May: first meeting

9.5.15
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:

25.04.15
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:
http://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-tolkien-root-of-the-boot
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.
http://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-explore/378421/the_root_of_the_boot
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:
https://archive.org/stream/englishdialectdi03wrig#page/184/mode/2up
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

14.3.15
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

28.02.15
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

14.02.15
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’.

Last Meeting in January

22.1.15

Our last meeting in January was only missing Mike, who was otherwise engaged. Our reading had been ‘The Old Forest’, ‘The House of Tom Bombadil’, and ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’ – in fact we barely touched on this last chapter, so it will be discussed next time. As it was, we had plenty to talk about with just the first 2 chapters.

Angela began our discussions with her observation that from the time the hobbits leave Farmer Maggot’s house sound and vision are subdued. There is greater emphasis on silence, low sounds and obscurity in the mist and fog. Natural for autumn, but the soft sounds make everything creepier.

Pat came straight to the point when she asked if the Ring was inciting the trees in the Forest to behave as they do – and is the Ring the most powerful force in Middle-earth. Resounding replies of ‘No!’ all round.

Ian went on to comment that the true nature of the power of the Forest has largely been forgotten except in Crickhollow, and the Forest has had time to brood on its own malice. It is Old Man Willow of his own volition who waylays the hobbits.

Eileen noted that the hobbits are forced to follow that paths the Forest itself wanted, and Angela reminded us that the trees are said to hate anything the goes free.

Julie moderated the discussion by noting that the Withywindle is not evil [in spite of its implication in the near-drowning of Frodo]. I wondered if the River was under the influence of Ulmo and his Maia.

Angela noted, however, that the valley of the Withywindle is a place of somnolence, and compared it to the River in Mirkwood that puts Bombur to sleep when his foot touches it.

Ian suggested that Tolkien distinguishes good and evil from what is only bad – what he calles ‘ill’, thus the Forest exercises its own nature, and the hobbits are the trespassers.

Laura then asked ‘what about Yavanna?’. Ian still maintained that the Forest was simply doing its own thing.

Pat remarked, following on from her comments last time, that there is an emphasis on Merry in the Old Forest chapter, and his particular character is demonstrated.

Eileen added that Frodo seem confused in the Forest, so Merry leads the party, and Frodo is constantly surprised that so many people know what he doing, including, so it appears, Farmer Maggot and Tom.

Chris wondered if the Ring was responsible for what seems like Frodo’s more acute hearing when he is the first to hear Tom singing?

Eileen then asked if Tom was not too good? Ian responded that Tom is not concerned with what’s happening, he’s happy but unconcerned. Eileen then observed that Tom is optimistic but ‘too sudden’ in his appearance, and then his house is otherworldly. Ian remarked that following Tom is like following Lewis Carol’s white rabbit, is it a trap? Having been scared in the Forest, this question is raised, but Tom is of the moment. Ian was about to develop a whole theory about time in relation to Tom and the Old Forest – more of this shortly!

Chris remarked that Tom knows the hobbits are coming, and Angela added that he had been in communication with Farmer Maggot, and with the elves. Angela and Tim noted that Barliman Butterbur is also known to Tom.

Tim reminded us that during our previous reading of this chapter many years ago we considered whether Tom and his song are part of the Song of Creation.

Julie noted that Tolkien as narrator call it a ‘nonsense’ song and then qualifies this, asking ‘is it?

Laura observed that it may function like the Kyrie Eleison – sung or spoken because it is recognised or believed to be language of great power even though it may not necessarily be understood.

Tim then noted that Sam is the first person to shake himself out of the stupor induced by the Willow, and try to rescue all the others.

Angela then remarked that Tom knows all this history of Middle-earth and especially the Shire and the Barrow Downs.

Laura wondered why Goldberry does not have a larger role. Tim observed that Tom and Goldberry represented the elements of earth and water, and that they have physical form but were not necessarily ‘human’. This reminded some of us of the Maiar who could choose the form in which they clothed themselves. Tim observed that the specific dynamic between Tom and Goldberry adds mystery.

Ian returned to his interest in time and remarked that trees and humans had different perceptions of time, therefore in the Forest the trees control time. Laura raised the matter of Tom’s garden, and Ian remarked that it is the place where Tom and Goldberry could be together, and he associated them with the separate concepts of time as known to the classical Greeks, in which Chronos signified time flowing, while Kairos signified the instant. This relates to Goldberry the River-daughter ‘flowing’, while Tom is the ‘instant’. But both are supernatural.

Chris wondered if Tom was in fact an early creation by Eru? Ian noted that Tom’s influence and help is limited in extent and he himself will not pass certain boundaries, and Pat found it interesting the Tom keeps to his own country. It was noted that various characters in the early chapters express a restricted knowledge of a wider world, and Angela observed that Sam seems never to have travelled further than 20 miles from his home until he sets out with Frodo.

Laura commented that the description of Goldberry surrounded by waterlilies is like a pre-raphaelite painting.

Chris drew attention to the description of Tom’s house and wondered if there was any significance in its east-west alignment. It was observed that this was the usual alignment of churches. Pat remarked that it was aligned to natural time and the passage of time from daybeak to sunset. I suggested that Tom, unlike almost everyone else, was not bothered by the significance of the east, although he knew about it. All the doors in Bree faced west, and even the Barrows should be passed on the west side.

Laura questioned, on the basis of what Tom sings about collecting the last of the waterlilies and not going deep into the Forest until spring, whether he hibernates through the winter?

Eileen thought she perceived Tolkien’s particular liking for nature, and we all agreed this was the case. Ian cited letter 159, in which Tolkien expressed this deep interest. Laura observed that Tom’s relationship to nature contrasts with that of Saruman.

Eileen also noted that Tom wants to give the hobbits good advice for their onward journey, in contrast to the elves’ reluctance to offer advice. She also wondered if the mist over the Forest and the fog on the Downs connoted the inability to think as well as to see?

At this point we were running out of time and had to consider our next reading. As we had hardly touched on ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’ we agreed to discuss that, and to read ‘The Prancing Pony’ and ‘Strider’.

January: First Saturday

10.1.15

Our first meeting of 2015 was unfortunately lacking Julie, Mike and Ian, but there were still 7 of us to debate our extensive selection of chapters. As we had no meetings in December we were reading ‘Three’s Company’; ‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms’; ‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’ and ‘The Old Forest’. As usual Carol sent her comments, and these are included where possible. Additional comments on topics we did not cover are added at the end.

After taking care of various extraneous matters, such as noting some significant anniversaries in 2015, including Magna Carta, we turned our attention to our reading and I began by noting the moment when Sam stamps out the fire he and Frodo lit to try to force Old Man Willow to release Merry and Pippin. Only during this latest reading did I consider the fact that Sam is not wearing anything on his feet because he’s a hobbit. Even allowing for the leathery soles of hobbit feet – noted by Angela – stamping out a fire still seems hazardous! Laura, however, observed that people practice fire-walking without harm. My remarks also drew agreement from other people that they too, even after many readings are still finding new things in LotR.

Laura elaborated on this by remarking that she was struck by the number of references to turnip fields, and she wondered if all the turnips were being grown for humans or as animal fodder. She also wondered if Farmer Maggot was actually farming fields of mushrooms. (She also noted that St George’s Day mushrooms grow in her garden, which I had never heard of, but apparently they appear around St George’s Day in April and so are not the usual autumnal kind, but are apparently very tasty.

The matter of mushrooms developed into a multi-facetted discussion with reminiscences and further consideration of the practicalities of growing mushrooms before the process was industrialised. Laura thought Maggot may have turned cattle onto his turnip fields to graze, which in turn provided the fertiliser for the mushrooms which Frodo had plundered in his youth.

Tim developed our consideration of the names of Maggot’s dogs, when he pondered whether Black Riders don’t like dogs? Angela observed that for Farmer Maggot trespassing was a problem.

We considered the forms of Frodo’s fear, and Eileen noted as she read these chapters the creation of a palpable sense of fear. Carol noted the first of some very close shaves for Frodo. A few more minutes and the ring could have been discovered, then a second time that Frodo’s had a near miss of discovery. Carol observed: sure, it’s a Nazgul but why can’t it detect the close proximity of the ring? Are they not back up to their full power yet? Or is their power diminished when separated?

Although Carol commented ‘I love the domesticity in Maggot’s parlour – convivial, good food and drink, just the way Tolkien would have liked it – before the storm, Eileen thought there were too many references to food and was getting irritated by this impression of greedy hobbits. Without giving too much away, I tried to explain that food serves many purposes throughout the story, showing sociability, hospitality, ceremony, and different forms of food add characterisation of individuals and races and additional context.

Eileen then remarked that she wondered what Gandalf’s agenda was, given the way he behaves towards Frodo. Carol had also noted that according to hobbit gossip, Frodo’s selling up ‘to most it suggested a dark and yet unrevealed plot by Gandalf’. How right hobbit gossip is. Carol went on to note that Gandalf’s unexpected absence is news that worries Gildor.

Pat commented that the Shire seems so isolated and insular. Meanwhile a lot of spying is going on. Tim added that the hobbits are living in a protected bubble, and that these initial impressions are what Tolkien wanted.

Chris reminded us that Tolkien was writing a sequel to The Hobbit and his perspective on the characters and setting would be different to the way characters and settings are initially viewed by any reader coming to LotR without that prior reading. Tim remarked that the Prologue to LotR is important reading because it fills in some of the ‘backstory’ from TH.

Laura referred us to the Black Rider’s call, remarking on the fine description – and noted the way the BBC radio adaptation retained the tension of Merry’s approach. Carol commented that ‘hoofs on the road ahead…’ is another of Tolkien’s little red herrings and he milks it.

Laura commented that the Black Riders seem incompetent in their searching methods. Tim remarked that they have impaired vision (during daylight) and other senses. Pat added that little importance seems to be given to the strange rider at Bagshot Row, and Sam delays saying anything, which seems strange. Angela suggested this was because Sam thinks the Gaffer gets confused, and Sam himself is preoccupied with leaving.

Laura raised the matter of the Black Riders sniffing, remarked that she had originally been disappointed that they actually spoke. She went on to wonder if their strange speech is the result of the fact that they don’t actually speak aloud very often. I had been pondering the matter of the way their speech is described. The Gaffer says his caller ‘spoke funny’, and I wondered if this was because all the Black Riders were originally from foreign places, even Angmar probably had its own dialect. As Chris observed they must have been using the Common Speech, but I thought they might be speaking with foreign accents, as well as hissing.

Carol commented on the nice juxtaposition of the Shire countryside and the wail of the Nazgul, and we all remarked on the spine-chilling impact on us as readers of the Black Rider’s call. Eileen also shared Carol’s opinion that Tolkien describes topography very well and interestingly – he’s there and takes us with him.

The multiple use of words alliterating on ‘B’ was discussed. Carol noted that the digression of the description of Buckland adds a bit of hobbit backstory. I commented that many ‘B’ references are related to the settling of the Oldbucks, later the Brandybucks, east of the River. Other ‘B’ names certainly belong to different contexts.

Chris wondered if the end of the ‘Conspiracy’ chapter marks the beginning of a more adult story. Carol’s comment is surely pertinent in this context when she remarks: ‘I like the bath song and Pippin’s making fountains. I always imagine Tolkien encouraging his children to do stuff like this at bathtime, much to Edith’s chagrin. After all, he wouldn’t have been able to do it much when he was a kid’.

Carol went on: ‘Frodo’s sea-longing will eventually come true. One of his prophetic dreams. Pat wondered if there was a link between Sam’s earlier promise to the elves and this dream. Chris observed that both are in their own ways prophetic.

Laura then drew attention to Gildor Inglorion’s comment to Frodo that others dwelt in the Shire before hobbits, and will do so ‘when hobbits are no more’. Laura wondered then whether the ridges in the Old Forest were the equivalent of the earthworks of Neolithic and Iron Age peoples in the primary world, evidence of much earlier settlement. Eileen remarked that it was thought-provoking that the land doesn’t belong to anyone. Tim noted that Native American peoples regard themselves as custodians only of the land.

Angela commented that among all the races of Middle-earth, hobbits are the only race whose origins are never explained.

Both Pat and Eileen discovered a distinctly Shakespearean feel to the description of Frodo waking in a bower at Woodhall. Carol, however, noted: no such bower for Sam.

Angela remarked that Merry is very organised and practical.

Eileen wondered if there was any connection between Gollum’s gulping and the sniffing of the Riders – non-verbal expressions of character, perhaps? But we reverted to discussing the speech of the Riders before running out of time.

For our next meeting we agreed to read ‘The Old Forest’; ‘The House of Tom Bombadil’ and ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’.

Carol’s Comments:

Sam’s ‘tall, shapeless, felt bag, which he called a hat': we never hear of Sam’s hat again. Similarly, the fox passing… I always remember this snippet. I like it and I’m sorry the fox never discovered any more. I like foxes too.

The 2nd version of the Road Song from (i) ‘pursuing it with eager feet’, to (ii) ‘pursuing it with weary feet’. The road is a metaphor for life/story.

We meet elves for the first time, and singing a hymn to Elbereth. The last is repeated as Frodo leaves the Shire at the end of the book. Mirroring? Who would like to meet elves under starlight and to speak with them and spend the night? It’s magical and wishful thinking. It’s as if the hobbits entered another dimension when the mists part and there’s lantern light. By ordinary time it must be very late but the hobbits stay up eating and talking and are still fresh the following morning.

‘…if I could grow apples like that…’ a hint that Sam survives and he would describe his experience of meeting elves for the first time in terms of gardening. The encounter marks the beginning of the making of Master Samwise and ‘Frodo looked at Sam rather startled…’ With the elves Sam encountered a situation that drew him out into seeing a wider horizon. Before he’d thought it was just elves he wanted to meet but in their company he’s realised that his life is bound for more than that. I love Sam.

But the elves selfishness is reiterated by Gildor. They are no longer concerned with the troubles of Middle-earth but they caused it by forging rings in the 2nd age. But I still wish elves really existed.

The Brandywine is a boundary, as are many rivers, both factual and mythical – Styx, Jordan, with ferries crossing them to other places and lives, just as Sam feels.

So a Nazgul traced them to the ferry and a question never really answered by Tolkien was why Nazgul were afraid of running water.My only inkling is that witches are supposed to be afraid of crossing running water – why, again, I don’t know. And how have the Nazgul managed to cross so many rivers on their journey from Mordor to the Shire? Probably more scared of Sauron and going back empty-handed than of running water.

Pippin’s comment, ‘Sam is an excellent fellow…’ is a bit condescending. He’ll outstrip them all before the end, similarly with Fredegar’s fear of the Old Forest. He’ll fight greater fear before he’s finished – a hobbit in a pinch.

Last Saturday in November

22.11.14

This was our last reading meeting before Christmas! Our next meeting will be given up to our visit to see the last of the Hobbit films. Ian and Julie could not be with us today, and Carol as usual sent her comments which I will include in the main report.

We began with a brief overview from Eileen and Pat of a TV programme on World War One poets that featured Tolkien. Some of us had missed it for various reasons. Those who have computers will catch up, and it will probably be repeated anyway so we will all be able to follow Eileen and Pat’s recommendation that this review of the influence of the war on Tolkien is better than expected.

When we moved on to our nominated chapters Laura reminded us that the vandalising of Bag End by the young treasure-seeking hobbits at the end of Chapter 1 had shocked us during a previous reading with the unexpected implied violence of the action. Tim noted that the negative aspect is also shown to be present in the Shire at this early stage in Ted Sandyman’s attitude. Carol commented on Frodo’s attitude to Sam when Gandalf threatens to turn him into a toad that it was not nice. [It is yet another example of a ‘violent’ response, although there are certainly extenuating circumstances.]

It was noted, though, that the ‘vandals’ were all from ‘good’ or well-known families.

Pat then raised the matter of the Ring affecting characters according to their ‘stature’. Angela responded that the Ring is most dangerous to ambitious characters. Carol also picked up this issue when she commented that it is less dangerous to Bilbo and Frodo than to some others because Hobbits don’t covet empires and power; because they are simple folk. In this context, Tim observed that Isildur was not a bad man, but the Ring has ‘agency’.

This led us to briefly wonder how Deagol came to fall out of the fishing boat – was he pushed – if so by what? As we got stuck into the customary debate about fate/chance and free will, Mike proposed that (1) the operation of what looks like fate or chance may be likened to the operation of a pinball machine – where many paths may be taken but the end result is never in doubt – the ball ends up at the bottom, and life ends in death, and (2) we are dealing with a work of fiction with gives the linear development of internal event according to the author’s plan. Carol commented that the gossip of the hobbits placed the blame for Frodo’s wandering on Gandalf, and indeed trouble does come of it, and it is surprising how accurate hobbit staidness is. She also commented that the conversation at the Green Dragon was reminiscent of modern discussion on the existence of UFOs.

Then I asked why we keep debating this topic of chance/fate and free will. Carol had commented that perhaps Elves move us deeply, and that in her view little nudges are given from the West, but it’s up to individuals to take advantage of the nudges. Laura replied that LotR does not feel like a fiction, and Tim added that the Road motif is the key to this. Carol had also commented that the Road song introduces the first real drama into the book with its hints of dangers to come.

Eileen went on to remark that we can identify with the struggles of some characters. We all congratulated her on becoming absorbed in the story!

Chris then observed that with our knowledge of the Valar [and with the Elves hymn to Elbereth], it is impossible to deny a ‘higher’ influence. Mike remarked that this backstory produces infinite depth. Angela noted that no one knows what will happen after the Dagor Dagorath  (“The Last Battle”), and those of us who had read LotR many times before agreed that we were all discovering new things as we read.

Pat remarked that LotR begins with a great number of characters, and Eileen agreed that so many characters can initially be off-putting, many undeveloped at least at first sight. Tim proposed that with so many Tolkien was following his artistic method and ‘painting the background’.

We returned to the matter of the effect of the Ring according to a character’s existing propensities when Pat picked out Frodo’s comment to Gandalf ‘What a pity Bilbo did not killed Gollum when he had the chance’, and Gandalf’s reply. I remarked that the Frodo and Gandalf use the word ‘pity’ in different ways. Frodo say ‘What a pity…’ using ‘pity’ colloquially to express his fear and shock. Gandalf used the same word with its full denotation of moral virtue.

Tim added that in this Gandalf resembles a pedant exposing meaning. It was remarked that Tolkien differentiated the uses of the word when he capitalised in Gandalf’s response to Frodo. Angela noted that this pedantry is more elaborate in The Hobbit when Gandalf ‘interrogates’ Bilbo’s simple ‘Good morning’.

Carol had commented that Frodo’s initial response to Gandalf’s history of the Ring: ‘How terrifying!’ seems a bit superficial, and also that it is Frodo’s ignorance of Gollum at this point that prompts him to abstract Gollum as an object.

Laura returned us to the matter of moral stature when she observed that Bilbo’s mercy is inherent and a protection against power of the Ring.

We then got hung up on the origins and significance of the narrator’s report of Bilbo going off ‘into the blue’. None of us knew the answer so I went and got the relevant OED volume (handy being in the Library!) but it was no real help, so Laura asked in the context of Frodo’s restlessness – who were the wayfarers he met?

Mike proposed they were Dwarves and Elves, and I wondered to whom they were supposed to be strangers? Maybe only to other hobbits, but not necessarily Frodo. Tim noted that the comment read like reported speech.

Eileen observed that Elves don’t generally mingle, or offer advice. Carol commented that the Elves caused all the trouble and are then deserting Middle-earth – which she finds both sad and selfish. Tim however, described them as refugees.

Eileen then remarked that the name ‘Baggins’ seems oddly humorous. Mike noted that Tolkien couldn’t change it without rewriting The Hobbit, where the name was suitably jolly in a story meant for children. Laura noted that Tolkien differentiates between Bilbo and Frodo (who is more serious and esoteric than Bilbo) even though they share their surname.

Chris changed our focus at this point as Gollum had entered our debate: Chris asked whether Gollum’s grandmother was the source of his problems. Mike agreed that overstrictness breeds deception. Eileen suggested that under unfavourable conditions it could be a survival technique.

Laura added that neither Gollum nor Frodo have living parents – creating a link between them. Angela observed that in spite of everything, Gollum retains a bit of his own mind.

Mike then took us in a darker direction when he asked us to consider Gandalf’s involvement with the ‘rendition’ and torture of Gollum. We discussed the difference between what seems to be the physical torture of Gollum in Barad Dur and the psychological pressure to which Gandalf seems to subject him. Chris pointed out that the conduct of the characters does not imply the author’s outlook, and that there is no indication of Tolkien agreeing with either practice. Mike added that it is depicted as ‘what people do’.

By this time we had run out of time and needed to consider our next reading. Laura pointed out that we had not addressed the chapter ‘Three’s Company’, so we agreed to discuss the chapter(s) some of us had already read, which included ‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms’, as well as reading ‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’ and ‘The Old Forest’. This should keep us going until our next meeting, which will be in January as the December meetings are taken up with our trip to see the film, and then Yule.

First Saturday November additional

Carol’s comments on the previous reading: The Prologue
‘Concerning Hobbits’
…’love peace and quiet and good tilled earth…’ Tolkien is almost writing about himself in the first half of this paragraph.  We later learn that hobbits like beer and pipe-weed, again Tolkienesque.  Tolkien once wrote in a letter that he was a hobbit, liking all the above and fancy waistcoats.
 ‘being fond of simple jests’ – JRRT again.
I know Mirkwood is derived from the Elder Edda but I’ve always thought it one of the great descriptive names for a forest, long before I knew about Eddas. and sagas.
So far, the prologue mentions lots of unexplained things from the past, just one e.g. ‘the kings of men that came over the sea out of Westernesse’ and if you want to find out more, you’re going to have to read the book!
‘Concerning Pipeweed’
 At the time this was written smoking pipe-weed was quite acceptable. Pipe-weed doesn’t seem to be as addictive in LotR as in real life because the fellowship goes long times without smoking and Bilbo, in old age, has almost given it up. Jackson had to portray smoking in his films but very low key and deprecatory. o pipe-weed I miss you!!
‘Of the Ordering of the Shire’
Ok, a reflection of Tolkien’s idea of ideal government – anarchy or very little of it – which might work in a small country where most inhabitants didn’t break the law. Tolkien believed that non-constitutional monarchy was the best, all fine well if you get a decent king like Elessar. The Shire stratified and deferential and though it’s generally kind, it’s still class-ridden.
‘Of the Finding of the Ring’
Tolkien mainly concentrates on the riddle game with Gollum and Bilbo’s finding of the ring because it is crucial to the future of Middle-earth, both the finding and the mercy showed towards Gollum by Bilbo.  The word ‘luck’ is used several times in its being Bilbo who finds the ring. More of this in ‘shadow’.
NOTE ON THE SHIRE RECORDS
Could this section be considered a spoiler because it talks of Middle-earth after the quest to get rid of the ring.  Some bits of it I find unspeakably sad.  I’d just like to note of all the books mentioned, nothing is fiction. All the beings of Middle-earth at this time don’t seem to have made-up stories from their imaginations.  Neither do they seem to have have drama and only Sam makes slight reference to ‘a play-acting spy’ later in the story.
The Fellowship of the Ring  Book 1 Chapter 1 ‘A Long-expected Party
This title mirrors ‘An Unexpected Party’ as the opening chapter in The Hobbit
‘riches…now become a local legend.  Legend and story are very important themes in LotR amd it begins right here in Hobbiton.  For once hobbit dislike of anything out the ordinary and maybe jealousy will prove to be right. Bilbo’s ‘prolonged vigour’ ‘will have to be paid for…it isn’t natural, and trouble will come of it’.
Parts of this chapter are a bit whimsical like eleventy-first birthday but we need a bit of whimsy before the gruelling quest which is to help save this whimsy. I often wonder if Tolkien made the hobbit coming of age 33 because he was 33 when he became an oxford prof. Or, Jesus died at 33. and 22.9 because TH was first published on 21.9.37
C.S. Lewis said there was too much of hobbit talk but I love this conversation at the Ivy Bush. It shows the hobbits’ clannish nature and dislike of anything unfamiliar – hobbits who live on the other side of the shire, the old forest, boating, written in italics on p.35.
Nepotism seems to be the way of getting jobs in the Shire and is not frowned on like it is now. ‘i’d not long come prentice to old Holman (him being my dad’s cousin)…
Tolkien weaves back-stories very well. It’s not mere exposition; there’s a reason behind all the telling of this family history – because Bilbo’s party makes everyone want to know about him and his relatives again.
O dear, there’s just so much to quote. Sam, mad for the old stories and knowing how to write, thanks to Bilbo, and the Gaffer warning him this will lead to trouble but if you ‘desire dragons with a profound desire’ and are curious be prepared for where it might lead you – the road.
Tolkien’s still in hobbit mode, having children as his audience and also himself I think with all the food, gaiety, presents and fireworks still being anachronistic in comparing the dragon firwork to an express train. He liked dragons but not trains.
‘an engrossing entertainment’ – a bit of Tolkien humour and punning. Ditto Proudfoot/Proudfeets.
The Springle-ring, the only dance mentioned in the whole of LotR and subject of lessons at Oxonmoot.
‘I don’t know half of you as well as I should like and like less than half of you as well as you deserve’. It does in fact work out as a compliment though it took me years to fathom it out. However bilbo does go on the insult – one gross.
Bilbo VANISHES much to everyone’s chagrin.
Bilbo showing signs of reluctance at leaving the ring behind and Gandalf showing some of his latent power.
Gandalf’s temptation to seize the ring. Others will also be tempted.
The first version of the road song – pursuing it with eager feet. That has been the first real drama in the book with indications of dangers to come.  Now we go back to a bit of flummery.
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