It is time to leave Gandalf and Pippin as they make their desperate dash to Minas Tirith upon the mighty Shadowfax to find Frodo and Sam wandering in hopeless circles upon the barren heights of the Emyn Muil as they seek a way down from sheer cliffs that thwart them at every turn. If the pace of Book 3 of The Lord of the Rings was often frantic now it is painfully, agonisingly slow. Over the last year in this blog we have travelled with orcs as they bore Merry and Pippin relentlessly towards Isengard and we travelled with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in their brave but hopeless pursuit of the orcs. With the three friends we met Gandalf in the Forest of Fangorn and joined them in their dash across the grasslands of Rohan towards Edoras. With little time to rest we then rode with them to Helms Deep where they fought a mighty battle against the armies of Saruman and then joined them again as they rode onwards to Isengard. There they met the young hobbits whom they had long sought and who had escaped from the orcs to meet Treebeard who carried them in the last great march of the Ents to the walls of Isengard. And at the last as we have already said we rode with Gandalf and Pippin on their way to the great battle of the age. Aragorn and his friends and Théoden and the Riders of Rohan will soon follow on as swiftly as they can.
Every deed that can be accomplished by them will be vital but all will be in vain if the Ring cannot be cast into the flames of Mount Doom, Orodruin in the land of Mordor; and the Ring has been entrusted to Frodo Baggins and his servant, Sam Gamgee and they cannot even begin their journey there, the “one place in all the lands we’ve ever heard of that we don’t want to see any closer; and that’s the one place we’re trying to get to! And that’s just where we can’t get, nohow.”
Anyone who has tried to do something that really matters will have known times when they feel stuck, when it seems that all they can do is to travel round in circles and back to the beginning again. In such times they will feel abandoned, useless and desperately vulnerable. In the words of an ancient Celtic prayer they will say, “The sea is so very great and my boat is so very small.”
Frodo and Sam are in a story that is far too big for them. Frodo said Yes to the story in Bag End one night when he spoke long with Gandalf and first learnt about the Ring that he had kept for seventeen years. Later he said Yes once again at The Council of Elrond though he did not know the way. Finally he said Yes when Boromir tried to seize the Ring and Frodo knew that he could journey with the rest of the Fellowship no longer but must take the Ring alone to Mordor. Sam made a simpler choice but one that was equally costly, to go with Frodo wherever he might and to offer him whatever support he could.
The truly great stories are the ones that we somehow seem to “land in” as Sam will put it later in the story. The temptation when we realise that this is happening to us is to reject the story, to hide away in some dark corner of our soul with the doors and shutters firmly closed. Or we might try to retell it in some way that will make it more palatable for us. Or we might say Yes to the story in full recognition that it is far too big for us and that in some way we must be carried or else destroyed. We might say that Gollum hides, Saruman and briefly, Boromir, try to retell the story and Frodo and Sam say Yes to it. How Frodo and Sam will be carried as they must be we will see in future weeks.