First in June

8.6.2019

Sadly, once again, only 3 of us were able to get together for today’s meeting, and as Carol is also unwell at present she has not been able to send her usual Comments. Nevertheless, we had a lively meeting. However, the inevitability of time creating changes of circumstance that are bound to affect the group prompted me to divert our discussions for a while from our reading/re-reading of The Hobbit to consider whether the time is coming when we should widen participation in the group, along with it remit.

This is a matter that will require some serious discussion in its own right once we are all together again. As Ian and Eileen both pointed out, the sustainability of the group is affected by the number of its members when we get to the unfortunate matter of having to pay for the room we use. There are likely to be a number of possible ways forward, and the three of us were looking forward optimistically.

As preliminary options, Ian suggested that we might devise a highly flexible but nonetheless structured programme of topics for reading and discussion based on Chris’s excellent compilation of our past blogs, choosing things that would be of interest to a wide range of people, not necessarily only those with our long-standing passion for Tolkien’s works.

Ian added that we meet in a city with substantial medieval history and architecture and this could be part of a whole new package relating Tolkien to medieval literature within a medieval environment.

Eileen remarked that she was just looking for literary stimulation when she came along, but the group’s enthusiasm became infectious and now she’s as lost in Middle-earth as the rest of us!

Ian added that he had noticed a flyer in a bookshop because it had a dragon on it, so any publicity needs pitching in a way that attracts the right kind of attention. It also needs to include certain keywords, such as ‘stimulating discussion’, and Ian and Eileen came up with a slogan: ‘Bring along a book, a sense of humour, and an open mind’.

This was as far as it was reasonable for us to go with our initial brainstorming. The proposal to expand now needs to be considered by the whole group together and individually, but at the very least I would suggest that we need to consider how we take our own reading forward once we have finished The Hobbit.

Ian, Eileen and I then turned our attention to The Hobbit. I remarked that the runes at the start are not just phonetic symbols but as runes they come loaded with various kinds of significance for us, irrespective of their function in the story.

Eileen observed that for her, they took her back to an ancient time, both within and outside the story. They are another of Tolkien’s languages, and their use divides ‘tribes’.

Eileen also went on to express her delight at the humour in the story. She particularly mentioned Bilbo’s comic bewilderment, and found more humour in the story than in other Tolkien texts we have read. She even found the goblins funny, and questioned the differentiation of goblins in TH from orcs in The Lord of the Rings.

I thought it had to do with Tolkien structuring the stories for different age groups.

Ian compared the situation with the Harry Potter stories and proposed that Tolkien uses familiar terms so as not to alienate young readers. But in The Lord of the Rings he uses ‘orcs’, which are still goblins, but named in such a way as to enhance their ‘otherness’ for other readers. At all times goblins/orcs are the same kinds of creatures.

Eileen felt that in TH the goblins are depicted with more black comedy. Ian thought they were more ‘impish’.

This led Eileen to compared their comic depiction with the equally (she felt) comic characterization of the trolls who argue over how to cook the dwarves and Bilbo.

Ian observed that this elides the reality that they are talking about actual cannibalism!

I thought the comedy lies in the incongruity between the horrible intention and the argument over the methods.

Eileen remarked that reading TH as far as she has gone has put The Lord of the Rings  into focus.

Ian observed that Tolkien translated medieval ideas of story into modern form, using childish language to introduce the story, but he evolves the style as the story develops.

I noted that his use of styles of language in it is very varied, from the crude colloquialism of the trolls to rhetorical/poetic, to the conversational-paternal.

Ian picked up this point when he noted the use of ‘oozy’ at the very start, but that by the end the language of the story has become more conceptualized.

I referred to one sentence that I found particularly illustrative of stylistic development: at the start of Chapter 4 the narrator says:

‘It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way and a lonely and a long.’

Ian described it as multi-dimensional. I thought its structure was highly rhetorical and Eileen thought it poetic. I felt it was also mimetic of sequential experiences which could have been expressed in a more ordinary way. This structure emphasizes each experience by isolating it semantically, but relating the last 3 terms by conjunctions to draw out a feeling of weariness with yet another kind of difficulty to face.

Eileen thought that the developing style argued that this is not really a book for children. I agreed, although the style makes it a book one would wish children to get to know.

Ian observed that the reader and writer both go on the same journey.

I specifically asked Eileen, as it’s her first reading of the book, how she responded to the songs of the Elves in Rivendell because these are not always well received. She replied that she loved them! For her they showed another side to the Elves as they sang merrily to welcome the travelers.

I also asked Eileen how she felt about the language of the trolls, because Tolkien apparently rather regretted their linguistic characterization. Eileen thought it suited them.

Ian then looked up ‘booby’ in an online dictionary and found the kinds of definition we might expect, but he also found that it was characteristic of the vocabulary of East Anglia and the entire south of England from Kent to Devon. So everywhere but Mercia! Could this be an authorial comment?!

And so the afternoon came to an end for us. We will continue with The Hobbit at our next meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last in May

  1. 5. 19

After some unavoidable delays, at long last we got round to discussing the Tolkien biopic at this last meeting in May. We have no comments from Carol because she hasn’t seen the film yet.

Our discussion started with Tim’s observation that the film is not a documentary and that Biographies have long existed for anyone wanting straight biographical details.

While giving due consideration to the film’s use of symbolism and fictionalizing of the Somme battle, I said I was astonished that, in the context of the reality of war, Tolkien had been able to use some of his experiences, as he acknowledged, in his fiction.

Eileen suggested that on the other hand the fiction shows his need to write out those experiences. Tim expanded this when he remarked on Tolkien’s focus on other things as a coping strategy.

Laura remarked in this context that Tolkien had been included in a programme on war poets, even though his poetry was quite different to that of poets like Wilfred Owen.

Laura also commented on the film’s depiction of the filth of the trenches and Tolkien’s illness when he caught trench fever.

Chris thought that the film’s depiction of Father Francis Morgan was well-handled and explained his attitudes to crucial moments in Tolkien’s life. Ian added that Father Francis was played by an Irish actor which played to a trope of the priest-type for the sake of the audience rather than showing Father Francis’s Spanish descent.

Ian suggested that the film revises the misleading image we are used to of Tolkien as an older man – images that came to the fore in the wake of the publication of The Lord of the Rings. He added that the depiction was of a world prior to the writing of The Hobbit and still in the 1920s, in which values were different. On the other hand, at times contemporary values were overlaid onto those of the early twentieth century to make them more accessible to modern audiences.

Ian also remarked on the use of lots of reflections in the film – in water, in glass, in mirrors – and that these define it as a reflection of events and a critical interpretation.

He further observed that parallels are set up between the TCBS and the Fellowship in the context of war, but that Tolkien’s time at Great Heywood and Cannock Chase were omitted; and that the presentation of the relationship between Tolkien and Joseph Wright was less biographical and more representative of relationships between tutors and students generally and the need for discipline.

Laura picked up this scene and remarked that in reality Tolkien had read Wright’s Gothic Primer when he was at school. Ian commented that the film makes the significance of Joseph Wright and his Gothic primer into drama.

Laura also noted that contrary to photos of the time, Tolkien wasn’t shown on screen with his Second Lieutenant’s moustache.

Tim observed that the film did not give blow by blow accuracy, but gave the biographical details a mythological cast in keeping with Tolkien’s own technique, and Tim compared this to many myths which have a grain of truth from the ancient past, such as the myth of King Arthur, who may have been a real warrior, but any truth underwent sequential development.

Laura then raised the point that Tolkien came to fame as an older man, especially in America, and his adoption by the student community at a very troubled time, and by all sorts of hippy culture may have contaminated the sense of his worth as a writer in this country. Angela commented that at university in England in the late 60s she was already aware of Tolkien’s popularity among some students.

Angela went on to remark that the film could have made more of the poverty in which Mabel Tolkien and her sons found themselves on account of her conversion to Catholicism, and the consequent help provided by Father Francis. Ian noted that the introduction to the lodging house to which the orphaned boys are moved refers to religion.

Chris thought that this doesn’t come out clearly in the film, and he proposed that film-makers don’t like to deal with religion these days. Ian replied that Father Francis points out Tolkien’s lack of money and therefore his need for a career, and thus the need to concentrate on his studies not marriage.

Ian turned our attention back to the war scenes with his observation that as we know in the trenches Tolkien suffered trench fever so the hallucinatory sequences function as the effect of the fever. They are therefore not an account of any actual bit of the war. Ian wondered whether survivor’s guilt on Tolkien’s part was emerging in The Lord of the Rings. Again, this is a reflection of the creative environment of the book.

Chris made the point that the film is not blow by blow referencing of the book or the film adaptations, but that it picks up references from them.

At our next meeting, the first in June, we will begin our discussion of The Hobbit.

First in May

11.5.19

This is going to be a very brief blog report as there was, in the end, no meeting yesterday. For all sorts of very legitimate reasons everyone except Eileen and me had somewhere else to be, so Eileen and I met for half and hour and then we also dispersed.

If we had all been able to meet we would have discussed the Tolkien film, and maybe ventured into The Hobbit. As things stand, we shall simply move the film discussion and the start of The Hobbit to our last meeting of May.

This is the first time the group has been depleted in this way and to this extent, which is not bad over the course of some 15 years. For so many members to be able to meet regularly twice a month during all that time testifies to the commitment, come rain, shine, and snow, and our deep love of all things associated with Tolkien, including the texts known to have influenced him.

So our next meeting will cover the film (for those of us who have seen it), and the delightful beginnings of Bilbo’s encounter with Gandalf and the dwarves.

Last Meeting in April

27.4.19

In the teeth of a howling gale, and to the accompaniment of equally howling police sirens, 6 of us gathered to complete our reading of The House of the Wolfings. We missed Tim and Julie, and were diverted from an immediate start by the need to take into account the release of the new biopic of Tolkien’s life, and the consequent consideration of a group cinema visit to continue our practice, established with the release of The Hobbit films, of watching Tolkien films together. This has proved cathartic in the past, so much better than fuming silently to ones-self over directorial decisions judged to be crass, ill-informed, or just simply wrong!!! I have to mention rabbit-powered transport, and the appearance of a giant ‘war-moose’. Other objections have been made, and make me personally wary of the new film, so the company of friends with whom to share highlights (hopefully) as well as complaints should offset any discontent created by the new film. At least the presence of Derek Jacobi in the cast list lends some optimism to the prospect.

Having agreed that we will convert our next Tolkien RG meeting to a film visit, we turned again to the Wolfings.

Laura began our deliberations with the observation that it is possible to see the common influences between Morris and Tolkien, although the quality of Morris’s writing is not up to that of Tolkien.

Eileen remarked that the last poems spoken by the Wood Sun were more moving than the other poetry in the story, which, she felt, merely fragments the prose. Eileen enjoyed the love story but not the constant emphasis on battle tactics because the reader got closer to the characters.

Laura noted that you just know doom is coming, and there is a constant movement towards fate. She felt the story of the dwarf mail and the dwarfs themselves were much more like those in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, as was the deceit of the dwarf by the Wood Sun. It leads to a curse, as in Tolkien. Laura was also precise in reminding us that although Tolkien’s plural is dwarves, Morris’s plural is the ordinary ‘dwarfs, because Tolkien was a philologist and Morris wasn’t.

Laura also felt that the story offers a more sympathetic view of the Goths than is usual, and that the story blends in the myth of the valkyrie and the supernatural.

Eileen commented on the importance of the ‘thicket’ as a place of seclusion, safety, ambush, and refuge.

Laura noted that the Roman captain, only named as such, is flawed, while on the Goth side there are different leaders. All act according to external pressures.

We all then considered the topic of the depiction of women in warfare. In the story they are messengers and eventually warriors, and we compared these depictions with the historical activities of Æþelflæd and Boudica. I mentioned that recent research has concluded that Viking women could also be warriors.

Eileen observed that the Wood Sun seals Thiodolf’s fate, and this is perhaps a depiction of the power of a woman over a hero. Laura questioned whether it is rather a sign of his weakness? Chris remarked that Thiodolf was always going to die, and Laura qualified this by recalling that he needs to die in battle.

I proposed that Thiodolf is ‘special’, someone whose destiny is Other, and supernatural, like the heroes in the Ring Cycle, and bearing in mind the time in which the story was written I felt there was even a hint of the Nietzschean Ubermensch. Laura went on to suggest that Thiodolf’s relationship with Wood Sun was possible for them but not for the Goths in general.

We observed that the Hall Sun is the child of Thiodolf and the Wood Sun, and Angela noted that Tolkien’s Elves don’t marry in time of war, or have children at such times.

Laura remarked that although Tolkien’s life spanned the late Victorian, Edwardian and mid-twentieth centuries, he was a Roman Catholic and so he would have understood the concept of sexual abstinence. In comparison, although Morris was born and lived in the repressive Victorian era, he was also part of the pre-raphaelite circle among whom there was a degree of sexual freedom that was extraordinary for its time. Ian noted that Morris lived in a world with servants, as did Tolkien, but in Tolkien’s time that world was falling away and individuality was growing.

Ian observed that for both Tolkien and Morris the underlying structures of the societies in which they grew up and worked had some similarities and although Tolkien was brought up in religious morality, both lived in societies that saw the awakening of new attitudes. Both men rejected industrialization but in different ways. In their writing, Morris’s Wolfings is more stratified, using an historical elements with the addition of a mythological dimension. Tolkien’s writing, on the other hand, is more complex, a more subtle blending of history and myth.

Laura remarked that Morris was writing a story but Tolkien was writing a whole world mythology, and Chris commented that Morris bases his story on real facts.

Ian proposed that Tolkien in his academic capacity was committing heresy by creating languages because he was a professional philologist. His work is immersive, and he opened up the world to fantasy fiction, but Morris shows the use of history and myth before that.

Laura observed that Tolkien switched from Classics to Germanic studies early in his time as an undergraduate at Oxford, but she drew our attention to Morris’s use of many Middle English words as well as an unusual dialect word in the phrase ‘doddered oak’. This, she discovered, is a dialect form meaning ‘shattered’, ‘decayed’, and is related to ‘doddering’. It did not necessarily have the sense of walking unsteadily on account of decrepitude, because upon consulting Alfred Watkins, The Old Straight Track Laura found the idea that very ancient trackways had been laid out by ‘dodmen’ using sighting poles such as those depicted in the hands of the Long Man of Wilmington chalk hill figure in Sussex.We noted in passing that ‘dodman’ had become a dialect term for a snail.

On that suitably philological note we ended our meeting, agreeing that those of us who can make it will go and see the Tolkien film on the afternoon of our next meeting, and that at our last meeting in May we will begin reading The Hobbit.

First in April

13.4.19

We were almost all back this afternoon, although we missed Julie, as we dealt first with Chris’s monumental compilation of all the blogs complete with rolling Index. Having offered some feedback, we then moved on to pick up our discussion left over from the end of February on matters such as the character of Otter, the treatment of horses, and the matter of weapons. Carol had sent comments which are added mainly after the main blog.

Laura began our discussions of appointed topics by outlining the resonance of Morris’s the use of the name ‘Otter’. Laura reminded us that a character named Otter appears in the Nieblungenlied. He is killed by Loki who takes the Otter skin for nefarious purposes. C.S. Lewis also makes use of the form in his space fiction story Out of the Silent Planet where the ‘hrossa’ are Martians with Otter-like characteristics. Laura also pointed out that Otter belongs to the House of the Laxings and lax is the Old English for salmon, and otters eat salmon.

On a different topic, Laura observed that the Wolfings’ battles are not always described through direct narration but are often reported by characters.

Chris and Angela remarked that this also happens at times in The Lord of the Rings.

Tim noted that in Wolfings the reader is given the view of the ‘stay-at-homes’: those left behind.

Eileen remarked on the importance of the messengers who bring news to them.

Laura likened this to the arrival of chaps from the front.

Time observed the thirst of the mead-drinker messenger, and saw the indirect narration as reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, e.g. in the Council of Elrond. Various reports by one character to others means that the reader is not omniscient because we get secondhand reports.

Eileen noted that often we only know later what Gandalf has been doing

Chris commented that in our readings of The Lord of the Rings, in spite of Sam’s importance, very few mentions of him show up in the blog Index. Chris also noted that in Wolfings scenes swap around and back much faster than in The Lord of the Rings.

I drew attention to the significance of the hill where the Thing is held. It is a special place which by the common consent within Goth society gives power and legitimacy to the speech which takes place there, and to the decisions arrived at through that speech. This reminded me of J.L. Austen’s ‘speech act theory’ which described the way societies accord legitimacy, power and authority to the speech of certain people in specific situations, as well as speech that takes specific or ritualized forms.

Laura noted the importance of the Iceladic Althing as the location for resolving disputes.

Tim remarked that Goths have to climb the hill of the Thing in order to make their speech count.

Tim and I then went on to express some dissatisfaction with the unvaried poetry Morris includes in the story, because there is no sense of its stylistic contribution to characterization. Carol commented on this: “Tolkien said he wanted to write a story like Morris, with prose and verse. Tolkien’s verse isn’t used instead of ordinary speech but is situational or tells a back story, sometimes both like ‘Earendil was a mariner’. So Morris’s verse I find not so subtle as Tolkien’s and somewhat like a song in a musical. The message of war is urgent so why take so long to deliver it, but the poetry’s ok”.

Eileen, however, remarked that the Hall Sun gives a précis of the battle in poetry and this is a gentler way to get the point across. She is condensing the story, while the rhythm makes it flow.

Laura remarked that it makes sense to the Hall Sun and the Wood Sun to speak in verse.

Tim thought the story is more akin to Beowulf, while Laura compared it to the real Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest.

 

We moved on to the topic of Horses.

Chris observed that in The Lord of the Rings the question is raised about disinformation concerning Sauron stealing the horses of Rohan.

Eileen noted the way they were depicted as being loved in Tolkien’s work.

Laura remarked that the white horses that really were sacrificed, like the Goths’ horses, were well-tended.

Chris observed that this made them very valuable, and Laura commented that this registered the scale of devotion.

Angela reminded us of the human sacrifice to which blood sacrifice led in Numenor, and that Aragorn declared in Rohan that he intended no harm to man or horse.

Eileen questioned the provision of mounts for the Black Riders, and the sad state of Bill Ferny’s pony.

 

On then to Weapons

Laura noted that the references to Roman archers and slingers was straight out of Caesar’s Commentaries.

Angela approved of the tri-bill of the Goths, and Tim remarked on the resonant name of Thiodolf’s Throng-Plough. Laura commented, however, that most weapons have very ordinary names.

Tim observed the presence of women riders among the Goths, comparing them to shield maidens, and noted the instruction they were given to each take a small knife on their journeys as a suicide device.

Laura and Angela both contrasted these women to Eowyn who was bound on self-destruction anyway.

Chris noted that in The Lord of the Rings  opponents are not ordinary people, but they are in Wolfings.

Tim and Laura remarked that both Goths and Romans use some form of the shield wall or testudo.

Laura noted that the Goths use war horns and Tim observed that the Romans also used horns. Ian discovered that the Romans used 2 kinds – the Carnix and the Cornu.

Eileen noted the reiterated motif of the dwarf shirt in The Lord of the Rings. Laura added that the dwarf shirt in Wolfings is dark.

Ian suggested that this was because it was made of iron so it was very heavy, hence his fainting in battle, but it was very protective.

Eileen wondered if we were more involved in the battles in Wolfings or in The Lord of the Rings?

Chris thought we were more involved in Tolkien because the characters are better known.

Eileen proposed that the Wolfings battle strategy is spelt out clearly and the stay-at-homes are kept well informed. The women are included but there is too much emphasis on battle and not enough narrative.

Laura responded that this was because the Goths were fighting for their lives in a short space. In The Lord of the Rings, however, there is great background, but in Wolfings it is 2 lots of humans fighting.

Tim noted that Tolkien was writing about an entire war, made up of a series of battles, while Morris was writing about a smaller campaign.

Eileen qualified this by describing Tolkien’s work as being more panoramic, and Chris observed that in Wolfings there was not much focus on the Romans.

As we ran out of time we agreed to go on with our discussion of The House of the Wolfings next time.

Carol’s Comments:

The opening poem reminds me of Bilbo’s ‘I sit beside the fire…’ nostalgia for things gone by.

I liked the historical bit about Varus and Marminius as I know very little of Goths and Romans and glad the Goths won.

I liked that description of the main hall, reminds me of Edoras, and I always think that fires in the middle of a room are more egalitarian than a fire set in a chimney wall. Fires in the middle are accessible to more people than modern fireplaces where a man might warm his back to the exclusion of everyone else.

‘The Flitting of the War Arrow’ paints a picture very idyllic to begin with, rather like the Shire, but I’m sure that will soon be shattered.

‘Thiodolf talketh with the Wood-Sun’: It’s getting to be like an opera, though the content is interesting, if slower to read.

Last meeting in March

22.3.19

Sadly, we were without Tim, Chris and Angela, as well as Julie at this meeting, so only 4 of us gathered on the Saturday closest to Tolkien Reading Day. It was for this reason that we decided to leave our discussion of The House of the Wolfing until our next meeting in April and take the Reading Day topic of ‘the mysterious in Tolkien’ instead. In the event we spread our net more widely than Tolkien.

We began by pondering the attractions of numerous instances of backstories as Laura questioned the validity of J.K. Rowling’s extensions to the original Harry Potter series, and whether these had been part of the project all along.

The unofficial extension of Tolkien’s work into ‘slash fan-fiction’ was considered.

I suggested that the development of existing stories satisfied a desire to demystify books and films.

Ian remarked that it relates to the universal belief in something more.

Laura observed that the impulse to open up stories to develop backstories echoes Gandalf’s challenge to Saruman concerning the folly of breaking things to find out how they work.

Eileen likened the impulse to small boys taking things apart.

Laura drew a parallel with Richard Dawkins’ trying to remove the mystique from human life.

Ian remarked that the appliance of science was used in Lower Egypt to move massive building blocks which in turn signified the status of Pharoah as god.

I brought the topic back to Tolkien when I asked if his appeal lay in his creation of mystery in a demystifying age?

Eileen thought he focused on the strange relationship between Sam, Frodo and Gandalf, and the mysterious Ring.

Laura remarked that Tolkien creates mysteries like those in our own world.

Eileen observed that in the case of Elf ladies, real love triumphs over their mysterious immortality.

Laura noted that Tolkien is referenced everywhere now.

Ian commented that there are orcs in the Warcraft computer game.

Laura commented that the concept of ‘orcneas’, naming an enemy of mortals, is found in Beowulf.

Ian proposed that the word is used to describe the mystery of the Other. He went on to argue that in Tolkien’s work, the mystery of alien technology is summed up in the way the Ring is responsible for Gollum’s long life. In The House of the Wolfings the protective hauberk is not a mystery but another example of the use of scienc, although it is a mystery if you don’t understand the technology.

Laura remarked that in Beowulf, the mysterious child Scyld Scefing becomes leader, and she compared this to the Norwegian leader of the Danish Vikings at the Battle of Maldon: the different world view provides the ‘edge’ that makes them special.

Ian commented that in Wolfings the Hall Sun, and the Wood Sun her Mother are mystical in their culture, as opposed to the more technological Roman society.

Eileen noted the inclusion in this work of stories from earlier events, and Laura noted the emphasis on building technology. Ian observed the presence of Morris’s interest in higher belief and higher truth.

Eileen responded that the dissemination of information via stories also demystifies.

Ian considered that Morris’s presentation is theatrical, i.e. sequential, and that in the case of visualization of events from the past, writing them down means they can be retained, as opposed to oral tradition.

I questioned the stages of demystifying that may take place via story and film.

Ian replied that Tolkien was writing in an age of human endeavour but now the current value system values investigation, but some present values don’t match earlier ones.

Eileen added that art and artefacts are inevitably of their time.

I questioned the apparent need for mystery in literature and other media. Laura responded that it satisfies the need for hope and for good to triumph.

Ian proposed that where people and society exist in a closed state there is no need to move on, it is not adaptive but in arrested development. Where society is hesitant about moving on there is perhaps the need for a god or for enforced movement, but in and open society, change is natural.

Next time we will pick up our concentration on The House of the Wolfings

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.