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.

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