Last meeting in July


Hard to believe we have had our last meeting in July already, and indeed the weather was less like July than October as we left the Library, but in spite of our reduced numbers (Julie, Chris and Angela are all on holiday) we had a very intense discussion which diverted us from thoughts of unseasonal weather. We were intending to discuss ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ and ‘The Grey Havens’. Carol’s additional comments are added at the end.

Eileen opened proceedings with her comment that she found the end of the story melancholy, and she was left with a deep desire to know more, especially about Legolas and Gimli.

Laura brought us back to ‘The Scouring’ when she noted the malicious edge to Saruman’s foretelling of Frodo’s inability to enjoy the life of peace and enjoyment that his suffering has deserved.

Eileen remarked on the way Merry and Pippin now take charge of ridding the locality of the ‘ruffians’. Carol also commented: “Merry blows the horn of Rohan and like was said to him, frightens his foes and heartens his friends. Merry seems to be taking charge.”

Laura observed the reference to the status of Pippin’s father and the sense of ‘old aristocracy’ in his comment that if anyone was going to be Boss it should be the Thain. I likened the actions of the Tooks who chased out marauding ruffians to the actions of Edwardian gamekeepers.

Eileen wondered if Frodo had not become a bit too peace-loving in this disrupted environment but Laura suggested that he is in fact too drained by his experiences to be more assertive. Carol commented: “Frodo’s now abrogating physical responsibility and handing on to a younger generation in Merry and Pippin, part of his withdrawal from Middle-earth.”

We all noted the strength of Saruman’s negative response to Frodo’s mercy, and Eileen observed that in the end it is Wormtongue who kills Saruman.

Carol commented: “That comment: ‘though Worm has been very hungry lately’, implying that he’s eaten poor Lotho – just the very implication is spine-chilling and far more effective than something more explicit. And all the time I hear the voice of the actor who played Saruman in the Radio 4 serial, very smooth and slimey. Laura also commented that it is a nasty thought that Worm is a cannibal, but Ian objected that Worm was not a cannibal because that refers to eating one’s own kind and Lotho was a hobbit.

Laura addressed the relationship between Saruman and Grima Wormtongue more fully when she commented that Saruman now lacks his command of thousands and so focuses on Worm. His bitterness is the extension of ancient jealousy. Laura also responded to Eileen’s observation that Worm won’t leave Saruman by observing that the wizard had sucked out any personality Grima once had. Laura also noted that Saruman’s demise faced west, but a cold wind came from the west. As Carol commented: “the west rejects Saruman’s spirit.”

Eileen remarked that Tolkien suggests a range of choices and chances and that Saruman was not all bad. [This is in opposition to Chris’s comment last time that Saruman doesn’t seem to have a good side].

On a different matter, Laura noted that there is another example of Tolkien taking and rearranging familiar phrases and sayings in Saruman’s spiteful ‘one ill turn deserves another’.

We began a discussion of the deeper aftermath of the Quest when Ian observed that Frodo could not remain in the Shire after the destruction was repaired because he no longer fitted into the world he went away to save, with all the mythological elements from that previous world. Ian compared the effect of Fascism appropriating older myths to legitimate its ‘culture’ even though those myths and the culture they supported were the foundation of World War One. Frodo’s presence in the Shire was a reminder of the old world. The new world belongs to Men and to pragmatic folk like Sam.

Eileen observed that Sam always had goodness in him, shown in his care for and of Frodo, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Laura noted that Sam is quite different to Will Whitfoot the former Mayor who mainly presided over banquets while Sam became a more active mayor. Sam was also generous with Galadriel’s gift.

Elieen commented that Sam thinks things through, but Ian thought this was not so. The change to the eco-system of the Shire – a kind of genetic change – was not something that Sam could have anticipated.

Eileen and I noted the care with which Sam used Galadriel’s ‘dust’, and Ian took this further when he remarked that Gimli preserves her hair in imperishable crystal, and compared this to Sauron preserving [attempting to preserve?] part of his essence in the Ring. When she goes into the West, asked Ian, has Galadriel perhaps left the dust and her hair as a token of her presence and power?

Ian went on to propose that what we see are examples of the origins of myths, e.g. the rise of the golden-haired children and age of plenty implying that some folk may go away and return with benefits for their whole society.

Laura and Eileen found that the reference to the golden-haired children raised uncomfortable echoes of Fascist eugenics. Ian proposed a different reading: that far from being a reference to a hangover from a mythic past [the problematic Nordic hero motif], the children embody the future influenced by a mythic past which does not want to leave it but whose destiny is not to control it or actively shape it any longer. An inherited culture [the metaphorical dust] is dispersed as widely as possible and is not restricted to a select group.

I wanted to broaden these issues and proposed that the effect of the Entdaught on Merry and Pippin made the case for expansion beyond narrow geographical and social borders, and that this equated to progress. Ian remarked that Tolkien was not a geneticist, but he was familiar with the effects of the influence of other cultures and their artefacts.

Eileen brought us back from our socio-political and ethical considerations to the main story when she observed that the description of Gandalf clothed in white and wearing the red ring made him seem a god-like figure. Ian acknowledged that the contribution of all these greater powers goes on East of the Sea but not their active presence.

After such a thought-provoking meeting we agreed to address next time the matters arising from ‘The Grey Havens’ and to move smoothly on into Appendix A as Eileen has yet to be introduced to the details to be found there.


Carol’s comments:

Chapter 8 ‘The Scouring of the Shire.


Great when Bill the pony kicks Fill ferny. Perhaps ponies are like elephants with long memories. Tolkien’s so polite about people like Ferny, merely calling them ‘ruffians’. [It has been proposed that ‘ruffian’ derives from the name of a medieval devil ‘Ruffin’ who appears in a number of plays. Ed.]

Rose Cotton has a bit of foresight if she’s expected Sam since the spring. And her comments about not leaving Frodo ‘as soon as things look dangerous’ always brings a smile. They just don’t realise what dangers Sam and Frodo have been through. No wonder Sam’s speechless.

Like Barliman, the Cottons are more concerned with the Shire’s troubles, than the travellers’ adventures. Insular.

Gaffer: ‘what’s come of his weskit? I don’t hold with wearing ironmongery, whether it wears well or no.’ always raises a smile.

‘It was one of the saddest hours of their lives…’ what makes any one want to destroy trees and nice buildings and replace them with tarred shed and mess. Destruction and ugliness for its own sake. Ref. ISIS, orcs are still among us.


Saruman says that Gandalf drops folk when they’ve done his bidding but if Gandalf helped/’interfered’ in the Shire now he would be over stepping his remit. He had to be involved in getting rid of Sauron because Sauron was a very powerful being but where the hobbits can fight their own battles, he has to leave them to it.


First meeting in July


We missed some of our Southfarthingas at this meeting, but those of us who were able to attend were supposed to be discussing ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire’. As it turned out, we wandered about a bit between Rivendell and the borders of the Shire so that Eileen could catch up after being absent from our last June session. We looked forward hopefully to seeing our more distant friends at some point in August and our own moot later in the year before.

We began our discussions by looking back to ‘Many Partings’ as Angela remarked that in Rivendell Bilbo only really takes notice of Aragorn’s crowning and wedding and his comments on having waited a long time for those events illuminates the closeness of the friendship between the hobbit and the King.

Laura picked up another implicit contrast when she remarked on the brief conversation between Frodo and Elrond in terms of the contrast between the very tall powerful Elf and the damaged little hobbit, and found this very touching. Laura also suggested an echo between the image of Frodo taking on the job of sorting Bilbo’s disorderly papers and Christopher Tolkien later taking on the huge task of sorting and editing his father’s papers.

Eileen noted Bilbo’s confusion over his ‘lost’ Ring, and Carol commented: “The last version of the Road song: ‘now far ahead the road has gone/let others follow it who can’, Bilbo’s finished following the road and has handed that onto others far younger than himself.

Chris moved the discussion on to ‘Homeward Bound’, with his observation of Gandalf’s non-optimistic opinion about Frodo’s recovery from his injuries in his acknowledgement that some things cannot be made better.

Eileen noted that Frodo ‘kept to himself’ Gandalf’s observations, and she remarked that Frodo is thoughtful and sees other sides to things. In this he is more like Gandalf.

Angela observed that Frodo has had the Ring to enlarge his understanding. I wondered if having it generally enlarged perception? But Angela noted the Bilbo and Gollum didn’t know what it’s power was in this direction.

Eileen remarked that Frodo has developed wisdom. Chris qualified this by commenting that all the hobbits have wisdom but some have a greater degree of intelligence.

Laura remarked that Frodo acknowledges that he has changed, as has ‘home’.

Eileen wondered if Tolkien was reflecting his own feeling in Gandalf’s comment on leaving the future to those he had ‘trained’.

Laura noted a poetic moment in the description of ‘yellow leaves like birds flying in the air,’ and contrasted this to the apt description of a ‘ruffian evening’.

Eileen observed of the travellers’ return to the Prancing Pony, that there was an expectation that things would be the same while they were away, but everything has changed.

I noted that Nob does not look after Shadowfax when he takes care of the hobbits’ ponies, probably because he would be too big for this hobbit ostler.

It was unanimously agreed that when Aragorn went North as King he would have gone to the Prancing Pony again, but in disguise. I suggested he might have kept his old travelling cloak and boots and would have worn them.

Eileen remarked on Barliman’s careful differentiation of ‘three and two’ to distinguish Bree hobbits from Bree Men when referring to the casualties of the recent unrest in Bree.

Laura wondered why Barliman referes to a month of Mondays, not Sundays. I proposed that ‘Sunday’ was too infused with obvious Christian significance, but Monday (Moon day) was uncontroversial and apt in the location of the ‘Man in the Moon’ song.

Eileen noted that Rangers are mentioned again, in a conversation that leads to Barliman declaring that Breeland doesn’t want strangers moving in. Laura thought this made him look like a ‘nimby’ (not in my back yard), but in fact it depends on one’s point of view.

Eileen queried whether Deadmen’s Dyke had had this superstitious name before it is mentioned in ‘Homeward Bound’. We checked and found it had been named in this during ‘The Council of Elrond.’

Laura remarked that it had had various names throughout history according to changes in society.

I wondered if the dark things in the woods that Barliman mentions would have been orcs? Angela thought that whatever it was would not be so ‘substantial’ as orcs, while Eileen thought they represented projections of the fears of the folk of Bree. Laura proposed that they might have been Huorns that had gone north. Eileen added that perhaps Tolkien was indicating that humans/mortals were not the main presence in the woods. Angela compared the reference to ‘dark things’ in the Council of Elrond’.

Chris changed our direction when he suggested that there is a movement from World War 1 allusions in ‘Homecoming’, to World War 2 in ‘Scouring’, which describes the plight of an invaded land. Chris also wondered if Tolkien is arguing that pacifism doesn’t necessarily work if your land is the one invaded.

Laura noted that the Channel Islands when invaded resorted to passive resistance – but that didn’t work.

Eileen registered a personal response in her shock on discovering that Gandalf was leaving the hobbits.

Chris remarked that in hindsight we have seen various hints of the unravelling of the Fellowship.

I thought the Shire as described in ‘The Scouring’ seems like a totalitarian Stalinist state in its bleakness and the pressure on hobbits to spy on each other.

Chris, returning to the topic of pacifism, remarked that Frodo is victorious over Saruman by not striking him, so pacifism does work there. Chris added that unlike Gollum, Saruman doesn’t seem to have a good side.

Having only just begun ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ we had to end our meeting but agreed to continue discussing it at our next meeting, along with ‘The Grey Havens’.