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Rómenna Meeting Report - September 22, 1985
September 22, 1985
The September 22nd meeting of Rómenna was also, naturally, Bilbo and Frodo's Birthday, but we decided to get the discussion over with before beginning the festivities. Thus inspired, we plunged into Chapters V and VI of The Two Towers without further ado.
As Chapter V opens, Aragorn finally discovers traces of the hobbits and we find out a bit about how tracking works. Legolas takes Aragorn's discoveries and weaves out of them what was described as a fine piece of Talmudic logic, which Aragorn repairs. Between the two of them they add things up pretty correctly. We wondered if perhaps the author wasn't helping them a bit too much. We also noted that they drew similar conclusions to ours last time about Grishnákh and his motivations.
The three prepare to enter Fangorn with various reactions. Legolas is most sensitive to the feel of the wood. It also makes him feel young in comparison, and the point is made that he is far older than either of the others (through his remark about "you children"). There was some discussion of the actual ages of the characters and the comparative lifespans of the three races. Gimli, we noted, though less perceptive than his elven friend, still feels uncomfortable about the forest; however, he is prepared to stick by Legolas. "Where you go, I will go," he says, echoing, it was pointed out, Ruth in the Bible.
The three reach the hill where Treebeard met the hobbits; Aragorn encounters Ent footprints for the first time and doesn't quite know what to make of them (as one of our group put it, "Why does it look like something with roots walked through here?"). They are puzzling over this when Legolas spots the old man coming toward them. Gimli is all ready to shoot first and ask questions later (his attitude was expressed as "When in doubt, kill it!") but Legolas and Aragorn are more forbearing. The comment was made that it seems to take an awfully long time for the three to realize who the old man is. On the other hand, they are predisposed to see Saruman lurking behind every tree, and Gandalf's ambiguous speech doesn't help. Besides, Gandalf himself doesn't seem too sure at this point who he is, at least until his transfiguration. The entire episode was compared to the Biblical story of Christ on the road to Emmaus, where three of the disciples met the risen Jesus and didn't recognize him until he chose to reveal himself.
Once Gandalf's identity is no longer in doubt, there is an exchange of news which fills the reader in on things as well as the characters. Gandalf is typically reticent; we decided that the trick was "don't tell the characters anything the reader doesn't need to know." However, we do get a pretty thorough exposition of Saruman's treachery and its consequences. In striving to gain everything for himself, Saruman has betrayed both sides and thus has everybody mad at him. Furthermore, his actions have ironically served only to bring Merry and Pippin to Fangorn to rouse the Ents. As Gandalf points out, Saruman doesn't know yet what deep trouble he is in; he hoped to get the Ring, but there is no possibility of that now, and if the Rohirrim and the Ents don't defeat him, Sauron will take care of him. We also noted that Saruman in his decline is no longer acting like a wizard; he's now hiring armies and sending them against his neighbors like a common-or-garden warlord.
Gandalf's mention of Treebeard and the Ents raised several questions both among his companions and among our group. It is here that Gandalf makes the infamous statement that Treebeard is "the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun." Somebody piped up with the inevitable question, "But what about Tom Bombadil?" That particular black hole was avoided when somebody else speculated that in the original Westron, the word or words translated into English as "living thing" might have a specific meaning that would exclude Bombadil, something like kelvar (animals) or olvar (plants) in Quenya. The point is also made once more, in the discussion of Treebeard, that something or someone can be dangerous without being evil. Gandalf's news ends with a brief account of his battle with the Balrog, and with Galadriel's messages to the three companions. We noted that while Aragorn and Legolas' messages are verse, Gimli's is in prose. We also didn't find Legolas' message particularly difficult to understand, and wondered why he seemed to have so much trouble figuring it out. We finally decided that the sea-longing was something that had to be experienced before warnings about it would have meaning.
Shadowfax comes at Gandalf's summons, bringing with him the two horses lent to Aragorn and company by Éomer, and the comment was made that in Middle-earth, "even horses have hereditary kings." We also noted that Shadowfax seems to be at least as smart as a person.
The opening of Chapter VI gives us more geography of Rohan as the travelers approach Edoras. We read over the description of Meduseld and expressed doubts as to whether the hall could actually have been thatched with gold. Those of us who had seen actual thatch pretty much ruled out the possibility. Meduseld (not surprisingly) is very like an Anglo-Saxon mead-hall.
As they approach the court of Théoden, Gandalf cautions the others to mind their manners, a stricture which Aragorn, of all people, violates a bit later when he makes trouble about leaving his sword at the door. This surprised us, because earlier on in the book it has always been Aragorn holding other people back from making trouble and smoothing over their blunders. Furthermore, he served in Rohan years ago (probably as a hired sword, we guessed) and is supposed to know the customs of the country. We speculated that either he was tired and cranky by this time (he's not had much rest for the past several days), or that with Gandalf around he no longer felt the burden of leadership and had relaxed his hold on himself somewhat.
Aragorn's translation of the Rohirric poem came in for some discussion. It was pointed out that the poem did not alliterate as much as might be expected, since it seems to be modeled on Anglo-Saxon verse. We also noted that it seems to be a transitional form, since it rhymes as well as alliterating. We wondered what would happen if you translated the poem into Anglo-Saxon; maybe then it would alliterate more.
We also noted that Gandalf's staff is here said to be of ash, which made us think of Odin. Gandalf has several similarities to Odin; his "Grey Wanderer" guise is similar to that used by the Norse diety. Eileen passed around a picture of Odin striking Sigurd's sword into a great tree that strongly resembled this image of Gandalf. Another comparison made was that of Rohan with Kent in England. Those who have been there asserted that the landscape was quite similar, and that the symbol of Kent has always been the white horse.
Excerpts from the text indicated that once Gandalf meets Théoden, he starts to alliterate. With the help of some well-orchestrated special effects, he manages to release Théoden from Wormtongue's influence. Wormtongue himself was discussed. His real name, Gríma, was looked up in a handy Anglo-Saxon dictionary and was found to have meanings such as ..mask, helm, spectre, ghost," the general idea seeming to be a false face or illusion (related modern words might be "grim, grimace"). His groveling speeches to Theoden led him to be characterized as the "Uriah Heep" of the story. Besides being a liar, he is a thief; the guards who go to his chest to get Théoden's sword find many other missing items there. We reacted with revulsion to his lusting after Éowyn. Some maintained that he wouldn't have a chance with her in any case: "She'd cut him in half!" Others responded that he'd probably coerce her with hostages or something. It was finally noted that the element "Worm" in his epithet is probably synonymous with "Dragon"; dragons in Middle-earth are known for their deceitful speech.
We noted with some surprise that Gandalf evidently tells Théoden about the Ring, though he whispers it in his ear and does not discuss it openly. The aforementioned Anglo-Saxon dictionary came into play again when we attempted to translate the two Rohirric phrases used by Éomer and Éowyn to salute the king at various times. The words Westú Théoden hál! probably mean "Be thou healthy, whole, Théoden" and the phrase Ferthú Théoden hál! is something like "Safe journey."
Aragorn notices Éowyn's attraction to him and reacts with dismay. We speculated a bit on what might happen if Éowyn and Arwen had a confrontation. On the one hand, Arwen is an elf-woman, but then, Éowyn is a warrior. The Anglo-Saxons, we noted, had a tradition of warrior women, which made it quite believable that Éowyn was left in charge when the king and Éomer rode to war. It was pointed out that in many Northern cultures, such as the vikings, the women were often left in charge at home while the men went out raiding.
Éomer takes a step toward better human relations with other races by offering Gimli a ride, which the dwarf accepts once they have come to a temporary agreement about Galadriel. The chapter closes with the army riding off into the sunset in time-honored fashion.
After settling on date, place and chapters for the October meeting, we got down to some serious celebrating. In honor of Bilbo and Frodo's birthday we had a "Mushrooms and Mathoms" party; the mushrooms, deliciously cooked with a variety of spices, were provided by Tim, a friend and neighbor of our hostess, and the mathoms were provided by everybody. Each person brought along something silly and useless wrapped up in gift wrap. We put all these in a shopping bag, then took turns drawing them out (the order being determined by picking runestones from a bag), amid much hilarity. It's hard to say what was the silliest mathom. The snapping dinosaur-head stick? The yellow plastic corncob harmonica? The china walrus with a pincushion for a tush? Take your pick. The refreshments, besides the mushrooms, included soft and sparkling cider, Scottish spring water, and three kinds of cake. Carol had baked a pair of Darkovan spice and nut cakes for the occasion, and the Denker sisters brought a dozen green Cookie Monster cupcakes (we decided they were really Gollums). So, with much munching, The Day was commemorated in true hobbit fashion.