May: first meeting

9.5.15
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.

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One thought on “May: first meeting

  1. Elrond’s remark about “the very nick of time” is a colloquial equivalent of “kairos”, the Greek word used in Christian theology to mean the true or right moment. (So not a lazy cliche by Tolkien but a very precisely worked out way of saying “kairos” without having to resort to Greek, which would not have done at all!) Throughout the chapter there are strong hints that all the characters who have converged on Rivendell seemingly by chance have actually been caused to be there for a purpose – and as they’re all assembled in the loggia for the Council, that is the kairos moment. (I was SO annoyed by the FOTR screenplay, which had Elrond say “I have summoned you here…” when he had done nothing of the kind! – yes, he convened the meeting, but he hadn’t actually summoned them to Rivendell, which people who had not read the book probably thought he meant, and so missed the point of it all being “meant” or ordained.)

    Hm, that lunch problem… given that Hobbits were involved, one would have thought Elrond would have arranged for someone to come in with a tray of sandwiches and some beer, at the very least! (thinking of those Downing Street pow-wows between Labour PMs and union bosses of decades ago!).

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