Last meeting in June


We had a busy day from the moment when we dashed in out of the thunderstorm and its torrential rain until the time when we all had to go our separate ways. Apart from our usual discussion meeting we were intending to go to the farewell party for the librarian who had originally enabled me to set up the reading group, before heading off for our Summer-moot dinner. Everyone managed to come along with the exception of Carol and Rosemary. Carol’s comments for the meeting are appended as always. Our reading for the afternoon only got as far as ‘The Journey to the Cross-Roads’.

Tim started our discussions with the observation that Gollum is glad to be away from Faramir and his Men but Frodo chides him for his ingratitude. Angela remarked that it was like talking to a naughty child.

Laura, like Carol, remarked on the humour of Sam’s comment about tea-time in decent places. Carol observed ‘Gollum’s retort that they aren’t in decent places makes me smile. At least Gollum still seems to have a bit of common humanity about him.’

I mentioned that the gorse thickets evoke memories of a childhood fascination with being able to ‘walk inside’ plants, the sense of safety, and a different space.

Laura compared the fate of the fallen statue of the old king with the mutilated sphinx, and questioned the use of ‘coronel’, which Tim looked up and found it described a wreath or garland and so was apt for the flowers around the statue’s fallen head.

Eileen questioned the significance of cross-roads and we all discussed this. Tim and Mike remarked on the story of a guitar player (Robert Johnson) and the Devil at the cross-roads. Eileen then noted that Tolkien uses a hyphen for ‘cross-roads’, and Angela observed that Tolkien uses hyphens frequently. Tim suggested that they represent part of the evolution of the English language.

Julie wryly observed that she thought the absence of hyphens in modern spelling suggested people were too lazy to find the right key!

Laura then remarked that cross-roads are part of the theme of decision making in LotR, and Angela noted that there is another important cross-roads where the Greenway intersects with the East-West Road at Bree.

Eileen then commented that the stillness of the land is not natural.

Tim remarked on the description of the storm-ruined trees and recalled the images of the shattered trees of World War 1 which Tolkien must have seen.

Laura observed that the whole chapter had a very ‘Gothic’ feel, but the revolving tower of Minas Morgul puzzled her and we considered how it worked and was configured. Julie suggested it was powered by orcs on a treadmill. Ian noted that it aided surveillance and we all discussed the field of view, with Ian suggesting it may imply that Sauron has a blind spot! He went on to observe that if there was a palantir in the tower it must face 1 direction so the platform has to turn so that anyone approaching thinks it’s still there.

Laura remarked that red light seems to be a means of communicating between Minas Morgul and Barad Dur.

We all then discussed the matter of the flowers and the ‘corpse light’. Ian observed that the saprophytic plant ‘toothwort’ is known as the ‘corpse flower’. It does not have white flowers but being saprophytic it does not contain chlorophyll either. Ian added that as well as being saprophytic, toothwort is also carnivorous.

Angela observed that the poisonous atmosphere of the Morgul Vale bears out Faramir’s advice not to drink the water.

Tim then suggested that the Ring at this point is really trying to he ‘home’ and Laura remarked that it was treating Frodo like a puppet.

Mike moved us on to the Stairs, observing that although Sam’s soliloquy suffered badly from the ‘saccharine’ treatment of the film, but when reread it reveals Tolkien saying that you have to do what is right in front of you – what you think is right, even though you don’t know what’s going to happen. It is as if Tolkien is looking back on his life and wondering at how it turned out as it did.

MiGollum ke went on to note that it is as Gollum embarks on betrayal that the narrative provides a passage of great tenderness which leads to our anger at Sam and sympathy for Gollum. Laura remarked that at this point the Ring doesn’t seem to call Gollum, and Chris suggested this is because Gollum now sees what the Ring is doing to Frodo and thus what it has done to him.

We had long run out of time, so hurriedly agreed that for our next meeting we would read ‘Shelob’s Lair’ and ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’.


Carol’s comments:

The murky weather of Mordor begins, felt in other places too. Murky weather can really depress a person as Sauron well knows, undermining confidence and encouraging depression.

Sam’s dream could be clairvoyant of what is happening in the Shire.


First meeting in June


We met this afternoon to continue our discussion of ‘The Forbidden Pool’ and to move into ‘The Journey to the Crossroads’. As it turned out we hardly touched on the ‘Journey’, but we still covered a good deal of ground. We missed Julie and Mike, and Carol sent a few comments but ‘The Forbidden Pool’ is not one of those chapters that engages her in the way some others do, so her comments are all added at the end.

Laura began our discussion with her comment that ‘The Forbidden Pool’ is a very ‘fairy-tale’ title. She went on to question the nature and relevance of Faramir using a nail knife. Its exact nature was questioned because it seems somewhat effete as a piece of equipment for a fighting man. Ian found pictures online of examples of nail-knives and observed that the modern Swiss Army knife has a optional nail knife. The anachronistic status of a nail knife in the context of a story with replete with ‘medieval’ contexts and imagery was raised. I remarked that old witch-lore included the use of nail parings by witches as means of focusing maledictions on specific people. Angela commented that nail paring appears in the story when Sam refers to the new moon being as thin as one when he questions the time spent in Lothlorien.

Our observations of Faramir possessing a knife implying personal grooming were set in the context of him learning from Gandalf and I suggested that taken with all the features that distinguish him from his brother, the nail knife adds to his characterisation as a cultured man. Tim likened Faramir to a warrior poet.

Ian suggested that the nail-knife introduces the matter of scale, signifying a small knife. Tim added that it is distinguished from a fighting knife in the situation where it is used – to cut Gollum’s bonds.

Laura then observed that the chapter offers details of the history of Minas Ithil/Morgul and the Numenoreans. She also noted the association of eating and devouring with Sauron and the wraiths.

Tim and Angela commented on the parallels between references to palantirs in this chapter and in the Dunharrow chapter in Book 4– both instances take place of 7th March, as revealed by the Tale of Years.

Laura remarked that although Faramir’s blessing of Frodo may seem rather inappropriate – as assuming some kind of status – this is justified by his status as a Man of Numenorean lineage.

We moved on to consider Frodo’s limited choices, as indicated by his exchange with Faramir about going to Cirith Ungol with Gollum. Ian noted that things have moved on in ways Gandalf himself may not have foreseen but Faramir goes with his best guess based on his knowledge of Gandalf.

Chris remarked that in fact Frodo was very lucky to have Gollum to show him an alternative route to the Morannon.

Eileen asked whether the Ring is controlling Gollum, and Tim replied ‘not really’, it is not ‘possessing’ him to its advantage. I differentiated Gollum’s obsession from ‘possession’, and Chris observed that Bilbo was similarly obsessed. Tim qualified this by noting that Bilbo only used it for escape and for small matters, not for domination.

Angela remarked that Galadriel’s refusal to take it acknowledges the way things start. Eileen asked why Faramir doesn’t want it, as distinct from Boromir’s desire? Angela replied that Faramir, like Aragorn, knows how dangerous the Ring is. Tim further distinguished Faramir the thoughtful brother from Boromir the man of action. Laura added that Faramir and Aragorn also have greater willpower.

Chris commented that even Gandalf avoids it and is glad to have its temptation out of the way. Faramir, however, is not in proximity to Frodo as long as Boromir was. Angela added that by the time Sam makes his dangerous slip Faramir already knows what has happened to his brother.

Laura noted that the ‘air of Numenor’ links Faramir and Gandalf.

We managed at last to move into ‘The Journey to the Crossroad’ for a little while and Tim remarked that the chapter has an echo of ‘Farewell to Lorien’ as the hobbits are again leaving a place of sactuary and are given gifts with special virtue and blessing on them.

Angela added that they are also given food again.

Chris noted that there is no sign now that Gollum dislikes travelling in daylight. Tim wondered if he had become acclimatised to it, and Laura wondered if it was because he had felt protected and rested.

Eileen and Chris remarked that the blindfolding of the hobbits, including Gollum, echoes the blindfolding in Lorien, and Angela thought that Frodo may have learned from Aragorn when he insists they should all be blindfolded.

I suggested that when the hobbits spend the night in a tree, this may echo the acclimatising of Gollum to daylight (if that’s what it is), and be a sign that they are all developing in various ways. Tim noted that Tolkien is very specific about the kind of tree – the holm oak.

Laura remarked on the African use of the boma – an protective enclosure made of thorn bushes, and this brought us by roundabout routes to Tolkien’s knowledge of the stories of H. Rider Haggard. Tim and Laura recalled similarities between ‘Aisha’ (She), and Galadriel. I recalled an interview Tolkien had given in which he talked about the influence of Haggard on his work.

With that we ran out of time and hastily agreed that for our last June meeting we will continue with ‘The Journey’ and we will read as much as we can manage of what remains of Book 4.


Carol’s Comments on ‘The Forbidden Pool’

Gollum reappears. Frodo never excuses himself to Gollum for going with Faramir and co., though he could because he didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Faramir is noble and wise, full of empathy. Like Pippin later, I’d go a long way for Faramir and even more so because of the way Denethor treats him. Tolkien was right to like the young Man walking out of the fields of Ithilien. Help and hospitality unlooked for.

Last Meeting in May

My grateful thanks to Tim for taking and writing up the notes following here:

Present: Angela, Chris, Laura, Ian, Eileen, Tim

Chapters: “The Window on the West” in continuation, “The Forbidden Pool”

After gathering for a pre-meeting pre-amble with coffee and snacks at the Artisan Café, we reconvened at the Seminar Room for 1.30pm, without our guiding light, Lynn, who had a very good reason for her absence – she was attending her son’s wedding.

Ian opened the discussion, noting how Faramir explains the history/tradition of his Númenórean ancestors – the reason for facing towards the West at mealtimes, and why it is important. He also mentioned the rhetorical nature of the language used. There is nothing to say that modern Men are any better than the Númenóreans in the past. There has been a fall from state of grace for Men – the relationship they had with ancient peoples – Elves – no longer have that affinity. The Stewards are more practical than the line of Kings. Faramir preserves the greatness of Númenórean race – “ancientry”
Tim remarked on the story-telling within the story taking place in this chapter, similar to the Council of Elrond.
Angela said that some Men still have dealings with Elves, something she likes the idea of. Eileen mentioned how Celeborn had a go at Gimli in Lothlórien. Laura wondered where these Gondorians are now? Have they gone native in Lothlórien? Angela said that Treebeard was surprised that Pippin and Merry got out of Lothlórien and that they got it in the first place.
With reference to the prayer to the West, Chris observed how Frodo feels “rustic and untutored”. Ian picked up on the strange usage of the word “rustic”. “City mouse, town mouse”.
Angela posed the idea of private libraries. Laura asked if Minas Tirith/Gondor has become a decadent culture, too busy looking at the dead. Eileen commented that we keep encountering the dead.
Ian considered why Minas Tirith should be preserved – there are no actual accounts in the book as yet of what the city is like. The White City is the defence against Mordor. We have only met Boromir and Faramir in terms of main characters. “Great Men”.
Angela reflected on the formal use by Faramir of “Samwise son of Hamfast” and “Frodo son of Drogo”.
Eileen wondered if Faramir’s race is evolving. Chris referred to the intermarriage of the races of Men. Laura said that the bloodline had become thinner through marriage with the mainland. Ian: Men were losing affinity with Númenor. Boromir went to Rivendell due to the importance of this to Minas Tirith even though Faramir might have been better suited due to his affinity. Laura referred to the end of the chapter [“Window on the West”] as being wonderful. Faramir was Gandalf-like – the air of Numenor may be stronger in Faramir. Tim mentioned his affinity with Gandalf.
Laura commented on Isildur’s Bane, that Faramir doesn’t know what it is. Angela said that Gandalf found Ring lore in the archives of Minas Tirith. Ian described how Saruman gathered knowledge about the Ring, and related this matter to lost documents in general, such as medieval Welsh manuscripts in the National Archive of Wales – documents can be squirrelled away in private collections, or can be redacted or destroyed. There is not enough information available on Isildur’s Bane, no account of it. Angela noted that at the Council of Elrond, Boromir knows about the Ring. Tim said that Faramir also knows about the Ring, what it is. He knows the rhyme, as Ian added. Angela said that Gandalf was looking for a specific item in the archives. “Official Secrets”, as Laura put it, going on to add that Saruman went to Minas Tirith – what did he take away? Eileen found that Gandalf is showing himself to be wise. Chris observed that whoever wrote the scroll about the Ring would have written down the inscription on the Ring without understanding what it meant, since it was in the Black Speech.
Chris also talked about how Gandalf did teach Faramir a lot. He is not a patient teacher. It could be a commentary by Tolkien on people not studying when they have the time to.
Eileen described the influence of Galadriel, for example Sam’s modest poetry/recital which shows he is smitten by her. Laura described Galadriel as dangerous, and Eileen agreed that there is a power in Galadriel.
Chris compared Boromir and Faramir’s differing attitudes to the Ring – Boromir saw it as a solution, Faramir sees that they cannot use the Ring. Ian talked about the change in Boromir because of the Ring, a change of look, a different intent – psychological. Tim read out Tolkien’s description of the change to Boromir’s visage at Amon Hen: “His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.”
Chris said that Boromir was not evil – he didn’t want the Ring for himself but for his people. Eileen noted how the Company didn’t trust Boromir when they were in the boats leaving Lothlórien. She also thought that the book is more of a drama which makes you question things.
Ian: Sam refers to “daffadowndilly” which is a dialect word found in West Yorkshire, Cheshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Devon, Nottinghamshire, also Dorset, Scotland, Gloucestershire. Other variants: daffydowndilly, daffidowndilly. Reference also “spurgeflax”.
Laura identified two possible moments where the Valar stepped in. First, when Boromir chose to go on the mission to Rivendell. Faramir says that “I should have been chosen”. Was this the Valar’s plan? Denethor didn’t want Boromir to go to Rivendell. Secondly, at one point Sam looks back to see Gollum slipping behind a tree trunk and says nothing, unusually – are the Valar restraining Sam? He shows sympathy/pity for Gollum, not Sam’s instinctive response.
Ian thought that Frodo acts “treacherously” by coaxing Gollum into a trap [in “The Forbidden Pool”]. Sam is trusting Gollum not to attack them and thus doesn’t betray him. Frodo acts with the Ring, Sam acts without the Ring.
Chris thought that Frodo is saving Gollum. Ian added that Frodo has it in his power to destroy Gollum but doesn’t.
Laura observed that Faramir says he wouldn’t kill anything without question. Mention was made of the black squirrels of Mirkwood. Other creatures have fled Dol Guldur.
Ian talked about the usage of the word “escape” – an obscure Scottish term – omission/oversight – “escapes” as opposed to “escapees”.
Chris said that in “The Forbidden Pool” Frodo reveals that Gollum once had the Ring and is now their guide. Faramir is aghast.
Eileen highlighted the word “gangrel” which Ian investigated the meaning of: it is variously found in Scottish, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Shropshire, and can refer to vagrant, vagabond, tramp; toddler, unsteady walker; lanky, ungainly; toad. Tim thought all definitions could be describing Gollum.
Chris described Gollum as “cat-like”, further evidence of Tolkien’s dislike of cats. Sam agrees but disagrees that Gollum shouldn’t be tied up, as Frodo says.
Tim noted the reference to hedgehogs in Middle-earth.
Faramir was dubious of Gollum but asks Frodo for his advice/opinion, Eileen said. Angela noted a similarity in the way that Faramir is disobeying the orders of his father, the Steward, just as Eomer disobeyed the orders of his King.
Laura commented on the form of speech which is still very formal in the middle of war.
A little moment of by-play from Ian “Do you have the Ring?” was responded to with “Lawful wedded guide”.
Laura said that Frodo was committed to looking after Sméagol.
Eileen said that Faramir puts a doom on Gollum: a year and a day.
Angela remarked on Sam’s cheekiness with Faramir over the Elves. Faramir is putting him on his guard. Eileen liked the comedy in the book.
Eileen posed the question: what will Frodo do after he’s got rid of the Ring? The general response from other members of the group was: you’ll have to read to find out.
Ian introduced another point, related to Auden and Tolkien. This Quest is to get rid of something the Company/Frodo have already got. Usually the object of a quest is to get something. The outcome of the quest is that the world won’t necessarily be better.
Eileen agreed that this turns things on its head.
We concluded the meeting a little after half past the hour and before quarter before the hour [Southfarthing Reckoning]. For next time [11th June], we agreed to return to The Forbidden Pool, since we have unfinished business there with Frodo and Faramir, and to also read the last two chapters of “The Two Towers”: “Shelob’s Lair” and “The Choices of Master Samwise”.

Note: All errors and omissions are my own. I’ve endeavoured to make this an accurate record of the meeting, but if anyone spots any almighty clangers, please do not hesitate to let Lynn or myself know. Tim.