Omer’s comments on end of The Two Towers

Our friend and colleague Omer has sent the following comments:

(a) I tend to agree with Tim’s view about a ‘military’ or ‘camp ‘ language , w r to the language of the Orcs. As you might probably know, Urdu- our Pakistani national language – was born in the medieval times, during the early Muslim conquests of India by several invading tribes from the North and North West eg the Turks, Afghans, Mongols/Muguls etc. These invaders used to garrison their mercenary armies of mixed Central Asia/Afghan types (with a small number of local Hindi mercenaries too) in special camps, usually outside the main cities like Delhi and Lahore; and since all sorts of commodities etc were to be provided to these warriors, by local merchants and farmers etc, a sort of mixed patois developed, which included a Hindi base with Turkish and Persian and Pushto/Afghan words, later on also a smattering of Arabic. This developed into a proper camp language or ‘lingua franca’ and was designated as ‘Urdu’ in fact a Turkish word meaning ‘camp’. Compared to Hindi and its associate languages and dialects, it was a somewhat harsh-sounding language, with more gutturals (which become flattened out in Hindi) and resembled, in its early manifestation, languages such as Gaelic or German. Over time, as the Hindi influence grew , the language became softer and more refined (as we note in the 18th-19th centuries with the growth of Urdu poetry in Delhi and Lucknow) — but the essential and basic ‘rough and ready’ character still remains in the common Urdu (Urdu i Aaama or the Ordinary Camp) vis a vis the later high/refined Urdu (Urdu i Mualla, or the Exalted Camp). I always imagine Orcish to be somewhat like the early rough Urdu. A hodge-podge language of all the tribes between the Indus and the Aral Sea.

(b) the comments about Shelob and the bottled starlight/Elvish light brings to mind an old folk tale here in this region, of ‘Nikka Pai” a younger son/brother of a farmer, who has to go down to the Underworld/Hades to rescue his elder brother from the demons who have taken him , in order to fulfill a promise to their parents. As he is a good-hearted and pure-spirited lad, and loyal to his elder brother and devoted/obedient to his parents, of course, Divine Help comes his way; he meets a saint or mystic ‘Baba’ (elder/old man) who gives him a mystic phial, of ‘Heavenly light’ . This has the power to bring positive force/energy to the owner/user– in the Underworld, we are told, all positive energy/force is sucked away, and people become dull and even lose their colour, they become ‘grey’ like the dead ones; but the Heavenly light phial can bring back this positive energy and drive away those demons and negative forces that thrive in the darkness. Strange echoes of both this Tolkien incident/scene and of the Dementors, in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling — in fact, my youngest son, Hissam, reminded me of this, as he was reading Harry Potter and had of course listened to this story in his childhood.

Carol’s comments

With apologies for not including these in the main blog, here are Carol’s comments for the Minas Tirith chapter.

Minas Tirith.
The short paragraph of the lighting of the beacons of Ered Nimrais is heroic, with Shadowfax giving his all. Although misplaced, the lighting of the beacons in the film is one of the most memorable in the film. The film is about exaggeration while Tolkien is about understatement.

Do they pass the bearers of the red arrow?
For once Gandalf is praising Pippin and Pippin almost refutes it. Arrival at the Rammas Echor.
Pippin’s first sight of the tower of Ecthelion: Tolkien description herioc and clean.

Starting to use archaic words: tilth, oast, garner, league, fathom, thence, twain, verily, kine, now that the Story has arrived at the heart of heroism and sophistication, far from the rustic Shire where they eat ‘taters’.

‘as frodo walked in the glades of Ithilien’ – we now start getting brief alignments between stories. the dead white tree, symbolising a dead line of kings so thought but it’s treated like a person and still honoured even in death. So much so that it will be laid to rest in Rath Dinen. Now they enter ‘the house of stone.’ Compare Meduseld.
Does Gandalf ‘see’ Aragorn’s unexpected mode ofarrival at Minas Tirith. Pippin’s still surprised at the
> mention of ‘kingship’. Gandalf’s comments are apt. ‘monoliths of black marble’, just epitomises Minas Tirith – cold, stoney, stern.
‘the mightiest man may be slain by one arrow…’ sometimes Pippin really surprises us and here he is diplomatic to a fault. He rises to the occasion even though Denethor has said he has no time for halflings. Did Denethor see Pippin in the palantir?
‘Pippin never forgot…’ implies that he survives. Again back to archaic forms – Peregrin son of Paladin rather than Peregrine Took. How are women known? In Iceland they still use ‘dottr’.
Denethor’s concerns are blinkered to Minas Tirith whereas Gandalf’s concerns are far wider. Like he says, even if Minas Tirith perishes, say Frodo destroys the ring but too late to save defeat in battle for the west, then Gandalf’s work will be a success if only given fragile new beginning. Gandalf and Denethor spark-off about the return of the king. What does Denethor know of Aragorn?  Stewarship not Dominion.
That laugh of Gandalf’s when they’re just at the start of what will probably be total defeat for the west – is it because either way he’ll soon be going home?
Beregond is one of the few characters acknowledged as having any family, though no mention of a wife.
‘the Darkness has begun. there will be no dawn.’ Darkness with a capital D. it’s been a gloomy end to the chapter with far less men coming to Gondor’s aid and now the fume from mordor. All points to little hope, ditto the next chapter.

First Meeting in August


We were a small group meeting this afternoon. We missed Mike, Julie and Tim as we tackled the first chapter in The Return of the King – ‘Minas Tirith’. With apologies for inefficiency, I’m not sure if Carol sent comments for this chapter. So far I haven’t located them, but I will consult Carol and hopefully be able to revise this report in due course but for now, I will proceed with our discussion.

Eileen remarked that the new chapter in the new book confronted her with a barrage of names that she could not keep up with, but that through the chapter she was learning more about Gandalf.

Laura noted that the first paragraph introduced lovely language, citing the description of Pippin waking with his memory ‘drowsy and uncertain.’ Laura also noted that Gandalf names himself ‘storm-crow’, perhaps ironically.

Chris observed that Gandalf does not use encouraging language to others, even telling Pippin that there will be ‘no refuge’. Laura suggested this was his ‘management style’ to get people alert and motivated.

Angela thought that Pippin comes across as quite slow on the uptake when it comes to Aragorn, but Laura noted that Pippin develops in the chapter, especially when he takes the oath to Denethor – an oath of dire implications like those found in Anglo-Saxon.

I mentioned that I was impressed by Pippin’s sense of personal pride when he will not be daunted by Denethor’s stern interrogation. Ian wondered if this shows Tolkien ensuring that the hobbit is not taken as just comic relief, and Laura noted the contrast with Pippin’s previous foolishness.

Eileen proposed that Gandalf was not happy that Pippin spoke so much in Denethor’s presence, but Chris remarked that Pippin could not  avoid it.

Laura compared the description of Minas Tirith with that given by Boromir at the Council of Elrond and found it touching because he would never see the city again.

I wondered if Minas Tirith had been consciously constructed to develop the configuration of a ship specifically because it is the fortress founded by Numenoreans. Laura suggested that its developed form represents a folk memory of ships-as-safety.

Eileen then introduced the topic of Shadowfax and we all participated in observations concerning the status of the horse, the significance of his colour, and special relationship with Gandalf.

Chris then wondered why Pippin is suddenly named in the narration, not reported speech, as Peregrin when his and Gandalf’s entry into the city is narrated. We concluded that it signalled his changing status – a change brought about by precisely by his entry into the Gondorian city where everything is more formal and having its own high status.

I wondered if Pippin’s sword, found in the wight’s barrow, served as a kind of physical ‘password’ guaranteeing his worth when he presents it to Denethor, because the Steward recognises the origins of its workmanship. Laura observed that it also significantly comes from the North from which will come the presence that will unify both kingdoms.

I added that Denethor doesn’t know that yet, but Angela very properly qualified this with a discreet ‘Ahem!’ so as not to spoil the story for Eileen.

I went on to note that the description of Denethor makes him sound more like a statue than a living breathing man, and Angela again qualified this by noting that he reminds Pippin of Aragorn, more than Boromir, which is perhaps worrying, or strange? But Angela also noted that a little later in the narration we are told that Denethor looks ‘beautiful’.

Laura had been doing research into some of the words in the description of the farmlands of the Pelennor, and explained that ‘oast’ was Old English for ‘kiln’, that ‘garner’ came originally from Latin and became an archaic verb meaning ‘to gather’, before becoming a noun. Both ‘fold’ and ‘byre’ are Old English originally, but fold is for keeping sheep while byre is for keeping cows, meaning that both sheep and cows were kept on the farms of the Pellenor. Likewise Laura distinguished the specific meanings of ‘husbandman’ and herdsman’: the first meaning a farmer, the second specifically a man who looks after the animals. Finally, she noted that ‘folk’ itself was Old English.

We went on to consider the references to Minas Tirith as a city in decay. Chris observed that Pippin would not have known how it was before. I offered the mythological interpretation of decay as linked to the lack of, or incapacity, of a king. Chris proposed an alternative interpretation when he noted that all empires reach a point where they over-extend themselves and begin to decay. Chris cited the classic example of the Roman Empire.

Laura turned to the arrival of Pippin and Gandalf on the Pelennor when she observed that the outer defences of Minas Tirith had not been well-managed. It is not good when defences are allowed to decay.

Angela noted that there’s a problem with management in Mordor too!

Laura remarked that Gandalf knows Ingold who is working on restoring the Pelennor defences, and wondered if Tolkien had borrowed and/or adapted the OE hero’s name Ingeld, and it was strange to find a name derived from OE somewhere other than Rohan. This led Ian to propose that Ingold was an economic migrant. Chris picked this up and wondered if the strange letters over some doorways and arches in Minas Tirith were also signs that other migrants had lived in the city.

Laura then remarked that if the decay of Gondor indicated the decay of the power of Men then perhaps the next age should be thought of as the Age of Hobbits. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do justice to this provocative proposal as we ran out of time.

For our next meeting we will read ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’.

We also agreed on the date for our next Wessexmoot, which will be on 22nd October. It will take the usual format and if members wish to give short talks/papers, that will be fine, but there is no obligation to do so.

Prior to our next meeting we will meet in the Artisan’s Café.

Last Meeting in July

Present: Ian, Laura, Eileen, Mike, Julie, Tim
Chapters: “Shelob’s Lair” in continuation, and “The Choices of Master Samwise”.

[I have added Carol’s Comments at the end as usual -Lynn]

After gathering for a pre-meeting coffee and snacks at the Artisan Café, which overran slightly, we reconvened at the Seminar Room at about 1.45pm (with apologies), without Lynn, who was unwell, and Angela and Chris, who were at a wedding.
We resumed our review of “Shelob’s Lair” with an observation from Eileen such a horrible creature, so monstrous, so evil. Stench slime makes it more horrible to read.
Laura thought it was frightening that Shelob is independent, a rogue element.
Mike talked about the description of the two hobbits against the monster – a hopeless battle? Tolkien is building up the tension – will they survive?
Eileen couldn’t work out how Shelob could be so large – how did she get so big? Ian observed that Shelob is “Morgully Obese”. Eileen continued by saying that she couldn’t believe Shelob stays so powerful. Ian added that this is a malevolent force in spider form.
When reading this sequence, Eileen said she was almost hysterical, the description was so over the top she found it hard to believe.
Laura echoed Ian’s reference in describing Ungoliant, a creature in spider form. Sauron was happy to leave Shelob to guard the back door to Mordor.
Ian related how Tolkien didn’t want to create an evil queen in The Lord of the Rings so he created an extreme, disgusting monster female. He had too much respect for character.
Mike thought that she represents a force – a gestation of evil. She is described in a most offensive way.
Tim wondered if it was possible that Shelob has been made in mockery of spiders, like Orcs were spawned in mockery of Elves.
Mike said that Tolkien really goes to town at the start of “The Choices of Master Samwise”.
Laura commented on the small attacking the large – heroic similes.
Eileen: Frodo appears dead. Sam has to decide – this really struck home for her. Sam take the Ring from Frodo.
It was noted by Laura that the Orcs have a certain view of Elvish habits i.e. that they leave their companions behind. Tim wondered how long Orcs live, bearing in mind they are based on Elves. Laura suggested they are like Dolly the Sheep (i.e. not long-lived). Ian said that Orcs are made old, i.e. their cells are already old.
Mike moved onto the language and syntax of Gorbag and Shagrat that Tolkien is using. He thought it doesn’t hang together properly. He wondered if they spoke in a dialect like a northern English one, rather than an East End accent. Tim noted that in the armed forces there tends to be a mongrel language – a mixture of all sorts of speech and dialects. Perhaps the Orcs are like this. He also observed that Tolkien has created three-dimensional characters in the orcs. Mike called them sentient; Eileen said they are realistic.
Laura highlighted how Sam refers to the Orcs as “devils” and “filth”. Shagrat had used “filth” when referring to Frodo.
Mike made the point that love for fellow man overcomes everything.
Laura: Sam considers suicide rather than going on alone. Conscience? Higher forces? He is having an internal dialogue – agonising over multiple choices. He is described as Master Samwise – a sign that he is growing up.
When Sam is speaking Elvish/speaking in tongues, it is coming from him – an inner strength. The power of the phial – starlight – is uplifting for Sam. The light has an effect on Shelob. Eileen compared it to Gollum’s sensitivity to light. Ian described the difference of the light on the spider’s multifaceted eyes. It is special starlight, captured essence, light intensified.
Mike asked why Sam didn’t cut Frodo free. Others in the group said that he did. Mike realised it was depicted in the f-i-l-m that Frodo was left in his bindings.
Tim compared Sam’s internal dialogues with those of Smeagol/Gollum. In Sam’s case he uses “I” and “You”.
Laura mentioned that Frodo’s face had a green colour but later it was fair of hue.
Eileen thought that Frodo comes to life again. Ian explained that Frodo was only paralysed but appeared dead.
Tim noted the dramatic ending with the emphasis on Frodo, not the Ring.
“The great doors slammed to. Boom. The bars of iron fell into place inside. Clang. The gate was shut. Sam hurled himself against the bolted brazen plates and fell senseless to the ground. He was out in the darkness. Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.”
Mike explained that there is not a word in this chapter that wouldn’t have been witnessed by Sam.
Eileen said that things happen all of a sudden. Laura added that it was another disaster. The Orcs refer to Gollum as a “sneak” like Sam does.
Next time: we start on “The Return of the King”, reading Chapter One – “Minas Tirith”.
Note: All errors and omissions are my own. I’ve endeavoured to make this as accurate a record as possible of the meeting, but if anyone spots any almighty clangers (or soup dragons) please do not hesitate to let Lynn or myself know. Thanks, Tim.

Carol’s Comments

chapter 9 Shelob’s Lair

‘other potencies there are…’ Sam’s right to think of Tom Bombadil but his thought of him and mine are quite different. Tom and Shelob are 2 of those characters who are not troubled by rings. Tom is at the start of their journey and largely benign, on the edge of a beningn settlement – the Shire. Shelob is almost at the end of their journey, vicious, on the edge of a vicious settlement – Mordor. Their respective abodes are reflected in their natures. Tolkien wouldn’t pair them off consciously but at a pinch I could, characters not affected by Rings yet total opposites.

The Shelob story – again tracing back history to the poisoning of Telperion and Laurelin by Ungoliant – Shelob’s mam – Cirith UNGOL etc. even spiders have their back-story.

chapter 10 The Choices of Master Samwise

‘all his little impudence of courage’ – this might be Shelob’s thought but it describes Sam’s bravery perfectly. Lovely!

Sam’s ‘indomitable spirit’ even right to the end.

Thanks to laxness on the enemy’s part – Shagrat and Gorbag talking – Sam and Frodo have been enabled to get so far.

Frodo is saved from immedaite harm by orders from Above, just like Merry and Pippin were.

First meeting in July


We were a very small group meeting this Saturday as holidays and other engagements took their toll on our numbers. However, we few, we happy few … still only got through 1 chapter before running out of time. A little of our time was spent considering the matter of the BBC History Weekend to be held in Winchester in at the start of October because some of us are interested in the relationship between Tolkien’s work and the history of the ‘long’ Middle Ages.  However, that was not a matter that delayed us long.

Our appointed reading for the afternoon had been ‘Shelob’s Lair’ and ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’. As it happens we hardly got out of the Lair! Carol had sent her comments for both so I will reserve those relating to the ‘Choices’ chapter until next time.

Laura began our discussions by drawing parallels between Tolkien’s experiences in the foul-smelling and claustrophobic trenches of the Somme and his description of the tunnel leading into Shelob’s Lair. I mentioned having heard about tunnels under the battlefield, and Laura introduced us to the terminology of trench architecture.

Tim noted the description of the different kinds of darkness in Moria and in the tunnel. Eileen thought this darkness and stench was like a description of Hell. I remarked that the darkness even seems to create a barrier between Frodo and Sam for a while. Tim noted that like Moria, there is a fork in the path in the tunnel, but unlike Moria, Gandalf is not with them to work out the right way.

Tim also observed that the hanging things in the tunnel are reminiscent of things hanging down in ghost-train rides.

Carol commented: “other potencies there are…” ‘Sam’s right to think of Tom Bombadil but his thought of him and mine are quite different. Tom and Shelob are 2 of those characters who are not troubled by rings. Tom is at the start of their journey and largely benign, on the edge of a benign settlement – the Shire. Shelob is almost at the end of their journey, vicious, on the edge of a vicious settlement – Mordor. Their respective abodes are reflected in their natures. Tolkien wouldn’t pair them off consciously but at a pinch I could, characters not affected by rings yet total opposites.’

I remarked that the recollection of Tom begins a chain of thought leading to the recollection of the light. Tim noted that Sam thinks of Galadriel but questioned whether this is Sam on his own, or is this Galadriel ‘beaming in’ her influence?

Eileen wondered why Sam is not influenced by the Ring, and I suggested that it is his loyalty to Frodo that ‘protects’ him, but I also offered the theory long held by my daughter, that it is Sam’s close association with the earth, as a gardener. All those beings who have a similar close association show a similar resistance to the Ring – Tom – living in close contact with the Old Forest, and even Galadriel, who has her own orchard.

Laura questioned this possibility on the grounds that gold itself comes from the earth as ore, but I commented that it has been ‘alloyed’ with Sauron’s evil, because we are told that the ring ‘contains’ a good deal of his power. Tim then observed that as the gold for the Ring came from the earth so it must be returned to the earth in the Cracks of Doom in order to purge it back to its basic elements.

Eileen then directed our attention to a new reference to more watching eyes, and we all discussed the matter of the dominance of surveillance as a theme in LotR. Tim noted that this time they are disembodied eyes, which raises its own questions – in this world of Middle-earth we don’t always know what kind of creatures eyes belong to.

Tim went on to observe that darkness is said to recede from the light of the Star-glass, as if the darkness flees from the light.

Laura then observed Tolkien’s reliance on the pure power of words again with the ‘Aiya Earendil …’ invocation.

Carol commented on the Shelob story – ‘tracing back history to the poisoning of Telperion and Laurelin by Ungoliant – Shelob’s mam – Cirith UNGOL etc.’ and noted that ‘even spiders have their back-story’. We also discussed the nature of Ungoliant and Shelob, and for Eileen’s benefit recalled the various versions of reasons why Tolkien uses spider-creatures.

I remarked on the tension Tolkien creates in his handling of the hobbits’ escape from the tunnel when he ends a paragraph with the observation that Shelob had many exits. Laura commented that Tolkien is playing with the reader like a cat with its prey, even as he uses the ‘cat’ reference as a description of the relationship between Sauron and Shelob.

Laura also noted that one does not usually think of orcs as ‘unhappy’, although they are referred to as such. We considered that it probably described their unfortunate condition but Tim remarked that they are indeed ‘unhappy’, because they grumble about what they have to do – like digging more tunnels. Laura observed that she found this rather touching because they are not robots.

Eileen objected that she was under the impression that they were evil. Tim replied that they are always obeying orders.

Laura turned our attention back to Shelob when she remarked on the motif of eating and noted that Shelob is the personification of gluttony, intent on eating everything. Tim commented that Ungoliant follows this concept to its ultimate mythic conclusion by finally devouring herself. Laura noted that Gollum described Sauron as intent on ‘eating all the world’, but Tim added that while Shelob’s primary characteristic is gluttony, Sauron’s is domination.

With that we ran out of time and hastily agreed that next time we would discuss ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’ and we would read the first chapter of The Return of the King – ‘Minas Tirith’ – in case we run out to things to say about Sam and his choices!

Carol’s Comments from ‘The Stairs’ onwards. We also recapped this chapter briefly.:

Frodo now displays what Tom Shippey calls the Northern Theory of Courage, still despairing Frodo presses on while he can even though he believes all will end in darkness.

‘but our path is already laid.’ ‘Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam…

‘…the hero or the villain.’  This passage is about my favourite in the whole of LotR, close run is Sam piping up ‘Gil-galad was an elven king’ – Sam talking himself into the realisation that he’s in the same story as neren and Earendil. ‘Why, to think of it, we’re in the same story still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales ever end?’ Talk about sitting on the edge of ruin (Merry and Pippin at Isengard) and prattling on – Sam here – and wondering what kind of tale they’ve fallen into. It’s almost childlike but it’s very profound for a gardener like Sam, and for anyone; a lesson in valuing history? So ordinary in an extraordinary situation and place.

Gollum at this point might still have been redeemed or so Tolkien thought and berates Sam for his sharpness thus ending any hope of redemption in Gollum. but I suppose Tolkien had forgotten that he’d written Sam witnessing the Gollum/Smeagol debate back at the Black Gate, so when Sam awakes suddenly and sees Gollum ‘pawing his master’, his instant reaction is coloured by the previous incident in which Gollum had got the upper hand and was going to try for the ring. ‘The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall.’ But it’s my belief that Gollum had to stay alienated to bring about the eventual destruction of the ring in Orodruin. Without Gollum’s greed the ring would never have got into the fire.

Followed by the ‘sneaking’ conversation, humorous, also ironic when Gollum finally answers ‘sneaking’ because he has been sneaking.





Last meeting in June


We had a busy day from the moment when we dashed in out of the thunderstorm and its torrential rain until the time when we all had to go our separate ways. Apart from our usual discussion meeting we were intending to go to the farewell party for the librarian who had originally enabled me to set up the reading group, before heading off for our Summer-moot dinner. Everyone managed to come along with the exception of Carol and Rosemary. Carol’s comments for the meeting are appended as always. Our reading for the afternoon only got as far as ‘The Journey to the Cross-Roads’.

Tim started our discussions with the observation that Gollum is glad to be away from Faramir and his Men but Frodo chides him for his ingratitude. Angela remarked that it was like talking to a naughty child.

Laura, like Carol, remarked on the humour of Sam’s comment about tea-time in decent places. Carol observed ‘Gollum’s retort that they aren’t in decent places makes me smile. At least Gollum still seems to have a bit of common humanity about him.’

I mentioned that the gorse thickets evoke memories of a childhood fascination with being able to ‘walk inside’ plants, the sense of safety, and a different space.

Laura compared the fate of the fallen statue of the old king with the mutilated sphinx, and questioned the use of ‘coronel’, which Tim looked up and found it described a wreath or garland and so was apt for the flowers around the statue’s fallen head.

Eileen questioned the significance of cross-roads and we all discussed this. Tim and Mike remarked on the story of a guitar player (Robert Johnson) and the Devil at the cross-roads. Eileen then noted that Tolkien uses a hyphen for ‘cross-roads’, and Angela observed that Tolkien uses hyphens frequently. Tim suggested that they represent part of the evolution of the English language.

Julie wryly observed that she thought the absence of hyphens in modern spelling suggested people were too lazy to find the right key!

Laura then remarked that cross-roads are part of the theme of decision making in LotR, and Angela noted that there is another important cross-roads where the Greenway intersects with the East-West Road at Bree.

Eileen then commented that the stillness of the land is not natural.

Tim remarked on the description of the storm-ruined trees and recalled the images of the shattered trees of World War 1 which Tolkien must have seen.

Laura observed that the whole chapter had a very ‘Gothic’ feel, but the revolving tower of Minas Morgul puzzled her and we considered how it worked and was configured. Julie suggested it was powered by orcs on a treadmill. Ian noted that it aided surveillance and we all discussed the field of view, with Ian suggesting it may imply that Sauron has a blind spot! He went on to observe that if there was a palantir in the tower it must face 1 direction so the platform has to turn so that anyone approaching thinks it’s still there.

Laura remarked that red light seems to be a means of communicating between Minas Morgul and Barad Dur.

We all then discussed the matter of the flowers and the ‘corpse light’. Ian observed that the saprophytic plant ‘toothwort’ is known as the ‘corpse flower’. It does not have white flowers but being saprophytic it does not contain chlorophyll either. Ian added that as well as being saprophytic, toothwort is also carnivorous.

Angela observed that the poisonous atmosphere of the Morgul Vale bears out Faramir’s advice not to drink the water.

Tim then suggested that the Ring at this point is really trying to he ‘home’ and Laura remarked that it was treating Frodo like a puppet.

Mike moved us on to the Stairs, observing that although Sam’s soliloquy suffered badly from the ‘saccharine’ treatment of the film, but when reread it reveals Tolkien saying that you have to do what is right in front of you – what you think is right, even though you don’t know what’s going to happen. It is as if Tolkien is looking back on his life and wondering at how it turned out as it did.

MiGollum ke went on to note that it is as Gollum embarks on betrayal that the narrative provides a passage of great tenderness which leads to our anger at Sam and sympathy for Gollum. Laura remarked that at this point the Ring doesn’t seem to call Gollum, and Chris suggested this is because Gollum now sees what the Ring is doing to Frodo and thus what it has done to him.

We had long run out of time, so hurriedly agreed that for our next meeting we would read ‘Shelob’s Lair’ and ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’.


Carol’s comments:

The murky weather of Mordor begins, felt in other places too. Murky weather can really depress a person as Sauron well knows, undermining confidence and encouraging depression.

Sam’s dream could be clairvoyant of what is happening in the Shire.


First meeting in June


We met this afternoon to continue our discussion of ‘The Forbidden Pool’ and to move into ‘The Journey to the Crossroads’. As it turned out we hardly touched on the ‘Journey’, but we still covered a good deal of ground. We missed Julie and Mike, and Carol sent a few comments but ‘The Forbidden Pool’ is not one of those chapters that engages her in the way some others do, so her comments are all added at the end.

Laura began our discussion with her comment that ‘The Forbidden Pool’ is a very ‘fairy-tale’ title. She went on to question the nature and relevance of Faramir using a nail knife. Its exact nature was questioned because it seems somewhat effete as a piece of equipment for a fighting man. Ian found pictures online of examples of nail-knives and observed that the modern Swiss Army knife has a optional nail knife. The anachronistic status of a nail knife in the context of a story with replete with ‘medieval’ contexts and imagery was raised. I remarked that old witch-lore included the use of nail parings by witches as means of focusing maledictions on specific people. Angela commented that nail paring appears in the story when Sam refers to the new moon being as thin as one when he questions the time spent in Lothlorien.

Our observations of Faramir possessing a knife implying personal grooming were set in the context of him learning from Gandalf and I suggested that taken with all the features that distinguish him from his brother, the nail knife adds to his characterisation as a cultured man. Tim likened Faramir to a warrior poet.

Ian suggested that the nail-knife introduces the matter of scale, signifying a small knife. Tim added that it is distinguished from a fighting knife in the situation where it is used – to cut Gollum’s bonds.

Laura then observed that the chapter offers details of the history of Minas Ithil/Morgul and the Numenoreans. She also noted the association of eating and devouring with Sauron and the wraiths.

Tim and Angela commented on the parallels between references to palantirs in this chapter and in the Dunharrow chapter in Book 4– both instances take place of 7th March, as revealed by the Tale of Years.

Laura remarked that although Faramir’s blessing of Frodo may seem rather inappropriate – as assuming some kind of status – this is justified by his status as a Man of Numenorean lineage.

We moved on to consider Frodo’s limited choices, as indicated by his exchange with Faramir about going to Cirith Ungol with Gollum. Ian noted that things have moved on in ways Gandalf himself may not have foreseen but Faramir goes with his best guess based on his knowledge of Gandalf.

Chris remarked that in fact Frodo was very lucky to have Gollum to show him an alternative route to the Morannon.

Eileen asked whether the Ring is controlling Gollum, and Tim replied ‘not really’, it is not ‘possessing’ him to its advantage. I differentiated Gollum’s obsession from ‘possession’, and Chris observed that Bilbo was similarly obsessed. Tim qualified this by noting that Bilbo only used it for escape and for small matters, not for domination.

Angela remarked that Galadriel’s refusal to take it acknowledges the way things start. Eileen asked why Faramir doesn’t want it, as distinct from Boromir’s desire? Angela replied that Faramir, like Aragorn, knows how dangerous the Ring is. Tim further distinguished Faramir the thoughtful brother from Boromir the man of action. Laura added that Faramir and Aragorn also have greater willpower.

Chris commented that even Gandalf avoids it and is glad to have its temptation out of the way. Faramir, however, is not in proximity to Frodo as long as Boromir was. Angela added that by the time Sam makes his dangerous slip Faramir already knows what has happened to his brother.

Laura noted that the ‘air of Numenor’ links Faramir and Gandalf.

We managed at last to move into ‘The Journey to the Crossroad’ for a little while and Tim remarked that the chapter has an echo of ‘Farewell to Lorien’ as the hobbits are again leaving a place of sactuary and are given gifts with special virtue and blessing on them.

Angela added that they are also given food again.

Chris noted that there is no sign now that Gollum dislikes travelling in daylight. Tim wondered if he had become acclimatised to it, and Laura wondered if it was because he had felt protected and rested.

Eileen and Chris remarked that the blindfolding of the hobbits, including Gollum, echoes the blindfolding in Lorien, and Angela thought that Frodo may have learned from Aragorn when he insists they should all be blindfolded.

I suggested that when the hobbits spend the night in a tree, this may echo the acclimatising of Gollum to daylight (if that’s what it is), and be a sign that they are all developing in various ways. Tim noted that Tolkien is very specific about the kind of tree – the holm oak.

Laura remarked on the African use of the boma – an protective enclosure made of thorn bushes, and this brought us by roundabout routes to Tolkien’s knowledge of the stories of H. Rider Haggard. Tim and Laura recalled similarities between ‘Aisha’ (She), and Galadriel. I recalled an interview Tolkien had given in which he talked about the influence of Haggard on his work.

With that we ran out of time and hastily agreed that for our last June meeting we will continue with ‘The Journey’ and we will read as much as we can manage of what remains of Book 4.


Carol’s Comments on ‘The Forbidden Pool’

Gollum reappears. Frodo never excuses himself to Gollum for going with Faramir and co., though he could because he didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Faramir is noble and wise, full of empathy. Like Pippin later, I’d go a long way for Faramir and even more so because of the way Denethor treats him. Tolkien was right to like the young Man walking out of the fields of Ithilien. Help and hospitality unlooked for.

Last Meeting in May

My grateful thanks to Tim for taking and writing up the notes following here:

Present: Angela, Chris, Laura, Ian, Eileen, Tim

Chapters: “The Window on the West” in continuation, “The Forbidden Pool”

After gathering for a pre-meeting pre-amble with coffee and snacks at the Artisan Café, we reconvened at the Seminar Room for 1.30pm, without our guiding light, Lynn, who had a very good reason for her absence – she was attending her son’s wedding.

Ian opened the discussion, noting how Faramir explains the history/tradition of his Númenórean ancestors – the reason for facing towards the West at mealtimes, and why it is important. He also mentioned the rhetorical nature of the language used. There is nothing to say that modern Men are any better than the Númenóreans in the past. There has been a fall from state of grace for Men – the relationship they had with ancient peoples – Elves – no longer have that affinity. The Stewards are more practical than the line of Kings. Faramir preserves the greatness of Númenórean race – “ancientry”
Tim remarked on the story-telling within the story taking place in this chapter, similar to the Council of Elrond.
Angela said that some Men still have dealings with Elves, something she likes the idea of. Eileen mentioned how Celeborn had a go at Gimli in Lothlórien. Laura wondered where these Gondorians are now? Have they gone native in Lothlórien? Angela said that Treebeard was surprised that Pippin and Merry got out of Lothlórien and that they got it in the first place.
With reference to the prayer to the West, Chris observed how Frodo feels “rustic and untutored”. Ian picked up on the strange usage of the word “rustic”. “City mouse, town mouse”.
Angela posed the idea of private libraries. Laura asked if Minas Tirith/Gondor has become a decadent culture, too busy looking at the dead. Eileen commented that we keep encountering the dead.
Ian considered why Minas Tirith should be preserved – there are no actual accounts in the book as yet of what the city is like. The White City is the defence against Mordor. We have only met Boromir and Faramir in terms of main characters. “Great Men”.
Angela reflected on the formal use by Faramir of “Samwise son of Hamfast” and “Frodo son of Drogo”.
Eileen wondered if Faramir’s race is evolving. Chris referred to the intermarriage of the races of Men. Laura said that the bloodline had become thinner through marriage with the mainland. Ian: Men were losing affinity with Númenor. Boromir went to Rivendell due to the importance of this to Minas Tirith even though Faramir might have been better suited due to his affinity. Laura referred to the end of the chapter [“Window on the West”] as being wonderful. Faramir was Gandalf-like – the air of Numenor may be stronger in Faramir. Tim mentioned his affinity with Gandalf.
Laura commented on Isildur’s Bane, that Faramir doesn’t know what it is. Angela said that Gandalf found Ring lore in the archives of Minas Tirith. Ian described how Saruman gathered knowledge about the Ring, and related this matter to lost documents in general, such as medieval Welsh manuscripts in the National Archive of Wales – documents can be squirrelled away in private collections, or can be redacted or destroyed. There is not enough information available on Isildur’s Bane, no account of it. Angela noted that at the Council of Elrond, Boromir knows about the Ring. Tim said that Faramir also knows about the Ring, what it is. He knows the rhyme, as Ian added. Angela said that Gandalf was looking for a specific item in the archives. “Official Secrets”, as Laura put it, going on to add that Saruman went to Minas Tirith – what did he take away? Eileen found that Gandalf is showing himself to be wise. Chris observed that whoever wrote the scroll about the Ring would have written down the inscription on the Ring without understanding what it meant, since it was in the Black Speech.
Chris also talked about how Gandalf did teach Faramir a lot. He is not a patient teacher. It could be a commentary by Tolkien on people not studying when they have the time to.
Eileen described the influence of Galadriel, for example Sam’s modest poetry/recital which shows he is smitten by her. Laura described Galadriel as dangerous, and Eileen agreed that there is a power in Galadriel.
Chris compared Boromir and Faramir’s differing attitudes to the Ring – Boromir saw it as a solution, Faramir sees that they cannot use the Ring. Ian talked about the change in Boromir because of the Ring, a change of look, a different intent – psychological. Tim read out Tolkien’s description of the change to Boromir’s visage at Amon Hen: “His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.”
Chris said that Boromir was not evil – he didn’t want the Ring for himself but for his people. Eileen noted how the Company didn’t trust Boromir when they were in the boats leaving Lothlórien. She also thought that the book is more of a drama which makes you question things.
Ian: Sam refers to “daffadowndilly” which is a dialect word found in West Yorkshire, Cheshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Devon, Nottinghamshire, also Dorset, Scotland, Gloucestershire. Other variants: daffydowndilly, daffidowndilly. Reference also “spurgeflax”.
Laura identified two possible moments where the Valar stepped in. First, when Boromir chose to go on the mission to Rivendell. Faramir says that “I should have been chosen”. Was this the Valar’s plan? Denethor didn’t want Boromir to go to Rivendell. Secondly, at one point Sam looks back to see Gollum slipping behind a tree trunk and says nothing, unusually – are the Valar restraining Sam? He shows sympathy/pity for Gollum, not Sam’s instinctive response.
Ian thought that Frodo acts “treacherously” by coaxing Gollum into a trap [in “The Forbidden Pool”]. Sam is trusting Gollum not to attack them and thus doesn’t betray him. Frodo acts with the Ring, Sam acts without the Ring.
Chris thought that Frodo is saving Gollum. Ian added that Frodo has it in his power to destroy Gollum but doesn’t.
Laura observed that Faramir says he wouldn’t kill anything without question. Mention was made of the black squirrels of Mirkwood. Other creatures have fled Dol Guldur.
Ian talked about the usage of the word “escape” – an obscure Scottish term – omission/oversight – “escapes” as opposed to “escapees”.
Chris said that in “The Forbidden Pool” Frodo reveals that Gollum once had the Ring and is now their guide. Faramir is aghast.
Eileen highlighted the word “gangrel” which Ian investigated the meaning of: it is variously found in Scottish, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Shropshire, and can refer to vagrant, vagabond, tramp; toddler, unsteady walker; lanky, ungainly; toad. Tim thought all definitions could be describing Gollum.
Chris described Gollum as “cat-like”, further evidence of Tolkien’s dislike of cats. Sam agrees but disagrees that Gollum shouldn’t be tied up, as Frodo says.
Tim noted the reference to hedgehogs in Middle-earth.
Faramir was dubious of Gollum but asks Frodo for his advice/opinion, Eileen said. Angela noted a similarity in the way that Faramir is disobeying the orders of his father, the Steward, just as Eomer disobeyed the orders of his King.
Laura commented on the form of speech which is still very formal in the middle of war.
A little moment of by-play from Ian “Do you have the Ring?” was responded to with “Lawful wedded guide”.
Laura said that Frodo was committed to looking after Sméagol.
Eileen said that Faramir puts a doom on Gollum: a year and a day.
Angela remarked on Sam’s cheekiness with Faramir over the Elves. Faramir is putting him on his guard. Eileen liked the comedy in the book.
Eileen posed the question: what will Frodo do after he’s got rid of the Ring? The general response from other members of the group was: you’ll have to read to find out.
Ian introduced another point, related to Auden and Tolkien. This Quest is to get rid of something the Company/Frodo have already got. Usually the object of a quest is to get something. The outcome of the quest is that the world won’t necessarily be better.
Eileen agreed that this turns things on its head.
We concluded the meeting a little after half past the hour and before quarter before the hour [Southfarthing Reckoning]. For next time [11th June], we agreed to return to The Forbidden Pool, since we have unfinished business there with Frodo and Faramir, and to also read the last two chapters of “The Two Towers”: “Shelob’s Lair” and “The Choices of Master Samwise”.

Note: All errors and omissions are my own. I’ve endeavoured to make this an accurate record of the meeting, but if anyone spots any almighty clangers, please do not hesitate to let Lynn or myself know. Tim.

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.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.