Last meeting in July


Hard to believe we have had our last meeting in July already, and indeed the weather was less like July than October as we left the Library, but in spite of our reduced numbers (Julie, Chris and Angela are all on holiday) we had a very intense discussion which diverted us from thoughts of unseasonal weather. We were intending to discuss ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ and ‘The Grey Havens’. Carol’s additional comments are added at the end.

Eileen opened proceedings with her comment that she found the end of the story melancholy, and she was left with a deep desire to know more, especially about Legolas and Gimli.

Laura brought us back to ‘The Scouring’ when she noted the malicious edge to Saruman’s foretelling of Frodo’s inability to enjoy the life of peace and enjoyment that his suffering has deserved.

Eileen remarked on the way Merry and Pippin now take charge of ridding the locality of the ‘ruffians’. Carol also commented: “Merry blows the horn of Rohan and like was said to him, frightens his foes and heartens his friends. Merry seems to be taking charge.”

Laura observed the reference to the status of Pippin’s father and the sense of ‘old aristocracy’ in his comment that if anyone was going to be Boss it should be the Thain. I likened the actions of the Tooks who chased out marauding ruffians to the actions of Edwardian gamekeepers.

Eileen wondered if Frodo had not become a bit too peace-loving in this disrupted environment but Laura suggested that he is in fact too drained by his experiences to be more assertive. Carol commented: “Frodo’s now abrogating physical responsibility and handing on to a younger generation in Merry and Pippin, part of his withdrawal from Middle-earth.”

We all noted the strength of Saruman’s negative response to Frodo’s mercy, and Eileen observed that in the end it is Wormtongue who kills Saruman.

Carol commented: “That comment: ‘though Worm has been very hungry lately’, implying that he’s eaten poor Lotho – just the very implication is spine-chilling and far more effective than something more explicit. And all the time I hear the voice of the actor who played Saruman in the Radio 4 serial, very smooth and slimey. Laura also commented that it is a nasty thought that Worm is a cannibal, but Ian objected that Worm was not a cannibal because that refers to eating one’s own kind and Lotho was a hobbit.

Laura addressed the relationship between Saruman and Grima Wormtongue more fully when she commented that Saruman now lacks his command of thousands and so focuses on Worm. His bitterness is the extension of ancient jealousy. Laura also responded to Eileen’s observation that Worm won’t leave Saruman by observing that the wizard had sucked out any personality Grima once had. Laura also noted that Saruman’s demise faced west, but a cold wind came from the west. As Carol commented: “the west rejects Saruman’s spirit.”

Eileen remarked that Tolkien suggests a range of choices and chances and that Saruman was not all bad. [This is in opposition to Chris’s comment last time that Saruman doesn’t seem to have a good side].

On a different matter, Laura noted that there is another example of Tolkien taking and rearranging familiar phrases and sayings in Saruman’s spiteful ‘one ill turn deserves another’.

We began a discussion of the deeper aftermath of the Quest when Ian observed that Frodo could not remain in the Shire after the destruction was repaired because he no longer fitted into the world he went away to save, with all the mythological elements from that previous world. Ian compared the effect of Fascism appropriating older myths to legitimate its ‘culture’ even though those myths and the culture they supported were the foundation of World War One. Frodo’s presence in the Shire was a reminder of the old world. The new world belongs to Men and to pragmatic folk like Sam.

Eileen observed that Sam always had goodness in him, shown in his care for and of Frodo, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Laura noted that Sam is quite different to Will Whitfoot the former Mayor who mainly presided over banquets while Sam became a more active mayor. Sam was also generous with Galadriel’s gift.

Elieen commented that Sam thinks things through, but Ian thought this was not so. The change to the eco-system of the Shire – a kind of genetic change – was not something that Sam could have anticipated.

Eileen and I noted the care with which Sam used Galadriel’s ‘dust’, and Ian took this further when he remarked that Gimli preserves her hair in imperishable crystal, and compared this to Sauron preserving [attempting to preserve?] part of his essence in the Ring. When she goes into the West, asked Ian, has Galadriel perhaps left the dust and her hair as a token of her presence and power?

Ian went on to propose that what we see are examples of the origins of myths, e.g. the rise of the golden-haired children and age of plenty implying that some folk may go away and return with benefits for their whole society.

Laura and Eileen found that the reference to the golden-haired children raised uncomfortable echoes of Fascist eugenics. Ian proposed a different reading: that far from being a reference to a hangover from a mythic past [the problematic Nordic hero motif], the children embody the future influenced by a mythic past which does not want to leave it but whose destiny is not to control it or actively shape it any longer. An inherited culture [the metaphorical dust] is dispersed as widely as possible and is not restricted to a select group.

I wanted to broaden these issues and proposed that the effect of the Entdaught on Merry and Pippin made the case for expansion beyond narrow geographical and social borders, and that this equated to progress. Ian remarked that Tolkien was not a geneticist, but he was familiar with the effects of the influence of other cultures and their artefacts.

Eileen brought us back from our socio-political and ethical considerations to the main story when she observed that the description of Gandalf clothed in white and wearing the red ring made him seem a god-like figure. Ian acknowledged that the contribution of all these greater powers goes on East of the Sea but not their active presence.

After such a thought-provoking meeting we agreed to address next time the matters arising from ‘The Grey Havens’ and to move smoothly on into Appendix A as Eileen has yet to be introduced to the details to be found there.


Carol’s comments:

Chapter 8 ‘The Scouring of the Shire.


Great when Bill the pony kicks Fill ferny. Perhaps ponies are like elephants with long memories. Tolkien’s so polite about people like Ferny, merely calling them ‘ruffians’. [It has been proposed that ‘ruffian’ derives from the name of a medieval devil ‘Ruffin’ who appears in a number of plays. Ed.]

Rose Cotton has a bit of foresight if she’s expected Sam since the spring. And her comments about not leaving Frodo ‘as soon as things look dangerous’ always brings a smile. They just don’t realise what dangers Sam and Frodo have been through. No wonder Sam’s speechless.

Like Barliman, the Cottons are more concerned with the Shire’s troubles, than the travellers’ adventures. Insular.

Gaffer: ‘what’s come of his weskit? I don’t hold with wearing ironmongery, whether it wears well or no.’ always raises a smile.

‘It was one of the saddest hours of their lives…’ what makes any one want to destroy trees and nice buildings and replace them with tarred shed and mess. Destruction and ugliness for its own sake. Ref. ISIS, orcs are still among us.


Saruman says that Gandalf drops folk when they’ve done his bidding but if Gandalf helped/’interfered’ in the Shire now he would be over stepping his remit. He had to be involved in getting rid of Sauron because Sauron was a very powerful being but where the hobbits can fight their own battles, he has to leave them to it.



First meeting in July


We missed some of our Southfarthingas at this meeting, but those of us who were able to attend were supposed to be discussing ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire’. As it turned out, we wandered about a bit between Rivendell and the borders of the Shire so that Eileen could catch up after being absent from our last June session. We looked forward hopefully to seeing our more distant friends at some point in August and our own moot later in the year before.

We began our discussions by looking back to ‘Many Partings’ as Angela remarked that in Rivendell Bilbo only really takes notice of Aragorn’s crowning and wedding and his comments on having waited a long time for those events illuminates the closeness of the friendship between the hobbit and the King.

Laura picked up another implicit contrast when she remarked on the brief conversation between Frodo and Elrond in terms of the contrast between the very tall powerful Elf and the damaged little hobbit, and found this very touching. Laura also suggested an echo between the image of Frodo taking on the job of sorting Bilbo’s disorderly papers and Christopher Tolkien later taking on the huge task of sorting and editing his father’s papers.

Eileen noted Bilbo’s confusion over his ‘lost’ Ring, and Carol commented: “The last version of the Road song: ‘now far ahead the road has gone/let others follow it who can’, Bilbo’s finished following the road and has handed that onto others far younger than himself.

Chris moved the discussion on to ‘Homeward Bound’, with his observation of Gandalf’s non-optimistic opinion about Frodo’s recovery from his injuries in his acknowledgement that some things cannot be made better.

Eileen noted that Frodo ‘kept to himself’ Gandalf’s observations, and she remarked that Frodo is thoughtful and sees other sides to things. In this he is more like Gandalf.

Angela observed that Frodo has had the Ring to enlarge his understanding. I wondered if having it generally enlarged perception? But Angela noted the Bilbo and Gollum didn’t know what it’s power was in this direction.

Eileen remarked that Frodo has developed wisdom. Chris qualified this by commenting that all the hobbits have wisdom but some have a greater degree of intelligence.

Laura remarked that Frodo acknowledges that he has changed, as has ‘home’.

Eileen wondered if Tolkien was reflecting his own feeling in Gandalf’s comment on leaving the future to those he had ‘trained’.

Laura noted a poetic moment in the description of ‘yellow leaves like birds flying in the air,’ and contrasted this to the apt description of a ‘ruffian evening’.

Eileen observed of the travellers’ return to the Prancing Pony, that there was an expectation that things would be the same while they were away, but everything has changed.

I noted that Nob does not look after Shadowfax when he takes care of the hobbits’ ponies, probably because he would be too big for this hobbit ostler.

It was unanimously agreed that when Aragorn went North as King he would have gone to the Prancing Pony again, but in disguise. I suggested he might have kept his old travelling cloak and boots and would have worn them.

Eileen remarked on Barliman’s careful differentiation of ‘three and two’ to distinguish Bree hobbits from Bree Men when referring to the casualties of the recent unrest in Bree.

Laura wondered why Barliman referes to a month of Mondays, not Sundays. I proposed that ‘Sunday’ was too infused with obvious Christian significance, but Monday (Moon day) was uncontroversial and apt in the location of the ‘Man in the Moon’ song.

Eileen noted that Rangers are mentioned again, in a conversation that leads to Barliman declaring that Breeland doesn’t want strangers moving in. Laura thought this made him look like a ‘nimby’ (not in my back yard), but in fact it depends on one’s point of view.

Eileen queried whether Deadmen’s Dyke had had this superstitious name before it is mentioned in ‘Homeward Bound’. We checked and found it had been named in this during ‘The Council of Elrond.’

Laura remarked that it had had various names throughout history according to changes in society.

I wondered if the dark things in the woods that Barliman mentions would have been orcs? Angela thought that whatever it was would not be so ‘substantial’ as orcs, while Eileen thought they represented projections of the fears of the folk of Bree. Laura proposed that they might have been Huorns that had gone north. Eileen added that perhaps Tolkien was indicating that humans/mortals were not the main presence in the woods. Angela compared the reference to ‘dark things’ in the Council of Elrond’.

Chris changed our direction when he suggested that there is a movement from World War 1 allusions in ‘Homecoming’, to World War 2 in ‘Scouring’, which describes the plight of an invaded land. Chris also wondered if Tolkien is arguing that pacifism doesn’t necessarily work if your land is the one invaded.

Laura noted that the Channel Islands when invaded resorted to passive resistance – but that didn’t work.

Eileen registered a personal response in her shock on discovering that Gandalf was leaving the hobbits.

Chris remarked that in hindsight we have seen various hints of the unravelling of the Fellowship.

I thought the Shire as described in ‘The Scouring’ seems like a totalitarian Stalinist state in its bleakness and the pressure on hobbits to spy on each other.

Chris, returning to the topic of pacifism, remarked that Frodo is victorious over Saruman by not striking him, so pacifism does work there. Chris added that unlike Gollum, Saruman doesn’t seem to have a good side.

Having only just begun ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ we had to end our meeting but agreed to continue discussing it at our next meeting, along with ‘The Grey Havens’.



Last Meeting in June


We were missing Julie and Eileen today and began the afternoon with a discussion of our next Wessexmoot. Further details to follow separately. We had agreed to read ‘The Steward and the King’ and ‘Many Partings’, but as Ian had been away last time, we were happy to revisit ‘The Field of Cormallen’ briefly. Carol’s comments are mostly appended to the main report.

Laura launched our afternoon’s deliberations with her observations on the Standing Silence. Laura noted that in England this had been instituted as a commemoration for the fallen of the Boer War so that Tolkien would have been familiar with it in this context as well as in relation to his personal experiences in World War One.

Laura also remarked that she had seen a newspaper article which complained that the all-too-frequent Standing Silences which have been part of the communal response to the recent terrorist attacks and the Tower fire are in danger of diluting their value as a sign of commemoration for the war dead.

Ian commented that they fulfil a specific need in our more secular society which has largely lost the wider act of worship, so in a secular society Silences are the commemoration and ceremony for a secular society. They don’t require belief, just quiet respect. They are also a popular response and less defined by a perception of hierarchy.

I thought they register the need for a community or society to come together in response to extreme moments of disruption, grief, and express solidarity.

Ian thought our Standing Silences were a sign of people registering their survival. While the Cenotaph silences are tied to religion, the current Silences are not. On the other hand, the Standing Silence in The Lord of the Rings references the cataclysm of Numenor.

Chris observed another dimension to the topic when he remarked that these days shops would lose trade if they opted out. Chris also noted that the end of ‘The Field’ is opposed by the tone of the opening of ‘The Steward and the King’, a structural tendency that has been noted previously.

Angela wondered if, in this chapter, the Warden knows he’ll be in trouble of anything unfortunate happens to Eowyn.

Laura was impressed by the way Faramir understands Eowyn, and thought the image of their mingling hair is wonderful. Laura also noted that Faramir gives Eowyn his mother’s mantle and it functions like a healing garment.

Angela remarked that this episode addresses the matter of 2 kinds of pity again as Faramir defines pity as the gift of a gentle heart.

Laura observed that when Sauron is destroyed there is another Numenorean reference, and Angela noted that this is a repetition of the cloud (that is Sauron) that rises over Numenor.

Laura commented that the tremor of the earth is liked a person released from a chain.

I suggested that the eagles Psalm shifts the tone of the chapter into the mythic register. Laura likened the eagle to an Angelic messenger. Angela remarked that it is a winged being understood as an eagle. Chris thought it was a practical measure for the people of Minas Tirith as there was no other rapid means of confirming the fall of Barad Dur.

Ian noted the ‘crying’ of the eagle, not speaking, or singing. I thought this was like the act of a herald.

Chris thought there is a critical omission from Psalm because there is no reference to the hobbits, only to the King. Ian proposed that the eagle is ‘spinning’ the news, but Angela suggested that the people of Minas Tirith don’t know anything about Frodo and Sam.

Changing the subject, Laura thought the change in Eowyn is not entirely convincing. Angela remarked that Aragorn healed her and Faramir.

Chris observed that Eowyn, like Frodo, comes to reject violence, and Laura commented that Eowyn’s cage has been opened. Ian noted that this image represented a particular kind of domesticity and it was this that she had rejected. Now she has dealt with something far beyond all expectations.

Chris and Angela noted that it has been argued that Tolkien thought women should remain in the domestic sphere.

Ian remarked that this was perhaps a sign of religious influence.

Laura proposed that it could be argued that Eowyn has been swept off her feet by a Gondorian. Ian qualified this by observing that this only happens after she has accomplished more than any Gondorian.

Chris compared the statement ‘Merry wept’ to ‘the weeping of women was stilled’ and thought the two statements were in conflict. Chris went on to note that a good deal is omitted from this chapter. Although Carol commented ‘none saw [Arwen’s] last meeting with Elrond…a parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world’, we know nothing in detail about the conversation between Elrond and Arwen, or about Gimli’s visit to the Glittering Caves. Angela also wondered what happened to Elrond’s sons.

Laura remarked that there was still the aftermath of the War to deal with.

Chris noted the extent to which Aragorn exercised diplomacy when dealing with Orthanc.

Carol queried: Does Celeborn not depart with Galadriel because he’s not a ring-bearer? Chris proposed that the 3 Rings have lost their power now the One has gone. Angela suggested that maybe he simply wasn’t ready to leave.

We ran out of time as usual, and quickly agreed that our next reading will be ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire’. We also agreed that when we finish the main text we will do the Appendices.

Carol’s comments: ‘Many Partings (mirrors ‘Many Meetings’)

I like the reconciliation between Eomer and Gimli over Galadriel. It’s small things like this that adaptations miss, things that put in a bit of the personal against such a vast background. was it here that Eomer first met Lothiriel and how will she feel about his devotion to Arwen?

I’m glad Aragorn formally give Druadan Forest to the Woses and forbids Men from entering without permission – as he does with the shire. It’s wrong to hound a race because they seem far less developed – aborigines, native Americans and many more.

Theoden and Eomer had had word of orcs coming at their back in the ride to Gondor but they had stuck to their purpose and thanks to the ents came home to green fields.

‘Above all I hate the caging of live things.’ I agree with Treebeard to a certain extent; I don’t like animals or birds to be caged but have no problem with prison for criminals. Would I have let Saruman go?

History has brought many sadnesses and none more felt than a parent separating from a beloved child, but I have 2 more sadnesses bracketed: the fading of the ents because they’ve lost the entwives; and the departure of the elves. Add a 3rd, the ending of the fellowships as Legolas and Gimli go to Fangorn. Another sadness, parting from Aragorn who tries to lighten the situation with a bit of humour about Pippin being a soldier of Gondor, only going on leave. I’d have been bawling!!


First meeting in June


Only 5 of us were able to get to the meeting today, as we missed Laura and Julie but Laura had emailed to say that she had seen a good article in the Times which argued that the new edition of Beren and Luthien could be read as Tolkien’s war poetry.

We also discussed the matter of Wessexmoot and discovered that our usual October dates will not work this year, nor will early November, so we proposed moving it to our November 25th meeting. Otherwise we can consider a date in August.

Carol’s comments are for the most part included below.

Our nominated reading for the meeting today was ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘The Steward and the King’, however, we spent so much time revisiting Mount Doom that we only managed to include ‘Cormallen’.

Once we began the meeting, Chris picked up Ian’s previous remarks concerning Judgement in the Mount Doom episode. Ian reprised these because Chris and Angela had been away last time. Ian explained that he had used the medieval text Ancrene Wisse as the inspiration for his references to the Mount Doom sequence as the Judgement on Sauron. Ian quoted a section from AW on hellfire ‘blazing up to the welkin [sky]’ and went on to argue that as Sauron creates the Ring, so the Ring ‘creates’ Gollum.

Chris argued that Gollum is being used and he fulfils the Quest.

Eileen commented that this all happens so quickly that it took her aback and she needed to reread it because it raises questions of moral and religious significance. She went on to note the extent to which Gollum’s obsession with the Ring grew.

Given the trend of Ian’s arguments over this and the previous meeting, I asked if he thought that all the characters who interact with the Ring can be read as manifestations of aspects of Sauron. Ian said ‘Yes, in their wanting to possess it.’

Ian then picked up the recent electioneering call ‘lend me your vote’, comparing this to Boromir’s request to Frodo: ‘lend me the Ring’. Ian noted that this actually made up Frodo’s mind about what to do next. Angela added that therefore Boromir set in motion the process of delivering the Ring to the Fire.

Chris observed that when Bilbo had wanted to see the Ring, Frodo got a glimpse of him as a ‘grasping thing’, and when Sam wears the Ring he is seen as a huge by the orcs – so the Ring changes the perception of things. Angela added that Frodo sees the ring on Galadriel’s finger, and Ian remarked that it is a similar effect – possession of the Ring changes the way things are seen.

Eileen commented that under its influence Boromir changed and became more Gollum-like in his obsession and greed.

Ian suggested that Frodo was dismayed at the change he perceived in Boromir, but Eileen argued that this was not dismay but terror. We spent some time discussing the gradation from ‘dismay’ to ‘terror’.

Ian added in the matter of the difference in size between the hobbit and the Man, and noted Frodo’s shift towards pity for Gollum although he too is a danger to Frodo. Angela remarked that this was because of Gollum’s dreadful state, and she noted that in The Histories of Middle-earth 2 forms of pity are defined as (1) contempt and (2) love.

We spent a long while revisiting Mount Doom and its issues but eventually moved on to the next chapter, and I asked if the great cloud seen by the Captains of the West is just the eruption, or the demise of Sauron, or maybe Tolkien’s acknowledgement of the myth-making process of pre-scientific societies which explained natural phenomena in terms of actions of gods or spirits.

Chris commented that Sauron is still around and is not entirely obliterated but the hand is the last manifestation of Sauron’s power in the Ring.

Eileen noted that this associates hand and Ring yet again.

Chris raised the vexed question of Gandalf’s statement that the Ringbearer has fulfilled the quest, and asked if this refers to Gollum? Responses were as inconclusive as may be expected1

I then asked about the reference to the ‘brooding things’ – is this actually the way orcs are generated – like ants, because they are often called ‘maggots’. Ian thought the description of ants was figurative only, and that the image is intended to generate disgust, as appropriate to orcs. Chris and Angela agreed, but noted that the Men of Rhun and Harad have minds of their own.

Chris directed our attention back to the first paragraph of the chapter to pick up what looks like a reference to Numenor, in ‘foundering in a gathering sea’, as well as Aragorn’s pensive gaze. Chris noted that Faramir also references the drowning of Numenor in the next chapter, and that these recollections link back to the theme of Judgement as it was Sauron’s wicked seduction of the Numenoreans that led to their cataclysmic punishment.

Angela, like Carol, thought Aragorn’s pensive gaze indicated that he was thinking of Arwen. Carol commented: “There’s a small glimpse into Aragorn’s very private mind. Amid certain death his thoughts go to Arwen, his only reason for fighting this war, to regain 2 kingdoms in order for his prize to be granted. Well, not his only reason, but only through winning the war will he also win Arwen.”

Angela and I both had reservations about the concept of tears as ‘the wine of blessedness.’ The only way I could rationalise it was via the medieval theory of the ‘well of tears’, or ‘gift of tears’. This was part of the concept of affective piety, but also related to the grief of true penance.  A number of medieval female mystics, including Margery Kemp, all desired the gift of tears as a blessing. This does not quite fit the context in the story, but I can’t account for the strange reference in any other way.

Angela compared it to the characterisation of Nienna and her endless tears.

Chris noted Frodo’s continuing aversion to swords now, and Carol commented: “Frodo’s reached a stage of pacific quietude, not wanting any symbols of war and death about him after all he’s been through”.

I admitted that once Frodo and Sam reach Cormallen I have always had problems relating to them and the rest of the chapter. Eileen and Ian both said they felt distanced, as if watching a tableau.

Ian elaborated by noting the frequent use of ‘they’, so that the reader is not involved and remarked that Tolkien is creating distance because the chapter is largely sacred and ceremonial. I observed that besides the use of ‘they’, many sentences used impersonal constructions such as ‘The weary rested and the hurt were healed’; ‘those returned who had passed into Mordor’.

Chris remarked that previous chapters had focussed on one group of characters, but in the Cormallen chapter attention jumps from one group to others as Tolkien draws many story threads together.

With that we were out of time, and agreed to discuss ‘The Steward and the King’ and ‘Many Partings’ at our next meeting.

Carol’s Comments

‘The Field of Cormallen’

Still Sam won’t give in.

‘what a tale we’ve been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?…I wish I could hear it told! Do you think they’ll say: now comes the story of nine-fingered Frodo and the ring of doom? And then everyone will hush, like we did, when in Rivendell they told us of the tale of Beren one-hand and the great jewel. I wish I could hear it! and I wonder how it will go on after our part!’ This just about sums up Sam, prattling about being in tales on the edge of doom. This is one of my favourite bits, that pregnant moment of absolute disaster before the rescue. I like it better than the actual rescue because it epitomises Sam’s heroism in the face of certain death.

The rescue I find very affectionately written and by this time I’m sure Tolkien was very fond of his 2 hobbit heroes.

The contrast between the Shire and Mordor is phenomenal. The Shire is green and fecund and peaceful. Mordor is dreich, grey and barren and cruel. For Tolkien green and white represent goodness and wholesomeness, whereas black with red represents harshness and cruelty. Black embroidered with mithril, though is representative of the legitimate royal line, goodness. And grey is a favoured colour of the elves. So black and grey aren’t necessarily ‘bad’ colours. And black is the colour of the night sky wherein the stars of Elbereth shine.

Sam gets his wish to hear their tale sung.



Last Meeting in May


Only four of us managed to get to the meeting today, partly on account of train cancellations, music festivals, and general Bank Holiday demands. However, Chris had sent some thoughts on the chapter(s) we had planned to discuss. Because Ian had been away for our last meeting we revisited some topics discussed then, so Carol’s comments on these were included last time.

Laura opened proceedings with a timely question about our annual Wessexmoot. Our dates in October when we could hold it are 14th and 29th, so we need to decide which one will work best for us all. In addition, we could consider if we wish to include talks and/or presentations as before. Please let me know if you have preferences for these matters when convenient. We can discuss everything over the next few meetings, but thanks to Laura for getting the ball rolling.

I began the discussions of our reading by putting one of Chris’s questions: If Gollum hadn’t fallen into the abyss, would he have jumped anyway rather than having the Ring wrested from him by the approaching Nazgul?

Laura responded by questioning whether Gollum would have had the wit to work out his options at that point. Laura added that the Ring was part of Sauron.

Eileen commented that Gollum wants it, and although the Ring is a character in itself, he would have followed it wherever it went.

Ian noted that Gollum kills to get the Ring but proposed that it’s only after it is taken from him that possession becomes obsession. In addition, Sam denies Smeagol forgiveness and that denial swings the balance of personality back to Gollum, but Gollum saves Frodo (as Master of the Ring) by taking Frodo’s finger on Mount Doom. This is significant because Doom anciently meant Judgment, therefore Gollum is finally judged there. Ian had done some research into medieval penitential and confessional texts and found extracts of relevance to his argument in the work of St Augustine.

I added that the Crack of Doom was understood in the Middle Ages and in Shakespeare’s time not as in geographical/geological terms but as the sound of the Last Trumpet that heralded Judgment Day. (The sound of a Trumpet was described as a ‘Crack’.)

Returning to the question of whether Gollum would have jumped, Ian observed that the alternative, in which the Nazgul arrived in the nick of time would have the effect of turning the story into a ‘soap opera’ as one story would roll on into another, generating another Dark Lord.

We considered the matter of the fiery hell and Laura remarked on the existence of hell as a place of punishment in many religions, including pre-Akhenaton Egypt. Laura also drew parallels between the Sammath Naur and the works of H. Rider Haggard, particularly She in which the sacred fire rejuvenates the Queen until things go wrong.

Ian picked this up when he observed that The Lord of the Rings is an investigation of why things have gone wrong in the world, and like any detective novel, someone has to be sent to find out. And Judgment comes from outside.

I proposed that this would lead to an essentialist resolution to the Quest, which has constantly asserted the existence if free will.

Laura remarked that in the story you could have as much free will as you like as long as it moves towards the ‘intended’ objective.

Eileen moderated this view when she commented that freedom of expression needs limits.

I then posed Chris’s further observation that Gollum (who Chris names ‘’the hero’) is not mentioned after Mount Doom, and Eileen picked up Frodo’s admission that he would not have completed the Quest without Gollum.

Ian proposed the radical view that the Gollum character is a manifestation of Sauron that takes over the Smeagol psyche. Judgment is therefore executed on Sauron, and Smeagol ‘sacrifices’ himself for Middle-earth. In effect, the pity shown to Gollum equates to pity for Sauron – something he could not cope with or understand.

On that provocative note, and in spite of the obvious enthusiasm for continuing debate, it was necessary to draw the afternoon to a close. We agreed that next time we would discuss ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘The Steward and the King’.

First in May


At our first meeting in May we were without Ian but were joined by Julie again, so 6 of us tackled the issues raised by ‘Mount Doom’. This led to a discussion heavily influenced by theological matters, with occasional references to World War One.

Laura began our discussion with a reference to the meeting of the 2 orc troops, and she wondered if such a simultaneous arrival at a crossroads has been witnessed by Tolkien during World War One. We all agreed that we didn’t think it would have ended in an orc-like brawl.

Laura also commented on the terrible level of Frodo and Sam’s fatigue.

Eileen thought their ability to keep up with the orc group showed extraordinary extra strength, counter-balancing their temptation to give up.

Laura compared this temptation to that of Christ in the desert, when he tempted by Satan, and we noted the Christian subtexts of much of this chapter.

This led Eileen to remark on the loss of religious language and its significance that had happened in the 1960s when liturgical Latin was replaced with vernacular translations. Julie then proposed that it was perhaps no coincidence that Tolkien’s work became so popular in that decade as the language of religion became ‘dumbed-down’ and lost the implicit mystery.

Carol commented: Sam’s carrying Frodo on his back ‘like a hobbit-child pig-a-back’ epitomises Sam’s destiny as a father and carer, what he was meant to become. And though I don’t espouse there’s overt Christianity in The Lord of the Rings or that Frodo’s Christ-like, if that’s the case then Sam’s Simon of Cyrene.

Chris moved us on to the War theme when he remarked that the second paragraph of the chapter could be a description of any WW1 battlefield with shell holes and other signs of destruction.

Laura thought there was a sense of waiting at this early point in the chapter, as if for the ‘big push’. She also noted that surprisingly Sauron does not sense that the Ring is in fact behind him.

Angela commented that this is because he is focussed on Aragorn.

Laura remarked that Sauron has put so much of himself into the Ring that he now doesn’t have complete power or vision.

Angela expanded her previous comment by observing that because Aragorn’s ancestor took the Ring, revenge is the focus now.

Chris noted that Sam continues to be very practical. Laura wondered if there was something else – perhaps his particular turn of mind was helping him.

Carol commented: “despite Sam realising ‘there could be no return’ – at last – he doesn’t just give up and stay where they are. and his thought goes back to words he spoke eons ago in the shire after their encounter with Gildor – he had a job to do and this is it, to help Frodo fulfil the quest and then die with him – if Ian still thinks this isn’t love then he’s crackers!!”

Eileen remarked that it might also be his father and family because they have provided his psychological ‘compass’ all the way through – particularly the Gaffer.

Laura added that it was horrible, by comparison, that Frodo can’t remember anything of his own past any longer.

Chris then questioned whether, for all his achievements, Sam was not too subservient at times? Laura and Angela both commented that this was a reflection of Edwardian style.

Chris went on to note that Sam, like Gollum, goes through ‘schizophrenic’ debate, as though talking to an alter ego. Carol commented on Sam’s debate with himself, arguing that “again it isn’t if you die but how you die. Sam is phenomena”l.

Angela added that Boromir also debates with himself.

Eileen observed that Gollum turns into a whimpering thing again, and Laura wondered if that was how he wheedled round his Grandmother.

Carol commented: “The journey is agonizing!”

Laura went on to remark that there are now lots of references to lembas and that their efficacy grows as they are eaten on their own. Julie observed that this seems to echo medieval accounts of saints who lived on the Eucharist, and in the story of Elijah an angel brings ‘waybread’ to strengthen him.

Staying with sustenance, Laura noted that the cistern along the road where Sam finds water echo the provision of water similarly along Roman roads.

I noted that as their situation deteriorates, Sam is said to know that ‘the word now lay with him’. Although this has a religious resonance, it also means that Sam alone now has the power to make things happen – his language has become ‘performative’.

Laura observed that meanwhile, outside the Black Gate the Captains of the West are in danger.

Carol commented:  “as if they don’t have enough to cope with, up pops Gollum again. At last Sam knows mercy, like Bilbo and Frodo before him. Good job he does too.

Chris remarked, however, that Frodo now changes in Sam’s perception in relation to Gollum, who is no longer pitied by Frodo, but at the level of the entire story, Gollum has to be with Frodo in order to destroy the Ring because, we are told, ‘all other powers were subdued’ in the Sammath Naur. So Gollum had to be part of the grand plan. Chris also argued that because Frodo’s dismembered finger is still in the Ring when it is destroyed – Frodo is still master of the Ring at that moment.

Carol commented: “some have called this Frodo’s moral failure, his refusal to relinquish the ring, but I’d like to see some of those critics go through what Frodo’s been through and even to get to the mountain, let alone part with the Ring”.

Chris went on to note that Gollum is not mentioned again after Mount Doom; and Julie commented that Judas is not mentioned again after the Crucifixion, and the debate continues as to whether his action was necessary.

Eileen remarked on the fact that Sam is always evesdropping, and this proves useful.

Carol commented on “Sauron’s tragic realisation”, but Laura ended our discussion on a humorous note when she remarked that the sudden change of direction by the Eye made her think of orcs cranking it round. More seriously, she commented that Sauron was a bad manager because as soon as his arrogance is shaken by his error all his captains and commanders cease to function.

It proved tricky to bring the meeting to a close because everyone was so engaged in discussing various matters, but we did agree that we would read ‘The Field of Cormallen’ and ‘the Steward and the King’ for next time.


First Meeting in April


On a lovely April Saturday with bright sunshine and a breeze from the sea we met to trudge the dark and dangerous paths of Mordor with Frodo and Sam. Julie couldn’t be with us but 6 of us took up the challenge, and Carol’s email comments can be found partly in the main report but also at the end. We were discussing ‘The Tower of Cirith Ungol’ and ‘The Land of Shadow’.

Ian picked up my previous flight of fancy when I proposed that the shape of Mordor suggests roughly the form and geology of a supervolcano. Ian noted the precipitous drop from the Ephel Duath to the plain of Gorgoroth and thought it equated to the sheer sides of the inner part of a caldera. He then tentatively proposed that something lay beneath it – several voices, supported Ian’s declaration of a dragon! Laura joined him in specifying Ancalagon the Black.

A general discussion ensued prompted by Laura’s query over the hierarchy between a dragon and a Balrog. It was noted that Balrogs are former Maia.

Chris took us in a different direction when he remarked that there is too much ‘luck’ in the first 2 chapters of Book 6, and, to cries of heresy!, wondered if this indicated that Tolkien was running out of ideas. Ian noted that lots of turns of events are just about plausible and Eileen commented on the repeating patterns of incident and behaviour.

Laura remarked that the struggle is now greater because Frodo and Sam are starving and dehydrated.

Ian observed that the effect of the Ring on Sam causes effects on other beings and in the Tower this is directly referred to the effect on orcs, but in ‘The Land of Shadow’ this effect is not so obvious because the troop of orcs don’t notice its presence.

Eileen commented on what she perceived to be a tension in Frodo between desire to get rid of the Ring and his acceptance of his duty.

Ian remarked that the orc-tracker is referred to as a ‘rebel’ by the fighting orc, and wondered if ‘rebel’ was just the best ‘translation’ of the concept actually expressed?

Laura then noted that they refer to Gollum as the ‘black sneak’. [We have noted Tolkien’s description of Gollum as black on other occasions.]

Carol commented “I like this, the 2 orcs entering the scene, and having their grudging dialogue: ‘they’ve done in number one…’” So things aren’t going all Sauron’s way, goodee!!

Ian considered another aspect of orc vocabulary by noting that ‘peaching’ is a dialect word associated with Cornwall. I also noted the use of the word but had found it in circumstances suggesting it meant ‘to betray’.

Laura went on to remark that the description of the Nazgul perched on the wall of the Tower gave the impression that it was the Rider itself that perched there, but in fact this way of naming conflates the Rider and its ‘fell beast’ into a kind of centaur-like single entity.

I wondered why the Nazgul was in the vicinity anyway. Angela observed that the tracker and fighter orcs know a Nazgul has taken charge of the Tower, and Laura noted that it had been alerted by the scream of the Watchers. Chris confirmed that it was already ‘far above’ at the end of the previous chapter.

Laura remarked that it is a lovely moment when Sam sees the star – a spiritual moment showing Sam’s sensitivity.

I noted that it comes after the earlier moment that Carol also picked up in her comment that Sam drew out the elven-glass of Galadriel again. We both mentioned the narrative comment: “ ‘As if to do honour to his hardihood, and to grace with splendour his faithful brown hobbit –hand that had done such deeds, the phial blazed forth suddenly…’.Carol remarked: what a compliment to a ‘mere’ gardener, and rightly bestowed.” I suggested that perhaps it doesn’t then matter what star Sam sees at this point, after this moment of ‘grace’ conferred by the star-glass his sensitivity is manifested and he changes, becoming the motivating force that keeps the wheels of the Quest rolling.

Ian picked up my wheel reference and remarked that Frodo is now dominated by the ‘wheel of fire’, as if it is the Ring itself. Sam is more concerned for Frodo and has no ‘burning desire’ to have to do with the Ring such as Frodo and the Dark Lord have. Ian went on to compare this against the pastoral mode of contemplation of natural beauty, which is Sam’s contemplation.

Laura referred us to the ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ painting. There are 2 versions. The first by Guernico, the second by Nicholas Poussin. Laura’s point was that death is depicted as being part of the pastoral world of the classical shepherds.

Ian went back to the star and noted that the star Sam sees creates a contrast as he and Frodo head into the darkness. Chris remarked that the star is the first beautiful thing Sam has seen for some time.

Carol commented on Sam’s wish for water and light ‘begging your pardon’, then one of Sam’s wishes comes true – light. Touching base, 15.3.1419, a wind from the west with a sea-tang. Later, ‘unbelievable, but unmistakable, water trickling.’ Sam’s other wish comes true: just dribs and drabs keep them going.

Laura turned our attention to the rhetorical device of alliteration in the beauty of the ‘wind of the west’. I managed to confuse the wind in Mordor with the wind in Gondor, which comes from a different direction, and everyone noted the difference between the south and the west winds. Ian pointed out that in Gondor the south wind changes circumstances directly while in Mordor the west wind doesn’t change things in any direct way.

Eileen thought this raised questions about why things happen, and also – in Mordor – what’s alive and what’s not.

Laura returning to the winds, noted the cultural significance of the wind citing the fate of the Armada which was largely defeated by violent winds.

Chris went on to observe that Frodo now gives Sting to Sam, saying that he does not think he will use it again, and Chris wondered if this amounted to a premonition?

Ian commented that Frodo’s passivity now is the antithesis of what Sauron expects of someone he might identify as a ‘Ringlord’, and compared this to the actions of the Captains of the West who confront Sauron with a tiny force, prompting him to suppose that one of them must have the Ring in order to confront him, thus deflecting attention from Frodo.

Laura, however, proposed that Frodo was by now so exhausted that he would never have the strength to lift the sword.

Laura then commented that the encampments in Mordor are nasty, but compared these to the similarly orderly camps constructed by the Romans. Ian thought the Mordor camps were based on Tolkien’s experience of the grim World War 1 camps on Cannock Chase, and went on to suggest that while the Roman camps expressed order, the Mordor camps are not represented in the same way because the Land of Shadow is very inward-looking.

In the context of the description of the Mordor encampments, Laura remarked that the tracker-orc says it wants to go home.

I thought the difference between the encampments turned on the interpretation of order – we are used to approving the orderliness of Roman camps and settlements. Eileen declared there could be a benefit in disorder. Laura thought order was necessary but disorder could be good.

Angela observed that Sauron would have needed someone to order everything, and Laura suggested a need for quartermasters in Mordor!

With that we had run out of time and needed to take account of most of our company being away at the Tolkien Society AGM on the date of our next meeting, so those few of us who would be left decided not to meet in 22nd April. In addition April has 5 Saturdays, so we will not meet again until the second Saturday in May.


Carol’s comments

Carol commented on Sam’s “words of his own came unbidden…’ ‘In Western Lands…’ this is now the measure of Sam that he can sing real poetry off the top of his head – he’s come a long way from the troll song. It’s a song of all that’s good and light, turning into defiance: ‘I will not say the day is done,/nor bid the stars farewell’. There’s life beyond this hideous land that’s worth fighting for and Sam’s not going to be beaten down. This is like the legend of Blondel and Richard I when Richard has been taken captive on his way across Europe from the Holy Land

The description of Mordor is apocalyptic and if he wins, Sauron will make the whole of Middle-earth like this, destroying any beauty. How dreadful to have just those kinds of thoughts in your head.

Aragorn grants the land around Lake Nurnen to Sauron’s former slaves when the quest is achieved but I wouldn’t want to stay there after cruel captivity, would you?