Should I say that Frodo and Sam lead us into the dark? It is the last place that either of them wish to go and this is no ordinary dark. This is the dark of Shelob’s Lair, a deeper and a denser dark even than the tunnels of Moria, “a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Night had always been, and always would be, and night was all.”
Neither Frodo nor Sam ever wished to be here. Gollum wished otherwise for this is his act of betrayal. He has led them into this trap into to have them killed and so, he hopes, to recover the Ring. Perhaps I should have entitled this piece, “Gollum leads us into the dark.” But my choice of title was deliberate. Readers of The Lord of the Rings are here because they have come to love Frodo and Sam.
And I have another meaning. I cannot read this part of the story without thinking of my own experience of darkness. I have never been in a darkness in which I have been afraid. Once in Africa I remember being guided through a darkness so deep that I could only just make out my guide in front of me but I was not afraid because I trusted him, even though he was a stranger, and my trust proved justifiable. I reached a safe place from which I could continue my journey the next day. No, for me the darkness that is fearful is an inner darkness. This is the darkness in which “even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light” fades out of thought. In his “East Coker” T.S Eliot puts it this way :
“O dark, dark, dark. They all go into the dark…/ And we all go with them into the silent funeral. No one’s funeral for there is no one to bury.”
And in the lines between those that I have quoted he makes it clear that being of good reputation is of no protection from the journey into the dark. It is one that we all must take. And the darknesses through which we pass during our lives are most fearful because they speak to us of the dark at the end of life. The dark from which we fear there will be no end. Frodo and Sam feel this: “One hour, two hours, three hours : how many had they passed in this lightless hole? Hours- days, weeks rather.”
The dark that we are certain will end does not have the power of the dark that we fear to be endless. Yet so many of the great myths seem to require of their heroes such a journey. Tolkien knew this very well and the True Myth that he spoke of in a conversation with C.S Lewis, a conversation that changed Lewis’s life for ever, speaks of a journey through the total darkness of death itself, a journey into an a aliveness so complete that death can have nothing to do with it at all. Eliot speaks of it in “East Coker”, “I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you which shall be the darkness of God.”
So there is a darkness of God. And it is a real darkness, not the gentle turning down of the lights for an intimate evening together but the terrible darkness of death itself, the dark through which Jesus passed of which the creeds speak saying that he descended into hell. Eliot speaks of it in our experience in these words:
“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope for hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. ”
So we have to learn how to die before we die so that we can truly live without fear of death or of the darknesses that come upon us in our lifetime. We learn how to die in order to be fully alive.