“Speak Friend and Enter”. Gandalf Tries to Enter Moria by the Western Gate but is Thwarted By His Own Cleverness.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 290-300

All who know The Lord of the Rings will remember that our title this week is a mistranslation by Gandalf of these words that turns a simple instruction into an impossible riddle. What, in happier times, had been knowledge available to all, had in these times of treachery and betrayal become something arcane, known only to initiates. I fear that we live in such times and so we have to surround information that is important to us with passwords and firewalls. Like Gandalf, if we cannot remember them then, like Gandalf, we might try different possibilities with growing frustration, or as I usually do, click on the link that invites me to change the password.

The Doors of Durin. One of the rare illustrations done by Tolkien himself in The Lord of the Rings.

The latter is not an option available to Gandalf and so he must find the words that will unlock the doors that Narvi made to allow free transport between the Elven Kingdom of Hollin and Durín’s Kingdom of Moria. He speaks of his knowledge of many such words and then tries one after another as each one fails in its purpose. His patience quickly deserts him but, of course, this has never been one of Gandalf’s best qualities. At one point Pippin comes close to having his head used to beat down the door but then at last, even as the Wargs of Mordor begin to howl once more, the answer finally comes to him.

Gandalf tries to solve a riddle that is only a simple instruction. Bohemian Weasel imagines the scene.

The words on Narvi’s door read pedo mellon a minno. Gandalf had translated pedo as speak and so never actually used the word that he was intended to say. His assumption was that something needed to be spoken and so he tried to find the correct word. It is only when he realises that pedo should be translated say that it all becomes clear.

Mellon is all he needed to say. Friend.

Imagine a world in which Friend is the only password that you will ever require in order to gain entrance to any place. Such a world is one that is filled with friends and not with enemies. Such a world is one in which the hounds of Mordor do not pursue you with the intention of taking your life and a lifeless lake, one that contains a terrible secret, does not bar your passage to your destination. Such a world is one in which doors rarely need to be locked or even closed, a world in which weary travellers can expect a friendly welcome. Indeed it is a world in which the word, friend, is no mere euphemism but one that conveys precisely what it is meant to mean. Only friends were intended or expected to approach the doors of Moria.

Now, once again, a group of friends stand before these gates that are closed. Four are hobbits, two are men, one is a dwarf, one an elf and one a wizard. I call them friends and they will become friends but the bonds that tie them all together are still fragile. We all know the fierce loyalty that binds the hobbits. “We are your friends, Frodo,” were the passionate words spoken in Crickhollow by Merry that declared the intention that he, Pippin and Sam would go with their friend to follow him “like hounds”. But the other bonds are less certain. Aragorn and Boromir are still wary of each other, watching one another from a careful distance and even at the gates of Moria the ancient enmity between Elves and Dwarves is displayed. When Gandalf speaks of the unusual friendship between Moria and Hollin Gimli immediately responds by saying:

“It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned”. To which Legolas replies, “I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves”.

And Gandalf puts an end to the quarrel by saying, “I have heard both, and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both.”

At this time in the story it is Gandalf who holds them all together and who will take them all into the dark.

“I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends.” Nathalie Kranich depicts the close friendship that develops.

16 thoughts on ““Speak Friend and Enter”. Gandalf Tries to Enter Moria by the Western Gate but is Thwarted By His Own Cleverness.

  1. What a wise and timely write-up, Stephen! Thank you so much for this!
    After reading this wonderful reflection, I also thought that we need more characters like Gandalf to help assuage enmity plaguing our world. Even though Gandalf is not the most patient of the company, he seems to know how to tame his anger and impatience, and he does know how to calm down a conflict. I wish more people had such qualities!

    • Gandalf is so important in this way. I wonder if it is when they lose him that the other members of the company realise that they need each other. Even Boromir gets it eventually although rather late in the day. And I have long felt that Gandalf has a soft spot in his heart for Pippin and that when he takes him to Minas Tirith it is for his own comfort as well as to get Pippin away from the palantir. Pippin does not seem too worried that Gandalf really will beat his head against the door.

      • I totally agree with you. They have to manage without Gandalf and manage they do! There was no other way for the company but to grow more mature in their relationship towards each other. As a reader, I always feel a bit lonely and insecure when Gandalf is not there to help or share his wisdom, just as the company, I believe.
        Indeed, Gandalf is so fond of Pippin! Even despite all his scolding, he means only the best.

      • Father figures like Gandalf have always held a strong attraction for me. Now I have reached an age when there are very few of them left. Plenty of elderly people but very few elders. I hope that I can be a Gandalf for a few people.
        I did not have time to check the quote this morning but a favourite of mine is when Gandalf and Pippin are riding on Shadowfax towards Minas Tirith together and Pippin is full of questions. Gandalf’s reply is telling, I think. “All wizards should have a hobbit or two in their care- to teach them the meaning of the word, and to correct them.” I think that this is a very English way of expressing affection. We are afraid of saying too much but emotionally intelligent people learn how to read affection in others. Lucky Pippin, even if he is also a “Fool of a Took”!

      • I am sure there are people who see you as Gandalf, me being one of them. Your knowledge and life experience are a mine of wisdom which we are blessed to have shared with us.
        Emotional intelligence is definitely a thing to be mastered. I see it as one of the most crucial things to possess and to nurture.

    • Merry does seem to be quite observant and a bit of a problem-solver, especially in the Fellowship – he was one of the few to know the Ring could make you ‘disappear’, he organised the conspiracy to help Frodo, his planning at Crickhollow was meticulous, he spent his time poring over maps in Rivendell, and seemed the most knowledgable in Hobbit lore. So it seems fitting that Merry was on the right track. Perhaps, too, as a hobbit, he had the advantage of being used to riddles.

      • Yes, Merry is very intelligent and efficient. It is still rather ironic that it never occurred to the Dwarf in the company that the words above the doors to his ancestral home had something to do with the password nor to the Wizard who was a Maia incarnate and one of the Wise.

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    • Hi, I am fascinated, and a little flattered, that you are using this piece from my blog for such a purpose. I have prepared for enough interviews in my life to know how it feels for the candidates. If you have the time I would love to know in what way you are using this.

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