The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 279-286
Somehow the Company must find a way to cross The Misty Mountains in order to continue their journey towards Mordor. Aragorn knows the way the way over the mountains by the Redhorn Gate that will drop down to the Dimrill Dale and then on to the secret land of Lothlórien and he is anxious that they do not cross the mountains through Moria, a way that Gandalf describes as “dark and secret”.
I have only had limited experience of walking a trail through high mountains but two things stand out in my memory. One is that I was a small and insignificant thing and that the mountains were completely indifferent to me. They could not care whether I lived or died. I confess that I found this to be most unsettling. Most of my experience had been in the gentle, cradling landscape of southern England which, like the Shire is a land of “woods and fields and little rivers”. To be in mountains where snow is deadly was something new to me. Like Sam I always welcomed snow as a little boy as something that I could play in. “A pleasant event and a chance for fun.” When I awoke in the mountain hut in which I was staying to see snow on the ground round about me I did not think much of it but my German companions who had much more experience of snow in the mountains made an immediate decision to head down the mountain to the village in the valley below. Our expedition was at an end.I awoke in the shelter of a mountain hut but the Company had to make do with a cliff-wall. Sam doubtless expresses the feelings of his fellow hobbits when he declares, “If this is shelter, then one wall and no roof make a house.” He and his companions have to face an icy wind, driving snow and falling rocks but they sense that that there is something else. In the wind they hear “shrill cries, and wild howls of laughter” and the rocks that they can hear crashing down from above seem to have a malevolent purpose. It is Boromir who speaks this sense aloud.
“Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.”
Those who have grown up in a disenchanted clockwork world will dismiss Boromir as a superstitious man and to a certain extent they will be right. Boromir does regard the unfamiliar as being uncanny and dangerous, and he will show this most in his reaction to Lothlórien. But Aragorn, who as we will see, loves Lothlórien, also lives in an enchanted world.
“”I do call it the wind,” he says. “But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.”
Passages like these in The Lord of the Rings briefly carry us back to a high romantic world in which the heroes are children of the gods as well as of human mothers. But as Tom Shippey notes in his The Road to Middle-earth Aragorn is not such a hero and Frodo is most certainly not either. Neither has a divine father as did Achilles or the Volsungs. The brief return to the high romantic world seemingly cannot be sustained. Aragorn’s, “I do call it the wind”, and Sam Gamgee’s unhappy complaint both bring us back to mere weather but Aragorn reminds us of an older world in speaking of things in the world that “have purposes of their own” among which is Cruel Caradhras.
The Lord of the Rings is at least in part an elegiac work that mourns the passing of an enchanted world. Can we hope for a re-enchantment? How many of us would welcome the return of mountains that do not love us or weather that wants to kill us? Like the Company we might choose a different way in which to cross the Misty Mountains.
2 thoughts on ““There Are Fell Voices on The Air”. Caradhras Defeats The Fellowship of the Ring and Makes Them Seek Another Path.”
Stephen, what a fascinating and thoughtful piece. I have never been high in the mountains, but I have spent a lot of time by and on and under the sea. Strangely, perhaps, part of what I find so enchanting about it is its vastness and indifference to us. When I learned to scuba dive and was about to make my first dive in the ocean, a more experienced friend told me to remember that ‘the sea never rests, it never gets tired, and it is not your friend.’
I have been thinking a fair bit about Tolkien’s description of what is contained in Faerie. Basically, everything, including ‘ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.’ Faerie is a (the?) world without us, unless we are enchanted.
I believe he would have said that we see the world as disenchanted because we are not ourselves enchanted. The world is as enchanted as it ever was, or ever needed to be, but we cannot see it. That’s our problem, our whole problem.
I haven’t yet found a place where Tolkien says the world is disenchanted, Typical Tolkien. Everybody else says ‘the world is disenchanted’, to which he replies ‘no, we are.’
He would no doubt agree that ‘we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.’
(Is it any wonder Joni Mitchell wrote a letter to Tolkien?)
Wow! I did not know that Joni Mitchell wrote a letter to Tolkien.
I think that what I am struggling with as I have been writing this piece is that realisation that enchantment is not necessarily benevolent, at least not in the easy sentimental way in which I might like it to be. You speak of the sea and I think of lines that Wordsworth wrote as he looked over it, longing to see the gods arise from it just as they do at the end of C.S Lewis’s Prince Caspian.
“The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers;-
Little we see in Nature that is ours,
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
And yet as I write these words early in the morning in my little Crickhollow I am grateful for its shelter and fear the sheer immensity of what lies outside. That is when I ponder that vast indifference, or even the world’s dislike of those who walk on two legs. I realise how much of a hobbit I am, grateful for the gentle shelter of The Shire, rather cross that my fellow hobbits seem to take it far too much for granted, but praying that it may continue within all the changes and chances of this mortal life.