Last meeting in January

As always, Carol sent her comments for our nominated reading ‘The Road to Isengard’ and ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’, and some of these are added in this  report, but as we did not get very far into our chapters, I have held over most of them for next time.

We began the afternoon with Ian’s detailed report on the recent article on the use of phylogenesis in the analysis of folk tales and what he sees as its application in the study of Tolkien’s works. The new research which links language and the spread of story motifs, is as he argued, the latest development in the long line from the Grimms in the 19th century via the Stith Thomson Motif-Index and many others.
I proposed that Ian’s conclusions suggested that Tolkien was working in a series of ancient motifs. Laura proposed that Tolkien was unable to escape his professional knowledge of philology. Eileen remarked that Tolkien seems childlike (not childish, she stressed) in his delight in language.
Ian observed that professionally Tolkien ‘invented’ words – the ‘asterisk words’ posited by philologists – as part of his work, but Tolkien goes a step further and invents languages.
We eventually got started on our chapters when Laura noted that they provide a change of pace and an injection of humour to great effect, much as Shakespeare changes pace in his plays. Laura commented that the chapters offer a sense that ‘we’ could win, but then disturbs the calm with information about the hourns, who are perhaps more sinister than Old Man Willow, and able to move and destroy.
Eileen, echoing Carol, queried ‘Are the hourns trees? Tim and Laura both responded that they are ents that have become more like trees. Tim added that ents can seem benign, but as a force of nature they can be violent. Huorns are less controlled than ents. Angela suggested that perhaps ents going bad as huorns were on the way to being as bad as Old Man Willow, but not yet.
Tim and Ian playfully suggested that the huorns’ darkness implies that they are ‘stealth ents’.
Angela and Tim remarked that the huorns are well done in the extended version of The Two Towers film.
Eileen noted that Legolas see eyes, and Laura wondered if these were the eyes of ents.
We turned then to a discussion of Gandalf’s reference to ‘miserable orcs’. Angela proposed that the word ‘miserable’ was used as a derogatory adjective, not a as a description of their unhappy/sad condition, which Laura suggested. Ian tried to discover in the online version of Joseph Wright’s Dialect Dictionary what Tolkien’s exact use of the word might be. This source introduced the meaning of ‘miserable’ as something worthless, without value. It was proposed that this word depends on the onomastic complexity of the story. ‘Miserable’ is the closest translation of an Elvish word rendered into Common Speech!
Ian went on to note that the Stith Thomson Motif-Index includes the ‘Giant in the Bottle’ motif which includes the association of demon and tree – something relevant to the opposition of orcs and trees.
Carol commented: ‘ents…out of the shadows of legend.’ All the way through LotR legends come to life, stepping out of song and the green grass. a children’s tale, fanciful, easily dismissed as nonsense. Like Celeborn’s warning not to pooh-pooh old wives’ tales, because here they are in the full light of day walking the earth. It’s also about a way of thinking that we’ve lost. Children keep it to a certain age and perhaps less developed peoples. It’s about thinking mythically, animating Mother Earth, respecting her. Science has knocked a lot of that out of us and dismisses myth and legend as childish fancy. But if we thought more mythically perhaps we wouldn’t be in ecological crisis. Instead we have minds of ‘metal and wheels’, go mechanical and disrespect Nature.

We too noted that Tolkien includes many references in The Two Towers to the process by which historical reality becomes myth, legend and story. This led into a discussion of Treebeard’s claim to be ‘oldest of all living things’, as Gandalf calls him. Naturally this turned to the paradox of Tom Bombadil who also has this claim. Tim astonished us when he proposed that Tom’s freedom from external control suggests that far from being a channel for the power of the Valar (as Gandalf is), Tom may be a physical expression of Iluvatar on earth, who limits his own influence. Laura suggested whimsically that this made Tom Iluvatar’s avatar! But Tim’s suggestion would explain how Tom knows everything.
I had observed the significance of Tom’s songs, which are very simple in their lexis but powerful in their effect. This led Tim to reinforce his suggestion about Tom/Iluvatar when he noted Tom’s intimate connection with music/Music, as Tom’s song IS power. Carol was also credited with noting the possibility of a connection between Tom and the Original Music when we discussed this matter in an earlier reading of the book.
I had also noted the power of Tom’s simple song which destroys the barrow and the Wight, and Eileen suggested that Tom knows the Wight’s ‘dialect’ because it was originally and inhabitant from a distant kingdom.
Laura noted that the Ring has no influence over Tom, although both Gandalf and the Elves fear its influence over them.
Tim then revised the Bishop Berkeley’s philosophical question when he asked ‘Does Tom physically ‘appear’ if no one’s there to see him? This was in response to my observation that Tom is heard before he is seen by the hobbits, and his song(s) seem to be an announcement of his presence as ontologically different from other life-forms around him, and one that has power over many of them.
Returning to the topic of ‘oldest’, Laura wondered about the order of races in Treebeard’s list and whether they are to be taken as a true chronology. Tim responded that perhaps the designation ‘oldest’ depends on who writes the records, and the original records (The Silmarillion) were written by the Elves.
We ended with Angela’s observation that Aragorn tends Gimli’s cut after the battle in spite of the fact that he must be exhausted, and wondered if his care is driven by anxiety over the possibility that such an orc wound might be poisoned, as he observed of Sam’s scalp wound after Moria.
We did not set any further reading as we have barely begun to discuss the Isengard and Flotsam chapters.

First meeting in 2016

Back again after the distractions of Yule, we met to finish off the chapters ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ and move on to ‘Helm’s Deep. Carol sent her comments, intended for the previous meeting but included here. However,  we began the afternoon by considering the current abundance of modern revisionings of medieval texts, myths and history in TV programmes such as The Last Kingdom, Beowulf, and Game of Thrones. I was in agreement with Tim, who argued that if these programmes encourage a few people to get to know the original medieval texts and myths they could be considered worthwhile.
We began our meeting proper with Chris asking Eileen what she thought of Eowyn. Eileen replied that she didn’t yet entirely understand the character and her role.
Laura observed that the description of Eowyn herself is very much from a male point of view. Both Laura and Angela remarked on the eroticism of Aragorn’s response and description of her, her’s to Aragorn and her potential fate if Grima’s influence over her uncle continued. Laura also posed the question – was Eowyn previously intended as a bride for Theodred.
Carol had commented on the status of women with reference to Eowyn writing ‘firstly Theoden doesn’t regard Eowyn as being of the House of Eorl until reminded and secondly nobody asks her if she was to be ‘as a lord to the Eorlings’ while the men are away fighting.
Tim responded that we would be applying 21st century attitudes and values to a pseudo-Anglo-Saxon environment. Angela observed that a king certainly has the right to appoint a regent. Ian added that it would be understood as a duty in this pseudo-Anglo-Saxon society, like the duty of the Queen or lady of the hall to bear the cup to her most honoured guests, something Eowyn does apparently without complaint.
Laura noted, however, that Eowyn is a shield maiden. And Tim noted that Theoden appoints Eowyn as de facto steward of Rohan until he returns. An interesting echo!
Laura observed that Anglo-Saxon kings could appoint their heirs, and kings could be chosen, as in the case of Harold, who was voted into office by the English witangemot (council of wise men). Tim noted that in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain Arthur passes on theright to rule before he finally sails for Avalon.
Angela remarked that Eowyn also has the duty of looking after the ailing king.
Eileen remarked that Gandalf appears in the Meduseld episode like a fairy godmother, enabling Theoden to do things.
Ian observed that the song Aragorn chants is taken from the ubi sunt passage in Old English poem The Wanderer which itself is a rewriting of the ‘vanity of vanities’ passage from Ecclesiastes. Thus under the influence of Gandalf Theoden banishes the Old Testament gloom instigated by Wormtongue.
Eileen remarked that under Gandalf’s influence Theoden gets back both his physical and mental strength.
Chris and Carol noted Theoden’s resolution that his potential end should be ‘worth a song’, and Laura noted the echo of the Anglo-Saxon warriors’ desire not to be forgotten after death. Carol described it as “the northern theory of courage that has no room for despair.”
Tim then noted the spelling of ‘froward’ as a description of Eomer was correct although it had been erroneously corrected in various editions of LotR (including the 1994 edition I currently use!)
Tim also drew our attention to the impressive last lines of ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ with the comment ‘Wow!’
Chris and Angela observed that at Helm’s Deep it takes ‘men’ (plural) to sound Helm’s horn. Laura thought the sounding of the horn had something rather supernatural to it in the way it is perceived – as though Helm himself sounds it.
Chris remarked that Gamling knows the Dunlending language and understands their grievance. I noted that this contrasts with Eomer’s youthful dismissive attitude to their language. Tim commented that the Dunlendings had been ‘sold down the river’ by the Gondorians’ gift of their lands to Eorl and his people, and Chris observed that Saruman exploits the Dunlendings’ grievances. Carol commented: “I’ve said this elsewhere, who can blame the Dunlendings for their hatred of Rohan and Gondor. Who lived here before elendil arrived?”
Tim then noted, to our cheers and applause, our favourite description of battle formation when ‘Aragorn and Legolas went in the van’. This puzzled Eileen, and was explaine., while Laura expanded the reference when she declared ‘Behold the white driver!’
Recovering from our whimsicality, Chris, like Carol, remarked on the growing friendship of Gimli and Legolas. Tim observed that it takes the form of banter and competition. Carol also noted “give me a row of orc necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me.” Gimli gets very gung-ho and bloody-thirsty at times but he’s a warrior with a cruel foe.
We then turned to Carol’s comment that Saruman’s ‘blasting fire’ suggests gunpowder, which Gandalf probably also used for his fireworks, but he used it to delight and not to kill. Tim also noted the difference between Gandalf’s and Saruman’s uses, while Ian thought that there is a comment on the naivety of the reader who thinks that gunpowder could be used only for peaceful purposes, and that it in Gandalf’s hands it is not widely available technology. I thought it Tolkien was differentiating between good and bad uses of technology.
Ian remarked that its use at Helm’s Deep saved Tolkien resorting to supernatural intervention. Carol had commented: “Tolkien has been accused of fortuitous 11th hours interventions but what counts is that not knowing help is at hand Rohan fights on”.
Tim and Ian noted the shock of the bang. Angela observed that it happens at the parley and Laura wondered why Aragorn attempted to parley with orcs anyway? Angela remarked that it is because the Dunlendings are there and Aragorn is given them warning, and Laura agreed that it could be a parley man-to-man but could not be man-to-orc. Carol commented “Aragorn’s speech ending: ‘you do not know your peril.’ Is it bravado or does he ‘know’ something?” Tim noted that Saruman’s orcs have his arrogance, and that Aragorn’s ‘power and royalty’ suggest his ‘uncloaking’ as Gandalf does at times.
Laura noted that orcs are daunted by Anduril, and Chris observed that it must have had its own power within the wider culture. I proposed, however, that what we are looking at is a story operating on several levels and the power of Anduril in the hand of Aragorn, and the description of Aragorn’s own ‘presence’ could be understood as ‘poeticised’ descriptions created by the storyteller – the writer of the Red Book of Westmarch in the first instance – in order to commemorate the first victory in the War in suitably heroic terms, but in a record written at second hand.
With that contorted thought we ran out of time and decided that next time we would try to finish Helm’s Deep, but meanwhile we would read ‘The Road to Isengard’ and ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’, although this might be rather ambitious.

December’s meeting

12.12 15
Our pre-Yule meeting lacked only a Party Tree to make it a proper hobbit gathering. Thanks to Laura there was a small feast of festive fancies – a nice change from the mince pies that loom large at this time of year. Cards were exchanged, and happily Julie managed to make it in briefly for this. We also had the pleasure of congratulating Tim on an approaching significant birthday.
Carol sent her comments as usual, but as we did not touch ‘Helm’s Deep’ I will hold those comments over for next time and simply include here and at the end those comments which relate to what we talked about.
Before starting the blog proper for December I should add in the item I missed from the previous mini-blog when I should have mentioned that at our pre-talk informal café-moot Ian updated us on his visit to the Miramar Hotel in Bournemouth where Tolkien often holidayed in later life. After showing us the photos he had taken of Tolkien’s room and the relationship between the room, the hotel, and the sea, Ian also noted that the Tolkien Society seminar had once been held there.
Apologies for missing this out last time. On now to the December blog:
Eileen opened the afternoon’s discussions by remarking that although Gandalf is now back, he is not the same. This led us to revisit ‘The White Rider’. Eileen continued, observing that his change to bent and white made her suspicious. Tim remarked that Gandalf takes on the white characteristic as be is sent back, showing he is now higher in the order of the Istari. Ian noted that the wizard changes his bearing during the reintroduction. Angela added that he becomes so lithe he springs onto a rock. Ian observed that the origin of the Istari is not known so change fits in with this.
Chris remarked on Tolkien’s use of suspense to create cliff-hanger endings for many chapters. Angela noted that the Riders’ suspicions add to the suspense.
Laura commented that the reader really needs to know something of The Silmarillion for background on how Gandalf recovers and returns.
Eileen then remarked that Tolkien leaves things out because like war veterans Gandalf can’t talk about some things.
Tim noted that Gandalf is ‘sent’ back, he does not ‘come back’.
Ian wondered if Gandalf forgot who he was, and suggested the need to observe the lexis Gandalf uses when speaking to his 3 former companions. In this context Ian took up the matter of the wizard’s declaration that he was sent back ‘naked’ and referred us to Joseph Wright’s Dialect Dictionary where ‘naked’ (4) = unarmed or defenceless.
I wondered if Gandalf had any choice in the way he was clothed but Angela and Tim both remarked that Galadriel clothes him in white. Ian wondered if this implies that she is currying favour? Angela noted that she also brings Aragorn and Arwen together, as if she is always working on what needs to be done.
Eileen remarked, however, that Galadriel gives her the creeps, and she feels sorry for Celeborn.
Laura commented that Galadriel is a perfect example of elves as dangerous, hence the superstitions of Boromir and the Rohirrim.
Angela then pointed out what seems to be an inconsistency in the characterisation of Legolas when we are told that he sleeps, wearied by the ride to Edoras. Previously it has been noted that he does not sleep in the manner of other races. Tim commented that maybe the reference to ‘sleep’ is indeed to the form of sleep particular to elves. Eileen remarked that before the arrival of Gandalf they could not sleep safely.
I wondered about another possible inconsistency when Gandalf leaves Glamdring outside Meduseld, but I wondered, didn’t Glamdring go into the abyss with Gandalf when he fell? Ian noted that Glamdring goes out onto the mountain with Gandalf because he says ‘ever I hewed him…’ While the balrog loses its existence as a balrog, Gandalf is sent back.
Angela went on to remark on the comment that the weapons of the travellers were not meant to ‘rest against the wall’, and saw this as a dig against other forms of inactivity.
Ian then commented on Owen Barfield’s very precise analysis of the etymology of ‘ruin’ in Poetic Diction.
Laura then directed our attention to the use of capitalisations, where compass points are capitalised for emphasis but simple directions are not.
Tim noted that when the travellers reach Edoras this is the first encounter in the story with a dwelling of men.
Chris commented that Legolas defines the Rohirric language as part of, and evolving from the land itself, so that sound and pronunciation match the landscape. Ian thought it significant that it is Legolas, the Elf, who points out the difference, and this led to a discussion of the possible relationship between geography and dialect.

Carol commented that the song Aragorn sings in Rohirric [‘Where is the horse and the rider’] is a near-copy of an OE one but can’t remember which. Lynn’ll probably know [It’s the ‘ubi sunt’ section of The Wanderer]. Like Legolas says: ‘It is laden with the sadness of Mortal Men.’This he discerned for its original language. It seems to me that everything in this story has its own sadness.’
Chris also wondered whether Gandalf created the storm that overtakes Edoras. The group generally thought this was true, but we could not be certain.
Laura picked up Gandalf’s remark that the courtesy of Théoden’s court was ‘lessened’, and she saw this as characteristic irony.
Chris expressed sympathy for Hama when he is confronted with the travellers and their weapons of high repute. Chris also wondered what Gandalf says to Théoden?
I then asked why Gandalf suddenly sings a hymn of praise to Galadriel. Ian commented that that it creates a big pause and prepares for the creation of the necessary alliance after Grima has belittled ‘Dwimordene’. Gandalf’s hymn is a counter0argument and the whole section is heavily rhetorical. Laura wondered if Gandalf sings it softly into Grima’s ear. Tim remarked than amid the verbal sparring the song is like an incantation and is perhaps a fragment of the original Song. Laura proposed that Gandalf’s song may have been drawing on Galadriel as an invocation to empower himself before he reveals his power.
Once again we ran out of time, but agreed that we would start next time with Chris’s comments on Eowyn, for which we had not had time, and that we would pick the rest of ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ and try to get through ‘Helm’s Deep’.
Carol’s Comments on ‘The King of the Golden Hall’:
We get the first description of Théoden’s city and hall, made of very natural materials, e.g. wood and thatch. Compare with Denethor’s marble – stiff and cold – as in their respective characters.

I didn’t really get how to pronounce simbelmyne until I saw the TT film. The history of Rohan’s lines of kings seen in the 2 sets of mounds.

Suspicion among allies from the guards – quite right to be wary.

Aragorn and Andúril – each one of them has a stiff neck about something. It isn’t often Aragorn demonstrates pride.

The naturalness of Meduseld, Eorl the young woven in tapestry, whereas in Denethor’s hall past kings are remembered in marble sculpture. Plus a bit of history of Eorl.

Grima’s really talking himself into a corner, very insulting, before he finds out the strength of the 4 before him O, foolish man.

Last meeting in November-a change

With the kind agreement of the Southfarthing (Tolkien Reading Group), I borrowed this meeting in order to give a follow-up talk on some matters arising from my translation of Bevis of Hampton. For this reason there is no actual blog report, but a transcription of the talk can be found at

As some Tolkien scholars have already noticed, and as I have already indicated in my essay on LotRPlaza, there are aspects of the Bevis story that appear to be closely echoed in LotR. However, as Angela remarked privately – any relationship between Bevis and the characterisation of Aragorn is offset by Aragorn being a much nicer character. There are other possible analogues in other works by Tolkien were the relationship may be closer.

From now on we will return to our routine of meetings and our next meeting will address the chapters ‘The King of the Golden Hall’, and ‘Helm’s Deep’.




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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.