We met today with some sense of relief as the problem with which we have wrestled since our last meeting, that of the reassigning of meeting space that impacted on the Tolkien group, has been resolved at least for a while. We were missing a few of our number, but Carol sent her comments and the rest of us turned our attention to ‘The Pyre of Denethor’.

Ian was concerned with the opening of Mausoleum door which Beregond holds, physically and metaphorically, and he noted that the narration of the physicality of the action is delayed while the focus remains on Beregond’s defence of the door.

Ian also likened the Mausoleum to a panic room, but Laura questioned whether it was the place where kings had gone to die. Also recalling Aragorn relinquishing his life, Angela reminded us that there were the Houses of the Kings and the Houses of the Stewards.

Chris and Angela remarked on the encounter between Pippin and Gandalf predicting bad things to come, and I added that there is a sense of ‘dramatic irony’ about Gandalf’s remarks because we the readers already know what has happened.

Carol in her comments, and Ian, remarked on the structuring of the reference to cockcrow and the arrival of the Rohirrim. As Carol notes “Now we go back to day-break and the arrival of the Rohirrim” and Angela noted that Tolkien steps back 2 days in the narration. Ian observed that in sequential chapters, the same events have no linking narration, but are registered through separate perceptions of events by different characters from different perspectives. And when Gandalf is said to have ‘beheld all that had befallen’, this is a reminder to the reader that we have already seen it.

Laura commented that time is circular here.

Ian remarked that key words in the narration trigger responses in readers, and Eileen commented that there is a feeling that things can be guessed in advance. She also noted that Pippin finds the change in Denethor difficult, but that Pippin also changes. Chris observed that Pippin has seen Denethor sending Faramir out, so he knows the background to the change.

Laura considered Denethor most interesting because of his jealousy, his misjudgement of Boromir, and the loss of his wife.

Elieen returned us to Faramir and Denethor’s madness, deriving from his guilt over Faramir, which needs resolution. Laura and Angela noted that Faramir is educated, a strategist, and principled.

Ian noted the difference between Denethor and Theoden, who has lost his only son but responds to Gandalf and goes to war. Ian also commented that Pippin the hobbit is not inclined to follow orders, but when Gandalf decides who should take the key from Rath Dinen, this represents a ‘coup’.

Laura remarked that Denethor is seeing the end of the world in his warped perception. Angela extended this idea by observing that even if Sauron is defeated Aragorn will supplant him.

Ian and Angela noted the need for disobeying orders. Angela remarked on the justification for disobedience, without which Faramir would have died.  In her comments Carol extended this when she observed: ‘and never in after years…’ another hint of survival. Because Gandalf decides to save Faramir, probably, Theoden dies but it gives Eowyn and Merry the chance to kill the Witch King. Theoden as part of the old regime has to die along with Denethor to make way for Faramir and Eomer who are of a different mettle, not softer but with more understanding. From fractured families, they now have the chance to create new whole families and lines.

Laura observed that travelling out and experiencing things is more informative about reality than staying in a tower.

With that we ran out of time and had to the wet and gloomy afternoon outside. We still have not quite finished ‘The Pyre’, but hopefully we will be able to get into ‘The Houses of Healing at our next meeting scheduled for 14th Jan 2017.

I add the last of Carol’s comments here although we have not reached this point in our discussions, but it relates to some of the matters we discussed today:

“Tolkien gives Denethor a very ignominious death in suicide. As a Catholic Tolkien would have regarded suicide as a mortal sin; and when LotR was written, suicide was also against the secular law. Denethor had despaired against everything, due mainly to daring to look into the palantir and be penetrated by Sauron. No songs will be sung for him, only the image of ‘two hands withering in flame’, while Theoden is laid to rest in honour in the citadel, covered in cloth of gold with an honour guard. It isn’t if you die but how you die!!”

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