On the journey to Mordor food is more to Frodo, Sam and Gollum than taking in sufficient energy to accomplish another day’s march. It is a sign that connects them to or separates them from the ground of their being and which unites or divides them from one another. Lembas, the waybread of the Elves given to them when they left Lothlorien, is all that Frodo and Sam have to eat as they pass through the barren lands to the north of the border of Mordor, through the Dead Marshes and then the desolation that is the land before the Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor. They may wish for some variety in their diet but they are profoundly nourished by this food of the Elves. Not only does it sustain them upon each weary day but it also has a virtue that gives them courage and hope.
But not so, Gollum. When Frodo offers him some of the scant supply that he has of Lembas we are told that “Gollum sniffed at the leaf and his face changed: a spasm of disgust came over it, and a hint of his old malice.” Gollum can smell the leaves of the Elven lands and the smell is to him a foul stench that speaks of enmity, judgement and of imprisonment. The very food that has such virtue to the hobbits is vicious to him. “He spat, and a fit of coughing took him.”
Lembas reminds us of ancient symbols, of the manna in the wilderness that sustained the children of Israel through their forty year sojourn in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land, and of the bread of the Eucharist in the Christian tradition that is a waybread to those who look to it for sustenance. In the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England the Minister seeks to remind his hearers of the nature of the food that is offered to them at the holy table.
“It is our duty to render most humble and hearty thanks to Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that he hath given his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, not only to die for us, but also to be our spiritual food and sustenance in that holy Sacrament.”
So it is that the one who comes to receive the Sacrament is not only nourished but also profoundly connected to the deepest ground of their being. The one who eats it is linked to not only to that ground but also to all others that share the bread and the wine. It is a waybread for the journey and unites those who are sustained by it more profoundly than do ties of gender, family, sexuality, class, nationality or race. The Minister’s warning to those who are about to receive this food tells us that we cannot allow anything to divide us from each other or else we take it unworthily and so do ourselves harm.
Frodo longs to heal the great divide that lies between himself and Gollum but he cannot. For this to happen Gollum would have to come and “Open his Grief” as the Prayer Book puts it. He would have to weep for the murder of Déagol, his closest friend from whom he took the Ring. He would have to give up the fiction of the birthday present withheld by Déagol that he has long cherished to justify his crime. He would have to acknowledge his utter wretchedness. He would have to long for healing, maybe even for death. He would have to give up the Ring and join Frodo and Sam in their wish to destroy it and all the evil that it has the power to do.
“I think this food would do you good, if you would try,” says Frodo. “But perhaps you can’t even try, not yet anyway.”