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’.
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.