Only 5 of us were able to get to the meeting today, as we missed Laura and Julie but Laura had emailed to say that she had seen a good article in the Times which argued that the new edition of Beren and Luthien could be read as Tolkien’s war poetry.
We also discussed the matter of Wessexmoot and discovered that our usual October dates will not work this year, nor will early November, so we proposed moving it to our November 25th meeting. Otherwise we can consider a date in August.
Carol’s comments are for the most part included below.
Our nominated reading for the meeting today was ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘The Steward and the King’, however, we spent so much time revisiting Mount Doom that we only managed to include ‘Cormallen’.
Once we began the meeting, Chris picked up Ian’s previous remarks concerning Judgement in the Mount Doom episode. Ian reprised these because Chris and Angela had been away last time. Ian explained that he had used the medieval text Ancrene Wisse as the inspiration for his references to the Mount Doom sequence as the Judgement on Sauron. Ian quoted a section from AW on hellfire ‘blazing up to the welkin [sky]’ and went on to argue that as Sauron creates the Ring, so the Ring ‘creates’ Gollum.
Chris argued that Gollum is being used and he fulfils the Quest.
Eileen commented that this all happens so quickly that it took her aback and she needed to reread it because it raises questions of moral and religious significance. She went on to note the extent to which Gollum’s obsession with the Ring grew.
Given the trend of Ian’s arguments over this and the previous meeting, I asked if he thought that all the characters who interact with the Ring can be read as manifestations of aspects of Sauron. Ian said ‘Yes, in their wanting to possess it.’
Ian then picked up the recent electioneering call ‘lend me your vote’, comparing this to Boromir’s request to Frodo: ‘lend me the Ring’. Ian noted that this actually made up Frodo’s mind about what to do next. Angela added that therefore Boromir set in motion the process of delivering the Ring to the Fire.
Chris observed that when Bilbo had wanted to see the Ring, Frodo got a glimpse of him as a ‘grasping thing’, and when Sam wears the Ring he is seen as a huge by the orcs – so the Ring changes the perception of things. Angela added that Frodo sees the ring on Galadriel’s finger, and Ian remarked that it is a similar effect – possession of the Ring changes the way things are seen.
Eileen commented that under its influence Boromir changed and became more Gollum-like in his obsession and greed.
Ian suggested that Frodo was dismayed at the change he perceived in Boromir, but Eileen argued that this was not dismay but terror. We spent some time discussing the gradation from ‘dismay’ to ‘terror’.
Ian added in the matter of the difference in size between the hobbit and the Man, and noted Frodo’s shift towards pity for Gollum although he too is a danger to Frodo. Angela remarked that this was because of Gollum’s dreadful state, and she noted that in The Histories of Middle-earth 2 forms of pity are defined as (1) contempt and (2) love.
We spent a long while revisiting Mount Doom and its issues but eventually moved on to the next chapter, and I asked if the great cloud seen by the Captains of the West is just the eruption, or the demise of Sauron, or maybe Tolkien’s acknowledgement of the myth-making process of pre-scientific societies which explained natural phenomena in terms of actions of gods or spirits.
Chris commented that Sauron is still around and is not entirely obliterated but the hand is the last manifestation of Sauron’s power in the Ring.
Eileen noted that this associates hand and Ring yet again.
Chris raised the vexed question of Gandalf’s statement that the Ringbearer has fulfilled the quest, and asked if this refers to Gollum? Responses were as inconclusive as may be expected1
I then asked about the reference to the ‘brooding things’ – is this actually the way orcs are generated – like ants, because they are often called ‘maggots’. Ian thought the description of ants was figurative only, and that the image is intended to generate disgust, as appropriate to orcs. Chris and Angela agreed, but noted that the Men of Rhun and Harad have minds of their own.
Chris directed our attention back to the first paragraph of the chapter to pick up what looks like a reference to Numenor, in ‘foundering in a gathering sea’, as well as Aragorn’s pensive gaze. Chris noted that Faramir also references the drowning of Numenor in the next chapter, and that these recollections link back to the theme of Judgement as it was Sauron’s wicked seduction of the Numenoreans that led to their cataclysmic punishment.
Angela, like Carol, thought Aragorn’s pensive gaze indicated that he was thinking of Arwen. Carol commented: “There’s a small glimpse into Aragorn’s very private mind. Amid certain death his thoughts go to Arwen, his only reason for fighting this war, to regain 2 kingdoms in order for his prize to be granted. Well, not his only reason, but only through winning the war will he also win Arwen.”
Angela and I both had reservations about the concept of tears as ‘the wine of blessedness.’ The only way I could rationalise it was via the medieval theory of the ‘well of tears’, or ‘gift of tears’. This was part of the concept of affective piety, but also related to the grief of true penance. A number of medieval female mystics, including Margery Kemp, all desired the gift of tears as a blessing. This does not quite fit the context in the story, but I can’t account for the strange reference in any other way.
Angela compared it to the characterisation of Nienna and her endless tears.
Chris noted Frodo’s continuing aversion to swords now, and Carol commented: “Frodo’s reached a stage of pacific quietude, not wanting any symbols of war and death about him after all he’s been through”.
I admitted that once Frodo and Sam reach Cormallen I have always had problems relating to them and the rest of the chapter. Eileen and Ian both said they felt distanced, as if watching a tableau.
Ian elaborated by noting the frequent use of ‘they’, so that the reader is not involved and remarked that Tolkien is creating distance because the chapter is largely sacred and ceremonial. I observed that besides the use of ‘they’, many sentences used impersonal constructions such as ‘The weary rested and the hurt were healed’; ‘those returned who had passed into Mordor’.
Chris remarked that previous chapters had focussed on one group of characters, but in the Cormallen chapter attention jumps from one group to others as Tolkien draws many story threads together.
With that we were out of time, and agreed to discuss ‘The Steward and the King’ and ‘Many Partings’ at our next meeting.
‘The Field of Cormallen’
Still Sam won’t give in.
‘what a tale we’ve been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?…I wish I could hear it told! Do you think they’ll say: now comes the story of nine-fingered Frodo and the ring of doom? And then everyone will hush, like we did, when in Rivendell they told us of the tale of Beren one-hand and the great jewel. I wish I could hear it! and I wonder how it will go on after our part!’ This just about sums up Sam, prattling about being in tales on the edge of doom. This is one of my favourite bits, that pregnant moment of absolute disaster before the rescue. I like it better than the actual rescue because it epitomises Sam’s heroism in the face of certain death.
The rescue I find very affectionately written and by this time I’m sure Tolkien was very fond of his 2 hobbit heroes.
The contrast between the Shire and Mordor is phenomenal. The Shire is green and fecund and peaceful. Mordor is dreich, grey and barren and cruel. For Tolkien green and white represent goodness and wholesomeness, whereas black with red represents harshness and cruelty. Black embroidered with mithril, though is representative of the legitimate royal line, goodness. And grey is a favoured colour of the elves. So black and grey aren’t necessarily ‘bad’ colours. And black is the colour of the night sky wherein the stars of Elbereth shine.
Sam gets his wish to hear their tale sung.