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’.
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.