First (and only) meeting in September


We were a small group this afternoon, with Chris and Angela otherwise engaged, and Ian attending an event at Sarehole, Tolkien’s childhood location before the move to Birmingham itself for his and Hilary’s education. It has resulted in a shorter than usual blog report, but it was no less intense.

We confirmed that there would be NO meeting on 23rd September because the majority of Reading Group members would be attending Oxonmoot. Then four of us finished the group’s latest reading of The Lord of the Rings, and Eileen’s first. Carol’s comments are added after the main report because her focus remained primarily on Aragorn and Arwen, while ours was directed towards the Shire and the hobbits.

Eileen expressed concern about various members of the Fellowship splitting up but we reassured her that Frodo met Bilbo with Elrond and his companions as they passed through the Shire, and that when they reached the Grey Havens Frodo saw a figure in white beside a great grey horse on the quayside, and that they all sailed away together.

Julie remarked, from personal experience, on the process of sailing down any ‘firth’ and the growing sense of severance it produces.

Laura wondered how long, and in which cultures, the crossing of waters has been a metaphor for or mythical connotation of death. Julie suggested it depended on the geographical location of a culture, but reminded us of the Celtic belief in sailing into the west.

Eileen commented that sailing also had connotations of adventure, but she still experienced a sense of anticlimax as well as shock at the fact that Gandalf was leaving and Frodo was becoming ill.

Julie observed that Frodo’s act of handing over Bag End was part of the process by which he was saying goodbye. Eileen then proposed that Frodo needs and has needed Sam, but gives Sam back what they actually fought for.

Laura and Julie pointed out that Frodo’s illnesses are also the anniversaries of evil, but Eileen objected that until they began she had perceived him as constantly getting over things. Julie observed that what is described is akin to our modern perception of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Laura added that these experiences were worse for Frodo because he had no beloved to return to, and being of an academic tendency he had no real outlet. Julie added that after the Quest he had no task to get on with.

Eileen commented that it was, then, mind over matter while he was on the Quest, but after losing the Ring and not actually completing his undertaking to perfection, Frodo changes.

Julie went on to read Sam’s ‘Well, I’m back’, in the sense of being ‘back in the room’, after a long trip into ‘Faerie land’.

We returned to the matter of where exactly the ship sailed to when it left the Grey Havens, and Laura remarked that the travellers were not going somewhere unfamiliar because they were returning to the Creator.

Julie explained to Eileen the concept of the ‘Straight Road’, which can be hard to grasp, so I offered the analogy of the funeral of Scyld Scefing from Beowulf. Laura was able to quote part of this in the original, while I explained to Eileen that the ship that carries Scyld on his last journey is simply pushed out from the hythe and moves off onto the ocean, and the poet tells us that ‘no one knew who unloaded that ship’. In both cases the ship moves from the temporal world into the mythical.

Laura and Eileen both remarked on the poetic prose of the story, while Carol had commented in the context of the Appendix A story of Aragorn and Arwen that ‘the writing is elegiac.’

Julie and Laura compared Bilbo’s forgetfulness about what Frodo has done with the Ring to the memory loss that is sometimes characteristic of old age.

I then asked about the timeline set out in Appendix B which shows that in Shire Reckoning 1419, the year the Ring goes into the fire, it is August 28 when the hobbits overtake Saruman and he then turns towards the Shire. Noticing that the Battle of Bywater takes place on November 3rd, I wondered how so much destruction could have taken place and the new brick building erected, as well as the Mill, in such a short space of time. Laura remarked that Sam must have seen the truth when he looked in Galadriel’s Mirror. It was not a prediction but a view of what was actually happening at the time! Julie also proposed that the destruction of the Shire must have started quite soon after Frodo and Sam left, when Aragorn was occupied with tracking the hobbits on the Road and meeting them in Bree, leaving the Shire vulnerable to incursions from the South.

Laura suggested that the Shire was protected in order to shelter Frodo.

Eileen noted that some invasions had come from the north in previous ages, and Julie recalled Aragorn’s comment that Barliman lived close to creatures that would ‘freeze his blood’.

I reverted to the Calendar to question how fast the mallorn tree in the Party Field comes into flower. Eileen, Julie and Laura all in various ways remarked that it was an instance of the need for the willing suspension of disbelief, but Julie also noted that Galadriel makes things grow, and that Yavana grew Telperion.

That brought our deliberations on the Appendices to a close, and The Lord of the Rings as a whole.

We took the decision that the group would begin reading (rereading) The Silmarillion. We did not suggest any chapters, but as we will not meet until October perhaps we might simply read as much of the Ainulindale as we have time for.

Carol’s comments:

Glorfindel makes the prophecy: ‘far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall’ – by a woman and a hobbit.

Eorl’s horns coming to the rescue unlooked for to the Gladden Fields is mirrored by the arrival of Theoden and co. to the battle of the Pelennor Fields, in the nick of time.

With Ecthelion II we’re getting close to the time of The Lord of the Rings and in particular Thorongil ‘a great leader of men’. Ecthelion was everything his son was not, though he did show undue favouritism to Thorongil, just as his son would show undue favouritism to his elder son.

Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth is often referred to as kinsman to Denethor but nothing more specific. Here it’s made clear. He is in fact brother-in-law to Denethor and brother to Finduilas, deceased wife of Denethor.

Where did the Dunedain live before the ring quest? The descriptions of Aragorn’s first sight of Arwen at dusk, head bound with stars – Undomiel, even-star of her people. gulp! gulp!

Arwen foresees her doom as the same as Luthien’s. Elrond speaks of his tragedy in losing Arwen to mortality and Tolkien remembers his years apart from Edith.

All the errantry, meeting different people and serving other lords, will make Aragorn the king he becomes – merciful, tolerant, just, wise. When Galadirel clothes him in silver and white, it’s this vision of Aragorn that Frodo sees on Cerin Amroth.

The doom of men does come hard to Arwen in the end but now she understands the motives of the Numenoreans. It’s just too sad for words, not only Arwen and Aragorn gone, but Lorien and Rivendell and legend becomes plain history.



Last Meeting in August

  1. 8.17

Our meeting this afternoon was in real danger of being totally disrupted because of the noise from an event taking place in the square adjacent to our usual meeting room. It had so much (sadly necessary) security associated with it that simply getting through the square was almost impossible – in fact I didn’t bother, but Eileen did, and had her bag searched multiple times. But when we all arrived in the Library and asked for the key to our usual room the Librarian warned us that the noise from the event’s sound system was so close outside and so bad that we wouldn’t be able to hear ourselves. Another Librarian was already trying to find us another room, and remarkably, that turned out to be the Alan Whitehead Room – our old meeting room deep in the heart of the building.

We were all most grateful to the Librarians for their efforts to help us carry on with our meeting as usual.

Comfortably settled back in our old room, we missed Ian and Julie, but began our discussions of Appendix A. Focussing on Numenor, Eileen described the rebellion in terms of the need to challenge prohibitions, while Laura remarked on the fears of the Numenoreans. Carol commented by email: “the ban of the Valar was bound to be flouted some day, like telling a child he can’t do/have a thing, so he does it just for the hell of it, like Adam and Eve told not to eat of the tree of life, which of course they do, bringing sin into the world”.

Carol continued: “throughout the ages of Middle-earth, there are many examples of the rise and fall of great cities and civilisations, just like on our own earth; examples of overreaching pride like Ar-Pharazon and the myth of Atlantis that Tolkien – and Faramir – dreamed about. Surely we should take lessons from history not to get too big for about boots, Hitler being a recent example. The gods don’t like hubris in humans.

I wondered what the punishment of Numenor implied about the idea of a benevolent Creator, but Angela pointed out the influence of Morgoth, and Laura observed that Ar-Pharazon in effect has both a Devil and an Angel (reminiscent for me of the same binary opposition in medieval morality plays).

Eileen picked up my earlier point and wondered if it was Tolkien’s war experience that underpinned the absence of a benevolent Creator.

Chris remarked that, contrary to religious scepticism in the primary world, there is no doubt in Middle-earth about the existence of the Valar and Eru.

Laura proposed that in opposition to the macrocosmic scale there was a need to rely on little things.

Carol (whimsically) referred to the realms in exile, as the northern line (tube)! She also noted that of  the Heirs of Isildur it is the southern line who are the heirs of Anarion and although Gondor declines over the years, it’s never totally ruined like Numenor or the cities of the First Age, largely due to the Stewards’ caretaking ‘till the king shall come again’. Angela noted that there was a decline in the actions of Numenor, and Laura compared this to the rise of the Mafia in Sicily, which had originally been a resistance force fighting the invading French.

Chris noted that all the powers in Middle-earth decline, and that in Tolkien’s world all great inventions pre-date The Lord of the Rings.

Laura remarked that Saruman and Sauron both present progress in a negative light, to the extent that it is ancient blades that are the most prized.

Eileen remarked on the complexity of the extensive list of rulers’ names and Laura noted the similarity to Anglo-Saxon and Biblical genealogies, especially the Anglo-Saxon desire to take royal genealogies back to Odin and Adam.

Carol commented in her email: ‘Earendil wedded Elwing…’ just struck me for the first time that Earendil and Elwing using the Silmaril to pass ‘the shadows’ and come to the ‘uttermost west’ is similar to Sam using Galadriel’s phial to get into Cirith Ungol, the phial having ka bit of Earendil’s light in it.

I was unsure of this comparison but Angela and Laura pointed out that both uses of the same light are against places that pose a potential or real danger to those attempting to pass.

Carol also remarked on what she felt to be the absence of hope in the story of Aragorn and Arwen, “I find no hope in this, though Aragorn tells Arwen there is hope beyond the confines of the world, which Tolkien himself would have believed. Estel was just a peak of honour and glory, to decline with subsequent generations, as do all great empires in the end. In this Tolkien spoke truth, as he’d demonstrated with the First and Second Ages. All we can hope is that this peak will come again to light the way to future liberty, equality and fraternity, like Arthur and Camelot. Tolkien was right when he said that The Lord of the Rings was about death.”

But Angela and Chris observed that Aragorn and Arwen were to meet again in ‘after life’, while Laura remarked that although the world was changed it was full of hope – that Aragorn was a renewer – and this positivity was different to ‘happiness’. Angela observed that we would not happiness if there was nothing against which to contrast it. Laura commented that fulfilment was still possible.

At our next meeting we will continue with Appendix A and move into Appendix B.

Carol’s Additional comments

Numenorean kings: ‘there were three unions…’ this will clarify a bit why Strider sang the song of Beren and Luthien on Weathertop and why Aragorn is aiming so high in love.

Here clarified too why Strider said to Bilbo that he had a cheek to compose verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond – love that bit.

There’s clarification of the War of the Ring going back in history and beyond the bounds of the sea – Elendil/Sauron, Elessar/Sauron.

Eriador, Arnor, and the heirs of Isildur: this section is obviously written by a hobbit.

The north kingdom and the Dunedain: this is the history that the hobbits walk on their way to Rivendell.

Gondor and the heirs of Anarion: again the history the hobbits walk when merry is taken back momentarily to the battle of Carn Dum.


First meeting in August

Many thanks to Chris for taking and writing up the notes for this blog report in my absence, I was so sorry to miss our special metting:


After meeting up with Carol and Rosemary at The Artisan and exchanging news the group moved to the library to begin a special Summer-moot. Unfortunately our leader Lynn was unable to join us because of a back problem and we were also without Julie and Eileen.

Laura confirmed that the room in the library had been booked for the whole of 2018 and we would receive the bill in December.

Although it was intended to start examining the Appendices the meeting soon returned to the last two chapters of LotR and, in fact, remained with these for the whole meeting. The comments below jumped between these two chapters.

Carol began by saying she really enjoys the moment when the pony Bill kicks Bill Ferny. Laura said that Tolkien thought The Scouring of the Shire was the most important chapter in the whole work. Carol and Angela described how there was a rise in the Cottons’ importance caused by their connections to Sam, the future mayor, via his marriage to Rose. Rose also had unusual foresight as she was expecting Sam back at that point and again when he returns from the Grey Havens.

Laura said Sam was a much more hands-on mayor than those before and Chris extended this into a theory that Tolkien uses Sam’s rise in importance as an example of social mobility – working-class to a respected leader.

Discussion then moved on to how the Shire folk in general were little interested in the adventures of the four hobbits and what was taking place outside their borders. An example was the Gaffer’s comments “And while you’ve been trapessing in foreign parts, chasing Black Men up mountains from what my Sam says, though for what you don’t make clear, they’ve been and dug up Bagshot Row and ruined my taters!” Rosemary gave another example in Bree when Butterbur says “Why we had a real set-to, and there were some folk killed, killed dead!” Chris said that this probably mirrored what happened to people returning from the war as many people did not appreciate what they had been through nor have any concept of their traumas.

Carol moved on to the power still left in Saruman’s voice and how he denigrates Gandalf when he speaks to the hobbits. “Not he! When his tools have done their task he drops them.”

Rosemary said the last line of the chapter Homeward Bound is really significant. “’Not to me,’ said Frodo. ‘To me it feels more like falling asleep again.’” This caused some discussion.

Laura said that on her first reading she thought the Mount Doom chapter would be the end of the book but then it carries on and appears very depressing. Carol says the book is really about Death and Angela added Immortality as well. Rosemary felt that the return to the Shire is like a replication of the big story but this time the reader has the feeling that things would be successful. The general view was that the ending of the book was anti-climatic which moves people on to reading the Appendices as a sort of wind down. Clearly the group had not felt this yet as they still returned to the last two chapters!

There was then an interesting discussion started by Laura about the title The Scouring of the Shire. Scouring was seen as as an abrasive domestic word plus a geological term (scouring done by rivers etc.). Ian then looked up the meaning in his various dictionaries.

Carol then started a discussion about Gandalf’s comment that “not all tears are evil”.  It was said that in general tears should not be kept back, but tears to get your own way and crocodile tears could be seen as evil.

Beards were then discussed and it was surprising that Círdan had one  – was it because he had been there so long? There were then a few jokes about Peter Jackson and the films.

Carol thought the eventual forgiveness of Lobelia was a nice touch and  Angela said that Fatty Bolger turned out to be really brave.

The place called Scary was discussed and a few jokes followed.

Rosemary said the comments about “the beer of 1429” showed that Tolkien was really involved in pub culture. We decided that Aragorn would have ensured that there were plenty of pubs in Minas Tirith!

In the Grey Havens chapter Laura said that when Merry and Pippin were described as “lordly” this was a compliment  – normally “lordly” is often seen as arrogant.

Discussion then moved onto the burial places, or final resting places, of the nine members of the Fellowship. Interestingly only Aragorn was buried in his native city – all the others were not. Merry and Pippin were buried in Gondor, Frodo and Sam presumably died in the Undying Lands, Boromir was washed out to sea in the boat, Legolas and Gimli went to the Undying Lands where Gimli presumably died. The significance of this could be an interesting topic for discussion. Anyway talk moved on to who else might have gone overseas, for instance the sons of Elrond – it’s not actually clear whether they sailed or not. There is some information in the Epilogue to LotR (HoM‑e V9) which hints that Shadowfax sailed west with Gandalf. Laura thought it would have been nice if Berúthiel and her cats ended up in the Undying Lands.

Laura said that Frodo’s speech to Sam on the way to the Grey Havens especially the words “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them” are similar to the words spoken at the Cenotaph. However Carol said that most people who went to fight wanted to come back alive.

Chris said, is the “sweet fragrance” smelt by Frodo whilst on the boat to the Undying Lands the scent of athelas. No agreement was found on this.

Discussion turned to the Three Rings taken by Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf to the Undying Lands. It was agreed that, following the destruction of the One Ring, there were no longer any powers left in them and they were now merely artefacts. Thus the “magical powers” were leaving Middle-earth, changing the nature of what remained with the arrival of the time of Men.

Rosemary raised the issue of the White Tree and it was agreed that this particular tree or one of its descendants (obtained by preserving its fruit) would have remained alive while the Monarchy survived. Chris jokingly said that it can still be seen in Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Finally there was discussion about the eventual fate of Radagast e.g. did he go to the Undying Lands or stay in Middle Earth?

Time had now run out and we all vacated the library at 15:55 and headed to the Sea City cafe for a cup of tea. After this we parted ways. Rosemary and Carol headed off to get ahead of the football traffic while the remaining group sought further refreshment of a stronger kind before spending a lovely evening in a Chinese restaurant, well picked by Laura since the only other customers were Chinese, clearly indicating that she had chosen a truly authentic eating house.

We decided that for our next meeting we would read as much as possible of Appendix A.


Last meeting in July


Hard to believe we have had our last meeting in July already, and indeed the weather was less like July than October as we left the Library, but in spite of our reduced numbers (Julie, Chris and Angela are all on holiday) we had a very intense discussion which diverted us from thoughts of unseasonal weather. We were intending to discuss ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ and ‘The Grey Havens’. Carol’s additional comments are added at the end.

Eileen opened proceedings with her comment that she found the end of the story melancholy, and she was left with a deep desire to know more, especially about Legolas and Gimli.

Laura brought us back to ‘The Scouring’ when she noted the malicious edge to Saruman’s foretelling of Frodo’s inability to enjoy the life of peace and enjoyment that his suffering has deserved.

Eileen remarked on the way Merry and Pippin now take charge of ridding the locality of the ‘ruffians’. Carol also commented: “Merry blows the horn of Rohan and like was said to him, frightens his foes and heartens his friends. Merry seems to be taking charge.”

Laura observed the reference to the status of Pippin’s father and the sense of ‘old aristocracy’ in his comment that if anyone was going to be Boss it should be the Thain. I likened the actions of the Tooks who chased out marauding ruffians to the actions of Edwardian gamekeepers.

Eileen wondered if Frodo had not become a bit too peace-loving in this disrupted environment but Laura suggested that he is in fact too drained by his experiences to be more assertive. Carol commented: “Frodo’s now abrogating physical responsibility and handing on to a younger generation in Merry and Pippin, part of his withdrawal from Middle-earth.”

We all noted the strength of Saruman’s negative response to Frodo’s mercy, and Eileen observed that in the end it is Wormtongue who kills Saruman.

Carol commented: “That comment: ‘though Worm has been very hungry lately’, implying that he’s eaten poor Lotho – just the very implication is spine-chilling and far more effective than something more explicit. And all the time I hear the voice of the actor who played Saruman in the Radio 4 serial, very smooth and slimey. Laura also commented that it is a nasty thought that Worm is a cannibal, but Ian objected that Worm was not a cannibal because that refers to eating one’s own kind and Lotho was a hobbit.

Laura addressed the relationship between Saruman and Grima Wormtongue more fully when she commented that Saruman now lacks his command of thousands and so focuses on Worm. His bitterness is the extension of ancient jealousy. Laura also responded to Eileen’s observation that Worm won’t leave Saruman by observing that the wizard had sucked out any personality Grima once had. Laura also noted that Saruman’s demise faced west, but a cold wind came from the west. As Carol commented: “the west rejects Saruman’s spirit.”

Eileen remarked that Tolkien suggests a range of choices and chances and that Saruman was not all bad. [This is in opposition to Chris’s comment last time that Saruman doesn’t seem to have a good side].

On a different matter, Laura noted that there is another example of Tolkien taking and rearranging familiar phrases and sayings in Saruman’s spiteful ‘one ill turn deserves another’.

We began a discussion of the deeper aftermath of the Quest when Ian observed that Frodo could not remain in the Shire after the destruction was repaired because he no longer fitted into the world he went away to save, with all the mythological elements from that previous world. Ian compared the effect of Fascism appropriating older myths to legitimate its ‘culture’ even though those myths and the culture they supported were the foundation of World War One. Frodo’s presence in the Shire was a reminder of the old world. The new world belongs to Men and to pragmatic folk like Sam.

Eileen observed that Sam always had goodness in him, shown in his care for and of Frodo, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Laura noted that Sam is quite different to Will Whitfoot the former Mayor who mainly presided over banquets while Sam became a more active mayor. Sam was also generous with Galadriel’s gift.

Elieen commented that Sam thinks things through, but Ian thought this was not so. The change to the eco-system of the Shire – a kind of genetic change – was not something that Sam could have anticipated.

Eileen and I noted the care with which Sam used Galadriel’s ‘dust’, and Ian took this further when he remarked that Gimli preserves her hair in imperishable crystal, and compared this to Sauron preserving [attempting to preserve?] part of his essence in the Ring. When she goes into the West, asked Ian, has Galadriel perhaps left the dust and her hair as a token of her presence and power?

Ian went on to propose that what we see are examples of the origins of myths, e.g. the rise of the golden-haired children and age of plenty implying that some folk may go away and return with benefits for their whole society.

Laura and Eileen found that the reference to the golden-haired children raised uncomfortable echoes of Fascist eugenics. Ian proposed a different reading: that far from being a reference to a hangover from a mythic past [the problematic Nordic hero motif], the children embody the future influenced by a mythic past which does not want to leave it but whose destiny is not to control it or actively shape it any longer. An inherited culture [the metaphorical dust] is dispersed as widely as possible and is not restricted to a select group.

I wanted to broaden these issues and proposed that the effect of the Entdaught on Merry and Pippin made the case for expansion beyond narrow geographical and social borders, and that this equated to progress. Ian remarked that Tolkien was not a geneticist, but he was familiar with the effects of the influence of other cultures and their artefacts.

Eileen brought us back from our socio-political and ethical considerations to the main story when she observed that the description of Gandalf clothed in white and wearing the red ring made him seem a god-like figure. Ian acknowledged that the contribution of all these greater powers goes on East of the Sea but not their active presence.

After such a thought-provoking meeting we agreed to address next time the matters arising from ‘The Grey Havens’ and to move smoothly on into Appendix A as Eileen has yet to be introduced to the details to be found there.


Carol’s comments:

Chapter 8 ‘The Scouring of the Shire.


Great when Bill the pony kicks Fill ferny. Perhaps ponies are like elephants with long memories. Tolkien’s so polite about people like Ferny, merely calling them ‘ruffians’. [It has been proposed that ‘ruffian’ derives from the name of a medieval devil ‘Ruffin’ who appears in a number of plays. Ed.]

Rose Cotton has a bit of foresight if she’s expected Sam since the spring. And her comments about not leaving Frodo ‘as soon as things look dangerous’ always brings a smile. They just don’t realise what dangers Sam and Frodo have been through. No wonder Sam’s speechless.

Like Barliman, the Cottons are more concerned with the Shire’s troubles, than the travellers’ adventures. Insular.

Gaffer: ‘what’s come of his weskit? I don’t hold with wearing ironmongery, whether it wears well or no.’ always raises a smile.

‘It was one of the saddest hours of their lives…’ what makes any one want to destroy trees and nice buildings and replace them with tarred shed and mess. Destruction and ugliness for its own sake. Ref. ISIS, orcs are still among us.


Saruman says that Gandalf drops folk when they’ve done his bidding but if Gandalf helped/’interfered’ in the Shire now he would be over stepping his remit. He had to be involved in getting rid of Sauron because Sauron was a very powerful being but where the hobbits can fight their own battles, he has to leave them to it.


First meeting in July


We missed some of our Southfarthingas at this meeting, but those of us who were able to attend were supposed to be discussing ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire’. As it turned out, we wandered about a bit between Rivendell and the borders of the Shire so that Eileen could catch up after being absent from our last June session. We looked forward hopefully to seeing our more distant friends at some point in August and our own moot later in the year before.

We began our discussions by looking back to ‘Many Partings’ as Angela remarked that in Rivendell Bilbo only really takes notice of Aragorn’s crowning and wedding and his comments on having waited a long time for those events illuminates the closeness of the friendship between the hobbit and the King.

Laura picked up another implicit contrast when she remarked on the brief conversation between Frodo and Elrond in terms of the contrast between the very tall powerful Elf and the damaged little hobbit, and found this very touching. Laura also suggested an echo between the image of Frodo taking on the job of sorting Bilbo’s disorderly papers and Christopher Tolkien later taking on the huge task of sorting and editing his father’s papers.

Eileen noted Bilbo’s confusion over his ‘lost’ Ring, and Carol commented: “The last version of the Road song: ‘now far ahead the road has gone/let others follow it who can’, Bilbo’s finished following the road and has handed that onto others far younger than himself.

Chris moved the discussion on to ‘Homeward Bound’, with his observation of Gandalf’s non-optimistic opinion about Frodo’s recovery from his injuries in his acknowledgement that some things cannot be made better.

Eileen noted that Frodo ‘kept to himself’ Gandalf’s observations, and she remarked that Frodo is thoughtful and sees other sides to things. In this he is more like Gandalf.

Angela observed that Frodo has had the Ring to enlarge his understanding. I wondered if having it generally enlarged perception? But Angela noted the Bilbo and Gollum didn’t know what it’s power was in this direction.

Eileen remarked that Frodo has developed wisdom. Chris qualified this by commenting that all the hobbits have wisdom but some have a greater degree of intelligence.

Laura remarked that Frodo acknowledges that he has changed, as has ‘home’.

Eileen wondered if Tolkien was reflecting his own feeling in Gandalf’s comment on leaving the future to those he had ‘trained’.

Laura noted a poetic moment in the description of ‘yellow leaves like birds flying in the air,’ and contrasted this to the apt description of a ‘ruffian evening’.

Eileen observed of the travellers’ return to the Prancing Pony, that there was an expectation that things would be the same while they were away, but everything has changed.

I noted that Nob does not look after Shadowfax when he takes care of the hobbits’ ponies, probably because he would be too big for this hobbit ostler.

It was unanimously agreed that when Aragorn went North as King he would have gone to the Prancing Pony again, but in disguise. I suggested he might have kept his old travelling cloak and boots and would have worn them.

Eileen remarked on Barliman’s careful differentiation of ‘three and two’ to distinguish Bree hobbits from Bree Men when referring to the casualties of the recent unrest in Bree.

Laura wondered why Barliman referes to a month of Mondays, not Sundays. I proposed that ‘Sunday’ was too infused with obvious Christian significance, but Monday (Moon day) was uncontroversial and apt in the location of the ‘Man in the Moon’ song.

Eileen noted that Rangers are mentioned again, in a conversation that leads to Barliman declaring that Breeland doesn’t want strangers moving in. Laura thought this made him look like a ‘nimby’ (not in my back yard), but in fact it depends on one’s point of view.

Eileen queried whether Deadmen’s Dyke had had this superstitious name before it is mentioned in ‘Homeward Bound’. We checked and found it had been named in this during ‘The Council of Elrond.’

Laura remarked that it had had various names throughout history according to changes in society.

I wondered if the dark things in the woods that Barliman mentions would have been orcs? Angela thought that whatever it was would not be so ‘substantial’ as orcs, while Eileen thought they represented projections of the fears of the folk of Bree. Laura proposed that they might have been Huorns that had gone north. Eileen added that perhaps Tolkien was indicating that humans/mortals were not the main presence in the woods. Angela compared the reference to ‘dark things’ in the Council of Elrond’.

Chris changed our direction when he suggested that there is a movement from World War 1 allusions in ‘Homecoming’, to World War 2 in ‘Scouring’, which describes the plight of an invaded land. Chris also wondered if Tolkien is arguing that pacifism doesn’t necessarily work if your land is the one invaded.

Laura noted that the Channel Islands when invaded resorted to passive resistance – but that didn’t work.

Eileen registered a personal response in her shock on discovering that Gandalf was leaving the hobbits.

Chris remarked that in hindsight we have seen various hints of the unravelling of the Fellowship.

I thought the Shire as described in ‘The Scouring’ seems like a totalitarian Stalinist state in its bleakness and the pressure on hobbits to spy on each other.

Chris, returning to the topic of pacifism, remarked that Frodo is victorious over Saruman by not striking him, so pacifism does work there. Chris added that unlike Gollum, Saruman doesn’t seem to have a good side.

Having only just begun ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ we had to end our meeting but agreed to continue discussing it at our next meeting, along with ‘The Grey Havens’.



Last Meeting in June


We were missing Julie and Eileen today and began the afternoon with a discussion of our next Wessexmoot. Further details to follow separately. We had agreed to read ‘The Steward and the King’ and ‘Many Partings’, but as Ian had been away last time, we were happy to revisit ‘The Field of Cormallen’ briefly. Carol’s comments are mostly appended to the main report.

Laura launched our afternoon’s deliberations with her observations on the Standing Silence. Laura noted that in England this had been instituted as a commemoration for the fallen of the Boer War so that Tolkien would have been familiar with it in this context as well as in relation to his personal experiences in World War One.

Laura also remarked that she had seen a newspaper article which complained that the all-too-frequent Standing Silences which have been part of the communal response to the recent terrorist attacks and the Tower fire are in danger of diluting their value as a sign of commemoration for the war dead.

Ian commented that they fulfil a specific need in our more secular society which has largely lost the wider act of worship, so in a secular society Silences are the commemoration and ceremony for a secular society. They don’t require belief, just quiet respect. They are also a popular response and less defined by a perception of hierarchy.

I thought they register the need for a community or society to come together in response to extreme moments of disruption, grief, and express solidarity.

Ian thought our Standing Silences were a sign of people registering their survival. While the Cenotaph silences are tied to religion, the current Silences are not. On the other hand, the Standing Silence in The Lord of the Rings references the cataclysm of Numenor.

Chris observed another dimension to the topic when he remarked that these days shops would lose trade if they opted out. Chris also noted that the end of ‘The Field’ is opposed by the tone of the opening of ‘The Steward and the King’, a structural tendency that has been noted previously.

Angela wondered if, in this chapter, the Warden knows he’ll be in trouble of anything unfortunate happens to Eowyn.

Laura was impressed by the way Faramir understands Eowyn, and thought the image of their mingling hair is wonderful. Laura also noted that Faramir gives Eowyn his mother’s mantle and it functions like a healing garment.

Angela remarked that this episode addresses the matter of 2 kinds of pity again as Faramir defines pity as the gift of a gentle heart.

Laura observed that when Sauron is destroyed there is another Numenorean reference, and Angela noted that this is a repetition of the cloud (that is Sauron) that rises over Numenor.

Laura commented that the tremor of the earth is liked a person released from a chain.

I suggested that the eagles Psalm shifts the tone of the chapter into the mythic register. Laura likened the eagle to an Angelic messenger. Angela remarked that it is a winged being understood as an eagle. Chris thought it was a practical measure for the people of Minas Tirith as there was no other rapid means of confirming the fall of Barad Dur.

Ian noted the ‘crying’ of the eagle, not speaking, or singing. I thought this was like the act of a herald.

Chris thought there is a critical omission from Psalm because there is no reference to the hobbits, only to the King. Ian proposed that the eagle is ‘spinning’ the news, but Angela suggested that the people of Minas Tirith don’t know anything about Frodo and Sam.

Changing the subject, Laura thought the change in Eowyn is not entirely convincing. Angela remarked that Aragorn healed her and Faramir.

Chris observed that Eowyn, like Frodo, comes to reject violence, and Laura commented that Eowyn’s cage has been opened. Ian noted that this image represented a particular kind of domesticity and it was this that she had rejected. Now she has dealt with something far beyond all expectations.

Chris and Angela noted that it has been argued that Tolkien thought women should remain in the domestic sphere.

Ian remarked that this was perhaps a sign of religious influence.

Laura proposed that it could be argued that Eowyn has been swept off her feet by a Gondorian. Ian qualified this by observing that this only happens after she has accomplished more than any Gondorian.

Chris compared the statement ‘Merry wept’ to ‘the weeping of women was stilled’ and thought the two statements were in conflict. Chris went on to note that a good deal is omitted from this chapter. Although Carol commented ‘none saw [Arwen’s] last meeting with Elrond…a parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world’, we know nothing in detail about the conversation between Elrond and Arwen, or about Gimli’s visit to the Glittering Caves. Angela also wondered what happened to Elrond’s sons.

Laura remarked that there was still the aftermath of the War to deal with.

Chris noted the extent to which Aragorn exercised diplomacy when dealing with Orthanc.

Carol queried: Does Celeborn not depart with Galadriel because he’s not a ring-bearer? Chris proposed that the 3 Rings have lost their power now the One has gone. Angela suggested that maybe he simply wasn’t ready to leave.

We ran out of time as usual, and quickly agreed that our next reading will be ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire’. We also agreed that when we finish the main text we will do the Appendices.

Carol’s comments: ‘Many Partings (mirrors ‘Many Meetings’)

I like the reconciliation between Eomer and Gimli over Galadriel. It’s small things like this that adaptations miss, things that put in a bit of the personal against such a vast background. was it here that Eomer first met Lothiriel and how will she feel about his devotion to Arwen?

I’m glad Aragorn formally give Druadan Forest to the Woses and forbids Men from entering without permission – as he does with the shire. It’s wrong to hound a race because they seem far less developed – aborigines, native Americans and many more.

Theoden and Eomer had had word of orcs coming at their back in the ride to Gondor but they had stuck to their purpose and thanks to the ents came home to green fields.

‘Above all I hate the caging of live things.’ I agree with Treebeard to a certain extent; I don’t like animals or birds to be caged but have no problem with prison for criminals. Would I have let Saruman go?

History has brought many sadnesses and none more felt than a parent separating from a beloved child, but I have 2 more sadnesses bracketed: the fading of the ents because they’ve lost the entwives; and the departure of the elves. Add a 3rd, the ending of the fellowships as Legolas and Gimli go to Fangorn. Another sadness, parting from Aragorn who tries to lighten the situation with a bit of humour about Pippin being a soldier of Gondor, only going on leave. I’d have been bawling!!


First meeting in June


Only 5 of us were able to get to the meeting today, as we missed Laura and Julie but Laura had emailed to say that she had seen a good article in the Times which argued that the new edition of Beren and Luthien could be read as Tolkien’s war poetry.

We also discussed the matter of Wessexmoot and discovered that our usual October dates will not work this year, nor will early November, so we proposed moving it to our November 25th meeting. Otherwise we can consider a date in August.

Carol’s comments are for the most part included below.

Our nominated reading for the meeting today was ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘The Steward and the King’, however, we spent so much time revisiting Mount Doom that we only managed to include ‘Cormallen’.

Once we began the meeting, Chris picked up Ian’s previous remarks concerning Judgement in the Mount Doom episode. Ian reprised these because Chris and Angela had been away last time. Ian explained that he had used the medieval text Ancrene Wisse as the inspiration for his references to the Mount Doom sequence as the Judgement on Sauron. Ian quoted a section from AW on hellfire ‘blazing up to the welkin [sky]’ and went on to argue that as Sauron creates the Ring, so the Ring ‘creates’ Gollum.

Chris argued that Gollum is being used and he fulfils the Quest.

Eileen commented that this all happens so quickly that it took her aback and she needed to reread it because it raises questions of moral and religious significance. She went on to note the extent to which Gollum’s obsession with the Ring grew.

Given the trend of Ian’s arguments over this and the previous meeting, I asked if he thought that all the characters who interact with the Ring can be read as manifestations of aspects of Sauron. Ian said ‘Yes, in their wanting to possess it.’

Ian then picked up the recent electioneering call ‘lend me your vote’, comparing this to Boromir’s request to Frodo: ‘lend me the Ring’. Ian noted that this actually made up Frodo’s mind about what to do next. Angela added that therefore Boromir set in motion the process of delivering the Ring to the Fire.

Chris observed that when Bilbo had wanted to see the Ring, Frodo got a glimpse of him as a ‘grasping thing’, and when Sam wears the Ring he is seen as a huge by the orcs – so the Ring changes the perception of things. Angela added that Frodo sees the ring on Galadriel’s finger, and Ian remarked that it is a similar effect – possession of the Ring changes the way things are seen.

Eileen commented that under its influence Boromir changed and became more Gollum-like in his obsession and greed.

Ian suggested that Frodo was dismayed at the change he perceived in Boromir, but Eileen argued that this was not dismay but terror. We spent some time discussing the gradation from ‘dismay’ to ‘terror’.

Ian added in the matter of the difference in size between the hobbit and the Man, and noted Frodo’s shift towards pity for Gollum although he too is a danger to Frodo. Angela remarked that this was because of Gollum’s dreadful state, and she noted that in The Histories of Middle-earth 2 forms of pity are defined as (1) contempt and (2) love.

We spent a long while revisiting Mount Doom and its issues but eventually moved on to the next chapter, and I asked if the great cloud seen by the Captains of the West is just the eruption, or the demise of Sauron, or maybe Tolkien’s acknowledgement of the myth-making process of pre-scientific societies which explained natural phenomena in terms of actions of gods or spirits.

Chris commented that Sauron is still around and is not entirely obliterated but the hand is the last manifestation of Sauron’s power in the Ring.

Eileen noted that this associates hand and Ring yet again.

Chris raised the vexed question of Gandalf’s statement that the Ringbearer has fulfilled the quest, and asked if this refers to Gollum? Responses were as inconclusive as may be expected1

I then asked about the reference to the ‘brooding things’ – is this actually the way orcs are generated – like ants, because they are often called ‘maggots’. Ian thought the description of ants was figurative only, and that the image is intended to generate disgust, as appropriate to orcs. Chris and Angela agreed, but noted that the Men of Rhun and Harad have minds of their own.

Chris directed our attention back to the first paragraph of the chapter to pick up what looks like a reference to Numenor, in ‘foundering in a gathering sea’, as well as Aragorn’s pensive gaze. Chris noted that Faramir also references the drowning of Numenor in the next chapter, and that these recollections link back to the theme of Judgement as it was Sauron’s wicked seduction of the Numenoreans that led to their cataclysmic punishment.

Angela, like Carol, thought Aragorn’s pensive gaze indicated that he was thinking of Arwen. Carol commented: “There’s a small glimpse into Aragorn’s very private mind. Amid certain death his thoughts go to Arwen, his only reason for fighting this war, to regain 2 kingdoms in order for his prize to be granted. Well, not his only reason, but only through winning the war will he also win Arwen.”

Angela and I both had reservations about the concept of tears as ‘the wine of blessedness.’ The only way I could rationalise it was via the medieval theory of the ‘well of tears’, or ‘gift of tears’. This was part of the concept of affective piety, but also related to the grief of true penance.  A number of medieval female mystics, including Margery Kemp, all desired the gift of tears as a blessing. This does not quite fit the context in the story, but I can’t account for the strange reference in any other way.

Angela compared it to the characterisation of Nienna and her endless tears.

Chris noted Frodo’s continuing aversion to swords now, and Carol commented: “Frodo’s reached a stage of pacific quietude, not wanting any symbols of war and death about him after all he’s been through”.

I admitted that once Frodo and Sam reach Cormallen I have always had problems relating to them and the rest of the chapter. Eileen and Ian both said they felt distanced, as if watching a tableau.

Ian elaborated by noting the frequent use of ‘they’, so that the reader is not involved and remarked that Tolkien is creating distance because the chapter is largely sacred and ceremonial. I observed that besides the use of ‘they’, many sentences used impersonal constructions such as ‘The weary rested and the hurt were healed’; ‘those returned who had passed into Mordor’.

Chris remarked that previous chapters had focussed on one group of characters, but in the Cormallen chapter attention jumps from one group to others as Tolkien draws many story threads together.

With that we were out of time, and agreed to discuss ‘The Steward and the King’ and ‘Many Partings’ at our next meeting.

Carol’s Comments

‘The Field of Cormallen’

Still Sam won’t give in.

‘what a tale we’ve been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?…I wish I could hear it told! Do you think they’ll say: now comes the story of nine-fingered Frodo and the ring of doom? And then everyone will hush, like we did, when in Rivendell they told us of the tale of Beren one-hand and the great jewel. I wish I could hear it! and I wonder how it will go on after our part!’ This just about sums up Sam, prattling about being in tales on the edge of doom. This is one of my favourite bits, that pregnant moment of absolute disaster before the rescue. I like it better than the actual rescue because it epitomises Sam’s heroism in the face of certain death.

The rescue I find very affectionately written and by this time I’m sure Tolkien was very fond of his 2 hobbit heroes.

The contrast between the Shire and Mordor is phenomenal. The Shire is green and fecund and peaceful. Mordor is dreich, grey and barren and cruel. For Tolkien green and white represent goodness and wholesomeness, whereas black with red represents harshness and cruelty. Black embroidered with mithril, though is representative of the legitimate royal line, goodness. And grey is a favoured colour of the elves. So black and grey aren’t necessarily ‘bad’ colours. And black is the colour of the night sky wherein the stars of Elbereth shine.

Sam gets his wish to hear their tale sung.