Reading Day 2017
This year’s Reading Day theme was Poetry, and so we took this as the theme for our meeting. As Carol sent comments for the reading she expected I have held these over for our next meeting. Only 5 of us were able to enjoy the afternoon, but the topic generated plenty of discussion, assisted by Chris’s printout of the conclusion of a 1980s dissertation on Tolkien’s poetry, which gave us food for thought.
Eileen began our discussions with her observation of the communication functions of poetry and song, including that of Tom Bombadil. Laura added that his style provides comic relief.
Eileen commented that poems also show each character’s personality and ability to cope in difficult circumstances.
Angela responded to the 1980s dissertation’s observation of the inclusion of the seasons as a topic in poetry when she noted that it was a theme in Aragorn’s version of the Beren and Luthien poem.
Laura responded to Eileen’s comments on poetry and characterisation when she remarked that Sam’s poetry shows him to be sometimes more than expected, and sometimes – as with ‘Oliphaunt’ it confirms our expectations, but in all cases the differences sit well with his character development, and this includes his ability to learn Elvish.
Chris picked up another aspect from the dissertation when he asked if poetry in The Lord of the Rings really defines its ‘epic style’. I thought epic style required more than the simple inclusion of poetry and that this inclusion has been regarded as having more in common with the Icelandic sagas or William Morris’s prosimetric style.
Laura remarked that Tolkien wrote the lays first perhaps because of his academic work on the sagas, and proposed that he was an instinctive poet.
Eileen noted that even the book’s prose is poetic, and Laura commented that as the book progresses the style becomes increasingly poetic. I followed Eileen’s observation by asking if poetry deflects the fear invoked by the prose; but Laura countered this by asking if this can be true of ‘Where is the horse and the rider’ which evokes the decline of a society.
Chris returned to the matter of epic style by questioning whether it is the process of ‘putting into verse’ that makes material both ‘epic’ and ‘historic’?
Eileen thought the poetry had the effect of making a tale sound true.
I wondered about the elegies and Gimli’s refusal to take the east wind. Laura remarked that it may be that Gimli can’t sing, but it was noted that he chants Durin’s Song to Sam in Moria, and Chris and Angela observed that Gimli was not good friends with Boromir.
I picked up a reference from the dissertation which suggested that poetry in The Lord of the Rings defines the ‘end of an age’.
At this point we heard Eileen’s reading of Julie’s poem, the first she has written for some years. We all found it as delightful and perceptive as those we remembered.
Picking up the topic of ‘the end of an age’ Laura presented us with copies of extracts from Tolkien’s early ‘Kortirion’ poem, and a download of my paper on the origins of this poem and its relevance to Tolkien’s biography.
Laura noted that as usual Tolkien often rewrote this poem, and as a poet he says he loves the end of summer. But he takes a gardener’s view of autumn not as a time of death but of rest. Laura also noted that the whole poem is very elvish in its references to trees and starlight.
Chris remarked that in ‘Kortirion’ Tolkien is very aware of nature and the change of seasons.
Laura and Angela both noted the importance of trees throughout Tolkien’s life and work, and Chris commented that Tolkien projects ideas of trees with ‘souls’.
Angela moved on to note that even Gollum enjoys the old tales he once heard, which by implication must have included the history of which Aragorn, unknown to him, is the true heir.
Laura remarked on the multi-dimensional nature of Tolkien and his work.
We agreed to revert to reading the first chapters of Book 6 for our next meeting in April.