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.