Last Meeting in August

  1. 8.17

Our meeting this afternoon was in real danger of being totally disrupted because of the noise from an event taking place in the square adjacent to our usual meeting room. It had so much (sadly necessary) security associated with it that simply getting through the square was almost impossible – in fact I didn’t bother, but Eileen did, and had her bag searched multiple times. But when we all arrived in the Library and asked for the key to our usual room the Librarian warned us that the noise from the event’s sound system was so close outside and so bad that we wouldn’t be able to hear ourselves. Another Librarian was already trying to find us another room, and remarkably, that turned out to be the Alan Whitehead Room – our old meeting room deep in the heart of the building.

We were all most grateful to the Librarians for their efforts to help us carry on with our meeting as usual.

Comfortably settled back in our old room, we missed Ian and Julie, but began our discussions of Appendix A. Focussing on Numenor, Eileen described the rebellion in terms of the need to challenge prohibitions, while Laura remarked on the fears of the Numenoreans. Carol commented by email: “the ban of the Valar was bound to be flouted some day, like telling a child he can’t do/have a thing, so he does it just for the hell of it, like Adam and Eve told not to eat of the tree of life, which of course they do, bringing sin into the world”.

Carol continued: “throughout the ages of Middle-earth, there are many examples of the rise and fall of great cities and civilisations, just like on our own earth; examples of overreaching pride like Ar-Pharazon and the myth of Atlantis that Tolkien – and Faramir – dreamed about. Surely we should take lessons from history not to get too big for about boots, Hitler being a recent example. The gods don’t like hubris in humans.

I wondered what the punishment of Numenor implied about the idea of a benevolent Creator, but Angela pointed out the influence of Morgoth, and Laura observed that Ar-Pharazon in effect has both a Devil and an Angel (reminiscent for me of the same binary opposition in medieval morality plays).

Eileen picked up my earlier point and wondered if it was Tolkien’s war experience that underpinned the absence of a benevolent Creator.

Chris remarked that, contrary to religious scepticism in the primary world, there is no doubt in Middle-earth about the existence of the Valar and Eru.

Laura proposed that in opposition to the macrocosmic scale there was a need to rely on little things.

Carol (whimsically) referred to the realms in exile, as the northern line (tube)! She also noted that of  the Heirs of Isildur it is the southern line who are the heirs of Anarion and although Gondor declines over the years, it’s never totally ruined like Numenor or the cities of the First Age, largely due to the Stewards’ caretaking ‘till the king shall come again’. Angela noted that there was a decline in the actions of Numenor, and Laura compared this to the rise of the Mafia in Sicily, which had originally been a resistance force fighting the invading French.

Chris noted that all the powers in Middle-earth decline, and that in Tolkien’s world all great inventions pre-date The Lord of the Rings.

Laura remarked that Saruman and Sauron both present progress in a negative light, to the extent that it is ancient blades that are the most prized.

Eileen remarked on the complexity of the extensive list of rulers’ names and Laura noted the similarity to Anglo-Saxon and Biblical genealogies, especially the Anglo-Saxon desire to take royal genealogies back to Odin and Adam.

Carol commented in her email: ‘Earendil wedded Elwing…’ just struck me for the first time that Earendil and Elwing using the Silmaril to pass ‘the shadows’ and come to the ‘uttermost west’ is similar to Sam using Galadriel’s phial to get into Cirith Ungol, the phial having ka bit of Earendil’s light in it.

I was unsure of this comparison but Angela and Laura pointed out that both uses of the same light are against places that pose a potential or real danger to those attempting to pass.

Carol also remarked on what she felt to be the absence of hope in the story of Aragorn and Arwen, “I find no hope in this, though Aragorn tells Arwen there is hope beyond the confines of the world, which Tolkien himself would have believed. Estel was just a peak of honour and glory, to decline with subsequent generations, as do all great empires in the end. In this Tolkien spoke truth, as he’d demonstrated with the First and Second Ages. All we can hope is that this peak will come again to light the way to future liberty, equality and fraternity, like Arthur and Camelot. Tolkien was right when he said that The Lord of the Rings was about death.”

But Angela and Chris observed that Aragorn and Arwen were to meet again in ‘after life’, while Laura remarked that although the world was changed it was full of hope – that Aragorn was a renewer – and this positivity was different to ‘happiness’. Angela observed that we would not happiness if there was nothing against which to contrast it. Laura commented that fulfilment was still possible.

At our next meeting we will continue with Appendix A and move into Appendix B.

Carol’s Additional comments

Numenorean kings: ‘there were three unions…’ this will clarify a bit why Strider sang the song of Beren and Luthien on Weathertop and why Aragorn is aiming so high in love.

Here clarified too why Strider said to Bilbo that he had a cheek to compose verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond – love that bit.

There’s clarification of the War of the Ring going back in history and beyond the bounds of the sea – Elendil/Sauron, Elessar/Sauron.

Eriador, Arnor, and the heirs of Isildur: this section is obviously written by a hobbit.

The north kingdom and the Dunedain: this is the history that the hobbits walk on their way to Rivendell.

Gondor and the heirs of Anarion: again the history the hobbits walk when merry is taken back momentarily to the battle of Carn Dum.


First meeting in August

Many thanks to Chris for taking and writing up the notes for this blog report in my absence, I was so sorry to miss our special metting:


After meeting up with Carol and Rosemary at The Artisan and exchanging news the group moved to the library to begin a special Summer-moot. Unfortunately our leader Lynn was unable to join us because of a back problem and we were also without Julie and Eileen.

Laura confirmed that the room in the library had been booked for the whole of 2018 and we would receive the bill in December.

Although it was intended to start examining the Appendices the meeting soon returned to the last two chapters of LotR and, in fact, remained with these for the whole meeting. The comments below jumped between these two chapters.

Carol began by saying she really enjoys the moment when the pony Bill kicks Bill Ferny. Laura said that Tolkien thought The Scouring of the Shire was the most important chapter in the whole work. Carol and Angela described how there was a rise in the Cottons’ importance caused by their connections to Sam, the future mayor, via his marriage to Rose. Rose also had unusual foresight as she was expecting Sam back at that point and again when he returns from the Grey Havens.

Laura said Sam was a much more hands-on mayor than those before and Chris extended this into a theory that Tolkien uses Sam’s rise in importance as an example of social mobility – working-class to a respected leader.

Discussion then moved on to how the Shire folk in general were little interested in the adventures of the four hobbits and what was taking place outside their borders. An example was the Gaffer’s comments “And while you’ve been trapessing in foreign parts, chasing Black Men up mountains from what my Sam says, though for what you don’t make clear, they’ve been and dug up Bagshot Row and ruined my taters!” Rosemary gave another example in Bree when Butterbur says “Why we had a real set-to, and there were some folk killed, killed dead!” Chris said that this probably mirrored what happened to people returning from the war as many people did not appreciate what they had been through nor have any concept of their traumas.

Carol moved on to the power still left in Saruman’s voice and how he denigrates Gandalf when he speaks to the hobbits. “Not he! When his tools have done their task he drops them.”

Rosemary said the last line of the chapter Homeward Bound is really significant. “’Not to me,’ said Frodo. ‘To me it feels more like falling asleep again.’” This caused some discussion.

Laura said that on her first reading she thought the Mount Doom chapter would be the end of the book but then it carries on and appears very depressing. Carol says the book is really about Death and Angela added Immortality as well. Rosemary felt that the return to the Shire is like a replication of the big story but this time the reader has the feeling that things would be successful. The general view was that the ending of the book was anti-climatic which moves people on to reading the Appendices as a sort of wind down. Clearly the group had not felt this yet as they still returned to the last two chapters!

There was then an interesting discussion started by Laura about the title The Scouring of the Shire. Scouring was seen as as an abrasive domestic word plus a geological term (scouring done by rivers etc.). Ian then looked up the meaning in his various dictionaries.

Carol then started a discussion about Gandalf’s comment that “not all tears are evil”.  It was said that in general tears should not be kept back, but tears to get your own way and crocodile tears could be seen as evil.

Beards were then discussed and it was surprising that Círdan had one  – was it because he had been there so long? There were then a few jokes about Peter Jackson and the films.

Carol thought the eventual forgiveness of Lobelia was a nice touch and  Angela said that Fatty Bolger turned out to be really brave.

The place called Scary was discussed and a few jokes followed.

Rosemary said the comments about “the beer of 1429” showed that Tolkien was really involved in pub culture. We decided that Aragorn would have ensured that there were plenty of pubs in Minas Tirith!

In the Grey Havens chapter Laura said that when Merry and Pippin were described as “lordly” this was a compliment  – normally “lordly” is often seen as arrogant.

Discussion then moved onto the burial places, or final resting places, of the nine members of the Fellowship. Interestingly only Aragorn was buried in his native city – all the others were not. Merry and Pippin were buried in Gondor, Frodo and Sam presumably died in the Undying Lands, Boromir was washed out to sea in the boat, Legolas and Gimli went to the Undying Lands where Gimli presumably died. The significance of this could be an interesting topic for discussion. Anyway talk moved on to who else might have gone overseas, for instance the sons of Elrond – it’s not actually clear whether they sailed or not. There is some information in the Epilogue to LotR (HoM‑e V9) which hints that Shadowfax sailed west with Gandalf. Laura thought it would have been nice if Berúthiel and her cats ended up in the Undying Lands.

Laura said that Frodo’s speech to Sam on the way to the Grey Havens especially the words “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them” are similar to the words spoken at the Cenotaph. However Carol said that most people who went to fight wanted to come back alive.

Chris said, is the “sweet fragrance” smelt by Frodo whilst on the boat to the Undying Lands the scent of athelas. No agreement was found on this.

Discussion turned to the Three Rings taken by Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf to the Undying Lands. It was agreed that, following the destruction of the One Ring, there were no longer any powers left in them and they were now merely artefacts. Thus the “magical powers” were leaving Middle-earth, changing the nature of what remained with the arrival of the time of Men.

Rosemary raised the issue of the White Tree and it was agreed that this particular tree or one of its descendants (obtained by preserving its fruit) would have remained alive while the Monarchy survived. Chris jokingly said that it can still be seen in Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Finally there was discussion about the eventual fate of Radagast e.g. did he go to the Undying Lands or stay in Middle Earth?

Time had now run out and we all vacated the library at 15:55 and headed to the Sea City cafe for a cup of tea. After this we parted ways. Rosemary and Carol headed off to get ahead of the football traffic while the remaining group sought further refreshment of a stronger kind before spending a lovely evening in a Chinese restaurant, well picked by Laura since the only other customers were Chinese, clearly indicating that she had chosen a truly authentic eating house.

We decided that for our next meeting we would read as much as possible of Appendix A.