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.

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