Last Meeting in April

April 23rd 2016

We were meeting on Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary and St George’s Day – how auspicious – except that preparations for a mini-marathon were underway in the square just below our meeting room and pop music was being played at window-rattling decibels for most of the time. For this reason my note-taking was not very effective, so apologies to all concerned if I have missed significant points or inadvertently misrepresented anyone’s views. Carol sent brief comments.

Our task was to finish discussing ‘The Black Gate is Closed’ and to go on to ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’

Chris, as our Gollum specialist, began our discussions with the observation that the only good thing Gollum can say about the Swertings is ‘beautiful gold’, but he calls them ‘not nice’.

Chris went on to note that Gollum has a characteristic way of taking contradictory positions. The first instance is in response to Sam’s enquiry about oliphaunts. Gollum first denies their existence and only then queries what they are.

Eileen remarked on Sam’s standing up straight for his recitation of the Oliphaunt poem. Laura suggested the upright posture straightens the back and enables breathing. I noted that the Oliphaunt rhyme cheers Frodo, just as Sam’s Troll Song had on the road to Rivendell. It was observed that at such times Elvish elegance is not needed. Eileen noted that it depends on timing.

Eileen the asked why Gollum takes Frodo and Sam to the Morannon and only then leads them onwards. We all commented that Frodo had to go to Mordor and had no other plan. Angela elaborated on this when she remarked that no one seems to have had a definite plan – Aragorn says that he does not know if Gandalf had a plan for entering Mordor.

Laura went on to comment that Gollum keeps Frodo and Sam sharp, and that Sam’s down-to-earth attitude serves as his protection against the Ring. Chris noted that Sam is the one providing the pots and pans and Eileen remarked on Sam’s practical good sense. Laura and Tim agreed that Sam provides a base of commonsense.

Laura also remarked that Sam is a gardener, not a valet, but Angela suggested that some parts of the early story imply that at Bag End he may have fulfilled the role of a servant.

Eileen added that Sam has communication skills.

Chris observed that when Gollum says he is very hungry his eyes become pale green. Laura proposed this was a sign of his more animal aspect, while Tim noted that like an animal Gollum could see in the dark and animal eyes glow green.

Chris remarked on the anthropomorphising description of the landscape of Ithilien. Tim described it simply as ‘wonderful’, while Laura noted that the fragrance exuded by the many herbs was like that of the south of France.

Laura also remarked on the beauty of the phrase ‘dishevelled dryad loveliness’. Julie observed that C.S. Lewis makes frequent use of the term ‘dryad’, while Ian noted that it fits with other examples of alliteration in the text which heighten the narrative.

Tim commented on Tolkien’s pun on ‘heart’s ease’, playing on the pleasure Sam feels and the plant of the same name which would delight the gardener.

Carol commented: ‘The difference between the slag heaps of Mordor and the freshness of Ithilien would lighten any heart – try Lancashire in the 1950s and where I live now, though that doesn’t lighten my heart.

 

Laura then noted the horrible contrast created by the trees hewn down and the place of orc feasting, of which Sam says nothing for fear that Gollum would be attracted to it. Chris remarked however that Gollum dislikes cooked food, so would hardly be attracted to the site.

Chris went on to observe that while Frodo is asleep Sam treats Gollum as a master treats a servant. But Carol had commented that ‘at this point (the fish and chips episode) Sam and Gollum are almost friendly. It reminds me of a pantomime interlude between one of the good guys and a semi-evil one.

Laura then observed that Sam describes the Southrons in vivid terms.

Angela remarked on the moment when Gollum looks unseen over Sam’s shoulder as he looks at the sleeping Frodo. Both Chris and Angela noted that Sam’s threats to Gollum during this episode are not nice, and Frodo would not approve.

Considering Gollum’s reaction to Sam lighting a fire, Chris commented that fire had previously been used by Gandalf at least to scare Gollum.

Laura commented on Sam’s view of Frodo sleeping – that he looked old and beautiful – attributes frequently assigned to the Elves. Chris picked this up via Faramir’s deprecating comment that Elves are wondrous fair, which Sam objects to. Chris also noted the various levels of language, including colloquialisms, in the chapter. Chris wondered too why Frodo said so much to Faramir at their first meeting?

Tim proposed that Frodo was testing Faramir’s response as Captain of Gondor, but Laura wondered if Frodo felt an inner trust. Chris suggested the comparison of Frodo’s intuition about Aragorn in Bree. There was general agreement that Frodo might have been more wary, and Laura noted that it is Sam who speaks first after their capture.

The matter of the Gondorian Rangers’ masks drew Julie’s comment that these prevented their pale faces being seen among the woods. Ian suggested they were worn as protection against allergy

Tim then noted that Tolkien gives a good description of battle, and that like Bilbo at the Battle of Five Armies, Frodo doesn’t witness the fighting itself. Carol commented that ‘Despite the Southron being the enemy, Sam sees him as another human being, may be not wanting to go to war at all. And he feels sympathy’. Chris also remarked on Sam’s empathy with the fallen Southron, and compared this to Tolkien’s feelings when at war. Laura remarked that John Garth records in his book that Tolkien while a prisoner had his German grammar corrected by his captors.

Carol commented ‘May the Valar turn him aside’ is one of the few acknowledgements of Gondorian spirituality. Laura also commented on the Gondorian invocation against the Mumak, and remarked that this echoed Elvish beliefs.

 

Carol also commented: ‘to his astonishment and terror, and lasting delight’ the delightful Sam Gamgee sees a real oliphaunt. Wonderful! The legendary coming to life and as he says later, it was a terrible loss that so many died in battle.

 

Tim noted Sam’s mixed emotions, and I remarked on his reaction to the battle of Men against Men – which he didn’t like, but no reaction is noted when he witnesses fighting against orcs. Angela remarked that orcs were bred to be evil, but this was not so with Men.

Chris commented that the Gondorians, Damrod and Mablung, seem very easy chatting to Frodo and Sam. Tim noted that the Gondorians are described as being slow and cautious when answering.

With that, we agreed that for next time (14th May) we would read ‘The Window on the West’ and ‘The Forbidden Pool’.

 

Carol’s Comments

Chapter 4 ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’

 

‘we might be wanting to get back’, Sam ever hopeful.

 

Tolkien wrote I think in a letter to Christopher during the war that a Man was striding towards him out of the fields of Ithilien and he liked him. And when you get to know Faramir how can you not like him, which makes Denethor’s behaviour towards him later all the more despicable.

 

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First Meeting in April

9.4.16

We met today without Mike (nursing a cold) and Ian (at the Tolkien Society AGM), and Julie was able to join us again. Carol had sent comments for next time because I think I must have told her we would not meet on the AGM Saturday. However, I will add in her comments were appropriate, and the rest will appear at the end of the meeting report as usual. Our meeting did not begin with the usual AOB because under the new regime in the Library we don’t start until 1.30, but we met beforehand in a local café for our usual exchange of information. It proved very convivial and when we assembled in the Library we got straight down to our discussion of the rest of ‘The Passage of the Marshes’ and ‘The Black Gate is Closed’.

Laura opened proceedings with her observation of Sam’s observation concerning Gollum when he calls him both ‘Nasty creature’ and ‘poor wretch’. Laura remarked that it is as if Sam is speaking of both Gollum and Smeagol.

Tim thought Gollum’s subsequent question ‘Trust Smeagol now?’ was very creepy.

Angela noted Gollum’s sharp response to Sam’s complaint that everything ‘stinks’, and Laura observed that he’s still very much the hobbit at that moment.

Laura went on to comment that in spite of being underground for centuries Gollum is still very attuned to the above-ground environment. Tim thought in this Gollum was ‘cat-like’ being so attuned to his surroundings. There were brief murmurs of discontent from the ailurophiles in the group.

Eileen thought that the description of the Marshes leaves readers feeling as if they can smell it themselves.

Angela noted that the ‘little candles’ indicate the release of methane, and a discussion of marsh gas and the ghostly faces followed.

Angela noted that this was likely to be the place where Aragorn caught Gollum because Aragorn describes him at the Council of Elrond as being ‘green and stinking’.

Laura thought the place of the encounter must have been hard for Aragorn because some of the dead faces were those of Men.

Tim checked his edition of Hammond and Scull and found that they gave 2 potential sources for the ‘dead faces’ idea. The first is the well-known horror of the Somme battlefield where dead bodies lay unburied and rotting in flooded shell-holes, the other was an account of Goths who died when a bridge collapsed. I added that a similar image is used in Robert Browning’s poem ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’.

Carol also commented ‘the tricksy lights, candles of corpses – one of the more identifiable things of Tolkien’s biography – no man’s land WW1’

I then asked if we should understand that the ‘candles of corpses’ die out at the approach of the Nazgul, quelled by the coming of the Undead? Angela pointed out that as the Nazgul come it gets very cold. We had just been rationalising the production of marsh gas and noting that its production results from the decomposition of organic material which produces the heat which may account for the spontaneous combustion of the gas. Cold will inhibit that combustion.

After a foray into physics Laura observed that Frodo now feels the terrible weight of the Ring, and Eileen remarked that Gollum can sense what Frodo is going through.

Laura then suggested that the wind that heralds the coming of the Wraith is described as hissing and snarling, and it does not pass over but circles, increasing the terror. Tim remarked that it affects the atmosphere. Laura commented that the description of the atmosphere in terms such as ‘the flying wrack’ is both very poetic and dreadful.

Eileen noted that Gollum takes Frodo to the Gate even though he knows it is impassable. Laura thought he is being disingenuous, but Eileen observed that Frodo and Sam are now in his control.

Chris, however, remarked that in the pit Gollum would not have killed Frodo then, and Laura added that he knew Sam would have killed him.

Tim commented that we all have our internal dialogues but Gollum speaks his thoughts aloud after being alone so long. Eileen thought this was also the reason for all his repetitions, living alone he is in the habit of reinforcing key ideas to himself. Tim thought this reinforcing was like a mantra.

Carol commented: Sam listening to the Gollum/Smeagol debate (split personality / addiction?) fantasises what he’d do if he had the Ring – eat fish every day. Sam does much the same later on – making Mordor into one huge garden. Of course Sam realises it’s only a trick and Gollum never gets the chance. Sam hearing this has consequences later on at Cirith Ungol. Tolkien condemned Sam for this – wrongly I think. Then ‘she might help’. Sam wonders, as do we on first reading, who ‘she’ is. ‘she’ll’ meet her nemesis in Sam. This has been the ring conferring power according to its current possessor – fish/gardens.

Julie observed that much of Gollum’s language is like nursery-language, the kind used for small children. I picked up this point and questioned whether this might signal a kind of regression on Gollum’s part to a time and situation where he had been happier. Laura commented that it may have been the kind of language he had once used to gain forgiveness when he was in trouble with his Grandmother.

Angela and Laura noted his remembered delight in storytelling and the power of oral storytelling for the recollection of ancient history as Gollum recalls the old kings. Tim thought this showed Gollum’s coping strategy – in a long unhappy life he has his ‘happy place’ in this nostalgia.

Carol commented: ‘Gollum still has some normal sensibility. He used to like tales and speaks now almost in regret that he won’t ever sit by the river again and listen to them’.

Eileen and Laura observed that Gollum has physically changed, and Angela remarked that if everything is part of a ‘divine plan’ then Gollum is one of the sacrifices. Laura added that Gollum is as complex as any of the other characters, while Eileen commented that Frodo’s pity, a kind of ‘turning the other cheek’, is because of the empathy he has for Gollum, not entirely because of Gandalf’s teaching.

Laura the remarked on the shock of seeing Sauron referred to as ‘He’, capitalised after the traditional method of referring to God. Laura went on to note that Sauron is characterised not only as the ‘Eye’ but as the 4-fingered Hand.

Tim noted that ‘the Eye’ is metonymy, taking a part to stand for the whole – like referring to ‘the Crown’, meaning the monarchy. There followed a general discussion of the physicality of Sauron, and Laura wondered whether He would take full physical form again if He regained the Ring. Tim remarked that He would need a physical hand in order to wear the Ring.

Laura then noted the bathos of the long description of the horrors before the Morannon followed by Sam’s remark ‘I feel sick.’ Eileen noted that at other times Sam’s wit and humour break up the horror.

Laura drew our attention to the description of the iron gate of the Morannon and wondered about it grinding open. Tim noted than accounts of the wrecking of modern ships refer to the ships ‘screaming’ as the metal is rent and crushed.

Laura then observed that the description of the taking over of Mordor relates to what happens when good men don’t keep watch, and Tim quoted the saying that ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.’ Eileen noted that Tolkien seems to have been considering contemporary contexts, and Tim remarked that Tolkien was writing LotR during World War 2.

Chris then asked Eileen how she responded to Frodo’s speech of warning to Gollum that is not about ‘the danger we all share’. Julie noted that Frodo uses the word ‘unwisely’, and Tim remarked that he is now no longer the ‘hobbit in the pub’. Laura added that the change in Frodo is seen in his more formal language.

Tim suggested that Frodo and Sam are in a certain way now part of the ‘king’s army’, therefore Frodo is now in the role of officer and Sam is his batman. Laura noted that Tolkien write of his admiration for the ordinary soldier in one of his letters.

Eileen noted that Frodo’s speech not only affects Gollum – Sam is surprised by it.

Carol questioned: Is Frodo just threatening Gollum with death by fire out of bravado or does he unconsciously sense something in the future?

Chris then questioned why Gollum refers to ‘nice birds’, referring to sea birds. I wondered how he knew about sea birds. Tim observed that it is second-hand knowledge from talking to ‘many peoples’, and Angela remarked that Sam knows about Swertings. Laura thought hobbits were probably armchair travellers.

Chris noted that it is hard for Frodo and Sam to get Gollum to tell them the new route into Mordor and suggested Gollum digresses is if he’s reluctant to speak, but perhaps this is in fact Smeagol resisting Gollum.

Angela remarked that the hobbits sitting near Mordor echoes Merry and Pippin ‘sitting on the edge of ruin’ outside Orthanc.

Chris noted that Gollum’s language now changes to become more lucid and Tim remarked that at the Council of Elrond Gandalf reports Gollum becoming more lucid under interrogation. Tim wondered if this change takes place as Gollum spends more time with other people.

Angela observed that for the first time Gollum learns the name of his captor when Frodo refers to Aragorn’s suspicions about Gollum’s escape.

With that we ran out of time and decided that at our next meeting we would finish off ‘The Black Gate’ and we would also prepare ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’.

Carol’s Comments

Chapter 2 The Passage of the Marshes

‘Topography as history with knobs on – the Battle of Dagorlad and the seige of Barad-dur at the end of the 2nd age when this part of the ring trouble started’

[Apologies to Carol because I should have added this comment into the last report.] Even Gollum has his rhymes and the description is very apt, ‘the cold hard lands’ is very simple – aab ccb. Simple as the riddle rhymes which he repeats again thinking of ‘Baggins’ – aa bb. Does it show Gollum still has some civilised values, some humanity?

Practical Sam thinks about feeding 3 instead of 2. Needn’t worry, Gollum can’t abide elf food. It seems that anything elvish is anathema to Gollum – the rope, lembas, even the trees of Lorien. Is he so corrupted that anything pure is poison to him? A real mixture, eh?

Chapter 3 The Black Gate is Closed (mirrors the black gate opens)

Sam chunnering on about what the gaffer would say if he could see Sam now and the comment about the very ordinary act of having to wash in that extraordinary place and situation. Sam doesn’t do it consciously but it certainly keeps Frodo going sometimes to be reminded of ordinary things.

 

Last meeting in March

I can’t resist the temptation to begin this post with: It is early April and the sky has cleared after overnight rain. A bright fire is on the hearth, but the sun is warm. Sadly, no wizard is sitting by the fire, but that may be a good thing!

And so to the report of our last March meeting:

26.3.16

We missed Mike and Julie this afternoon, and Carol as always contributed her comments, but we did not make special provision for Reading Day, reserving that for another time. We began our last meeting under the old regime (free room+tea urn suppiled) by clarifying our ‘moots’ for the rest of the year. Following the pattern of last year, we agreed to a Wessexmoot in October – date to be confirmed later. We also tried to find a date for a Springmoot but that turned into a Midsummer moot when we found that it would be June before those of us present could all gather together at the same time. We now have to consult Mike, Julie, Carol and Rosemary to see if the last Tolkien meeting in June will work for them too.

When we got round to discussing our chapters ‘The Taming of Smeagol’ and ‘The Passage of the Marshes’, Laura directed us to Sam’s expressions ‘Ninnyhammer’ and ‘numbskull’. Tim consulted his copy of Hammond and Scull, finding ‘numbskull’ quoted from the OED as ‘stupid person, while ‘ninnyhammer’ also means ‘stupid’ and ’noodle’ means ‘simpleton’.

Ian consulted the Dialect Dictionary online and confirmed the meanings, but added that alliteration of this kind was very prominent in English folk tales and rustic language.

Laura then remarked that Galadriel’s rope leads Sam to reminisce over his uncle’s ‘rope walk’. We considered the presence of rope walks in various primary-world locations.

Eileen noted that Sam talks about his own history and changes the tone from the danger and hardship.

Laura observed that Gollum seems hard to describe. Sometimes he is described as black, sometimes white.

Eileen remarked that Gollum is like a spider. We didn’t pick this up! We are trying to avoid ‘spoilers’ during her first reading. Tim commented that Gollum’s sniffing is reminiscent of the Black Riders in the Shire sniffing for Frodo.

Chris observed that Gollum, like Frodo, develops special senses as a result of ‘owning’ the Ring, but Bilbo does not share in this gain. Angela suggested this was because of the differing circumstances of gaining the Ring

Eileen asked why Gollum is also called Smeagol. Ian responded that when he was outcast from his social group he lost his name within that society, and another one was given.

Tim noted that ‘Smeagol’ derives from Old English. I have checked in my Clarke Hall Dictionary and find that the verb’smeagan’ means ‘to think, think out’, even ‘to seek (opportunity)’, and the vb. ‘smugan’ means ‘to creep’, while the noun ‘smygel’ means a retreat or burrow’ so, as Tim observed, his name already inscribed his fate.

I then asked about Gollum’s use of language. It seemed to me odd that after c. 500 years in self-imposed isolation, and given Tolkien’s knowledge of language development over time, Gollum communicates with Frodo and Sam without difficulty. The only difference in their language use seems to be governed by Gollum’s Ring-induced ‘schizophrenia’.

Chris replied that they all use the Common Speech, which like functioned like Esperanto, but being a useful constructed language did not develop. Tim suggested that all the hobbits speak a rural dialect that does not develop, and added that we are reading a book which purports to be a translation of one written by hobbits. And there is enough difference in Gollum’s speech to show it as a dialect variation. It was also noted that language in the Third Age does not develop because there are no technological advances to push it forward.

Ian remarked that we at last get Gollum’s own speech in these chapters, and the way he communicates with the world hasn’t changed.

Laura remarked that Gollum was the equivalent within his own tribe of Frodo in the Shire – both are high up in their own ‘tribe’, because Gandalf says Gollum’s grandmother had valuables. Laura added that although Gollum does not belong to ‘landed gentry’ he is still higher in his own society.

Chris observed that Gollum is also quite intelligent.

Ian noted that things in hobbit society now are recognisable to Gollum, e.g. riddles and close family ties.

Eileen qualified all this by remarking that Gollum’s characteristics as they are described make him seem revolting, leading to an assumption – because he’s described in revolting terms, he gets judged as this. Ian commented that Tolkien writes to question our judgement.

Carol commented that both Frodo and Sam are right in their attitudes towards Gollum. It needs the 2 attitudes to balance things out so Gollum can fulfill his own destiny in regards to the Quest. He needs to be trusted but also to be watched.

Tim wondered if Gollum is evil or just weak, or perhaps a ‘Benn Gunn’ type of character – grateful for being found. Or mad? Angela observed that his description is of someone half-starved, and Laura added that he gets poor nutrition.

Angela drew a parallel between Gollum’s isolation and Aragorn’s – not least when he is bring Gollum back to the Elves.

Ian remarked on the matter of choices – Gollum is cast out and chooses to stay with ‘Precious’, while Aragorn chooses to go into the isolation of his great journeys but can always go back. It was also  remarked that Aragorn always had Arwen’s love to comfort him.

Eileen commented that Gollum is described as insect-like, he has developed in his own way, and in spite of everything Frodo and Sam still need him.

Picking up Chris’s earlier point, Laura saw this as a confirmation of Gollum’s intelligence.

Ian then directed our attention to Gollum’s reference to ‘shivery’ light, and wondered if this showed him shifting the idea of ‘silvery’ light. I suggested that it indicated Gollum’s ability to express himself in a poetic and metaphoric register, but Eileen observed that ‘shivery’ suits his nature.

Ian proposed that ‘shivery’ rather expressed Gollum’s actual perception of moonlight – that is it ‘shivers’ because he is suffering from AMD (Age-related Macular Disease) on account of his 500 years underground.

Angela by this time had finished her on-the-spot research in the LotR Appendices into the Common Speech – basically Numenorean brought by the explorers, which then blended with the existing native languages of the peoples of Gondor.

Laura remarked than in earlier discussions we had perceived it as being more like the use of English as an international language, and hobbits adopted the Common Speech.

Chris noted that both formal and colloquial forms of the Common Speech were used in the Shire.

Eileen observed that Frodo and Sam tolerate Gollum and his peculiar mode of communication because they need to.

Carol commented that ‘while Gollum was just words in Gandalf’s story it was easy to feel no pity. Gollum was an abstract, an object, but now he’s flesh and blood, just as vile, but does not deserve unwarranted violence.

Laura moved our discussion of language on to consideration of the Ring oath, comparing it to the Riddles in The Hobbit – both take the form of unwritten contracts, but with the oath Gollum works out how to wriggle out of it.

Chris observed that the oath gives the Ring definite influence, but Smeagol swears many things at the same time. Laura remarked that he swears under duress, and Tim asked ‘surely that invalidates the contract?’

Chris then noted that Frodo ‘grows’ like Aragorn when exerting power.

Eileen remarked that Sam often give ‘our’ first reaction to threat. Then Frodo is more considered.

Laura commented that the ‘Taming’ chapter ends in black silence.

Ian asked us about the ‘ell’ measurement. Tim said it was about 18 inches and he and I knew it had been instituted in the early Middle Ages and had been taken from the measurement of the king’s arm from elbow to fingertip. Carol came up with a different distance of 45 inches. Ian asked when it went out of fashion and after checking later, I found a reference to the ell still being used in the 18thC as a measure especially for Hollands fabric.

Those of us not attending the TS AGM will meet next time to look at ‘The Passage of the Marshes’ and ‘The Black Gate is Closed’.

Carol’s Comments:

Elven rope has mystical qualities. The elven rope comes down and the debate about badly tied knows or fraying. I think the rope answered Sam’s call.
18 fathom, 1 fathom =6 feet, so 108 feet.
Enter Gollum. Frodo will now have to listen to Gollum’s speech for quite a while – think back to ‘Shadow’ and Gandalf’s rendition of Gollum’s-speak. Very original, sibilant – like a snake? Peter Woodwthorpe’s Gollum in Radio 4’s serialisation is a masterpiece.

Frodo remembers his conversation with Gandalf and does a complete about turn and does pity Gollum. See Portia/Balthazar in The Merchant of Venice ‘The quality of mercy is not strained…’, and Faramir to Eowyn, ‘Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart.’ Some people don’t like to be ‘pitied’ but I agree with Faramir.

Do we pronounce Smeagol ‘Smeegol or Smee – agol?