We were a small group this afternoon, with Chris and Angela otherwise engaged, and Ian attending an event at Sarehole, Tolkien’s childhood location before the move to Birmingham itself for his and Hilary’s education. It has resulted in a shorter than usual blog report, but it was no less intense.
We confirmed that there would be NO meeting on 23rd September because the majority of Reading Group members would be attending Oxonmoot. Then four of us finished the group’s latest reading of The Lord of the Rings, and Eileen’s first. Carol’s comments are added after the main report because her focus remained primarily on Aragorn and Arwen, while ours was directed towards the Shire and the hobbits.
Eileen expressed concern about various members of the Fellowship splitting up but we reassured her that Frodo met Bilbo with Elrond and his companions as they passed through the Shire, and that when they reached the Grey Havens Frodo saw a figure in white beside a great grey horse on the quayside, and that they all sailed away together.
Julie remarked, from personal experience, on the process of sailing down any ‘firth’ and the growing sense of severance it produces.
Laura wondered how long, and in which cultures, the crossing of waters has been a metaphor for or mythical connotation of death. Julie suggested it depended on the geographical location of a culture, but reminded us of the Celtic belief in sailing into the west.
Eileen commented that sailing also had connotations of adventure, but she still experienced a sense of anticlimax as well as shock at the fact that Gandalf was leaving and Frodo was becoming ill.
Julie observed that Frodo’s act of handing over Bag End was part of the process by which he was saying goodbye. Eileen then proposed that Frodo needs and has needed Sam, but gives Sam back what they actually fought for.
Laura and Julie pointed out that Frodo’s illnesses are also the anniversaries of evil, but Eileen objected that until they began she had perceived him as constantly getting over things. Julie observed that what is described is akin to our modern perception of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Laura added that these experiences were worse for Frodo because he had no beloved to return to, and being of an academic tendency he had no real outlet. Julie added that after the Quest he had no task to get on with.
Eileen commented that it was, then, mind over matter while he was on the Quest, but after losing the Ring and not actually completing his undertaking to perfection, Frodo changes.
Julie went on to read Sam’s ‘Well, I’m back’, in the sense of being ‘back in the room’, after a long trip into ‘Faerie land’.
We returned to the matter of where exactly the ship sailed to when it left the Grey Havens, and Laura remarked that the travellers were not going somewhere unfamiliar because they were returning to the Creator.
Julie explained to Eileen the concept of the ‘Straight Road’, which can be hard to grasp, so I offered the analogy of the funeral of Scyld Scefing from Beowulf. Laura was able to quote part of this in the original, while I explained to Eileen that the ship that carries Scyld on his last journey is simply pushed out from the hythe and moves off onto the ocean, and the poet tells us that ‘no one knew who unloaded that ship’. In both cases the ship moves from the temporal world into the mythical.
Laura and Eileen both remarked on the poetic prose of the story, while Carol had commented in the context of the Appendix A story of Aragorn and Arwen that ‘the writing is elegiac.’
Julie and Laura compared Bilbo’s forgetfulness about what Frodo has done with the Ring to the memory loss that is sometimes characteristic of old age.
I then asked about the timeline set out in Appendix B which shows that in Shire Reckoning 1419, the year the Ring goes into the fire, it is August 28 when the hobbits overtake Saruman and he then turns towards the Shire. Noticing that the Battle of Bywater takes place on November 3rd, I wondered how so much destruction could have taken place and the new brick building erected, as well as the Mill, in such a short space of time. Laura remarked that Sam must have seen the truth when he looked in Galadriel’s Mirror. It was not a prediction but a view of what was actually happening at the time! Julie also proposed that the destruction of the Shire must have started quite soon after Frodo and Sam left, when Aragorn was occupied with tracking the hobbits on the Road and meeting them in Bree, leaving the Shire vulnerable to incursions from the South.
Laura suggested that the Shire was protected in order to shelter Frodo.
Eileen noted that some invasions had come from the north in previous ages, and Julie recalled Aragorn’s comment that Barliman lived close to creatures that would ‘freeze his blood’.
I reverted to the Calendar to question how fast the mallorn tree in the Party Field comes into flower. Eileen, Julie and Laura all in various ways remarked that it was an instance of the need for the willing suspension of disbelief, but Julie also noted that Galadriel makes things grow, and that Yavana grew Telperion.
That brought our deliberations on the Appendices to a close, and The Lord of the Rings as a whole.
We took the decision that the group would begin reading (rereading) The Silmarillion. We did not suggest any chapters, but as we will not meet until October perhaps we might simply read as much of the Ainulindale as we have time for.
Glorfindel makes the prophecy: ‘far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall’ – by a woman and a hobbit.
Eorl’s horns coming to the rescue unlooked for to the Gladden Fields is mirrored by the arrival of Theoden and co. to the battle of the Pelennor Fields, in the nick of time.
With Ecthelion II we’re getting close to the time of The Lord of the Rings and in particular Thorongil ‘a great leader of men’. Ecthelion was everything his son was not, though he did show undue favouritism to Thorongil, just as his son would show undue favouritism to his elder son.
Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth is often referred to as kinsman to Denethor but nothing more specific. Here it’s made clear. He is in fact brother-in-law to Denethor and brother to Finduilas, deceased wife of Denethor.
Where did the Dunedain live before the ring quest? The descriptions of Aragorn’s first sight of Arwen at dusk, head bound with stars – Undomiel, even-star of her people. gulp! gulp!
Arwen foresees her doom as the same as Luthien’s. Elrond speaks of his tragedy in losing Arwen to mortality and Tolkien remembers his years apart from Edith.
All the errantry, meeting different people and serving other lords, will make Aragorn the king he becomes – merciful, tolerant, just, wise. When Galadirel clothes him in silver and white, it’s this vision of Aragorn that Frodo sees on Cerin Amroth.
The doom of men does come hard to Arwen in the end but now she understands the motives of the Numenoreans. It’s just too sad for words, not only Arwen and Aragorn gone, but Lorien and Rivendell and legend becomes plain history.