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Rómenna Meeting Report - February 10, 1985
February 10, 1985
The February meeting of Rómenna took place at the Purdy household in Ridgewood, New Jersey on what is becoming the usual Sunday afternoon. We sat in front of a (loudly!) crackling fire and fortified ourselves with hot mulled cider, spice bread and popcorn, which was perhaps a good idea since the discussion started off in the Midgewater Marshes. It was suggested that the so-called "midges" might actually have been mosquitoes (they certainly act like it), but it was pointed out that there are species of midges that bite. It's interesting that they should still be active that late in the year (about the beginning of October). We noted that the weather in that part of Middle-earth is similar to that of the British Isles; a Scotswoman of our acquaintance has been known to state that to her, a "normal" sky is grey.
Backtracking a bit, we discussed the raid of the Nazgûl on Crickhollow. The Black Riders do nothing but stand out in front of the house for what seems an inordinate length of time; it was suggested that they may have been "calling" Frodo. We wondered why their "Ring-sense" didn't tell them that Frodo and the Ring were not in the house any longer, and decided that the sense must be erratic. They had only traced Frodo as far as Bucklebury Ferry and thus didn't know for a fact that he had left. Fatty Bolger, in the meantime, spots them, exercises the better part of valor, and runs for it. He does not know very much about the Nazgûl, apart from what he's learned from Frodo, Sam and Pippin, but he knows enough to know that he doesn't want to mess with them. He raises the alarm and the Nazgûl, having learned that Frodo and the Ring are no longer in Crickhollow, leave, saying to themselves that "Sauron would deal with [the hobbits] later." This may have been a bit of foreshadowing on Tolkien's part, since the Shire is "dealt with" later on in the story, but by Saruman, not Sauron. We also conducted a genealogical search at this point (it being important, in dealing with hobbits, to know who is related to whom, and in what degree) and determined that Fredegar Bolger is Merry and Pippin's fourth cousin.
Meanwhile, back in Bree, Frodo has had a disturbing and possibly clairvoyant dream that could refer to the raid on Crickhollow, the raid on the inn, or both. The dream may have been prompted by his carrying the Ring, but it has been noted before that Frodo is given to such dreams anyway. The raid on the inn (which nobody seems to have heard despite claims by Butterbur that he didn't sleep a wink all night) was not made by the Nazgûl but by their mortal henchmen. We noted that an old beat-up pony like Bill Ferny's is worth about four silver pennies according to the going rate in the Breeland, the silver penny evidently being the basic currency in Bree and possibly the Shire as well. The value of the coin was probably determined by the weight of the metal. (A digression on metals yielded the interesting information that the often-mentioned "red gold" is 25% copper, and that "white gold" is part silver; such mixtures are harder than pure gold.) Horses and ponies are not abundant in Bree, and such as there are are probably mostly draft or plow animals. Tolkien, along with Sam, seems to take an interest in the pony; every so often during the journey from Bree to Rivendell we get an update on how the pony is doing (quite a bit better than it did with Bill Ferny).
We noted that Sam doesn't seem to trust much of anybody except Elves. He doesn't fully trust Strider for a long time. Strider's taking Sam aside and confiding to him the facts about his master's condition may be seen as partly an attempt to win Sam's trust by demonstrating that Strider trusts Sam. Strider himself is extremely cautious, which shows up in his sensitivity to what is spoken aloud (such as Frodo's witticism about becoming a wraith, or the name of Mordor). He knows that words and names have power, and furthermore that Sauron has many spies. His caution turns out to be justified; when he and the hobbits stand in plain sight on Weathertop for all of ten minutes, they are immediately spotted.
There are three poems or songs in this section: the fragment of the Lay of Gil-galad recited by Sam, the Song of Beren and Lúthien, which Aragorn (and Tolkien) don't seem to have been able to resist including, and Sam's song about the troll (prompted by the party's coming upon the three trolls of Bilbo's previous adventure, who are, in the words of our resident punster, "thoroughly stoned"). We decided that singing songs in the dell under Weathertop was actually a pretty good thing to do: it passed the time, kept everybody awake, and at the same time kept their minds off their fears so that they wouldn't be paralyzed by them. Similarly, lighting a fire might attract attention, but it also provides a weapon against the Nazgûl.
With the attack on the dell we get our first real "look" at the Nazgûl: they are far from pretty, but are not described as skull-like (though they're often drawn that way); they are "haggard," rather. We were a little surprised at Frodo knowing the name of Elbereth until we remembered the song of Gildor's company--and even then, Frodo recognized the name (having presumably learned it from Bilbo). The Witch-king's knife with which he wounded Frodo was compared to a "smart" missile, though of course in this case we're dealing with magic not technology (though cf. Clarke's Third Law). Frodo only escaped its full effects because he resisted all the way.
We wondered if Nazgûl eat; after some discussion it was concluded that they probably had lost both the need and desire to do so. "It's one of those imponderables. . ." We also noted with interest (from the "Hunt for the Ring" chapter in the Unfinished Tales) that Sauron possesses the Nine Rings and thus, presumably, the "souls" of the Nazgûl, so that they have no will but his. We speculated on whether, if Sauron got the One back, he would return the Nine to the Nazgûl. We also noticed that Glorfindel was powerful enough to chase off three Nazgûl. Elves are not affected by the aura of fear the Nine exude, though the Nazgûl are still dangerous without it, wielding both physical and sorcerous weapons (at least some of them, Angmar for instance, were sorcerors even before they acquired their rings). They are wary of elves, however, as was demonstrated when the Black Rider following Frodo, Sam and Pippin in the Shire withdrew at the approach of Gildor's company.
We mused briefly on whether athelas was the same as basil (the Westron name for athelas is "kingsfoil," and "basil" comes from a Greek word meaning "King"), but couldn't find any textual evidence to support the notion.
Glorfindel finally catches up with Strider and the hobbits after having missed them on the way out because he was busy chasing Nazgûl. He hurries them on toward Rivendell despite Frodo's condition (which is, not surprisingly, worse at night). The Nazgûl catch up with them at the Ford of Bruinen, but are fortunately hampered by the fact that they don't like running water. We noted Tolkien's associations of water with the music of creation and also with the Vala Ulmo, who was the special protector of the Children of Ilúvatar. After the flood unleashed by Elrond and Gandalf swept away the Riders actually in the ford, the rest of the company drove the remaining ones into the water, using fire and also Glorfindel's power. Frodo, under the influence of the Ring able to see the "wraith-world" or the "other side" (Tolkien avoids more precise terminology, wishing to steer clear of theological subjects) sees him as a shining white figure.
At this point the chapter, Book I, and the discussion all came to an end, leaving till next time the wonders of Rivendell.