Last meeting in July

This week we welcomed Carol and Rosemary who joined us in person(s) for the meeting. We were intending to finish the chapters ‘Lothlorien’, ‘ The Mirror of Galadriel’ and ‘Farewell to Lorien’, and it was Carol who began our discussion with her comment that Celeborn is not as wise has Galadriel declares him to be. But Rosemary observed that perhaps Tolkien’s development of Galadriel’s characterisation overtook this original statement.
In relation to Celeborn’s harsh reaction to Gimli and Galadriel’s defence of him, Angela remarked that Galadriel was not involved in the ancient war between the Elves and the Dwarves, and Carol observed that Galadriel learned much from Melian while in Doriath. Tim added that Tolkien was reflecting on racial intolerance, and Galadriel has more empathy and a wider view.

Pat, who could not be with us, passed on some comments on these chapters, and suggested that Galadriel remonstrates with Celeborn on account of what she gathers from her mirror.
Pat also noted the change in the relationship between Legolas and Gimli, while Eileen observed that all the Company are on the same quest and this unifies them. And Pat remarked on the number of choices set up in the ‘Mirror’ chapter.

Laura suggested that Celeborn may well have been angry at the presumed death of Gandalf. I added that Celeborn couldn’t at that time know that the balrog was (or would be) destroyed and was worried for his land and people. Ian saw in this an echo of Bard’s warning in The Hobbit that the dwarves would rouse the dragon and endanger Dale.
Tim noted that Galadriel defuses Celeborn’s anger, and Laura observed that she is cautiously but pointedly conditional in her comments to him, and then to the Company.
Chris likened the exchange to the difference between the Queen and Prince Philip’s well-known rashness!
Eileen remarked that Galadriel seems to cast a ‘spell’ with her eyes. Carol observed that Boromir is not comfortable with ‘magic’, and noted Galadriel’s complain that mortals use the same word for both good and bad uses. She expanded this by noting that Galadriel and Sauron both have similar power but put it to different uses. Laura observed that Galadriel makes it plain at the end of the ‘Mirror’ episode that it is the same magic.
Rosemary remarked that in this and the previous chapter there is a great deal of ‘foreshadowing’, such as the oft-repeated appearance of ‘eyes’ and hints that there might be a traitor in the Company.
Angela, Carol and I all remarked that part of the pleasure of re-reading LotR lies in seeing these moments of foreshadowing.
Chris and Carol both noted that Galadriel is not certain that some things will happen, but this led Chris to ask what the purpose was, then, of offering Frodo and Sam the option of the mirror. Rosemary proposed that it was a test for them, while Ian suggested that the mirror shows them the negative possibility of their futures, not the temptation she showed them at their first meeting.
Carol noted that nothing can remain static, but Rosemary noted that the Elves in Lorien don’t change. Chris suggested that without the Ring the Elves could stay, but Angela noted that its destruction meant they couldn’t preserve their work, and Rosemary commented that they didn’t want to lose their land in Lothlorien.
This led Laura to observe that Galadriel’s reference to ‘diminishing’ is an ironic allusion to modern views of fairies as tiny.
Chris led us to consider the problem of time in Lorien, proposing that the reason why the Company stays there for a month is because Galadriel keeps them there while she decides about having the Ring. This is why she doesn’t see Frodo until the last evening. Carol suggested that the cloaks had been made during the interval between the Company’s arrival and their departure.
Eileen went on to remark that Boromir questions Aragorn’s leadership, which raises questions about Boromir.
Laura directed our attention to the poetic prose of phrases such as ‘fighting the long defeat’, and Rosemary commented that Tolkien heightens the register at some point for emphasis.
Eileen observed that in Tolkien’s descriptions mountains, such as Caradhras, have ‘feelings’.
We turned our attention to Aragorn’s state of mind, and Angela commented that Aragorn had not originally intended going to Mordor with Frodo, so as the time comes to leave Lorien he is faced with a hard decision, and he doesn’t function well without Gandalf. Rosemary was sympathetic to Aragorn’s genuine dilemma, while Angela noted that Celeborn shows he is aware of what Aragorn is going through. Laura suggested that Aragorn is almost too intelligent leading to him analysing things.
Ian commented that what we see is a conflict of two story modes. Frodo’s quest is in the fairy story mode, while Aragorn’s is an heroic adventure. Aragorn has so far followed the path towards kingship but now he is not so certain that he can continue with this.
Tim noted that this chapter, ‘Farewell to Lorien’, gives the first indication of what Boromir is thinking, and Frodo is alerted, but Aragorn doesn’t notice. Rosemary and Angela both remarked that Aragorn has rebuked Boromir.
Rosemary went on to observe that the picnic on the grass seems a bit absurd. Carol noted the warning against Fangorn, describing it as a case of ignorance from a distance. And Eileen remarked that Boromir is narrow-minded. Carol qualified this by noting that he is focussed on Gondor.
Ian followed his former idea, noting that the mythic/folk element is not part of ‘the city’ per se, but Tolkien includes it in history.
While discussing the gift-giving, which was not universally regarded as a successful episode, Tim noted that Galadriel’s gift allows Gimli to show nobility. Eileen felt that he is constantly insulted, but Carol pointed out that Galadriel speaks to him in his own tongue.
Tim observed that it is Lorien that is describes as itself moving in relation to the boats, rather than them passing by.
With that, we ran out of time. Our reading for next time will be ‘The Great River’ and ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’, and with that, we will finish The Fellowship of the Ring.

July: First meeting

Although our reading for today was officially ‘Lothlorien’ and ‘The Mirror of Galadriel’, we still found ourselves working our way through the aftermath of Moria. Carol’s additional comments are added at the end of this report.
Laura observed that Moria is like a cathedral with its great rows of columns, but why, she asked, are they tree-shaped in the dwellings of dwarves? Tim noted that there had been great holly trees outside the western doors.
Still in Moria, Pat remarked on the symbolic nature of Gandalf’s staff breaking as the bridge cracks and the ‘spell’ of his power breaks.
Tim observed that the blinding sheet of flame uses up the last of his power, so that when Gandalf is hanging on the brink he is completely spent.
Angela wondered what would have happened then without the balrog’s whip, and Tim replied that Aragorn and Boromir would have pulled him up. Tim also observed that the approach of the balrog is great writing in the horror-story format.
Angela remarked that it was sad that Aragorn and Gandalf’s relationship had ended on a note of contention and petulance.
Pat noted that after the loss of Gandalf, Aragorn is disturbed and more pessimistic than is helpful in a leader.
Eileen, on the other hand, commented that Aragorn is being realistic, and that she admired him for not being unrealistic and misleading the rest of the Fellowship with false hope. Tim agreed that Aragorn is pragmatic, and uses the force of his personality to keep them moving.
Angela noted that it was Aragorn who pulled himself together first, when he was the one who might have wept most.
Laura observed that Aragorn does not drive the company, but he also has this flaw of that humanises him, and Tim noted that Aragorn addresses the mountain and the lost Gandalf, before addressing the Company, and Laura wondered if Aragorn was angry with Gandalf for dying.
We entered into a lengthy debate on the related matters of Aragorn’s leadership and grief.
Tim then picked up two contrasts, noting that the water before the west gate of Moria was nasty, and the company were frantic to get inside, which contrasts with them being frantic to get out, and finding the calm Mirrormere.
Laura remarked that the myth of the stars was discovered to be true, and though only Frodo was invited to go with Gimli, Sam again goes too.
Eileen and Pat both remarked on the effect of Aragorn’s laughter at the discovery of the mithril shirt, as a relief of grief. Carol also commented on ‘a bit of light-heartedness’.
As we moved into LothLorien, Eileen observed that there is pronounced Elf-Dwarf tension. Angela noted that Gandalf had asked Gimli and Legolas to be friends, and that in the Chamber of Mazarbul it is Legolas who drags Gimli away from Balin’s tomb and saves him.
Carol remarked on Lothlorien – isn’t Legolas’ description just gorgeous. From the underground and ruined dark of Moria to the airy beauty of real trees – Mallorns. Contrasts in location. Laura, however, commented that after the horror of the Moria dark, the trees of Lorien are also intimidating, especially to Boromir, and Eileen noted that Boromir seems less meshed with the group. Angela, however, observed that he’s good at protecting the hobbits.
Carol noted the reports of a ‘strange creature’ being seen, the patter of feet following and 2 gleaming eyes again, and while attempting not to spoil the reading to come for Eileen, Laura observed that the eyes, intermittently mentioned, were yet another thing to be afraid of, and Eileen remarked that a sense of evil comes from each mention.

Laura commented that when crossing Nimrodel the touch of the water is felt to be beneficial, and seems to have biblical significance. Tim noted that the passage into Lorien is characterised by 3s, and the company cross 3 rivers.
Laura likened the transition to myths of entering the fairy world with its odd time, and Tim noted that Tom Bombadil’s ‘realm’ was also characterised by its odd time. Eileen wondered if Tolkien’s use of time and Frodo’s feelings about time meant that he was experiencing and ancient race memory.
Carol commented: ‘it seemed to him that he had stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the elder days, and was now walking in a world that was no more. in Rivendell there was memory of ancient things; in Lorien the ancient things still lived on in the waking world…on the land of Lorien no shadow lay.’ this is a land out of time and in legend. Frodo feels correctly. Even though we don’t know it yet, there is a power in Lorien to keep Time at bay and though it’s done by artifice against the natural order, I still wish Lorien existed.

Laura commented that Lorien was quite different to Rivendell. Pat quantified this in terms of Lorien being more spiritual. Angela noted that anyone can get into Rivendell but not into Lorien, and Tim remarked that Lorien is another hidden realm like Doriath and Gondolin. Laura commented that the autumnal colours of Rivendell contrasted with the Spring colours of Lorien, in spite of it being January.
Pat wondered if Lorien is Edenic. I thought it was, based on references to Frodo feeling that everything he saw was ‘as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes’, and that he ‘made for them names new and wonderful’, as Adam named the animals in Eden.
Cerin Amroth. Sam says: ‘I feel as if I were inside a song.’ which he is – this is another strand of the Story – the past here is present, the past of which so many songs are sung. I also wondered if Sam’s remark indicated that Lorien is characterised by harmony. Laura observed that it is very controlled.
And with that we needed to decide on our next reading – which will be for the day of Carol and Rosemary’s visit, all being well.
We still have the rest of ‘Lothlorien’ and ‘The Mirror of Galadriel’ to finish, but we agreed to add ‘Farewell to Lorien’ to our chapters for attention, if we have time.
Carol’s comments
‘Lothlorien’ (the dream-flower)

This trip of Gimli’s to Mirrormere and Durin’s stone is a pilgrimage, probably never to be undertaken again, but at least he’s now seen it in reality.

More to Frodo than meets the eye indeed – the discovery of the mithril coat. Frodo’s condition sounds like a good case for a long soak in radox.

On Caradhras Boromir was seen at his best because he had a physical enemy to deal with. Here he says he’d rather be led through a hedge of swords than to go through Lorien. Magic troubles him.

It also shows suspicion between various factions of goodies. Because islands of safety have been created – Lorien, Rohan, Gondor -with leagues of wild land in between and not much interaction, suspicion has grown up as will be seen more as we go on.

Another situational poem, this time about the elves as they sit by the stream of Nimrodel, telling a bit of elvish history. The poem is fine but I always find the content of Nimrodel and Amroth a bit silly. If they loved each other why didn’t they just get on and marry each other instead of fannying about.

Even though Sam isn’t a really learned hobbit, he has more nous than the others when he says: ‘they’re elves…can’t you hear their voices?’ The follower again, getting really brave to climb a Mallorn but the ring pulls doesn’t it?

Here’s another place where I’d have proved useful – the rope-walk over Celebrant. Hobbits didn’t feel up to adventures but they knock me into a cocked hat.

Suspicion between allies: ‘indeed in nothing is the power of the dark lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.’ luckily, now we have ambassadors like Aragorn to smooth the way so that none will be divided in the end – quite the opposite in fact. Suspicion between elves and dwarves, and the contention over blindfolding Gimli, which Aragorn sorts out with sensible diplomacy, one mark of his great character; but a plague on stiff necks – even Aragorn has his stiff neck moment outside Meduseld.

Haldir speaks of the passing of the elves – sad.

[Frodo] felt a delight in wood and the touch of it neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree.’ trees are so often viewed for their usefulness – wood for building and making, fruit for eating, but seldom just for their sheer beauty and strength. tree huggers are scoffed at but more tree huggers might mean less global warming

‘Aragorn standing silent…light was in his eyes. he was wrapped in some fair memory…the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn…Arwen vanimelda namarie!…he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.’ the end of this chapter is very poignant and reaches both backwards and forwards in Aragorn’s life and gives one of those few insights into his mind – troth-plighted to Arwen – Arwen’s grave. When it says he never came back there as a living man, does it imply that his soul joined Arwen there in the end. I hope so.

As you can see I like this chapter. There’s so much beauty and poignancy in
it and too much to quote.

June: last meeting

Sadly we were missing Julie and Mike this afternoon, but Pat was able to be with us again after an enforced absence due to domestic irritations. Carol had sent her comments as usual, which as far as possible will be found in the main body of the report. Those points which did not come up in our discussions will be added as an appendix as usual, but we are still working more or less a chapter behind our nominated reading!
To begin the afternoon we caught up with matters relating to Ian’s latest research, then we touched again on the possibility of a Wessexmoot / symposium later in the year. This will need finalising. We also looked forward to Carol and Rosemary joining us for the annual visit later this month.
Much of Ian’s research revolves around Joseph Wright’s Dialect Dictionary, and although language is always part of our discussions (naturally), it is on our minds more than usual at present, and Laura began the afternoon’s deliberations with her remark that as the book goes on Tolkien’s lexis becomes more archaic and is used deliberately. She cited the example of ‘dolven hall’.
We then considered the example of ‘darksome’, and I wondered about ‘-some’ used as a suffix as in ‘darksome’. Ian suggested it indicated a comparative’. I thought it might have been a dialect form, because Sam uses it.
The matter of Sam’s language led Laura to remark that his saying ‘busier than badgers’ was apt when describing dwarves because like badgers they were tough and dangerous when threatened.
Laura questioned the reference in Gimli’s ancestral song to the ‘unstained’ moon. Pat suggested this referred to the new moon when it is just a sliver. But Tim pointed out that The Silmarillion describes how the Moon was scarred, leading to it looking as though it was ‘stained’.
Laura then questioned the construction ‘harpers harp’ finding it uncharacteristically infelicitous.
Tim suggested that it may represent Gimli translating the song from the Dwarvish in which he would have learned it. Translating as he chants leads to this slip.
Carol commented that the song is situational, being in Moria but also easy to understand yet beautiful and sad – it adds a bit to the background story.
Eileen considered the relationship between Elves and Dwarves and wondered if this representation was applicable beyond the story. As she pointed out, their co-operation led to extraordinary creativity in a previous age which could still be seen in the Doors of Durin, but their conflict results in a loss of creativity.
As we turned to the matter of mithril, Angela compared what is on the surface of the world with what is under it, while Pat noted that mithril is explained later and is very important.
Chris observed that Elves are not much interested and are fading away.
Tim wondered if Gandalf suspects that Frodo has the mithril shirt.
Ian remarked that delving too deeply happens today, and cited the matter of fracking.
Carol remarked on Gandalf talking about the mithril shirt and Frodo being staggered that “he had been walking about with the price of the Shire under his jacket”. Carol commented ‘I think this could also be taken to mean the Ring too, which is hidden under his clothes and which would cost the Shire dear, and the whole of Middle-earth if Sauron claimed it’.
Pat qualified this by observing that the shirt is mostly beneficial while the Ring offers no benefit at all.
Chris also added that the Ring has ‘a mind of its own’ but the shirt has not.
Pat went on to note the significant vocabulary when Frodo is described as touching the rings of his mail shirt.
Eileen thought this fingering of the shirt was just a reflex.
Laura changed direction taking us back to the Doors and first night in Moria when she noted that when Pippin drops his stone into the guardroom well Gandalf rebukes him sternly, but when Boromir woke the Watcher in the Water with the stone he threw, no one rebuked him even though it leads to Frodo being seized.
Carol also picked up the fact that Gandalf is hard on Pippin, even though his stone is just the kind of thing a youngster would do.
As we discussed this Angela commented that Boromir had become frustrated with inaction, and it was observed that (1) Gandalf was preoccupied with the Doors, and (2) Aragorn was concerned about Gandalf.
Pat returned us to the interior of Moria when she suggested that the repeated ‘boom boom’ is sinister to the hobbits but ‘doom’ is prophetically directed towards Gandalf in a chapter that continually emphasises his weariness and limitation.
Tim noted that throughout the chapter the sound of drums change in the distance. He thought ‘doom’ offered a sense of a deeper and more distant sound. But Laura picked up Pat’s interpretation by recalling that Mandos is called the ‘doomsman’.
Eileen remarked that Gandalf appears more like a traditional wizard when he uses a ‘spell’, and this lends a false sense of security as Gandalf shows unexpected weaknesses.
Laura considered the whip to be a wonderful device although it was not a weapon of choice in the culture of the time. Eileen added that we get the impression that Gandalf is indestructible.
Ian noted and interesting concept, and comparison, when he observed that at first Gandalf is stuck outside a door he can’t open, and then stuck outside a door he can’t shut.
Eileen wondered why Tolkien creates Gandalf as being weaker. Chris and Angela both thought it was part of characterising the wizard’s human aspect.
Ian added that Gandalf is a character with immense capability but he has limits within his agency in the world.
Carol had remarked that the balrog is Gandalf’s dark equivalent, and Laura noted the terror or a balrog with power matching Gandalf’s. Carol commented that the balrog is steeped in evil, making it stronger than Gandalf in good. As both are fire maiar, Carol observed, it is proper that good and evil fire creatures should battle it out.
Of course we discussed with Eileen the matter of the balrog’s ‘wings’ and I wondered if, because it is one of Melkor’s maiar, it was denied the ability to completely take on the ‘human’ form it presents within its shadow. Ian observed that darkness seems to coalesce round the balrog. ‘Coalesce’ became our word of the day.
After a detailed discussion that reached into new areas that we had not covered during our previous readings, we agreed that for our next meeting we would revisit ‘Lothlorien’, which we had barely touched, and we would read ‘The Mirror of Galadriel’ in preparation.

Carol’s additional comments:

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

Pippin’s being scared of that 7′ leaps and in the dark too, my legs go wobbly just thinking about it

The soft footfall – never revealed – in the book that is. First footsteps, then eyes who or what is it?

They find Balin’s tomb, which brings us an answer as to what happened to Balin’s attempt to retake Moria sad not to end on but not the bottom yet!!

Chapter 5 The Bridge of Khazad Dum

I like the comment on Sam’s ‘smouldering…brown eyes’ causing Ted Sandyman to ‘step backwards’. Sam might cry at the state of the shire next time he sees ted but Ted would have been a quivering lump of jelly in the Chamber of Mazarbul. Nice one Sam.

Whatever it is that has challenged Gandalf and silenced orcs has to be something very powerful.

My legs wobble at the very thought of the bridge. I would have frozen. Would Boromir or Aragorn have carried me?

What a nerve racking piece and Gandalf gone in the end. Aragorn’s words of warning have proved true. It could be a catastrophe. It still leaves me breathless and stunned. The fellowship now has to go on without the aid of a wizard, for some for the 2nd time, essays for finally having to do without the high magic altogether, a common trope, see also Arthur/Merlin.