June: First Meeting – main report

In spite of some disorganisation owing to an unexpected room change, those of us who had already heard celebrated the excellent news that Julie has now gained her MA. We welcomed Mike back after a long absence, and then Ian updated us on his treasured acquisition of The Life of Joseph Wright. Following this, Laura told us the news that publication of Tolkien’s version of the Kullervo myth has been announced, but there was some scepticism about this after the non-appearance of Tolkien Book of Jonah.
We spent a delightful etymological hour, inspired by Ian’s books and our general delight in Tolkien’s less usual vocabulary (Please see the etymological report for Laura’s contribution).Eventually we began discussing the chapter we had not finished last time – ‘A Journey in the Dark’, and Eileen expressed her concern that Gandalf had consigned Bill the pony to the dangers of the wolves. We did our best to reassure her that Gandalf had given Bill good advice.
Mike observed that Boromir undergoes a strange volt face when the decision to enter Moria goes against him, after being very reluctant he seems to give in without further objection. Laura remarked that Moria serves as a test for the heroes, and Eileen observed that it was next after the stones and the snow and the birds. Laura commented that these events all seemed to be ‘funnelling’ the Company towards Moria.
Mike noted Tolkien’s choice of vocabulary when he described the mountain as ‘frowning’ rather than the usual ‘brooding’, and Laura remarked that the choice made it seem as though the Company were doing something wrong.
Mike noted that the description close to Moria is given in intense detail, and Eileen observed that it makes the reader feel the environment like the Company.
Julie commented that the narrative sets up the feeling that something awful is going to happen to Gandalf.
Following on from our earlier etymological discussion, Ian noted that Boromir speaks of ‘the wolf’, while Aragorn says ‘warg’, but Sam says wolf. This was taken to indicate the dialect differences between Gondor, Arnor, and the Shire.
I then asked whether it was possible that the wolf described as like a ‘captain’ could be the 9th Ringwraith who was unaccounted for. Julie thought it unlikely because the wolf- captain is just ordinarily frightening, without any extra sense of the terror associated with Ringwraiths.
Mike observed that Gandalf recognises the beast as ‘the hound of Sauron’ and therefore supernatural.
Laura noted that although Gandalf threatens it, the wolf ignores him. Mike observed that Gandalf is attracting attention to himself so as to distract the threat, and Ian remarked that he did this on Caradhras when he lit the fire and named himself.
Eileen observed that Legolas comes to the fore against the wolves, and Mike noted the vocabulary once again, pointing out the use of ‘extinguished’ in the context of the wolf’s eyes being lit from within. Laura noted that this expressed its supernatural nature.
Laura remarked on the way Gandalf is described as ‘stooping’ and suggested this may be because he takes his own supernatural Maia shape. Ian suggested his shadow is enlarged because of his situational relationship to the fire which casts the shadow, as it does in Bag End, and this is associated with Gandalf throughout the book. Mike remarked that larger shadows relative to a fire are natural, not magical.
Julie observed that his huge shadow is a sign of his anger, while Mike thought Gandalf ‘growing’ was Tolkien’s way of describing Gandalf drawing power to himself which is not always a part of him.
Laura proposed that shadows are perhaps to be equated with spirits in other parts of the book, so seeing Gandalf’s shadow is seeing him in the spirit dimension. Mike proposed that the battle against the wolves might thus be a leaking of the spirit world into the physical world.
Ian commented that Gandalf needs physical material to work on and Mike and Julie then both noted that Jesus ‘worked on’ physical things. Laura wondered if that meant that physical laws pertained to what was happening in this episode but Ian thought not, and Eileen observed that Tolkien set limits on what could be done.
Mike remarked that the finding of the secret word seems childish, and hardly worthy of 2 pages, but that the delay is the opportunity to tell the history of productive co-operation between dwarves and elves.
And so we ran out of time after a very intense afternoon’s discussion. We have not yet finished our discussion of ‘A Journey in the Dark’ so next time we will finish that and ‘The Bridge of Khazad Dum’, and we will read ‘Lothlorien’, just in case we have time for it.

Just a few of Carol’s comments follow here as most of them relate to other parts of ‘A Journey in the Dark’ and will come in next time.

Have you ever asked yourself how you would fare on a journey like this i have and have come out wanting i’m like a cripple on snow and what is to come in moria, i’d have died of fright but then isnt one of the attractions of reading about grave dangers is because we can partake without actually being there and admore those who actually do it

There’s never any explanation of why aragorn passed through moria before his ominous warning to gandalf: ‘if you pass the gates of moria, beware!’

This being attacked by wargs seems to miror TH where the company is surrounded by wargs and goblins, only to be rescued by the eagles of the mountains what stamina!

Tolkien’s drawing (not drawring) of the Gates of Moria always reminds me of a classic 1950s juke box.

The waiting for Gandalf to find a way in is very tantalising we probably know he’ll succeed – just in the nick of time – good stuff

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