Back again after the distractions of Yule, we met to finish off the chapters ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ and move on to ‘Helm’s Deep. Carol sent her comments, intended for the previous meeting but included here. However, we began the afternoon by considering the current abundance of modern revisionings of medieval texts, myths and history in TV programmes such as The Last Kingdom, Beowulf, and Game of Thrones. I was in agreement with Tim, who argued that if these programmes encourage a few people to get to know the original medieval texts and myths they could be considered worthwhile.
We began our meeting proper with Chris asking Eileen what she thought of Eowyn. Eileen replied that she didn’t yet entirely understand the character and her role.
Laura observed that the description of Eowyn herself is very much from a male point of view. Both Laura and Angela remarked on the eroticism of Aragorn’s response and description of her, her’s to Aragorn and her potential fate if Grima’s influence over her uncle continued. Laura also posed the question – was Eowyn previously intended as a bride for Theodred.
Carol had commented on the status of women with reference to Eowyn writing ‘firstly Theoden doesn’t regard Eowyn as being of the House of Eorl until reminded and secondly nobody asks her if she was to be ‘as a lord to the Eorlings’ while the men are away fighting.
Tim responded that we would be applying 21st century attitudes and values to a pseudo-Anglo-Saxon environment. Angela observed that a king certainly has the right to appoint a regent. Ian added that it would be understood as a duty in this pseudo-Anglo-Saxon society, like the duty of the Queen or lady of the hall to bear the cup to her most honoured guests, something Eowyn does apparently without complaint.
Laura noted, however, that Eowyn is a shield maiden. And Tim noted that Theoden appoints Eowyn as de facto steward of Rohan until he returns. An interesting echo!
Laura observed that Anglo-Saxon kings could appoint their heirs, and kings could be chosen, as in the case of Harold, who was voted into office by the English witangemot (council of wise men). Tim noted that in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain Arthur passes on theright to rule before he finally sails for Avalon.
Angela remarked that Eowyn also has the duty of looking after the ailing king.
Eileen remarked that Gandalf appears in the Meduseld episode like a fairy godmother, enabling Theoden to do things.
Ian observed that the song Aragorn chants is taken from the ubi sunt passage in Old English poem The Wanderer which itself is a rewriting of the ‘vanity of vanities’ passage from Ecclesiastes. Thus under the influence of Gandalf Theoden banishes the Old Testament gloom instigated by Wormtongue.
Eileen remarked that under Gandalf’s influence Theoden gets back both his physical and mental strength.
Chris and Carol noted Theoden’s resolution that his potential end should be ‘worth a song’, and Laura noted the echo of the Anglo-Saxon warriors’ desire not to be forgotten after death. Carol described it as “the northern theory of courage that has no room for despair.”
Tim then noted the spelling of ‘froward’ as a description of Eomer was correct although it had been erroneously corrected in various editions of LotR (including the 1994 edition I currently use!)
Tim also drew our attention to the impressive last lines of ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ with the comment ‘Wow!’
Chris and Angela observed that at Helm’s Deep it takes ‘men’ (plural) to sound Helm’s horn. Laura thought the sounding of the horn had something rather supernatural to it in the way it is perceived – as though Helm himself sounds it.
Chris remarked that Gamling knows the Dunlending language and understands their grievance. I noted that this contrasts with Eomer’s youthful dismissive attitude to their language. Tim commented that the Dunlendings had been ‘sold down the river’ by the Gondorians’ gift of their lands to Eorl and his people, and Chris observed that Saruman exploits the Dunlendings’ grievances. Carol commented: “I’ve said this elsewhere, who can blame the Dunlendings for their hatred of Rohan and Gondor. Who lived here before elendil arrived?”
Tim then noted, to our cheers and applause, our favourite description of battle formation when ‘Aragorn and Legolas went in the van’. This puzzled Eileen, and was explaine., while Laura expanded the reference when she declared ‘Behold the white driver!’
Recovering from our whimsicality, Chris, like Carol, remarked on the growing friendship of Gimli and Legolas. Tim observed that it takes the form of banter and competition. Carol also noted “give me a row of orc necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me.” Gimli gets very gung-ho and bloody-thirsty at times but he’s a warrior with a cruel foe.
We then turned to Carol’s comment that Saruman’s ‘blasting fire’ suggests gunpowder, which Gandalf probably also used for his fireworks, but he used it to delight and not to kill. Tim also noted the difference between Gandalf’s and Saruman’s uses, while Ian thought that there is a comment on the naivety of the reader who thinks that gunpowder could be used only for peaceful purposes, and that it in Gandalf’s hands it is not widely available technology. I thought it Tolkien was differentiating between good and bad uses of technology.
Ian remarked that its use at Helm’s Deep saved Tolkien resorting to supernatural intervention. Carol had commented: “Tolkien has been accused of fortuitous 11th hours interventions but what counts is that not knowing help is at hand Rohan fights on”.
Tim and Ian noted the shock of the bang. Angela observed that it happens at the parley and Laura wondered why Aragorn attempted to parley with orcs anyway? Angela remarked that it is because the Dunlendings are there and Aragorn is given them warning, and Laura agreed that it could be a parley man-to-man but could not be man-to-orc. Carol commented “Aragorn’s speech ending: ‘you do not know your peril.’ Is it bravado or does he ‘know’ something?” Tim noted that Saruman’s orcs have his arrogance, and that Aragorn’s ‘power and royalty’ suggest his ‘uncloaking’ as Gandalf does at times.
Laura noted that orcs are daunted by Anduril, and Chris observed that it must have had its own power within the wider culture. I proposed, however, that what we are looking at is a story operating on several levels and the power of Anduril in the hand of Aragorn, and the description of Aragorn’s own ‘presence’ could be understood as ‘poeticised’ descriptions created by the storyteller – the writer of the Red Book of Westmarch in the first instance – in order to commemorate the first victory in the War in suitably heroic terms, but in a record written at second hand.
With that contorted thought we ran out of time and decided that next time we would try to finish Helm’s Deep, but meanwhile we would read ‘The Road to Isengard’ and ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’, although this might be rather ambitious.