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Rómenna Meeting Report - April 27, 1985
April 27, 1985
Our discussion of the Fellowship's journey up to and through Moria began with a capsule account of the hobbits' meeting after the Council of Elrond. Merry and Pippin are indignant at Sam's being chosen as Frodo's companion and say they want to go too. Frodo thinks they're nuts. We speculated about Elrond's reasons for choosing the various members of the Fellowship. Sam is a good choice because he's so loyal to Frodo, and he can be counted on not to want the Ring for himself. We thought perhaps that the character of Sam might have started out as a "comic relief" role, with several centuries of comic servant characters as his model, but later Tolkien discovered that his part became larger and more important. Merry and Pippin have similar advantages. However, it might well seem to be courting disaster to send along one of the elves who imprisoned Gimli's father--and Gimli; or the man who aims to displace Boromir's father as ruler of Gondor--and Boromir.
Pippin, we noted, often behaves like a bratty child (asking impertinent questions, throwing stones into wells, and so forth). It was pointed out that he has not yet "come of age" by hobbit reckoning, being only 29. Merry, on the other hand, could be likened to the "good" older child; he tends to display more sense.
Mention of the two nice presents given by Bilbo to Frodo led to a brief digression on the properties of mithril and possible Primary World equivalents. Platinum has the non-tarnishing silver color but is too brittle to make armor. Titanium was suggested, but like magnesium, it has the unfortunate property of being flammable. Mithril was both light and strong (or at least, the Dwarves could make such a metal using it--possibly an alloy).
Returning to the setting forth of the Fellowship, we noted that Boromir "does a stupid" by blowing his horn and receives a rather restrained rebuke from Elrond that turns out later to be prophetic (Elrond is noted for his restraint--and his foresight). We discussed Boromir's character; he is the one of the company who always seems a little out of step, not in accord with the others, forever putting in his oar. Some of his suggestions are good ones (such as carrying wood for a fire when journeying through the mountain pass, which undoubtedly saved the Fellowship's lives), and some are not, but he can always be counted on to make one. He was characterized as a "high officer type," and we speculated that Boromir is not used to being a follower rather than a leader; after all, in Gondor he was a military captain. Tolkien probably became familiar with the type while serving in World War I. A slight digression ensued about some of the shatteringly stupid decisions made in that war. Tolkien was in the middle of one of them, having survived the Battle of the Somme. A parallel was also drawn between the peculiar psychological condition known as battle fatigue and the Black Breath. A final note on Boromir was the observation that he does have a sense of humor: in the midst of one of his vaunts ("It's a good thing you have Men with you, and doughty Men too, if I may say so--") he notes wryly, "--though lesser men with spades might have served you better."
The Fellowship sets out on December 25th, a date with no particular meaning to them, but purposely chosen by Tolkien. Sam is discovered doing a mental inventory of the contents of his backpack, which contains such practical, typically hobbitlike things as cooking gear, salt, warm socks and underwear. We wondered how heavy the cooking gear was; on the one hand it was probably cast iron, but on the other hand it was likely meant for picnics and camping trips and may have been compact like a mess kit. It is mentioned later in the story that Sam's pack is noticeably large and heavy in comparison to the others'.
The attempt on the Redhorn Gate was discussed. We noted that Sauron may or may not have had anything to do with the snowstorm; Caradhras had a bad reputation long before Sauron's days. Per suggested that Tolkien may have taken as his model some of the more difficult passes in the Alps. Scrutiny of the map revealed that if you equate Middle-earth with Europe, the part of the Misty Mountains where the Redhorn Gate is would be in about the same location as the French Alps. Boromir's wood comes in handy once Gandalf is persuaded to light a fire; there was some discussion of the possible translation of the fire-spell he uses. In Naur an edraith ammen! (the language is Sindarin), naur is obviously "fire" and edraith may be related to edro, "open" (it was noted that in French, for example, turning on an electric light is called "opening" it), but the other two words we weren't sure about. Ammen may mean something like "my command, at my command," since it also turns up in the door-opening spell later. We noted that Elves seem to be lighter than ordinary mortals (Legolas running on top of the snow); Randolph suggested that this was because of their spiritual nature, while Lissanne opined that it was because they were airheads. The whole scene reminded us of the situation in the Unfinished Tales where Tuor and Voronwë are traveling together and Voronwë is constantly making comments on how frail mortals are. Per wondered if Tolkien had ever actually walked through very deep snow, pointing out that one doesn't tend to sink into it much past the knees no matter how deep it is; also that the hobbits might actually have had an easier time of it because they are lighter. We considered, however, that Boromir and the others were weighed down by weaponry (Boromir carries a shield, for instance) and various other gear, and that the hobbits may have been barefoot.
We noted that in Tolkien's works, crows are seen as nasty birds. Crows have a bad reputation because of their size, blackness, and the fact that they will attack anything that can't defend itself. Ravens, on the other hand, are okay; in The Hobbit they were described as the particular friends of the Dwarves. Norse mythology, of course, associated them with Odin.
Having failed to get through the Redhorn Gate, the Fellowship decides to go under the mountains, through Moria. Boromir is against the idea, but Gimli is all for seeing the halls of his ancestors (an important consideration for a Dwarf). Boromir changes his mind when the wind starts howling with wolf-voices. We noted, however, that the wolves encountered by the Fellowship are no ordinary wolves. When calling down fire upon them, Gandalf refers to them as gaurhoth, recalling Sauron's stronghold in the First Age, Taur-in-Gaurhoth, which was translated in The Silmarillion as "Isle of Werewolves" (Sauron's "werewolves" were evil spirits in wolf form). The wolves' supernatural character is shown by the fact that they leave no bodies behind in the morning.
At length the Fellowship reaches the gates of Moria and then has to figure out how to get in. There was some discussion of the original circumstances of the making of the doors. When they were made, the Dwarves of Khazad-dűm were very friendly with the Elves of Eregion (who were mostly Noldor) and the gate usually stood open. Even when closed, it wasn't designed to be particularly difficult to find or open; however, in later days that fact is lost sight of, and Gandalf's problem is basically that he's looking for something too complicated while, as he realizes later, "the opening word was inscribed on the archway all the time!" A rough translation was also offered of the Sindarin opening spell that Gandalf unsuccessfully uses: it probably means something like, "Gate of the elves, open at my command! Doors of the Dwarf-folk, listen to the words of my tongue!"
While the Fellowship is waiting for the gates to open, Boromir does another stupid by throwing a stone into the lake and thus alerting the Watcher in the Water, which attacks the company. We noted that this particular monster and the whole section in the "deep places of the earth" has a certain Lovecraftian air. (Tolkien did read 1930s SF magazines.) There was a brief speculation as to what would happen if Cthulhu got hold of the Ring ("R'lyeh would rise, no question!"). The doors open in the nick of time and Sam has a touching parting with his horse (who, we noted, turns up again in Bree near the end of the tale, safe and sound).
The Fellowship proceeds through the Mines of Moria. We noted the mention of the cats of Queen Berúthiel and remarked that the reference sounds rather innocuous here; there's little hint of the rather dark tale that Tolkien later devised about Queen Berúthiel and her cats (mentioned in, a footnote somewhere in the Unfinished Tales). In the passage describing the foot-sounds of the company (where Frodo first begins to hear the following footsteps of Gollum), the comment was made that Gandalf's feet don't seem to make any noise, or at least, nothing is said about them. Pippin does a stupid by dropping a stone into the well, and Gandalf gets very testy with him. We couldn't help wondering, though, if Gandalf's own pipe-smoking was exactly inconspicuous.
Several passages provide insights into dwarf psychology and culture. When Sam talks about the mines of Moria as "darksome holes," Gimli corrects him in no uncertain terms, and follows up with a long poem about Durin and his kingdom (which Sam admires and expresses a wish to learn). Mithril is mentioned and discussed, and Gimli is startled out of his reverie when he hears about Bilbo's mithril-mail. We noted that from ground level up, the dwarves numbered their halls by Levels, and in the opposite direction by Deeps.
The company discovers the tomb of Balin and learns the fate of the dwarf-colony from the Book of Mazarbul. They become so absorbed in reading the book that they nearly suffer the same fate--"we cannot get out." Fortunately they are left with an escape route, and after their first battle with orcs (the first time these creatures appear in The Lord of the Rings, unless the half-orc "Southerner" in the inn at Bree counts), in which Frodo sticks a troll in the foot, they are able to run.
Orcs are the least of their problems, however, as is made clear when the Balrog arrives. Gandalf can feel his presence through a stone door and knows that he has "met his match" in more ways than one. The Balrog, like Gandalf, is a Maia in origin--the wizard's "dark side," more or less. Their initial conflict--two spells hitting the door at once--collapses the whole room behind it. We noted that the single Balrog in The Lord of the Rings is depicted as considerably more powerful and fearsome than the ones in The Silmarillion, or more especially than the ones in the "Fall of Gondolin" (in Vol. 2 of The Book of Lost Tales), in which the heroes of Gondolin killed large numbers of them. Here, the demon is much more formidable. It scares the pants off Legolas, who, it may be noted, up to this point has been undismayed by anything the company has encountered. He (and Gandalf) are also the only ones who know what the creature is, though Gimli recognizes it as "Durin's Bane." We speculated that Gimli may have heard about it from Dáin, who actually saw it at the Battle of Azanulbizar and thus dissuaded Thrain from attempting to reinhabit Moria at the time. We also thought that Aragorn might have heard stories about the Balrogs of the First Age in Rivendell. Be that as it may, the humans are the only ones who are too dumb to be properly frightened and are all set to help Gandalf fight it, though this may only be their different reaction to stress. Aragorn in particular seems to be the kind of person whose response to a crisis is positive action rather than panic. Various of our group recounted personal experiences in which we'd had this kind of reaction to an emergency ("Okay, this and this and this needs to be done. . . then I can panic!"). We wondered if the Balrog actually had a physical body, but noted that it's solid enough to wield a sword and whip, and to fall into the abyss when Gandalf breaks the bridge under it.
Aragorn is the one who keeps his head after Gandalf's fall and herds the others out of Moria, though it's tough luck for the stupid orc-captain who gets in his way at the gate. It is once they are safely out and away from Moria that the full import of Gandalf's death hits the Fellowship, and the chapter comes to a somber close. We decided that the episode of the Bridge of Khazad-dűm was a more drastic version of Gandalf's various disappearances in The Hobbit--getting the wizard out of the picture so that the less powerful characters are forced to face dangers without his help.
We ended the session by deciding on the next three chapters (the "Lórien" episode) for our reading for next time, and setting time and place for the May meeting.