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.