After leaving the crossroads with the memory of the sun dipping beneath the smokes of Mordor still fresh within them Frodo and Sam are brought face to face with the haunted tower of Minas Morgul. “All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light.” This is the city of the Ringwraiths, the most terrible of all the servants of Sauron, who were once men seduced by the greatness of the Dark Lord and the rings of power given to them that are inexorably bound to the Ruling Ring. They above all have been brought by the Ring and bound in the darkness “In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”
Time and again Tolkien uses the motifs of Light and Dark within his tale. In recent chapters we have seen the wonderful play of light upon the falls of Henneth Annûn casting rainbow patterns upon the refuge that lies hidden behind them and we have seen the light of the sun falling upon the garland of flowers winding about the fallen head of the king whose statue once stood at the crossroads. Once moonlight welled “through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills”. But now Minas Ithil is become Minas Morgul and its light wavers and blows “like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse light, a light that illuminated nothing.”
When confronted by the horror that lies before them Frodo and Sam are almost overwhelmed. It is as if light and dark are principles of equal power that confront one another in an eternal conflict. Such is the reality that Sauron would have us believe in and when we thought about the Fall of Númenor a few weeks back https://stephencwinter.com/2015/08/25/faramir-remembers-numenor-that-was/ we saw how he sought to persuade its king of it. But Tolkien’s great myth is not of a universe in eternal conflict. A careful reading of The Lord of the Rings reveals a world in which light is the eternal principle that bursts through again and again despite all efforts to prevent it. And that is the point. Darkness in Tolkien’s world is but a temporary reality that requires huge effort to maintain and is always fragile and desperately vulnerable to the inbreaking of light. Indeed it is the very effort required to maintain the dark that will lead to the eventual undoing of its lord.
Myth is described as that which never happened and yet is always true. Tolkien’s great myth resonates gloriously with the truth that is declared every year at its darkest hour in the Feast of the Nativity, at Christmas: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. It resonates with the declaration that in the birth of the Christ child, as vulnerable as is the birth of any child, the illusion of the power of darkness is shattered. Tolkien described this as the True Myth, the one by which all mythology, indeed all reality, is to be understood so that all who embrace it will know an inbreaking of light, as hymn writer, William Cowper, campaigner against the Slave Trade, and one who struggled with depression all his life, put it, ”
Frodo and Sam, like Cowper in his darkest hours, will come almost to despair, but as we shall see as we journey with them into Mordor, the light cannot be overcome by dark. Hell must be harrowed because Hell is but a negligible thing so vulnerable to the invasion of light and so easily overcome by it.