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Rómenna Meeting Report - October 27, 1984
October 27, 1984
For a change, most of those attending the October meeting of Rómenna arrived just about on time, and after a preliminary attack on the mulled cider, popcorn, cookies, cheese and crackers, banana chips, and so forth, that had been provided by various members, we settled down to discuss "The Shadow of the Past."
It was noted that Gandalf talks a lot in this chapter, laying in a background of history of the Ring that Frodo (and the reader) will need to know in the upcoming chapters. Someone jokingly suggested that perhaps the name "Gandalf" could be translated as "narrator." It was also pointed out that there is almost a 20-year gap between this chapter and the last, and that Gandalf has been seeking information during all that time. It has been nine years since he was last in the Shire, and by this time, surely, he wants someone to talk to and show off his clever deductions.
We figured that hobbits age at about two-thirds the rate of humans, so that Frodo (and Bilbo in The Hobbit) at 50 years old are at just about the right age for a mid-life crisis. We also wondered a bit at the fact that at 50, Frodo is not married. We envisioned hordes of hobbit mothers pushing their daughters at this very eligible bachelor--rich, good-looking, of a highly respectable family and connected with some of the greatest families in the Shire. Of course, Frodo was considered a bit "strange"--and hobbits seem to have married rather late by our standards (Pippin at 29, and Merry and Sam at 35, are also still unattached), but since they only come of age at 33, that is not too surprising. We eventually decided that Frodo was fated not to marry.
Sam, outside the window listening to Frodo and Gandalf's conversation, was pictured clipping the same patch of grass over and over again. There is a tendency to see Sam as older than Frodo though he's actually younger. Frodo, of course, has not aged physically since he inherited the Ring, and Sam is a farm boy, who would tend to "grow up" faster. Sam is not bright, but he has sense. We decided that a smarter hobbit wouldn't have stuck to the Quest so long. When he heard about Sauron, he would have gone to the Sea and started swimming--only hobbits can't swim. (Except the Brandybucks.) Even after all his travels, Sam never did get used to boats.
Frodo's reaction to the history of the Ring is typically English and "stiff-upper-lip"--his strongest exclamation is "How terrifying!" It was pointed out that he is frightened, and shows it by stammering, but he still doesn't scream and run around the room--he gets panicky in an understated, genteel sort of way.
It was noted that Gandalf uses practical demonstration to show the effects of the Ring, rather than just telling about it. His narration also has some interesting aspects. We noticed that Sauron has three of the dwarf-rings, and the others have been consumed by dragons--presumably with the previous owners still attached. In order to get Gollum to talk, Gandalf finally has to threaten him with torture, though it's not explicit as to whether he had to carry out the threat. Also in relation to Gollum, we have Gandalf's oft-quoted argument against capital punishment: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment; for even the wise cannot see all ends."
Some people thought that Gandalf comes off as rather snooty in this chapter, especially in the remarks he makes about hobbits, calling them "absurd, charming, helpless" and so forth. The counter-argument was that he was really very fond of hobbits (as he makes clear); his tone of voice isn't described, but surely it was affectionate. Gandalf's attitude toward hobbits is rather like that of an adult toward children, and the childlike (and sometimes childish) characteristics of hobbits have often been noted. And Gandalf does respect their ability to come through in a pinch. Some of our own group have had experiences that show that unprepossessing people often really do show unexpected heroism in tight places.
We wondered whether Gandalf had actually seen the Cracks of Doom. It was pointed out that though he might not have been there himself, he could have heard them described by Elrond, who had been during the battle of the Last Alliance with Sauron. In answer to a question, it was made clear that Gandalf wasn't even around yet at that time, since the Wizards did not show up in Middle-earth till around the year 1000 of the Third Age.
A discussion of Gollum's (or Smeagol's) original people, the Stoors of the Gladden Fields, revealed that Tolkien probably believed, along with many people of his day, in the heritability of inclinations (such as a love of boating). Randolph noted that he also seems to have believed in Lamarckian evolution (e.g. Gollum, the orcs) , which of course at that time had not yet been discredited.
Mention was made of the unlikeliness of Sam as a traveling companion for Frodo. You're going on a dangerous quest and you take your gardener along? We also noted that during this scene, Sam is "playing dumb," since we find out later that he has been collecting information for Merry and Pippin all along. He composes poetry--he's not that dumb. Sam is naive, but he is not an optimist, we noted. He is also the one who at the end of the quest is able to settle down into a normal life, something that Frodo is unable to do.
The talk turned to the Ring itself. Its actions show it to be at least marginally sentient; we wondered what it thinks of all this. It is able to absorb the heat of Frodo's fire without being heated itself. The difficulty of inscribing the Ring in Fëanorian characters was discussed, and we wondered why Sauron didn't used runes. Gandalf mentions that not even "Ancalagon the Black" could have melted the One Ring, and we noted that after reading The Silmarillion, we finally know who or what Ancalagon was--the greatest of the winged dragons, who was slain by Earendil in the final battle of the First Age.
The comment was made that when the Ring came to Sméagol, he already had the "eyes-down" tendency and the predilection for prying into things. The Ring simply exacerbated these tendencies--it worked on what was already there. This seems to have been its method for working on anybody, attacking them through their strongest characteristic. Gandalf says that "the way of the Ring to my heart is by Pity," his leading characteristic, learned from Nienna. Galadriel sees (and has the wisdom to reject) a vision in which "All shall love me and despair!" Boromir is drawn by the power the Ring would give him to be the great warrior and savior of his people.
At this point the discussion wound up, and we drifted off into talk of Dr. Who, computers, and other such conversational black holes.