Last meeting in November

Thanks to Chris for creating this report:



Unfortunately Lynn couldn’t join us to day. The meeting went ahead with Ian, Laura, Eileen, Angela and Chris.

Before discussing the next chapter of the Hobbit “Barrels out of Bond” Ian raised a couple of interesting points. The first concerned a tweet about Joseph Wright following the award of a bursary to Leeds University for the study of English dialects. The tweet made clear that the original study had been done by Joseph Wright as this fact seemed to be absent. The second concerned a new book by Tom Holland called Dominion which has a number of references to Tolkien. The book deals with the effect of Christianity on the world over the ages.

The meeting proper began with a discussion of the word “bond” and how the title of the chapter “Barrels out of Bond” had a double meaning indicating the technical use of the word “bond” as a secure warehouse storage system, and the escape of the Dwarves in barrels. Laura said that in Thranduil’s realm trade played an important role not seen in other Elvish locations. She also said that the elves in this realm were not typical of the elvish race, for instance getting drunk.

Chris said that this chapter highlighted the theme of Luck as Bilbo is often described as being very lucky, for instance in managing to organise the escape.

Eileen commented that Bilbo is often described as if he were a type of animal/rodent because he frequently scuttles about.

There was a discussion of the Ring causing the bearer to cast a shadow in sunlight. Eileen felt this could be because the Ring has not taken full effect so a part of the body still exists to cast a shadow. Angela said she couldn’t remember this particular issue in LotR.

Laura again stressed that men and elves are seen working together in the barrel trade and for sourcing the wine, presumably some from men’s vineyards.

Eileen mentioned the singing of the elves when marching the prisoners so felt it must be part of their nature.

Eileen thought it was interesting that Bilbo was sometimes referred to as Bilbo and at other times as Mr Baggins.

Laura thought Thranduil fitted in with nature as he wore a head decoration with appropriate flowers.

Angela said that although Thranduil was a high elf he identified more with the Silvan elves.  This is detailed in Unfinished Tales in the “History of Galadriel and Celeborn” chapter.

There was a discussion that Bilbo had now definitely become a burglar with constant pinching of food.

Laura thought that the dwarves felt unhappy as Bilbo often had to do things to help them out whereas originally they thought he was useless.

Laura wondered what Gandalf knew about the service Bilbo would provide to the Dwarves and whether this came from on high. It was as happens in LotR when Gandalf says Gollum has still a part to play. We all agreed that Gandalf couldn’t have had inside knowledge about the finding of the Ring.

Eileen described how Bilbo gains practical skills during this chapter. Chris said it was a nice gesture for Bilbo to put the keys back on the guard’s key-ring.

There was a general discussion of Tolkien and Lewis in a slight digression.

Laura wondered where Tolkien got the idea of the barrels being transported in rivers. Had he seen this somewhere else?

Finally at the end of the chapter Eileen said that Bilbo was no longer interested in dainties – he was just too hungry.

The meeting finished with the decision to do Chapters 10 and 11 at the next meeting

First meeting in November


On this palindromic date, seven of us braved a drenching to meet and discuss the matter of Flies and Spiders.

Eileen began the discussion with her consideration of what she described as the threatening forest. She noted that Tolkien felt that trees had feelings and wondered if the trees in Mirkwood reflect or pick up on the feelings of Bilbo and the dwarves.

Tim compared Mirkwood to the motif of the Enchanted Forest and the injunction to stay on the path based in local knowledge, and evoking foreboding. The comparison included Hansel and Gretel.

Angela remarked on the little hint of light, and compared this to the effect of light in a railway tunnel. Laura picked the hopefulness of the phrase ‘light at the end of a tunnel’.

Ian observed that in canal tunnels travellers lose sight of the light if the tunnel bends.

Laura commented that the whole chapter is a fairy story with its insistence on things that are interdicted.

Eileen thought that at the start both Bilbo and the dwarves were not coping.

Laura and Angela both remarked on the sinister effect of the very short sentence ‘There were black squirrels in the wood’.

Laura also proposed that the moths in the wood may have been changed by their environment.

I mentioned that in the north of England around the industrial towns moths that had developed camouflage to rest on tree trunks were discovered to have become darker in colouring as pollution had darkened the bark of the trees. I therefore wondered if the Necromancer in Mirkwood could be understood as a metaphor for the effects of pollution.

Laura remarked that the black butterflies were not so sinister.

Eileen noted the introduction of cobwebs, and their stickiness. Tim commented on the experience of encountering cobwebs in summer, but noted that in Mirkwood they are dark.

Laura observed that the spiders in Mirkwood are apex predators.

Angela remarked that in The Lord of the Rings the suggestion is that they are Shelob’s offspring.

Carol commented: the encounter with the spiders has its comical slant but, like other dangerous episodes, there’s a real dark side to this. No such ‘fun’ with Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, and Bilbo comes into his own as Sam does with Shelob and after. Just had a thought about a juxtaposition: as Bilbo rescues the dwarves from incarceration with the elves, Sam does the same for Frodo from the orcs.
Laura compared the paths in the Old Forest, which move around, but the Elf-Path in Mirkwood can’t move or its magic will be lost.

Chris proposed that it is the Elves who keep the path clear.

Angela and Laura both observed that the stream in Mirkwood is cursed like the Withywindle.

Chris observed that the river in the wood is enchanted not actually cursed, and wondered if it could actually focus dreams according to the desires of the dreamer.

Carol commented: ‘Bombur’s falling into the enchanted stream is really laying it on thick because now they have to carry him as well as getting hungrier and thirstier and then being caught by spiders. But who comes to the rescue…? Bilbo’s finding his ‘adventure’ feet. Bombur actually has a sort of foretelling when he tells of seeing lights and food whilst asleep, because that comes true.

Chris also noted that Bilbo has sharp eyes in the forest, but this attribute is not noted in The Lord of the Rings.

Laura remarked that dwarves should have sharp eyes after millennia in their mines, but then the forest is not their environment.

Angela commented that Gimli was scared of Fangorn.

We spent some time discussing the enchanted river and its analogues, such as Lethe and the Stix.

Ian discovered that there are 11 rivers in Norse mythology, one of which separates the living from the dead.

Tim then remarked that Thorin’s terse ‘don’t start grumbling’ was rather orcish.

Eileen commented that Bilbo is becoming the one upon whom the others depend.

Laura wondered if Bilbo’s assertiveness is the effect of the Ring on his passivity.

Tim noted that the Ring prevents his capture by the spiders, but Chris added that hobbit skills help in this, such as a good throwing arm.

Tim then remarked that Tolkien ‘breaks the fourth wall’ when he writes that there things ‘I haven’t had time to tell you about’.

Laura went on to consider the deer imagery and its significance in mythology and Christianity.

Tim remarked on the contrasting change of tone that happens when the dwarves are down in the forest and Bilbo is in the tops of the trees.

Eileen commented that the light hurts Bilbo’s eyes, and she thought this provided light relief and hope.

Tim observed that there are three attempts at encounters with Elves.

I wondered if the Elf feast was an enchanted vision but Chris, Angela and Laura thought it was a real feast that was interrupted.

Carol commented: ‘in the account of the wood elves we see bits of the ‘mythology’ creeping in – faery in the west and what I assume is a reference to Thingol’.

Chris also noted that Elves kill spiders.

I proposed looking at the word ‘attercop’ with the help of background sources including Gilliver et al, The Ring of Words. Reading through their entry for this led Ian to observe that when they discuss ‘cop’ they omit any mention of its place in the Dialect Dictionary, focussing only on entries in the OED. Ian went on to notice that in the Dialect Dictionary the word ‘Tomnoddy’ is local to Northumberland and means ‘big head and little body’.

We had run well over our finishing time in our discussion so we only got through one chapter this time. At our next meeting we will pick up at Chapter 9, ‘Barrels Out of Bond’.