First meeting in March


Sadly, for various reasons, only four of us gathered for our meeting yesterday, but happily Julie managed to get in after being prevented from travelling to recent meetings by problems with the railways. Nevertheless, we began Book 6 and still did not get right through ‘The Tower of Cirith Ungol’. Carol’s comments are included in this report.

Ian followed his recent tangential interest in masonry with the observation that Tolkien puts more thought into the structure of the Tower itself, as opposed to other fortresses, by defining the extent to which it was not originally menacing. Only its present context makes it so. Ian led up to this by considering the structure of some Yorkshire dams, the older of which have towers which bear some resemblance to fortress towers.

Carol commented on the change of pace at the start of the chapter, remarking that it’s nice to get a concurrency update between strands. You can get a bit lost otherwise.

Eileen noted that under the influence of the Ring Sam changes to a different mindset, and Carol commented that “the ring gives thoughts in accordance with the stature of its current wearer. If Sauron is defeated, Sam’s dreams for Mordor are gardens, when really anyone should ask for is ‘one small garden of a free gardener…all his need and due’, to garden by himself and not by servants or slaves. Would that was really like that, and Sam still has the sense to know it’s only a trick”.

Ian remarked on Sam’s “basic hobbit-sense” which amounts to a firm set of values, which guide Sam and create a link between him and Frodo.

Eileen on the other hand observed that his love for Frodo overrides everything, although Sam goes through many emotions. Carol supported this with her comment on the sentence: ‘his love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts’, that this isn’t fanciful. Deep love can be the spur to doing greater deeds than might be thought.

Ian noted that sometimes the action of the Ring conjures situations, e.g. when Sam seem to himself ‘enlarged’. The Ring ‘promises’ him, and it becomes active if he thinks about using it. Ian added that Sam expresses no motivation to destroy the Ring.

Eileen thought Sam experienced despair when contemplating entering Mordor, and he was constantly struggling against his own emotions, which are overwhelmed by care for Frodo.

Ian then picked up the significant words ‘veritably’ and ‘irrevocable’ when Sam is contemplating that first step. Ian went on to observe that all the desperation may not be Sam’s – he’s only concerned with Frodo, but the dark forces of Mordor can’t see him coming because of the gloom.

As we discussed Sam’s constant ability to overcome his sequential despair, Julie reminded us that this ability is very much in keeping with the sentiment expressed in the incitement to battle in The Battle of Maldon when the old warrior declares:

Hige sceal þē heardra,    heorte þē cēnre,
mōd sceal þē māre,    þē ūre mægen lytlað.

[The mind shall be the stronger, heart the keener,
Courage the greater, as our might lessens.]

Ian proposed that Sam was just getting on with his duty, and with his journey. Ian also noted that when Sam encounters the Snaga, the orc only sees the presence of malice.

Eileen observed that Sam undergoes a Christ-like trial in order to reach Frodo.

I noted that Sam’s perception of being ‘enlarged’ is echoed but reversed in its effect in the Tower when torchlight makes his shadow appear huge.

Carol commented that in the Tower ‘once again orc v orc comes to Sam’s and Frodo’s rescue’. I remarked that in the Tower the creepiest moment is when one of the apparently dead orcs begins to move, like a Zombie-orc, although this would be a tautology!

Ian thought this would amount to promotion! He went on to comment that in the Tower the orc hierarchy is more believable than the ‘caricatures’ in Rohan. In the Tower there is what amounts to a truly ‘human’ drama in the desire for the shirt, and that either duty or loyalty are displayed as subordinate orcs slaughter each other in support of their respective leaders, because the Dark Lord prizes mithril. Carol commented that Tolkien really knows how to hit the spot in horribleness. Orcs are disgusting creatures. Shagrat escaping brings hobbit things to be shown to the embassy of the Captains of the West, causing dismay.


Eileen remarked on the evil of the Tower. I suggested its evil orientation depended on the context in which it was used – by whom in relation to the Western allies.

This was as far as our discussions went but Ian rounded off our afternoon by remarking on the Amon Hen piece concerning Denethor’s madness. Ian went on to explain the idea that Denethor actually saw Frodo in the Tower when he looked in the palantir. Ian posed the questions – was Denethor directed to look at Cirith Ungol, and was it the power of the Ring? Ian thought not. But was it Sauron directing Denethor’s gaze? Ian reasoned that Sauron would have acted in that direction, and went on to propose that as Cirith Ungol was originally Gondorian, Denethor would know about it. Users of palantirs look in the direction they want. Denethor looks towards Cirith Ungol as a pointer in order to look into Mordor and incidentally see Frodo imprisoned, thus concluding that the Ring has been taken.

AS we had not finished our discussions we were about to consider our reading for next time, but as it is Reading Day on that day we considered whether we should have a special topic, or the TS official topic, or just continue with the chapters in hand. It was agreed that we would consult on this. In any case we still have not quite finished ‘The Tower of Cirith Ungol’.



Last meeting in February


Today was one of our lesser moots – we did not plan research presentations this time – but some discussion of latest research projects did emerge into our more general conversations. It is exciting to see how many are in development.

Of course the reason for our moot was the visit of the Southfarthing’s distant members and it was delightful to have Carol and Rosemary with us in person to add their comments and ideas to the usual debate and discussion. Their visit provided the ideal opportunity to adjourn after the meeting to local venues for refreshment and food, when we remembered absent friends and toasted ‘The Professor’.

The afternoon meeting itself covered a good deal of ground even though we were only discussing ‘The Black Gate Opens’ in order to finally finish Book 5.

Eileen initiated our discussions when she remarked that she felt the theme of understanding had become prominent, perhaps from a Christian perspective, but not necessarily, because it could relate as well to psychology.

Carol directed our attention to Cair Andros, observing that Aragorn’s treatment of his men was not as draconian as the British officers in World War 1.

Rosemary commented that Tolkien was an extraordinary stylist, and pointed out that in ‘The Houses of Healing’ Tolkien uses words alliterating on ‘l’ as well as assonance and inverted word order. I remarked that these stylistic features, along with the sense of characteristic rhythm showed how deeply Tolkien was immersed Old English, and Laura observed that it therefore repays reading aloud.

Carol went on to note that Tolkien mirrors chapter titles throughout The Lord of the Rings, so that ‘The Black Gate Opens’ mirrors ‘The Black Gate is Closed’. She went on to observe that the Mouth of Sauron is kept talking for some time, and Eileen thought this was a definite strategy.

Laura remarked that it is a terrible blow when Frodo’s garments are produced, and Ian drew attention to the uncertain temporal sequence – we don’t know how long Mordor has had the garments. Laura commented on Tolkien’s technique of ‘galloping ahead’ with the story and then hauling it back.

Carol observed that the story moves at different paces: from Frodo’s plodding to the battle action.

Laura noted the motif of characters and space being divided by doors, including Frodo and Sam being separated and now an evil door opening.

Chris and Angela brought us back west of Anduin when they noted that even Merry may come to a last stand.

Laura questioned the idea on that side of the River that deeds would be remembered in song, and Angela remarked that there would be no songs after Sauron’s victory.

I asked if the fear the Nazgul are said to provoke as they overfly the western army could be regarded as a metaphor for the fear of impending battle that might be experienced by any soldier. Rosemary thought they represent the fear of death.

Laura proposed that they are an inversion of the idea of the Valkyrie as the Nazgul will carry warriors off to horror and torment, as the Witch King has already told Eowyn, not to feasting and drinking. Carol noted that the Mouth of Sauron says the same about Frodo.

Chris observed that when the Rohirrim go into battle they sing, and they rally after the death of Theoden, knowing the Witch King has been killed so Mordor is not invincible, and Eileen commented that in front of the Black Gate the Nazgul are nevertheless a reminder of vulnerability.

Chris returned us to Cair Andros when he remarked that the men are confronted with reason for their fears, because Mordor had been represented to them since childhood as the worst possible place. Angela noted that Denethor’s wife had suffered from being in proximity to Mordor, even across the river.

Eileen remarked on the way the Captains of the West planned their strategy and demonstrated the ability to work together, and she found it interesting even to a non-military mind to see this planning. Rosemary commented on the precise calculation of the size of the army, which was small, and Tolkien would have known the significance of this. Laura compared this to the probable great disagreement among senior officers during World War 1.

Carol observed that peoples who had been separated so long now see the sense of working together. She went on to note that Pippin at the end of the chapter recalls Bilbo and that he is part of the same story, but Sam has already recognised being in the same story as Beren and Luthien.

Rosemary noted that Pippin is the youngest hobbit and Angela commented that Pip doesn’t always concentrate, but Carol pointed out that he’s the one who leaves the brooch in Rohan, and faces and remains loyal, to Denethor. Angela objected that he didn’t realise the truth about Aragorn. Eileen observed that Pippin broke the news that Denethor was mad, and Carol noted his bond with Boromir.

Rosemary and Angela both remarked on the fact that Bergil looks after Merry.

Eileen commented that she would like to know more about Ioreth.

Chris observed that when the army reach Minas Morgul it serves as a reminder of Frodo and Sam, and that Imrahil makes an error of perception, but Angela suggested that he didn’t know about Frodo and Sam going that way. Ian commented that the stair must be secret or orcs would go through the vale, but there must be a link through the vale to Cirith Ungol.

Laura noted the horror of the walkers in darkness during the army’s night camp, and Chris suggested that the presence of smoking fumeroles would look like things moving. With a rush of blood to the head (!) I wondered if the vulcanism and the shape of Mordor as a whole meant that we are looking at a super-volcano when we look at the entire Black Land.

Ian brought us back to good sense when he introduced us to the latest research he is working on.

With that we adjourned to find suitable refreshment agreeing to read the first 2 chapters of Book 6 for our next meeting.

First in February


A bitterly cold afternoon was enlivened today by some intense observations and discussions, and I can’t claim to have kept up with the vigorous exchange of opinion in all cases, but I hope the report that follows will give a good indication of how opinions differed, flowed, and enlightened. Carol’s comments are included in the main report, as far as we went. Our intended matter for discussion had been ‘The Last Debate’ and ‘The Black Gate Opens’ – we still have not finished this last chapter, but as we shall hopefully have Carol and Rosemary with us at our next meeting we will all be together to finish Book 5.

Ian began proceedings today with observations concerning Gimli’s remarks on the state of the masonry in Minas Tirith – he added a good deal of detail but has asked for this to be omitted from this report because it is intended to form the basis of a research paper.

However, Laura picked up Gimli’s remarks and commented that the deterioration of the stonework of Minas Tirith is symbolic of the deterioration of Gondor as a whole.

Chris then questioned whether Tolkien was thinking of a sequel to The Lord of the Rings when he wrote of ‘other evils there are that may come’ even if Sauron is destroyed?

Ian thought that in Gandalf’s speech Sauron has a personality that has previously been absent when he has been referred to as the Dark Lord. Here Gandalf refers to him as Sauron. Ian also proposed that when Gandalf refers to Sauron’s ‘plight’, the rhetoric of the speech encourages us to feel sympathy for this enemy.

Angela supported this idea when she observed that when Aragorn confronts Sauron in the palantir he remarks that the Dark Lord is not so mighty as to be free of fear, so Aragorn himself reveals Sauron’s weakness.

I wondered if Gandalf’s remarks reveal one Maia considering the ‘plight’ of another Maia, who is not – to Gandalf – simply a disembodied or remote evil force.

Chris noted the repetition of the thematic motif of Pity and Redemption underlying Gandalf’s rhetoric.

Ian went on to assess the relative strategies of Mordor and the Captains of the West when he remarked that Sauron is expecting a show of force that will inevitably reveal who has taken possession of the Ring. Ian continued that the Captains don’t have the strength to challenge him but Sauron doesn’t know that.

Carol commented “This last debate is one of desperate counsel and such heroism as deserves more than a song. I’m sure they all think they’re going to certain death whichever way it turns out. In such a war what would you do?”

As we moved towards ‘The Black Gate’, Laura echoed a comment by Angela at our last meeting when she noted that east of Anduin, Aragorn considers the plight of the traumatised soldiers, comparing Sauron’s attitude to his forces, which are treated as ‘cannon-fodder’. This is another example of Aragorn’s ‘humanity’ such as that noted by Angela last time when she drew attention to Aragorn sending the Dunedain individually to each ship they had taken to comfort the captives.

Carol also commented of the journey through Ithilien “with the Nazgul’s constant attendance as a force of doom and gloom, I can just relate to a smidgeon once having been in the presence of malice against me for a short time. It’s awful. Here we have men trudging to certain death, ‘a hopeless journey’, through the end of the living lands and mutilated lands, and the Nazgul to boot. No wonder some of the men quailed – ‘some of the host were unmanned…’ what follows for me is the defining of Aragorn – ‘there was pity in his eyes rather than wrath’. So instead of having them executed for cowardice, as many suffering fron shell shock were in WW1, he gives them a job they can do, to guard Cair Andros, ‘ a manful deed’, within their capabilities.

Others ‘overcame their fear and went on’ to fight for this Man who showed such tolerance and mercy. When tolkien describes the ordinary men in the army of the West, he’s describing the lads on the western front. Brilliant moment for Aragorn.

I think some actions slightly tip the balance in favour of the west with the Valar who won’t interfere heavily, kindness, mercy, and this act of Aragorn’s will certainly go towards the west’s merit.”

Ian added another dimension when he commented that in the narrative there is no view of Sauron agonising over decisions.

Chris then observed that the Mouth of Sauron presents an echo of Saruman as the power of his speech creates doubt in the minds of onlookers, but the spells are broken in both cases.

Laura reminded us of the designation of Satan as ‘Father of Lies’ and I suggested that Sauron might be regarded as a master of duplicitous communication, and included in this his effect on Denethor. Ian objected that Gandalf asserts that the seeing stones do not lie and Sauron can’t make them do so, although he can show what suits his purpose.

I went back to the end of the Debate chapter to question the paragraph in which Aragorn unsheathes Anduril and says it will not be resheathed until ‘the last battle has been fought’, and I asked if this was just a storytelling flourish, and subversive of the high tone of most of the chapter? Ian thought its comedic bathos deflates any appearance of pompousness. Chris pointed out that Aragorn addresses the sword itself. Angela observed that this echoes Turin’s relationship with the Black Sword that has its own voice. Laura remarked that that it has the effect of being a great oath taken ON the sword.

Ian added that it seems like a rhetorical counterpoint to Imrahil’s sudden laugh at the folly of the Captains’ enterprise, but is also a ‘Jerusalem’ moment – “nor shall my sword sleep in my hand!”

Chris thought Imrahil’s wry comment about a child with a bow of green willow confronting an armed knight had the feel of David and Goliath about its inequality, a suitable image of the inequality between the forces of Gondor and the hosts of Mordor.

Chris also noted that the Black Gate chapter continues the motif of the young hobbits being separated.

Laura thought the title worthy of consideration because as a whole it is chilling although ‘gate’ is such an ordinary word, even though it derives from Old Norse.

Chris noted that when the Mouth of Sauron emerges it is only a door in the Gate that opens. We decided that it must be a large door even so, to allow a mounted man through with a retinue.

Chris also proposed that maybe the Mouth of Sauron would have been the character around whom Tolkien might have planned a sequel because he is already ‘more cruel than an orc’, and that when Sauron’s ‘essence’ dissipated – in the way Saruman’s dispersed – it might have entered into the Mouth of Sauron in a version of metempsychosis.

Laura added that it would still be the Age of Men because the Mouth of Sauron is a Numenorean.

We did not appoint any reading for our next meeting because Rosemary and Carol will be with us and we will have plenty of material to discuss from the end of Book 5.

This means that we will officially begin Book 6 in March.

Last in January


On the finest mildest afternoon for some time, we began our meeting with news of Carol’s and Rosemary’s forthcoming visit and decided to make it just an informal afternoon with a focus on what we have all been reading in The Lord of the Rings, followed by a cup of tea, or something stronger, and maybe an early meal together. The exact arrangements will be discussed further. We missed Julie, whose gardening was nevertheless in keeping with not only Sam’s profession, but also Legolas’s observation that there were not enough green, growing things in Minas Tirith!

Carol’s comments are included in the main text, and Julie hopes to comment on the blogsite itself.

Ian began our afternoon by reading an extract from an essay in the old Anthology of Beowulf Criticism that has proved so productive for his research interests. The essay set out all the objections that were once levelled at Beowulf. They were point by point exactly the same as those used to denigrate The Lord of the Rings in the early years after its publication.

Moving on to the chapters we have been dealing with in more appreciative detail, Laura noted the evocative description of Eowyn trapped at home. Carol also noted this but added: “both Faramir and Eowyn are struggling with past despair, Gandalf explains perfectly Eowyn’s feelings at being tapped in Meduseld while the men were free to come and go.

Eileen observed that this was insightful at the time on Tolkien’s part, but Angela qualified it by noting that Tolkien put the ‘trapped’ comments in Gandalf’s mouth, and Laura added that it might be a mistake to see those comments as actually Tolkien’s own feelings.

Ian took a more analytic line, commenting on the abundant criticism that Tolkien doesn’t write strong female characters, and saying that in fact Tolkien doesn’t attribute all the female feelings he does write about, and they are many, to a single female character. It’s not all about one character. Furthermore, he is not writing a fairy tale in which leading characters do not finally get harmed. Eowyn gets seriously harmed.

We moved more precisely into The Houses of Healing and Ian noted that there are comedic moments as if Tolkien was drawing on the Shakespearean structure in his contrasting of high-status characters and servants. Carol commented that: “the warden is a verbose fellow, able to give the names of herbs in several languages but too book-learned to be wise”.

Angela noted that it is Ioreth who remembers the ‘healing hands’ story and thus announces the King. Eileen approved of her knowledge of folk lore, and Laura remarked that this is the legend given life. Angela observed that the people think the King is a dream.

Rather more politically, Chris observed that the Houses of Healing are a ‘private ward’ for the elite, and wondered where the ordinary wounded were cared for? Laura proposed that there were MASH tents.

Carol commented: “Although I don’t hold that The Lord of the Rings is a Christian story, as Tolkien later declared, the scene of Aragorn the healer standing by the lantern reminds me of Holman Hunt’s’The Light of the World’ and later when people beg him to heal friends and kin reminds me of people clamouring round Jesus asking the same. I thought it was remarkable that Tolkien makes a seamless blend of the biblical imagery with the ancient myth of the King as healer not only of people but of his lands.

Eileen added that this is a holistic approach.

Carol commented: “Aragorn put others before himself, not only his friends, but whoever needs his help”, and asked: “If Gandalf is a Maia why can’t he heal like a Man and two elves”? She also noted “a bit of humour over Merry’s pipe-weed. ‘If you think I have passed through mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword…’ – Aragorn is teasing a bit. Nice!

We moved on to ‘The Last Debate’ and Ian noted that there is no indication that Merry, Eowyn and Faramir will be sent out to fight again. I mentioned that Aragorn comforts Merry, but adds that he and the others left behind may make up the last stand of Minas Tirith, if the Captains of the West fail against Mordor.

Chris noted the gloomy assessment by Gimli that everything fails in the end, and Legolas’s prophetic assessment of the ‘seeds’ of Men.

Eileen commented that their initial conversation balances Gimli’s practicality against Legolas waxing lyrical as they begin to blend. Carol noted this blending when she commented on Gimli’s remark: “if all the fair folk take to the havens, it will be a duller world for those who are doomed to stay”, adding “here! here!”

Chris, however, thought that their conversation brings out the plight of Gondor.

Laura noted Legolas’s reaction to the gulls and wondered how many Tolkien would have heard as Oxford, like Leeds, is so far inland. Ian thought it derived from Tolkien’s recollection of seaside holidays. Eileen commented on their haunting sound.

I had become increasingly aware of the way Tolkien structures this part of the text, which is close to the rhetorical technique known as hysteron proteron – a strange device in which an episode is narrated, then described in full. Tolkien’s version is quite subtle as it sets out the linear narration of the Paths of the Dead, the passage of southern Gondor, and the taking of the ships, but then revisits all these in Gimli and Legolas more emotionally charged account of exactly the same journey.

Eileen noted that this develops our sympathy for the characters involved, including Gimli, and Laura added, in response to Gimli’s shame, that dwarves underground are not the same as a dwarf experiencing the Paths of the Dead.

Carol noted that the story of the defeat of the corsair ships with the help of the oathbreakers is well told, but Eileen went on to remark that she found the scale of the battles hard going and I explained that in medieval romances the extravagant scale of opposition was taken as a measure the heroism of those who withstood it. Ian referred again to his Beowulf Criticism book noting an essay there that compares the method of the Beowulf poet – who focuses on certain elements – with that of the poet of the Chanson de Roland, who describes his hero’s exploits in terms of their scale. Ian went on to compare the example of Aragorn who leads a small band of living warriors, but commands a vast army of the Dead – which makes him even more heroic!

With that complex set of comparisons, we ran out of time and agreed to continue finishing Book 5.

First in January (2017)


We were almost all together for our first meeting of 2017. Even Julie happily managed to avoid wintry weather and the the endlessly strike-bound trains to join our discussion. This revisited ‘The Pyre of Denethor’ before starting ‘The Houses of Healing’. Carol’s comments are included in the report.

Ian picked up where we left off before Christmas with his observation that Gandalf enacts a virtual coup when he decides to whom the governance of Minas Tirith should temporarily devolve. He oversees the defining events on the battlefield and updates his allies on major developments they have not witnessed.

Eileen remarked that Denethor blames Gandalf for the loss of Faramir – effectively blaming everyone but himself.

Angela noted that Denethor resents Faramir not bringing the Ring to him.

Chris observed that Tolkien himself favoured one son over the others and wondered if this was underlying the motif of the favouring of sons, and foster sons in the form of Aragorn/Throrongil. Angela added that perhaps Faramir reminds Denethor too much of the young Aragorn.

Chris then noted that Boromir is not a strategist, but Angela added that he is caring towards those who are weaker, specifically the younger hobbits.

Chris went on to comment that both Faramir and Frodo had intellectual upbringings under the influence of father-figures, but not their fathers.

Ian observed that the chapter includes various ‘returning king’ motifs, including the approach of the Lord of the Nazgul, who still wears his crown on his disembodied head. Although Gandalf prevents his entry in to Minas Tirith, Denethor sees a king at the gates – not the actual king – but still a king. Then Denethor looks in the palantir.

Eileen noted a different aspect to Denethor’s behaviour and personality when she remarked that he sits by Faramir but cannot tell him he loves him.

Laura, on the other hand, commented that Denethor acts like one of the kings of old who could decide when to die.

Ian remarked that Denethor has a problem with letting go. When Faramir doesn’t bring back the Ring, all he has is the Stewardship, but then he abdicates responsibility. However, Ian expressed sympathy for Prince Imrahil and observed that Tolkien only looks at personal dimensions and the events that affect them, not at the politics. Nor is there any judgement of actions.

Laura remarked that it could be argued that Denethor was a poor steward for a long time in not being active. Ian observed that there were not a lot of people left in Minas Tirith at the time, and no apparent insurrection against poor rule.

Angela commented that as a young man Denethor had been a great man until overcome by pride and despair.

We moved on at last to ‘The Houses of Healing’ and Carol commented: “I like this bit with Merry at the start of this chapter, one of the bits that’s always left out of adaptations, like Pippin and Beregond. They’re little personalising bit in the great events of the time.”

Chris observed that the first lines of this chapter follows on directly from the last of ‘The Pyre’, and Julie wondered about the inverted syntax of the first sentence. I suggested that as in some of Gandalf’s speeches Tolkien arranges the syntax so that the most important or significant aspect of a sentence, observation or statement, comes first. I felt that this creates a powerful transition linking the chapters and creating a poignant metaphor. The last sentences of ‘The Pyre’ read:

     With that he [Gandalf] turned away and went with Pippin down towards the lower city. And even as they hastened on their way the wind brought a grey rain, and all the fires sank, and there arose a great smoke before them.

‘The Houses’ begins:

A mist was in Merry’s eyes of tears and weariness when they drew near the ruined Gate of Minas Tirith.

Julie wondered why ‘A mist’ was syntactically misplaced, but in this position it links to the ‘grey rain’. This is immediately qualified when we are told that it is in Merry’s eyes, but he is not experiencing the rain that Pip and Gandalf feel, this mist is from tears and weariness. This sets up a metaphor – as the mist in Merry’s eyes is tears, so the grey rain for which we may initially have mistaken it, becomes infused with the image of tears, and the grief that prompts them.

Chris extended this notion of resonant language when he proposed that Merry’s feeling of stumbling along a tunnel to a tomb is an echo of Frodo and Sam’s experience in Shelob’s lair. Laura commented that the tunnel image is often reported in near-death experiences, and Ian suggested that at the approach of death, life shuts down sight as perception draws in.

Laura picked up a similar echo in Merry’s question to Pippin ‘Are you going to bury me?’ because Merry crippled the Witch King with the knife he had taken from the Barrow. Laura also observed that Theoden and Eowyn are brought into the city in pomp, but Merry is alone and overlooked.

Angela noted that he has just been ‘well’ overlooked, and Eileen commented that Merry tells Pippin it’s not bad thing to be overlooked. Julie remarked that he had been told to stay behind so no one was looking for him.

I wondered if he was overlooked in both situations because he was still wearing his elven cloak.

Carol comment: “Enter Ioreth and her adages. ‘the hands of the king are the hands of a healer and so the rightful king could ever be known.’ ‘men may long remember your words, Ioreth.’ She might be an object of some humour but she has more sense than the book-learned. Wasn’t Boromir warned not to despise old-wives’ tales?  Goes for us all”.

Chris remarked that Gandalf has a ‘blind spot’ about the lore of the ‘hands of a healer’.

Angela commented on Aragorn’s appearance as a beggar, and thought that Gandalf too had been described as a beggar.

Laura noted that Imrahil is shocked by Pippin’s greeting to Aragorn. Carol commented that Imrahil is on his dignity, and here Aragorn shows his diplomatic mettle and doesn’t chastise Imrahil but says that his house will be named Strider, in the high tongue Telcontar. Because Aragorn’s been around a lot and not stuck in one place, he’s become more flexible.

Julie observed that when Aragorn brings athelas to Faramir its fragrance is different to that perceived by Eowyn, and different again to that perceived by Merry, each presumably the most characteristic of their native natural environment. Carol also commented that the scent of kingsfoil is different to different people, what they most like the scent of, adding “the smell of athelas in Eowyn’s room is that of Rohan and in Merry’s is that of the Shire”.

We finished our meeting having agreed to return to ‘The Houses’ next time, and to read up to the end of Book 5 in case we have time.




We met today with some sense of relief as the problem with which we have wrestled since our last meeting, that of the reassigning of meeting space that impacted on the Tolkien group, has been resolved at least for a while. We were missing a few of our number, but Carol sent her comments and the rest of us turned our attention to ‘The Pyre of Denethor’.

Ian was concerned with the opening of Mausoleum door which Beregond holds, physically and metaphorically, and he noted that the narration of the physicality of the action is delayed while the focus remains on Beregond’s defence of the door.

Ian also likened the Mausoleum to a panic room, but Laura questioned whether it was the place where kings had gone to die. Also recalling Aragorn relinquishing his life, Angela reminded us that there were the Houses of the Kings and the Houses of the Stewards.

Chris and Angela remarked on the encounter between Pippin and Gandalf predicting bad things to come, and I added that there is a sense of ‘dramatic irony’ about Gandalf’s remarks because we the readers already know what has happened.

Carol in her comments, and Ian, remarked on the structuring of the reference to cockcrow and the arrival of the Rohirrim. As Carol notes “Now we go back to day-break and the arrival of the Rohirrim” and Angela noted that Tolkien steps back 2 days in the narration. Ian observed that in sequential chapters, the same events have no linking narration, but are registered through separate perceptions of events by different characters from different perspectives. And when Gandalf is said to have ‘beheld all that had befallen’, this is a reminder to the reader that we have already seen it.

Laura commented that time is circular here.

Ian remarked that key words in the narration trigger responses in readers, and Eileen commented that there is a feeling that things can be guessed in advance. She also noted that Pippin finds the change in Denethor difficult, but that Pippin also changes. Chris observed that Pippin has seen Denethor sending Faramir out, so he knows the background to the change.

Laura considered Denethor most interesting because of his jealousy, his misjudgement of Boromir, and the loss of his wife.

Elieen returned us to Faramir and Denethor’s madness, deriving from his guilt over Faramir, which needs resolution. Laura and Angela noted that Faramir is educated, a strategist, and principled.

Ian noted the difference between Denethor and Theoden, who has lost his only son but responds to Gandalf and goes to war. Ian also commented that Pippin the hobbit is not inclined to follow orders, but when Gandalf decides who should take the key from Rath Dinen, this represents a ‘coup’.

Laura remarked that Denethor is seeing the end of the world in his warped perception. Angela extended this idea by observing that even if Sauron is defeated Aragorn will supplant him.

Ian and Angela noted the need for disobeying orders. Angela remarked on the justification for disobedience, without which Faramir would have died.  In her comments Carol extended this when she observed: ‘and never in after years…’ another hint of survival. Because Gandalf decides to save Faramir, probably, Theoden dies but it gives Eowyn and Merry the chance to kill the Witch King. Theoden as part of the old regime has to die along with Denethor to make way for Faramir and Eomer who are of a different mettle, not softer but with more understanding. From fractured families, they now have the chance to create new whole families and lines.

Laura observed that travelling out and experiencing things is more informative about reality than staying in a tower.

With that we ran out of time and had to the wet and gloomy afternoon outside. We still have not quite finished ‘The Pyre’, but hopefully we will be able to get into ‘The Houses of Healing at our next meeting scheduled for 14th Jan 2017.

I add the last of Carol’s comments here although we have not reached this point in our discussions, but it relates to some of the matters we discussed today:

“Tolkien gives Denethor a very ignominious death in suicide. As a Catholic Tolkien would have regarded suicide as a mortal sin; and when LotR was written, suicide was also against the secular law. Denethor had despaired against everything, due mainly to daring to look into the palantir and be penetrated by Sauron. No songs will be sung for him, only the image of ‘two hands withering in flame’, while Theoden is laid to rest in honour in the citadel, covered in cloth of gold with an honour guard. It isn’t if you die but how you die!!”

Last meeting in November


Those of us who managed to meet today, only 5 of us, did so with a major issue on our minds as the problems associated with our use of the seminar room in the Central Library have resurfaced 4 months before we might have expected. We are faced with relinquishing one of our meetings per month from April, or seeing the Poetry Reading Group lose its opportunity to meet. Reactions among the Tolkien group ranged from incandescent rage to grim predictions of worse to come as the cuts bite deeper. In spite of the general sense of injustice, we agreed on making complaints about the inconsiderate way we and the Poetry group have been treated although we are long-standing participants in the life of the Library. I will post updates on this situation as it develops, but we were agreed in our discussion yesterday to try to help Poetry continue, even though we may have to restructure our meetings.

Eventually we got round to our ‘proper’ discussion, although it was hard to change gear from such pre-occupying matters.

Laura reminded us that we still had things to discuss relating to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, which is why Carol’s comments do not appear, having been included last time. Julie hopes to add her comments here soon.

So I started things off by observing that the chapter seems to be one of those in which Tolkien clusters references from many other texts, particularly here, references from King Lear, Macbeth and The Battle of Maldon.

Ian responded by likening the chapter to a large palette where he paints with a light touch, not with the intensity found in other chapters where external references are used for rhetorical effect, and that the chapter becomes a ‘battlefield of myth’, using stories created from the language of England.

Among the references we noticed in the chapter Laura likened Eomer’s encouragement to the Rohirrim after Theoden’s death to the famous speech by the old retainer in The Battle of Maldon ‘hige sceal the headra, heort the cenre / mod sceal the mare, thu ure maegan litlath’.

Ian noted that the chapter includes characters we are concerned about and that our interest in Merry and Pippin increases our sympathy for Gondor. Nothing in the east engages our sympathy, and even Frodo and Sam are removed by their mythic quest.

Laura reminded us the there is an ominous classical echo in the image of black sails, and Ian commented that they are added to the palette of references.

I proposed that Eomer’s elegiac command counsel to his men ‘Mourn not overmuch. Mighty was the fallen …’ does not read like the encouragement of a war leader in the heat of battle and in great grief, but reads more like the construction of suitable words by a later minstrel, in an echo of the supposed origin of the Maldon poem, made in commemoration of the heroes of the battle but were not an exact representation of words spoken.

Laura and Angela recollected the two individuals to whom ‘Gothmog’ refers, and on a different tack Laura noted ultimate source of the significance of the white horse among the Anglo-Saxons.

I remarked that in this chapter the change to a more biblical register emerges at times, although it will increase later. Laura noted in a similar vein that there are echoes of the biblical story of Jericho in the cacophony of trumpets around the walls of Minas Tirith. And that Aragorn’s statement to Eomer ‘Thus we meet again …. Did I not say so…’ is reminiscent, she thought, of the reminder from Jesus to his disciples after the Resurrection of His words before the Crucifixion.

Laura went on to observe that Aragorn’s arrival is wonderful with its gorgeous heraldry.

After an afternoon that was rather blighted by non-textual discussion we found time running out and so we will have to return to ‘The Pyre’ and ‘The Houses of Healing’ next time.