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Rómenna Meeting Report - May 31, 1987
May 31, 1987
Despite a rather small turnout, Rómenna's penultimate discussion of The Lord of the Rings was not lacking in either liveliness or interest, perhaps proving that quality matters more than quantity. The topic was the chapters "Many Partings" and "Homeward Bound," which eventually bring the four hobbits back from Gondor to the borders of the Shire. Our discussion began with the observation that many authors would have ended the book where we ended last time, with the king on his throne and all right with the world. Tolkien, however, is not only concerned with getting the loose ends tied up and people back where they belong; he also wishes to show that world-shaking events have their effect on the lives of ordinary people as well as heroes, and though life goes on, the price of victory has been high and no one remains unchanged.
We commented on the scene in which Arwen gives Frodo the white jewel and also, it appears, her place on the ship to the Undying Lands. We wondered how she got the authority to do this. One guess was that she was foreseeing that he would go rather than suggesting that he do so, but the objection was raised that she uses "shall." It was pointed out that Gandalf was present (an emissary of the Valar, more or less) and that he and Arwen could have talked the matter over earlier. We also noted that no provenance is given for Arwen's white gem (i.e., where it came from--this is what happens when you have relatives in the museum business) by Tolkien, though Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a story on the subject ("The Jewel of Arwen").
We passed on to the altercation between Éomer and Gimli on the relative beauty of Arwen and Galadriel, noting that it all sounds very courtly and Arthurian. It's a bit boggling to realize that what we have here is a beauty contest between a grandmother and her granddaughter. It was noted that neither is a young kid of 600. Arwen is about 2700 years old at this point. A check of the chronology in Appendix B revealed that her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, are only 98 years older. Elf children seem to be born in bunches; we recalled that in The Silmarillion, groups of siblings (e.g., the seven sons of Fëanor) were not said to be widely separated in age. It's as if elf couples tended to have all their children in fairly quick succession and then go on to other things. We speculated that this pattern might be a result of the elves as a race becoming more fully of the spirit and less of the flesh as time went on, especially the "fading" years of the Third Age.
The hobbits make the first stage of their journey home as part of the funeral party of Théoden, which is quite a procession--large and doubtless very colorful, with all the bright mail and banners and richly dressed, highborn people. Nevertheless in the midst of all this splendor, Legolas and Gimli are still riding double. After a pause in Drúadan Forest in which the proclamation is made that the forest hereafter will belong to the Woses, the party reaches Edoras. Théoden's funeral is described. There are some similarities to a Viking funeral, except that Théoden has a house built for him rather than a ship. Might pre-Viking burials have been like this? Théoden's minstrel makes a last song for him and then retires; we noted that the Rohirrim are quite barbaric enough to bury the minstrel along with his king. Théoden's funeral song is in Anglo-Saxon alliterative measure which, we decided, should be read aloud to be fully appreciated. However, no one volunteered to do so.
Following hard upon Théoden's funeral is the public betrothal of Faramir and Éowyn, which led us to realize that Tolkien never describes a marriage ceremony. Even Aragorn's and Arwen's takes place offstage. We speculated that perhaps Tolkien could not envision a marriage ceremony without priests. It may be that the King has the authority to perform marriages (remembering that the Kings of Gondor, following the Númenórean tradition, had certain religious and priestly functions); perhaps eventually Faramir and Éowyn were married by Aragorn in Condor after their trothplighting in Rohan. The question remains, of course, of who marries the king. (Kind of like "Who shaves the barber?") The Steward? It could be that he marries himself, as evidently he has the authority to crown himself. On the other hand, the marriage ceremony might not require anybody to officiate and could be the equivalent of jumping the broomstick (sword?). Tolkien leaves it a mystery.
Faramir and Prince Imrahil both stay behind in Edoras with Éowyn, Arwen, and the Rohirrim, while the rest of the party continues north. We speculated that the two princes probably spent their time discussing reconstruction plans. Likely it would be their job to start dealing with the southern portions of Aragorn's realm while he handled the north; making the roads safe, clearing out the bandits, routing the remnants of Orcs that are still roaming around creating havoc. Per pointed out that it is always a good idea to have something for soldiers to do when there isn't a war going on, lest they make a nuisance of themselves. In the Middle Ages, the Crusades were a way of occupying wandering free companies of soldiers who would otherwise have done their looting and pillaging at home. Similarly, after the U.S. Civil War, the veterans were sent out west to pacify the Indians.
Before he leaves Edoras, Merry is given a silver horn by Éomer and Éowyn (having refused anything more substantial apart from the armor and weapons he was given by Théoden). We noted that Tolkien is laying in material for subsequent chapters--the horn will become important in "The Scouring of the Shire"-- and at the same time taking the opportunity to glance at past history, in this case the mention of Scatha the Worm.
Tolkien continues to tie up loose ends and fill in bits of back story; Legolas gets to visit the Glittering Caves while in Helm's Deep, and when the group visits Orthanc (which now has a reflecting pool, we find), they hear of a previously unrecorded battle between the Ents and Orcs which didn't get into the main story. Treebeard's description of his "talks" with Saruman sounded to us a bit like being lectured by a stern uncle for days on end. We wondered if Tolkien had any of his Oxford professors in mind when he wrote this bit. We also wondered if Galadriel's words to Treebeard, that they would meet again when the drowned lands were lifted up, alluded to an actual legend to that effect or were simply a poetic circumlocution for "never."
Merry and Pippin get another ent-draught from Treebeard (one for the road?), and he also asks them to keep an eye out for Entwives in the Shire. The party diminishes again as Legolas and Gimli leave to see Fangorn Forest and Aragorn drops off (though with the admonition to the hobbits that he'll be coming north eventually and they haven't seen the last of him). Celeborn's parting words to Aragorn indicate that he already knows that Galadriel will be going over Sea while he remains behind (which is confirmed in the Appendices).
Continuing north, the remaining travelers encounter Saruman. It was noted that the fallen wizards rags of "grey or dirty white" are the color you'd expect from all of the "many colors" running together. Saruman would prefer to get out of Aragorn's realm altogether, but it is pointed out to him that this would involve a very long walk in any direction. Saruman thinks they're out to get him and resists his last chance for salvation (too bad he wasn't so skilled at resisting temptation earlier). Though he is a shadow of his former self, Saruman retains enough of his Ringlore to realize what must eventually happen to all the Ringbearers. His mention of a "grey ship full of ghosts" alludes to the fact that they must all pass over Sea. We speculated that his use of the term "ghosts" indicates that he no longer thinks of such a passage as a proper or desirable ending, but rather something unnatural, something to be feared. But elves, as we found with Legolas on the Paths of the Dead, aren't afraid of ghosts, nor are they afraid of such an end. Saruman, on the other hand, has been "humanized" in a negative sense, which gives him a negative view.
We noticed that Wormtongue, however downtrodden he may be, hasn't quite sunk to the level of, say, the Mouth of Sauron; he still remembers his real name. (Actually he sounds a little like Gollum with his "poor old Gríma"-- although he does use "I.") "Where did Saruman dig this guy up?" someone wondered; it was subsequently pointed out that Wormtongue was already one of Théoden's counselors when Saruman started corrupting him. An earlier discussion was alluded to in which we had speculated on how inadequate this little shrimpy guy must have felt in amongst all those tall, blond, Nordic-type Rohirrim.
Saruman and the hobbits have a slight altercation over pipe-weed and we were left wondering who could really be counted a thief to whom. Merry and Pippin got their current supplies from the wreckage of Isengard, but it's arguable whether Saruman got his Longbottom Leaf through fair dealings. His malicious hints about the Southfarthing also foreshadow trouble in later chapters.
At the Redhorn Pass the folk of Lórien depart, after Galadriel has stayed up all night conferring (telepathically, it appears) with Gandalf and Elrond. Galadriel holds up her ring in farewell, much as Aragorn did with his green jewel five pages earlier.
The dwindling party at last reaches Rivendell and the hobbits are reunited with Bilbo. Bilbo is definitely showing signs of advanced age; we compared him to an aging Oxford professor and one of us commented that the first time she read the chapter, she kept expecting Bilbo to die every time he nodded off-- which he does so often that we were strongly reminded of the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland. Though he listens with interest to the travelers' tales, the only thing that really holds his attention is the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn (which, as we noted before, is the one part the readers never got to see). He is absentminded, giving away things that have been given before, and asking about the Ring. Despite his knowledge and experience he remains somewhat parochial. He knows that his time is ending; his final version of the "Road" poem reflects this, as does his passing on of his literary works to Frodo for completion. Elrond hints to Frodo before he leaves that Bilbo too will pass over Sea.
After their sojourn at Rivendell, the four hobbits and Gandalf set out for the Shire, arriving at the ford of Bruinen exactly a year after they were last there. The coincidence is not a pleasant one for Frodo, who realizes that he will never truly be healed on this side of the Sea. We also noted in this chapter that Tolkien seems fond of describing curtains of rain; perhaps he finds them homelike.
The party reaches Bree and finds that the town now has a defense system. They go on to the Prancing Pony and find that though Butterbur is as talkative as ever, it's partly a front. There has been trouble in Bree, and the landlord is keeping a stiff upper lip. We contrasted the hobbits' experiences of world-shaking battles with Butterbur's account of raiding bandits' attack on Bree and his assertion that "we had people killed, killed dead'" Most of the hobbits' narration of their adventures goes over his head; it's too big and far away for him to comprehend. Gandalf assures him that better times are on the way, and in the process finally gets it through Butterbur's head that the new King is none other than Strider, which really throws him for a loop. However, he recovers his presence of mind enough to remember that Bill the pony has come back, and Sam and the pony have a happy reunion.
The rest of the inhabitants of Bree are similarly parochial (they want to make sure Frodo puts something about Bree in his book to add interest to it), but they do have retentive memories. The fact that they recall the book at all proves this, as well as the fact that nobody seems to want to hear a song this time.
As the hobbits are leaving Bree, Butterbur warns them that things aren't all well in the Shire. Gandalf, however, is confident that they'll be able to handle the trouble themselves and leaves to visit with Tom Bombadil. It is no longer his job to get involved in other people's business, he points out, and the Shire is most definitely their business. How the hobbits deal with the troubles in the Shire is, of course, left till the next chapter.
In closing, we remarked that Frodo is the one who makes the least splash in coming home to the Shire, the one who appears to slip into his old place most easily. Merry and Pippin have grown up (in more ways than one), are no longer children, while Sam has changed even more; he can no longer be the humble gardener he started out as. However, in another sense it is Frodo who is out of place. Merry notes as the chapter ends that he feels as if he is waking up from a dream, while Frodo feels as if he is falling asleep again. Merry is returning to his proper place in the waking world, while Frodo's proper place is no longer in Middle-earth at all.