Last Meeting in May


Only four of us managed to get to the meeting today, partly on account of train cancellations, music festivals, and general Bank Holiday demands. However, Chris had sent some thoughts on the chapter(s) we had planned to discuss. Because Ian had been away for our last meeting we revisited some topics discussed then, so Carol’s comments on these were included last time.

Laura opened proceedings with a timely question about our annual Wessexmoot. Our dates in October when we could hold it are 14th and 29th, so we need to decide which one will work best for us all. In addition, we could consider if we wish to include talks and/or presentations as before. Please let me know if you have preferences for these matters when convenient. We can discuss everything over the next few meetings, but thanks to Laura for getting the ball rolling.

I began the discussions of our reading by putting one of Chris’s questions: If Gollum hadn’t fallen into the abyss, would he have jumped anyway rather than having the Ring wrested from him by the approaching Nazgul?

Laura responded by questioning whether Gollum would have had the wit to work out his options at that point. Laura added that the Ring was part of Sauron.

Eileen commented that Gollum wants it, and although the Ring is a character in itself, he would have followed it wherever it went.

Ian noted that Gollum kills to get the Ring but proposed that it’s only after it is taken from him that possession becomes obsession. In addition, Sam denies Smeagol forgiveness and that denial swings the balance of personality back to Gollum, but Gollum saves Frodo (as Master of the Ring) by taking Frodo’s finger on Mount Doom. This is significant because Doom anciently meant Judgment, therefore Gollum is finally judged there. Ian had done some research into medieval penitential and confessional texts and found extracts of relevance to his argument in the work of St Augustine.

I added that the Crack of Doom was understood in the Middle Ages and in Shakespeare’s time not as in geographical/geological terms but as the sound of the Last Trumpet that heralded Judgment Day. (The sound of a Trumpet was described as a ‘Crack’.)

Returning to the question of whether Gollum would have jumped, Ian observed that the alternative, in which the Nazgul arrived in the nick of time would have the effect of turning the story into a ‘soap opera’ as one story would roll on into another, generating another Dark Lord.

We considered the matter of the fiery hell and Laura remarked on the existence of hell as a place of punishment in many religions, including pre-Akhenaton Egypt. Laura also drew parallels between the Sammath Naur and the works of H. Rider Haggard, particularly She in which the sacred fire rejuvenates the Queen until things go wrong.

Ian picked this up when he observed that The Lord of the Rings is an investigation of why things have gone wrong in the world, and like any detective novel, someone has to be sent to find out. And Judgment comes from outside.

I proposed that this would lead to an essentialist resolution to the Quest, which has constantly asserted the existence if free will.

Laura remarked that in the story you could have as much free will as you like as long as it moves towards the ‘intended’ objective.

Eileen moderated this view when she commented that freedom of expression needs limits.

I then posed Chris’s further observation that Gollum (who Chris names ‘’the hero’) is not mentioned after Mount Doom, and Eileen picked up Frodo’s admission that he would not have completed the Quest without Gollum.

Ian proposed the radical view that the Gollum character is a manifestation of Sauron that takes over the Smeagol psyche. Judgment is therefore executed on Sauron, and Smeagol ‘sacrifices’ himself for Middle-earth. In effect, the pity shown to Gollum equates to pity for Sauron – something he could not cope with or understand.

On that provocative note, and in spite of the obvious enthusiasm for continuing debate, it was necessary to draw the afternoon to a close. We agreed that next time we would discuss ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘The Steward and the King’.

First in May


At our first meeting in May we were without Ian but were joined by Julie again, so 6 of us tackled the issues raised by ‘Mount Doom’. This led to a discussion heavily influenced by theological matters, with occasional references to World War One.

Laura began our discussion with a reference to the meeting of the 2 orc troops, and she wondered if such a simultaneous arrival at a crossroads has been witnessed by Tolkien during World War One. We all agreed that we didn’t think it would have ended in an orc-like brawl.

Laura also commented on the terrible level of Frodo and Sam’s fatigue.

Eileen thought their ability to keep up with the orc group showed extraordinary extra strength, counter-balancing their temptation to give up.

Laura compared this temptation to that of Christ in the desert, when he tempted by Satan, and we noted the Christian subtexts of much of this chapter.

This led Eileen to remark on the loss of religious language and its significance that had happened in the 1960s when liturgical Latin was replaced with vernacular translations. Julie then proposed that it was perhaps no coincidence that Tolkien’s work became so popular in that decade as the language of religion became ‘dumbed-down’ and lost the implicit mystery.

Carol commented: Sam’s carrying Frodo on his back ‘like a hobbit-child pig-a-back’ epitomises Sam’s destiny as a father and carer, what he was meant to become. And though I don’t espouse there’s overt Christianity in The Lord of the Rings or that Frodo’s Christ-like, if that’s the case then Sam’s Simon of Cyrene.

Chris moved us on to the War theme when he remarked that the second paragraph of the chapter could be a description of any WW1 battlefield with shell holes and other signs of destruction.

Laura thought there was a sense of waiting at this early point in the chapter, as if for the ‘big push’. She also noted that surprisingly Sauron does not sense that the Ring is in fact behind him.

Angela commented that this is because he is focussed on Aragorn.

Laura remarked that Sauron has put so much of himself into the Ring that he now doesn’t have complete power or vision.

Angela expanded her previous comment by observing that because Aragorn’s ancestor took the Ring, revenge is the focus now.

Chris noted that Sam continues to be very practical. Laura wondered if there was something else – perhaps his particular turn of mind was helping him.

Carol commented: “despite Sam realising ‘there could be no return’ – at last – he doesn’t just give up and stay where they are. and his thought goes back to words he spoke eons ago in the shire after their encounter with Gildor – he had a job to do and this is it, to help Frodo fulfil the quest and then die with him – if Ian still thinks this isn’t love then he’s crackers!!”

Eileen remarked that it might also be his father and family because they have provided his psychological ‘compass’ all the way through – particularly the Gaffer.

Laura added that it was horrible, by comparison, that Frodo can’t remember anything of his own past any longer.

Chris then questioned whether, for all his achievements, Sam was not too subservient at times? Laura and Angela both commented that this was a reflection of Edwardian style.

Chris went on to note that Sam, like Gollum, goes through ‘schizophrenic’ debate, as though talking to an alter ego. Carol commented on Sam’s debate with himself, arguing that “again it isn’t if you die but how you die. Sam is phenomena”l.

Angela added that Boromir also debates with himself.

Eileen observed that Gollum turns into a whimpering thing again, and Laura wondered if that was how he wheedled round his Grandmother.

Carol commented: “The journey is agonizing!”

Laura went on to remark that there are now lots of references to lembas and that their efficacy grows as they are eaten on their own. Julie observed that this seems to echo medieval accounts of saints who lived on the Eucharist, and in the story of Elijah an angel brings ‘waybread’ to strengthen him.

Staying with sustenance, Laura noted that the cistern along the road where Sam finds water echo the provision of water similarly along Roman roads.

I noted that as their situation deteriorates, Sam is said to know that ‘the word now lay with him’. Although this has a religious resonance, it also means that Sam alone now has the power to make things happen – his language has become ‘performative’.

Laura observed that meanwhile, outside the Black Gate the Captains of the West are in danger.

Carol commented:  “as if they don’t have enough to cope with, up pops Gollum again. At last Sam knows mercy, like Bilbo and Frodo before him. Good job he does too.

Chris remarked, however, that Frodo now changes in Sam’s perception in relation to Gollum, who is no longer pitied by Frodo, but at the level of the entire story, Gollum has to be with Frodo in order to destroy the Ring because, we are told, ‘all other powers were subdued’ in the Sammath Naur. So Gollum had to be part of the grand plan. Chris also argued that because Frodo’s dismembered finger is still in the Ring when it is destroyed – Frodo is still master of the Ring at that moment.

Carol commented: “some have called this Frodo’s moral failure, his refusal to relinquish the ring, but I’d like to see some of those critics go through what Frodo’s been through and even to get to the mountain, let alone part with the Ring”.

Chris went on to note that Gollum is not mentioned again after Mount Doom; and Julie commented that Judas is not mentioned again after the Crucifixion, and the debate continues as to whether his action was necessary.

Eileen remarked on the fact that Sam is always evesdropping, and this proves useful.

Carol commented on “Sauron’s tragic realisation”, but Laura ended our discussion on a humorous note when she remarked that the sudden change of direction by the Eye made her think of orcs cranking it round. More seriously, she commented that Sauron was a bad manager because as soon as his arrogance is shaken by his error all his captains and commanders cease to function.

It proved tricky to bring the meeting to a close because everyone was so engaged in discussing various matters, but we did agree that we would read ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘the Steward and the King’ for next time.