The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 190-94)
There are times in a reading of The Lord of the Rings in which it is necessary to know that we are reading is not the kind of history that is a listing of events but a mythology. Doubtless it would do all students of history good to recognise the quasi-mythological nature of every historical narrative but Tolkien was not attempting a historical narrative that we must then seek to demythologise. He consciously sought to create a mythology, a sub-creation that honoured God. And so it is here in this description of the attack upon the camp below Weathertop by the Nazgûl. Could they have seized the Ring, even slaying the hobbits and Aragorn too? We must assume that they could. That they expected that Frodo would gradually fall under the malign influence of the Morgul-blade, a fragment of which was left in his shoulder, is without doubt, but the very nature of Frodo’s resistance to their attack shows that what happened that night was a spiritual battle as much as a clash between two forces of warriors. If it had merely been the latter I fear that the brave adventure of the hobbits would have ended that night and the Ring taken to be restored to its maker.
As we saw last week Aragorn’s singing of The Lay of Leithian, the Tale of Beren and Lúthien, took the company into the spiritual milieu of the Elder Days and the songs of Lúthien that overcame Sauron and even Morgoth long ago. Aragorn invokes the same powers as did his ancestors and so the fragile circle of light that the Nazgûl invade is a different place to the simple camp that the travellers had earlier created.
So it is that even though, to his shame, Frodo is unable to resist the command of his foes to put on the Ring, he is able, even while wearing it, to invoke the name of Elbereth, the Queen of the Valar, the angelic beings charged by God to watch over the earth.
This was the name invoked by the company of Gildor Inglorien that drove away the Black Rider on that first encounter in the woods of the Shire .
“Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady dear! O Queen beyond the Western Seas! O light to us who wander here amid the world of woven trees!”
Gildor named Frodo, elf-friend, that night, and such names are not a trivial thing in Tolkien’s world but convey a reality. “More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth,” says Aragorn, speaking of Frodo’s resistance to the Morgul-king’s attack. And just as there is all the difference in the world between the casual naming of Jesus in everyday chatter and a cry to him in desperate need so too the naming of Elbereth by an elf-friend in need has great power, far more power than that of Frodo’s will to resist.
And so the Nazgûl withdraw for a season, ringless for the present but confident that soon Frodo will be a wraith like them and powerless to resist them any longer. But there is another power at work. Aragorn goes off in search of athelas. He knows this land and where he might find what he seeks. “It is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth… It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small.”
Later in the story Aragorn will be revealed to his people through the acts of healing that he will accomplish through the use of this herb but for now he has not yet come into his own, his kingdom, and he can do little more than stay the effects of the Morgul-blade. But perhaps all that he can do as a healer is to assist the healing that another desires. Later Éowyn will be healed, not by Aragorn’s power, but by her willingness to embrace the future and to let the past be at rest. For his part Frodo will be healed by the “Gentle Purgatory” (as Tolkien put it in a letter on the subject) that he will eventually accept and undergo in the Undying Lands. For now Frodo must endure his wound while his foes wait for the opportunity to seize the Ring and so to triumph.
4 thoughts on “On Deadly Wounds and Their Healing. Aragorn Tries to Offer Frodo Some Relief After the Nazgûl Attack.”
Stephen, there was so much in this which I loved and made my heart sing, that I barely know where to begin, but much I would write would just be me playing a harmony around your melody so let it be. But I cannot let pass the words you write of the place.
Aragorn has woven a tale of light in this place, and so it is not the simple camp the travellers set up any longer. The power of place and of the stories (and prayers) we weave in them, to transform the ordinary to something of a thin place where angels and archangels and light and truth and love may bless and protect. It reminds me of traditions where the blessed sacrament is adored of course, but this here is the power of word and story and hearts that respond and make it their own. The power of The Word, but our words too as we bring ourselves (the word and story that we are), our history, our longing, and we speak them… and bless each other with them, changing ordinary air into breaths of presence and power.
There is a power in gathering, sharing, speaking, receiving … in weaving our tales and reminding ourselves of our truths, mixed sorrows and Victories and the thin line between those two things.
Right now we may not gather, but we are sustained by what we have made our own before. The story woven here at weather top has sustained Aragorn through many travels and will sustain Frodo and the others. Not just as a memory, as a reality. The ordinary places have been blessed by our tales and weaving of light and still have unlooked for power that will hold much unexpectedly at bay. And … we may still weave our story and light (as you are here) perhaps weaving wider and further the arcs over our lands, joining so many dispersed loci together in the tales of light that really do bring presence and protection and courage in mystic ways we cannot quite describe (or I can’t)
This encouraged me this morning. Thank you, dear friend.
Victoria, thank you for your appreciation of what I was trying to write. I think that Tolkien would have understood entirely your reference to the kind of places you speak of although, sadly, it is always possible to abuse a holy place no matter how much prayer has been offered there. Aragorn turns the thoughts of the hobbits away from Mordor when he tells, chants the tale of Beren and Lúthien. We see him do this time and again through the book, reconnecting himself and others with the good, the true and the beautiful. And I like very much your thoughts about learning how to tell and retell our own stories, our own personal mythology.
Oh yes of course. And what a sad thought to offer up. Anything can be twisted and warped alas. Although, many places can be redeemed, like isenguard, yet some are so hurt they remain blackened for ever and nothing grows there. You are right, Stephen, there is a darkness in the world also and we do have to acknowledge that. Alas.
The key is that we give attention to the goodness, the beauty and the truth.