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’.