RÓMENNA MEETING REPORT
Rómenna Meeting Report - August 17, 1986
August 17, 1986
Present:||Margaret Purdy (host)
We began our discussion of "The Siege of Gondor" by observing Pippin's
usual hobbitlike behavior upon getting up; he immediately wants to know what
time it is and when's breakfast. He is not impressed by the breakfast. We
wondered what is considered a "small" loaf by a hobbit. Mike's suggestion: "Smaller than a hobbit."
After breakfast Pippin attends Denethor, who sends him off to get dressed
properly. Among other things he receives a suit of mail; since we were discussing
this chapter on a hot, sticky August day, the mere thought of wearing mail
made us all squirm. This led us into a discussion of what Gondor's climate
was. The maps came out again. We determined that Rohan is prairie, while the
southern provinces of Gondor are well-watered since the rain would be caught by
the Ered Nimrais. It is probably no coincidence that the symbol of Dol Amroth
is a swan. Nevertheless, in the book it's March, and for some strange reason
the sun isn't out, so although Pippin is uncomfortable in his new finery, he isn't hot.
Pippin now finds himself all dressed up and no place to go. Along with
the rest of Minas Tirith, he is experiencing the "hurry up and wait" phenomenon
that is, as Per pointed out, common in war. A Primary World parallel that was
cited was the British bombardment before the Somme, which Tolkien had experienced.
(We noted in passing that Tolkien is not a pacifist.) In this chapter
we see a good bit of the psychology of war. The Nazgûl's chief weapon in their
psychological warfare is despair. Gandalf is the counterweapon, using the ring
Narya to help "rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill." We digressed a
bit into a consideration of Middle-earth magic, which is closer to its origins and not burdened with much ceremonial rigmarole.
Returning to the text, we found Pippin and Beregond witnessing Gandalf
going to the qid of Faramir as he retreats from Osgiliath. Beregond's running
commentary on what was happening reminded us of a sports announcer ("He's down!
He's up! The horses are going wild!") while Pippin cheers on Gandalf like a
spectator at a horse race. We noted that though he is not allowed to "dominate
Elves and Men by force or fear," Gandalf is allowed to even the odds against things like Balrogs and Ringwraiths.
Gandalf arrives in the city with Faramir. Pippin goes to meet him and he
and Faramir get a mutual shock; Pippin because Faramir is so much like Boromir
(and yet with other qualities that Pippin can perceive), Faramir because he
has met Frodo and Sam not too long before, and here is another halfling in Minas Tirith itself.
We compared Faramir's condition to that of a shell-shocked soldier; he is
holding together but not by much, and is far gone in battle fatigue. He has
also come in contact with the Nazgûl and is under the influence of the Black
Breath, which, we noted, is a cumulative effect. (We wondered if the Black
Breath was anything like garlic--or perhaps kimchi?) We also compared Faramir
to Boromir. Boromir is a pure soldier, whereas Faramir is more of a statesman.
They were both great captains, but Boromir was more "visible" and drew more
attention to himself. We likened Boromir to Richard the Lionhearted, where Faramir was more like Henry II.
Faramir makes his report to Denethor, with Gandalf and Pippin in attendance.
Gandalf is caught by surprise when Faramir mentions his meeting with
Frodo. Evidently Faramir's reaction to Pippin did not tip him off; Gandalf
must have thought that Faramir was harking back to the prophetic dream again,
the one that sent Boromir to Rivendell. If he had guessed that Faramir had
met Frodo, he might have avoided the subsequent scene with Denethor. Denethor
has been under considerable strain himself, has been using the palantír
gather military intelligence, and under Sauron's insidious influence has begun
to slip. He is angry that Faramir did not bring the Ring to him, and throws up
Boromir to Faramir. One gets the impression that this is not an uncommon
occurrence. It provokes the usually respectful Faramir to an angry retort, in
which he points out why Boromir is not there ("You were the one that gave the errand to him.").
Denethor and Gandalf then have an argument about the Ring. Denethor
contends that he would essentially "lock it in the safe"; Gandalf warns him
that the Ring cannot be treated like a mere artifact. The temptation to use it
would be too strong. The Ring is a symbol of the will to power. Gandalf
points out to Denethor that he does not even trust himself to resist the Ring,
and thus refused it when it was offered to him. (We digressed for a bit on
why Denethor does not seem particularly impressed by this. We know he does
not like Gandalf, but it's also likely that he does not know what Gandalf is [a
Maia]. No one in Middle-earth really knew what the wizards were.) Gandalf
also points out that once again Denethor is thinking only of Gondor and not bothering about the consequences if Gondor were to be defeated.
We wondered if Sauron might have been able to read Denethor's mind through
the next time the Steward used it and thus found out about the
Ring. Obviously he didn't, but we were unable to agree on whether he could
have or not. The chapter on the palantíri
in the Unfinished Tales
suggest that he could not. Denethor's strong will combined with his inherent
right to use the palantír
prevented Sauron from doing more than "slanting" the
news presented to him by the Stone. We also noted Tolkien's use of foreshadowing
in Gandalf's commentary on Faramir's news that Frodo and Sam were in the
company of Gollum: "a traitor may betray himself and do good he does not intend."
The argument finally ends with Faramir excusing himself to get some rest.
We noted that Denethor is already nudging him to go back to battle. Sure
enough, within a short time Faramir is sent out again ("drinking lots of
coffee," someone suggested). The comment was made that Denethor is a statesman,
not a general; he is unwilling to give up the outworks to the enemy
despite the fact that he hasn't got the manpower to hold them, as Faramir
points out. This attitude was compared to that of Hitler in the Second World
War. Faramir has been out there and has a more realistic view of things, but he obeys Denethor anyway.
Meanwhile, everyone in Minas Tirith is anxiously waiting for the Rohirrim.
Sauron has been filling up East Osgiliath with pontoon boats, and the Orcs are
using explosives on the walls. It was just about at this point that life began
to imitate art when the thunderstorm that had been going on for some time
(making us all very sympathetic toward Darkness-oppressed Minas Tirith) kayoed
our electrical system with a mighty lightning bolt. Per led a candlelit procession
to the fuse box in the basement and we managed to find out where the
short was, whereupon most of the lights could be restored. The demonstration being concluded, we resumed the discussion.
Gandalf comes in escorting the wounded and has a squabble with Denethor.
We noted that Denethor immediately asks after Faramir; he really is concerned
about his son. It is also revealed at this point that the Steward has been
sleeping in his armor for the past twenty years. When he discovers that the
Lord of the Nazgûl is heading Sauron's army, he wants to know why Gandalf is
not out fighting him: "Too much for you?" He has already taken steps to
prepare the sortie that Gandalf suggests.
Faramir is able to hold together the men retreating from the outworks
until the Nazgûl hit. The sortie goes out to rescue him, led by Gandalf and
Imrahil, but Faramir is wounded before they can reach him. This hits Denethor
hard. He uses the palantír
again, and finally goes over the edge as his son
lies near death. Meanwhile the city as a whole is having a crisis of morale as
well as the more physical military problems. The despair caused by the Nazgûl
is rife. The enemy has better catapults than Minas Tirith does (for one thing,
the city does not have room for them), and not only firebombs the city but
starts throwing in the heads of Gondor's fallen. This stratagem was compared
to the siege of Sebastopol in the 13th century, in which the Turks threw plague
bodies into the city to infect the populace. Despair is a more insidious but
no less debilitating disease, which Gandalf does his best to combat. He and
Imrahil have had to take over from Denethor, who is on a guilt trip about his treatment of Faramir.
At last Denethor goes completely off the deep end; mentions were made of
King Lear and how Olivier would play the scene: a funeral procession for a
man who isn't dead yet. Pippin is horrified but too concerned to be afraid; he
stands up to Denethor (that's our Pippin--the hobbit who mouths off to wizards
and gets away with it), tells the servants to hold off bringing fire to the
tombs, and races off to find Gandalf, meeting Beregond on the way.
Unfortunately Gandalf is busy at the moment, confronting the Lord of the
Nazgûl. The Enemy has brought up a huge battering-ram (Grond, named for Morgoth's
mace in the First Age), and that plus the Nazgûl's magic has succeeded
in breaching the gates (we noted that "it takes magic to break magic"; the
gates were evidently reinforced with magic as well as steel). Gandalf is the
only one left to face the Lord of the Nazgûl as he prepares to ride into the
And then, in one of the most celebrated passages in The Lord of the Rings
the Rohirrim arrive in the nick of time. And here the chapter ends, as did our
discussion as we agreed to save the next chapter for our next meeting.
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