Last meeting in March (Reading Day Meeting)


As the meeting closest to Reading Day we began with a discussion of the Reading Day topic which this year has been ‘Hope’. Omer’s contribution on the topic follows the meeting report.

After that we moved on to consider Finn and Hengist. However, we did indulge in some initial conjecture about the forthcoming Tolkien translation of Beowulf – a suitable introduction to Reading Day.

When we moved on, our discussion of Hope in Tolkien’s works began with Laura observing that although many bad and sad things happen throughout the legendarium the general trend of the stories is towards eventual Hope, as even after the Scouring and Frodo’s increasing distress everything moves towards the promise of the West.

Tim added that one of his favourite quotes was Frodo’s last vision of: ‘a far green country under a swift sunrise’ (RotK ‘The Grey Havens’), which implies hope.

Julie picked out the terrible time when Sam and Frodo are in Mordor when hope seemed to die but didn’t.

Laura reminded us of the myth of Pandora’s Box which when opened released all the ills of the world, so that only hope remained in the Box – to look after Mankind. [On the matter of the Box please also see Ian’s comments added as an Appendix later that raise significant intersections between this and references to Boxes in LotR]

Mike distinguished between the expression of a wish, e.g. hoping something will happen – which Angela described as hope in what’s known – versus that Christian certainty of hope. Mike quoted from St. Paul, that suffering requires endurance which evokes hope. Obstacles can only be overcome through hope, and Mike remarked that this is a quality seen in Sam even when Frodo loses hope.

Angela noted that Aragorn retains hope but Denethor loses it, and she cited Vol. 10 of The Histories of Middle-earth and the debate between Andreth and Finrod concerning hope. This is probably Tolkien’s most detailed consideration of Hope, written in the classical form of a debate between two characters and distinguishes between kinds of hope, ‘Amdir’ and ‘Estel’, of which the latter is the deepest form and is equated with Trust.

Mike recast this as ‘something worth putting up with things for’, while Angela suggested that Hope is inbuilt into our nature, and while Aragorn temporarily loses ‘Amdir’ he never loses ‘Estel’. Angela also noted that Eärendil was also known as ‘Gil-Estel’, Star Hope.

Tim compared this to the concept of ‘wishing on a star’, and Laura remarked on its like to the thematic importance of light in the legendarium.

Angela later added the following for clarification: “My comment that Aragorn temporarily loses ‘amdir’ but never loses ‘estel‘ should be credited to Elizabeth M. Stephen as she discusses this subject in detail in her book Hobbit to Hero.  My own references to the Finrod/Andreth debate in Aragorn: J R R Tolkien’s Undervalued Hero relate to discussions on elf/mortal unions and pity rather than hope.”

The general trend of the discussion up to this point had been optimistic – that Tolkien’s work tends intentionally towards hope. However, after giving the topic some thought I had come to the opposite conclusion – that what we see is the final absence of Hope, which is more like a social construct. Mike objected that this was not Tolkien’s point, which was rather the endless need for endurance aided by faith in order to avoid complacency.

Both Angela and Mike considered hope an inbuilt human response, but wondered why that should be? Laura pondered the possibility that if hope was not a spiritual quality, what is it? She suggested it might be tied to the need for the race/tribe to continue. Tim expanded this, suggesting the need of endurance for survival. Mike found this a rather practical impulse linked to benefits.

Ian proposed that the quality of Hope developed because we live on a dynamic planet and hope helps us deal with the prospect of the future which is inevitably one of change.

Mike observed that Hope is very necessary in absence and suffering. Hope helps people carry on, Thus the outcome of LotR is hopeful and shows how to endure. The sensitivity and subtlety upon which it is based has been part of humanity for aeons.

Laura then wondered why Hope is specific to humans but not other animals –as far as we know. We did not address the matter of ‘rationality’, but Angela noted that in LotR, Appendix A the backstory of Aragorn declares that even in the face of his high and demanding ‘doom’: ‘hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart’, and Chris remarked that Hope may be equated with ‘belief’.

Our discussion moved in the direction of ethics, as it had been tending all afternoon, until Laura remarked on the status of the Eagles, suggesting first that that they were symbols of hope, or that those who herald their approach announce hope, but then Laura rethought this, seeing the Eagles rather as coming to put things right, like the classical Furies.

Tim picked up this link between arrival and hope when he reminded us of the arrival of the Rohirrim at cockcrow, in opposition to the arrival of the Lord of the Nazgul. Tim regarded this as mortal action signifying the arrival of Hope.

Angela contrasted this to Denethor’s response to Pippin’s reminder of Gandalf: ‘The fool’s hope has failed’.

Julie contrasted this to Sam’s song in the Tower of Cirith Ungol which emphasises in ‘I will not say the day is done…’ hope as an act of will.

Mike took a wider view of Hope when he observed that writers need to keep hope up: readers need to hope for a good ending. Hope may also be part of the drama of a story.

With that long perspective, and because we had had quite an intense discussion of the topic of Hope, it seemed a good time to move on to our reading and discuss our responses to Finn and Hengist the name given by the editor to Tolkien’s lectures on two related texts which tell the same story. One is known as the Fragment and the other is the Episode (from its inclusion in the Beowulf poem).

Ian started by commenting that the book was not conveniently laid out. Laura observed that it was perhaps more representative of the structure of Tolkien’s lectures on the material. Alan Bliss, the editor, contributed very little of his own commentary, preferring to rely heavily on the notes Tolkien compiled for lectures he gave at Oxford during the 1930s and 40s.

We missed Christopher Tolkien’s editorial style, and Ian remarked that it would have helped if Professor Bliss had included the Widsith text to which he and Tolkien often refer.

Laura, however, remarked that it was good to have Tolkien’s own words, and insights into his ‘day job’, and the editorial process had retained his lecturing style.

Ian and Laura both commented on the difference between Finn and Hengist and Tolkien’s other work: the Fragment and the Episode lectures deal in real history, as revealed by Tolkien’s insights into the proper names.

Angela was particularly struck by the strange coincidence that she has been continuing her reading of books to do with the Jacobites. When she came to read Finn and Hengist she discovered that the Fragment had been first discovered by George Hickes in Lambeth Palace Library c. 1700, and Hickes was a Jacobite supporter. The Fragment has been lost, and Tim noted that even the copy used to print Hickes’s inaccurate transcript has been lost.

Angela then went on to note that some names from the Fragment and Episode appear in LotR, citing ‘Guthlaf’, and ‘Garulf’ – men of Rohan naturally. Tim picked out ‘Guđulf > Gundulf’, and Laura drew attention to ‘græghama’ > grey hame, but in the Fragment meaning ‘wolf’.

Chris wondered what Christopher Tolkien thought of Alan Bliss’s edition of the work, given that his father had appointed Prof. Bliss as his editor during his lifetime.

Julie commented that it was interesting that Tolkien trusted someone other than his son.


Our next meeting will not be until the last Saturday in April because the TS AGM will be held on our usual second Saturday of the month. We have therefore not yet set our reading for our April meeting, but according to our suggested reading list, our next reading should be Unfinished Tales.


Omer’s Comments [Ian’s  comments follow these]

Tolkien and Hope: there are a number of times where such elements (i.e. of Hope, related to hopefulness etc) come before us, in various works by Prof Tolkien, especially in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I recollect to some extent these lines, which always struck me as rather special and significant in this respect, when at one place Gandalf tells Frodo that ‘…there was something … at work beyond the design of the Ring-maker’–and that ‘Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it’.

As I see it, even during the darkest hour, Tolkien finds a greater, universal pattern at work in which there is always hope, where evil is tempered with good and causes and effects fall into place in a manner that is no mere coincidence. This applies both to Middle-earth and to this earth that we inhabit, I think, in Tolkien’s view. We, too, quite often come across such instances in our lives where the light of hope springs out of the abysmal darkness, where we feel that ‘something there is’ beyond our ken that promises good. It’s hard to pinpoint this accurately but there it is.

I don’t know if this is at all useful, or any good, but somehow, these lines remain with me and are alive with suggestion and meaning.

Best regards,


Appendix – Ian’s comments on Boxes


Book I:                  3 instances         :Bilbo (1), Party (1), Sam [tinder] (1)

Book II:                 6 instances         :Bilbo (2), Sam [salt] [‘G’] (4)

Book III:               1 instances         :Orc (1)

Book IV:               4 instances         :Sam [tinder][salt] (2), ‘tree’ (2)

Book V:                                0 instances

Book VI:               3 instances         :Sam [‘G’] (3)


Lord of the Rings

Book II, The Ring Goes South

Chapter 8 Farewell to Lorien

`For you little gardener and lover of trees,’ she said to Sam, `I have only a small gift.’ She put into his hand a little box of plain grey wood, unadorned save for a single silver rune upon the lid. `Here is set G for Galadriel,’ she said; `but also it may stand for garden in your tongue. In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it.

It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you.

Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there. Then you may remember Galadriel, and catch a glimpse far off of Lorien, that you have seen only in our winter. For our spring and our summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory.’ Sam went red to the ears and muttered something inaudible, as he clutched the box and bowed as well as he could.

Book VI The End of the Third Age

Chapter 3 Mount Doom

The hateful night passed slowly and reluctantly. Such daylight as followed was dim; for here as the Mountain drew near the air was ever mirky, while out from the Dark Tower there crept the veils of Shadow that Sauron wove about himself. Frodo was lying on his back not moving. Sam stood beside him, reluctant to speak, and yet knowing that the word now lay with him: he must set his master’s will to work for another effort. At length, stooping and caressing Frodo’s brow, he spoke in his ear. ‘Wake up, Master!’ he said. ‘Time for another start.’ As if roused by a sudden bell, Frodo rose quickly, and stood up and looked away southwards; but when his eyes beheld the Mountain and the desert he quailed again. ‘I can’t manage it, Sam,’ he said. ‘It is such a weight to carry, such a weight.’ Sam knew before he spoke, that it was vain, and that such words might do more harm than good, but in his pity he could not keep silent. ‘Then let me carry it a bit for you, Master,’ he said. ‘You know I would, and gladly, as long as I have any strength.’ A wild light came into Frodo’s eyes. ‘Stand away! Don’t touch me!’ he cried. ‘It is mine, I say. Be off!’ His hand strayed to his sword-hilt. But then quickly his voice changed. ‘No, no, Sam,’ he said sadly. ‘But you must understand. It is my burden, and no one else can bear it. It is too late now, Sam dear. You can’t help me in that way again.

I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad.’

Sam nodded. ‘I understand,’ he said. ‘But I’ve been thinking, Mr. Frodo, there’s other things we might do without. Why not lighten the load a bit? We’re going that way now, as straight as we can make it.’ He pointed to the Mountain.

‘It’s no good taking anything we’re not sure to need.’

Frodo looked again towards the Mountain. ‘No,’ he said,

‘we shan’t need much on that road. And at its end nothing.’

Picking up his orc-shield he flung it away and threw his helmet after it. Then pulling off the grey cloak he undid the heavy belt and let it fall to the ground, and the sheathed sword with it. The shreds of the black cloak he tore off and scattered. ‘There, I’ll be an orc no more,’ he cried, ‘and I’ll bear no weapon fair or foul. Let them take me, if they will!’ Sam did likewise, and put aside his orc-gear; and he took out all the things in his pack. Somehow each of them had become dear to him, if only because he had borne them so far with so much toil. Hardest of all it was to part with his cooking-gear. Tears welled in his eyes at the thought of casting it away. ‘Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?’ he said. ‘And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir’s country, the day I saw an oliphaunt?’ ‘No, I am afraid not, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark. Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades.’ Sam went to him and kissed his hand. ‘Then the sooner we’re rid of it, the sooner to rest,’ he said haltingly, finding no better words to say. ‘Talking won’t mend nothing,’ he muttered to himself, as he gathered up all the things that they had chosen to cast away. He was not willing to leave them lying open in the wilderness for any eyes to see. ‘Stinker picked up that orc-shirt, seemingly, and he isn’t going to add a sword to it. His hands are bad enough when empty. And he isn’t going to mess with my pans!’ With that he carried all the gear away to one of the many gaping fissures that scored the land and threw them in. The clatter of his precious pans as they fell down into the dark was like a death-knell to his heart. He came back to Frodo, and then of his elven-rope he cut a short piece to serve his master as a girdle and bind the grey cloak close about his waist.

The rest he carefully coiled and put back in his pack. Beside that he kept only the remnants of their waybread and the water-bottle, and Sting still hanging by his belt; and hidden away in a pocket of his tunic next his breast the phial of Galadriel and the little box that she gave him for his own.

Now at last they turned their faces to the Mountain and set out, thinking no more of concealment, bending their weariness and failing wills only to the one task of going on.


Chapter 4 The Field of Cormallen

‘ .. now it must be nearly noon.’ ‘Noon?’ said Sam, trying to calculate. ‘Noon of what day?’ ‘The fourteenth of the New Year,’ said Gandalf; ‘or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning.? But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King. He has tended you, and now he awaits you. You shall eat and drink with him. When you are ready I will lead you to him.’ ‘The King?’ said Sam. ‘What king, and who is he?’ ‘The King of Gondor and Lord of the Western Lands,’ said Gandalf ‘and he has taken back all his ancient realm. He will ride soon to his crowning, but he waits for you.’ ‘What shall we wear?’ said Sam; for all he could see was the old and tattered clothes that they had journeyed in, lying folded on the ground beside their beds. ‘The clothes that you wore on your way to Mordor,’ said Gandalf. ‘Even the orc-rags that you bore in the black land; Frodo, shall be preserved. No silks and linens, nor any armour or heraldry could be more honourable. But later I will find some other clothes, perhaps.’ Then he held out his hands to them, and they saw that one shone with light. ‘What have you got there?’ Frodo cried. ‘Can it be – ?’

‘Yes, I have brought your two treasures. They were found on Sam when you were rescued. The Lady Galadriel’s gifts: your glass, Frodo, and your box, Sam. You will be glad to have these safe again.’

Chapter 9 The Grey Havens

Then suddenly one day, for he [Sam] had been too busy for weeks to give a thought to his adventures, he remembered the gift of Galadriel. He brought the box out and showed it to the other Travellers (for so they were now called by everyone), and asked their advice. ‘I wondered when you would think of it,’ said Frodo. ‘Open it!’ Inside it was filled with a grey dust, soft and fine, in the middle of which was a seed, like a small nut with a silver shell. ‘What can I do with this?’ said Sam. ‘Throw it in the air on a breezy day and let it do its work!’ said Pippin. ‘On what?’ said Sam. ‘Choose one spot as a nursery, and see what happens to the plants there,’ said Merry.

But I’m sure the Lady would not like me to keep it all for my own garden, now so many folk have suffered,’ said Sam.

‘Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘and then use the gift to help your work and better it. And use it sparingly. There is not much here, and I expect every grain has a value.’ So Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each. He went up and down the Shire in this labour; but if he paid special attention to Hobbiton and Bywater no one blamed him. And at the end he found that he still had a little of the dust left; so he went to the Three-Farthing Stone, which is as near the centre of the Shire as no matter, and cast it in the air with his blessing. The little silver nut he planted in the Party Field where the tree had once been; and he wondered what would come of it. All through the winter he remained as patient as he could, and tried to restrain himself from going round constantly to see if anything was happening.

Spring surpassed his wildest hopes.

His trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty. In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.


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