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.