Those of us who managed to meet today, only 5 of us, did so with a major issue on our minds as the problems associated with our use of the seminar room in the Central Library have resurfaced 4 months before we might have expected. We are faced with relinquishing one of our meetings per month from April, or seeing the Poetry Reading Group lose its opportunity to meet. Reactions among the Tolkien group ranged from incandescent rage to grim predictions of worse to come as the cuts bite deeper. In spite of the general sense of injustice, we agreed on making complaints about the inconsiderate way we and the Poetry group have been treated although we are long-standing participants in the life of the Library. I will post updates on this situation as it develops, but we were agreed in our discussion yesterday to try to help Poetry continue, even though we may have to restructure our meetings.
Eventually we got round to our ‘proper’ discussion, although it was hard to change gear from such pre-occupying matters.
Laura reminded us that we still had things to discuss relating to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, which is why Carol’s comments do not appear, having been included last time. Julie hopes to add her comments here soon.
So I started things off by observing that the chapter seems to be one of those in which Tolkien clusters references from many other texts, particularly here, references from King Lear, Macbeth and The Battle of Maldon.
Ian responded by likening the chapter to a large palette where he paints with a light touch, not with the intensity found in other chapters where external references are used for rhetorical effect, and that the chapter becomes a ‘battlefield of myth’, using stories created from the language of England.
Among the references we noticed in the chapter Laura likened Eomer’s encouragement to the Rohirrim after Theoden’s death to the famous speech by the old retainer in The Battle of Maldon ‘hige sceal the headra, heort the cenre / mod sceal the mare, thu ure maegan litlath’.
Ian noted that the chapter includes characters we are concerned about and that our interest in Merry and Pippin increases our sympathy for Gondor. Nothing in the east engages our sympathy, and even Frodo and Sam are removed by their mythic quest.
Laura reminded us the there is an ominous classical echo in the image of black sails, and Ian commented that they are added to the palette of references.
I proposed that Eomer’s elegiac command counsel to his men ‘Mourn not overmuch. Mighty was the fallen …’ does not read like the encouragement of a war leader in the heat of battle and in great grief, but reads more like the construction of suitable words by a later minstrel, in an echo of the supposed origin of the Maldon poem, made in commemoration of the heroes of the battle but were not an exact representation of words spoken.
Laura and Angela recollected the two individuals to whom ‘Gothmog’ refers, and on a different tack Laura noted ultimate source of the significance of the white horse among the Anglo-Saxons.
I remarked that in this chapter the change to a more biblical register emerges at times, although it will increase later. Laura noted in a similar vein that there are echoes of the biblical story of Jericho in the cacophony of trumpets around the walls of Minas Tirith. And that Aragorn’s statement to Eomer ‘Thus we meet again …. Did I not say so…’ is reminiscent, she thought, of the reminder from Jesus to his disciples after the Resurrection of His words before the Crucifixion.
Laura went on to observe that Aragorn’s arrival is wonderful with its gorgeous heraldry.
After an afternoon that was rather blighted by non-textual discussion we found time running out and so we will have to return to ‘The Pyre’ and ‘The Houses of Healing’ next time.