…Grond they named it…Grond crawled on…the drums roared wildly…rolled and rattled.’ (shake rattle and roll) the reptition upping the ante. Then the gate breaks and ‘in rode the Lord of the Nazgul…’ This has to be the end, hasn’t it?  then ‘horns, horns, horns.’ Heroic! This is one of the most joyful bits in the whole book and even after reading it countless times and knowing the outcome, it still leaves me breathless.







We only had one meeting this month because Oxonmoot intervened, but we met again on 24.9.16

We missed Ian, Mike, and Tim at our meeting this afternoon but Carol sent her comments as always and those that do not appear in the report are added as usual at the end. The chapters we were discussing were ‘The Muster of Rohan’ and ‘The Siege of Gondor’.

Eileen began our afternoon when she remarked on the unnatural feel in the ‘Muster’ chapter, and Laura added that even the natural seems unnatural.

Laura went on to remark on the process of ‘monstering’ the enemy through propaganda.

Eileen and Angela both commented on Merry’s pity for the pukel-men, and Laura noted that with them Tolkien appears to be depicting pre-stone-age people.

Julie compared the description of the pukel-men with the shape and age of the so-called Venus of Willendorf.

[An image is available at]

Carol commented: “the pukel-men, another legend that will come to life shortly”.

Angela remarked that she thought Denethor the most scary character in the book, while Laura commented that there is a wonderful contrast between Theoden and Denethor.

Eileen observed that we see how hobbits hang on to friendships, and Laura remarked that Merry thinking about Frodo and Sam reminded her of the ‘small steps’ phrase. I noted that the separation of Merry and Pippin enables them to grow.

Eileen also noted that Merry does not share the language of the Rohirrim and is therefore not part of the group.

Eileen deplored Denethor’s abuse of Faramir and Chris remarked that there seems to be an echo of the relationship between Tolkien and Christopher in the special relationship between Denethor and Boromir. Angela reminded us that in his youth Aragorn had lived in Gondor and Denthor’s father had favoured the young visitor at their court over his own son, inciting partiality and jealousy.

I drew attention to the narratorial comment on Merry at the start of the ‘Muster’ chapter that he felt ‘borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth’. I wondered if it also referred to Tolkien’s own sense of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the world he had created. Julie added that it was unusual to hear Middle-earth named in this way.

Carol commented that “from Merry’s point of view, I can understand his longing ‘to shut out the immensity’ of the montains ‘in a quiet room by a fire’. This just isn’t Kansas, or the small domesticity of the shire and it could be overwhelming”.

Chris observed that the description of the landscape makes it seem as if it is alive. Julie wondered if the description of mountains ‘marching’ means that they seem to be moving, or whether it indicated that they appear to be on the ‘marches’ – the edges.

Laura remarked that in the 3rd paragraph of the chapter the description is poetic Chris added that in the fourth paragraph Merry, looking up, sees only stone in various forms, and compared this to the vistas Frodo sees on Amon Hen.

Laura remarked that the description also reads like speeded up geological time as stones are cracking, and Merry gets a sense of that time.

Angela turned then to the reference to the ghosts of the Oathbreakers and the Dwimorberg. Julie observed that the ancient guardian of the Gate who crumbles into dust is a rather Monty Python moment.

I wondered why the ghosts went out of the north side of the Dwimorberg until Angela pointed out that they come out when some disaster threatens.

Angela and Julie then noted that the word ‘fey’ is used of both Aragorn and Denethor.

Chris remarked that the errand rider who brings the red arrow is very diplomatic in his exchanges with Theoden, and Laura wondered if it was Sir Walter Scott who wrote the novel The Black Arrow. In fact it was Robert Louis Stevenson. Carol commented that Hirgon reports the current Story.

Eileen remarked that the Rohirrim are not ready for war, but Laura thought Tolkien was representing the realistic complications of war. Chris commented that Hirgon the messenger does not appreciate how the Rohirrim fight.

Moving briefly into ‘The Siege’ Laura noted that Denethor’s comment to Pippin that hearing the songs of a ‘land untroubled’ would be a reminder of why Gondor has fought on so long. This echoes Aragorn’s similar statement during the Council of Elrond on the Rangers’ long watch over the Shire and Bree.

Eileen observed that Pippin not only notices the change in himself but the changed perception of time due to unreality.

Before we completely ran out of time we agreed that at our next meeting we would finish discussing ‘The Siege of Gondor’ and go on to ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’.

Carol’s Comments

Chapter 3 ‘The Muster of Rohan

‘now all roads were running together to the east…’ despite the length of the chapters and the leap-frogging, all this occurs over just a few days. In fact, from Parth Galen to Mount Doom is only about 3 weeks.


‘come, master meriadoc…you shall not stand.’ Compare how Theoden treats Merry to how Denethor treat Pippin. At the moment I just recall ‘and wait he did’, Pippin for Denethor while Denethor is in council.


Baldor is the skeleton encountered by Aragorn and co.


The only time Theoden tells Merry to do anything it is to stay behind.


‘from dark Dunharrow in the dim morning…’ is one of my favourite songs from the Radio 4 serialisation. Stephen Oliver really gets the mood with his music.


Merry and ‘Dernhelm’ flouting Theoden’s orders will turn into a felix culpa.


‘foes assailing their eastern borders, of orc-hosts marching in the wold of Rohan’. It must have taken Eomer some strength of will not to turn aside but all will not be lost in Rohan.


Last meeting in August


On August Bank Holiday weekend five of us met to discuss ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’. We noted Omer’s contribution to the last blog by way of Comments, and Angela has responded to them. It is always fascinating to learn more about the parallels between Tolkien’s work and other mythic and folk traditions. As usual Carol sent comments and those not included directly can be found below.

Chris led us into our discussion with his comment that ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’ mirrors the ‘Minas Tirith’ chapter in the atmosphere of doom at the start and the growth of Merry and Pippin independently, and each swearing allegiance in their own way.

Carol comented: ‘no dawn’ ‘bitter spring’, it seems pretty hopeless doesn’t it? Never really struck me before but these chapters are pulling the thread to one point, the Pelennor Fields.

Laura noted, however, that there is also a contrast between the chapters in the characterisation of the rulers. Chris expanded on this, defining Pippin’s act of fealty as motivated by his wounded pride while Merry swear to Theoden out of love.

Carol commented that Merry’s dubbing is a lot less formal than Pippin’s with Denethor and agreed that fealty is given from love not awe. Denethor won’t be a father to Pippin as Theoden will to Merry. And Denethor certainly won’t sit at the same table as Pippin to eat

Eileen remarked on Merry’s isolation among the Rohirrim but Angela noted that Aragorn and Theoden both take notice of him. Laura added that both hobbits once separated feel like ‘baggage’ being carried around.

Eileen then commented that this is a very suspenseful chapter, including yet another flight by the Nazgul. Laura added that the suspense also mounts until the dismounting of the Rangers, and Eileen remarked that it adds to the readers’ fears that Aragorn and the others feel fear.

Angela then remarked on the degree to which Eowyn loses here restraint. Laura observed that she can’t accept Aragorn’s apparent disregard for battle and renown.

I wondered if Eowyn has a crush on Aragorn? Laura and Angela both thought her reactions are more like first love when she discovers there is something more important than her. Chris observed that she’s had a lot of emotional turmoil already, citing the death of her cousin Theodred and disgrace of her brother because of Wormtongue’s interference.

Laura thought it must have been odd for Ellandan and his brother to see Eowyn showing such an interest in Aragorn.

Angela remarked that at the feast, Aragorn’s ‘It is not madness…’ speech is a real conversation-stopper.

Carol commented: Eowyn thinks she’s in love with Aragorn and has slight pause when he says his heart dwells in the north. I think her wish to go to war isn’t only because of Aragorn. She talks of ‘skulking’ in the hills and really nobody asked her if she wanted the job of guiding her people.  She wants action because she’s intelligent and strong, capable of much more than keeping the home fires burning. Aragorn just adds to this. Those crucial words: ‘all your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the home,  for the men will need it no more.’ These are progressive words coming from a man of Tolkien’s generation and the feminist in me says ‘Yeh’. But when she says she’s ‘not a serving woman’, this is what royalty is. Although richer and more powerful, a good monarch or princess is a servant to the people, a shepherd, a protector, guide. But she is bound by duty and patriarchy where one has to ask permission of uncle or brother in her case. She feels sidelined because she’s a woman and this will drive her to desperate measures.

Laura concurred that Eowyn’s opposition between duty and renown ignores the responsibility of a princess or lady of rank to put duty first, and Angela pointed out that Aragorn has constantly done his duty without renown.

Angela went on to remark that the ghosts are dead as distinct from the Nazgul who are not, and that in the presence of the ghosts of the Oathbreakers we really feel Gimli’s fear. Carol commented that ‘seen from Gimli’s point of view: he is shamed and quaking at the knees.’

Laura observed that Gimli alone is blinded by the darkness, and Eileen wondered if he was left at the back because he’s a dwarf. Chris thought he was perhaps in a trance, and Angela proposed he was disoriented by fear.

Angela also noted that there is the same disorientation of time, when the Company leave the Paths of the Dead – two hours before sunset – as there is when the Fellowship leave Moria – two hours after noon.

Angela observed that the Dead were the original inhabitants of the land and were not Numenorean, and she wondered whether the silver horn is the one Isildur used originally to summon the Oathbreakers.

Both Eileen and I remarked on the particular form of Aragorn’s words at the Stone and Laura thought them reminiscent of a church service. Chris and Angela noted his use of ‘ye’ as a subordinating form of address appropriate to both Aragorn’s lordship over them, and their criminal status.

Laura noted that there is a sense of prophecy in the chapter, in remarks such as taking a ‘path appointed’, and Carol observed that Aragorn the legend rides into another legend. She noted also Aragorn’s declaration: ‘but I say to you, Eomer, that in battle we may yet meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between’, remarking ‘This is one of my favourite sentences in the whole book. It’s heroic and prophetic and I love it when the prophecy comes true.’ Carol also commented: There are hints of Gimli’s survival. And where there’s water there’s life, the tinkle of it wakes Gimli from his nightmare.

Laura went on to observe that the word ‘booth’ is not out of place, deriving directly from the Icelandic word, as found in e.g. Njal’s Saga.

Eileen observed that there are many human aspects to the chapter, including loss, love, inclusion and exclusion making it moving.

As we ran out of time, and bearing in mind the absence of many members of the group at Oxonmoot, we decided to read 2 chapters for our next meeting at the end of September: ‘The Muster of Rohan’ and ‘The Siege of Gondor’.


Carol’s comments:

The Passing of the Grey Company

The description of Roheryn ‘rough-haired…no gleam of stone or gold’ and Aragorn as he is covered with a plain grey elven cloak, somehow makes the likes of Eomer seem very dandyish with his horse plume etc but the horse plume does act rather like a standard showing who’s side he’s on. I’m not a great one for ostentation but both Aragorn and Eomer lead by deeds whatever Eomer may wear.

We will hear the story of the skeleton of a ‘mighty man’ in the next chapter.

The stone of Erech, why did Isildur bother to bring such an unwieldy thing from the wreck of Numenor? Here topography as history.


Omer’s comments on end of The Two Towers

Our friend and colleague Omer has sent the following comments:

(a) I tend to agree with Tim’s view about a ‘military’ or ‘camp ‘ language , w r to the language of the Orcs. As you might probably know, Urdu- our Pakistani national language – was born in the medieval times, during the early Muslim conquests of India by several invading tribes from the North and North West eg the Turks, Afghans, Mongols/Muguls etc. These invaders used to garrison their mercenary armies of mixed Central Asia/Afghan types (with a small number of local Hindi mercenaries too) in special camps, usually outside the main cities like Delhi and Lahore; and since all sorts of commodities etc were to be provided to these warriors, by local merchants and farmers etc, a sort of mixed patois developed, which included a Hindi base with Turkish and Persian and Pushto/Afghan words, later on also a smattering of Arabic. This developed into a proper camp language or ‘lingua franca’ and was designated as ‘Urdu’ in fact a Turkish word meaning ‘camp’. Compared to Hindi and its associate languages and dialects, it was a somewhat harsh-sounding language, with more gutturals (which become flattened out in Hindi) and resembled, in its early manifestation, languages such as Gaelic or German. Over time, as the Hindi influence grew , the language became softer and more refined (as we note in the 18th-19th centuries with the growth of Urdu poetry in Delhi and Lucknow) — but the essential and basic ‘rough and ready’ character still remains in the common Urdu (Urdu i Aaama or the Ordinary Camp) vis a vis the later high/refined Urdu (Urdu i Mualla, or the Exalted Camp). I always imagine Orcish to be somewhat like the early rough Urdu. A hodge-podge language of all the tribes between the Indus and the Aral Sea.

(b) the comments about Shelob and the bottled starlight/Elvish light brings to mind an old folk tale here in this region, of ‘Nikka Pai” a younger son/brother of a farmer, who has to go down to the Underworld/Hades to rescue his elder brother from the demons who have taken him , in order to fulfill a promise to their parents. As he is a good-hearted and pure-spirited lad, and loyal to his elder brother and devoted/obedient to his parents, of course, Divine Help comes his way; he meets a saint or mystic ‘Baba’ (elder/old man) who gives him a mystic phial, of ‘Heavenly light’ . This has the power to bring positive force/energy to the owner/user– in the Underworld, we are told, all positive energy/force is sucked away, and people become dull and even lose their colour, they become ‘grey’ like the dead ones; but the Heavenly light phial can bring back this positive energy and drive away those demons and negative forces that thrive in the darkness. Strange echoes of both this Tolkien incident/scene and of the Dementors, in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling — in fact, my youngest son, Hissam, reminded me of this, as he was reading Harry Potter and had of course listened to this story in his childhood.

Carol’s comments

With apologies for not including these in the main blog, here are Carol’s comments for the Minas Tirith chapter.

Minas Tirith.
The short paragraph of the lighting of the beacons of Ered Nimrais is heroic, with Shadowfax giving his all. Although misplaced, the lighting of the beacons in the film is one of the most memorable in the film. The film is about exaggeration while Tolkien is about understatement.

Do they pass the bearers of the red arrow?
For once Gandalf is praising Pippin and Pippin almost refutes it. Arrival at the Rammas Echor.
Pippin’s first sight of the tower of Ecthelion: Tolkien description herioc and clean.

Starting to use archaic words: tilth, oast, garner, league, fathom, thence, twain, verily, kine, now that the Story has arrived at the heart of heroism and sophistication, far from the rustic Shire where they eat ‘taters’.

‘as frodo walked in the glades of Ithilien’ – we now start getting brief alignments between stories. the dead white tree, symbolising a dead line of kings so thought but it’s treated like a person and still honoured even in death. So much so that it will be laid to rest in Rath Dinen. Now they enter ‘the house of stone.’ Compare Meduseld.
Does Gandalf ‘see’ Aragorn’s unexpected mode ofarrival at Minas Tirith. Pippin’s still surprised at the
> mention of ‘kingship’. Gandalf’s comments are apt. ‘monoliths of black marble’, just epitomises Minas Tirith – cold, stoney, stern.
‘the mightiest man may be slain by one arrow…’ sometimes Pippin really surprises us and here he is diplomatic to a fault. He rises to the occasion even though Denethor has said he has no time for halflings. Did Denethor see Pippin in the palantir?
‘Pippin never forgot…’ implies that he survives. Again back to archaic forms – Peregrin son of Paladin rather than Peregrine Took. How are women known? In Iceland they still use ‘dottr’.
Denethor’s concerns are blinkered to Minas Tirith whereas Gandalf’s concerns are far wider. Like he says, even if Minas Tirith perishes, say Frodo destroys the ring but too late to save defeat in battle for the west, then Gandalf’s work will be a success if only given fragile new beginning. Gandalf and Denethor spark-off about the return of the king. What does Denethor know of Aragorn?  Stewarship not Dominion.
That laugh of Gandalf’s when they’re just at the start of what will probably be total defeat for the west – is it because either way he’ll soon be going home?
Beregond is one of the few characters acknowledged as having any family, though no mention of a wife.
‘the Darkness has begun. there will be no dawn.’ Darkness with a capital D. it’s been a gloomy end to the chapter with far less men coming to Gondor’s aid and now the fume from mordor. All points to little hope, ditto the next chapter.

First Meeting in August


We were a small group meeting this afternoon. We missed Mike, Julie and Tim as we tackled the first chapter in The Return of the King – ‘Minas Tirith’. With apologies for inefficiency, I’m not sure if Carol sent comments for this chapter. So far I haven’t located them, but I will consult Carol and hopefully be able to revise this report in due course but for now, I will proceed with our discussion.

Eileen remarked that the new chapter in the new book confronted her with a barrage of names that she could not keep up with, but that through the chapter she was learning more about Gandalf.

Laura noted that the first paragraph introduced lovely language, citing the description of Pippin waking with his memory ‘drowsy and uncertain.’ Laura also noted that Gandalf names himself ‘storm-crow’, perhaps ironically.

Chris observed that Gandalf does not use encouraging language to others, even telling Pippin that there will be ‘no refuge’. Laura suggested this was his ‘management style’ to get people alert and motivated.

Angela thought that Pippin comes across as quite slow on the uptake when it comes to Aragorn, but Laura noted that Pippin develops in the chapter, especially when he takes the oath to Denethor – an oath of dire implications like those found in Anglo-Saxon.

I mentioned that I was impressed by Pippin’s sense of personal pride when he will not be daunted by Denethor’s stern interrogation. Ian wondered if this shows Tolkien ensuring that the hobbit is not taken as just comic relief, and Laura noted the contrast with Pippin’s previous foolishness.

Eileen proposed that Gandalf was not happy that Pippin spoke so much in Denethor’s presence, but Chris remarked that Pippin could not  avoid it.

Laura compared the description of Minas Tirith with that given by Boromir at the Council of Elrond and found it touching because he would never see the city again.

I wondered if Minas Tirith had been consciously constructed to develop the configuration of a ship specifically because it is the fortress founded by Numenoreans. Laura suggested that its developed form represents a folk memory of ships-as-safety.

Eileen then introduced the topic of Shadowfax and we all participated in observations concerning the status of the horse, the significance of his colour, and special relationship with Gandalf.

Chris then wondered why Pippin is suddenly named in the narration, not reported speech, as Peregrin when his and Gandalf’s entry into the city is narrated. We concluded that it signalled his changing status – a change brought about by precisely by his entry into the Gondorian city where everything is more formal and having its own high status.

I wondered if Pippin’s sword, found in the wight’s barrow, served as a kind of physical ‘password’ guaranteeing his worth when he presents it to Denethor, because the Steward recognises the origins of its workmanship. Laura observed that it also significantly comes from the North from which will come the presence that will unify both kingdoms.

I added that Denethor doesn’t know that yet, but Angela very properly qualified this with a discreet ‘Ahem!’ so as not to spoil the story for Eileen.

I went on to note that the description of Denethor makes him sound more like a statue than a living breathing man, and Angela again qualified this by noting that he reminds Pippin of Aragorn, more than Boromir, which is perhaps worrying, or strange? But Angela also noted that a little later in the narration we are told that Denethor looks ‘beautiful’.

Laura had been doing research into some of the words in the description of the farmlands of the Pelennor, and explained that ‘oast’ was Old English for ‘kiln’, that ‘garner’ came originally from Latin and became an archaic verb meaning ‘to gather’, before becoming a noun. Both ‘fold’ and ‘byre’ are Old English originally, but fold is for keeping sheep while byre is for keeping cows, meaning that both sheep and cows were kept on the farms of the Pellenor. Likewise Laura distinguished the specific meanings of ‘husbandman’ and herdsman’: the first meaning a farmer, the second specifically a man who looks after the animals. Finally, she noted that ‘folk’ itself was Old English.

We went on to consider the references to Minas Tirith as a city in decay. Chris observed that Pippin would not have known how it was before. I offered the mythological interpretation of decay as linked to the lack of, or incapacity, of a king. Chris proposed an alternative interpretation when he noted that all empires reach a point where they over-extend themselves and begin to decay. Chris cited the classic example of the Roman Empire.

Laura turned to the arrival of Pippin and Gandalf on the Pelennor when she observed that the outer defences of Minas Tirith had not been well-managed. It is not good when defences are allowed to decay.

Angela noted that there’s a problem with management in Mordor too!

Laura remarked that Gandalf knows Ingold who is working on restoring the Pelennor defences, and wondered if Tolkien had borrowed and/or adapted the OE hero’s name Ingeld, and it was strange to find a name derived from OE somewhere other than Rohan. This led Ian to propose that Ingold was an economic migrant. Chris picked this up and wondered if the strange letters over some doorways and arches in Minas Tirith were also signs that other migrants had lived in the city.

Laura then remarked that if the decay of Gondor indicated the decay of the power of Men then perhaps the next age should be thought of as the Age of Hobbits. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do justice to this provocative proposal as we ran out of time.

For our next meeting we will read ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’.

We also agreed on the date for our next Wessexmoot, which will be on 22nd October. It will take the usual format and if members wish to give short talks/papers, that will be fine, but there is no obligation to do so.

Prior to our next meeting we will meet in the Artisan’s Café.

Last Meeting in July

Present: Ian, Laura, Eileen, Mike, Julie, Tim
Chapters: “Shelob’s Lair” in continuation, and “The Choices of Master Samwise”.

[I have added Carol’s Comments at the end as usual -Lynn]

After gathering for a pre-meeting coffee and snacks at the Artisan Café, which overran slightly, we reconvened at the Seminar Room at about 1.45pm (with apologies), without Lynn, who was unwell, and Angela and Chris, who were at a wedding.
We resumed our review of “Shelob’s Lair” with an observation from Eileen such a horrible creature, so monstrous, so evil. Stench slime makes it more horrible to read.
Laura thought it was frightening that Shelob is independent, a rogue element.
Mike talked about the description of the two hobbits against the monster – a hopeless battle? Tolkien is building up the tension – will they survive?
Eileen couldn’t work out how Shelob could be so large – how did she get so big? Ian observed that Shelob is “Morgully Obese”. Eileen continued by saying that she couldn’t believe Shelob stays so powerful. Ian added that this is a malevolent force in spider form.
When reading this sequence, Eileen said she was almost hysterical, the description was so over the top she found it hard to believe.
Laura echoed Ian’s reference in describing Ungoliant, a creature in spider form. Sauron was happy to leave Shelob to guard the back door to Mordor.
Ian related how Tolkien didn’t want to create an evil queen in The Lord of the Rings so he created an extreme, disgusting monster female. He had too much respect for character.
Mike thought that she represents a force – a gestation of evil. She is described in a most offensive way.
Tim wondered if it was possible that Shelob has been made in mockery of spiders, like Orcs were spawned in mockery of Elves.
Mike said that Tolkien really goes to town at the start of “The Choices of Master Samwise”.
Laura commented on the small attacking the large – heroic similes.
Eileen: Frodo appears dead. Sam has to decide – this really struck home for her. Sam take the Ring from Frodo.
It was noted by Laura that the Orcs have a certain view of Elvish habits i.e. that they leave their companions behind. Tim wondered how long Orcs live, bearing in mind they are based on Elves. Laura suggested they are like Dolly the Sheep (i.e. not long-lived). Ian said that Orcs are made old, i.e. their cells are already old.
Mike moved onto the language and syntax of Gorbag and Shagrat that Tolkien is using. He thought it doesn’t hang together properly. He wondered if they spoke in a dialect like a northern English one, rather than an East End accent. Tim noted that in the armed forces there tends to be a mongrel language – a mixture of all sorts of speech and dialects. Perhaps the Orcs are like this. He also observed that Tolkien has created three-dimensional characters in the orcs. Mike called them sentient; Eileen said they are realistic.
Laura highlighted how Sam refers to the Orcs as “devils” and “filth”. Shagrat had used “filth” when referring to Frodo.
Mike made the point that love for fellow man overcomes everything.
Laura: Sam considers suicide rather than going on alone. Conscience? Higher forces? He is having an internal dialogue – agonising over multiple choices. He is described as Master Samwise – a sign that he is growing up.
When Sam is speaking Elvish/speaking in tongues, it is coming from him – an inner strength. The power of the phial – starlight – is uplifting for Sam. The light has an effect on Shelob. Eileen compared it to Gollum’s sensitivity to light. Ian described the difference of the light on the spider’s multifaceted eyes. It is special starlight, captured essence, light intensified.
Mike asked why Sam didn’t cut Frodo free. Others in the group said that he did. Mike realised it was depicted in the f-i-l-m that Frodo was left in his bindings.
Tim compared Sam’s internal dialogues with those of Smeagol/Gollum. In Sam’s case he uses “I” and “You”.
Laura mentioned that Frodo’s face had a green colour but later it was fair of hue.
Eileen thought that Frodo comes to life again. Ian explained that Frodo was only paralysed but appeared dead.
Tim noted the dramatic ending with the emphasis on Frodo, not the Ring.
“The great doors slammed to. Boom. The bars of iron fell into place inside. Clang. The gate was shut. Sam hurled himself against the bolted brazen plates and fell senseless to the ground. He was out in the darkness. Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.”
Mike explained that there is not a word in this chapter that wouldn’t have been witnessed by Sam.
Eileen said that things happen all of a sudden. Laura added that it was another disaster. The Orcs refer to Gollum as a “sneak” like Sam does.
Next time: we start on “The Return of the King”, reading Chapter One – “Minas Tirith”.
Note: All errors and omissions are my own. I’ve endeavoured to make this as accurate a record as possible of the meeting, but if anyone spots any almighty clangers (or soup dragons) please do not hesitate to let Lynn or myself know. Thanks, Tim.

Carol’s Comments

chapter 9 Shelob’s Lair

‘other potencies there are…’ Sam’s right to think of Tom Bombadil but his thought of him and mine are quite different. Tom and Shelob are 2 of those characters who are not troubled by rings. Tom is at the start of their journey and largely benign, on the edge of a beningn settlement – the Shire. Shelob is almost at the end of their journey, vicious, on the edge of a vicious settlement – Mordor. Their respective abodes are reflected in their natures. Tolkien wouldn’t pair them off consciously but at a pinch I could, characters not affected by Rings yet total opposites.

The Shelob story – again tracing back history to the poisoning of Telperion and Laurelin by Ungoliant – Shelob’s mam – Cirith UNGOL etc. even spiders have their back-story.

chapter 10 The Choices of Master Samwise

‘all his little impudence of courage’ – this might be Shelob’s thought but it describes Sam’s bravery perfectly. Lovely!

Sam’s ‘indomitable spirit’ even right to the end.

Thanks to laxness on the enemy’s part – Shagrat and Gorbag talking – Sam and Frodo have been enabled to get so far.

Frodo is saved from immedaite harm by orders from Above, just like Merry and Pippin were.

First meeting in July


We were a very small group meeting this Saturday as holidays and other engagements took their toll on our numbers. However, we few, we happy few … still only got through 1 chapter before running out of time. A little of our time was spent considering the matter of the BBC History Weekend to be held in Winchester in at the start of October because some of us are interested in the relationship between Tolkien’s work and the history of the ‘long’ Middle Ages.  However, that was not a matter that delayed us long.

Our appointed reading for the afternoon had been ‘Shelob’s Lair’ and ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’. As it happens we hardly got out of the Lair! Carol had sent her comments for both so I will reserve those relating to the ‘Choices’ chapter until next time.

Laura began our discussions by drawing parallels between Tolkien’s experiences in the foul-smelling and claustrophobic trenches of the Somme and his description of the tunnel leading into Shelob’s Lair. I mentioned having heard about tunnels under the battlefield, and Laura introduced us to the terminology of trench architecture.

Tim noted the description of the different kinds of darkness in Moria and in the tunnel. Eileen thought this darkness and stench was like a description of Hell. I remarked that the darkness even seems to create a barrier between Frodo and Sam for a while. Tim noted that like Moria, there is a fork in the path in the tunnel, but unlike Moria, Gandalf is not with them to work out the right way.

Tim also observed that the hanging things in the tunnel are reminiscent of things hanging down in ghost-train rides.

Carol commented: “other potencies there are…” ‘Sam’s right to think of Tom Bombadil but his thought of him and mine are quite different. Tom and Shelob are 2 of those characters who are not troubled by rings. Tom is at the start of their journey and largely benign, on the edge of a benign settlement – the Shire. Shelob is almost at the end of their journey, vicious, on the edge of a vicious settlement – Mordor. Their respective abodes are reflected in their natures. Tolkien wouldn’t pair them off consciously but at a pinch I could, characters not affected by rings yet total opposites.’

I remarked that the recollection of Tom begins a chain of thought leading to the recollection of the light. Tim noted that Sam thinks of Galadriel but questioned whether this is Sam on his own, or is this Galadriel ‘beaming in’ her influence?

Eileen wondered why Sam is not influenced by the Ring, and I suggested that it is his loyalty to Frodo that ‘protects’ him, but I also offered the theory long held by my daughter, that it is Sam’s close association with the earth, as a gardener. All those beings who have a similar close association show a similar resistance to the Ring – Tom – living in close contact with the Old Forest, and even Galadriel, who has her own orchard.

Laura questioned this possibility on the grounds that gold itself comes from the earth as ore, but I commented that it has been ‘alloyed’ with Sauron’s evil, because we are told that the ring ‘contains’ a good deal of his power. Tim then observed that as the gold for the Ring came from the earth so it must be returned to the earth in the Cracks of Doom in order to purge it back to its basic elements.

Eileen then directed our attention to a new reference to more watching eyes, and we all discussed the matter of the dominance of surveillance as a theme in LotR. Tim noted that this time they are disembodied eyes, which raises its own questions – in this world of Middle-earth we don’t always know what kind of creatures eyes belong to.

Tim went on to observe that darkness is said to recede from the light of the Star-glass, as if the darkness flees from the light.

Laura then observed Tolkien’s reliance on the pure power of words again with the ‘Aiya Earendil …’ invocation.

Carol commented on the Shelob story – ‘tracing back history to the poisoning of Telperion and Laurelin by Ungoliant – Shelob’s mam – Cirith UNGOL etc.’ and noted that ‘even spiders have their back-story’. We also discussed the nature of Ungoliant and Shelob, and for Eileen’s benefit recalled the various versions of reasons why Tolkien uses spider-creatures.

I remarked on the tension Tolkien creates in his handling of the hobbits’ escape from the tunnel when he ends a paragraph with the observation that Shelob had many exits. Laura commented that Tolkien is playing with the reader like a cat with its prey, even as he uses the ‘cat’ reference as a description of the relationship between Sauron and Shelob.

Laura also noted that one does not usually think of orcs as ‘unhappy’, although they are referred to as such. We considered that it probably described their unfortunate condition but Tim remarked that they are indeed ‘unhappy’, because they grumble about what they have to do – like digging more tunnels. Laura observed that she found this rather touching because they are not robots.

Eileen objected that she was under the impression that they were evil. Tim replied that they are always obeying orders.

Laura turned our attention back to Shelob when she remarked on the motif of eating and noted that Shelob is the personification of gluttony, intent on eating everything. Tim commented that Ungoliant follows this concept to its ultimate mythic conclusion by finally devouring herself. Laura noted that Gollum described Sauron as intent on ‘eating all the world’, but Tim added that while Shelob’s primary characteristic is gluttony, Sauron’s is domination.

With that we ran out of time and hastily agreed that next time we would discuss ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’ and we would read the first chapter of The Return of the King – ‘Minas Tirith’ – in case we run out to things to say about Sam and his choices!

Carol’s Comments from ‘The Stairs’ onwards. We also recapped this chapter briefly.:

Frodo now displays what Tom Shippey calls the Northern Theory of Courage, still despairing Frodo presses on while he can even though he believes all will end in darkness.

‘but our path is already laid.’ ‘Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam…

‘…the hero or the villain.’  This passage is about my favourite in the whole of LotR, close run is Sam piping up ‘Gil-galad was an elven king’ – Sam talking himself into the realisation that he’s in the same story as neren and Earendil. ‘Why, to think of it, we’re in the same story still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales ever end?’ Talk about sitting on the edge of ruin (Merry and Pippin at Isengard) and prattling on – Sam here – and wondering what kind of tale they’ve fallen into. It’s almost childlike but it’s very profound for a gardener like Sam, and for anyone; a lesson in valuing history? So ordinary in an extraordinary situation and place.

Gollum at this point might still have been redeemed or so Tolkien thought and berates Sam for his sharpness thus ending any hope of redemption in Gollum. but I suppose Tolkien had forgotten that he’d written Sam witnessing the Gollum/Smeagol debate back at the Black Gate, so when Sam awakes suddenly and sees Gollum ‘pawing his master’, his instant reaction is coloured by the previous incident in which Gollum had got the upper hand and was going to try for the ring. ‘The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall.’ But it’s my belief that Gollum had to stay alienated to bring about the eventual destruction of the ring in Orodruin. Without Gollum’s greed the ring would never have got into the fire.

Followed by the ‘sneaking’ conversation, humorous, also ironic when Gollum finally answers ‘sneaking’ because he has been sneaking.





Last meeting in June


We had a busy day from the moment when we dashed in out of the thunderstorm and its torrential rain until the time when we all had to go our separate ways. Apart from our usual discussion meeting we were intending to go to the farewell party for the librarian who had originally enabled me to set up the reading group, before heading off for our Summer-moot dinner. Everyone managed to come along with the exception of Carol and Rosemary. Carol’s comments for the meeting are appended as always. Our reading for the afternoon only got as far as ‘The Journey to the Cross-Roads’.

Tim started our discussions with the observation that Gollum is glad to be away from Faramir and his Men but Frodo chides him for his ingratitude. Angela remarked that it was like talking to a naughty child.

Laura, like Carol, remarked on the humour of Sam’s comment about tea-time in decent places. Carol observed ‘Gollum’s retort that they aren’t in decent places makes me smile. At least Gollum still seems to have a bit of common humanity about him.’

I mentioned that the gorse thickets evoke memories of a childhood fascination with being able to ‘walk inside’ plants, the sense of safety, and a different space.

Laura compared the fate of the fallen statue of the old king with the mutilated sphinx, and questioned the use of ‘coronel’, which Tim looked up and found it described a wreath or garland and so was apt for the flowers around the statue’s fallen head.

Eileen questioned the significance of cross-roads and we all discussed this. Tim and Mike remarked on the story of a guitar player (Robert Johnson) and the Devil at the cross-roads. Eileen then noted that Tolkien uses a hyphen for ‘cross-roads’, and Angela observed that Tolkien uses hyphens frequently. Tim suggested that they represent part of the evolution of the English language.

Julie wryly observed that she thought the absence of hyphens in modern spelling suggested people were too lazy to find the right key!

Laura then remarked that cross-roads are part of the theme of decision making in LotR, and Angela noted that there is another important cross-roads where the Greenway intersects with the East-West Road at Bree.

Eileen then commented that the stillness of the land is not natural.

Tim remarked on the description of the storm-ruined trees and recalled the images of the shattered trees of World War 1 which Tolkien must have seen.

Laura observed that the whole chapter had a very ‘Gothic’ feel, but the revolving tower of Minas Morgul puzzled her and we considered how it worked and was configured. Julie suggested it was powered by orcs on a treadmill. Ian noted that it aided surveillance and we all discussed the field of view, with Ian suggesting it may imply that Sauron has a blind spot! He went on to observe that if there was a palantir in the tower it must face 1 direction so the platform has to turn so that anyone approaching thinks it’s still there.

Laura remarked that red light seems to be a means of communicating between Minas Morgul and Barad Dur.

We all then discussed the matter of the flowers and the ‘corpse light’. Ian observed that the saprophytic plant ‘toothwort’ is known as the ‘corpse flower’. It does not have white flowers but being saprophytic it does not contain chlorophyll either. Ian added that as well as being saprophytic, toothwort is also carnivorous.

Angela observed that the poisonous atmosphere of the Morgul Vale bears out Faramir’s advice not to drink the water.

Tim then suggested that the Ring at this point is really trying to he ‘home’ and Laura remarked that it was treating Frodo like a puppet.

Mike moved us on to the Stairs, observing that although Sam’s soliloquy suffered badly from the ‘saccharine’ treatment of the film, but when reread it reveals Tolkien saying that you have to do what is right in front of you – what you think is right, even though you don’t know what’s going to happen. It is as if Tolkien is looking back on his life and wondering at how it turned out as it did.

MiGollum ke went on to note that it is as Gollum embarks on betrayal that the narrative provides a passage of great tenderness which leads to our anger at Sam and sympathy for Gollum. Laura remarked that at this point the Ring doesn’t seem to call Gollum, and Chris suggested this is because Gollum now sees what the Ring is doing to Frodo and thus what it has done to him.

We had long run out of time, so hurriedly agreed that for our next meeting we would read ‘Shelob’s Lair’ and ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’.


Carol’s comments:

The murky weather of Mordor begins, felt in other places too. Murky weather can really depress a person as Sauron well knows, undermining confidence and encouraging depression.

Sam’s dream could be clairvoyant of what is happening in the Shire.


First meeting in June


We met this afternoon to continue our discussion of ‘The Forbidden Pool’ and to move into ‘The Journey to the Crossroads’. As it turned out we hardly touched on the ‘Journey’, but we still covered a good deal of ground. We missed Julie and Mike, and Carol sent a few comments but ‘The Forbidden Pool’ is not one of those chapters that engages her in the way some others do, so her comments are all added at the end.

Laura began our discussion with her comment that ‘The Forbidden Pool’ is a very ‘fairy-tale’ title. She went on to question the nature and relevance of Faramir using a nail knife. Its exact nature was questioned because it seems somewhat effete as a piece of equipment for a fighting man. Ian found pictures online of examples of nail-knives and observed that the modern Swiss Army knife has a optional nail knife. The anachronistic status of a nail knife in the context of a story with replete with ‘medieval’ contexts and imagery was raised. I remarked that old witch-lore included the use of nail parings by witches as means of focusing maledictions on specific people. Angela commented that nail paring appears in the story when Sam refers to the new moon being as thin as one when he questions the time spent in Lothlorien.

Our observations of Faramir possessing a knife implying personal grooming were set in the context of him learning from Gandalf and I suggested that taken with all the features that distinguish him from his brother, the nail knife adds to his characterisation as a cultured man. Tim likened Faramir to a warrior poet.

Ian suggested that the nail-knife introduces the matter of scale, signifying a small knife. Tim added that it is distinguished from a fighting knife in the situation where it is used – to cut Gollum’s bonds.

Laura then observed that the chapter offers details of the history of Minas Ithil/Morgul and the Numenoreans. She also noted the association of eating and devouring with Sauron and the wraiths.

Tim and Angela commented on the parallels between references to palantirs in this chapter and in the Dunharrow chapter in Book 4– both instances take place of 7th March, as revealed by the Tale of Years.

Laura remarked that although Faramir’s blessing of Frodo may seem rather inappropriate – as assuming some kind of status – this is justified by his status as a Man of Numenorean lineage.

We moved on to consider Frodo’s limited choices, as indicated by his exchange with Faramir about going to Cirith Ungol with Gollum. Ian noted that things have moved on in ways Gandalf himself may not have foreseen but Faramir goes with his best guess based on his knowledge of Gandalf.

Chris remarked that in fact Frodo was very lucky to have Gollum to show him an alternative route to the Morannon.

Eileen asked whether the Ring is controlling Gollum, and Tim replied ‘not really’, it is not ‘possessing’ him to its advantage. I differentiated Gollum’s obsession from ‘possession’, and Chris observed that Bilbo was similarly obsessed. Tim qualified this by noting that Bilbo only used it for escape and for small matters, not for domination.

Angela remarked that Galadriel’s refusal to take it acknowledges the way things start. Eileen asked why Faramir doesn’t want it, as distinct from Boromir’s desire? Angela replied that Faramir, like Aragorn, knows how dangerous the Ring is. Tim further distinguished Faramir the thoughtful brother from Boromir the man of action. Laura added that Faramir and Aragorn also have greater willpower.

Chris commented that even Gandalf avoids it and is glad to have its temptation out of the way. Faramir, however, is not in proximity to Frodo as long as Boromir was. Angela added that by the time Sam makes his dangerous slip Faramir already knows what has happened to his brother.

Laura noted that the ‘air of Numenor’ links Faramir and Gandalf.

We managed at last to move into ‘The Journey to the Crossroad’ for a little while and Tim remarked that the chapter has an echo of ‘Farewell to Lorien’ as the hobbits are again leaving a place of sactuary and are given gifts with special virtue and blessing on them.

Angela added that they are also given food again.

Chris noted that there is no sign now that Gollum dislikes travelling in daylight. Tim wondered if he had become acclimatised to it, and Laura wondered if it was because he had felt protected and rested.

Eileen and Chris remarked that the blindfolding of the hobbits, including Gollum, echoes the blindfolding in Lorien, and Angela thought that Frodo may have learned from Aragorn when he insists they should all be blindfolded.

I suggested that when the hobbits spend the night in a tree, this may echo the acclimatising of Gollum to daylight (if that’s what it is), and be a sign that they are all developing in various ways. Tim noted that Tolkien is very specific about the kind of tree – the holm oak.

Laura remarked on the African use of the boma – an protective enclosure made of thorn bushes, and this brought us by roundabout routes to Tolkien’s knowledge of the stories of H. Rider Haggard. Tim and Laura recalled similarities between ‘Aisha’ (She), and Galadriel. I recalled an interview Tolkien had given in which he talked about the influence of Haggard on his work.

With that we ran out of time and hastily agreed that for our last June meeting we will continue with ‘The Journey’ and we will read as much as we can manage of what remains of Book 4.


Carol’s Comments on ‘The Forbidden Pool’

Gollum reappears. Frodo never excuses himself to Gollum for going with Faramir and co., though he could because he didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Faramir is noble and wise, full of empathy. Like Pippin later, I’d go a long way for Faramir and even more so because of the way Denethor treats him. Tolkien was right to like the young Man walking out of the fields of Ithilien. Help and hospitality unlooked for.