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Rómenna Meeting Report - May 3, 1987
May 3, 1987
We started our discussion of the rest of "The Field of Cormallen" with Sam waking up in a soft bed, which he hasn't done in months. In figuring how many months, we got sidetracked into Merry and Pippin's conversation in Book Three about whether Lórien or Rivendell qualified as the last time they slept in a bed. Sam, not unnaturally, thinks he's dreaming--either that the present is a dream, or the trip into Mordor was a nightmare. When he sees Gandalf he is almost convinced he's dreaming, since he thinks Gandalf is dead. The remark was made that it may take the reader a moment to remember that, since the reader has known that Gandalf was alive since the middle of Book Three. Sam's poetic description on how he feels (once he realizes he isn't dreaming) was also noted.
A quick calculation revealed that Frodo and Sam have been asleep for two weeks since their rescue. We wondered how they were fed during that time, since they had been on short commons even before then. This prompted the remark, "Oh, you know hobbits--they can eat in their sleep."
We moved on to the celebration on the field of Cormallen and noted that Sam is a bit intimidated at the thought of the King (at least, until he realizes who the King is). His outburst when he does discover this is surprisingly appropriate: "Isn't this the crown of all?" The elvish phrases among the cheers of the crowd (both in Quenya and Sindarin) were obligingly translated, and the heraldic significance of the banners discussed. The white horse of Rohan and the swan-ship of Dol Amroth hardly required discussion, but Aragorn's royal standard is deserving of note: while the Stewards of Gondor (whose own standard is plain white with no device) use the White Tree on black in the name of the King, they do not use the stars and crown. Presumably only the King is allowed to use these symbols. We also wondered where the troops got their dress uniforms from, since it seemed unlikely they would have carried them to the Morannon. Sam's fondest wish is granted when a minstrel of Gondor caps the proceedings with the lay of "Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom."
After the ceremony there is a feast, for which Frodo and Sam are finally allowed a change of clothes. Frodo at first does not wish to bear a sword at all (he explicitly renounced the sword in Mordor), and when persuaded that it's a necessary part of the costume (as someone pointed out, "You have to have some way to cut your meat"), wants to let Sam carry Sting. He is talked out of this also, since Sting goes with the mithril coat. At the banquet we observed that, thanks to their sojourn with Faramir, at least Frodo and Sam know what the Standing Silence is and don't end up looking like idiots. Pippin and Merry also show up at the banquet, in their positions of knights of Gondor and the Mark; afterwards, however, they and Frodo and Sam (and eventually Legolas and Gimli) are finally able to get together for a talk. Tolkien uses this opportunity to fill in some bits of back story. Sam finds the welter of tales confusing (pardonably so); we speculated that the reason he keeps corning back to Merry and Pippin's unseasonable growth spurt is that this is something he can grasp, that's right in front of his face. Nevertheless he concludes that he missed a lot (he and Frodo never got to see the scenic bits) and is very disappointed to learn that all the Oliphaunts that were in the Battle of the Pelennor were killed.
Legolas's song prompted some discussion of the skills of nonliterate cultures, specifically being able to break into song or poetry at the drop of a hat. Both Norse and Biblical examples were cited. We wondered if the peoples of Middle-earth used a pentatonic or an octotonic scale. Pentatonic is older but more monotonous.
The army stays long enough at the Field of Cormallen to heal their wounded (rather than taking them back to Minas Tirith); they then set out for the city by water. We noted that water transport is easier than land, and also that there was docking space nearby at Cair Andros.
We then passed on to "The Steward and the King," which necessitates a jump backwards along the timeline. We reflected that while this makes the chapter less suspenseful than it might have been, this is probably the least awkward place to insert the love story of Faramir and Éowyn. Putting it in in its proper chronological place would have slowed down the main story too much.
Anyway, Éowyn is going stir-crazy in the Houses of Healing. She wanted to die in battle in the first place, and now she is not even supposed to be out of bed, much less fighting. She asks who's in charge, which is evidently a complex question. "So-and-so is supposed to be in command. . . but he's off with the army. . . so this person is in charge of this group and that person is commanding that group, but actually Faramir is the Steward now that Denethor is dead." She is eventually taken to see Faramir, possibly because he is closest, himself still convalescing in the Healers' care with what was described as the Middle-earth equivalent of shell-shock.
The love story was treated rather perfunctorily, since certain members didn't care for it. However, we did note that Faramir and Éowyn don't go in for elaborate courtship games; they're both straight-from-the-shoulder types. It was observed that it's perhaps no wonder Faramir fell in love with Éowyn, since the only other women around were Ioreth and her ilk. We speculated on whether Faramir might have visited Rohan and met Éowyn before, but we realized that even if he had been there, he probably wouldn't have seen her. She is thirteen years younger than he, after all, and only became important recently. If Faramir had visited Rohan at, say, the age of twenty-five, Éowyn would still have been a skinny teenager with her hair in braids who most likely spent all her time in the stables. However, Faramir is able to pump Merry for information on Éowyn, and being a discerning sort, can deduce quite a bit more than Merry actually tells him.
We noted the recurrence of Tolkien's Atlantis dream in the scene with' Faramir and Éowyn on the battlements, and the remark was also made, "That was some kiss!" Made the sun come out and the wind rise and everything. Not to mention the singing eagle. It was pointed out that the song of the eagle contains a prophecy (concerning the "Tree that was withered") and also that the piece is not particularly rhythmic. We compared it to Biblical poetry and speculated that this poem is not rhythmic for the same reason the verses in the King James or the RSV aren't rhythmic--because they're translations and lose their rhythm in English. Presumably in actual Westron the verses would scan.
The news comes of the fall of Sauron, and Merry is sent for to come to the Field of Cormallen. This is where we found out where the dress uniforms and other supplies came from; they were sent from Minas Tirith. Though sent for by her brother, Éowyn stays behind, giving Faramir a chance to (finally) propose to her, after pointing out that what she felt for Aragorn was really more of a crush than true love. To make a long story short, she accepts. (I told you we raced through this.)
We came at last to the coronation, and Rob got to point out the passage in which viols were mentioned (he being a viol player). We wondered how much Tolkien actually knew about viols, since they are anachronistic with the rest of the instruments mentioned. We decided that he used "viol" because it sounded more archaic than something like "violin." (Viols are also mentioned in The Hobbit, where a couple of the dwarves play them.) The suggestion was made that the "flutes" were in fact recorders, but it was observed that transverse flutes go back quite a ways too. It's the kind with keys that are relatively modern. We also noted that Lebennin is evidently the Wales of Gondor, where all the best singers come from.
The coronation is accompanied by much solemn pageantry, but Ioreth is there to provide comic relief. We found her version of Frodo and Sam's adventures particularly amusing.
Faramir's symbolic surrender of his office was noted with the remark that if it had been Boromir or Denethor holding that rod, things might have been more difficult. We guessed that the ceremony was a traditional one dating from the time when there were still kings in Gondor, who would leave the Steward in charge while they went to war or something. On his return the King presumably had the option to relieve the Steward of his office, even though this was never actually done. (This is a point possibly misunderstood. Faramir is not offering Aragorn the office of Steward in his place; he is offering Aragorn, as king, the option of discontinuing the office itself now that there is a King again. Aragorn declines the option and retains the office, confirming Faramir in this position.)
Byzantine parallels were noted in the acclamation of the King by the people of Gondor; this was also required in the Byzantine empire. The similarity between the crown of Gondor and that of Egypt (a parallel drawn by Tolkien himself in the Letters) was also mentioned. Having studied the description of the crown, we concluded that it was probably worn only on ceremonial occasions. We didn't think it would be terribly heavy, but it would be awkward, especially with the wings. People standing nearby would have to watch out when the king turned his head.
We observed Aragorn passing the crown back to Faramir, who passes it to Frodo, who passes it to Gandalf, who finally crowns Aragorn with it, and wondered if passing the crown was anything like passing the buck. In a more serious vein, we noted that Gandalf's invocation of the Valar was just about the only overt nod to religion in the entire book. Of course, this is one of the few set ceremonies in the book where religion might be expected to play a part. The momentary transfiguration of Aragorn was commented on. The author also gives us a glance into the future of Aragorn's reign; we speculated that this passage was added when the Red Book was copied in Gondor. Perhaps a marginal gloss by Findegil? It doesn't seem like the kind of thing a hobbit chronicler would know.
Once crowned, the King dispenses justice and ties up loose ends, such as trying Beregond and deciding where Theoden should be buried. Those of the company with some background in military history (and history in general) pointed out that Aragorn was asking for trouble by setting up the principality of Emyn Arnen right across the river and even giving it a military system of its own. Certainly Aragorn can trust Faramir with such a responsibility, but will Aragorn's descendants always be able to trust Faramir's descendants? In Aragorn's defense it was pointed out that the Princes of Dol Amroth have been around a long time and never gave anyone any trouble. The military contingent was not convinced. However, that would be another story and presumably far in the future.
Something (or someone) is still missing from the picture. Before it can appear, Aragorn needs a sign that his kingship isn't just a fluke. Gandalf gives him one by taking him up to the ancient hallow on Mount Mindolluin, where they find the sapling of the White Tree. We rendered this as, Aragorn--"Where do I find the sign?" Gandalf--"Look behind you." (At about this point, Steve produced the Darrell Sweet rendition of the scene from the Tolkien calendar and the Moderator demanded that he get that thing out of her sight.) Gandalf gives Aragorn a few gardening tips on White Trees, and we decided, after a look at the chronology in Appendix B, that the date of the sprouting of the White Tree has no discernible significance (presuming that Aragorn is right when he says it is less than seven years old). We still wondered why no one had come across the sapling before this, but then we realized that this was an ancient hallow where only kings were allowed to come. A look at the Atlas of Middle-earth pointed up the fact that this spot directly overlooked the Hallows in the city, so that you would have to pass through there to reach it.
Arwen's wedding party finally arrives; we noted that if Midsummer is to be equated with the Summer Solstice, then Arwen is a June bride. It was also observed that Arwen's appearance might come as a shock to most readers, since the tale of Aragorn and Arwen has up till now only been hinted at. We ended the discussion by deciding not to plunge into Appendix A right at the moment, but to save it for a future meeting.