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Rómenna Meeting Report - November 11, 1984
November 11, 1984
It was a wet afternoon when Rómenna met in November, which may partly explain the small turnout. Nothing daunted, we continued our discussion of The Lord of the Rings by considering Frodo's journey through the Shire.
We noticed that nowhere in the description of them are any of the Elves whom the hobbits meet described as blond, not even Gildor, who as a descendant of the house of Finrod might very well have been so. However, movie-makers cannot seem to be convinced of this. The topic shaded off into a digression on the various depictions of Aragorn, and the relative merits and otherwise of the Bakshi and calendar versions.
Getting back to the story, we noted that the hobbits don't bother to take bearings while hiking through the Shire. It was argued that they knew the area well and thus didn't need to. On the contrary, said others, look what happens to them: they get turned around and walk into a bog. They also seem to carry a lot of extraneous stuff around--cups, for instance, and various other creature comforts. This is perhaps typical of hobbits. At any rate, they don't seem to be experienced travelers. It was probably the prospect of baths at Crickhollow that led into a discussion of hobbit plumbing, or lack thereof. They don't seem to have outhouses, either. Come to think of it, how would you get water into Bag End? Rain traps on the roof were suggested, which might be necessary anyway to keep the hole from flooding. Crickhollow probably had a well.
The comment was made that the Nazgûl have a nose for rings. We wondered how much Frodo knew or guessed about these strange black riders that seemed to be following him, and decided that from what Gandalf told him, he probably guessed they were from Mordor, and may even have connected them with the Ringwraiths.
Some people were turned off by Farmer Maggot and his parochial attitude. (In this, of course, he is like most hobbits of the Shire.) On the other hand, it was pointed out that he had a reasonable excuse for wariness, since he'd earlier had a run-in with a Black Rider. It was cited in his favor that he had no use for the Black Rider and its offers of gold. We also noticed that he, like many farmers in the Marish, seems to acknowledge the authority of the Master of Buckland. We wondered if the Master was in origin a kind of military leader, and the Horn-call of Buckland was mentioned to support this view. If so, he and the Thain were the only military leaders in the Shire. Farmer Maggot's dogs came in for some discussion, and we figured that they were probably even more fearsome to the hobbits than they would be to humans, because of the relative sizes of dog and hobbit. Hobbits could probably have even ridden large dogs if they'd wanted to, but they preferred ponies. Ponies come pretty small; the ones the hobbits used may not have been much bigger than large dogs.
Why did Frodo sell Bag End to the Sackville-Bagginses, of all people? We decided there weren't very many others in the Shire who could afford it, or if they could, would want it. The S-B's wanted it.
The question of the competence or otherwise of the Nazgûl came up, but was swiftly sidetracked when we started wondering if Farmer Maggot's dog could have bitten it or not. The Wraiths do seem to have been somewhat corporeal, though invisible to normal eyes. Only magic swords do any harm to them, however, and any sword that pierces them tends to shrivel up and die. We concluded that biting a Nazgûl would not be a pleasant experience; at the least, it would probably taste bad. Besides, the Black Riders wore high leather boots, and their horses had nasty tempers.
The Elves walk into the story singing (we noted that people seem to burst into song just like a musical). Their talent for whipping up a banquet and a bower seemingly out of nothing was commented on. We also glanced at Tolkien's theory of inherent language, touched on in this scene, where the hobbits seem to understand what the song was about without knowing Sindarin. Quenya was also mentioned, and a question as to whether it was a complicated language was answered emphatically in the affirmative by the Secretary, who has been attempting to learn it for the past several years. We noticed that Tolkien never says how many Elves there were in Gildor's party. The proverb "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes" was cited, and we agreed that the Elves rarely say anything definite, except about the Nazgûl ("Flee them! Speak no words to them! They are deadly!"). However, that Gandalf should be late bothers even Gildor. He names Frodo an elf-friend, which seems to count for something (Goldberry perceives it later).
The Elves also talk to Sam at some point and tell him not to leave Frodo. We wondered when that subject came up. We remembered that Elves can often tell what mortals are thinking (as Finrod found when he first attempted to communicate with Men). It was also pointed out that Sam is only pretending to be asleep during Frodo's conversation with Gildor, as he reveals later. We noted that the meeting with the Elves, something completely outside his previous experience, is the beginning of Sam's elevation.
Did Gandalf communicate with Gildor before he left? Probably not.
In the description of the journey, Tolkien spends a lot of time describing trees. We wished we knew more about trees so that we could appreciate the descriptions a little better.
The conspiracy of Frodo's friends was discussed. We decided that without knowing it, Fredegar takes the largest risk (as Pippin says, "I'd rather have our job than Fatty's--waiting here till Black Riders come!"). We imagined Pippin and Sam looking at each other and snickering when they heard Frodo mutter "Shall I ever look down into that valley again?" in Chapter 3. We noted that Merry is the one with the most initiative, the natural leader of the conspiracy. He's the one who arranges for ponies, for example. As a side note, it was mentioned that riding is no faster than walking, but you can carry more. We wondered briefly why the hobbits didn't consider going south, rather than take the Road or brave the Old Forest, but decided it wouldn't accomplish anything.
It would take awhile for the Black Riders to get at the hobbits, since the Brandywine Bridge was twenty miles north of the Ferry, and a horse swimming the river was highly unlikely. The Bridge was the only way across other than the Ferry, since there were no fords. We wondered how the Bridge came to be built, and then remembered that it was of Númenórean construction. It was probably vaulted like a Roman bridge.
The last topic we touched on was Frodo's dream that night. The tower in his dream was identified with Elostirion, the highest of the three on the Tower Hills (where, by the way, that palantír was kept in which one could see Tol Eresseä). It was conjectured that dreams were one way in which the Valar could speak to mortals. Tolkien mentions that Frodo has often heard the sea in his dreams, though he has never heard or seen it in waking life. The sea was linked with the Vala Ulmo, and its use as a symbol of the transcendent was also noted. We also noticed that the dream described is actually dreamlike, with its abrupt transition from forest to moorland that at the time seems quite natural. We also noted (in the transition from this chapter to the next) the sound of Merry knocking on the door being incorporated into the dream as a "noise of thunder."
In closing, we glanced at the Elvish constellation-names Tolkien mentions in Chapter 3, and attempted to match them with our own names for them. The Remmirath are probably the Pleiades; Borgil might be either Aldebaran or Betelgeuse, and Menelvagor, the Swordsman of the Sky, is undoubtedly Orion.
--reported by Margaret R. Purdy