June: First Meeting – main report

In spite of some disorganisation owing to an unexpected room change, those of us who had already heard celebrated the excellent news that Julie has now gained her MA. We welcomed Mike back after a long absence, and then Ian updated us on his treasured acquisition of The Life of Joseph Wright. Following this, Laura told us the news that publication of Tolkien’s version of the Kullervo myth has been announced, but there was some scepticism about this after the non-appearance of Tolkien Book of Jonah.
We spent a delightful etymological hour, inspired by Ian’s books and our general delight in Tolkien’s less usual vocabulary (Please see the etymological report for Laura’s contribution).Eventually we began discussing the chapter we had not finished last time – ‘A Journey in the Dark’, and Eileen expressed her concern that Gandalf had consigned Bill the pony to the dangers of the wolves. We did our best to reassure her that Gandalf had given Bill good advice.
Mike observed that Boromir undergoes a strange volt face when the decision to enter Moria goes against him, after being very reluctant he seems to give in without further objection. Laura remarked that Moria serves as a test for the heroes, and Eileen observed that it was next after the stones and the snow and the birds. Laura commented that these events all seemed to be ‘funnelling’ the Company towards Moria.
Mike noted Tolkien’s choice of vocabulary when he described the mountain as ‘frowning’ rather than the usual ‘brooding’, and Laura remarked that the choice made it seem as though the Company were doing something wrong.
Mike noted that the description close to Moria is given in intense detail, and Eileen observed that it makes the reader feel the environment like the Company.
Julie commented that the narrative sets up the feeling that something awful is going to happen to Gandalf.
Following on from our earlier etymological discussion, Ian noted that Boromir speaks of ‘the wolf’, while Aragorn says ‘warg’, but Sam says wolf. This was taken to indicate the dialect differences between Gondor, Arnor, and the Shire.
I then asked whether it was possible that the wolf described as like a ‘captain’ could be the 9th Ringwraith who was unaccounted for. Julie thought it unlikely because the wolf- captain is just ordinarily frightening, without any extra sense of the terror associated with Ringwraiths.
Mike observed that Gandalf recognises the beast as ‘the hound of Sauron’ and therefore supernatural.
Laura noted that although Gandalf threatens it, the wolf ignores him. Mike observed that Gandalf is attracting attention to himself so as to distract the threat, and Ian remarked that he did this on Caradhras when he lit the fire and named himself.
Eileen observed that Legolas comes to the fore against the wolves, and Mike noted the vocabulary once again, pointing out the use of ‘extinguished’ in the context of the wolf’s eyes being lit from within. Laura noted that this expressed its supernatural nature.
Laura remarked on the way Gandalf is described as ‘stooping’ and suggested this may be because he takes his own supernatural Maia shape. Ian suggested his shadow is enlarged because of his situational relationship to the fire which casts the shadow, as it does in Bag End, and this is associated with Gandalf throughout the book. Mike remarked that larger shadows relative to a fire are natural, not magical.
Julie observed that his huge shadow is a sign of his anger, while Mike thought Gandalf ‘growing’ was Tolkien’s way of describing Gandalf drawing power to himself which is not always a part of him.
Laura proposed that shadows are perhaps to be equated with spirits in other parts of the book, so seeing Gandalf’s shadow is seeing him in the spirit dimension. Mike proposed that the battle against the wolves might thus be a leaking of the spirit world into the physical world.
Ian commented that Gandalf needs physical material to work on and Mike and Julie then both noted that Jesus ‘worked on’ physical things. Laura wondered if that meant that physical laws pertained to what was happening in this episode but Ian thought not, and Eileen observed that Tolkien set limits on what could be done.
Mike remarked that the finding of the secret word seems childish, and hardly worthy of 2 pages, but that the delay is the opportunity to tell the history of productive co-operation between dwarves and elves.
And so we ran out of time after a very intense afternoon’s discussion. We have not yet finished our discussion of ‘A Journey in the Dark’ so next time we will finish that and ‘The Bridge of Khazad Dum’, and we will read ‘Lothlorien’, just in case we have time for it.

Just a few of Carol’s comments follow here as most of them relate to other parts of ‘A Journey in the Dark’ and will come in next time.

Have you ever asked yourself how you would fare on a journey like this i have and have come out wanting i’m like a cripple on snow and what is to come in moria, i’d have died of fright but then isnt one of the attractions of reading about grave dangers is because we can partake without actually being there and admore those who actually do it

There’s never any explanation of why aragorn passed through moria before his ominous warning to gandalf: ‘if you pass the gates of moria, beware!’

This being attacked by wargs seems to miror TH where the company is surrounded by wargs and goblins, only to be rescued by the eagles of the mountains what stamina!

Tolkien’s drawing (not drawring) of the Gates of Moria always reminds me of a classic 1950s juke box.

The waiting for Gandalf to find a way in is very tantalising we probably know he’ll succeed – just in the nick of time – good stuff

June: First Meeting – local etymological insights


The first item relating to this meeting is Laura’s contribution to our discussion of etymology which will be mentioned in the main blog report.

13TH June 2015

The Dialect of the New Forest in Hampshire (as spoken in the village of Burley)
Written by Sir James Wilson KCSI 1913
(Knight Commander of the Star of India – the motto is Heaven’s Star guide us – very Earendel!)
A publication of the Philological Society.

Laura bought this replica book as part of her self-imposed goal of finding at least one dialect word in the forest that would have been understood by the Jutes!

Sir James wrote:
“I presume that the dialect of Burley may be taken as fairly typical of the speech of the New Forest and as representing what remains of the language of the West Saxons.”
He compared it with his own native dialect of Perthshire.
“That is a pure English dialect, descended no doubt from the language of our Angle ancestors.”
He wrote that the differences between the Perthshire dialect and standard spoken English and differences between the New Forest dialect and standard spoken English are completely opposite. It is not known if he wrote his follow up book.

The bulk of the book is about how the Burley people pronounced their words – “s” was said as “z” and “f” said as “v” so “vaarist” rather than “forest”. Mummerset seems to cover it although, as Ian said, were the natives playing to an audience? Paid by the syllable?

Interestingly, Sir James wrote “dh” to represent “th”.

There were some interesting words.
“bist” – you are – straight from German.
“wopse” – the local habit of transferring letters; some of us could remember it as a family word.
“namit” – snack, lunch – also spoken on the Isle of Wight. “No meat”.
“shrammed” – cold. Some of us could remember it being used. Also on the Isle of Wight.
“Numshon” – luncheon. This word came up in Tolkien’s writing. In Anglo Saxon writings – from “noon” plus “scenc” – to pour out, to give to drink. An afternoon snack. There is no explanation about how this turned into luncheon.
“hob” – potato pit.
“scuggee mugginz” – Laura’s favourite – a squirrel.
“smellers” – her other favourite – a cat’s whiskers as in: “You are the smellers!”

Laura 16.6.2015


Checking through Carol’s comments on our recent discussions I have discovered that I have got out of sync and somewhere in the sequence of blogs I have missed out part of a complete set of Carol’s comments on The Ring Goes South, so I am posting them here separately. Apologies for the omission.

Carol’s comments for ‘The Ring Goes South’

The poem, ‘i sit beside the fire and think’, is a really nice piece of verse, written in simple 4-line stanzas – and i’ve noted b and d rhyming, must check that one. but it conveys so much, an old person contemplating life in ordinary language for an ordinary activity, yet beautiful.

Boromir’s blowing his horn and Elrond’s warning seems almost to be a foresight.

‘Aragorn sat with his head bowed…’ we get very few insights into Aragorn’s inner self and this is almost one of them – i refer you to Aragorn groupie angie.

one of my favourite scenes from the lotr film is when the fellowship crests the brow of a hill and the fellowship theme plays, so heroic and resolute, which of course they are

talking of naming things – Hollin. i grew up on the edge of a district of oldham called Hollinwood and a road called Hollins, deeply industrialised, but after reading lotr, it made me think that probably Hollinwood was once a wood of mainly holly bushes. shame what happened to it!!

Gimli give a lesson in comparative languages, all descriptive of what the peaks are. somewhere Sam says that the dwarf language is a right jaw-cracker, the misty mountains were raised by Melkor to hinder the progress of Orome.

Boromir’s advice about wood proves to be a life-saver. here he’s on solid gound.

‘there are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. some have been in this world longer than he.’ eg Shelob, and probably the mountain.

‘called the cruel’ – and the mountain will be there long after this episode in history.

‘when heads are at a loss, bodies must serve.’ i said above that Boromir was on sure ground here. this is something physical he can understand and deal with and show his bravery. Lothlorien will be a different matter.

Last Meeting in May

For our late Spring Bank holiday meeting our reading had included the rest of ‘The Council of Elrond’ and ‘The Ring Goes South’, for which Carol had also sent her comments.
We started with updates on research, including Scull and Hammond’s revision of their reference to the Tolkien family’s holiday in north Wales following Ian’s careful investigation of this matter.
Ian has also discovered that the recently published Ring of Words omits the significant fact that the word ‘hobbit’ can be found in Joseph Wright’s Dialect Dictionary – a text Tolkien certainly knew. Ian pointed out that Ring of Words is not the only recent study to omit the significance of the Dialect Dictionary.
Tim then responded to Carol’s observation that the Elves Galdor and Erestor only appear in the the Council. It was noted that Galdor is present to represent Cirdan. Tim suggested that their presence gives a sense of the size of the Rivendell household and the gathering. Angela pointed out that Erestor is in the company that goes with Arwen to Minas Tirith. Picking up Tim’s point, Laura noted that in the film, the confrontations in which Galdor and Erestor participate at the Council show the Last Alliance falling apart, as Sauron wants.
Laura went on to question whether the Ring is influencing Boromir at the Council, because as a warrior he want any weapon that could be used against Mordor.
Carol took issue with the early critic Catherine Stimpson who had written that Tolkien puts more faith in war than in negotiation. As Carol observed ‘you don’t parley with the likes of Sauron: you either fight to win or lose’. While disputing Stimpson’s view and supporting Carol’s, we added the critic Ann Petty to the number of critics with whom we generally disagreed.
Eileen commented on the need to get the Ring away safely and Ian remarked that Boromir was not present to attend a discussion of ultimate ends but to discover if the solving of the riddle was relevant to Gondor. Tim remarked that he doesn’t understand subtlety.

Eileen then asked if it is surprising that Frodo takes the Ring? Or does he come into his own? It was hard not to give the game away to our first-time reader!
Carol’s point that the quest would have ended in ultimate failure if Faramir had taken the journey to Rivendell and left Boromir to command the forces of Gondor in Ithilien was not accepted by the group. Ian observed that both Boromir and Aragorn agreed to go to Minas Tirith, thus Boromir was in agreement with the Council. Laura commented that Boromir is not someone who would lurk in the woods, he is a more ‘overt’ warrior. Chris, however, thought there was no real difference between the brothers. Laura, on the other hand characterised the difference between them as Boromir with his horn compared to Faramir fighting quietly.
Ian observed that Boromir is quite settled about the decisions made in the Council, but Laura wondered if the Ring itself could be at work, and Tim added that the decision to take the Ring to Mordor suits it, especially the acceptance of the hobbit as bearer. Ian added that in fact hobbits are ideal carriers, as may be judged by Gollum’s resilience, because they are more resistant to the lure of the Ring.
Eileen observed that on first reading Frodo does not appear to be influenced by the Ring but three of us offered signs of its effect already taking place. Angela also observed that Frodo would have found it hard to give it up, but Chris agreed that he has more strength. Angela reminded us that Frodo thinks it belongs to Aragorn anyway.
Eileen admitted that at this stage she doesn’t entirely trust any of the Nine Walkers, but Ian pointed out that they all go willingly on the journey. Chris qualified this by observing that the reader doesn’t know at this stage if any of them has an ulterior motive behind their participation in the quest, and Eileen remarked that it allcreates many questions about what is coming.
Chris then asked ‘What does Boromir do while Aragorn and the Elves are out on scouting missions? Ian and I thought he could have been checking out Elvish weaponry, or books of history, expanding on what has already been said in the Council. Laura and Angela thought he had been recovering from his 100 day journey.
Laura then noted that in Gandalf’s account of his meeting with Saruman it is said that Saruman wore a ring on his finger and called himself Saruman Ringmaker. Laura wondered if he had been experimenting! She also found the description of him laying his ‘long hand’ on Gandalf’s arm creepy. Ian recalled the barrow wight pawing at the hobbits, and I remembered Gollum doing the same, under different circumstances, to Frodo.
Laura then made a detailed connection between Shadowfax and the prehistoric eohippus or dawn horse, through the description of Shadowfax as looking as if he had been ‘foaled in the morning of the world’. Carol remarked “I’m no linguist but can discern the odd word. In ‘Hrafnkel’s saga’, his horse is called Freyrfaxi meaning Freys’s mane, so Shadowfax is shadow mane”.

We moved then into ‘The Ring Goes South’.
Tim noted that before the Company sets out, Bilbo is now passing things on, and Eileen compared the concealed shirt with the concealed Ring.
Chris observed that Legolas and Gimli are both introduced slowly through the chapter. Tim noted that Gandalf and Aragorn are dominant as leaders of the Fellowship, and Laura thought that to have added too much detail would have made for too rich a mix for readers. Eileen wondered if this made it easier to absorb after all the details of the Council.
Carol commented that when facing Caradhras, Boromir’s advice about taking firewood proves to be a life saver and he is on sure ground in conditions where there is something physicalthat he can understand and deal with. Eileen observed that on Caradhras the Company are described as sheltering with their backs to the overhanging cliff face, and that this may serve as a metaphor for the fighting they may face.

For our next meeting we agreed to finish this chapter and go on to ‘A Journey in the Dark’.
Carol’s comments on matter we still didn’t touch on follow here:
‘the time of my thought is my own to spend.’ Dain crystallising dwarf freedom and independence, despite the menaces of the Rider and what he knows of Sauron – so it proves. I’ve noted: ‘see Shippey and the northern theory of courage’.

‘you have come…by chance as it may seem’. There’s a lot of fortuitous synchronicity in LotR.

Elrond recounting ages of history – how can it not be interesting even after countless rereadings. And now we discover why Bilbo had a cheek to write songs about Earendil in the house of Elrond, who’s dad he is. But Elrond’s a tolerant chap.

Elrond is a sort of pivot in whom stands past, present and future.

It was probably a fortuitous thing that Isildur took the Ring because had it gone into the fire then, probably thousands of combatants would have been killed in mount doom’s eruption. And like Elrond says, Isildur’s death was better than his becoming a soulless wraith and tyrant to boot.

The provenance of the white tree, giving it its great significance – lineage, far greater and longer than the Dunedain. And also a thread, linking back to the Undying Lands – depth.

Boromir’s brother isn’t named here and as the younger the dream came to him first. In myths it’s often the youngest who gets the quest or the insight. Sam’s also the youngest of his family.

Boromir’s flaw is definitely pride. He has reason to be proud but he vaunts it. Bilbo has a crack at him later about his110 day journey.

Elendil’s sword is one of those artefacts brought forward from history into the present – what has gone before effects where we are now, that’s why history and depth are crucial to LotR and real life, as well as being bloody interesting.

‘ash nazg…the change in the wizard’s voice was astounding…’ languages implying ethics – the Black Tongue is harsh and hard, with lots of Bs,Gs and Zs. But Dwarvish language is also hard.

I hate the way Saruman derides Radagast for being a friend of the natural. Radagast’s lifestyle might be simple but he’s no fool, despite being gulled by a dissembling Saruman. But pride and falls come to mind.

‘the world of men which we must rule’ bang goes the prime directive. How Saruman deceives himself. The means never justifies the ends. By bad means people change and initial good intentions get lost.

The account has been gripping and skilfully done, not in a straight line, but deep past here, recent past there. This I suppose makes for more interesting reading but I’d enjoy a straight narrative too.

‘I had forgotten Tom Bombadil.’ This is part of Elvish and mortal tragedy, that they had forgotten the truly natural and how to be satisfied with the simple things in life – natural magic v high magic. ‘oldest and fatherless’ Tolkien though tom should remain an enigma.

Boromir says: take the ring and use it against Sauron. But if one uses the Ring one becomes Sauron. Boromir’s already lusting after the Ring.

The tragedy of the 3 Elven rings – if the One is destroyed, the power of the 3 will go too.

A good ploy to seek to destroy the ring while Sauron thinks one among the wise will seize it and try to gain power, because Sauron has cyclopean vision.

My note: everything has got to become completely new. Middle-earth has to gain its independence from the world of high magic and fend for itself.

The surprise of the whole Council, Frodo volunteers but then Gandalf has hinted so in the previous chapter that it might be so. Elrond mentions some great names from the past: Hador, Hurin, Turin, Beren and only Beren’s name is known so far and I don’t think the other 3 are ever explained within the main body of LotR – tantalising if you know no more. But ends on an affectionate note in the exchange between Sam and Elrond. What a tale! Sort of expands on hints made through Tom Bombadil. 21-22 different voices??

May: first meeting

After some journeys of our own around the library we eventually settled, rather suitably, in the Learning Centre, for our meeting on ‘The Council of Elrond’.
We began with Ian’s report on his continuing research into the work of Tolkien’s tutor Joseph Wright, and his wife Elizabeth. Ian noted the significance of their work on dialect.
Eileen then brought us back to the chapter with her remark that there were ‘too many characters’. She found the barrage of new names bewildering, and Tim filled in some of the detail from Tom Shippey’s Author of the Century to show just how many characters, including entirely new ones, the reader has to cope with.
Eileen then observed that in spite of Bilbo’s protest, the purpose of the Council is too important for it to stop for lunch and so it goes on long after Bilbo’s notice that it is almost lunchtime. Tim responded that even after many reading he still wondered about the delay to lunch!
Laura remarked that even although nothing seems to happen apart from a lot of talk, there is still a lot of action within each narration and the exchanges of dialogue.
Angela and Tim queried who the messenger from Sauron really was? No clear answer seemed to emerge.
Angela noted that Boromir doesn’t seem to notice Aragorn until he speaks and Laura proposed that this showed the difference between the North and South Kingdoms. Tim remarked that the difference split along perceptions of status so that in contemporary terms Gondor = the Guards Officer, while Arnor = the SAS, in effect two forces fighting different kinds of war so that Boromir even after his feat of endurance still appears finely dressed and noble, and he doesn’t regard the figure in the corner dressed in unspectacular and practical travelling clothes.
Tim went on to note that strictly speaking height was measured in ‘ranga’, and according to such calculations as Tolkien gives, the Numenoreans could be almost 7 feet tall. Laura then proposed that the Dunedain should really be called ‘rangas’ rather than Rangers.
Laura also commented on the ‘Swiss’ atmosphere at the start of the chapter as the Elves are inclined to neutrality.
Chris wondered what Bilbo and Gandalf are talking about before the others join them. It was conjectured that they might have been reminiscing about the first time they were in Rivendell together, and how the events unfolded that led to the current meeting.
Eileen then queried whether the Shire folk are actually naive? And I raised the matter of Strider’s testy description of ‘simple’ folk. Tim suggested that it should not be regarded as a slur, but as describing people who are ‘uncomplicated’. Ian proposed that there was a three-way division implicit here between the organised presence of Gondor, the organised but unappreciated Rangers, and the folk who don’t know anything about the danger from which they are being protected.
Angela and I wondered whether ‘simplicity’ functioned and even defined a form of protection against paralysing fear, so that the Gaffer and Farmer Maggot were not crushed by preconceived fear when confronted with the Black Riders. In this context, Ian noted Strider’s remarks on the need for secrecy to keep the Shire free from fear. Tim likened this to the security services protecting ordinary people. They know how nasty things are, but ordinary people don’t.
Angela remarked that those of Numenorean blood, if they share a proportion of Elvish blood too, like Aragorn are mentally stronger than others, although in the presence of the Black Riders some are driven mad. Ian noted that Boromir confirms that madness afflicted the men he commanded at Osgiliath when the Witch King arrived.
Laura wondered why the Shire has survived as it has, and whether it was a deliberate plan by the Valar. Chris observed that this would fit with Gollum finding the Ring. Ian remarked that the hobbits are a race expressing the human condition, and when called upon, they are mentally stronger than others.
Ian looked up ‘simple’ and found that in the OED (1) adj. = of lowly birth, not aristocratic.
I then wondered if ‘simple’ as applied to hobbits and others was related to the notion of the One Ring. All the other rings have stones but the most powerful ring is ‘unadorned’. Its true power is only revealed by exposure to fire. Similarly, I suggested, the true power of hobbits is only revealed in the ‘fire’ of danger.
Ian pointed out that the Ring is indeed unadorned, except on Sauron’s hand.
Laura questioned the meaning of the ‘nick of time’ Elrond mentions. Tim remarked that in mechanical time-keeping the tick of a clock was known as a ‘nick’, so a precise time was suggested. Laura recalled the notches or ‘nicks’ on tally-sticks. Meanwhile Ian reminded us that the wording of Elrond’s speech was ‘the very nick of time’, and referred us to the original meaning of ‘very’, thus Elrond is saying that everyone arrived at the ‘true’ moment.
Although Carol sent comments on this chapter well in advance of our meeting, we didn’t touch on the details she focussed on so I have held them over for our next meeting.
When it came to choosing our reading for our next meeting, it was pointed out that we had hardly scratched the surface of the issues raised in ‘The Council’, so we agreed to finish this, at the next meeting, and read ‘The Ring Goes South’ in hopes that we have time to get round to it.

Our only meeting in April

Because a number of our group were otherwise engaged for the first meeting of the Tolkien Reading Group/Southfarthing there is only one report for April, but it reflects the fact that at our second meeting everyone was there and we had a varied and in-depth discussion as the following report shows:

We were all together again for our only April meeting and we only had one chapter – ‘Many Meetings’ to consider, but it filled up the whole afternoon.

Pat began with a question – is Gandalf too hard on Frodo when he accuses him of doing foolish things on the way to Rivendell? Both Tim and Angela pointed out that Gandalf quickly goes back on this and praises Frodo. Tim also pointed out that Gandalf is acting like the mentor he is, chiding his pupil before approving of his attempts. Tim also characterised Gandalf’s opening comments as a bit of banter.

Carol noted that technically Gandalf is smoking in a hospital sick room, but Angela observed that Gandalf is smoking out of the window of Frodo’s room. She also pointed out that Elves don’t smoke, although Men, dwarves, and hobbits do. Thoughts of Rivendell as a no smoking zone entertained us.

Pat observed that in this chapter Strider’s character changes, and Tim and Angela elaborated on this when they noted that he’s not in his ‘working clothes’ later in the chapter.

Tim remarked that this is the first time we see Strider/Aragorn with Arwen, and Pat added that you wouldn’t know if you were reading the chapter for the first time that there was an ongoing romance. Carol also commented that there are hints of who Aragorn really is and his relationship to Arwen, but nothing definite is said.

Tim went on to comment that Rivendell evokes a feeling of being somewhere else, and Eileen remarked that there is an air of unreality at the start of the chapter, but when reading, it seems in places almost too real.

Ian noted that at the start of the chapter we walk in on an ongoing situation, signalled by a character (Frodo) waking up, and then he drifts in and out of what has been happening. Ian proposed that Frodo’s wondering if he had been ill might be an echo of Tolkien’s own experience of having had trench fever, and he went on to note that the start of the chapter (and hence Book 2) provides a synopsis of what had happened in Book1.

Laura thought it a wonderful relief to find Frodo safe and cared for. Eileen questioned whether the hardships he had endured constituted a rite of passage to prove his strength and resolve? Laura then posed the question: was it a good thing that Gandalf wasn’t with Frodo on the journey to Rivendell? Angela and I thought ‘yes’, for different reasons. I went with the idea that Gandalf’s presence would have drawn all the Black Riders towards Frodo, whereas Gandalf drew some of them away from Weathertop. Angela and Eileen both thought it gave Frodo the chance to mature.

Ian observed that Gandalf never had to exert power over Frodo to conceal the Ring. And Eileen commented that perhaps Frodo doesn’t understand the danger of the Ring. Ian responded that Frodo doesn’t consciously use the Ring, and Tim added that the Ring is using Frodo.

Pat commented on Pippin’s lively salutation to Frodo as Lord of the Ring, noting that a novice reader might also assume this, so Pippin’s remark acts as a correction of that mistaken opinion. Carol remarked that if Pippin were in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe he’s be Edmund.

I wondered then why Gandalf said that the Barrow was more dangerous than the attack on Weathertop? Angela and Chris proposed that it was because the Wight had links to the Witch King. Laura wondered if Gandalf was thinking in terms of the Barrows and their Wights constituting a ‘second front’ in the coming War.

Laura then remarked that it seems as though the elements are protecting the hobbits, and she listed Earth (the Barrow collapses and destroys the Wight), Fire drives the Black Riders into the Water that rises against them.

Carol remarked that Gandalf shows some pride in his ‘great white horses with shining white riders’ but luckily his pride isn’t his overwhelming trait.

Eileen remarked on feeling a sense of development now.

Pat commented on the terrible (thought temporary) influence of the Ring on the relationship between Bilbo and Frodo, and Laura observed that Rivendell cannot absorb the evil of the Ring. Ian noted, however, that in the House of Tom Bombadil its evil and its power are controlled.

Carol also commented on the disturbing incident with the Ring that when Frodo sees a Gollum-like creature through it – what Bilbo might have become if he hadn’t given it up. ‘don’t adventures ever have an end?…’ Bilbo’s story is morphing into Frodo’s – but there’s a bit more to it than even that which is just a snippet in The Story.

Pat wondered if the Ring chooses its owner, but Ian proposed that it rather betrays whoever has it. Laura suggested that the Ring is an opportunist – and in this it is cat-like! She extrapolated this idea, remarking that Sauron, the Lord of the Ring(s) was in Tolkien’s original conception Tevildo, an evil Maia in cat-form. I wondered, if the Ring was opportunistic, whether it actually shone to attract Deagol after it had lain in the River for 2,000+ years (Tim’s calculation). Chris objected that it was Ulmo who perhaps controlled its finding by Deagol, but it needed to get into the hands of the more active Smeagol.

Ian went on to note that Frodo gives the hobbit view of the Big People in this chapter in the process of remodelling that view, as Men’s role in the story is also remodelled.

Laura noted the lovely description of Glorfindel at the feast in Rivendell, but Chris picked out the contrast between Glorfindel revealed in his glory and wondered what were the ‘other powers’ that Gandalf located in the Shire. Tim suggested these amounted to the resilience and determination of the hobbits.

Chris also noted Gandalf’s comment to himself that Frodo was like a clear glass, and that he is not half way through yet. Carol remarked that Gandalf senses that Frodo will carry the Ring to Mount Doom (no spoiler here as Eileen isn’t online so won’t read this), however, Chris had earlier pondered the possibility that Frodo, like Gollum, was actually being sacrificed.

Julie observed that the image of glass would become most significant later in the story (carefully avoiding spoilers for Eileen). Ian noted that Frodo is associated with light of a different kind in the Barrow, and Mike considered the image prescient because later Frodo’s sufferings change him, if others, including the reader, have eyes to see this – as Gandalf has.

I then wondered if Frodo’s dream in Rivendell, when he sees things in terms of silver and gold – the colours of the Two Trees – is a vision of Valinor and a gift to strengthen him. Laura observed that he is in the house of High Elves and they would be used to thinking in these terms. Ian noted that the dream sets the reader up for Bilbo’s song of Earendil. Eileen remarked that such a beautiful dream is consistent with relaxation in a safe place, and a reaction and contrast – a vision of heaven after the hell of the journey to Rivendell.

Carol remarked “ ‘Earendil was a mariner’ never ceases to amaze me. Its rhyming is so clever and intricate phonetically. But cleverness alone isn’t enough. Its story is also very relevant to the current situation and while Bilbo does have a ‘cheek to make verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond’ it’s still a pretty fine poem worthy of Elrond’s house”.

Julie commented on the fact that two lines of Anglo-Saxon mentioning ‘Earendel’ gave rise to the whole mythic narrative Tolkien creates as Bilbo’s song.
Ian noted that Bilbo resorts to using insults when Lindo cannot distinguish between Bilbo’s versifying and Aragorn addition.

It was lovely that the entire Southfarthing who live within travelling distance were all together again for the beginning of the new Book, and so we used up the whole afternoon on this single chapter. We therefore decided that the longer and even more detailed ‘Council of Elrond’ would be quite enough as reading for our next meeting.

Carol’s Additional Comments (on things we didn’t get round to)

‘Many Meetings’ mirrors ‘Many Partings’ later in the story.

Phew! ‘Frodo awoke…’ and Gandalf’s back. I’ve said before, the short cut through the Old Forest wasn’t meant to be a short cut but a way of getting out of the Shire unnoticed.

Is the seating for Elrond’s feast similar to that in hall at an Oxford college?

For the first-time reader there are some unexplained things here like what was Arwen’s mother’s torment, where is she now and does she have a name? Tolkien’s describing people, some who we only see again at the very end – Glorfindel eg – or rarely – Elladan and Elrohir. Maybe Tolkien didn’t know the roles any of them were going to play, except Arwen of course, but then we don’t see much of her either.

Frodo and Gloin meet but where is Gimli? Was he an after-thought because Gloin’s too old to go on the quest and Tolkien wants representatives of all free peoples?

Some background of the people and places that won’t come into th

e main narrative but will still play their parts. I’ve always been concerned about Bombur’s having to be lifted – and they talk about obesity today.

‘not that hobbits would ever acquire quite the elvish appetite for music and poetry and tales. They [the elves] seem to like them as much as food, or more.’ This take me back to The Hobbit when Bilbo first approached Rivendell and though at the fag end of a long day and journey and promises of great food ahead, then Bilbo seemed to care more for elvish music than food or rest.

Last meeting in March

The following are the minutes of the latest meeting that were kindly taken by Tim, who has included website links where appropriate.

Present: Angela, Chris, Ian, Laura, Tim (minutes)
Apologies: Lynn, Eileen, Julie, Mike, Pat
We few, we happy few, convened in the Librarians’ Room today, since the Seminar Room is apparently being decorated. Lynn was due to attend a lecture today so she was unable to join us, although we understand from Laura that Lynn has been unwell, so we were all wishing for a speedy recovery. All our fellow Southfarthingas who were unable to come along today were of course missed.
The general theme of this week’s meeting was to be the theme of this year’s Reading Day: friendship. In true Southfarthing tradition, we were well provided with cakes, courtesy of Laura, to go with our tea and coffee.
As a precursor to the general discussion, Ian shared some of his ongoing research with the rest of the group, which is as always fascinating. He described a recent press release concerning the Tolkien Gordon Collection at the University of Leeds Library, consisting of papers which include a poem by Tolkien, ‘The Root of the Boot’, which we have recently encountered in its later form – in our reading of Flight to the Ford – as Sam’s ‘Rhyme of the Troll’. The following is a link to the original manuscript:
Ian informed the group that it could be sung to a traditional tune, which the site identifies as The Fox Went Out. It was published in Songs for the Philologists in 1936.
The collection consists of papers which document Tolkien’s early academic career at Leeds. (Brotherton Library, Alaric Hall, Catherine Butt). It appears that this draft of the poem was written in circa 1922, appearing in another form thirty years later in The Lord of the Rings.
Ian read the poem out to the group. There were recognisable elements when compared to the version in TLotR. Tim was intrigued by what the tune would be like.
Ian also talked about Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, which was published in six volumes between 1898 and 1905.  Wright (1855-1930) was Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford University between 1901 and 1925. He tutored Tolkien when he was at Oxford and was an important early influence.
The group was shown a print of one page showing the entry for hobbit, being a Welsh word for a measure of weight for corn, beans, et cetera, as per the link below:
The discussion moved onto the theme for the day: friendship. It was remarked that the meeting itself was an example of friendship, of friends coming together to sit round eating cakes (we ate plenty between the five of us today!) drinking coffee and talking about Tolkien and his works.
Ian raised the example of the developing friendship between Thorin and Bilbo.
Angela referred to the developing bond between Legolas and Gimli, and Aragorn – the Three Hunters (cries of “Let’s hunt some orc” and “Forth, the Three Hunters”); Treebeard and Pippin and Merry; Gandalf and his friendships with Gwaihir, Shadowfax, Treebeard and Aragorn.
Friendship was also likened to brotherhood. Laura observed that friends will get you out of trouble.
Tim noted the changing relationship of Frodo and Sam by the end of the story, from master and servant to equals and friends.
Ian described the redefining of the roles of Aragorn and Boromir. It was also mentioned how Boromir was isolated and isolated himself from the rest of the Fellowship.
Tim had been considering the relationship of Tuor and Voronwë, described in detail in Unfinished Tales, wondering if it could be seen as a friendship when Voronwë was acting as Tuor’s guide to Gondolin. Chris agreed it could be. Tim also referred to the friendship between Túrin and Beleg. The latter was like a father to Túrin and searched for him in the wilds when Túrin was living as an outlaw, dying at his hand.
Angela observed that there are several examples of man-elf relationships. She referred to the interaction of Legolas and Aragorn after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Chris asked the group: Did the Ring have a friend?
Laura raised the matter of the One Ring’s relationship with/links with the other rings of power.
Ian talked about C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves in which Lewis explored the nature of love and identified four categories for love:
Storge – affection;
Philia – friendship;
Eros – romance;
Agape – charity/God-love/unconditional love
Chris reminded the group that we might also consider false friendships and cited Sauron’s relationship with Ar-Pharazôn in Númenor. Other false friendships featuring deception and betrayal include: Saruman’s relationship with Denethor and Gondor; Saruman and Gríma; Théoden and Gríma
Someone posed the question: Were the Nazgûl friends or work colleagues?
It was speculated that one Nazgûl might say to another: “When we’ve knocked off I’ll give you a ring.”
We discussed the next session.
The Tolkien Society AGM will be taking place on the same weekend as the next meeting of the Southfarthing is due, Saturday 11th April 2015.
Laura, Ian, Angela and Chris will be attending the AGM in Arundel. The remainder of the group could still meet that day, if we are all willing, or we could hold over our study of Book Two, Chapter One, Many Meetings until Saturday 25th April 2015 when everyone would be available. Tim said he would propose the options to Lynn by e-mail.
After a very lively, fascinating and varied discussion, we had arrived at a quarter to four: the Fellowship concluded its business and broke up to headed off into the daylight until the next time.

First Saturday in March

We were missing Mike and Laura this afternoon. However, it was great to be able to congratulate Julie in person on achieving her MA. We discussed the matter of Tolkien Reading Day and confirmed that the group would take the TRD topic of Friendship for discussion at our next meeting.
Our reading this week was to finish Book 1 which meant revisiting ‘A Knife in the Dark’ and adding ‘The Flight to the Ford’ to our discussion. Carol sent comments as usual, but as our discussions did not cover quite the same aspects her comments are added.
We began with Pat introducing us to her research into the significance of Tolkien’s use of ‘Underhill’ as Gandalf’s alias for Frodo on his journey and the frequent mention of ‘under hill’ in both the chapters concerning Tom Bombadil, and the earlier ‘Adventures of Tom Bombadil’. Pat had wondered what this concept of ‘under hill’ signified, and proposed that it was connected with travel.
Julie remarked that in The Hobbit the rhythmic pattern ‘overhill, underhill’ is used, and Ian picked up Pat’s idea of travelling and proposed that it connoted a journey into the spirit or into fairy story and might be seen as having links to the Sidhe (shee), the Celtic fairy world, because – following Verlyn Flieger’s suggestions – Frodo, coming out of fairy-tale traditions, is also coming out of the Sidhe traditions.
Angela noted that Underhill is a common name in Bree, and indeed the Underhills in the Prancing Pony try very hard to work out what relation Frodo must be to them.
Ian observed that Frodo’s ‘underhill’ name is not functional after Bree, but Tim proposed that ‘Underhill’ still defines the quest as secretive.
Pat’s observation had produced a long and detailed exchange of ideas.
Eileen then moved the discussion on with her observation that Frodo and his companions constantly go through gaps while the Black Riders take the high ground.
Pat, Ian and Eileen all remarked in the various biblical echoes in ‘The Knife in the Dark’. Eileen was particularly concerned at the total of 30 silver pennies paid and offered by Butterbur for the ponies lost and bought – an echo of the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas. Among other biblical echoes we noted that cockcrow in Crickhollow marks the turning of the tide against the attacking Black Riders. Tim remarked that this was Tolkien’s rewriting of the biblical significance of the money and the cockcrow which were linked with betrayal, but in this chapter they are linked to positive actions.
Chris picked up the matter of the silver pennies and asked where was the mint if there was no king? I thought that the pennies did not have to be new, but might have been in circulation for a long time.
Pat went on to consider more poetry with her observation that Strider chanted the song of Tinuviel, and that this chanting has a calming effect which drives back the hobbits’ fear.
Tim remarked that chanting was part of the bardic tradition, while Pat thought that chanting acted like a meditation, while Eileen thought it had an effect like a spell.
Julie was interested in Strider’s statement about the song – that it was sad but ‘healing’. Ian noticed that this reference to tales in the history of Middle-earth being fair but sad comes from a character within the same story. Ian also noted that Strider prevents Sam and Frodo from speaking.
Tim commented that it seems like a case of ‘if anyone’s going to tell a tale, it’s me!’
Ian then noted that there is a significance about pauses in the text, as when Strider pauses, and when Frodo doesn’t speak when the group encounter the trolls.
Tim went on to consider the drama of the Black Riders’ attack, as well as the danger of Strider and the hobbits being up on Weathertop, which was very exposed but a necessary move. Angela observed that they needed to check on Gandalf.
Pat wondered how the stone was interpreted as an omen, and Ian thought it signalled an instance of the interweaving of chance and story structure. Pat thought Tolkien was planting ideas.
As we moved on Tim observed that the elves of Rivendell did not know Strider was with Frodo. Tim also observed that the Troll Song seems to be written in a Midlands dialect. Eileen thought the Song was a change to lightness after great fear before the story moves into uncertainty over the Black Riders.
I wondered if the description if Asfaloth as an ‘elf horse’ meant it was a particular kind of horse, and Julie suggested a relationship to the mearas. Tim noted that elf-horses only carry those they want to carry, and Angela wondered how a horse could carry a rider particularly smoothly.
Our discussions had been so detailed and wide-ranging that we ran out of time and agreed that next time, being the meeting closest to Reading Day, the group would take Friendship as its topic for discussion and leave beginning Book 2 until April, when ‘Many Meetings’ will be our reading.

Carol’s Comments
One of my defining moments in the whole book – Sam singing of Gil-galad, Sam, the youngest son who succeeds. The little gentlehobbits, Merry and Pippin, don’t know about Gil-galad, but the lowly servant does. Also history in song.

They discover the results of the flashing lights of a few nights ago. Was it Gandalf?

This poem, ‘Tinuviel’, part of a tale of the First Age. Its rhyme scheme is difficult; ann-thennath Strider calls it. I’ve tried to write a poem in the same mode and it took me a long time to get it reasonable. At this time, the first-time reader doesn’t know the significance of the story to the current situation.

This is part of an excellent potted history of Middle-earth’s main dynasty and what happened in the later part of the First Age and beyond. Tolkien seems to be outside himself in writing passages like these. They seem to flow far more easily as if he’s remembering something long embedded in his psyche. He’s also longing for those times – I think. It is also one of the ways of telling stories within stories.

This attack in the dell is scarey stuff with no 11th hour rescue. The group have to defend themselves against pure evil, described as ‘black holes’. Tolkien wouldn’t have known about astronomical black holes but the description suits the Nazgul perfectly – passages into non-existence, robbed of body and soul.

‘all blades perish that pierce that dreadful king.’ See Merry and Pelennor Fields. The athelas – first signs of Aragorn as king and healer

They’re now treading more recent historical topography – Bilbo’s journey. Tolkien inserts history from all periods at various times to give depth and authenticity to his world, as well as its being the backstory.

Sam’s troll song: please read all the poetry – its diversity is amazing. Secret selves are being slowly revealed in Aragorn and Sam. His secret life is a bit more obvious than Aragorn’s and is another step in his development.

The run-up and the encounter with Glorfindel: this last bit of Book 1 is gripping stuff, a very exciting chase. The Nazgul are beaten for the time being but leave Book 1 not knowing if Frodo will survive.

Last Meeting in February

For the first time in ages 10 of us gathered to continue accompanying Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin on their dangerous journey into Bree and beyond. Carol joined the quest by email as usual. Some of her comments are in the report, the rest are added at the end.
Angela began our discussion with her remark that the ‘Prancing Pony’ and ‘Strider’ chapters include a good deal of xenophobia with guarded comments among the characters about ‘outsiders’ and ‘Southerners’. Laura wondered if this was Tolkien’s vision of insular reaction to the arrival of the Saxon tribes.
Tim observed that this was an extension of the concept of an insular society which in LotR includes Hobbiton. The insularity there might be compared to the situation in Buckland, although there is very little sign of interaction with the world outside the Shire here too, and even the Old Forest is ‘insulated’ from outside influences. Tim also noted that there are more different kinds of people in Bree but it is still an insular community.
Angela noted that Bree is protected by Rangers, but while the inhabitants of the Shire don’t know about the protecting Rangers, the folk of Bree know the Rangers but not their function.
Ian commented that the Breelanders think the Rangers are vagabonds, and though the Big Folk are part of their everyday lives, they still think of Strider as an outsider.
Eileen remarked that at this first reading (for her) she doesn’t know if the Rangers can be trusted, or Strider.
I raised Carol’s point about topography of Breeland and beyond being the history of Middle-earth, telling obliquely of the Last Alliance. Tim commented that the hobbits experience a ‘Tour Guides’ during this early part of the story as a succession characters lead and educate the hobbits in the wider world and its history.
Ian compared Tom Bombadil, who can tell the hobbits everything, while Strider relates extracts of historical epics to them because he’s part of the ongoing epic, but Tom IS the narrative, having lived it.
Laura observed that we don’t know anyone from 3,000 years ago in England, but in Middle-earth historical figures from that ancient date are known. Ian commented that this is because there are immortal beings able to remember and transmit.
I then mentioned the gatekeeper’s recognition of the hobbits by their Shire dialect, and Angela and Julie both noted that Sam’s suspicions of Strider are in part aroused by the fact that his mode of speech changes during the first evening. Angela wondered whether Sam’s distrust of Strider was due to his limited experience.
In answer to Carol’s wondering who climbed over the gate, we noted that Harry Goatleaf was not a good gatekeeper because both Strider climbed over the gate and the he let Black Riders through.
Ian noted that there are 3 time during which the oddness of the appearance of the Shire hobbits is commented upon, including by the passing fox in the Shire.
Laura remarked that the Prancing Pony chapter is humorous, adding new characters, and Angela cited Butterbur’s observation that ‘There was too much of that Mr. Underhill to go vanishing…’ Ian thought the chapter adds drama.
Tim commented that this chapter is Frodo’s first use of the Ring in public. Angela reminded us that he had used it in Tom’s house, and Tim added that Bree is its first perilous use.
Laura remarked that the Ring has perhaps become a character in its own right now the Black Riders are in the vicinity.
Laura and Tim both turned their attention to the Cat and Fiddle Song, and noted that the song creates its own history, and that Bob, Butterbur’s help, has a cat.
Ian thought the song was a cute way of taking a bit of folklore and appropriating it to his own ends.
Laura then wondered if Fatty Lumpkin could have been the model for the Prancing Pony inn sign, or is Fatty a descendant of the Mearas? Angela remarked that Fatty does not seem to be a mortal horse. Tim raised a possible connection with Orome the hunter and thus the Vala most associated with horses. Then we wondered why Sam called the pony ‘Bill’, and Tim replied that it may have been to signify that Ferny was no better than a pony.
Eileen wondered if Sam throwing an apple at Bill Ferny might not have fired up Ferny even more, considering his apparently wicked character. Tim thought Sam’s reaction to Ferny’s snide insults was the apt response to a bully. Eileen observed that this is the first time Sam fights back.
We then considered the gatekeeper as Julie remarked that the gatekeeper has been consorting with Ferny. Mike commented that a gate implies a different set of rules and someone in charge, like the city-states of ancient Greece. Ian compared the gate into the Old Forest, and remarked that the Bree gate seems to indicate administration and organisation but there is no sign of this, only a general wariness.
I wondered whether Strider’s admission that he has ‘rather a rascally look’ is just a sign of his hard life, or whether it is something he cultivates. Angela replied that he may be intended to give the Breelanders something to look at! Tim observed that it is better to go unwashed in the wild so as not to be noticed.
When I asked Carol’s question relating to Tom’s, and now Strider’s use of the 3rd person when referring to himself, Ian considered ‘Strider’ to be a character guide and he thought that like ‘Tom Bombadil’ it signified that he was not a ‘white knight’ hero, but each was still accepted as a guide. Angela thought it connoted Strider’s vulnerability, while Eileen thought the use of an alias distanced his persona. Mike expanded on this by suggesting that when Strider refers to himself in the 3rd person he is acknowledging this as a persona with a separate role.
Tim suggested it hinted at the affectations of kingship, and I digressed by mentioning that in Elizabethan times the theory of ‘the King’s Two Bodies’ separated the physical body of the monarch from the monarch as head of the body politic and conveyer of the legitimate blood royal.
Ian suggested that Strider’s variable identity reminds us that Tolkien did not know what would come next once the hobbits reached Bree.
Carol’s question ‘why is Bill Ferny like he is?’ produced a variety of replies:
Ian replied that we get our opinion of him from what we are told. Julie said some people are just like it, while Eileen wondered if it was because he was consigned to the margin of the village, living close to one of the gates. Angela remarked that Strider knows Ferny as a spy.
Laura then observed that these chapters are full of ‘sayings’, like Butterbur’s ‘one thing and another …have jogged my memory, as the saying goes.’
Julie than asked a question I had wondered about ‘why do the Black Riders take so long to get from the ferry to Crickhollow? Tim suggested it was because their horses needed to rest. I thought it was because they needed to search Buckland. Tim then discovered Tolkien’s explanation in his Companion to LotR in which Tolkien explains that stealth is needed and the Riders have to wait for night to approach the house.
Laura raised the matter of the Black Breath and wondered how it worked and what it was for? Mike thought it was like a truth drug or a hallucinogenic drug.
Laura also wondered why, when he knew how unreliable Butterbur could be, Gandalf left such an important letter with him to be sent on to Frodo. Eileen wondered if the delay was more than just Butterbur’s forgetfulness. Tim thought it showed the consequences of a simply breakdown in communications, and Laura reminded us that Tolkien had been a communications officer during the First World War.
Tim then wondered whether the Black Riders didn’t like loud noises because they disperse at the sound of shouts and the horn calls of Buckland. Angela noted that these chapters are full of soft sounds associated with the Riders. Pat, who had joined us late but with enthusiasm, compared the magical sound of Tom’s song. Tim observed a future echo in the sound of the cockcrow, and its positive effect both in Crickhollow and in Bree.
In response to Carol’s suggestion that the opening of the ‘Knife’ chapter is the only time the narrative diverts from the main push forward. We considered whether it was a digression but Julie commented that it explains Frodo’s dream in Bree of the horn blowing. Angela proposed that it fulfilled the need for a backstory to Fatty’s heroism. Ian noted that the ‘Fear Fire Foe’ is matched at the end of the chapter by the revelation that the Black Riders can ‘smell blood’.
As we didn’t get very far with our discussion of the ‘Knife in the Dark’ we agreed to finish this next time and read ‘The Flight to the Ford’ so as to finish Book 1 before going any further.

Carol’s additional comments:

Trust a hobbit (Merry) to gain ‘one crumb of comfort’ from the disastrous delay caused by the loss of the ponies – and more than a crumb!

I like this episode with Ferny and Sam – a bit of levity before going into the wild. In the end things will work out proper between Ferny and his ‘poor old pony’.

First meeting in February

We began our meeting with ‘any other business’ as usual, including my own discovery that a local street had once been known as Bagrow, and that 2 fields had been known as Greater and Little Bucklands. It seems, however, that lots of places have areas known as Buckland – nicely traditional!
Eventually we got round to our reading this week which was ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’, ‘The Prancing Pony’, and ‘Strider’. Carol had sent her comments which are included in the body of this report, although we didn’t cover as much material as Carol! But her additional comments will be included next time.
In fact we addressed some of Carol’s points first as she commented from last time: Tim’s got a good memory remembering Tom as part of the song of creation. It was probably me that made the comment and i’ve said it again, there’s something in Tom’s ability to know the tune – vibration – of things and I can’t quite get my head round it. Any ideas? I think it’s important.

Carol also noted that Tom Bombadil mainly wears primary colours, and the group’s response was the observation that these are ‘originary’ colours, those from which all others are made. It was also observed that Tom’s primary colours contrast sharply with Saruman who breaks the unity of white into many colours.
While analysing Tom’s colours Angela noted that apart from his initial clothes, his face is red. Julia added that he includes white in the form of the swan wing-feather.
We went on to consider Tom’s ability to control his environment and Angela observed that in the long poem of the Adventures of Tom Bombadil we learn that Tom learns his methods of control over other things.
Tim returned to colours when he remarked that as the hobbits leave Tom’s house the colours worn by Goldberry echo the colours in the description of Frodo’s dream of a ‘far green country under a swift sunrise’, itself to be echoed later at the end of the tale, as if Goldberry reassuringly pre-echoed that ending.
Laura contrasted Goldberry’s clear call with the terrible cry of the Black Riders.
Tim returned us to a previous consideration of the strange relationship between Tom’s house and time which the hobbits feel as a different ‘zone’, while his reluctance to leave his ‘country suggests that its boundaries function as a kind of ‘portal’.
Chris wondered how Tom knew about Barliman Butterbur? Angela suggested it was through the elves, and Laura noted that in this part of the book there are lots of travellers passing information. Eileen then questioned the speed with which messages seem able to travel.
Eileen, reading the story for the very first time, also noted that many characters appear to have differing agendas.
As we move into ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’, Laura had brought along a picture by Tolkien dated 1928 of an image from a nightmare suffered by his son Michael. It showed a window with patterned curtains drawn back to show a night sky, and a huge, vaguely skeletal hand stretching across the left-hand curtain. Julie questioned the date of the old film ‘The Beast with Five Fingers’ about a disembodied hand.
Eileen observed that the progress of the hobbits over the Downs, as in the Old Forest, suggests that the hobbits are trying to stay on the right paths, physically and metaphorically, even though they do not.
Laura noted that evil wights had entered the ancient barrows, but Angela pointed out that the barrows themselves are not evil.
Eileen remarked that the atmosphere of the chapter almost becomes a character in its own right.
I explained that it has been argued that the wight owes some of its characteristics to the Icelandic myth of the haugbui – a revenant that is also capable of singing. The example cited is from Njal’s Saga, where Gunnar is heard singing in his grave by his sons. Laura observed that the wight’s incantation has power, but not for good.
Chris then questioned the matter of the splintering blade, and Angela quoted Strider’s ‘all blades perish that pierce that dreadful King, and both she and I thought it splintered on account of the influence of the Witch King on the wight.
Laura then wondered about the sword laid across the 3 hobbits’ necks, and wondered whether Frodo was left out because he was the last one taken into the barrow, or whether it was because of the Ring – and an influence that didn’t want Frodo dead – or an influence acting for good? Laura also wondered if the white clothing and gold adornments of the 3 hobbits was a kind of ritual so that the wight could gain control of them.
Eileen added that the number 3 continually had significance in various religions.
Tim directed our attention then to the description of the hobbits rejoicing in the morning light and air outside the barrow like someone who had long been ill and bedridden, and he wondered if this description came from Tolkien’s own experience of extended periods of illness during the Great War.
Eileen then wondered if Tolkien himself had had nightmares as a result of the war because the imagery in the book reads as so real. Laura replied that later bits of the book will confirm this.
Eileen noted that in spite of the book being categorised as fantasy it feels real – we all agreed enthusiastically with this! And Julie explained that the book reads as an historical reconstruction, fleshing out things that might have happened.
Eileen returned to the matter of paths and wondered if the barrow feels hellish for Frodo, because he didn’t stay on the path appointed for him. Chris noted that Frodo makes an important choice between using the sword to help his friends or using the Ring to save himself.
In view of the fact that they are constantly left out of adaptations of LotR, Chris wondered what the point was of the ‘Old Forest’ and the ‘Fog’ chapters, because they don’t add to the plot. Eileen suggested that character development takes place, and Tim replied that the chapter mark the first real encounter with the kind of evil the hobbits have been told about.
Chris objected that in the next chapter the hobbits don’t seem to have changed very much, but Laura likened the experience to a team-building exercise. Chris replied that the hobbits don’t act as a team in Bree. Laura proposed that Tolkien shows that danger lies not very far from Hobbiton.
Carol commented that the ‘Fog’ chapter sets history in topography, ‘the memory of the old kings…faded into grass’ – the burial mounds – still around in the rangers. Stories in the landscape, mighty in myth. See encounter with Eomer about ‘old kings…faded into grass’ springing out again.
Angela remarked that Merry seems aware of ‘being in the past’ with the spear ‘in his chest’, as he experiences the Prince of Cardolan’s spirit.
Tim observed that the hobbits take the same journey east as Bilbo, but that was a straightforward narrative and The Hobbit misses lots of landscape and history, and the number of different dangers that lurk in their world.
Tom Bombadil’s rapid response to Frodo’s song led Chris to suggest that Tom was expecting the wight to catch the hobbits, and Julia wondered, if Frodo had forgotten the rhyme, would Tom have left the hobbits to their fate?
Sadly, we didn’t have time to explore this topic in detail but before we dispersed we agreed that we would pick up next time the chapters we didn’t have time for at this meeting. So for next time we will be reading ‘At the Sign of the Prancing Pony’, ‘Strider’, and ‘A Knife in the Dark’.


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