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.

2 thoughts on “First meeting in August

  1. Only tangentally connected, in today’s “Independent on Sunday” supplement “The New Review” there was a feature on “zeugmas” on page 38 and a reader had suggested as an example the following quotation from “The Fellowship of the Ring” – (the Company is about to leave Lothlorien): “Then she [Galadriel] brought the cup to each of the Company, and bade them drink and farewell”.

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