We were a sizeable group this afternoon when we cosily(!) settled ourselves in the Senior Librarian’s Room, having been moved to accommodate one of the literary festival sessions in the seminar room.
We began with a brief reference back to our Wessexmoot, and it seems as though this may become an annual event, probably at the start of October.
Once we got into our main business for the afternoon we were supposed to be dealing with the chapters ‘Treebeard’ and ‘The White Rider’. As it turned out, we never did get into ‘The White Rider’!
We were delighted at the start of the meeting when Eileen declared that she had no initial reservations about Treebeard. This is quite different to Eileen’s earlier reactions to her first encounter with Gandalf and Aragorn.
Angela noted that when Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard they don’t seem surprised. Mike commented that there is no flavour of menace, but rather we may hear Tolkien’s voice telling the story to his children, and children accept the oddity, while Tolkien’s humour draws readers in.
Eileen observed that it is a relief after what Merry and Pippin have been through.
Carol commented: “I wonder at Pippin ‘leaning back against a great tree-trunk’. Didn’t the old man willow experience teach him anything?” Tim also thought that after their time in the Old Forest they’d be more wary, but at least they are out of sight in the Forest.
Ian, however, introduced a potential new dimension to Treebeard when he commented on the Ent’s response to news of Gandalf’s death. When he hears what Merry and Pippin have to say, he remarks: ‘… I do not know what to say’. Ian interpreted this perplexity as a sign that Treebeard does in fact know something, and that he may have already have seen Gandalf and be trying to revealing this.
Both Carol and Ian observed that Treebeard speaks of Gandalf in the present tense although the hobbits speak of him in the past. Carol added this is ‘looking at things as a story’. Tim remarked that people can continue in others’ memory even if not actually present in life.
More prosaically, Eileen remarked on the naming of orcs, that ‘Ugluk’ sounds like unplugging a drain.
Carol had asked in her comments why Treebeard thinks that ‘living in holes is “right and proper”, and added that ‘usually things that live in holes are very nice – apart from rabbits and badgers.’ (I think carol must have been thinking of the badgers that trap Tom Bombadil. Ed.) Chris responded to Carol’s question by remarking that tree roots go into the ground, and Laura added that roots might be seen as ‘embracing’ things that live in the ground, like foxes and rabbits.
Ian went on to look at Treebeard’s ‘Lists’, and suggested that in fact by this device Tolkien himself promotes hobbits to a place in what are in effect the Old English Gnomic Verses.
Chris and Angela suggested that by their omission from the Lists they were kept secret from Sauron.
Julie observed that dwarves are omitted from those beings that were mortal. Chris remarked that it is only a partial list.
Carol commented on nomenclature following Treebeard: ‘real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language.’ Nowadays we call our children names that we like, not what the child is. Perhaps they gain a nickname that describes who or what they are. But the ancients in Middle-earth are named for what they are: Estel, Strider, Elessar, for example.
Laura commented on Treebeard’s reluctance over giving exact names, and Chris observed that Philip Pullman gives characters 2 names in His Dark Materials. Mike noted that in myths naming can exert control, and names are a sacred element of being human, while the use of a nickname implies closeness. This reminded Julie of the case of ‘call-centre familiarity’ which can on the other hand be offensive. Laura observed that in Navaho culture ‘war-names’ are kept strictly secret.
Angela noted that when the ‘S’ is noticed as a device on orc shields it is observed that it must belong to Saruman’s orcs, because Sauron doesn’t permit his name to be used. This reminded Tim of the ‘non-naming’ of Voldemort in the Harry Potter stories.
Laura went on to pick up the description of the Forest as ‘stuffy’. Tim noted that Pippin likens the stuffy Forest to the Great Place of the Tooks and the image is non-threatening.
I wondered if the trees where making it sstuffy deliberately. Eileen wondered if it was a defensive measure.
Mike noted the reference to Saruman discovering the secrets of the Forest and commented that there are no secrets without defensiveness.
Laura compared the advice regarding to Fangorn with similar reactions to Lothlorien – that it is best avoided. But, Laura observed, Lothlorien was more ordered, being under Galadriel’s control.
Mike then remarked that for a species that descended from the trees, we often feel uncomfortable in woods and forests. Ian observed that it was the falling out that did it! Mike went on to add that walking in woods we are in a different environment and world.
Laura observed that Merry and Pippin are not aware of their cuts and bruises healing, but the Forest is working on them
I raised the matter of Treebeard’s remark on Old Entish as ‘a lovely language’. Mike noted that Treebeard says he knew the trees before the elves ‘cured’ them of their inability to speak, so that their pre-linguistic state is constructed as a disability and being able to speak is special to him.
I had noted Tolkien’s own delight in the sound of language – citing his love of the sound of ‘cellar door’, and Julie remarked that she had come across a character with a name that sounded exactly the same and thought this must indicate a knowledge of Tolkien. Laura thought it sounds French.
Our discussion of language led Eileen to comment on the importance of the restoration in the Primary World of languages that are almost lost, such as Gaelic in Ireland, and Cornish.
We went on to discuss the later part of the chapter, and Carol commented that ent-draughts are efficacious – like medicinal compound. Laura remarked that the entdraught was drawn from the Entwash, but it had something added to it.
Angela noted that when Merry and Pippin go away from the entmoot we gain an insight into their homesickness and true feelings.
Mike commented on the sadness of the story of the lost entwives, and wondered if this was an analogy for Tolkien’s relationship with Edith as wives take care of small things while men take on ‘big’ things. Mike went on observe that it feels very personal, and asked: was he creating a small picture and trying to rediscover what he had lost. Laura compared the situation between the ents and entwives and JRRT and Edith to the incompatible characters in the tale of Aldarion and Erendis.
Carol also noted the tale of the ents’ tragedy in losing the entwives, and observed that a lot of characters have their own personal tragedy like the elves, Elrond and Arwen etc.
Mike added that the structure of this moving element of the story contrasted with the mood of Treebeard’s statement that he would ‘go and stand in the rain.’
For our next meeting we agreed to read ‘The White Rider’ and ‘The King of the Golden Hall’.
Chapter 4 ‘Treebeard’
Ents out of legend: ‘often afterwards pippin…’ another hint at survival.
‘a-lalla-lalla-rumba-kamanda-lind-or-burume’ hill is a hasty word for something that had been there since the world began.’
I love these descriptions of Lothlorien – Dream Flower – and Laurelindorenon – Land of the Valley of Singing Gold. It’s just gorgeous and always reminds me of that long name on anglesey – llinfair…gogogo – which means something like chapel-in-the valley, the name tells a tale.
This gorgeous song of Fangorn’s past ‘and now all those lands lie under the wave’ – he’s remembering the deluge caused by the fall of Numenor. Donald Swann made a lovely tune for it. Isn’t it sad/ like Bombadil, Treebeard’s created his own invisible borders and sticks within them – so far.
Isn’t Wellinghall a magical place? The ents obviously have traded in the past to get stone jars Because I don’t think they’ve made them themselves.
The entwives wanting tame things and ‘farm’, the ents at least are still being gatherers.
The song of the ent and the entwife: isn’t this a nice song. Stephen Oliver put it to music for the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of LotR. So sad but with hope at the end but only when all else has been lost.
‘stand up and take a little sleep. Where will you stand?’ a bit of Tolkien humour. ‘whether they had yet got further than GOOD MORNING…’ another bit of Tolkien humour.
Bregalad reminds me of a type of character – is there a name for it – like Puddleglum in C.S.L.’s The Silver Chair who’s considered flighty for a Marsh Wiggle. I became Quickbeam before I started doing News From Fangorn in Amon Hen – perhaps it was an omen – because rowan is one of my birth trees and I soon make up my mind and don’t fanny about.
The ents’ song is also put to music by Stephen Oliver for BBC Radio 4’s LotR.
‘they rode proudly at the head of the singing company with beating hearts and heads held high.’ This is going to have psychological consequences a bit later.
‘now at least the last march of the ents may be worth a song’, see also Theoden at Helm’s Deep. The honourable like to be remembered in death by a song, which shows them worthy of praise in life.
With his interlace Tolkien keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next, while being left with cliff-hangers