First meeting in May


We were all together again this week and Carol sent her comments as always. We were discussing ‘The Window on the West’ and ‘The Forbidden Pool’. We did not complete our task!

Ian opened the proceedings with news of his latest acquisition – a copy of Elizabeth Wright’s little commemorative volume for her young son – the Tolkien connection being via her husband Joseph Wright, Tolkien’s tutor and friend at Oxford, and later en executor of the Wright estate.

As we moved on to Tolkien proper Laura remarked that ‘The Window on the West’ is a lovely title. Mike remarked that the chapter title only refers to a description in one paragraph.

Tim noted the way Frodo stands his ground during what looks like a trial. Laura thought the description was reminiscent of the painting depicting an episode during the Civil War and entitled ‘When did you last see your father?’ Laura also observed that, as in Rivendell, Sam is eavesdropping again. Tim commented that he does the Same at Bag End when he is gathering information.

Ian observed that the amphitheatre configuration with Faramir sitting on the ground and Frodo standing raises the question – is Faramir justifying his actions in not yet killing the hobbits by questioning Frodo like this? Ian went on to describe the event and setting as ‘theatrical’ and as in Shakespearean style, the fool comes in!

Tim noted that Faramir is described as ‘stern’ and with sharp wit, much like Aragorn. Angela observed that both are Men of the Same race. Laura wondered if Faramir himself is the Window on the West. Mike wondered if we get an insight into the West via the character of Faramir. Tim noted that we find out much more about Numenor, and suggested that the physical ‘window’ is a symbol for the ‘far green country.’ Mike added that this is the first time Tolkien opens up the view of Numenor.

Ian suggested it is a view of the kingdom of Gondor and includes a history of Gondor and what the present actions mean to Gondor.

Tim remarked that after the ‘trial’ the hobbits are being informed and educated with Faramir as tutor.

Carol commented that “Faramir like Eomer: not in favour with authority – Denethor/Theoden (though Eomer and Theoden reconcile a lot quicker). Also like Eomer’s dilemma: does Faramir let Sam and Frodo go free or take them back home as is the law?” Tim noted that Tom Shippey also considers this point.

Mike wondered if all this underlines Aragorn’s pedigree, to which Angela replied ‘Yes’, while Ian replied ‘No’.

Eileen commented that at first encounter the hobbits do not trust Faramir but they discover their knowledge of Gandalf in common. Ian observed that although the tales seem different they are part of the same story.

Laura then questioned whether 200 men could hear the exchanges between Faramir and Frodo. I suggested that the gathering replicated the importance of witnesses in a predominantly oral society. Ian reiterated that possibility that Faramir is the one on trial. I wondered if Tolkien was exploring the demands of the law as opposed to individual judgment. Mike proposed that this might have come about as a result of Tolkien’s observation of situations in World War 1 and slavish obedience to orders. Tim wondered if Tolkien was expressing the wish that commanders could indeed exercise judgment. Ian suggested that small individual judgments, if successful, may have gone unreported. Tim noted that on the chase through Rohan the orcs and Uruks used localised judgement.

Carol commented: ‘What a lovely piece about Boromir in the boat, magical and magically it survived Rauros. He died well.’ Tim observed that Faramir shows sensitivity to the supernatural and paranormal. Laura noted that Faramir is generally more sensitive. Eileen then observed that for Frodo the interview was a hard introduction to the news that Boromir was dead. Tim remarked that it puts Frodo under pressure.

We moved on to a fast-moving discussion of what Faramir knows knows about the Ring, and when.

Carol commented: ‘The standing silence is the only other sign of a Gondorian spirituality next to ‘may the Valar turn him aside’. Mike observed that the ‘grace’ makes Frodo feel ‘rustic’ and he therefore feels there is something great about Faramir and his race. Laura remarked that it is the only time there is a sense of ‘prayer’. Mike added that Faramir wants Frodo and Sam to participate in the grace and Laura suggested that perhaps Faramir wants them to benefit from it. This led to a general discussion of the faith represented in the grace.

That brought our afternoon to an end. Next time the group will finish ‘The Forbidden Pool’ and move on to ‘Journey to the Crossroads’.


Carol’s Comments

‘The Window on the West’
Anborn spots Gollum.

Faramir relates some more history of Gondor and Rohan – Story

Last Meeting in April

April 23rd 2016

We were meeting on Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and St George’s Day – how auspicious – except that preparations for a mini-marathon were underway in the square just below our meeting room and pop music was being played at window-rattling decibels for most of the time. For this reason my note-taking was not very effective, so apologies to all concerned if I have missed significant points or inadvertently misrepresented anyone’s views. Carol sent brief comments.

Our task was to finish discussing ‘The Black Gate is Closed’ and to go on to ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’

Chris, as our Gollum specialist, began our discussions with the observation that the only good thing Gollum can say about the Swertings is ‘beautiful gold’, but he calls them ‘not nice’.

Chris went on to note that Gollum has a characteristic way of taking contradictory positions. The first instance is in response to Sam’s enquiry about oliphaunts. Gollum first denies their existence and only then queries what they are.

Eileen remarked on Sam’s standing up straight for his recitation of the Oliphaunt poem. Laura suggested the upright posture straightens the back and enables breathing. I noted that the Oliphaunt rhyme cheers Frodo, just as Sam’s Troll Song had on the road to Rivendell. It was observed that at such times Elvish elegance is not needed. Eileen noted that it depends on timing.

Eileen the asked why Gollum takes Frodo and Sam to the Morannon and only then leads them onwards. We all commented that Frodo had to go to Mordor and had no other plan. Angela elaborated on this when she remarked that no one seems to have had a definite plan – Aragorn says that he does not know if Gandalf had a plan for entering Mordor.

Laura went on to comment that Gollum keeps Frodo and Sam sharp, and that Sam’s down-to-earth attitude serves as his protection against the Ring. Chris noted that Sam is the one providing the pots and pans and Eileen remarked on Sam’s practical good sense. Laura and Tim agreed that Sam provides a base of commonsense.

Laura also remarked that Sam is a gardener, not a valet, but Angela suggested that some parts of the early story imply that at Bag End he may have fulfilled the role of a servant.

Eileen added that Sam has communication skills.

Chris observed that when Gollum says he is very hungry his eyes become pale green. Laura proposed this was a sign of his more animal aspect, while Tim noted that like an animal Gollum could see in the dark and animal eyes glow green.

Chris remarked on the anthropomorphising description of the landscape of Ithilien. Tim described it simply as ‘wonderful’, while Laura noted that the fragrance exuded by the many herbs was like that of the south of France.

Laura also remarked on the beauty of the phrase ‘dishevelled dryad loveliness’. Julie observed that C.S. Lewis makes frequent use of the term ‘dryad’, while Ian noted that it fits with other examples of alliteration in the text which heighten the narrative.

Tim commented on Tolkien’s pun on ‘heart’s ease’, playing on the pleasure Sam feels and the plant of the same name which would delight the gardener.

Carol commented: ‘The difference between the slag heaps of Mordor and the freshness of Ithilien would lighten any heart – try Lancashire in the 1950s and where I live now, though that doesn’t lighten my heart.


Laura then noted the horrible contrast created by the trees hewn down and the place of orc feasting, of which Sam says nothing for fear that Gollum would be attracted to it. Chris remarked however that Gollum dislikes cooked food, so would hardly be attracted to the site.

Chris went on to observe that while Frodo is asleep Sam treats Gollum as a master treats a servant. But Carol had commented that ‘at this point (the fish and chips episode) Sam and Gollum are almost friendly. It reminds me of a pantomime interlude between one of the good guys and a semi-evil one.

Laura then observed that Sam describes the Southrons in vivid terms.

Angela remarked on the moment when Gollum looks unseen over Sam’s shoulder as he looks at the sleeping Frodo. Both Chris and Angela noted that Sam’s threats to Gollum during this episode are not nice, and Frodo would not approve.

Considering Gollum’s reaction to Sam lighting a fire, Chris commented that fire had previously been used by Gandalf at least to scare Gollum.

Laura commented on Sam’s view of Frodo sleeping – that he looked old and beautiful – attributes frequently assigned to the Elves. Chris picked this up via Faramir’s deprecating comment that Elves are wondrous fair, which Sam objects to. Chris also noted the various levels of language, including colloquialisms, in the chapter. Chris wondered too why Frodo said so much to Faramir at their first meeting?

Tim proposed that Frodo was testing Faramir’s response as Captain of Gondor, but Laura wondered if Frodo felt an inner trust. Chris suggested the comparison of Frodo’s intuition about Aragorn in Bree. There was general agreement that Frodo might have been more wary, and Laura noted that it is Sam who speaks first after their capture.

The matter of the Gondorian Rangers’ masks drew Julie’s comment that these prevented their pale faces being seen among the woods. Ian suggested they were worn as protection against allergy

Tim then noted that Tolkien gives a good description of battle, and that like Bilbo at the Battle of Five Armies, Frodo doesn’t witness the fighting itself. Carol commented that ‘Despite the Southron being the enemy, Sam sees him as another human being, may be not wanting to go to war at all. And he feels sympathy’. Chris also remarked on Sam’s empathy with the fallen Southron, and compared this to Tolkien’s feelings when at war. Laura remarked that John Garth records in his book that Tolkien while a prisoner had his German grammar corrected by his captors.

Carol commented ‘May the Valar turn him aside’ is one of the few acknowledgements of Gondorian spirituality. Laura also commented on the Gondorian invocation against the Mumak, and remarked that this echoed Elvish beliefs.


Carol also commented: ‘to his astonishment and terror, and lasting delight’ the delightful Sam Gamgee sees a real oliphaunt. Wonderful! The legendary coming to life and as he says later, it was a terrible loss that so many died in battle.


Tim noted Sam’s mixed emotions, and I remarked on his reaction to the battle of Men against Men – which he didn’t like, but no reaction is noted when he witnesses fighting against orcs. Angela remarked that orcs were bred to be evil, but this was not so with Men.

Chris commented that the Gondorians, Damrod and Mablung, seem very easy chatting to Frodo and Sam. Tim noted that the Gondorians are described as being slow and cautious when answering.

With that, we agreed that for next time (14th May) we would read ‘The Window on the West’ and ‘The Forbidden Pool’.


Carol’s Comments

Chapter 4 ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’


‘we might be wanting to get back’, Sam ever hopeful.


Tolkien wrote I think in a letter to Christopher during the war that a Man was striding towards him out of the fields of Ithilien and he liked him. And when you get to know Faramir how can you not like him, which makes Denethor’s behaviour towards him later all the more despicable.


First Meeting in April


We met today without Mike (nursing a cold) and Ian (at the Tolkien Society AGM), and Julie was able to join us again. Carol had sent comments for next time because I think I must have told her we would not meet on the AGM Saturday. However, I will add in her comments were appropriate, and the rest will appear at the end of the meeting report as usual. Our meeting did not begin with the usual AOB because under the new regime in the Library we don’t start until 1.30, but we met beforehand in a local café for our usual exchange of information. It proved very convivial and when we assembled in the Library we got straight down to our discussion of the rest of ‘The Passage of the Marshes’ and ‘The Black Gate is Closed’.

Laura opened proceedings with her observation of Sam’s observation concerning Gollum when he calls him both ‘Nasty creature’ and ‘poor wretch’. Laura remarked that it is as if Sam is speaking of both Gollum and Smeagol.

Tim thought Gollum’s subsequent question ‘Trust Smeagol now?’ was very creepy.

Angela noted Gollum’s sharp response to Sam’s complaint that everything ‘stinks’, and Laura observed that he’s still very much the hobbit at that moment.

Laura went on to comment that in spite of being underground for centuries Gollum is still very attuned to the above-ground environment. Tim thought in this Gollum was ‘cat-like’ being so attuned to his surroundings. There were brief murmurs of discontent from the ailurophiles in the group.

Eileen thought that the description of the Marshes leaves readers feeling as if they can smell it themselves.

Angela noted that the ‘little candles’ indicate the release of methane, and a discussion of marsh gas and the ghostly faces followed.

Angela noted that this was likely to be the place where Aragorn caught Gollum because Aragorn describes him at the Council of Elrond as being ‘green and stinking’.

Laura thought the place of the encounter must have been hard for Aragorn because some of the dead faces were those of Men.

Tim checked his edition of Hammond and Scull and found that they gave 2 potential sources for the ‘dead faces’ idea. The first is the well-known horror of the Somme battlefield where dead bodies lay unburied and rotting in flooded shell-holes, the other was an account of Goths who died when a bridge collapsed. I added that a similar image is used in Robert Browning’s poem ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’.

Carol also commented ‘the tricksy lights, candles of corpses – one of the more identifiable things of Tolkien’s biography – no man’s land WW1’

I then asked if we should understand that the ‘candles of corpses’ die out at the approach of the Nazgul, quelled by the coming of the Undead? Angela pointed out that as the Nazgul come it gets very cold. We had just been rationalising the production of marsh gas and noting that its production results from the decomposition of organic material which produces the heat which may account for the spontaneous combustion of the gas. Cold will inhibit that combustion.

After a foray into physics Laura observed that Frodo now feels the terrible weight of the Ring, and Eileen remarked that Gollum can sense what Frodo is going through.

Laura then suggested that the wind that heralds the coming of the Wraith is described as hissing and snarling, and it does not pass over but circles, increasing the terror. Tim remarked that it affects the atmosphere. Laura commented that the description of the atmosphere in terms such as ‘the flying wrack’ is both very poetic and dreadful.

Eileen noted that Gollum takes Frodo to the Gate even though he knows it is impassable. Laura thought he is being disingenuous, but Eileen observed that Frodo and Sam are now in his control.

Chris, however, remarked that in the pit Gollum would not have killed Frodo then, and Laura added that he knew Sam would have killed him.

Tim commented that we all have our internal dialogues but Gollum speaks his thoughts aloud after being alone so long. Eileen thought this was also the reason for all his repetitions, living alone he is in the habit of reinforcing key ideas to himself. Tim thought this reinforcing was like a mantra.

Carol commented: Sam listening to the Gollum/Smeagol debate (split personality / addiction?) fantasises what he’d do if he had the Ring – eat fish every day. Sam does much the same later on – making Mordor into one huge garden. Of course Sam realises it’s only a trick and Gollum never gets the chance. Sam hearing this has consequences later on at Cirith Ungol. Tolkien condemned Sam for this – wrongly I think. Then ‘she might help’. Sam wonders, as do we on first reading, who ‘she’ is. ‘she’ll’ meet her nemesis in Sam. This has been the ring conferring power according to its current possessor – fish/gardens.

Julie observed that much of Gollum’s language is like nursery-language, the kind used for small children. I picked up this point and questioned whether this might signal a kind of regression on Gollum’s part to a time and situation where he had been happier. Laura commented that it may have been the kind of language he had once used to gain forgiveness when he was in trouble with his Grandmother.

Angela and Laura noted his remembered delight in storytelling and the power of oral storytelling for the recollection of ancient history as Gollum recalls the old kings. Tim thought this showed Gollum’s coping strategy – in a long unhappy life he has his ‘happy place’ in this nostalgia.

Carol commented: ‘Gollum still has some normal sensibility. He used to like tales and speaks now almost in regret that he won’t ever sit by the river again and listen to them’.

Eileen and Laura observed that Gollum has physically changed, and Angela remarked that if everything is part of a ‘divine plan’ then Gollum is one of the sacrifices. Laura added that Gollum is as complex as any of the other characters, while Eileen commented that Frodo’s pity, a kind of ‘turning the other cheek’, is because of the empathy he has for Gollum, not entirely because of Gandalf’s teaching.

Laura the remarked on the shock of seeing Sauron referred to as ‘He’, capitalised after the traditional method of referring to God. Laura went on to note that Sauron is characterised not only as the ‘Eye’ but as the 4-fingered Hand.

Tim noted that ‘the Eye’ is metonymy, taking a part to stand for the whole – like referring to ‘the Crown’, meaning the monarchy. There followed a general discussion of the physicality of Sauron, and Laura wondered whether He would take full physical form again if He regained the Ring. Tim remarked that He would need a physical hand in order to wear the Ring.

Laura then noted the bathos of the long description of the horrors before the Morannon followed by Sam’s remark ‘I feel sick.’ Eileen noted that at other times Sam’s wit and humour break up the horror.

Laura drew our attention to the description of the iron gate of the Morannon and wondered about it grinding open. Tim noted than accounts of the wrecking of modern ships refer to the ships ‘screaming’ as the metal is rent and crushed.

Laura then observed that the description of the taking over of Mordor relates to what happens when good men don’t keep watch, and Tim quoted the saying that ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.’ Eileen noted that Tolkien seems to have been considering contemporary contexts, and Tim remarked that Tolkien was writing LotR during World War 2.

Chris then asked Eileen how she responded to Frodo’s speech of warning to Gollum that is not about ‘the danger we all share’. Julie noted that Frodo uses the word ‘unwisely’, and Tim remarked that he is now no longer the ‘hobbit in the pub’. Laura added that the change in Frodo is seen in his more formal language.

Tim suggested that Frodo and Sam are in a certain way now part of the ‘king’s army’, therefore Frodo is now in the role of officer and Sam is his batman. Laura noted that Tolkien write of his admiration for the ordinary soldier in one of his letters.

Eileen noted that Frodo’s speech not only affects Gollum – Sam is surprised by it.

Carol questioned: Is Frodo just threatening Gollum with death by fire out of bravado or does he unconsciously sense something in the future?

Chris then questioned why Gollum refers to ‘nice birds’, referring to sea birds. I wondered how he knew about sea birds. Tim observed that it is second-hand knowledge from talking to ‘many peoples’, and Angela remarked that Sam knows about Swertings. Laura thought hobbits were probably armchair travellers.

Chris noted that it is hard for Frodo and Sam to get Gollum to tell them the new route into Mordor and suggested Gollum digresses is if he’s reluctant to speak, but perhaps this is in fact Smeagol resisting Gollum.

Angela remarked that the hobbits sitting near Mordor echoes Merry and Pippin ‘sitting on the edge of ruin’ outside Orthanc.

Chris noted that Gollum’s language now changes to become more lucid and Tim remarked that at the Council of Elrond Gandalf reports Gollum becoming more lucid under interrogation. Tim wondered if this change takes place as Gollum spends more time with other people.

Angela observed that for the first time Gollum learns the name of his captor when Frodo refers to Aragorn’s suspicions about Gollum’s escape.

With that we ran out of time and decided that at our next meeting we would finish off ‘The Black Gate’ and we would also prepare ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’.

Carol’s Comments

Chapter 2 The Passage of the Marshes

‘Topography as history with knobs on – the Battle of Dagorlad and the seige of Barad-dur at the end of the 2nd age when this part of the ring trouble started’

[Apologies to Carol because I should have added this comment into the last report.] Even Gollum has his rhymes and the description is very apt, ‘the cold hard lands’ is very simple – aab ccb. Simple as the riddle rhymes which he repeats again thinking of ‘Baggins’ – aa bb. Does it show Gollum still has some civilised values, some humanity?

Practical Sam thinks about feeding 3 instead of 2. Needn’t worry, Gollum can’t abide elf food. It seems that anything elvish is anathema to Gollum – the rope, lembas, even the trees of Lorien. Is he so corrupted that anything pure is poison to him? A real mixture, eh?

Chapter 3 The Black Gate is Closed (mirrors the black gate opens)

Sam chunnering on about what the gaffer would say if he could see Sam now and the comment about the very ordinary act of having to wash in that extraordinary place and situation. Sam doesn’t do it consciously but it certainly keeps Frodo going sometimes to be reminded of ordinary things.


Last meeting in March

I can’t resist the temptation to begin this post with: It is early April and the sky has cleared after overnight rain. A bright fire is on the hearth, but the sun is warm. Sadly, no wizard is sitting by the fire, but that may be a good thing!

And so to the report of our last March meeting:


We missed Mike and Julie this afternoon, and Carol as always contributed her comments, but we did not make special provision for Reading Day, reserving that for another time. We began our last meeting under the old regime (free room+tea urn suppiled) by clarifying our ‘moots’ for the rest of the year. Following the pattern of last year, we agreed to a Wessexmoot in October – date to be confirmed later. We also tried to find a date for a Springmoot but that turned into a Midsummer moot when we found that it would be June before those of us present could all gather together at the same time. We now have to consult Mike, Julie, Carol and Rosemary to see if the last Tolkien meeting in June will work for them too.

When we got round to discussing our chapters ‘The Taming of Smeagol’ and ‘The Passage of the Marshes’, Laura directed us to Sam’s expressions ‘Ninnyhammer’ and ‘numbskull’. Tim consulted his copy of Hammond and Scull, finding ‘numbskull’ quoted from the OED as ‘stupid person, while ‘ninnyhammer’ also means ‘stupid’ and ’noodle’ means ‘simpleton’.

Ian consulted the Dialect Dictionary online and confirmed the meanings, but added that alliteration of this kind was very prominent in English folk tales and rustic language.

Laura then remarked that Galadriel’s rope leads Sam to reminisce over his uncle’s ‘rope walk’. We considered the presence of rope walks in various primary-world locations.

Eileen noted that Sam talks about his own history and changes the tone from the danger and hardship.

Laura observed that Gollum seems hard to describe. Sometimes he is described as black, sometimes white.

Eileen remarked that Gollum is like a spider. We didn’t pick this up! We are trying to avoid ‘spoilers’ during her first reading. Tim commented that Gollum’s sniffing is reminiscent of the Black Riders in the Shire sniffing for Frodo.

Chris observed that Gollum, like Frodo, develops special senses as a result of ‘owning’ the Ring, but Bilbo does not share in this gain. Angela suggested this was because of the differing circumstances of gaining the Ring

Eileen asked why Gollum is also called Smeagol. Ian responded that when he was outcast from his social group he lost his name within that society, and another one was given.

Tim noted that ‘Smeagol’ derives from Old English. I have checked in my Clarke Hall Dictionary and find that the verb’smeagan’ means ‘to think, think out’, even ‘to seek (opportunity)’, and the vb. ‘smugan’ means ‘to creep’, while the noun ‘smygel’ means a retreat or burrow’ so, as Tim observed, his name already inscribed his fate.

I then asked about Gollum’s use of language. It seemed to me odd that after c. 500 years in self-imposed isolation, and given Tolkien’s knowledge of language development over time, Gollum communicates with Frodo and Sam without difficulty. The only difference in their language use seems to be governed by Gollum’s Ring-induced ‘schizophrenia’.

Chris replied that they all use the Common Speech, which like functioned like Esperanto, but being a useful constructed language did not develop. Tim suggested that all the hobbits speak a rural dialect that does not develop, and added that we are reading a book which purports to be a translation of one written by hobbits. And there is enough difference in Gollum’s speech to show it as a dialect variation. It was also noted that language in the Third Age does not develop because there are no technological advances to push it forward.

Ian remarked that we at last get Gollum’s own speech in these chapters, and the way he communicates with the world hasn’t changed.

Laura remarked that Gollum was the equivalent within his own tribe of Frodo in the Shire – both are high up in their own ‘tribe’, because Gandalf says Gollum’s grandmother had valuables. Laura added that although Gollum does not belong to ‘landed gentry’ he is still higher in his own society.

Chris observed that Gollum is also quite intelligent.

Ian noted that things in hobbit society now are recognisable to Gollum, e.g. riddles and close family ties.

Eileen qualified all this by remarking that Gollum’s characteristics as they are described make him seem revolting, leading to an assumption – because he’s described in revolting terms, he gets judged as this. Ian commented that Tolkien writes to question our judgement.

Carol commented that both Frodo and Sam are right in their attitudes towards Gollum. It needs the 2 attitudes to balance things out so Gollum can fulfill his own destiny in regards to the Quest. He needs to be trusted but also to be watched.

Tim wondered if Gollum is evil or just weak, or perhaps a ‘Benn Gunn’ type of character – grateful for being found. Or mad? Angela observed that his description is of someone half-starved, and Laura added that he gets poor nutrition.

Angela drew a parallel between Gollum’s isolation and Aragorn’s – not least when he is bring Gollum back to the Elves.

Ian remarked on the matter of choices – Gollum is cast out and chooses to stay with ‘Precious’, while Aragorn chooses to go into the isolation of his great journeys but can always go back. It was also  remarked that Aragorn always had Arwen’s love to comfort him.

Eileen commented that Gollum is described as insect-like, he has developed in his own way, and in spite of everything Frodo and Sam still need him.

Picking up Chris’s earlier point, Laura saw this as a confirmation of Gollum’s intelligence.

Ian then directed our attention to Gollum’s reference to ‘shivery’ light, and wondered if this showed him shifting the idea of ‘silvery’ light. I suggested that it indicated Gollum’s ability to express himself in a poetic and metaphoric register, but Eileen observed that ‘shivery’ suits his nature.

Ian proposed that ‘shivery’ rather expressed Gollum’s actual perception of moonlight – that is it ‘shivers’ because he is suffering from AMD (Age-related Macular Disease) on account of his 500 years underground.

Angela by this time had finished her on-the-spot research in the LotR Appendices into the Common Speech – basically Numenorean brought by the explorers, which then blended with the existing native languages of the peoples of Gondor.

Laura remarked than in earlier discussions we had perceived it as being more like the use of English as an international language, and hobbits adopted the Common Speech.

Chris noted that both formal and colloquial forms of the Common Speech were used in the Shire.

Eileen observed that Frodo and Sam tolerate Gollum and his peculiar mode of communication because they need to.

Carol commented that ‘while Gollum was just words in Gandalf’s story it was easy to feel no pity. Gollum was an abstract, an object, but now he’s flesh and blood, just as vile, but does not deserve unwarranted violence.

Laura moved our discussion of language on to consideration of the Ring oath, comparing it to the Riddles in The Hobbit – both take the form of unwritten contracts, but with the oath Gollum works out how to wriggle out of it.

Chris observed that the oath gives the Ring definite influence, but Smeagol swears many things at the same time. Laura remarked that he swears under duress, and Tim asked ‘surely that invalidates the contract?’

Chris then noted that Frodo ‘grows’ like Aragorn when exerting power.

Eileen remarked that Sam often give ‘our’ first reaction to threat. Then Frodo is more considered.

Laura commented that the ‘Taming’ chapter ends in black silence.

Ian asked us about the ‘ell’ measurement. Tim said it was about 18 inches and he and I knew it had been instituted in the early Middle Ages and had been taken from the measurement of the king’s arm from elbow to fingertip. Carol came up with a different distance of 45 inches. Ian asked when it went out of fashion and after checking later, I found a reference to the ell still being used in the 18thC as a measure especially for Hollands fabric.

Those of us not attending the TS AGM will meet next time to look at ‘The Passage of the Marshes’ and ‘The Black Gate is Closed’.

Carol’s Comments:

Elven rope has mystical qualities. The elven rope comes down and the debate about badly tied knows or fraying. I think the rope answered Sam’s call.
18 fathom, 1 fathom =6 feet, so 108 feet.
Enter Gollum. Frodo will now have to listen to Gollum’s speech for quite a while – think back to ‘Shadow’ and Gandalf’s rendition of Gollum’s-speak. Very original, sibilant – like a snake? Peter Woodwthorpe’s Gollum in Radio 4’s serialisation is a masterpiece.

Frodo remembers his conversation with Gandalf and does a complete about turn and does pity Gollum. See Portia/Balthazar in The Merchant of Venice ‘The quality of mercy is not strained…’, and Faramir to Eowyn, ‘Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart.’ Some people don’t like to be ‘pitied’ but I agree with Faramir.

Do we pronounce Smeagol ‘Smeegol or Smee – agol?

First Meeting in March

We missed Julie and Mike this afternoon, and Carol sent her comments by email as usual. We began the process of paying for our room, with thanks to Laura for taking care of this for us.
Ian then updated us on his latest research into matters to do with Tolkien and Lydney (Gloucestershire).
Our reading for the afternoon included finishing off ‘The Palantir’ and moving on to ‘The Taming of Smeagol’. As usual, we didn’t get right through our second chapter.
To begin our discussion I gave a short recap of Tim and Ian’s observations about Pippin from last time. Ian picked up his observation of Pippin’s apparent lack of caution in some of his most memorable actions. Ian remarked that while Pippin isn’t cautious, Sam calls Tom Bombadil ‘a caution’, leading to a pattern of antithesis in which reserved or cautious actions can be seen as opposed to non-cautious actions which make things happen.
Laura defined this as exemplifying Pippin’s ‘Tookish’ blood, a characteristic picked up by Gandalf in The Hobbit when talking to Bilbo. Tim commented that action is in the blood-line.
Angela noted that Pippin gets a vision of Aragorn when he drops the brooch.
Meanwhile Ian had been checking the Dialect Dictionary and found that one definition of ‘caution’ is ‘one who is surety for another’. Ian suggested that Pippin provides this function for Frodo on his journey.
Tim and Angela both remarked that Pippin saves Gandalf and Aragorn from revealing themselves too soon, and Angela noted that Pippin starts a chain of events to get the palantir into the right hands.
In response to Ian’s interest in Gandalf’s use of the word ‘blunder’ when speaking of his possible use of the palantir, Tim observed that Sauron assumes Pippin is the ‘right’ hobbit, and Ian suggested Saruman and Gandalf are perhaps not working at full power because they are in the mortal realm. Ian looked up ‘blunder’ in the Dialect Dictionary and discovered that it could mean ‘to mess up the workings of something’. So Gandalf’s ‘blunder’ would have messed up the emerging situation.
Tim noted the contrast between the wizard’s mortal form and his action when ‘the wizard leapt’ on Shadowfax, even though he is in the form of an old man. Tim thought this bears out what he really is and reveals the difference between appearance and reality. Eileen thought Gandalf’s action showed he was more aware of danger then. And Ian observed that Gandalf can no longer stay as he was.
I thought the turning point was the arrival of the Nazgul, but Tim suggested that Gandalf needs to get to Minas Tirith to find out what has been exposed.
Eileen wondered if Pippin has special motivation for his use of the palantir, but Chris observed that the viewer could have been Merry, as Aragorn says. Eileen and Angela wondered if there is a feeling of something driving Pippin. I wondered if the attraction of the palantir, referred to in terms usually used for the Ring, is because Sauron’s influence is upon it.
Carol commented: ‘Pippin now seemed curiously restless’ – being got at through his dissatisfaction, or just dissatisfaction at being left out as he thinks. He’s getting peevish. Pippin’s quite right in wanting information as well as danger. But like the youngster he is, he’s impatient but being played on. Pippin’s lucky in that Sauron is too greedy to have a captive hobbit, not only to get information out of him but also to ‘play’ with him.
Ian commented that anything elvish-made is subject to some kind of ‘spell’, if not gifted but found it is more dangerous. Angela remarked that the palantirs were originally gifts but still considered dangerous to ‘lesser minds’. Angela added that the Orthanc stone is ‘found’.
Carol commented: “Now this puzzles me: Sauron and Saruman are maia and thus of greater power than an elf but the creation of the palantiri ‘is beyond his [Saruman’s] art’, yet ‘the Noldor made them’. Even in the great days of Valinor surely the Noldor didn’t possess powers beyond those of the maia?”
Eileen observed that thanks to Gimli, a love of stone keeps running through the story, reaching its high point in his description of the Glittering Caves, but stone remains important. Eileen also noted that Aragorn is very quiet during most of the previous chapter and Ian remarked that this is because he doesn’t have choices to make because Gandalf is back.
Chris remarked on the final sentence of the ‘Palatir’ chapter that it gives a sense of the world turning while Pippin, Gandalf and Shadowfax are static, and that this lends a supernatural feeling. Chris also noted that the reference to a trumpet creates the sense that Shadowfax is summoned, but not by Gandalf.
Laura, Angela and Chris all commented that the trio are riding into danger while apparently running away.
Moving on to ‘The Taming of Smeagol’:
Chris noted that the start of ‘The Taming’ shows a great change in tone, becoming very down-to-earth. Ian added that the reader now has to catch up, and Eileen remarked that there is a need to get into a new gear after the adrenalin of the end of the previous chapter.
Tim picked up the end of the ‘Palantir’ chapter and noted that the world rolling gives a sense of time distortion, and Eileen remarked that the new chapter takes us back to normality.
Chris observed that Frodo now seems to be capable of foresight, and everyone remarked on Frodo’s consideration of his choices. Tim commented that Aragorn made the right choice to let Frodo have his hour for quite thought.
For our next meeting we will finish ‘The Taming of Smeagol’ and read the ‘Passage of the Marshes’.

Carol’s Comments
Chapter 11 ‘The Palantir’

‘to the surprise of the others…bowed as he presented it.’ Aragorn keeps telling them he’s Isildur’s heir but they never seem to take it in.

A bit more history in the rhyme – of Numenor’s foundering – the tokens brought to Middle-earth by Elendil.

‘to look across the wide seas of water and time to Tirion the fair, and perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Feanor at their work.’ I love this bit, looking back to a glorious past. Whatever mistakes Feanor made in his pride, here Gandalf still reveres him for his skill and envies the time in which he lived – the golden years of Valinor. Lovely bit of writing.
Book 4, Chapter 1, ‘The Taming of Smeagol’

When I first read LotR I just read it, just segued from one section to another, no questions asked, even though I was used to the way of the modern novel intercutting. The Story just pulled me along and I was so eager to turn that page that I just read on. Now I’m more conscious of Tolkien’s style, it takes me quite a while to adjust from book 3 to 4. I must admit that I prefer books 5 and 6 better than 4. I like the action and quick progression of the Story but then at the end of book 4, I find it hard to adjust from the relative quiet of 4 to the action again in 5. But of course book 4 is crucial, telling the quiet, most essential, part of the quest. So right back almost to Parth Galen.
[I have reserved the rest of Carol’s comments on this chapter for next time as we only touch on the chapter in our meeting.]

First meeting in February

We were joined for our meeting today by Julie and Mike, but were without Ian. Carol had sent her comments as always on our selected reading, but our discussion was long delayed by our deliberations on the problems arising from the forthcoming charges to be imposed by the Library. We have always been very fortunate having our meeting room without charge, and we have been meeting there for 12 years. Now, sadly, the Library needs to create income wherever it can and has decided to extend its current commercial charge to all groups using it meeting room. This will have uncertain consequences for us so we needed to consider how to continue our meetings. Some issues still require clarification from the Library but we were agreed that we want to keep the group going.
Once we got started on our reading – chapters held over from last time – Angela opened the discussion with her observation that Gandalf ‘s response to Legolas’s question ‘How far is it to Isengard’ – ‘About fifteen leagues, as the crows of Saruman make it’ , is typical.
Carol commented of the opening of this chapter that the wizardry is the magic of nature, rather than the high magic of wizards and elves.

Eileen commented that she loved Gimli’s description of the caves of Aglarond, and the way Gimli and Legolas share their responses to caves and trees.
Mike defined this as a shared love of living things because Gimli speaks of ‘living rock’.
I thought we got a glimpse of a dwarf aesthetic that is often submerged beneath a more obvious dwarvish tendency to display their skills through magnificent but commercial or defensive works.
Carol also commented: “Gimli’s truly kissed the blarney stone when it comes to talking of the caves of Helm’s Deep. Or perhaps he is that rare dwarf who is born poetic, or perhaps Galadriel has loosened his tongue to courtesy and poetry. I know dwarves have their own songs but this is really lyrical.”
Eileen remarked that she had often felt sorry for Gimli as the outsider because the hobbits and Men are not affected by ancient enmity with the Elves.
Laura noted that Merry is very formal amid the ruins of Isengard, and Eileen remarked that the ruins of the Ring of Isengard are creepy. Laura compared the narrative details of Saruman’s workforce to the history of Alderney and records that show the scale of the deaths of slave workers during the Nazi occupation. Laura also wondered where Saruman got his slaves. Angela suggested they may have been Dunlendings, while Julie suggested they came from the surrounding population.
Changing the tone, I remarked on the homeliness of Pippin offering toast to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli – Man, Elf and Dwarf. Laura noted the importance of bread in every culture, and Eileen commented that toast represented a communal feeling.
Julie wondered what Merry and Pippin knew about Gandalf’s return. Angela wondered if they knew about Boromir’s death, and thought they might have assumed it. Mike suggested that the orcs might have told them.
I noted Pippin’s refusal to give an account of his and Merry’s time as prisoners of the orcs. Eileen observed Pippin’s remark that it seemed like a year since they had been captured, and the way the horror of an experience extends time.
Laura went on to comment that when Aragorn gives Pippin back his brooch, Tolkien can’t resist giving him an aphorism: ‘One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.’
Angela noted that this scene is a good way of also getting Merry’s knife back to him – he will make good use of it later!
Laura then observed that it was hard to imagine Huorns moving as fast as the hobbits describe, given their size. Angela suggested it was possible for large creatures to move fast, citing the speed of elephants when angry or scared. Eileen noted that Huorns were described as speedy ‘at need’. Angela also suggested that Hourns might be regarded as Ent-zombies!
Having run out of time we agreed to finish the last 2 chapters of Book 3, ‘The Voice of Saruman’ and ‘The Palantir’.

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’.





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