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:


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?

2 thoughts on “Last meeting in March

  1. Sorry we weren’t there! Holy Saturday! 500 years underground and Gollum should have been dead from Vitamin D deficiency – just saying! Rickets, malformation, easy fractures. However, he was tough as old boots! Can only put that down to the Ring.

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