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Rómenna Meeting Report - March 24, 1985
March 24, 1985
We began one of the largest Rómenna meetings in some time (with one person all the way from Maryland and another who just heard about us the Thursday before the meeting!) with a comment to the effect that Frodo wakes up at the beginning of Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring saying, more or less, "Where am I?"--whereupon Gandalf gives him a recap of the past three chapters or so. We wondered whether Tolkien intended a break between volumes at this point. It was noted that the six "Books" were in fact the divisions Tolkien intended (each originally had its own title, for instance); he would presumably have liked either for the entire Lord of the Rings to be published in one volume (as it has been since), or as six, but neither proved feasible for his publishers at the time. We also noted that Frodo has the typical hobbit predilection for asking questions (that Gandalf comments upon much later, talking about Pippin).
The two "Rivendell" chapters are full of double-takes: "You mean you're really. . .?" "So that's what happened to . . . !" "Say what?!" An example is Frodo's sudden realization of just how old Elrond is (he dates back to the First Age). This led to a discussion of the relative agespans of Elrond, Glorfindel, Arwen and Aragorn (she's his senior by at least a couple of millennia--talk about robbing the cradle!), as well as the diminishing lifespans of the Dúnedain. Hobbits, we noted, in general live longer than Men. Clean living, perhaps? Although they do smoke--which led to a note on the presence of such anomalies as tobacco and potatoes in what seems to be more or less the Old World. The term "anatopism" was coined for this phenomenon. Or perhaps the plants came originally from Númenor?
Gandalf notices a hint of "transparency" about Frodo, and speculates that "he may become like a glass filled with a clear light." The imagery brings to mind the phial of Galadriel that will be given to Frodo later. Light can sometimes be equated with the spirit; we noted that in Tolkien's works the Holy Spirit is called the "Secret Fire" or the "Flame Imperishable". We further noted that throughout The Lord of the Rings, light usually symbolizes good; whereas fire is ambiguous. Melkor was associated with fire, and the Balrogs are fire-spirits, but Arien, the Maia of the Sun, was also a fire-spirit (an "unfallen Balrog"), and Gandalf wields the "Flame of Anor" and carries the Ring of Fire.
Frodo finally gets up, to the great delight of his friends. He gets a thumbnail description of Rivendell from Sam, who mentions (a bit surprisingly perhaps) elves "as merry as children." Somebody commented, "Well, you can't always go around being high and stuffy!" Pippin puts his foot in his mouth calling Frodo "Lord of the Ring" and is promptly squelched by Gandalf, who presumably knows the power of names ("Evil things do not come into this valley, but all the same we should not name them").
We passed on to the feast and the descriptions given of Elrond, Arwen, Gandalf and Glorfindel. Gandalf is described as kind of an "earthy Merlin type" here. We noted that he isn't a "little" old man; though not as tall as the others, he is broad-shouldered and rather majestic. We also commented on the fire imagery in his description, and the corresponding sky imagery in Elrond's, appropriate for the keepers of Narya and Vilya respectively.
At the feast, Frodo meets an important dwarf; as someone remarked, "You know he's important because Frodo stops eating to look at him." We looked in the back of the book to refresh our memories on Glóin and Gimli's genealogy, then got sidetracked on the question of how to pronounce "Beorn." Per said that it was essentially the same word as the Scandinavian name "Bjorn" (which means "bear") and would be pronounced the same way. Glóin also reports that Bombur is now spherical.
We now proceeded from the feast to the Hall of Fire, with a passing nod, in view of the previous discussion of fire symbolism, to the eternal flame that burns there. Interestingly enough, though we just came in from a feast, the only specific food mentioned is the bread that was set out for Bilbo, who didn't even come to the feast. We noted that Bilbo is rather like an Oxford don in his decline, pottering about writing histories and poetry. Rivendell certainly makes a terrific retirement home. . . People come there for R & R as well as information.
Frodo and Bilbo have a joyous reunion, marred only by the momentary appearance of the Ring. There was a bit of discussion on what the Ring actually made Frodo see Bilbo as. Gollum was mentioned; or it might be that Frodo saw what Bilbo might have become had he kept the Ring; or what Frodo saw might simply be Bilbo viewed with a completely unsympathetic eye.
Aragorn comes over to help Bilbo with his poem, and Frodo finds that "Strider" has a lot of names (oh, you noticed that!), which we proceeded to list, all the way from Estel to Elessar Telcontar and Envinyatar the Renewer. Elladan and Elrohir are mentioned here (Aragorn has just been meeting with them after their unexpected return, which is why he wasn't at the feast), though they don't appear till later (where they are described as "clones"--well, they are identical twins). We speculated that they might have been messengers from Galadriel in Lórien. Bilbo and Aragorn go off in a corner together and Frodo is left to listen to the music. We wondered if fire here might not be a symbol of creativity, and someone suggested a fire at a Bardic Circle as a nice thing to have at a con. (Well, if you had it outdoors. . . or possibly in a room with a fireplace?) Elvish music seems to send mortals to sleep--or rather, into a kind of waking dream--which, for Frodo, eventually segues into Bilbo's poem of Eärendil.
The poem itself was discussed: we noted its relationship to the poem "Errantry" in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, its internal rhyme, its alliteration, and the differences between its version of the tale of Eärendil and the one that appears in The Silmarillion (for instance, the poem has Eärendil being met and welcomed by the elves of Tol Eressëa or Eldamar, whereas the prose version has him coming alone to the empty city of Tirion and wandering through the deserted streets until he is hailed by Eönwë). We also discussed why Aragorn considered it "cheeky" of Bilbo to be making verses about Eärendil in the house of Elrond (Elrond is Eärendil's son), and the significance of the "green stone" that Aragorn insisted Bilbo include (see the section on the Elessar in the Galadriel and Celeborn chapter of the Unfinished Tales).
From there we passed on to "The Council of Elrond." As the Council begins, Boromir walks in and we get another description. We noticed both that he has long hair and that he is not wearing armor, two facts that many artists seem to pass over (like Elrond and Arwen being dark-haired). He wears his horn on a baldric, and we paused for a moment to explain what a baldric was (diagonal shoulder strap). Boromir is the "unknown" at the council, who holds a little apart from everybody else. He is the only one without any relations in the circle, the one who doesn't know anyone. There is a large mix of people present: elves of all realms save Lórien, dwarves, hobbits, Rangers, and the men of Gondor represented by Boromir.
Elrond begins with the tale of the Last Alliance. It was mentioned that his experience in a certain way paralleled Tolkien's own in World War I: the "Great War" that was supposed to put an end to evil forever, and did not succeed. Not, we clarified, that any specific topical reference was intended by Tolkien, but that his own experience formed a basis for his being able to write with conviction about a similar situation.
Boromir comes to the fore at this point with a "vaunt" on the subject of Gondor; we noticed that he has a kind of "Gondor über alles" attitude. He then explains his coming and quotes "our favorite nursery rhyme," as it was tagged, which came to his brother and himself in a dream. We noted that the call came to Faramir first and most often, and speculated that it was Faramir who was really supposed to come, but Boromir put himself forward instead (as Faramir later mentions). In response, Aragorn reveals the Sword that was Broken and has his lineage confirmed by Elrond. An argument ensued as to whether Aragorn was being pompous or not; a lot hinges on the tone of his "I forgive your doubt."
Bilbo's tale comes next. Elrond seems a bit sarcastic in introducing it, warning the old hobbit that it will have to be told before he gets anything to eat, and going on to say "if you haven't yet cast it into verse. . ." We wondered if this was a subtle "dig" about the Eärendil poem the previous night. Gandalf then speaks on the subject of the Rings of Power. We noticed how noncommittally he says "The Three we know of," when two of said Three are actually in the room at the time! (They're invisible.) He quotes Isildur's scroll; we noted Isildur's use of the word "precious" to describe the Ring, and also that Sauron's hand was "black and yet burned like fire"--more fire imagery. Sauron is a fallen Maia, a sorcerer and of great temporal power. Gandalf concludes his history and clinches the proof that the halfling's ring is indeed the One by quoting the Ring-inscription in Black Speech, which shocks everyone. David tried it and was roundly shushed.
The escape of Gollum is reported, and then comes Gandalf's tale of his capture by Saruman (of which he says that some account must be given of why he missed his appointment with Frodo, something which has never happened before). Saruman, we decided, talks like a politician--so skillful a politician, in fact, that it never becomes quite clear exactly what he wants. His attitude seems to be the "end justifies the means" doctrine so common in modern statecraft, where the Ultimate Goal, be it democracy, communism, capitalism, or whatever, is held to be of such importance that the means used to arrive at it are immaterial. He is no longer white, but "all colors." We also learn a bit about Radagast: absolutely honest, easily fooled, and hangs around with animals a lot. He is the "environmentalist wizard." Boromir sticks up for the Rohirrim in the face of the rumors reported by Gandalf; Gandalf relates his coming to Bree and his meeting with Butterbur. His mentioning that he was so happy at the innkeeper's news that he "embraced the old fellow" elicited the comment, "I never thought of Gandalf as cuddly." This sparked a digression on whether or not wizards can reproduce (of course they can--look at Melian!).
Gandalf finishes his tale, and discussion ensues. Bombadil is written in at this point and several other names for him are given (he has almost as impressive a list as Aragorn). We speculated that "Ben-adar" might be a multilingual pun: it means "fatherless" in Sindarin and may mean the same in Hebrew ("Ben" is certainly "Father"), but with the meanings of the two elements reversed, since "adar" is the "father" part in Sindarin. Tolkien does use multilingual puns elsewhere (e.g. "Orthanc"), so it's quite likely the double meaning is intentional. Tolkien did know Hebrew since he worked on translating the Jerusalem Bible.
The discussion finally comes down to the vital question, "What shall we do with the Ring?" Elrond and Gandalf provide the same answer that Elrond suggested to Isildur all the way back at the end of the Second Age--destroy it. (That's "I told you so" with a vengeance!) We've seen this coming, of course; the method at least was mentioned all the way back in Chapter Two. At last Frodo volunteers to take the Ring to the fire, and the Council and chapter both come to an end. We ended our discussion as well, after deciding on time and place for the next meeting, and that we would read and discuss the next three chapters, which will bring us through Moria.