RÓMENNA MEETING REPORT
Rómenna Meeting Report - July 27, 1986
July 27, 1986
|Nancy Denker (hosts)
With numbers diminished from last month's meeting but enthusiasm dampened
not a whit, Rómenna embarked on its discussion of "The Passing of the Grey
Company" and "The Muster of Rohan": part of the long buildup to the Battle of
the Pelennor Fields. We began with a comment on Merry's gathering up "a few
useful things" preparatory to leaving, to the effect that "a few useful things"
for a hobbit might amount to a fairly heavy pack (look at Sam). We also
wondered what sort of useful items he could have found in the wreckage of
Isengard: pipeweed for one, of course, as well as food and possibly cooking
utensils. In speaking with Aragorn, Merry is already concerned about being
left behind. Aragorn foreshadows obscurely that he will have something
important to do in the coming conflict.
We noted the buildup of tension as the king's party hears someone riding
up behind them. Merry feels his own inadequacy as the Rohirrim prepare to
fight. The challenge "Who rides in Rohan?" we found significant--who else
could be expected to have horses? The tension is released when the mysterious
riders turn out to be Aragorn's Ranger kin, along with Elladan and Elrohir, the
sons of Elrond. The mystery remains for awhile, however, of who sent the
message that summoned the Rangers, since Aragorn denies having done any such
thing. Later on in the chapter it is deduced that the message was sent by
Galadriel, who evidently intuited when and where the Grey Company would be
needed (and who previously sent a message to Aragorn through Gandalf to that
effect). Here we also have the first mention by name of the Paths of the Dead
(though Galadriel had also alluded to them obliquely), which provokes an immediate
negative reaction similar to that evoked when evil things are spoken of
aloud ("Not on the open road").
Halbarad bears with him a gift for Aragorn from Arwen, one of those few
scattered allusions to the romance between them. Later we will discover that
the gift is a war-banner. As Fred noted, Aragorn bears the standard of a king
rather than the banner or pennon of a knight. In effect, by her gift Arwen is
saying, "Go to war with my blessing." This is the all-or-nothing chance for
her and Aragorn, for only by winning the war with Sauron and taking his rightful
place as king of Gondor and Arnor can Aragorn win Elrond's consent to their marriage.
The company arrives at Helm's Deep and Legolas and Gimli show Merry
around. Meanwhile Aragorn goes and shuts himself up in a room in the tower
with only his kinsman Halbarad for company. We speculated that Aragorn had
Halbarad with him as a safety measure when he searched the Orthanc-stone: "If
I start acting strange, snap me out of it!" or even, possibly, "If Sauron takes
control of my mind, kill me" (though the latter possibility was strongly rejected by several of our company).
Merry's taking service with Théoden and the differences between this scene
and the corresponding one between Pippin and Denethor were discussed. The
motivations of the two hobbits are quite different (Pippin is moved by both
pride and a sense of duty and obligation, Merry by love), as is the mood and
form of the ceremony. The ritual here is much simpler and more direct, as befits the Rohirric culture.
Aragorn appears, looking old and tired, and after learning of Théoden's
plans, announces his decision to take the Paths of the Dead. There is an immediate
negative reaction from the Rohirrim (as there will be any time the Paths
are mentioned, thus heightening the suspense for the reader). Éomer despairs
of ever seeing Aragorn again, but Aragorn foresees their next meeting ("though
all the hosts of Mordor should stand between"--as indeed they will). The
Rohirrim leave (with Merry in tow), and Aragorn decides to eat something; we
speculated that being with hobbits so much has affected him. During the meal
he relates his experiences with the Stone to Legolas and Gimli. We noted that
the danger coming up from the South which he alludes to is the Corsairs of Umbar, who were mentioned in the previous chapter.
Aragorn also gives his friends (and the reader) some background information
about the Paths of the Dead, the history of how Isildur bound the Dead Men
of Dunharrow, and the prophecy associated with it, specifically the words of
Malbeth the Seer. We noted that "Malbeth" signifies "golden words" in the
Sindarin tongue, and also that the seer used alliterative verse. Legolas
states that he does not fear the Dead. We considered this statement and the
later auctorial note that "the ghosts of Men hold no terror" for Elves. Our
guess was that since their fates are sundered after death, the spirits of Men
and Elves simply do not impinge upon or affect one another (though it may be
noted that Legolas, later, can see
the dead where evidently the humans cannot).
We also speculated a bit about what might have happened if the Dead, while
following Aragorn, had been faced with a Ringwraith. Dead vs. undead? Could
they affect one another? The consensus was that they could, but we could not
decide how, or what either party would have done in such a situation.
We passed on to the Grey Company's arrival in Dunharrow, where we find
Éowyn casting eyes at Aragorn. We noted that she has good taste, but isn't he
a little old for her? She has the same reaction as the other Rohirrim did to
the mention of the Paths of the Dead. She does not know as much about them as
Legolas and Gimli do; presumably for her they are a legend of vague horror.
Nevertheless she asks to accompany Aragorn. He refuses, hinting delicately
that "there's someone else." In the ensuing discussion we have Éowyn using the
now-familiar feminist argument ("Don't feed me that bullsh** that 'your place
is in the home'! I can fight as well as a man!"--and indeed, Rohan does have
the concept of shieldmaidens) and Aragorn countering that she accepted a duty
and is honor-bound to fulfill it. Éowyn ends up by hinting that she is in
love with him. Aragorn is deeply troubled, both here and the next morning when
she comes to see them off (Fred noted the use of the ancient custom of the
stirrup-cup). We noted at this point what Aragorn probably senses, that Éowyn
is not really in love with him but with the ideal of knighthood and heroism he
represents. When he heals her later, after the Battle of the Pelennor, he will
call on her brother Éomer to call her back to life, since that bond is a real one.
We proceeded with the Grey Company to the Paths of the Dead, noting how
Tolkien builds up the Gothic suspense every step of the way. An example of
this is the horses refusing to pass the standing stone (animals being more
sensitive to supernatural influences) until their fear is outweighed by
Aragorn's charisma and their own love of their masters (and, in Arod's case,
Legolas's calming influence). We noted that Gimli is particularly terrified,
which led to some speculation about Dwarvish beliefs about the afterlife.
This is one of those matters that Tolkien left somewhat open. We concluded by
saying that Gimli is acting as a "substitute hobbit" and touchstone for the reader in this scene, all the real hobbits being occupied elsewhere.
The Gothic atmosphere is heightened by the Company's discovery of the
skeleton lying by the locked door, and the wind that blows out the torches.
Another traditionally ghostly touch is the stipulation that they must reach the
Stone of Erech before midnight. There was some discussion of the Stone itself.
Isildur is said to have brought it from Númenor, but we found this highly
unlikely considering its size ("How did he carry it? He put that thing in a
ship? Come on!
"). This led to the speculation that the Stone of Erech was "a
fossilized Númenórean weather balloon." It was also noted that "Erech" is
probably not a Sindarin or Westron word, being possibly a word in the language originally spoken by the Dead (related to Dunlendish).
We turned back to Rohan for the next chapter, noting that Tolkien is still
tracking several sets of characters and tying one to the other; Pippin is mentioned
here and his timeline matched up with Merry's. Merry, hobbitlike, is
wishing for "a quiet room by the fire." We compared his listening to the
Rohirrim speaking their native tongue with a speaker of modern English trying
to puzzle out Anglo-Saxon--certain words sound familiar, but you can't piece
them together. He also thinks of Frodo and Sam, thereby reminding the reader of them too.
The king's party arrives at Dunharrow and finds the muster already begun,
on Gandalf's orders. We noted that blackout conditions are in effect at Dunharrow--
only sensible, as the British found in World War II, when the enemy has
air power (Nazgûl in this case) and you don't. Éowyn comes to meet them and
tells them of Aragorn's passing. Her plight was discussed: here she sees all
the people she loves going off to war and leaving her behind, while she feels
her life has been wasted and wants to do something worthwhile with it. The
Paths of the Dead are once more alluded to with dread, and Théoden gives some
more background on them. Éomer's reaction to the supernatural--he doesn't mess
with such things, give him a good broadsword any day--is probably typical of
the Rohirrim in general. A modern parallel was cited, to wit, the average
American's reaction to radioactivity. He doesn't know much about it, cares
less, and wants to avoid it as much as possible: all he knows is that it's
bad, and doesn't consider that there might be "safe levels."
The messenger from Gondor arrives with the Red Arrow, giving Merry a turn
for a moment because of his resemblance to Boromir. Théoden notes Denethor's
perfect timing and suspects that the Steward of Gondor knows more than he lets
on about the events in Rohan. We speculated that he probably used the palantír
of Minas Tirith to find out what was going on. However, we noted that in
wanting the Rohirrim inside the walls of Minas Tirith before Sauron's armies
hit, Denethor isn't thinking like a cavalryman. The Rohirrim fight most
effectively in the open. Our guess was that Denethor doesn't know that much
about cavalry since there are few horses in Gondor. He probably is used to
thinking "Horses are for sorties." Nevertheless, Théoden promises the messenger
that he'll come as fast as he can. Tolkien continues to build up the suspense
with the dire prediction by the messenger that they may not be in time.
The Darkness, which arrives the next morning, also contributes to the feeling
of gloom and doom. Additionally, it is a time check, since it has already
been shown in Frodo and Sam's part and later in Pippin's. Thus it serves as a
way to keep the reader abreast of who is where at what time ("Where were you when the lights went out?").
Merry is still fretting about being left behind. His pleas to the king
are fruitless, but he finds an unexpected ally in Éowyn. In her usual guise
she gives him arms (as Aragorn had requested, showing his usual foresight), and
as Dernhelm she offers to let him ride with her (though the reader is not supposed
to know at this point who Dernhelm is. We noted in passing that "Dernhelm"
means "secret protector"). The comment was made that Merry's desire to
go along with the army is possibly more praiseworthy than Éowyn's, since unlike
her he has been given no positive task or duty by Théoden; he really has nothing to do in Rohan.
The chapter ends with the usual cliffhanger as the army rides off to war
in the gathering darkness. We rode off somewhat more cheerfully to hit the
local Chinese restaurant, after enjoying a brief poetry reading by Fred.
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