Last meeting in August

We were sorry to find that Laura was still not quite well enough to join us this week, and everyone sent good wishes for a speedy recovery. Ian was on Committee duty, and Carol as usual sent her comments. They will be found at the end of this report unless otherwise indicated.
It was good to see Mike and Julie back again, and we quickly got going on a detailed discussion of the first 2 chapters of The Two Towers.
Eileen is still somewhat suspicious of some characters, at least to begin with, and also has some reservations about the structuring of the story. This afternoon she directed our attention back to our previous reading when she remarked that the Company seem to spend far too long in Lorien. She did not attribute this to idleness, however, but to Galadriel, who, Eileen suggested, is intentionally confusing the time. Chris expanded on this, observing that the time delay in Lorien was the result of Galadriel taking time to decide whether or not to take the Ring herself. Mike commented that power was her weakness.
Angela observed that the Company was in need of respite, while Julie remarked that Tolkien seems to be indulging in writing about the influence of the First Age.
Tim led us into the reading for this week when he mentioned that Hammond and Scull seem to have interpreted the meaning of the ‘fall’ of Boromir.
Julie noted that on Amon Hen Aragorn sees things as Frodo does, and I wondered if the special attribute of the place meant that Amon Hen worked like a palantir. However, Mike suggested that Aragorn’s perception of the sun darkening implied his depressed state. Angela remarked that Aragorn is characterised as very human in this chapter (The Departure of Boromir). Tim observed that Aragorn uses the high seat as a compass to find the hobbits.
Chris noted the sighting of an eagle, and mentioned that it would prove significant later.
Carol commented that Tolkien doesn’t write in the modern manner of intercutting episodes and now the structure is divided into 3 – Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam. Tolkien writes in blocks that leapfrog or interlace and in ‘The Riders of Rohan’ we go back to Merry and Pippin. Mike also remarked that in these chapters Tolkien diverts from the single focus of the Quest. Tim suggested that this technique lends and air of mystery.
Julie observed that although they are now out of Faerie time, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas take a long time to deal with Boromir and his funeral rites.
Eileen remarked that Boromir has sometimes been antagonistic. Mike noted that Boromir has some of his father’s traits and these are weaknesses that the Ring can exploit. Tim qualified this, observing that Boromir shows his true worth at the end, when there is reconciliation.
Angela noted his victory over the Ring, and Mike commented that Aragorn pays tribute to that, and Tim observed that the film portrayed this well.
Mike remarked that Aragorn comes through this difficult time by trying always to do what’s right. Eileen observed, however, that Aragorn has a struggle to get on and do things.
Angela noted that when Legolas and Gimli arrive on the scene Legolas doesn’t initially see who is dead.
Julie suggested that there is evidence of awareness of Ulmo in the decision to entrust Boromir to the River of Gondor, and Tim added that the Gondorians were of Numenorean origin.
Chris then posed the question of whether Aragorn would have used the Ring if it had stayed on the western side of Anduin. Angela was unsure. Tim noted that everyone who comes into contact with the Ring is tested.
Mike, like Carol, found it interesting that Aragorn never reveals Boromir’s secret. Julie noted that this keeps up the morale of the others as well as maintaining honour, but Aragorn hints that ‘something happened’.
Carol commented that Aragorn is wracked with guilt and indecisions at the way things have turned out and wonders which way to choose. Is he relieved a little when Gimli says: ‘maybe there is no right choice?’ Angela and Chris thought that Boromir’s act leads to Frodo leaving and so Aragorn’s choice is simplified.
Julie suggested this resembled to ‘karma’. Boromir ‘falls’ and half an hour later he is dead.
Mike thought that the description of dawn over the fields of Rohan had an operatic feel to it. Tim suggested it would have delighted Pat because it was so full of colours.
Julie went on to note Aragorn’s ironic use of ‘debate’ to describe the slaughter of one set of orcs by the other. Mike described it as an example of litotes. I remarked on the vivid contrast between between the pastoral descriptions and the descriptions of the orcs and their behaviour.
Carol commented on Legolas’s ‘Ah! the green smell…it is better than much sleep.’ Think of freshling mown lawns after a shower – gorgeous. Mike added that Legolas’s comment on the green smell recalls the way that smell delights the human spirit.

Angela and I noted the need to push Aragorn to make a decision in Rohan.
Mike remarked on the emphasis on Legolas’s ‘super’ eyesight in this chapter.
Changing topic, Angela questioned the extent to which Gimli is continually negative. Tim thought Gimli is only offering his views, while Chris commented that Gimli is very practical and speaks his mind. Mike observed that Aragorn creates situations where all can contribute, but Tim remarked that Aragorn himself is very negative, and Angela observed that everyone is negative at times.
Tim wondered if the red light in the east was the glow of the fires of Mordor. Mike wondered if it was the light of the orc-pyre, but Angela and Tim noted this could not be because that was to the west.
Julie remarked that in the description of the green hill moves into alliterative mode. I thought this signalled a move into Anglo-Saxon sources. Julie added that it is setting up the encounter with the Rohirrim.
Mike noted the power of the elven cloaks to obscure the presence of the ‘3 hunters’ as the Rohirrim ride by.
Eileen questioned the background to the Riders staring down at the Dwarf and linked this to the discrimination he encounters in Lorien. Tim, however, pointed out that the Riders have to stare down because they are on horseback. Mike suggested that Tolkien was implying a hierarchy. Angela pointed out that the Rohirrim had in ancient time had a feud with Dwarves. Tim remarked that Eomer has a problem with Gimli’s haughty attitude.
Eileen noted the frequency with which choices crop up, and Carol commented: ‘The doom of choice’, there is free-will to choose one side or the other, or neutrality. Anyway, things will not be as they have been, for good or ill. Free will is a responsibility; you can’t just do as you please (see Alistair Crowley’s infamous: ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ – selfish, arrogant) and I think it presupposes control of actions, so you don’t let rip or be unkind.

Tim thought Aragorn was being ‘cheeky’ in taking so long to debate legends with Eomer, and Mike referred to Aragorn ‘bigging himself up’ when he declares his identity. Carol commented: Aragorn’s quite a modest chap but he has to impress on the Rohirrim that he’s no vagabond and so vaunts his true self.
Julie remarked that Aragorn’s references to legends and to Lorien are descriptions of what it is like to walk in Faerie, and likened these to Frodo’s perception of Lorien. Mike noted that in the context of Aragorn’s debate with Eomer over legends, it is other people who make legends.
And so we ran out of time and quickly negotiated our way around the tricky matter of our next meeting – which will not be until 26th Sept, because half the group will be off to Oxonmoot before that. Our reading for the end of September will be ‘The Uruk Hai’ and ‘Treebeard’.

Carol’s Comments
Book 3, chapter 1, The Departure of Boromir

Elrond’s foresight? Boromir’s blowing his horn on the borders of his own country with dire need upon him. And poor Aragorn doesn’t seem to be able to put a foot right.

Boromir is redeemed in the end, thought the redemption is death.

It’s a lovely lament they sing for Boromir but I always wonder whence comes this ability to make up songs on the spot.

‘no other folk make such a trampling.’ Orcish behaviour is to destroy for the sake of destroying. How many people are really like that?

‘elves, dwarves , and men. Forth the three hunters.’ Aragorn is never gung ho or vaunting and this is the only example but I think it is to try to put some heart into their enterprise.

Chapter 2 The Riders of Rohan

(A mirror experience for the Window on the West) another of my favourite chapters because of the friendships forged in it.

‘Gondor! Gondor!…’ Aragorn’s longing.

The eagle again, this time seemingly going home. What was his task? I know but I’m not going to spoil it.

‘not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.’ All will be made clear in the next chapter.

‘twice 12 leagues’ – 72 miles – their stamina and endurance are amazing, over and above that of ordinary men.

Things are getting a bit hopeless but as if with a foresight Legolas says: ‘Tomorrow is unknown. Rede oft is found at the rising of the sun.’

What lovely descriptions of the Rohirrim and their horses, everything about them speaks clean and wholesome – unlike the orcs.

The Rohirrim can intimidate but none of the 3 bite. Aragorn is so cool in the face of a spear pointed at his chest

‘have you sprung out of the grass?’ This will recur in a bit. Out of tales and songs people spring to real life.

‘Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the north. do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?’ One shouldn’t scorn ‘children’s tales’. They are a remembrance of things or folk that might be true. And the earth on which we walk has seen millenia of history in one form or another that might now only be a burial mound or ruined building. See Troy.

‘…green earth, you say! That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day.’ see Time Team.

‘Dreams and legends a spring to life out of the grass.’ Characters from legend come to life. The Story is multifaceted – in the earth, in artefacts, in story, in people, places, songs, near and far.

Eomer and Galadriel – suspicion among allies to Gimli’s dangerous chagrin. Eomer has some of Aragorn’s diplomacy and doesn’t want to ratchet up the tension, so gives his name first.

I love it when Legolas says: ‘He stands not alone’, but it’s obvious Eomer doesn’t want trouble in his ‘humorous’ remarks about Gimli’s height but dwarves aren’t known for their sense of humour, especially when it’s a personal slight.

Legolas and Gimli have been a bit unobservant not to have realised who Aragorn really is.

Eomer’s dilemma – to obey his king’s orders and take Aragorn and co back with him, or to let them continue to search for Merry and Pippin, thus incurring royal wrath. It’s the same dilemma faced by Frodo and Faramir at Henneth Annun. Both Eomer and Faramir are of a new generation. They suffer in the short term from their respective lords.

Fangorn and the Old Forest are said to be akin, remnants of a once far greater forest and both Tom Bombadil and Fangorn are referred to as ‘eldest’. Did they once know each other? On the way home from Bree, Gandalf goes off to talk with Tom and says that probably the only thing Tom will be interest in hearing about will be the ents – both live in harmony with their surroundings.

Who is the wayfarer? Saruman? Gandalf?

And the horses go – catastrophe!

Small change

I have recently retired from the role of Education Officer for the Tolkien Society, but as the following post shows, that does not affect my continuing interest in Tolkien and his works, and certainly does not affect my commitment to the Reading Group.

If time permits I shall also continue to research and write on Tolkien-related topics. Two books are already at various stages of planning but their development will depend on the time available.

First meeting in August

We began a very busy meeting with a continuation of our plans for a ‘Wessexmoot’, and got as far as deciding on a date. The matter of a location for dinner remains to be decided, but the event is taking shape.
Carol sent her comments for the meeting and those that did not form part of the wider discussion are added as usual at the end.

Pat began our discussion of our chosen chapters ‘The Great River’ and ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’, by remarking on the way good comes out of evil in the story so far. Among the ‘goods’ she noted that although the Quest is prompted by various aspects of evil, it leads to characters developing new or hidden aspects of their characters. And as the Quest goes on trust grows in some instances, and loyalty in others. The journey increases Frodo’s confidence, and, Pat argued, Sam’s perception especially in relation to Frodo is increased after his encounter with Galadriel. Pat also noted that as a result of being on the Quest Gimli and Legolas come together.
Eileen observed that it is on the Quest that the pair find things to like in each other.
Laura supported this view that the journey and its various encounters changes the characters. Pat added that Tolkien’s decision to remove Gandalf from the story allows Aragorn’s character to develop. Tim observed that they all grow as a group.
Eileen noted that they have a lot of help along the way.
Carol had posed a query when she wondered if Aragorn was correct in saying that on the River the Company had only travelled about 60 leagues. We confirmed that this was correct – as the crebain flies’ their location was about 180miles south of their starting point even though their journey had wandered about a good deal and they would have walked and been transported a good deal further.
We turned to the most significant problem when Laura observed that Non-Men have refused the Ring, but Boromir is a soldier and very oriented towards the welfare of Minas Tirith.
Pat commented that there is a good deal of emphasis on seeing, on eyes, and on inner perception in these chapters, and Tim noted the change in Boromir’s eyes.
Pat then mentioned Aragorn’s assessment of Gollum once his presence is acknowledged, and Chris observed that Aragorn is wrong about Gollum’s motive, and that his attitude to Gollum is often wrong.
Eileen remarked that there is a constant need to revise one’s opinions about characters.
Laura commented that Boromir is weak enough for the Ring to work on him first, and Angela observed that he shows the same self-assured attitude as his ancestor Isildur – who erred in keeping the Ring.
Laura remarked that the ultimate decision about which way to go is like another character going along with the Company. Tim noted that Aragorn’s decision is taken out of his hands by Boromir’s actions, but Ian suggested that Frodo’s putting on of the Ring changes all decisions.
I wondered if Frodo’s feeling of something evil behind him was an example of the perception Galadriel said he was developing because of the Ring, but Tim thought his perceptiveness was evident much earlier – in his analysis of Strider who looked foul but felt fair!
Eileen thought Boromir takes advantage of Frodo’s meditative state on the hill, and that his smiling eyes actually heighten the menace through contrast.
Ian noted that in the episode Tolkien unusually puts in a pause and background sounds, creating an oblique internal dialogue. Eileen wondered if this counted as pathetic fallacy. I didn’t get round to responding to this as I needed to check this, but in fact the link between the moods of nature and human moods is symbolic. The classic example is the storm scene in King Lear, in which the meteorological chaos mirrors macrocosmically the chaos in the kingdom, and the king’s family. In LotR, the natural background sounds of the waterfall contrast with the unnatural situation between Man and hobbit on the hill, a discord or chaos created by the Ring.
Ian provided an immediate response to Eileen’s remark when he noted that the influence of the Valar may be discerned in the wind and water.
Laura then raised the matter of the black swans and Tim observed that there is no actual indication but the fact that they are black suggests they are spies. Chris noted that it is Aragorn who remarks specifically on them being black. Eileen thought this alerts the reader and Pat observed that black is constantly used for ominous things. Tim noted in addition, or by contrast, the presence of an eagle far from the mountains, as did Carol, when she commented on ‘the mention of the eagle far from home. Remember when thinking of Gandalf’.
Carol observed that ‘it’s a near-run thing with Frodo and the eye’. She asked ‘was it in his head or was there something external in the voice? Frodo is still enough in control of his good side, his free will, to realise the sense in taking off the ring’. Tim responded to this by observing that Tolkien leaves the matter ambiguous, but noted the capitalising of the Voice and the Eye.
Laura went on to comment that Aragorn longs for Minas Anor – the Tower of the Setting Sun, and Ian observed that this differentiates Aragorn for Boromir who speaks always of Minas Tirith – the Tower of Guard.
We ran out of time at this point and without having time to celebrate finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, we hastily had to agree on our next reading – the first 2 chapters of Book 3 – we are now starting The Two Towers.

Carol’s additional comments:
Chapter 9 ‘The Great River’
Boromir becoming increasingly restless because of the ring. Others notice but don’t know why – save Aragorn perhaps?
The pursuer is seen again, the first time since the elves of Lorien spotted it.
‘Gollum, maybe?’ so Frodo’s got Boromir and Gollum after the ring.
I’ll only mention this once because it could get too complicated for my current brain to follow: ‘white rind of the new moon.’ Tolkien follows the phases of the moon very closely and I think said they were the phases of 1942. Such was his quest for verisimilitude. And it raises Sam’s puzzlement as to how long they spent in Lorien.
‘wind-writhen firs.’ ‘wind-writhen’ is a lovely description and looking more closely I saw some wind-writhen trees on the north York moors. Reminds me of an earlier discussion on ‘dolven hall and other archaic language in LotR. [Ian is currently directing our attention to the widespread influence of Joseph Wright’s Dialect Dictionary as a supplement to Tolkien’s use of archaisms.]
Strategy – the orcs have picked a good place to attack. It’s a close call – a nazgul on wings comes and probably would have kidnapped Frodo away had not Legolas shot its steed – a bit like Bard shooting Smaug. The nazgul’s very presence pollutes everything and Tolkien describes the sky as ‘clean’ when it’s shot down, clean meaning more than the absence of dirt – purified?
They discuss Time in and out of Lorien – they really were there a whole month – see The Tale of Years, The Great Years chronology. Aragorn’s very dour at this point – with his ‘spring of little hope’.
Tolkien shows Boromir’s feeling of derision when he uses the term ‘cockle-boats’, not trusting elvish craft and obviously thinking something bigger would have been more suitable for Boromir, heir to the steward of Minas Tirith. Aragorn on the other hand would have helped the lowly fisherman gather cockles.
Boromir whinges. He’s just not used to being gainsaid and used to people following him like a pied piper but Frodo will only follow Aragorn.
Aragorn and Legolas scouting a way ahead could have proved a grave error of judgement. If these 2 had died who would have lead the fellowship? It would have been a rare opportunity for Boromir to grab the ring. Was he a match for Gimli? – probably!
Gimli defending dwarf toughness against Boromir and Boromir getting a bit waspish in return. The ring’s getting to him and magnifying his innate self-worth.
History is shown again in the Argonath – ‘silent wardens of a long-vanished kingdom…sentinels of Numenor.’ For a second time (first on Cerin Amroth) Frodo sees Aragorn differently, ‘a king returning from exile to his own land.’ Also another hint of who Aragorn really is but nobody clicks for a long time.
Chapter 10 ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’
In his tirade about using the ring for ‘good’ purposes and striding up and down Boromir reminds me of Saruman with Gandalf at Orthanc.
The ring is working on Boromir’s flaws, his superiority, his being used to getting his own way and his wish for Gondor’s victory and his glory therein, and exaggerating it to domination. Yes, Boromir’s arrogant etc but under normal circumstances he would at least remain honourable.
Then he realises what he’s done. His twisted mind becomes straight again. And his behaviour has helped Frodo to overcome fear and go.
In this section Sam has proved his wisdom about Frodo far more than Merry and Pippin or Aragorn because he knows Frodo so well. Frodo wouldn’t get very far without Sam. And Sam has hope that they’ll meet the others again, a hope that sustains both of them as they plod towards Mordor.