Last meeting in March

The following are the minutes of the latest meeting that were kindly taken by Tim, who has included website links where appropriate.

Present: Angela, Chris, Ian, Laura, Tim (minutes)
Apologies: Lynn, Eileen, Julie, Mike, Pat
We few, we happy few, convened in the Librarians’ Room today, since the Seminar Room is apparently being decorated. Lynn was due to attend a lecture today so she was unable to join us, although we understand from Laura that Lynn has been unwell, so we were all wishing for a speedy recovery. All our fellow Southfarthingas who were unable to come along today were of course missed.
The general theme of this week’s meeting was to be the theme of this year’s Reading Day: friendship. In true Southfarthing tradition, we were well provided with cakes, courtesy of Laura, to go with our tea and coffee.
As a precursor to the general discussion, Ian shared some of his ongoing research with the rest of the group, which is as always fascinating. He described a recent press release concerning the Tolkien Gordon Collection at the University of Leeds Library, consisting of papers which include a poem by Tolkien, ‘The Root of the Boot’, which we have recently encountered in its later form – in our reading of Flight to the Ford – as Sam’s ‘Rhyme of the Troll’. The following is a link to the original manuscript:
Ian informed the group that it could be sung to a traditional tune, which the site identifies as The Fox Went Out. It was published in Songs for the Philologists in 1936.
The collection consists of papers which document Tolkien’s early academic career at Leeds. (Brotherton Library, Alaric Hall, Catherine Butt). It appears that this draft of the poem was written in circa 1922, appearing in another form thirty years later in The Lord of the Rings.
Ian read the poem out to the group. There were recognisable elements when compared to the version in TLotR. Tim was intrigued by what the tune would be like.
Ian also talked about Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, which was published in six volumes between 1898 and 1905.  Wright (1855-1930) was Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford University between 1901 and 1925. He tutored Tolkien when he was at Oxford and was an important early influence.
The group was shown a print of one page showing the entry for hobbit, being a Welsh word for a measure of weight for corn, beans, et cetera, as per the link below:
The discussion moved onto the theme for the day: friendship. It was remarked that the meeting itself was an example of friendship, of friends coming together to sit round eating cakes (we ate plenty between the five of us today!) drinking coffee and talking about Tolkien and his works.
Ian raised the example of the developing friendship between Thorin and Bilbo.
Angela referred to the developing bond between Legolas and Gimli, and Aragorn – the Three Hunters (cries of “Let’s hunt some orc” and “Forth, the Three Hunters”); Treebeard and Pippin and Merry; Gandalf and his friendships with Gwaihir, Shadowfax, Treebeard and Aragorn.
Friendship was also likened to brotherhood. Laura observed that friends will get you out of trouble.
Tim noted the changing relationship of Frodo and Sam by the end of the story, from master and servant to equals and friends.
Ian described the redefining of the roles of Aragorn and Boromir. It was also mentioned how Boromir was isolated and isolated himself from the rest of the Fellowship.
Tim had been considering the relationship of Tuor and Voronwë, described in detail in Unfinished Tales, wondering if it could be seen as a friendship when Voronwë was acting as Tuor’s guide to Gondolin. Chris agreed it could be. Tim also referred to the friendship between Túrin and Beleg. The latter was like a father to Túrin and searched for him in the wilds when Túrin was living as an outlaw, dying at his hand.
Angela observed that there are several examples of man-elf relationships. She referred to the interaction of Legolas and Aragorn after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Chris asked the group: Did the Ring have a friend?
Laura raised the matter of the One Ring’s relationship with/links with the other rings of power.
Ian talked about C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves in which Lewis explored the nature of love and identified four categories for love:
Storge – affection;
Philia – friendship;
Eros – romance;
Agape – charity/God-love/unconditional love
Chris reminded the group that we might also consider false friendships and cited Sauron’s relationship with Ar-Pharazôn in Númenor. Other false friendships featuring deception and betrayal include: Saruman’s relationship with Denethor and Gondor; Saruman and Gríma; Théoden and Gríma
Someone posed the question: Were the Nazgûl friends or work colleagues?
It was speculated that one Nazgûl might say to another: “When we’ve knocked off I’ll give you a ring.”
We discussed the next session.
The Tolkien Society AGM will be taking place on the same weekend as the next meeting of the Southfarthing is due, Saturday 11th April 2015.
Laura, Ian, Angela and Chris will be attending the AGM in Arundel. The remainder of the group could still meet that day, if we are all willing, or we could hold over our study of Book Two, Chapter One, Many Meetings until Saturday 25th April 2015 when everyone would be available. Tim said he would propose the options to Lynn by e-mail.
After a very lively, fascinating and varied discussion, we had arrived at a quarter to four: the Fellowship concluded its business and broke up to headed off into the daylight until the next time.

First Saturday in March

We were missing Mike and Laura this afternoon. However, it was great to be able to congratulate Julie in person on achieving her MA. We discussed the matter of Tolkien Reading Day and confirmed that the group would take the TRD topic of Friendship for discussion at our next meeting.
Our reading this week was to finish Book 1 which meant revisiting ‘A Knife in the Dark’ and adding ‘The Flight to the Ford’ to our discussion. Carol sent comments as usual, but as our discussions did not cover quite the same aspects her comments are added.
We began with Pat introducing us to her research into the significance of Tolkien’s use of ‘Underhill’ as Gandalf’s alias for Frodo on his journey and the frequent mention of ‘under hill’ in both the chapters concerning Tom Bombadil, and the earlier ‘Adventures of Tom Bombadil’. Pat had wondered what this concept of ‘under hill’ signified, and proposed that it was connected with travel.
Julie remarked that in The Hobbit the rhythmic pattern ‘overhill, underhill’ is used, and Ian picked up Pat’s idea of travelling and proposed that it connoted a journey into the spirit or into fairy story and might be seen as having links to the Sidhe (shee), the Celtic fairy world, because – following Verlyn Flieger’s suggestions – Frodo, coming out of fairy-tale traditions, is also coming out of the Sidhe traditions.
Angela noted that Underhill is a common name in Bree, and indeed the Underhills in the Prancing Pony try very hard to work out what relation Frodo must be to them.
Ian observed that Frodo’s ‘underhill’ name is not functional after Bree, but Tim proposed that ‘Underhill’ still defines the quest as secretive.
Pat’s observation had produced a long and detailed exchange of ideas.
Eileen then moved the discussion on with her observation that Frodo and his companions constantly go through gaps while the Black Riders take the high ground.
Pat, Ian and Eileen all remarked in the various biblical echoes in ‘The Knife in the Dark’. Eileen was particularly concerned at the total of 30 silver pennies paid and offered by Butterbur for the ponies lost and bought – an echo of the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas. Among other biblical echoes we noted that cockcrow in Crickhollow marks the turning of the tide against the attacking Black Riders. Tim remarked that this was Tolkien’s rewriting of the biblical significance of the money and the cockcrow which were linked with betrayal, but in this chapter they are linked to positive actions.
Chris picked up the matter of the silver pennies and asked where was the mint if there was no king? I thought that the pennies did not have to be new, but might have been in circulation for a long time.
Pat went on to consider more poetry with her observation that Strider chanted the song of Tinuviel, and that this chanting has a calming effect which drives back the hobbits’ fear.
Tim remarked that chanting was part of the bardic tradition, while Pat thought that chanting acted like a meditation, while Eileen thought it had an effect like a spell.
Julie was interested in Strider’s statement about the song – that it was sad but ‘healing’. Ian noticed that this reference to tales in the history of Middle-earth being fair but sad comes from a character within the same story. Ian also noted that Strider prevents Sam and Frodo from speaking.
Tim commented that it seems like a case of ‘if anyone’s going to tell a tale, it’s me!’
Ian then noted that there is a significance about pauses in the text, as when Strider pauses, and when Frodo doesn’t speak when the group encounter the trolls.
Tim went on to consider the drama of the Black Riders’ attack, as well as the danger of Strider and the hobbits being up on Weathertop, which was very exposed but a necessary move. Angela observed that they needed to check on Gandalf.
Pat wondered how the stone was interpreted as an omen, and Ian thought it signalled an instance of the interweaving of chance and story structure. Pat thought Tolkien was planting ideas.
As we moved on Tim observed that the elves of Rivendell did not know Strider was with Frodo. Tim also observed that the Troll Song seems to be written in a Midlands dialect. Eileen thought the Song was a change to lightness after great fear before the story moves into uncertainty over the Black Riders.
I wondered if the description if Asfaloth as an ‘elf horse’ meant it was a particular kind of horse, and Julie suggested a relationship to the mearas. Tim noted that elf-horses only carry those they want to carry, and Angela wondered how a horse could carry a rider particularly smoothly.
Our discussions had been so detailed and wide-ranging that we ran out of time and agreed that next time, being the meeting closest to Reading Day, the group would take Friendship as its topic for discussion and leave beginning Book 2 until April, when ‘Many Meetings’ will be our reading.

Carol’s Comments
One of my defining moments in the whole book – Sam singing of Gil-galad, Sam, the youngest son who succeeds. The little gentlehobbits, Merry and Pippin, don’t know about Gil-galad, but the lowly servant does. Also history in song.

They discover the results of the flashing lights of a few nights ago. Was it Gandalf?

This poem, ‘Tinuviel’, part of a tale of the First Age. Its rhyme scheme is difficult; ann-thennath Strider calls it. I’ve tried to write a poem in the same mode and it took me a long time to get it reasonable. At this time, the first-time reader doesn’t know the significance of the story to the current situation.

This is part of an excellent potted history of Middle-earth’s main dynasty and what happened in the later part of the First Age and beyond. Tolkien seems to be outside himself in writing passages like these. They seem to flow far more easily as if he’s remembering something long embedded in his psyche. He’s also longing for those times – I think. It is also one of the ways of telling stories within stories.

This attack in the dell is scarey stuff with no 11th hour rescue. The group have to defend themselves against pure evil, described as ‘black holes’. Tolkien wouldn’t have known about astronomical black holes but the description suits the Nazgul perfectly – passages into non-existence, robbed of body and soul.

‘all blades perish that pierce that dreadful king.’ See Merry and Pelennor Fields. The athelas – first signs of Aragorn as king and healer

They’re now treading more recent historical topography – Bilbo’s journey. Tolkien inserts history from all periods at various times to give depth and authenticity to his world, as well as its being the backstory.

Sam’s troll song: please read all the poetry – its diversity is amazing. Secret selves are being slowly revealed in Aragorn and Sam. His secret life is a bit more obvious than Aragorn’s and is another step in his development.

The run-up and the encounter with Glorfindel: this last bit of Book 1 is gripping stuff, a very exciting chase. The Nazgul are beaten for the time being but leave Book 1 not knowing if Frodo will survive.

Last Meeting in February

For the first time in ages 10 of us gathered to continue accompanying Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin on their dangerous journey into Bree and beyond. Carol joined the quest by email as usual. Some of her comments are in the report, the rest are added at the end.
Angela began our discussion with her remark that the ‘Prancing Pony’ and ‘Strider’ chapters include a good deal of xenophobia with guarded comments among the characters about ‘outsiders’ and ‘Southerners’. Laura wondered if this was Tolkien’s vision of insular reaction to the arrival of the Saxon tribes.
Tim observed that this was an extension of the concept of an insular society which in LotR includes Hobbiton. The insularity there might be compared to the situation in Buckland, although there is very little sign of interaction with the world outside the Shire here too, and even the Old Forest is ‘insulated’ from outside influences. Tim also noted that there are more different kinds of people in Bree but it is still an insular community.
Angela noted that Bree is protected by Rangers, but while the inhabitants of the Shire don’t know about the protecting Rangers, the folk of Bree know the Rangers but not their function.
Ian commented that the Breelanders think the Rangers are vagabonds, and though the Big Folk are part of their everyday lives, they still think of Strider as an outsider.
Eileen remarked that at this first reading (for her) she doesn’t know if the Rangers can be trusted, or Strider.
I raised Carol’s point about topography of Breeland and beyond being the history of Middle-earth, telling obliquely of the Last Alliance. Tim commented that the hobbits experience a ‘Tour Guides’ during this early part of the story as a succession characters lead and educate the hobbits in the wider world and its history.
Ian compared Tom Bombadil, who can tell the hobbits everything, while Strider relates extracts of historical epics to them because he’s part of the ongoing epic, but Tom IS the narrative, having lived it.
Laura observed that we don’t know anyone from 3,000 years ago in England, but in Middle-earth historical figures from that ancient date are known. Ian commented that this is because there are immortal beings able to remember and transmit.
I then mentioned the gatekeeper’s recognition of the hobbits by their Shire dialect, and Angela and Julie both noted that Sam’s suspicions of Strider are in part aroused by the fact that his mode of speech changes during the first evening. Angela wondered whether Sam’s distrust of Strider was due to his limited experience.
In answer to Carol’s wondering who climbed over the gate, we noted that Harry Goatleaf was not a good gatekeeper because both Strider climbed over the gate and the he let Black Riders through.
Ian noted that there are 3 time during which the oddness of the appearance of the Shire hobbits is commented upon, including by the passing fox in the Shire.
Laura remarked that the Prancing Pony chapter is humorous, adding new characters, and Angela cited Butterbur’s observation that ‘There was too much of that Mr. Underhill to go vanishing…’ Ian thought the chapter adds drama.
Tim commented that this chapter is Frodo’s first use of the Ring in public. Angela reminded us that he had used it in Tom’s house, and Tim added that Bree is its first perilous use.
Laura remarked that the Ring has perhaps become a character in its own right now the Black Riders are in the vicinity.
Laura and Tim both turned their attention to the Cat and Fiddle Song, and noted that the song creates its own history, and that Bob, Butterbur’s help, has a cat.
Ian thought the song was a cute way of taking a bit of folklore and appropriating it to his own ends.
Laura then wondered if Fatty Lumpkin could have been the model for the Prancing Pony inn sign, or is Fatty a descendant of the Mearas? Angela remarked that Fatty does not seem to be a mortal horse. Tim raised a possible connection with Orome the hunter and thus the Vala most associated with horses. Then we wondered why Sam called the pony ‘Bill’, and Tim replied that it may have been to signify that Ferny was no better than a pony.
Eileen wondered if Sam throwing an apple at Bill Ferny might not have fired up Ferny even more, considering his apparently wicked character. Tim thought Sam’s reaction to Ferny’s snide insults was the apt response to a bully. Eileen observed that this is the first time Sam fights back.
We then considered the gatekeeper as Julie remarked that the gatekeeper has been consorting with Ferny. Mike commented that a gate implies a different set of rules and someone in charge, like the city-states of ancient Greece. Ian compared the gate into the Old Forest, and remarked that the Bree gate seems to indicate administration and organisation but there is no sign of this, only a general wariness.
I wondered whether Strider’s admission that he has ‘rather a rascally look’ is just a sign of his hard life, or whether it is something he cultivates. Angela replied that he may be intended to give the Breelanders something to look at! Tim observed that it is better to go unwashed in the wild so as not to be noticed.
When I asked Carol’s question relating to Tom’s, and now Strider’s use of the 3rd person when referring to himself, Ian considered ‘Strider’ to be a character guide and he thought that like ‘Tom Bombadil’ it signified that he was not a ‘white knight’ hero, but each was still accepted as a guide. Angela thought it connoted Strider’s vulnerability, while Eileen thought the use of an alias distanced his persona. Mike expanded on this by suggesting that when Strider refers to himself in the 3rd person he is acknowledging this as a persona with a separate role.
Tim suggested it hinted at the affectations of kingship, and I digressed by mentioning that in Elizabethan times the theory of ‘the King’s Two Bodies’ separated the physical body of the monarch from the monarch as head of the body politic and conveyer of the legitimate blood royal.
Ian suggested that Strider’s variable identity reminds us that Tolkien did not know what would come next once the hobbits reached Bree.
Carol’s question ‘why is Bill Ferny like he is?’ produced a variety of replies:
Ian replied that we get our opinion of him from what we are told. Julie said some people are just like it, while Eileen wondered if it was because he was consigned to the margin of the village, living close to one of the gates. Angela remarked that Strider knows Ferny as a spy.
Laura then observed that these chapters are full of ‘sayings’, like Butterbur’s ‘one thing and another …have jogged my memory, as the saying goes.’
Julie than asked a question I had wondered about ‘why do the Black Riders take so long to get from the ferry to Crickhollow? Tim suggested it was because their horses needed to rest. I thought it was because they needed to search Buckland. Tim then discovered Tolkien’s explanation in his Companion to LotR in which Tolkien explains that stealth is needed and the Riders have to wait for night to approach the house.
Laura raised the matter of the Black Breath and wondered how it worked and what it was for? Mike thought it was like a truth drug or a hallucinogenic drug.
Laura also wondered why, when he knew how unreliable Butterbur could be, Gandalf left such an important letter with him to be sent on to Frodo. Eileen wondered if the delay was more than just Butterbur’s forgetfulness. Tim thought it showed the consequences of a simply breakdown in communications, and Laura reminded us that Tolkien had been a communications officer during the First World War.
Tim then wondered whether the Black Riders didn’t like loud noises because they disperse at the sound of shouts and the horn calls of Buckland. Angela noted that these chapters are full of soft sounds associated with the Riders. Pat, who had joined us late but with enthusiasm, compared the magical sound of Tom’s song. Tim observed a future echo in the sound of the cockcrow, and its positive effect both in Crickhollow and in Bree.
In response to Carol’s suggestion that the opening of the ‘Knife’ chapter is the only time the narrative diverts from the main push forward. We considered whether it was a digression but Julie commented that it explains Frodo’s dream in Bree of the horn blowing. Angela proposed that it fulfilled the need for a backstory to Fatty’s heroism. Ian noted that the ‘Fear Fire Foe’ is matched at the end of the chapter by the revelation that the Black Riders can ‘smell blood’.
As we didn’t get very far with our discussion of the ‘Knife in the Dark’ we agreed to finish this next time and read ‘The Flight to the Ford’ so as to finish Book 1 before going any further.

Carol’s additional comments:

Trust a hobbit (Merry) to gain ‘one crumb of comfort’ from the disastrous delay caused by the loss of the ponies – and more than a crumb!

I like this episode with Ferny and Sam – a bit of levity before going into the wild. In the end things will work out proper between Ferny and his ‘poor old pony’.