November, first meeting

We were a small group at this meeting as Pat, Eileen, Julie, Mike and Ian were all unable to be with us. Nevertheless, we still only managed to get through 1 chapter of our chosen reading, but as Chris observed, that was because we got rather distracted by other topics. But we finally made our way through ‘The White Rider’.
Laura began our discussion when she drew our attention to the ‘Aslan’ moment, and noted that Gandalf’s description of being ‘sent back’ implies something controlling him. We dont’ know if he went back to Valinor, and Chris proposed that he might have done so spiritually.
Chris followed this with his observation that Gandalf has forgotten things. Tim added that the wizard has changed, and likened this (rather apologetically) to Dr. Who’s regeneration, when he gets slightly ‘jumbled up.’
Laura observed that Legolas is the first to recognise Mithrandir, and maybe this is part of his Elvish perception, but the name ‘Gandalf’ is more familiar to the wizard himself. Tim remarked that this is the name by which he is most beloved by hobbits. Tim added that a sense of relief is communicated in the writing through the responses of the 3 Walkers.
Laura then noted the change of linguistic register to a more Old Testament form, and that such expressions as ‘the hard horn of the world’ are very poetic.
Angela questioned whether it is a new characteristic when Gandalf tells Gimli that ‘no weapon could hurt him.’ But maybe it was always so. Tim remarked that Gandalf’s physical substance is changed.
This led us to ponder that matter of the possible destruction of wizards. Chris noted that Saruman is ‘demoted’ by Gandalf before he is eventually killed, and that following his comment that Galadriel sends the eagle to look for him, Tim observed that Gandalf’s physical substance is changed.
Angela remarked that Gandalf’s return is doubted by his comrades, and this may be compared to the resurrection of Christ when His reappearance embodied is doubted by the apostle Thomas, and by others on the Road to Emmaus. Laura noted that in both cases of doubt the return is revealed first to a woman.
Carol commented: Even Aragorn isn’t above doubting the existence of ‘legendary’ beings, the ents. For this war, lots of legendary characters are appearing to be real.

We turned then to the 3 Walkers as Tim noted that Aragorn fulfils his role as Ranger when he reads the evidence for the presence of the hobbits on the edge of Fangorn. Tim also noted that Legolas feels young again in comparison to the age of the Old Forest.
Laura remarked that Legolas reassures his companions that the horses were not scared when they ran away. Laura also noted the Anglo-Saxon origins of the word ‘fastness’. Tim added that ‘sedge’ is also Anglo-Saxon.
Chris then posed the question: since one of the old men the Walkers saw really was Saruman, how did he travel so quickly? Angela observed that he was very powerful, and Tim suggested it could have been a ‘projection’. Angela remarked that Gandalf says Saruman couldn’t wait for news from his orc raiders, to which Tim added that therefore Saruman was already in the vicinity of the Forest. Angela went on to observed that Saruman has no deputy when he is absent from Orthanc.
Angela also wondered what Gandalf meant by the ‘nameless things’ he encountered under Moria. Tim proposed that this was another of Tolkien’s twists as he leaves things unexplained, but that the 10-day epic battle between Gandalf and the balrog is a battle of Titans – a cosmic battle. Angela observed that Gandalf’s fall reveals him to be potentially indestructible.
Carol commented: Gandalf’s fighting with his dark opposite in the element of fire, had to be purged of the human dross, he’d acquired over his many years in Middle-earth, purged with fire and water.

Carol also commented: Gandalf perceives that because Sauron’s view is monolithic, only thinking that someone will seize the ring and use it against him, or try to, Sauron cannot conceive of anyone trying to destroy the ring and so has his eye drawn out from Mordor. He realises his mistake only when it’s almost too late. Otherwise, he’d have found his treasure.

Chris wondered ‘who knows what?’ How does Sauron know that the hobbits had been taken? Laura responded that Sauron’s knowledge shows him to be more powerful than Saruman.
Angela looked at language and noted that ordinary rather colloquial speech shows the companionship between Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf. Angela observed the relationship would be different if Merry and Pippin were with them.
Chris wondered – if Gandalf had gone with Frodo, would the temptation of the Ring have got to him?
Laura wondered why Gandalf is described as having a hood and a hat. Angela replied that Gandalf’s hat distinguishes him from Saruman who is ‘hooded and cloaked’.
I wondered what was the significance of Gandalf being sent back ‘naked’. Does this imply physical nakedness, or that his physical body has been stripped away and it is only his Maia spirit that returns. His ‘reclothing’ in Lorien would then mean the reclothing of his Maia spirit in his chosen form, but now in white.
Angela noted that Aragorn is also healed and clothed in white and grey in Lorien during an earlier journey. Tim likened this to the need to shower and change after a hard day, but discovered in Hammond and Scull’s Guide that Tolkien maintained that Gandalf received no more than physical healing and refreshment.
We moved on to the deference of Gandalf to Galadriel in the film. Tim noted that she has been in Middle-earth longer than Gandalf.
Chris went on then to comment on the way Gimli dances around at the message Gandalf brings from Galadriel.
Laura noted that the relationship between Gandalf and Shadowfax was more than just man/horse when he ‘bent his thought’ on the horse and it responded from a distance.
Carol commented: ‘far let us ride together, and not part in this world again.’ Does Shadowfax go west with Gandalf in the end? Think so but it isn’t specifically stated.’ Angela noted that in ‘The Grey Havens’ there is a description of a ‘great grey horse’ on the quay.

Laura observed that Gandalf reassures Aragorn that his decision and choice to follow the orcs was right.

We only managed to get through this one chapter, so for our next meeting we will read ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ and ‘Helm’s Deep’.
Carol’s Comments:
Gimli to Legolas: ‘where you go, I will go.’ – Ruth and Naomi, forget which way round. A friendship forged forever.

Aragorn and Legolas are of the same ilk as Eomer and Faramir in being patient and not shooting first and asking questions after. Gimli’s a bit bull-headed at the moment.

‘Mithrandir, he cried. Gandalf’s back! O joy!

Treebeard described as the oldest living thing like Tom. So which is it?

Last meeting in October

We were a sizeable group this afternoon when we cosily(!) settled ourselves in the Senior Librarian’s Room, having been moved to accommodate one of the literary festival sessions in the seminar room.
We began with a brief reference back to our Wessexmoot, and it seems as though this may become an annual event, probably at the start of October.
Once we got into our main business for the afternoon we were supposed to be dealing with the chapters ‘Treebeard’ and ‘The White Rider’. As it turned out, we never did get into ‘The White Rider’!
We were delighted at the start of the meeting when Eileen declared that she had no initial reservations about Treebeard. This is quite different to Eileen’s earlier reactions to her first encounter with Gandalf and Aragorn.
Angela noted that when Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard they don’t seem surprised. Mike commented that there is no flavour of menace, but rather we may hear Tolkien’s voice telling the story to his children, and children accept the oddity, while Tolkien’s humour draws readers in.
Eileen observed that it is a relief after what Merry and Pippin have been through.
Carol commented: “I wonder at Pippin ‘leaning back against a great tree-trunk’. Didn’t the old man willow experience teach him anything?” Tim also thought that after their time in the Old Forest they’d be more wary, but at least they are out of sight in the Forest.

Ian, however, introduced a potential new dimension to Treebeard when he commented on the Ent’s response to news of Gandalf’s death. When he hears what Merry and Pippin have to say, he remarks: ‘… I do not know what to say’. Ian interpreted this perplexity as a sign that Treebeard does in fact know something, and that he may have already have seen Gandalf and be trying to revealing this.
Both Carol and Ian observed that Treebeard speaks of Gandalf in the present tense although the hobbits speak of him in the past. Carol added this is ‘looking at things as a story’. Tim remarked that people can continue in others’ memory even if not actually present in life.
More prosaically, Eileen remarked on the naming of orcs, that ‘Ugluk’ sounds like unplugging a drain.
Carol had asked in her comments why Treebeard thinks that ‘living in holes is “right and proper”, and added that ‘usually things that live in holes are very nice – apart from rabbits and badgers.’ (I think carol must have been thinking of the badgers that trap Tom Bombadil. Ed.) Chris responded to Carol’s question by remarking that tree roots go into the ground, and Laura added that roots might be seen as ‘embracing’ things that live in the ground, like foxes and rabbits.
Ian went on to look at Treebeard’s ‘Lists’, and suggested that in fact by this device Tolkien himself promotes hobbits to a place in what are in effect the Old English Gnomic Verses.
Chris and Angela suggested that by their omission from the Lists they were kept secret from Sauron.
Julie observed that dwarves are omitted from those beings that were mortal. Chris remarked that it is only a partial list.
Carol commented on nomenclature following Treebeard: ‘real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language.’ Nowadays we call our children names that we like, not what the child is. Perhaps they gain a nickname that describes who or what they are. But the ancients in Middle-earth are named for what they are: Estel, Strider, Elessar, for example.

Laura commented on Treebeard’s reluctance over giving exact names, and Chris observed that Philip Pullman gives characters 2 names in His Dark Materials. Mike noted that in myths naming can exert control, and names are a sacred element of being human, while the use of a nickname implies closeness. This reminded Julie of the case of ‘call-centre familiarity’ which can on the other hand be offensive. Laura observed that in Navaho culture ‘war-names’ are kept strictly secret.
Angela noted that when the ‘S’ is noticed as a device on orc shields it is observed that it must belong to Saruman’s orcs, because Sauron doesn’t permit his name to be used. This reminded Tim of the ‘non-naming’ of Voldemort in the Harry Potter stories.
Laura went on to pick up the description of the Forest as ‘stuffy’. Tim noted that Pippin likens the stuffy Forest to the Great Place of the Tooks and the image is non-threatening.
I wondered if the trees where making it sstuffy deliberately. Eileen wondered if it was a defensive measure.
Mike noted the reference to Saruman discovering the secrets of the Forest and commented that there are no secrets without defensiveness.
Laura compared the advice regarding to Fangorn with similar reactions to Lothlorien – that it is best avoided. But, Laura observed, Lothlorien was more ordered, being under Galadriel’s control.
Mike then remarked that for a species that descended from the trees, we often feel uncomfortable in woods and forests. Ian observed that it was the falling out that did it! Mike went on to add that walking in woods we are in a different environment and world.
Laura observed that Merry and Pippin are not aware of their cuts and bruises healing, but the Forest is working on them
I raised the matter of Treebeard’s remark on Old Entish as ‘a lovely language’. Mike noted that Treebeard says he knew the trees before the elves ‘cured’ them of their inability to speak, so that their pre-linguistic state is constructed as a disability and being able to speak is special to him.
I had noted Tolkien’s own delight in the sound of language – citing his love of the sound of ‘cellar door’, and Julie remarked that she had come across a character with a name that sounded exactly the same and thought this must indicate a knowledge of Tolkien. Laura thought it sounds French.
Our discussion of language led Eileen to comment on the importance of the restoration in the Primary World of languages that are almost lost, such as Gaelic in Ireland, and Cornish.
We went on to discuss the later part of the chapter, and Carol commented that ent-draughts are efficacious – like medicinal compound. Laura remarked that the entdraught was drawn from the Entwash, but it had something added to it.

Angela noted that when Merry and Pippin go away from the entmoot we gain an insight into their homesickness and true feelings.
Mike commented on the sadness of the story of the lost entwives, and wondered if this was an analogy for Tolkien’s relationship with Edith as wives take care of small things while men take on ‘big’ things. Mike went on observe that it feels very personal, and asked: was he creating a small picture and trying to rediscover what he had lost. Laura compared the situation between the ents and entwives and JRRT and Edith to the incompatible characters in the tale of Aldarion and Erendis.
Carol also noted the tale of the ents’ tragedy in losing the entwives, and observed that a lot of characters have their own personal tragedy like the elves, Elrond and Arwen etc.

Mike added that the structure of this moving element of the story contrasted with the mood of Treebeard’s statement that he would ‘go and stand in the rain.’
For our next meeting we agreed to read ‘The White Rider’ and ‘The King of the Golden Hall’.

Carol’s comments:
Chapter 4 ‘Treebeard’

Ents out of legend: ‘often afterwards pippin…’ another hint at survival.

‘a-lalla-lalla-rumba-kamanda-lind-or-burume’ hill is a hasty word for something that had been there since the world began.’

I love these descriptions of Lothlorien – Dream Flower – and Laurelindorenon – Land of the Valley of Singing Gold. It’s just gorgeous and always reminds me of that long name on anglesey – llinfair…gogogo – which means something like chapel-in-the valley, the name tells a tale.

This gorgeous song of Fangorn’s past ‘and now all those lands lie under the wave’ – he’s remembering the deluge caused by the fall of Numenor. Donald Swann made a lovely tune for it. Isn’t it sad/ like Bombadil, Treebeard’s created his own invisible borders and sticks within them – so far.

Isn’t Wellinghall a magical place? The ents obviously have traded in the past to get stone jars Because I don’t think they’ve made them themselves.

The entwives wanting tame things and ‘farm’, the ents at least are still being gatherers.

The song of the ent and the entwife: isn’t this a nice song. Stephen Oliver put it to music for the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of LotR. So sad but with hope at the end but only when all else has been lost.

‘stand up and take a little sleep. Where will you stand?’ a bit of Tolkien humour. ‘whether they had yet got further than GOOD MORNING…’ another bit of Tolkien humour.

Bregalad reminds me of a type of character – is there a name for it – like Puddleglum in C.S.L.’s The Silver Chair who’s considered flighty for a Marsh Wiggle. I became Quickbeam before I started doing News From Fangorn in Amon Hen – perhaps it was an omen – because rowan is one of my birth trees and I soon make up my mind and don’t fanny about.

The ents’ song is also put to music by Stephen Oliver for BBC Radio 4’s LotR.

‘they rode proudly at the head of the singing company with beating hearts and heads held high.’ This is going to have psychological consequences a bit later.

‘now at least the last march of the ents may be worth a song’, see also Theoden at Helm’s Deep. The honourable like to be remembered in death by a song, which shows them worthy of praise in life.

With his interlace Tolkien keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next, while being left with cliff-hangers

Wessexmoot presentations

October 10th 2015

Because some of the Southampton Tolkien Reading Group could not attend Oxonmoot in Oxford this year, and other TRG members are not members of the Society anyway, we decided to have our own little event on a suitable Saturday and call it Wessexmoot. We met as usual, and each of us had the opportunity to give a little informal presentation for 5-10 minutes. By no means full blown research papers, the variety and scholarliness of presentations given were beautifully matched by some readings. After the ‘formal’ part of the afternoon we repaired like good hobbits to a local inn, creating an innmoot, I suppose, and then to a nearby restaurant for an evening of increasing jollity as the Old Winyards flowed.

It was lovely to have with us Carol from Fornost (Scarborough) and Rosemary from Bree (Guildford), although we missed Mike. Laura kindly contributed in more material ways, including bringing along the flag of Wessex, and an example of her creative beading:

This is Laura's beautiful work

This is Laura’s beautiful work

There has already been some interest expressed in having another moot next year.

Now it’s back to the usual format for our meetings and we have already agreed on our reading for next time: ‘Treebeard’ and ‘The White Rider’.

Presentations and notes on readings in separate postings below. Others will be added as they are received.

Additional contributions (in brief)

Tim had intended to off a comparison between the 2 dragons, Smaug and Chrysophylax, but decided in the end to read the description of Chrysophylax and his encounter with Giles in Farmer Giles of Ham. This seemed to delight everyone.

Ian introduced us to his analysis of archaisms that only occur once in LotR.

Rosemary read us an extract from the end of her fan-fic book on Aragorn’s early career, Tales from the Early Life of Aragorn.

Julie’s poetic presentation

The Troll and the Troll-wife

Come, sweet my love, and let us stroll
Down where the oily waters roll,
Beside the moss-grown bridge,
And there on slime-slick stones we’ll lie
Where weeds in night-wind sadly sigh
And sweetly whines the midge.
(When black the chilly waters roll
How sweet it is to be a troll!)

Your hair so lank, your teeth so green!
No fairer maid was ever seen
In all of Middle-earth!
Here let us celebrate our love
Whilst ragged rain-clouds fly above
And nightjars chirr* their mirth!
(Distant sea-bells chime and toll
To peal the love of troll for troll!)

Mayhap the time is o’er when we
Could joyful, free and happy be
Beneath the darkling sky!
For lo! The hour approaches soon
When all that’s rank beneath the Moon
Before the light must** fly!
(Soon ne’er a cave nor bosky hole
Shall shelter goblin, imp or troll.)

Then come, my love! And take my hand
Here on the river’s muddy strand,
And we shall plight our troth
With solemn vow that we’ll be true
Whate’er the fate which may ensue –
Come ruin, wrack and wrath!
(When foaming fierce the waters roll,
How said it is to be a troll!)

The day will dawn when we at last
Shall into noisome slough be cast,
Where all our kind must rest –
But there we shall find sure repose,
Untroubled by the spite of those
Who hate us, in the West.
(Ah! Sorry doom! Yet on the whole
It’s not too bad to be a troll.)

*Originally “screech”. However, nightjars do not screech: they make a low chirring sound.

** Originally “shall” but “must” is better as it implies compulsion.

This appeared in Amon Hen 193 (May 2005) under the title “Algae’s Song”. The original context was a long short story I wrote in 2003-2004 concerning events in the Shire which took place three years before Bilbo’s disappearance. Algae was the name of a river troll, one of those trolls familiar from folk-tales who live under bridges and jump out to scare passers-by. He turned out to have a decent (if somewhat lugubrious) nature and Frodo befriended him, an act which affected the outcome of the events related in the story.

“Algae’s Song” appeared in Amon Hen under the name of “Anonymous I of Dorset” as at the time I was still nervous of revealing my own name for fear of critical reprisals!)

NB the passing reference to “Jenny Greenteeth”, water hag of English legend.

Angela’s presentation

Angela’s presentation is a comparative study (apologies for not being able to reproduce the exact form of the geneological information in part 2):

Angela’s Presentation Notes Part 1

Significance of Female Descent in the Stuart/Jacobite and Hanoverian dynasties.

When writing about the significance of female descent in Middle-earth recently I realised that our real-life royal lines seem to show a similar pattern and wondered whether Tolkien was consciously or unconsciously aware of this. The pattern covers the current ruling line descended from the Hanoverians and the Jacobite line descended from the Stuarts.
These notes refer to the accompanying table, starting with Henry VIII in the top left-hand corner.

Henry VIII’s line died out as all his three children were childless.
However his older sister Margaret had married James Stuart (James IV of Scotland) and this line continued through James V, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI who also became James I of England on the death of the last Tudor monarch (Elizabeth I) in 1603.
Thus the Stuart dynasty became established in England via the female line.

James I was followed by Charles I, Charles II, then James II who was a Catholic King in a strongly Protestant country.
After the birth of a male (and Catholic) heir in 1688 James was driven into exile following the arrival of William of Orange who was married to James’s Protestant daughter Mary.
Thus there were 2 direct lines of descent from James II: a female Protestant line and a male Catholic line. Both would die out in 1 or 2 generations leaving female lines to come to the rescue.

The senior male Jacobite/Catholic line of descent:
This consisted of the Old Pretender or James III depending on your loyalties.
His two sons, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his younger brother Henry, both failed to produce heirs and so the line ended with the death of Henry in 1807.
The female line then took over and the succession passed to the descendants of Henrietta, James II’s sister and the youngest of Charles I’s children. Through her, the Catholic/Jacobite line survives today.

The female Protestant line of descent:
This consisted of James’s daughters, Mary, married to William 3rd Prince of Orange [see** below], and Anne. Neither of them had surviving children and so the line ended with the death of Anne in 1714.
To find a Protestant successor to the British throne it was necessary to go back to the line of Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of Charles I who had nine children surviving to adulthood.
It was the youngest of these, a daughter Sophia married to the Elector of Hanover, whose son became George I of Great Britain. [The other children were either dead by this time or else were Catholics or nuns or unmarried.] It would have been Sophia herself who succeeded to the British throne if she hadn’t died a few weeks before Anne.]
This line, descended from the youngest daughter of a sister, still survives today.

Some of this is very reminiscent of the Elvish, Númenórean and Rohan dynasties of Middle-earth.

** William was in fact the son of James II’s older sister Mary and William 2nd Prince of Orange.


As a totally unrelated point: I believe it was via a female line that a living descendant of Richard III was discovered thus enabling a DNA test to take place and confirm his identity!

Angela’s Presentation Notes Part 2

Importance of the Appendices to LotR as well as the interesting stories and characters in them.

For example, the story/tragedy of Arvedui “Last King”:
• Prophesied to be the last king of the North Kingdom, but with a chance of reversing/nullifying the prophecy and thus changing his name.
• Hence the failed attempt to claim the throne of Gondor
• Defeat in battle with the Lord of the Nazgûl
• Followed by flight and seeking sanctity in the frozen north
• Ransoming of an heirloom
• Ship wreck
• Failure of the North Kingdom as prophesied
• Involvement of Malbeth the Seer, Círdan and Glorfindel

1st King of ARNOR and GONDOR. Escaped to Middle-earth following drowning of Númenor.

ISILDUR Elder son ANÁRION Younger son
[Kings of North Kingdom] [Kings of South Kingdom]

ONDOHER 31st King
Killed in battle
married to
ARVEDUI 15th King ============================= FÍRIEL ARTAMIR FARAMIR
“Last King” <-Killed in battle->


1st Chieftain of the Dúnedain

ARAGORN 16th Chieftain

Lynn’s presentation

Dispossession in Tolkien’s Works

A number of medieval adventure stories use the trope of the dispossessed noble youth known as the ‘male Cinderella’ as he dynamic that drives the story. The trope occurs in two narrative poems Tolkien certainly knew because he borrowed from them. In King Horn and Bevis of Hampton noble youths are disinherited by force, enslaved, and they have to learn to fight in order to win back their lands, and their ladies. Although direct force is not employed to disinherit Aragorn in LotR he is nevertheless the dispossessed youth who has to learn his trade as warrior in distant lands before he can win back lands, and his lady. He comes from a long line of the dispossessed and we hear incidental details of his heritage throughout the story, most often in the form of references to ‘the heir of Isildur’. But dispossession and the need to develop the skills of the warrior are aspects of the characterisation of Turin in The Children of Hurin and other versions of this story in the legendarium.
The ‘male Cinderalla’ motif is only the most obvious form of dispossession in Tolkien’s works, and the term may be extended to include loss of all kinds. If we focus just on LotR, virtually every character, except Tom Bombadil, is dispossessed in some way. Most notably, Frodo suffers a form of dispossession when he loses his parents, although Tolkien never explores the obvious emotional consequences. The Gaffer has been dispossessed when Sam sees him ‘going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow’, and the road to Bywater is dispossessed of its trees, symbolising the threat of lost identity that reaches out to include Sam even in the haven of Lothlorien. The dear and the familiar are intrinsic to identity, and thus their loss in any form puts that identity at risk.
Barliman Butterbur in Bree is temporarily dispossessed – losing control of his inn when the Black Riders attack. They, however, are living symbols of dispossession having lost their lives and their wills, wilfully, to Sauron. The plot of the entire story turns, of course, on the consequences of Gollum having been dispossessed of the Ring. So the theme of dispossession in LotR takes various forms involving various consequences, but all individual instances focus towards the inevitability of loss.
The situation with Gollum alerts us to another level of dispossession. The terms suggests that an individual has lost or been deprived of something or someone, and Gollum has been deprived because he ‘lost’ the Ring and Bilbo took it. In the case of the Ring, dispossession seems to be a positively good thing, because it seems capable of ‘possessing’ as much as being possessed.
So there is in LotR a differentiation between ‘unwilled’ and ‘willed’ dispossession as Bilbo decides to pass the Ring on, more or less willingly, as part of Frodo’s inheritance. Frodo accepts it before developing the intention of relinquishing it himself when confronted by its history, and the Council of Elrond. By his willing acceptance of the need to relinquish this ‘possessing’ possession he loses possession not just of Bag End, but of the comfortable (if rather boring) life with which he had had been content.
We could add further examples of ‘willed dispossession’ such as Pippin’s relinquishing of the Elven brooch. In this instance the theme is reiterated on a different scale. We should also perhaps add in Elrond’s and Galadriel’s acts of ‘willed dispossession’ as they acknowledge that the Ring must be destroyed but in the process accept the loss of everything they have created in Middle-earth. This, then, is a crucial aspect of dispossession as loss is rarely limited to one thing and appears to be thematically linked to physical displacement.
The puzzle seems to me to be that with so many kinds of dispossession and the inevitable sense of loss, grief and torment, explicit or implicit, in every loss that we hear about, how is it that LotR maintains such a hold over us? There are of course many more reasons than those linked to dispossession, but I would like to suggest how I think the theme works on us.
Leaving aside the psychoanalytic theorising that would see the theme of dispossession as being intimately linked to Tolkien’s own profound loss when he and his brother were orphaned as children and the (for us) unresolved emotional dimensions to this which Tolkien avoids in his work, there are other reasons why we may be drawn back again and again to the story.
(1) Part of its attraction is that it starts in familiar territory. As Tim said recently, Worcestershire and Warwickshire are the Shire, but we can look out of any car or coach or train window anywhere in the English countryside and recognise the views of the Shire in the small fields, copses, and little rivers. But the Shire with all its pastoral familiarity is not immune from many kinds of dispossession and loss. If that is so, are we not relieved by a sense of catharsis as the inevitable losses that haunt our own lives with indistinct fears are realised, in extreme forms sometimes, and displaced onto the characters? As they cope, we are reassured and comforted.
(2) If the notion of catharsis seems inappropriate to the story, we may note that Tolkien’s forms of dispossession and loss are not all resolved in the ways he would have known from his medieval sources, and his theory of eucatastrophe does not hold in all circumstances. When Aragorn wins back his inheritance with his sword and with wider alliances, this is very much the medieval pattern, but the dispossession of other characters in different ways does not seem to fit this.
(3) To borrow another observation from a previous meeting, When Eileen and Mike were both remarking on the opening up of potential, it seems to me that this is what follows almost every instance of dispossession in LotR, and this often happens in the context of new ‘alliances’. The instance Mike and Eileen were considering was the breaking of the fellowship, and how the loss of leadership led Pippin to develop his potential while Merry was incapacitated, although Merry developed his own potential later. Similarly, Aragorn, being ‘dispossessed’ of Gandalf’s leadership, and fearing the inheritance of the role, became the leader of a smaller ‘alliance’ which comprised himself, Gimli and Legolas, which in turn gave rise to the greater alliance between Aragorn and Eomer.
I would argue then that the pattern of ‘dispossession’, including loss, displacement, and ‘willed dispossession’, is thematic throughout the book, but as Tolkien shows, out of loss, grief and pain new relationships are formed and hidden potential released. In this way he shows us that dispossession is not something to fear because when approached with courage it can be enabling and empowering.

Chris’s presentation


Tolkien was born on 3rd January 1892 in South Africa. Four years later on 15th February 1896 his father, Arthur Tolkien, died which meant that Tolkien never really knew his own father. Further tragedy struck on 14th November 1904 when his mother, Mabel Tolkien, died from diabetes. Tolkien was then twelve years old. He was subsequently looked after by Francis Morgan – a friend of the family – who supported him both financially and educationally.

It is quite probable that such dramatic events in Tolkien’s early life had a deep psychological impact. For this reason I feel that Tolkien, either sub-consciously or consciously, created characters in his novels who have lost one or both of their parents at an early stage in their lives. Restricting my talk to the Lord of the Rings I will try to show that Tolkien was often describing his own upbringing via these characters or analysing the possible issues that can come from parental loss.

Frodo Baggins lost both his parents (Drogo and Primula Baggins) in a boating accident when he was 12 years old – the age when Tolkien lost his only remaining parent Mabel. He was then taken in by Bilbo who both supported him financially and intellectually with Bilbo becoming a surrogate father just like Francis Morgan was to Tolkien. Like Tolkien Frodo grew up to be a learned intellectual (in Hobbit terms), a keen student of Elvish languages and a creative writer and poet.

Another character who shares Tolkien’s experience of parental loss is Aragorn. He loses his father Arathorn when he is only two years old – so like Tolkien, could not have known his own father. He is then taken to Rivendell to be fostered by Elrond – a huge intellectual figure steeped in Middle Earth history. In this context Elrond could, in certain ways, represent Francis Morgan as Elrond would have taught Aragorn about Ilúvatar and the Undying Lands and the Elvish view of life, whilst Francis Morgan taught a Catholic view on life. The foster parent in this example had a wide ranging spiritual role to play in the child’s development.

Two contrasting examples of the possible issues arising from losing either one or both parents occur in Rohan and Gondor.
In Rohan Éomer and Éowyn lost their parents (Éomund and Théodwyn) when Éomer was, like Tolkien, 12 and Éowyn was 7. Taken in by Théoden they grew to love him as their own father and became loyal members of the household.
In contrast in Gondor Faramir and Boromir did not have such a happy upbringing after their mother (Finduilas) died when the former was 5 and the latter 10. Their father, Denethor II, was strict and demanding and did not have the fatherly skills held by Théoden. Faramir, the more intellectual, was generally ignored by his father in preference to the warrior-like Boromir. Perhaps Tolkien was trying to show the issues that can arise form a certain coldness in personal relations and strict behavioural guidelines or was he also (perhaps subconsciously) describing his own brand of favouritism with his son Christopher (see letters 60 and 323).

Of course I cannot finish without mentioning Gollum. Although not much is known about Gollum’s early life, the information we do have suggests he had no living parents at the time of the finding of the Ring as he seemed to be dominated by a matriarchal grandmother. It appears she was very strict and probably showed no great deal of love and tenderness – so one can only guess what influence this had on Gollum and whether this encouraged his aggression and the need to play tricks on his fellow hobbits. Perhaps if he had had loving parents Gollum would have been a totally different person.

There are more instances of missing parents in Lord of the Rings but the above is sufficient to demonstrate Tolkien’s obsession with this particular theme. There does not seem to be any particular reason why some of these characters need to be orphans or from single parent families in order to fulfil their role in the story. The fact that they are portrayed thus must be because Tolkien wanted it so.

Carol’s presentation

Of all the characters in LOTR, Sam Gamgee has to be my favourite because he comes from very lowly beginnings and reaches great heights and recognition, not through great feats of arms – though he does have his moments – or wizard wisdom, but through love.
What follows are just a few occasions that I think important in illustrating Sam’s development.
Sam Gamgee is a gardener who is mad about old stories, much to the derision of his fellow Hobbits.  He thinks all he wants to do is to meet Elves but once he’s met Gildor inglorion and Company in the Shire whilst fleeing with Frodo and the Ring,he feels he has something else to do before the end.
One of my most favourite momentsa in the whole of LOTR is, whilst approaching Amon Sul, Merry asks: ‘Who was Gil-galad?’ and a voice pipes up: ‘Gil-galad was an Elven King’ that turns out to be Sam, which is another indication that Sam the gardener has more about him than meets the eye.  Sam knows a lot more of Middle-earth’s history than the educated little gentlehobbit, Merry.
But when one wishes for more than a simple life, one has to take the consequences too.  The Wild isn’t only filled with brave heroes and magical Elves.  One also encounters trolls and orcs, and Sam proves his mettle when, in Moria, he kills his first orc in the Chamber of Mazarbul.  Tolkien says the expression on his face would have made Ted Sandyman pause for thought, that soft Sammy could do such things.
The Pass and Tower of Cirith Ungol test Sam in many ways.  After arriving at the conclusion that he’s in the same Story as Beren, alone he goes on to fight his own fear by severly injuring Shelob with ‘all his little impudence of courage’ (p.728), then deciding to take the Ring and Galadriel’s Star-glass from Frodo’s supposedly dead body and to continue with the Quest on his own.  Discovering that Frodo isn’t dead, Sam goes on to rescue him from the tower of Cirith Ungol, largely helped by the orcs’ own in-fighting, but none-the-less a superlatively heroic deed.
Leaving the Tower with Frodo
‘Sam drew out the elven-glass of Galadriel again.  As if to do honour to his hardihood, and to grace with spleandour his faithful brown hobbit-hand that had done such deeds, the phial blazed forth…with a dazzling radiance like lightning…’ p.915)
One of the marks of  heightened sensibility in Tolkien’s Middle-earth is the ability to make poetry and it is during this situation that Sam reaches his poetic height by singing off-the-cuff ‘In Western lands beneath the Sun’ which is his song of defiance against despair and one of the best poems tolkien ever wrote, both for its sentiment and simplicity.
Without Sam’s help Frodo would never have made it across Mordor to Mount Doom, up which eventually Sam has to carry Frodo to reach the Sammath Naur where the Ring was forged.
When the Ring has finally gone into the Fire, and Sam and Frodo are surrounded by rivers of molten lava, Sam can’t help but still be cheerful – ‘to keep fear away until the very last’ (p.950) – commenting on what a Story they’ve been in.
On returning to the Shire, Sam enjoys a long family and community life but because, if only for a short while he’s worn the Ring, legend has it that he’s allowed to sail West-over-Sea to join Frodo and Bilbo for a while before resting.  Sam is granted the best of all worlds as his reward for love, endurance and fidelity.

Laura’s presentation

Laura’s presentation was on The Seven Gates of Gondolin and Tuor and his coming to Gondolin. 


The Gate of Wood was the first gate of the Seven Gates of Gondolin. It was placed at the end of the secret passage and the beginning of the Orfalch Echor, in an arch bordered by pillars. It was essentially a wooden portcullis that rose upon being touched in a certain place, an attribute which may have been cancellable in the case of siege.
The Gate of Stone was the second of the Seven Gates of Gondolin, standing half a league from the Gate of Wood. It was in form a wall with two stone towers. The gate was, in fact, a large, dark, and polished stone placed upon a pivot, above which was a bright lantern. When pushed upon on one side, the gate would swing until perpendicular to its previous position. This feature could doubtless be disabled in time of siege. The guards of the Gate of Stone were robed in grey.
The Gate of Bronze was the third of the Seven Gates of Gondolin, in shape a wall spanning the Orfalch Echor mounted by three square towers, roofed and “clad” in bright copper. The double-door hung with shields and bronze plates, wrought with many figures and strange signs. There were many red lamps along the wall, which made the copper and bronze shine like fire. The guards of this gate wore red mail, and carried red-bladed axes. These guards were mostly Sindar of Nevrast.
The Gate of Writhen Iron was the fourth of the Seven Gates of Gondolin. It spanned the highest point of the canyon; after this gate, it widened out and became somewhat green and dotted with uilos. The wall and four towers appeared to be wrought of iron, and no lanterns hung from the ramparts. The wall was the thickest of all the Seven Gates. Between the two inner towers was the iron image of Thorondor, King of Eagles. The gate itself was made of three layers, each of iron wrought in the shapes of trees bearing flowers and leaves. Through these could be seen the sky.
The Gate of Silver was the fifth of the Seven Gates of Gondolin, in shape a low and broad wall of white marble spanning the Orfalch Echor. The parapet was a trellis of silver between five great globes of marble. The gate was in shape as three parts of a circle, and wrought of silver and pearl, in the likeness of the Moon. Above the gate upon the midmost globe was an image of the white Tree Telperion, wrought of silver and malachite, with flowers made of great pearls of Balar. The archers who guarded this gate were robed in white. Beyond the gate were stationed 200 archers in silver mail and white-crested helms.
The Gate of Gold was the sixth of the Seven Gates of Gondolin. It was the last of the ancient gates of Turgon that were wrought before the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. The gate was similar in appearance to the Gate of Silver, however the wall was made of yellow marble, and the globes and parapet were of red gold. There were six globes, and in the midst upon a golden pyramid was set an image of Laurelin, with flowers wrought of topaz in long clusters upon chains of gold. The gate itself was decorated with many-rayed discs of gold, in likenesses of the sun, set amid devices of garnet and topaz and yellow diamonds. Beyond the gate were arrayed 300 archers with longbows, their mail was gilded and tall golden plumes rose from their helmets; and their great round shields were red as flame.
The Gate of Steel was the last of the Seven Gates of Gondolin, built some centuries after the other six as an ultimate defence after the disaster of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. The gate was like a great steel fence across the Orfalch Echor. The fence had seven great needle-like pillars of steel and between these pillars there were seven cross-bars of steel and forty-nine vertical rods with heads like broad blades of spears. In the centre, above the midmost pillar, was raised a mighty image if the king-helm of Turgon, the Crown of the Hidden Kingdom, set about with diamonds. The gate opened inward on either side of the pillar of the Crown. Though all but impassable to an enemy, the Gate ultimately failed to prevent the Fall of Gondolin.


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