Last meeting in August

27.8.16

On August Bank Holiday weekend five of us met to discuss ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’. We noted Omer’s contribution to the last blog by way of Comments, and Angela has responded to them. It is always fascinating to learn more about the parallels between Tolkien’s work and other mythic and folk traditions. As usual Carol sent comments and those not included directly can be found below.

Chris led us into our discussion with his comment that ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’ mirrors the ‘Minas Tirith’ chapter in the atmosphere of doom at the start and the growth of Merry and Pippin independently, and each swearing allegiance in their own way.

Carol comented: ‘no dawn’ ‘bitter spring’, it seems pretty hopeless doesn’t it? Never really struck me before but these chapters are pulling the thread to one point, the Pelennor Fields.

Laura noted, however, that there is also a contrast between the chapters in the characterisation of the rulers. Chris expanded on this, defining Pippin’s act of fealty as motivated by his wounded pride while Merry swear to Theoden out of love.

Carol commented that Merry’s dubbing is a lot less formal than Pippin’s with Denethor and agreed that fealty is given from love not awe. Denethor won’t be a father to Pippin as Theoden will to Merry. And Denethor certainly won’t sit at the same table as Pippin to eat

Eileen remarked on Merry’s isolation among the Rohirrim but Angela noted that Aragorn and Theoden both take notice of him. Laura added that both hobbits once separated feel like ‘baggage’ being carried around.

Eileen then commented that this is a very suspenseful chapter, including yet another flight by the Nazgul. Laura added that the suspense also mounts until the dismounting of the Rangers, and Eileen remarked that it adds to the readers’ fears that Aragorn and the others feel fear.

Angela then remarked on the degree to which Eowyn loses here restraint. Laura observed that she can’t accept Aragorn’s apparent disregard for battle and renown.

I wondered if Eowyn has a crush on Aragorn? Laura and Angela both thought her reactions are more like first love when she discovers there is something more important than her. Chris observed that she’s had a lot of emotional turmoil already, citing the death of her cousin Theodred and disgrace of her brother because of Wormtongue’s interference.

Laura thought it must have been odd for Ellandan and his brother to see Eowyn showing such an interest in Aragorn.

Angela remarked that at the feast, Aragorn’s ‘It is not madness…’ speech is a real conversation-stopper.

Carol commented: Eowyn thinks she’s in love with Aragorn and has slight pause when he says his heart dwells in the north. I think her wish to go to war isn’t only because of Aragorn. She talks of ‘skulking’ in the hills and really nobody asked her if she wanted the job of guiding her people.  She wants action because she’s intelligent and strong, capable of much more than keeping the home fires burning. Aragorn just adds to this. Those crucial words: ‘all your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the home,  for the men will need it no more.’ These are progressive words coming from a man of Tolkien’s generation and the feminist in me says ‘Yeh’. But when she says she’s ‘not a serving woman’, this is what royalty is. Although richer and more powerful, a good monarch or princess is a servant to the people, a shepherd, a protector, guide. But she is bound by duty and patriarchy where one has to ask permission of uncle or brother in her case. She feels sidelined because she’s a woman and this will drive her to desperate measures.

Laura concurred that Eowyn’s opposition between duty and renown ignores the responsibility of a princess or lady of rank to put duty first, and Angela pointed out that Aragorn has constantly done his duty without renown.

Angela went on to remark that the ghosts are dead as distinct from the Nazgul who are not, and that in the presence of the ghosts of the Oathbreakers we really feel Gimli’s fear. Carol commented that ‘seen from Gimli’s point of view: he is shamed and quaking at the knees.’

Laura observed that Gimli alone is blinded by the darkness, and Eileen wondered if he was left at the back because he’s a dwarf. Chris thought he was perhaps in a trance, and Angela proposed he was disoriented by fear.

Angela also noted that there is the same disorientation of time, when the Company leave the Paths of the Dead – two hours before sunset – as there is when the Fellowship leave Moria – two hours after noon.

Angela observed that the Dead were the original inhabitants of the land and were not Numenorean, and she wondered whether the silver horn is the one Isildur used originally to summon the Oathbreakers.

Both Eileen and I remarked on the particular form of Aragorn’s words at the Stone and Laura thought them reminiscent of a church service. Chris and Angela noted his use of ‘ye’ as a subordinating form of address appropriate to both Aragorn’s lordship over them, and their criminal status.

Laura noted that there is a sense of prophecy in the chapter, in remarks such as taking a ‘path appointed’, and Carol observed that Aragorn the legend rides into another legend. She noted also Aragorn’s declaration: ‘but I say to you, Eomer, that in battle we may yet meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between’, remarking ‘This is one of my favourite sentences in the whole book. It’s heroic and prophetic and I love it when the prophecy comes true.’ Carol also commented: There are hints of Gimli’s survival. And where there’s water there’s life, the tinkle of it wakes Gimli from his nightmare.

Laura went on to observe that the word ‘booth’ is not out of place, deriving directly from the Icelandic word, as found in e.g. Njal’s Saga.

Eileen observed that there are many human aspects to the chapter, including loss, love, inclusion and exclusion making it moving.

As we ran out of time, and bearing in mind the absence of many members of the group at Oxonmoot, we decided to read 2 chapters for our next meeting at the end of September: ‘The Muster of Rohan’ and ‘The Siege of Gondor’.

 

Carol’s comments:

The Passing of the Grey Company

The description of Roheryn ‘rough-haired…no gleam of stone or gold’ and Aragorn as he is covered with a plain grey elven cloak, somehow makes the likes of Eomer seem very dandyish with his horse plume etc but the horse plume does act rather like a standard showing who’s side he’s on. I’m not a great one for ostentation but both Aragorn and Eomer lead by deeds whatever Eomer may wear.

We will hear the story of the skeleton of a ‘mighty man’ in the next chapter.

The stone of Erech, why did Isildur bother to bring such an unwieldy thing from the wreck of Numenor? Here topography as history.

 

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Omer’s comments on end of The Two Towers

Our friend and colleague Omer has sent the following comments:

(a) I tend to agree with Tim’s view about a ‘military’ or ‘camp ‘ language , w r to the language of the Orcs. As you might probably know, Urdu- our Pakistani national language – was born in the medieval times, during the early Muslim conquests of India by several invading tribes from the North and North West eg the Turks, Afghans, Mongols/Muguls etc. These invaders used to garrison their mercenary armies of mixed Central Asia/Afghan types (with a small number of local Hindi mercenaries too) in special camps, usually outside the main cities like Delhi and Lahore; and since all sorts of commodities etc were to be provided to these warriors, by local merchants and farmers etc, a sort of mixed patois developed, which included a Hindi base with Turkish and Persian and Pushto/Afghan words, later on also a smattering of Arabic. This developed into a proper camp language or ‘lingua franca’ and was designated as ‘Urdu’ in fact a Turkish word meaning ‘camp’. Compared to Hindi and its associate languages and dialects, it was a somewhat harsh-sounding language, with more gutturals (which become flattened out in Hindi) and resembled, in its early manifestation, languages such as Gaelic or German. Over time, as the Hindi influence grew , the language became softer and more refined (as we note in the 18th-19th centuries with the growth of Urdu poetry in Delhi and Lucknow) — but the essential and basic ‘rough and ready’ character still remains in the common Urdu (Urdu i Aaama or the Ordinary Camp) vis a vis the later high/refined Urdu (Urdu i Mualla, or the Exalted Camp). I always imagine Orcish to be somewhat like the early rough Urdu. A hodge-podge language of all the tribes between the Indus and the Aral Sea.

(b) the comments about Shelob and the bottled starlight/Elvish light brings to mind an old folk tale here in this region, of ‘Nikka Pai” a younger son/brother of a farmer, who has to go down to the Underworld/Hades to rescue his elder brother from the demons who have taken him , in order to fulfill a promise to their parents. As he is a good-hearted and pure-spirited lad, and loyal to his elder brother and devoted/obedient to his parents, of course, Divine Help comes his way; he meets a saint or mystic ‘Baba’ (elder/old man) who gives him a mystic phial, of ‘Heavenly light’ . This has the power to bring positive force/energy to the owner/user– in the Underworld, we are told, all positive energy/force is sucked away, and people become dull and even lose their colour, they become ‘grey’ like the dead ones; but the Heavenly light phial can bring back this positive energy and drive away those demons and negative forces that thrive in the darkness. Strange echoes of both this Tolkien incident/scene and of the Dementors, in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling — in fact, my youngest son, Hissam, reminded me of this, as he was reading Harry Potter and had of course listened to this story in his childhood.

Carol’s comments

With apologies for not including these in the main blog, here are Carol’s comments for the Minas Tirith chapter.

Minas Tirith.
The short paragraph of the lighting of the beacons of Ered Nimrais is heroic, with Shadowfax giving his all. Although misplaced, the lighting of the beacons in the film is one of the most memorable in the film. The film is about exaggeration while Tolkien is about understatement.

Do they pass the bearers of the red arrow?
For once Gandalf is praising Pippin and Pippin almost refutes it. Arrival at the Rammas Echor.
Pippin’s first sight of the tower of Ecthelion: Tolkien description herioc and clean.

Starting to use archaic words: tilth, oast, garner, league, fathom, thence, twain, verily, kine, now that the Story has arrived at the heart of heroism and sophistication, far from the rustic Shire where they eat ‘taters’.

‘as frodo walked in the glades of Ithilien’ – we now start getting brief alignments between stories. the dead white tree, symbolising a dead line of kings so thought but it’s treated like a person and still honoured even in death. So much so that it will be laid to rest in Rath Dinen. Now they enter ‘the house of stone.’ Compare Meduseld.
Does Gandalf ‘see’ Aragorn’s unexpected mode ofarrival at Minas Tirith. Pippin’s still surprised at the
> mention of ‘kingship’. Gandalf’s comments are apt. ‘monoliths of black marble’, just epitomises Minas Tirith – cold, stoney, stern.
‘the mightiest man may be slain by one arrow…’ sometimes Pippin really surprises us and here he is diplomatic to a fault. He rises to the occasion even though Denethor has said he has no time for halflings. Did Denethor see Pippin in the palantir?
‘Pippin never forgot…’ implies that he survives. Again back to archaic forms – Peregrin son of Paladin rather than Peregrine Took. How are women known? In Iceland they still use ‘dottr’.
Denethor’s concerns are blinkered to Minas Tirith whereas Gandalf’s concerns are far wider. Like he says, even if Minas Tirith perishes, say Frodo destroys the ring but too late to save defeat in battle for the west, then Gandalf’s work will be a success if only given fragile new beginning. Gandalf and Denethor spark-off about the return of the king. What does Denethor know of Aragorn?  Stewarship not Dominion.
That laugh of Gandalf’s when they’re just at the start of what will probably be total defeat for the west – is it because either way he’ll soon be going home?
Beregond is one of the few characters acknowledged as having any family, though no mention of a wife.
‘the Darkness has begun. there will be no dawn.’ Darkness with a capital D. it’s been a gloomy end to the chapter with far less men coming to Gondor’s aid and now the fume from mordor. All points to little hope, ditto the next chapter.

First Meeting in August

13.8.16

We were a small group meeting this afternoon. We missed Mike, Julie and Tim as we tackled the first chapter in The Return of the King – ‘Minas Tirith’. With apologies for inefficiency, I’m not sure if Carol sent comments for this chapter. So far I haven’t located them, but I will consult Carol and hopefully be able to revise this report in due course but for now, I will proceed with our discussion.

Eileen remarked that the new chapter in the new book confronted her with a barrage of names that she could not keep up with, but that through the chapter she was learning more about Gandalf.

Laura noted that the first paragraph introduced lovely language, citing the description of Pippin waking with his memory ‘drowsy and uncertain.’ Laura also noted that Gandalf names himself ‘storm-crow’, perhaps ironically.

Chris observed that Gandalf does not use encouraging language to others, even telling Pippin that there will be ‘no refuge’. Laura suggested this was his ‘management style’ to get people alert and motivated.

Angela thought that Pippin comes across as quite slow on the uptake when it comes to Aragorn, but Laura noted that Pippin develops in the chapter, especially when he takes the oath to Denethor – an oath of dire implications like those found in Anglo-Saxon.

I mentioned that I was impressed by Pippin’s sense of personal pride when he will not be daunted by Denethor’s stern interrogation. Ian wondered if this shows Tolkien ensuring that the hobbit is not taken as just comic relief, and Laura noted the contrast with Pippin’s previous foolishness.

Eileen proposed that Gandalf was not happy that Pippin spoke so much in Denethor’s presence, but Chris remarked that Pippin could not  avoid it.

Laura compared the description of Minas Tirith with that given by Boromir at the Council of Elrond and found it touching because he would never see the city again.

I wondered if Minas Tirith had been consciously constructed to develop the configuration of a ship specifically because it is the fortress founded by Numenoreans. Laura suggested that its developed form represents a folk memory of ships-as-safety.

Eileen then introduced the topic of Shadowfax and we all participated in observations concerning the status of the horse, the significance of his colour, and special relationship with Gandalf.

Chris then wondered why Pippin is suddenly named in the narration, not reported speech, as Peregrin when his and Gandalf’s entry into the city is narrated. We concluded that it signalled his changing status – a change brought about by precisely by his entry into the Gondorian city where everything is more formal and having its own high status.

I wondered if Pippin’s sword, found in the wight’s barrow, served as a kind of physical ‘password’ guaranteeing his worth when he presents it to Denethor, because the Steward recognises the origins of its workmanship. Laura observed that it also significantly comes from the North from which will come the presence that will unify both kingdoms.

I added that Denethor doesn’t know that yet, but Angela very properly qualified this with a discreet ‘Ahem!’ so as not to spoil the story for Eileen.

I went on to note that the description of Denethor makes him sound more like a statue than a living breathing man, and Angela again qualified this by noting that he reminds Pippin of Aragorn, more than Boromir, which is perhaps worrying, or strange? But Angela also noted that a little later in the narration we are told that Denethor looks ‘beautiful’.

Laura had been doing research into some of the words in the description of the farmlands of the Pelennor, and explained that ‘oast’ was Old English for ‘kiln’, that ‘garner’ came originally from Latin and became an archaic verb meaning ‘to gather’, before becoming a noun. Both ‘fold’ and ‘byre’ are Old English originally, but fold is for keeping sheep while byre is for keeping cows, meaning that both sheep and cows were kept on the farms of the Pellenor. Likewise Laura distinguished the specific meanings of ‘husbandman’ and herdsman’: the first meaning a farmer, the second specifically a man who looks after the animals. Finally, she noted that ‘folk’ itself was Old English.

We went on to consider the references to Minas Tirith as a city in decay. Chris observed that Pippin would not have known how it was before. I offered the mythological interpretation of decay as linked to the lack of, or incapacity, of a king. Chris proposed an alternative interpretation when he noted that all empires reach a point where they over-extend themselves and begin to decay. Chris cited the classic example of the Roman Empire.

Laura turned to the arrival of Pippin and Gandalf on the Pelennor when she observed that the outer defences of Minas Tirith had not been well-managed. It is not good when defences are allowed to decay.

Angela noted that there’s a problem with management in Mordor too!

Laura remarked that Gandalf knows Ingold who is working on restoring the Pelennor defences, and wondered if Tolkien had borrowed and/or adapted the OE hero’s name Ingeld, and it was strange to find a name derived from OE somewhere other than Rohan. This led Ian to propose that Ingold was an economic migrant. Chris picked this up and wondered if the strange letters over some doorways and arches in Minas Tirith were also signs that other migrants had lived in the city.

Laura then remarked that if the decay of Gondor indicated the decay of the power of Men then perhaps the next age should be thought of as the Age of Hobbits. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do justice to this provocative proposal as we ran out of time.

For our next meeting we will read ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’.

We also agreed on the date for our next Wessexmoot, which will be on 22nd October. It will take the usual format and if members wish to give short talks/papers, that will be fine, but there is no obligation to do so.

Prior to our next meeting we will meet in the Artisan’s Café.

Last Meeting in July

Present: Ian, Laura, Eileen, Mike, Julie, Tim
Chapters: “Shelob’s Lair” in continuation, and “The Choices of Master Samwise”.

[I have added Carol’s Comments at the end as usual -Lynn]

After gathering for a pre-meeting coffee and snacks at the Artisan Café, which overran slightly, we reconvened at the Seminar Room at about 1.45pm (with apologies), without Lynn, who was unwell, and Angela and Chris, who were at a wedding.
We resumed our review of “Shelob’s Lair” with an observation from Eileen such a horrible creature, so monstrous, so evil. Stench slime makes it more horrible to read.
Laura thought it was frightening that Shelob is independent, a rogue element.
Mike talked about the description of the two hobbits against the monster – a hopeless battle? Tolkien is building up the tension – will they survive?
Eileen couldn’t work out how Shelob could be so large – how did she get so big? Ian observed that Shelob is “Morgully Obese”. Eileen continued by saying that she couldn’t believe Shelob stays so powerful. Ian added that this is a malevolent force in spider form.
When reading this sequence, Eileen said she was almost hysterical, the description was so over the top she found it hard to believe.
Laura echoed Ian’s reference in describing Ungoliant, a creature in spider form. Sauron was happy to leave Shelob to guard the back door to Mordor.
Ian related how Tolkien didn’t want to create an evil queen in The Lord of the Rings so he created an extreme, disgusting monster female. He had too much respect for character.
Mike thought that she represents a force – a gestation of evil. She is described in a most offensive way.
Tim wondered if it was possible that Shelob has been made in mockery of spiders, like Orcs were spawned in mockery of Elves.
Mike said that Tolkien really goes to town at the start of “The Choices of Master Samwise”.
Laura commented on the small attacking the large – heroic similes.
Eileen: Frodo appears dead. Sam has to decide – this really struck home for her. Sam take the Ring from Frodo.
It was noted by Laura that the Orcs have a certain view of Elvish habits i.e. that they leave their companions behind. Tim wondered how long Orcs live, bearing in mind they are based on Elves. Laura suggested they are like Dolly the Sheep (i.e. not long-lived). Ian said that Orcs are made old, i.e. their cells are already old.
Mike moved onto the language and syntax of Gorbag and Shagrat that Tolkien is using. He thought it doesn’t hang together properly. He wondered if they spoke in a dialect like a northern English one, rather than an East End accent. Tim noted that in the armed forces there tends to be a mongrel language – a mixture of all sorts of speech and dialects. Perhaps the Orcs are like this. He also observed that Tolkien has created three-dimensional characters in the orcs. Mike called them sentient; Eileen said they are realistic.
Laura highlighted how Sam refers to the Orcs as “devils” and “filth”. Shagrat had used “filth” when referring to Frodo.
Mike made the point that love for fellow man overcomes everything.
Laura: Sam considers suicide rather than going on alone. Conscience? Higher forces? He is having an internal dialogue – agonising over multiple choices. He is described as Master Samwise – a sign that he is growing up.
When Sam is speaking Elvish/speaking in tongues, it is coming from him – an inner strength. The power of the phial – starlight – is uplifting for Sam. The light has an effect on Shelob. Eileen compared it to Gollum’s sensitivity to light. Ian described the difference of the light on the spider’s multifaceted eyes. It is special starlight, captured essence, light intensified.
Mike asked why Sam didn’t cut Frodo free. Others in the group said that he did. Mike realised it was depicted in the f-i-l-m that Frodo was left in his bindings.
Tim compared Sam’s internal dialogues with those of Smeagol/Gollum. In Sam’s case he uses “I” and “You”.
Laura mentioned that Frodo’s face had a green colour but later it was fair of hue.
Eileen thought that Frodo comes to life again. Ian explained that Frodo was only paralysed but appeared dead.
Tim noted the dramatic ending with the emphasis on Frodo, not the Ring.
“The great doors slammed to. Boom. The bars of iron fell into place inside. Clang. The gate was shut. Sam hurled himself against the bolted brazen plates and fell senseless to the ground. He was out in the darkness. Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.”
Mike explained that there is not a word in this chapter that wouldn’t have been witnessed by Sam.
Eileen said that things happen all of a sudden. Laura added that it was another disaster. The Orcs refer to Gollum as a “sneak” like Sam does.
Next time: we start on “The Return of the King”, reading Chapter One – “Minas Tirith”.
Note: All errors and omissions are my own. I’ve endeavoured to make this as accurate a record as possible of the meeting, but if anyone spots any almighty clangers (or soup dragons) please do not hesitate to let Lynn or myself know. Thanks, Tim.

Carol’s Comments

chapter 9 Shelob’s Lair

‘other potencies there are…’ Sam’s right to think of Tom Bombadil but his thought of him and mine are quite different. Tom and Shelob are 2 of those characters who are not troubled by rings. Tom is at the start of their journey and largely benign, on the edge of a beningn settlement – the Shire. Shelob is almost at the end of their journey, vicious, on the edge of a vicious settlement – Mordor. Their respective abodes are reflected in their natures. Tolkien wouldn’t pair them off consciously but at a pinch I could, characters not affected by Rings yet total opposites.

The Shelob story – again tracing back history to the poisoning of Telperion and Laurelin by Ungoliant – Shelob’s mam – Cirith UNGOL etc. even spiders have their back-story.

chapter 10 The Choices of Master Samwise

‘all his little impudence of courage’ – this might be Shelob’s thought but it describes Sam’s bravery perfectly. Lovely!

Sam’s ‘indomitable spirit’ even right to the end.

Thanks to laxness on the enemy’s part – Shagrat and Gorbag talking – Sam and Frodo have been enabled to get so far.

Frodo is saved from immedaite harm by orders from Above, just like Merry and Pippin were.