Pippin awakes from a “swift moving dream in which he had been wrapped so long since the great ride began”. Shadowfax, the mightiest of horses, is rushing through Anórien, the most northerly region of the land of Gondor, bearing Gandalf and Pippin towards Minas Tirith and towards war. It is the third night since Pippin looked into the Stone of Orthanc and so was forced to endure the gaze of Sauron. Now the Dark Lord believes that a hobbit is at Isengard. He gloats ravenously at him. Is this the one who has the Ring?
Sauron is so overcome by his own anticipation that he does not wait to ask further questions. He has servants who can reach Isengard swiftly and bring the prize to him. When he has the Ring there will be no further need for questions and ample time to punish the creature who has kept it from him.
And so by a lack of curiosity Sauron gives his foes just a little time for action. Gandalf siezes the time, removing Pippin from the palantir and from the place that the Dark Lord believes him to be, and rushing as fast as possible towards the place of crisis where the battle must be fought. So too do Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli; they must find their way to Minas Tirith as quickly as they can. And so too must the hosts of Rohan and messages are sent far and wide by Théoden, their king, calling them to gather at Dunharrow. All must reach Minas Tirith in time for if the city of Gondor falls then even if Frodo is able to succeed in his mission and the Ring is unmade in the fires of Mount Doom there will be nothing to save and Frodo can go no faster than his feet can carry him and his burden will permit him. On the night on which Pippin gazes at the moon setting in the west Frodo watches it from the refuge of Henneth Anûn. He has far yet to go.
Wisdom trains us, through life and hard experience, that there are times when we can do nothing but wait; times when we must labour patiently, perhaps hoping against hope; times when we must get up again after failure and defeat; and then there times when we must grasp the slimmest of chances as swiftly as we can when they are presented to us. Gandalf has known all of these. He has laboured over two thousand years, bearing Narya, the Ring of Fire, to keep hope alive in the hearts of the free peoples of Middle-earth and in all that time he has been forced to wait as Sauron has grown in power. He has been the captive of Saruman in Orthanc, watching helplessly as the Nazgûl seek for the Ring. He has been a beggar at the gates of Théoden, forced to endure the humiliations of Wormtongue. He has even journeyed through death after the battle with the Balrog of Moria. Now there is a moment, just the briefest of moments, when he can act and even now it may be too late.
We must live our lives with our eyes open, watching for moments of opportunity. It may be given to a few to know that these are of great significance in the history of an age. They are like Simeon and Anna in the temple in Jerusalem looking for the coming of the Messiah. But all of us are called to be people of hope like them and while we wait for the dawning of the day we are called to do the acts of mercy in the knowledge that each one of them brings that dawn nearer. And we must do them most of all when it seems that the night is darkest.
13 thoughts on “On, Shadowfax! We must Hasten. Time is Short.”
You always do such a wonderful job showing just how Augustinian Tolkien’s work is. Where Chesterton takes up Thomas’ affable confidence, Tolkien’s voice shows much richer appreciate for the distance we travel. I especially like this line of your post: “Wisdom trains us, through life and hard experience, that there are times when we can do nothing but wait; times when we must labour patiently, perhaps hoping against hope; times when we must get up again after failure and defeat; and then there times when we must grasp the slimmest of chances as swiftly as we can when they are presented to us.”
Thank you so much, Michelle. I am being educated simply by reading Tolkien with care. Do you think that Tolkien was consciously Augustinian? I read Alison Milbank’s “Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians” quite recently. She makes a Thomist link between them with Maritain as an important link contemporary to them both.
I don’t know how conscious his knowledge was. I know Chesterton was very aware of Thomas, but my knowledge of Tolkien’s influences is extremely slim and relegated to his literary tastes. Also, my read of Augustine tends more toward a literary attention than a dogmatic one, so I’m probably reading more in parallels than seeing anything explicitly borrowed or intentionally taken up.
I like literary attentions! I was a little nervous in asking about Tolkien and Augustine as my intention in this blog is to achieve a certain innocence. Of course I cannot dismiss, and nor do I wish to, the fact that I have been engaging with The Lord of the Rings for almost 50 years now. This engagement runs alongside my own journey (as far as it has run so far) from boyhood to manhood so I must reflect on my own experience. That experience includes my intellectual, emotional and spiritual development. None of it can be laid aside. But the innocence for which I have sought has enabled me to encounter Tolkien’s tale with a freshness that has been truly invigorating. I am often surprised with what I find there.
That’s a great way to approach it, and it’s certainly paying off. And so hard to achieve! I often try to attend to stories as authentically as possible, but it can be hard to shut off the part of my mind that wants to draw I textual connections.
Thanks! Or I might just be genuinely ignorant 😊
I can’t imagine that’s the case!
‘Wisdom trains us, through life and hard experience, that there are times when we can do nothing but wait; times when we must labour patiently, perhaps hoping against hope; times when we must get up again after failure and defeat’
I really like that.
I found it very helpful to know that in Hebrew, the word for ‘hope’ and the word for ‘wait’ are the same word, meaning that (in the Jewish worldview) to wait is to hope and to hope is to wait. Aragorn epitomises that for me: his childhood name was Hope; he’s lived a life of hope-waiting (for Arwen and for his royal destiny), and he’s constantly telling people, in effect, “Wait and see.” And then he’s also a seize-the-day man of action. I love that combination.
Thank you so much for your comment, David. I am glad that there are those for whom the waiting is tangibly rewarded.
I am reminded of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Though I don’t think I really understand what that parable means, it came to me when I was reading the last paragraph of this post. As if the lamp oil is patience to work in hope.
I have been to Magdeburg Cathedral a few times going back to the days after the downfall of the communist regime in East Germany when it looked like a brave but battered person after a long hard struggle. At the south door visitors are greeted by a wonderful collection of medieval statues (there are many more by the same unknown artist inside) depicting the story of the wise and foolish virgins. I love them because you feel that the girls depicted there are so wonderfully alive that they could walk off the street and come past you into the great church. Actually they are more alive than many that you might meet in the street. The wise virgins look very pleased with themselves and the foolish ones very miserable. But all so alive in their pleasure and misery! What is that about?
Why do I speak of this here? Probably just the pleasure of the memory of entering a building of great spiritual power. There is much else that I could say of what lies inside. Also that the entry to the church held a constant reminder to stay awake as Gandalf did.
mm. I would love to see that.
I hope you get the opportunity.