After Sam has found Frodo in the highest part of the Tower of Cirith Ungol he finds orc gear for them both to wear, stripping the bodies of those who have fallen in the fight over Frodo’s mithril coat. And then they begin their impossible journey towards Orodruin, the mountain where Sauron once forged the One Ring and where, if possible, they must destroy it. But first they must pass two creatures that stand guard over the way from the tower into Mordor, the Watchers.
“At length they came to the door upon the outer court, and they halted. Even from where they stood they felt the malice of the Watchers beating on them, black silent shapes on either side of the gate through which the glare of Mordor dimly showed. As they threaded their way among the hideous bodies of the orcs each step became more difficult. Before they even reached the archway they were brought to a stand. To move an inch further was a pain and weariness to will and limb.”
Frodo and Sam do not merely face the peril of encountering enemies along the way but the spiritual power of one who hates all that is living and free. This power animates all its slaves to do its bidding, amongst whom are the Watchers. Their malice must be implacable to enable them to stand guard for their master day after day and year after year in this one place and it is too much for the exhausted hobbits.
At least it is too much for Frodo, weakened as he is by the Ring, but Sam has enough strength to draw out the elven-glass of Galadriel and that one simple act is enough. As the light of the Silmaril blazes forth words come to mind from the moment when Gildor Inglorion and his company sang them in the woods of the Shire and the Nazgûl that had sent by Sauron to hunt for the Ring fled from them.
Gilthoniel, a Elbereth!
And Frodo calls out behind him.
Aiya elenion ancalima!
Starkindler, O Elbereth! Hail, brightest of stars!
When I wrote about Sam’s encounter with the orc, Snaga, a few weeks ago https://stephencwinter.com/2017/06/26/snaga-knows-that-he-is-up-against-a-power-much-greater-than-he-is/ I spoke of how it was not only the menace of the Ring that Snaga could feel as Sam approached him but another power too. It is this same power that overcomes the malice of the Watchers and it is the power of the Valar that Sam and Frodo invoke and which comes to their aid as the star-glass is revealed.
Tolkien describes this movingly as Sam draws out the glass. “As if to do honour to his hardihood, and to grace with splendour his faithful brown hobbit-hand that had done such deeds, the phial blazed forth suddenly, so that all the shadowy court was lit with a dazzling radiance like lightning.”
What Tolkien does is to describe the beautiful relationship of the one who invokes a power and the power that is invoked. The mistake made by those who seek power over others is to believe that they must achieve mastery. For them, what is known as magic, is the gaining of mastery over the powers. Sauron, the Necromancer, is such a magician, and far too much that is known as science is not far removed from this. It is a human search for mastery. A mastery over nature that separates humankind from fellow creatures and a mastery that seperates the scientist from his fellow humans. In C.S Lewis’s science fiction trilogy the figure of Weston is such a scientist. His speech to Ransome in Out of the Silent Planet, Uncle Andrew’s speech to Digory and Polly in The Magician’s Nephew and Saruman’s speech to Gandalf in Isengard are all very much of the same kind. They are speeches in praise of mastery. Frodo and Sam seek nothing of the kind. They are willing servants of the Good, the Beautiful and the True and they have offered their lives for the sake of those that they love. This is what the Valar, the servants of the One, honour and delight in and so they come to the aid of the hobbits in this dark place.
Image of the Watchers by Howard Koslow from http://img-fan.theonering.net
8 thoughts on “Sam and Frodo Bring the Valar to Mordor”
Because I am at heart a ridiculous Baggins, I can’t resist pointing out that this piece is also describing the contrast between the ideas of water held by the hydraulic engineer and the surfer.
Thank you so much for your comment. I might have a guess at the contrast you speak of but I would be grateful if you could explain it a little more!
Nothing profound. Surfers know they’re in the presence of a power greater than themselves. They voluntarily submit to it, and thus accomplish their aims. Sauron and Saruman are more like the engineers, never sure they’ve included everything in their calculations, and wondering when it will all blow up in their faces.
I have had many friends over the years who have been engineers and I have liked them all. None have reminded me of Saruman, Weston or Uncle Andrew! I live at the junction of two canals, with a wharf behind us, constructed at either end of the golden age of canal engineering in the time of the industrial revolution in Britain. This means that we are almost surrounded by water. A few years ago we had record rainfall over the winter months, greater than at any time since the canals were first constructed and yet at no time was our cottage threatened by flooding. I was very grateful to those engineers who constructed waterways that work on the principle of gravity alone. They kept us dry!
I have known one or two surfers too. I never felt that I would like to entrust something really important to them! I begin to wonder if I am missing something! Any thoughts?
I like the thought of being in the presence of something greater than we are though. I am trying to picture Frodo and Sam surfing through Mordor. I have met one or two incredibly creative people who seem to do that. I am not sure that Frodo and Sam do. They are plodders. I feel closer to that than to the idea of surfing. I am a plodder too.
Do forgive me if I have gone all preachy. Do feel free to put me in my place and thank you for your comment.
I love your title here. These hobbits are not consciously aware of their Creator or the majesty truly behind the Valar, though Frodo at least knows the name of Elbereth as he hears Gildor and his company sing to her. Yet more than once they are moved by the Spirit to pray to Elbereth, as here and Frodo at Weathertop. As St. Paul (I believe) says, we don’t know how to pray as we ought so the Spirit intercedes and prays for us and with us.
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
It really only struck me on this reading of LOTR that Frodo and Sam are not alone in their journey through Mordor even though for most of that journey they feel very much alone. The invocation of the star of Eärendil in Shelob’s Lair, the strength given to Sam to overcome the invincible Shelob, the power that Snaga senses on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, the song that Sam discovers that reaches out to Frodo and the cry to Elbereth in the courtyard before the malice of the Watchers. Tolkien himself says Shelob had heard the cry to Elbereth before and had not heeded it. This time it is different and I am sure that it is the special grace that goes with the faithful hobbits that overcomes her and the other foes. And I love those words, “as if to do honour to his hardihood…”, regarding Sam.
Thank you for pointing me to those words of St Paul. I think they make the point perfectly and they are such an encouragement to us.
Tom Bombadil is called the Master, but it is denied that he is the owner. So mastery without possession or ownership — that is to say, without domination — seems good or at least acceptable. I also think of Galadriel’s answer to Frodo when he asks her about using the Ring. She says that to use the Ring he would have to train his mind to the domination of the minds of others. The distinction between Elf Magic, as Sam calls it, and ‘the devices of the Enemy’ which Galadriel says are also called ‘magic’ lies in this area.
And I can only agree that the hobbits are not as alone as they think.
Thank you so much for your comment here. I love the horror with which Goldberry rejects the hobbits’ suggestion that Tom Bombadil might be the owner of the land in which he dwells and had forgotten those chilling words of Galadriel. How it would revolutionise our lives if we were to grasp that distinction between mastery and ownership. I was reading this week of the gradual spread of a perverted kind of ownership of public spaces in London by means of the imposition of secret systems of regulation by large corporations enforced by private security firms. Those who took part in the famous mass trespass of 1932 have long been heroes of mine. We need to maintain their legacy and widen it in the UK.