Today was one of our lesser moots – we did not plan research presentations this time – but some discussion of latest research projects did emerge into our more general conversations. It is exciting to see how many are in development.
Of course the reason for our moot was the visit of the Southfarthing’s distant members and it was delightful to have Carol and Rosemary with us in person to add their comments and ideas to the usual debate and discussion. Their visit provided the ideal opportunity to adjourn after the meeting to local venues for refreshment and food, when we remembered absent friends and toasted ‘The Professor’.
The afternoon meeting itself covered a good deal of ground even though we were only discussing ‘The Black Gate Opens’ in order to finally finish Book 5.
Eileen initiated our discussions when she remarked that she felt the theme of understanding had become prominent, perhaps from a Christian perspective, but not necessarily, because it could relate as well to psychology.
Carol directed our attention to Cair Andros, observing that Aragorn’s treatment of his men was not as draconian as the British officers in World War 1.
Rosemary commented that Tolkien was an extraordinary stylist, and pointed out that in ‘The Houses of Healing’ Tolkien uses words alliterating on ‘l’ as well as assonance and inverted word order. I remarked that these stylistic features, along with the sense of characteristic rhythm showed how deeply Tolkien was immersed Old English, and Laura observed that it therefore repays reading aloud.
Carol went on to note that Tolkien mirrors chapter titles throughout The Lord of the Rings, so that ‘The Black Gate Opens’ mirrors ‘The Black Gate is Closed’. She went on to observe that the Mouth of Sauron is kept talking for some time, and Eileen thought this was a definite strategy.
Laura remarked that it is a terrible blow when Frodo’s garments are produced, and Ian drew attention to the uncertain temporal sequence – we don’t know how long Mordor has had the garments. Laura commented on Tolkien’s technique of ‘galloping ahead’ with the story and then hauling it back.
Carol observed that the story moves at different paces: from Frodo’s plodding to the battle action.
Laura noted the motif of characters and space being divided by doors, including Frodo and Sam being separated and now an evil door opening.
Chris and Angela brought us back west of Anduin when they noted that even Merry may come to a last stand.
Laura questioned the idea on that side of the River that deeds would be remembered in song, and Angela remarked that there would be no songs after Sauron’s victory.
I asked if the fear the Nazgul are said to provoke as they overfly the western army could be regarded as a metaphor for the fear of impending battle that might be experienced by any soldier. Rosemary thought they represent the fear of death.
Laura proposed that they are an inversion of the idea of the Valkyrie as the Nazgul will carry warriors off to horror and torment, as the Witch King has already told Eowyn, not to feasting and drinking. Carol noted that the Mouth of Sauron says the same about Frodo.
Chris observed that when the Rohirrim go into battle they sing, and they rally after the death of Theoden, knowing the Witch King has been killed so Mordor is not invincible, and Eileen commented that in front of the Black Gate the Nazgul are nevertheless a reminder of vulnerability.
Chris returned us to Cair Andros when he remarked that the men are confronted with reason for their fears, because Mordor had been represented to them since childhood as the worst possible place. Angela noted that Denethor’s wife had suffered from being in proximity to Mordor, even across the river.
Eileen remarked on the way the Captains of the West planned their strategy and demonstrated the ability to work together, and she found it interesting even to a non-military mind to see this planning. Rosemary commented on the precise calculation of the size of the army, which was small, and Tolkien would have known the significance of this. Laura compared this to the probable great disagreement among senior officers during World War 1.
Carol observed that peoples who had been separated so long now see the sense of working together. She went on to note that Pippin at the end of the chapter recalls Bilbo and that he is part of the same story, but Sam has already recognised being in the same story as Beren and Luthien.
Rosemary noted that Pippin is the youngest hobbit and Angela commented that Pip doesn’t always concentrate, but Carol pointed out that he’s the one who leaves the brooch in Rohan, and faces and remains loyal, to Denethor. Angela objected that he didn’t realise the truth about Aragorn. Eileen observed that Pippin broke the news that Denethor was mad, and Carol noted his bond with Boromir.
Rosemary and Angela both remarked on the fact that Bergil looks after Merry.
Eileen commented that she would like to know more about Ioreth.
Chris observed that when the army reach Minas Morgul it serves as a reminder of Frodo and Sam, and that Imrahil makes an error of perception, but Angela suggested that he didn’t know about Frodo and Sam going that way. Ian commented that the stair must be secret or orcs would go through the vale, but there must be a link through the vale to Cirith Ungol.
Laura noted the horror of the walkers in darkness during the army’s night camp, and Chris suggested that the presence of smoking fumeroles would look like things moving. With a rush of blood to the head (!) I wondered if the vulcanism and the shape of Mordor as a whole meant that we are looking at a super-volcano when we look at the entire Black Land.
Ian brought us back to good sense when he introduced us to the latest research he is working on.
With that we adjourned to find suitable refreshment agreeing to read the first 2 chapters of Book 6 for our next meeting.