Wessexmoot 2016

Wessexmoot 2016 – 22nd October

Our long-planned moot took place, sadly without Carol, Rosemary and Tim, who could not be with us this time. They were much missed and remembered particularly in a dedicated toast to absent friends once we had finished the more structured part of the afternoon and moved on to a rather more alcoholic venue. Because of the ‘moot’ this report takes a rather different form to the usual ones.

The schedule for the afternoon itself began with a presentation by Ian of the paper he gave at this year’s Oxonmoot, on Joseph Wright in Oxford. Wright was influential in Tolkien’s student life and their friendship extended to Tolkien being an executor of the wills of both Joseph and his wife Elizabeth. Ian’s research has revealed minor and quite major misrepresentations of aspects of Wright’s biography.

We were also treated to Ian’s Powerpoint presentation which showed among other things his reconstruction of the Wrights’ house in Oxford (long torn down) which he had created using Minecraft, the online building tool. The house was important in Tolkien’s life as it was the venue for hobbit-sized Sunday teas during the years when Wright was his tutor.

For Ian, the highlight of his presentation at Oxford was spotting the Tolkien scholar Dimitra Fimi in the front row of his audience, and then discovering she had tweeted her approval. We all showed our appreciation in a more traditional manner, with applause and questions.

Our next presentation was from Chris on a work very much ‘in progress’. He is working on Tolkien and Insularity and his research is directed towards examining why so many locations in Middle-earth guard their isolation so carefully, and how this is eventually broken down. Chris suggested that basically Tolkien is arguing that isolationism doesn’t work.

Mike added another dimension when he directed attention to Gan-buri-Gan’s plea for his people to be left in peace. Was isolation achievable, Mike queried, only when a society was too primitive or resource-poor to bother with? The rest of the group asked other questions and expressed encouragement and enthusiasm for the research to be developed further.

Our final presentation was from Laura, who gave us a summary of the Anglo-Saxon talks she had enjoyed at a recent History Weekend in Winchester. She spoke with great approval of Michael Woods’ lecture on King Alfred, and with equal enthusiasm on Tom Holland’s lecture on Aethelstan and the making of the Angelcynn. It is often forgotten that Aethelstan was the first king to unite all the realms of Anglo-Saxon England.

Once we had left the Library and settled ourselves in the Frog and Parrot across the square, our discussions continued in a more informal style, although with no less rigour. Mike prompted me to think further about one aspect of my current research that I have not so far considered. Angela mentioned that she is taking the publication of her book on Aragorn in new directions, and Chris and I held on to our opposed views on the possibility of Gollum’s redemption. I tried to persuade Chris to write a formal response to the essay that was published in The Inklings Journal where I argued that based on textual evidence and anthropological theory Gollum could never achieve redemption. Chris’s views ably challenged mine and would enhance the debate on the characterisation of Gollum and its moral dimensions.

Having worked up an appetite and enjoyed a few aperitifs (or coffee in my case) we made our way to what has become our usual dinner venue and continued the evening until we had finished ‘filling up the corners’. Happily, no one, as far as I know, had to be taken home in a wheelbarrow!

Our next reading remains as we agreed previously, ‘The Battle of the Pelennor Fields’ and ‘The Pyre of Denethor’. It seems particularly apt that the Battle chapter coincides with our meeting on 12th November, Remembrance Weekend, in the year of the 100th anniversary of Tolkien’s participation in the Battle of the Somme.

Advertisements

First in October

8.10.16

With Chris, Angela, and Tim away, the rest of us met this afternoon to finish discussing ‘The Siege of Gondor’ and ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’. As usual we did not get very far into this second chapter but found a good deal to say about ‘The Siege’. Carol’s comments follow, when not included in the main report.

Laura began our discussions with her observation of the ranking of the seats in the hall of the citadel; the throne remains empty, Denethor sits below in a chair, and Faramir is seated in a ‘low chair’. Laura also noted that Faramir’s report of meeting Frodo and Sam serves to recap that part of the plot for the reader.

Eileen remarked that Faramir is more intellectual than his father.

Carol commented on the ‘cheering and crying of the names of Faramir and Mithrandir’: Denethor wouldn’t like that but he didn’t go to the rescue of his son.

Mike remarked that a character like Denethor would see Gandalf as a threat as he is only the Steward and could be held to account for his actions, and asserted that it is possible to extrapolate Denethor’s psychology.

Eileen observed that Denethor does not behave in a kingly way, and Mike commented that his insecurity is based on his less than kingly power and that this is the reason for his desire in madness to take Faramir into death with him because he has been a witness.

Laura  noted that Denethor, like Sauron, and to some extent Saruman, stay within their strongholds so they have no real grasp of what is really happening. Mike added that they all rely on third parties for intelligence-gathering.

I questioned Denethor’s motivation in questioning if Pippin can sing. Laura thought it was perhaps a form of psychological abuse and Mike remarked that Denethor plays with words and exercises a petty kind of power over subordinates.

Eileen observed that Denethor takes Pippin into his service and we discussed the motivation of both the Steward and the hobbit. Laura remarked that she had thought it might have been due to the intervention of the Valar. Mike thought Pippin was implicitly pressurised by Denethor to declare his fealty during their audience, while Eileen proposed that perhaps Pippin awakens something in Denethor by linking back to Boromir, and that Denethor is made up of human contradictions. It was also noted that Pippin doesn’t know of Boromir’s treachery.

Mike and Laura both noted the Christian significance of the cockerel crowing, Laura adding that it echoes the idea of the traitor doing good he does not intend.

Julie observed that the pattern of confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog, even down to some of the vocabulary, is repeated in Gandalf’s confrontation with the Lord of the Nazgul.

Mike and I wondered if the Lord of the Nazgul, being undead and having no physical form is anything more than a cipher for Sauron.

As we moved into ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’, Laura remarked on the strange use of the word ‘bivouac’, that it is of Swiss/German origin via French and meant a night watch in the open, having nothing to do with tents, and the circumstances of the encampment in this chapter are evocative of camps in World War 1.

I then wondered if the description of the Druadan made them sound like small versions of Ents. Mike thought they seemed more like trolls. Ian observed that Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin that trolls are perverted Ents.

Mike noted Gan-buri-Gan’s stories of his people before the arrival of Men and wondered if they were the ‘aborgines’ of Gondor. Laura remarked that Gan does not approve of the ‘Stone-takers’.

Carol commented: Ghan-buri-ghan, a pukel man come to life. Every sort of human has a part to play in Tolkien’s war from the highly sophisticated Men of Dol Amroth to what we  would call an underdeveloped people, the woses. Each has something to offer and Tolkien makes the point that though the woses seem simple-minded, they are far more savvi than appearance would suggest.

I remarked that lots of things that seem ancient or legendary are discovered to be still in existence as if the past is not over and gone in Middle-earth. Ian commented that in our world our perceptions are governed by a lack of observation.

Mike noted that Tolkien adds 3 dimensions to his world by its infinite depth of history, and Eileen observed that it is as if déjà vu is manifested. Mike added that Tolkien creates an horizon and lets you know there may be more beyond it but does not explain it.

Ian remarked that things the trigger the subconscious in the real world have to be made explicit in literature, except in allegory.

After an afternoon of quite intense discussion and thought we reached the point where we had to take further thought for our next reading. As we have our Wessexmoot next time (22nd Oct), we will not be reading for that day but for the first meeting in November. We agreed to read ‘The Battle of the Pelennor Fields’ and ‘The Pyre of Denethor’ for that meeting.

After noting the mention of ‘hills of slain’ in the text, I said I would look up the Irish significance of a place of similar name. This I have done, and include a link to one of a number of sites other than Wikipedia – http://www.mythicalireland.com/ancientsites/slane/

Carol’s Comments

Chapter 4 The Siege of Gondor

Having recently experienced several gloomy, low-clouded days I can appreciate at bit of what Minas Tirith is going through under Sauron’s fume but how much more so  with Sauron’s malice behind it. All sent to demoralise.

In his narration of Faramir’s deeds, then going to his aid, Beregond is showing the kind of devotion that Pippin will shortly experience for Faramir, a captain who goes back to save his men. Brave heart indeed.

‘yet for Faramir his [Pippin’s] heart was strangely moved.’  Here a mere hobbit is a better judge of character than a high Gondorian.

Poor Faramir, having to face the ignimony of his father’s undeserved rebukes and heart-wrenchingly to be wished dead in favour of Boromir, in front of people too, and decorum allows no retort. Then ‘Famamir’s restraint fave way…’ well, if this is losing restraint, Faramir’s a man of steel. then he gets told ‘stir not the bitterness in the cup…’ he can’t win.

The small hope of Sauron opening war sooner than intended and what caused it – Aragorn and the palantir, giving Frodo hope and scope to continue while Sauron has his eye drawn towards Gondor.

Faramir: ‘I will go and do what I can in his stead – if you command it.’ ‘I do so.’ ‘Then farewell…but if I should return, think better of me!’  ‘That depends on the manner of your return!’ What can one say about this exchange? It’s cruel and heart-breaking. In his father’s eyes Faramir just can’t compare to Boromir. It’s about the saddest exchange in the whole book.

 

‘not by the hand of man shall he fall’: Glorfindel’s prophecy of long ago that the Witch King won’t die by being killed by a Man. We’ll soon see if that’s true.

 

It’s gruesome having decapitated heads flung into one’s midst, and frightful to have to see, but Tolkien makes sure that some of these men don’t die anonymously and are recognised. It’s very poignant. In the midst of the horror, the ordinary things that these men did are remembered.

 

The enemy is doing it’s level best to crush Minas Tirith without a fight. ‘The nazgul came again…’ It’s getting to seem pretty hopeless.

 

Elrond was against Pippin’s going on the quest but so far he and Theoden have’saved’ Boromir from a fate worse than death. And now I think Pippin is in Minas Tirith for the purpose of saving the brother, Faramir, from death itself.

 

Even in realisation of how badly he’s treated Faramir, Denethor will still kill him if he can. I don’t care how much Sauron has drained him through the palantir.

 

‘men are flying from the walls and leaving them unmanned.’ I think ‘unmanned’ could have 2 meanings: leaving  the wall without men and leaving men despairing and doing nothing.

 

‘but from my word and your service…’ here Pippin behaves far more honorably than this scion of Numenor, a young hobbit not yet come of age who’s behaved rather stupidly in places, shows us the meaning of fealty.

 

Ithis time of trouble, Tolkien covers overy angle of war: the personal in Denethor and Faramir, the battle Pelennor fields, and the houses of healing.

 

‘ever since the middle night…’ is a great piece of writing, building up tension and despair. ‘the drums rolled…louder…Grond they named it…Grond crawled on…the drums roared wildly…rolled and rattled.’ (shake rattle and roll) the reptition upping the ante. Then the gate breaks and ‘in rode the Lord of the Nazgul…’ This has to be the end, hasn’t it?  then ‘horns, horns, horns.’ Heroic! This is one of the most joyful bits in the whole book and even after reading it countless times and knowing the outcome, it still leaves me breathless.