Last Meeting in May

For our late Spring Bank holiday meeting our reading had included the rest of ‘The Council of Elrond’ and ‘The Ring Goes South’, for which Carol had also sent her comments.
We started with updates on research, including Scull and Hammond’s revision of their reference to the Tolkien family’s holiday in north Wales following Ian’s careful investigation of this matter.
Ian has also discovered that the recently published Ring of Words omits the significant fact that the word ‘hobbit’ can be found in Joseph Wright’s Dialect Dictionary – a text Tolkien certainly knew. Ian pointed out that Ring of Words is not the only recent study to omit the significance of the Dialect Dictionary.
Tim then responded to Carol’s observation that the Elves Galdor and Erestor only appear in the the Council. It was noted that Galdor is present to represent Cirdan. Tim suggested that their presence gives a sense of the size of the Rivendell household and the gathering. Angela pointed out that Erestor is in the company that goes with Arwen to Minas Tirith. Picking up Tim’s point, Laura noted that in the film, the confrontations in which Galdor and Erestor participate at the Council show the Last Alliance falling apart, as Sauron wants.
Laura went on to question whether the Ring is influencing Boromir at the Council, because as a warrior he want any weapon that could be used against Mordor.
Carol took issue with the early critic Catherine Stimpson who had written that Tolkien puts more faith in war than in negotiation. As Carol observed ‘you don’t parley with the likes of Sauron: you either fight to win or lose’. While disputing Stimpson’s view and supporting Carol’s, we added the critic Ann Petty to the number of critics with whom we generally disagreed.
Eileen commented on the need to get the Ring away safely and Ian remarked that Boromir was not present to attend a discussion of ultimate ends but to discover if the solving of the riddle was relevant to Gondor. Tim remarked that he doesn’t understand subtlety.

Eileen then asked if it is surprising that Frodo takes the Ring? Or does he come into his own? It was hard not to give the game away to our first-time reader!
Carol’s point that the quest would have ended in ultimate failure if Faramir had taken the journey to Rivendell and left Boromir to command the forces of Gondor in Ithilien was not accepted by the group. Ian observed that both Boromir and Aragorn agreed to go to Minas Tirith, thus Boromir was in agreement with the Council. Laura commented that Boromir is not someone who would lurk in the woods, he is a more ‘overt’ warrior. Chris, however, thought there was no real difference between the brothers. Laura, on the other hand characterised the difference between them as Boromir with his horn compared to Faramir fighting quietly.
Ian observed that Boromir is quite settled about the decisions made in the Council, but Laura wondered if the Ring itself could be at work, and Tim added that the decision to take the Ring to Mordor suits it, especially the acceptance of the hobbit as bearer. Ian added that in fact hobbits are ideal carriers, as may be judged by Gollum’s resilience, because they are more resistant to the lure of the Ring.
Eileen observed that on first reading Frodo does not appear to be influenced by the Ring but three of us offered signs of its effect already taking place. Angela also observed that Frodo would have found it hard to give it up, but Chris agreed that he has more strength. Angela reminded us that Frodo thinks it belongs to Aragorn anyway.
Eileen admitted that at this stage she doesn’t entirely trust any of the Nine Walkers, but Ian pointed out that they all go willingly on the journey. Chris qualified this by observing that the reader doesn’t know at this stage if any of them has an ulterior motive behind their participation in the quest, and Eileen remarked that it allcreates many questions about what is coming.
Chris then asked ‘What does Boromir do while Aragorn and the Elves are out on scouting missions? Ian and I thought he could have been checking out Elvish weaponry, or books of history, expanding on what has already been said in the Council. Laura and Angela thought he had been recovering from his 100 day journey.
Laura then noted that in Gandalf’s account of his meeting with Saruman it is said that Saruman wore a ring on his finger and called himself Saruman Ringmaker. Laura wondered if he had been experimenting! She also found the description of him laying his ‘long hand’ on Gandalf’s arm creepy. Ian recalled the barrow wight pawing at the hobbits, and I remembered Gollum doing the same, under different circumstances, to Frodo.
Laura then made a detailed connection between Shadowfax and the prehistoric eohippus or dawn horse, through the description of Shadowfax as looking as if he had been ‘foaled in the morning of the world’. Carol remarked “I’m no linguist but can discern the odd word. In ‘Hrafnkel’s saga’, his horse is called Freyrfaxi meaning Freys’s mane, so Shadowfax is shadow mane”.

We moved then into ‘The Ring Goes South’.
Tim noted that before the Company sets out, Bilbo is now passing things on, and Eileen compared the concealed shirt with the concealed Ring.
Chris observed that Legolas and Gimli are both introduced slowly through the chapter. Tim noted that Gandalf and Aragorn are dominant as leaders of the Fellowship, and Laura thought that to have added too much detail would have made for too rich a mix for readers. Eileen wondered if this made it easier to absorb after all the details of the Council.
Carol commented that when facing Caradhras, Boromir’s advice about taking firewood proves to be a life saver and he is on sure ground in conditions where there is something physicalthat he can understand and deal with. Eileen observed that on Caradhras the Company are described as sheltering with their backs to the overhanging cliff face, and that this may serve as a metaphor for the fighting they may face.

For our next meeting we agreed to finish this chapter and go on to ‘A Journey in the Dark’.
Carol’s comments on matter we still didn’t touch on follow here:
‘the time of my thought is my own to spend.’ Dain crystallising dwarf freedom and independence, despite the menaces of the Rider and what he knows of Sauron – so it proves. I’ve noted: ‘see Shippey and the northern theory of courage’.

‘you have come…by chance as it may seem’. There’s a lot of fortuitous synchronicity in LotR.

Elrond recounting ages of history – how can it not be interesting even after countless rereadings. And now we discover why Bilbo had a cheek to write songs about Earendil in the house of Elrond, who’s dad he is. But Elrond’s a tolerant chap.

Elrond is a sort of pivot in whom stands past, present and future.

It was probably a fortuitous thing that Isildur took the Ring because had it gone into the fire then, probably thousands of combatants would have been killed in mount doom’s eruption. And like Elrond says, Isildur’s death was better than his becoming a soulless wraith and tyrant to boot.

The provenance of the white tree, giving it its great significance – lineage, far greater and longer than the Dunedain. And also a thread, linking back to the Undying Lands – depth.

Boromir’s brother isn’t named here and as the younger the dream came to him first. In myths it’s often the youngest who gets the quest or the insight. Sam’s also the youngest of his family.

Boromir’s flaw is definitely pride. He has reason to be proud but he vaunts it. Bilbo has a crack at him later about his110 day journey.

Elendil’s sword is one of those artefacts brought forward from history into the present – what has gone before effects where we are now, that’s why history and depth are crucial to LotR and real life, as well as being bloody interesting.

‘ash nazg…the change in the wizard’s voice was astounding…’ languages implying ethics – the Black Tongue is harsh and hard, with lots of Bs,Gs and Zs. But Dwarvish language is also hard.

I hate the way Saruman derides Radagast for being a friend of the natural. Radagast’s lifestyle might be simple but he’s no fool, despite being gulled by a dissembling Saruman. But pride and falls come to mind.

‘the world of men which we must rule’ bang goes the prime directive. How Saruman deceives himself. The means never justifies the ends. By bad means people change and initial good intentions get lost.

The account has been gripping and skilfully done, not in a straight line, but deep past here, recent past there. This I suppose makes for more interesting reading but I’d enjoy a straight narrative too.

‘I had forgotten Tom Bombadil.’ This is part of Elvish and mortal tragedy, that they had forgotten the truly natural and how to be satisfied with the simple things in life – natural magic v high magic. ‘oldest and fatherless’ Tolkien though tom should remain an enigma.

Boromir says: take the ring and use it against Sauron. But if one uses the Ring one becomes Sauron. Boromir’s already lusting after the Ring.

The tragedy of the 3 Elven rings – if the One is destroyed, the power of the 3 will go too.

A good ploy to seek to destroy the ring while Sauron thinks one among the wise will seize it and try to gain power, because Sauron has cyclopean vision.

My note: everything has got to become completely new. Middle-earth has to gain its independence from the world of high magic and fend for itself.

The surprise of the whole Council, Frodo volunteers but then Gandalf has hinted so in the previous chapter that it might be so. Elrond mentions some great names from the past: Hador, Hurin, Turin, Beren and only Beren’s name is known so far and I don’t think the other 3 are ever explained within the main body of LotR – tantalising if you know no more. But ends on an affectionate note in the exchange between Sam and Elrond. What a tale! Sort of expands on hints made through Tom Bombadil. 21-22 different voices??

May: first meeting

After some journeys of our own around the library we eventually settled, rather suitably, in the Learning Centre, for our meeting on ‘The Council of Elrond’.
We began with Ian’s report on his continuing research into the work of Tolkien’s tutor Joseph Wright, and his wife Elizabeth. Ian noted the significance of their work on dialect.
Eileen then brought us back to the chapter with her remark that there were ‘too many characters’. She found the barrage of new names bewildering, and Tim filled in some of the detail from Tom Shippey’s Author of the Century to show just how many characters, including entirely new ones, the reader has to cope with.
Eileen then observed that in spite of Bilbo’s protest, the purpose of the Council is too important for it to stop for lunch and so it goes on long after Bilbo’s notice that it is almost lunchtime. Tim responded that even after many reading he still wondered about the delay to lunch!
Laura remarked that even although nothing seems to happen apart from a lot of talk, there is still a lot of action within each narration and the exchanges of dialogue.
Angela and Tim queried who the messenger from Sauron really was? No clear answer seemed to emerge.
Angela noted that Boromir doesn’t seem to notice Aragorn until he speaks and Laura proposed that this showed the difference between the North and South Kingdoms. Tim remarked that the difference split along perceptions of status so that in contemporary terms Gondor = the Guards Officer, while Arnor = the SAS, in effect two forces fighting different kinds of war so that Boromir even after his feat of endurance still appears finely dressed and noble, and he doesn’t regard the figure in the corner dressed in unspectacular and practical travelling clothes.
Tim went on to note that strictly speaking height was measured in ‘ranga’, and according to such calculations as Tolkien gives, the Numenoreans could be almost 7 feet tall. Laura then proposed that the Dunedain should really be called ‘rangas’ rather than Rangers.
Laura also commented on the ‘Swiss’ atmosphere at the start of the chapter as the Elves are inclined to neutrality.
Chris wondered what Bilbo and Gandalf are talking about before the others join them. It was conjectured that they might have been reminiscing about the first time they were in Rivendell together, and how the events unfolded that led to the current meeting.
Eileen then queried whether the Shire folk are actually naive? And I raised the matter of Strider’s testy description of ‘simple’ folk. Tim suggested that it should not be regarded as a slur, but as describing people who are ‘uncomplicated’. Ian proposed that there was a three-way division implicit here between the organised presence of Gondor, the organised but unappreciated Rangers, and the folk who don’t know anything about the danger from which they are being protected.
Angela and I wondered whether ‘simplicity’ functioned and even defined a form of protection against paralysing fear, so that the Gaffer and Farmer Maggot were not crushed by preconceived fear when confronted with the Black Riders. In this context, Ian noted Strider’s remarks on the need for secrecy to keep the Shire free from fear. Tim likened this to the security services protecting ordinary people. They know how nasty things are, but ordinary people don’t.
Angela remarked that those of Numenorean blood, if they share a proportion of Elvish blood too, like Aragorn are mentally stronger than others, although in the presence of the Black Riders some are driven mad. Ian noted that Boromir confirms that madness afflicted the men he commanded at Osgiliath when the Witch King arrived.
Laura wondered why the Shire has survived as it has, and whether it was a deliberate plan by the Valar. Chris observed that this would fit with Gollum finding the Ring. Ian remarked that the hobbits are a race expressing the human condition, and when called upon, they are mentally stronger than others.
Ian looked up ‘simple’ and found that in the OED (1) adj. = of lowly birth, not aristocratic.
I then wondered if ‘simple’ as applied to hobbits and others was related to the notion of the One Ring. All the other rings have stones but the most powerful ring is ‘unadorned’. Its true power is only revealed by exposure to fire. Similarly, I suggested, the true power of hobbits is only revealed in the ‘fire’ of danger.
Ian pointed out that the Ring is indeed unadorned, except on Sauron’s hand.
Laura questioned the meaning of the ‘nick of time’ Elrond mentions. Tim remarked that in mechanical time-keeping the tick of a clock was known as a ‘nick’, so a precise time was suggested. Laura recalled the notches or ‘nicks’ on tally-sticks. Meanwhile Ian reminded us that the wording of Elrond’s speech was ‘the very nick of time’, and referred us to the original meaning of ‘very’, thus Elrond is saying that everyone arrived at the ‘true’ moment.
Although Carol sent comments on this chapter well in advance of our meeting, we didn’t touch on the details she focussed on so I have held them over for our next meeting.
When it came to choosing our reading for our next meeting, it was pointed out that we had hardly scratched the surface of the issues raised in ‘The Council’, so we agreed to finish this, at the next meeting, and read ‘The Ring Goes South’ in hopes that we have time to get round to it.

Our only meeting in April

Because a number of our group were otherwise engaged for the first meeting of the Tolkien Reading Group/Southfarthing there is only one report for April, but it reflects the fact that at our second meeting everyone was there and we had a varied and in-depth discussion as the following report shows:

We were all together again for our only April meeting and we only had one chapter – ‘Many Meetings’ to consider, but it filled up the whole afternoon.

Pat began with a question – is Gandalf too hard on Frodo when he accuses him of doing foolish things on the way to Rivendell? Both Tim and Angela pointed out that Gandalf quickly goes back on this and praises Frodo. Tim also pointed out that Gandalf is acting like the mentor he is, chiding his pupil before approving of his attempts. Tim also characterised Gandalf’s opening comments as a bit of banter.

Carol noted that technically Gandalf is smoking in a hospital sick room, but Angela observed that Gandalf is smoking out of the window of Frodo’s room. She also pointed out that Elves don’t smoke, although Men, dwarves, and hobbits do. Thoughts of Rivendell as a no smoking zone entertained us.

Pat observed that in this chapter Strider’s character changes, and Tim and Angela elaborated on this when they noted that he’s not in his ‘working clothes’ later in the chapter.

Tim remarked that this is the first time we see Strider/Aragorn with Arwen, and Pat added that you wouldn’t know if you were reading the chapter for the first time that there was an ongoing romance. Carol also commented that there are hints of who Aragorn really is and his relationship to Arwen, but nothing definite is said.

Tim went on to comment that Rivendell evokes a feeling of being somewhere else, and Eileen remarked that there is an air of unreality at the start of the chapter, but when reading, it seems in places almost too real.

Ian noted that at the start of the chapter we walk in on an ongoing situation, signalled by a character (Frodo) waking up, and then he drifts in and out of what has been happening. Ian proposed that Frodo’s wondering if he had been ill might be an echo of Tolkien’s own experience of having had trench fever, and he went on to note that the start of the chapter (and hence Book 2) provides a synopsis of what had happened in Book1.

Laura thought it a wonderful relief to find Frodo safe and cared for. Eileen questioned whether the hardships he had endured constituted a rite of passage to prove his strength and resolve? Laura then posed the question: was it a good thing that Gandalf wasn’t with Frodo on the journey to Rivendell? Angela and I thought ‘yes’, for different reasons. I went with the idea that Gandalf’s presence would have drawn all the Black Riders towards Frodo, whereas Gandalf drew some of them away from Weathertop. Angela and Eileen both thought it gave Frodo the chance to mature.

Ian observed that Gandalf never had to exert power over Frodo to conceal the Ring. And Eileen commented that perhaps Frodo doesn’t understand the danger of the Ring. Ian responded that Frodo doesn’t consciously use the Ring, and Tim added that the Ring is using Frodo.

Pat commented on Pippin’s lively salutation to Frodo as Lord of the Ring, noting that a novice reader might also assume this, so Pippin’s remark acts as a correction of that mistaken opinion. Carol remarked that if Pippin were in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe he’s be Edmund.

I wondered then why Gandalf said that the Barrow was more dangerous than the attack on Weathertop? Angela and Chris proposed that it was because the Wight had links to the Witch King. Laura wondered if Gandalf was thinking in terms of the Barrows and their Wights constituting a ‘second front’ in the coming War.

Laura then remarked that it seems as though the elements are protecting the hobbits, and she listed Earth (the Barrow collapses and destroys the Wight), Fire drives the Black Riders into the Water that rises against them.

Carol remarked that Gandalf shows some pride in his ‘great white horses with shining white riders’ but luckily his pride isn’t his overwhelming trait.

Eileen remarked on feeling a sense of development now.

Pat commented on the terrible (thought temporary) influence of the Ring on the relationship between Bilbo and Frodo, and Laura observed that Rivendell cannot absorb the evil of the Ring. Ian noted, however, that in the House of Tom Bombadil its evil and its power are controlled.

Carol also commented on the disturbing incident with the Ring that when Frodo sees a Gollum-like creature through it – what Bilbo might have become if he hadn’t given it up. ‘don’t adventures ever have an end?…’ Bilbo’s story is morphing into Frodo’s – but there’s a bit more to it than even that which is just a snippet in The Story.

Pat wondered if the Ring chooses its owner, but Ian proposed that it rather betrays whoever has it. Laura suggested that the Ring is an opportunist – and in this it is cat-like! She extrapolated this idea, remarking that Sauron, the Lord of the Ring(s) was in Tolkien’s original conception Tevildo, an evil Maia in cat-form. I wondered, if the Ring was opportunistic, whether it actually shone to attract Deagol after it had lain in the River for 2,000+ years (Tim’s calculation). Chris objected that it was Ulmo who perhaps controlled its finding by Deagol, but it needed to get into the hands of the more active Smeagol.

Ian went on to note that Frodo gives the hobbit view of the Big People in this chapter in the process of remodelling that view, as Men’s role in the story is also remodelled.

Laura noted the lovely description of Glorfindel at the feast in Rivendell, but Chris picked out the contrast between Glorfindel revealed in his glory and wondered what were the ‘other powers’ that Gandalf located in the Shire. Tim suggested these amounted to the resilience and determination of the hobbits.

Chris also noted Gandalf’s comment to himself that Frodo was like a clear glass, and that he is not half way through yet. Carol remarked that Gandalf senses that Frodo will carry the Ring to Mount Doom (no spoiler here as Eileen isn’t online so won’t read this), however, Chris had earlier pondered the possibility that Frodo, like Gollum, was actually being sacrificed.

Julie observed that the image of glass would become most significant later in the story (carefully avoiding spoilers for Eileen). Ian noted that Frodo is associated with light of a different kind in the Barrow, and Mike considered the image prescient because later Frodo’s sufferings change him, if others, including the reader, have eyes to see this – as Gandalf has.

I then wondered if Frodo’s dream in Rivendell, when he sees things in terms of silver and gold – the colours of the Two Trees – is a vision of Valinor and a gift to strengthen him. Laura observed that he is in the house of High Elves and they would be used to thinking in these terms. Ian noted that the dream sets the reader up for Bilbo’s song of Earendil. Eileen remarked that such a beautiful dream is consistent with relaxation in a safe place, and a reaction and contrast – a vision of heaven after the hell of the journey to Rivendell.

Carol remarked “ ‘Earendil was a mariner’ never ceases to amaze me. Its rhyming is so clever and intricate phonetically. But cleverness alone isn’t enough. Its story is also very relevant to the current situation and while Bilbo does have a ‘cheek to make verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond’ it’s still a pretty fine poem worthy of Elrond’s house”.

Julie commented on the fact that two lines of Anglo-Saxon mentioning ‘Earendel’ gave rise to the whole mythic narrative Tolkien creates as Bilbo’s song.
Ian noted that Bilbo resorts to using insults when Lindo cannot distinguish between Bilbo’s versifying and Aragorn addition.

It was lovely that the entire Southfarthing who live within travelling distance were all together again for the beginning of the new Book, and so we used up the whole afternoon on this single chapter. We therefore decided that the longer and even more detailed ‘Council of Elrond’ would be quite enough as reading for our next meeting.

Carol’s Additional Comments (on things we didn’t get round to)

‘Many Meetings’ mirrors ‘Many Partings’ later in the story.

Phew! ‘Frodo awoke…’ and Gandalf’s back. I’ve said before, the short cut through the Old Forest wasn’t meant to be a short cut but a way of getting out of the Shire unnoticed.

Is the seating for Elrond’s feast similar to that in hall at an Oxford college?

For the first-time reader there are some unexplained things here like what was Arwen’s mother’s torment, where is she now and does she have a name? Tolkien’s describing people, some who we only see again at the very end – Glorfindel eg – or rarely – Elladan and Elrohir. Maybe Tolkien didn’t know the roles any of them were going to play, except Arwen of course, but then we don’t see much of her either.

Frodo and Gloin meet but where is Gimli? Was he an after-thought because Gloin’s too old to go on the quest and Tolkien wants representatives of all free peoples?

Some background of the people and places that won’t come into th

e main narrative but will still play their parts. I’ve always been concerned about Bombur’s having to be lifted – and they talk about obesity today.

‘not that hobbits would ever acquire quite the elvish appetite for music and poetry and tales. They [the elves] seem to like them as much as food, or more.’ This take me back to The Hobbit when Bilbo first approached Rivendell and though at the fag end of a long day and journey and promises of great food ahead, then Bilbo seemed to care more for elvish music than food or rest.