We missed Julie and Mike this afternoon, and Carol sent her comments by email as usual. We began the process of paying for our room, with thanks to Laura for taking care of this for us.
Ian then updated us on his latest research into matters to do with Tolkien and Lydney (Gloucestershire).
Our reading for the afternoon included finishing off ‘The Palantir’ and moving on to ‘The Taming of Smeagol’. As usual, we didn’t get right through our second chapter.
To begin our discussion I gave a short recap of Tim and Ian’s observations about Pippin from last time. Ian picked up his observation of Pippin’s apparent lack of caution in some of his most memorable actions. Ian remarked that while Pippin isn’t cautious, Sam calls Tom Bombadil ‘a caution’, leading to a pattern of antithesis in which reserved or cautious actions can be seen as opposed to non-cautious actions which make things happen.
Laura defined this as exemplifying Pippin’s ‘Tookish’ blood, a characteristic picked up by Gandalf in The Hobbit when talking to Bilbo. Tim commented that action is in the blood-line.
Angela noted that Pippin gets a vision of Aragorn when he drops the brooch.
Meanwhile Ian had been checking the Dialect Dictionary and found that one definition of ‘caution’ is ‘one who is surety for another’. Ian suggested that Pippin provides this function for Frodo on his journey.
Tim and Angela both remarked that Pippin saves Gandalf and Aragorn from revealing themselves too soon, and Angela noted that Pippin starts a chain of events to get the palantir into the right hands.
In response to Ian’s interest in Gandalf’s use of the word ‘blunder’ when speaking of his possible use of the palantir, Tim observed that Sauron assumes Pippin is the ‘right’ hobbit, and Ian suggested Saruman and Gandalf are perhaps not working at full power because they are in the mortal realm. Ian looked up ‘blunder’ in the Dialect Dictionary and discovered that it could mean ‘to mess up the workings of something’. So Gandalf’s ‘blunder’ would have messed up the emerging situation.
Tim noted the contrast between the wizard’s mortal form and his action when ‘the wizard leapt’ on Shadowfax, even though he is in the form of an old man. Tim thought this bears out what he really is and reveals the difference between appearance and reality. Eileen thought Gandalf’s action showed he was more aware of danger then. And Ian observed that Gandalf can no longer stay as he was.
I thought the turning point was the arrival of the Nazgul, but Tim suggested that Gandalf needs to get to Minas Tirith to find out what has been exposed.
Eileen wondered if Pippin has special motivation for his use of the palantir, but Chris observed that the viewer could have been Merry, as Aragorn says. Eileen and Angela wondered if there is a feeling of something driving Pippin. I wondered if the attraction of the palantir, referred to in terms usually used for the Ring, is because Sauron’s influence is upon it.
Carol commented: ‘Pippin now seemed curiously restless’ – being got at through his dissatisfaction, or just dissatisfaction at being left out as he thinks. He’s getting peevish. Pippin’s quite right in wanting information as well as danger. But like the youngster he is, he’s impatient but being played on. Pippin’s lucky in that Sauron is too greedy to have a captive hobbit, not only to get information out of him but also to ‘play’ with him.
Ian commented that anything elvish-made is subject to some kind of ‘spell’, if not gifted but found it is more dangerous. Angela remarked that the palantirs were originally gifts but still considered dangerous to ‘lesser minds’. Angela added that the Orthanc stone is ‘found’.
Carol commented: “Now this puzzles me: Sauron and Saruman are maia and thus of greater power than an elf but the creation of the palantiri ‘is beyond his [Saruman’s] art’, yet ‘the Noldor made them’. Even in the great days of Valinor surely the Noldor didn’t possess powers beyond those of the maia?”
Eileen observed that thanks to Gimli, a love of stone keeps running through the story, reaching its high point in his description of the Glittering Caves, but stone remains important. Eileen also noted that Aragorn is very quiet during most of the previous chapter and Ian remarked that this is because he doesn’t have choices to make because Gandalf is back.
Chris remarked on the final sentence of the ‘Palatir’ chapter that it gives a sense of the world turning while Pippin, Gandalf and Shadowfax are static, and that this lends a supernatural feeling. Chris also noted that the reference to a trumpet creates the sense that Shadowfax is summoned, but not by Gandalf.
Laura, Angela and Chris all commented that the trio are riding into danger while apparently running away.
Moving on to ‘The Taming of Smeagol’:
Chris noted that the start of ‘The Taming’ shows a great change in tone, becoming very down-to-earth. Ian added that the reader now has to catch up, and Eileen remarked that there is a need to get into a new gear after the adrenalin of the end of the previous chapter.
Tim picked up the end of the ‘Palantir’ chapter and noted that the world rolling gives a sense of time distortion, and Eileen remarked that the new chapter takes us back to normality.
Chris observed that Frodo now seems to be capable of foresight, and everyone remarked on Frodo’s consideration of his choices. Tim commented that Aragorn made the right choice to let Frodo have his hour for quite thought.
For our next meeting we will finish ‘The Taming of Smeagol’ and read the ‘Passage of the Marshes’.
Chapter 11 ‘The Palantir’
‘to the surprise of the others…bowed as he presented it.’ Aragorn keeps telling them he’s Isildur’s heir but they never seem to take it in.
A bit more history in the rhyme – of Numenor’s foundering – the tokens brought to Middle-earth by Elendil.
‘to look across the wide seas of water and time to Tirion the fair, and perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Feanor at their work.’ I love this bit, looking back to a glorious past. Whatever mistakes Feanor made in his pride, here Gandalf still reveres him for his skill and envies the time in which he lived – the golden years of Valinor. Lovely bit of writing.
Book 4, Chapter 1, ‘The Taming of Smeagol’
When I first read LotR I just read it, just segued from one section to another, no questions asked, even though I was used to the way of the modern novel intercutting. The Story just pulled me along and I was so eager to turn that page that I just read on. Now I’m more conscious of Tolkien’s style, it takes me quite a while to adjust from book 3 to 4. I must admit that I prefer books 5 and 6 better than 4. I like the action and quick progression of the Story but then at the end of book 4, I find it hard to adjust from the relative quiet of 4 to the action again in 5. But of course book 4 is crucial, telling the quiet, most essential, part of the quest. So right back almost to Parth Galen.
[I have reserved the rest of Carol’s comments on this chapter for next time as we only touch on the chapter in our meeting.]