First meeting in March

9.3.19

March already! It will soon be Reading Day, but we didn’t have time to consider that. We did consider a group visit to see the forthcoming film about Tolkien, and we all expressed astonishment that Chris has just picked up the work previously done some years ago by Mike, and created a complete collation of all the existing blog reports ‘from the beginning even to this present’. Its purpose is to ensure that we all have a record of our discussions in case the online platform ceases, disappears or is corrupted. We did touch on the possibility of something more formal, but agreed that it would be a huge editorial task.

The discussion phase of our meeting then got underway with Laura’s observations that the Goths are not just a single tribe but are differentiated into clans whose names are based in nature, and that some of these are in the ascendant – like the Wolfings – while some are in less prominent circumstances and we learn this from their backstories. Laura compared this use of internal history to Tolkien’s use of backstories, and she noted that the Goths are depicted as assuming a right to control nature, which reminded her of Aule’s statement to Yavanna that trees would be needed. Finally, Laura remarked that when reading ‘Mirkwood’ we need to remember that Morris was writing before Tolkien.

Tim then joined Laura in considering Morris’s use of archaic terms and thought this was not really convincing and the archaisms seemed to be ‘shoe-horned’ into the text. The use of ‘Roof’ to name the major dwelling place of each clan was questioned, and I suggested that it was used metonymically – one attribute or aspect of the dwelling standing for the whole. It might also be used symbolically.

Laura then remarked that the Wood-Sun reminded her of Melian, and that the Hall-Sun’s prediction of fire reminded her of Tolkien’s Finn and Hengist fragment where the glow is men coming with torches.

Tim considered some of the poetry in the text ‘quite clunky’, but some of it was ‘quite good’, although it was hard going in the early stages of reading and not like Tolkien’s poetry. Angela agreed that some of it works.

Tim commented that some of the descriptions in rhyme are very evocative, but some of the prose descriptions of the Goths’ journey to the Things left him feeling the need of maps (!), especially when the different tribes were travelling on both sides of the River.

Laura approved of the banner wains being pulled by various fine animals, and especially liked the war-elks of the Elking clan. We wryly recalled Thranduil’s ‘war-elk’ in The Battle of Five Armies.

Chris thought Morris created political references in the context of the Roman society and that what is described is clearly a capitalist society with masters, who do very little, and workers. I thought it attempted a contrast with a more idealized community among the Goths (could I say and anarcho-syndicalist commune?) although they have thralls. Chris noted that even the thralls have a vote for the dux bellorum of the tribes.

I objected to Morris’s imposition of this untranslated Latin term and wondered why he hadn’t looked for a term in Norse, Icelandic or OE.

Tim observed that the Thing acts like the Council of Elrond as a forum for sharing the speakers’ experiences of the Romans. Laura saw the Thing as an intelligence-gathering event, and cited Fox’s infiltration in disguise.

I remarked that the description of the speakers going up and down the hill in their armour and clinking because this is the first time I can remember reading of this realistic touch.

Laura commented that the event is very formal and recalled the use of rhyme in Egil’s Saga when Egil has to make a rhyme to placate Erik Bloodaxe.

Laura went on to comment on the sacrifice of horses. Angela added that one of the girls also goes willingly to be sacrificed and Ian proposed that what we see is the different theological environment of the Goths compared to the Romans.

Angela noted the difference between Morris and Tolkien in their treatment of horses.

I remarked that most of the sacrificed animals were distributed to the people, and Eileen commented that this story includes more recognizable food that Tolkien’s lembas.

Eileen also noted that Wood Sun is far more affectionate, demonstrative and ‘normal’ than any female depicted by Tolkien; and that her passion is an expression of love but also pathos in fear for the future, and she compared Eowyn and Faramir as lovers make the most of their time together.

Chris remarked that he thought Wood Sun’s fear is closer to Eowyn seeing Aragorn going into the Paths of the Dead.

Angela remarked that of all the Rohirrim only Eowyn has the courage to see him off, when the Rohirrim fear the ghosts in the dale.

Laura commented that Eowyn is a shield maiden, and Angela noted that she’s brought up by men. Chris observed that orphaned and fostered children are thematic in Tolkien’s work.

Angela noted that a number of Wolfing women are able to wield weapons and ride out when the men are away.

Laura remarked that there are lots of instances of prophesy and this creates a sense of shadow over the men and that this adds tension to the story. She also commented on the difference between the war formations of the Goths and the Romans, and noted that the structure and discipline of the Romans didn’t always work, and that Quintus Varrus last his Imperial eagles in Germany.

Chris observed that the Tuteburg disaster happened in A.D. 9, and he went on to question the effect of the use of mercenaries by the Roman legions.

Laura then compared Morris’s references to the ‘stay-at-homes’ to the ‘coal-biters’ of the Icelandic sagas.

Having overrun our time we agreed to read on to chapter 15 and that next time we would pick up the subjects of Otter, weapons and the treatment of horses.

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