The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 306-310
After a night spent in silent thought at the door to the guardroom Gandalf announces to a rested company the way that he will lead them. “It is time we began to climb up again.”
He leads them along what was once an important road and they make good progress. Eventually they pass through an arched doorway “into a black and empty space.”
Gandalf raises his staff and light blazes forth from it for a brief moment illuminating “a vast roof far above their heads upheld by many mighty pillars hewn of stone”. They are in one of the great halls of Moria, the dwarf city of old. Sam Gamgee, who as a hobbit knows a thing or two about holes and living in them, is overwhelmed both by the hall’s sheer size and darkness.
“There must have been a mighty crowd of dwarves here once upon a time… and everyone of them busier than badgers for five hundred years to make all this, and most in hard rock too! What did they do it all for? They didn’t live in these darksome holes surely?” Sam is comparing the work of the dwarves of Moria to the creation of a hobbit hole in The Shire and he is overwhelmed by awe and by horror. Then Gimli replies.
“These are not holes… This is the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf. And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs.”
In Peter Jackson’s film version of this scene the light that blazes forth from Gandalf’s staff is allowed to shine a little longer than in the book but this allows us to gaze longer at the ancient glory of the city. The style of architecture chosen there is medieval gothic and we do not know, of course, if that is what the dwarves would actually have chosen or if that is what was in Tolkien’s imagination as he wrote this beautiful passage. But I did not mind this when I first saw this scene in the film, indeed I found myself deeply moved by the dignified grandeur of a beauty that is passing away. Like the architects of the Gothic revival of the nineteenth century, men like Pugin who created the British Houses of Parliament, I think that medieval gothic was one of the great human achievements, seeking as it did to express divine beauty, essential beauty, for the sake of the glory of God alone. A few years ago a game of Monopoly was created which was located in the city of Worcester here in England that lies just a few miles from my home. I remember being much amused by the fact that the city’s cathedral was the most valuable property on the board. Of course it is easily the most beautiful building in the city but as to its monetary value how does one calculate this? If it were not a cathedral whose purpose is the worship of God what would it be used for? Any other use would diminish its beauty in order to make it more use-ful in the utilitarian sense that dominates modern thought. It might become a museum but then would be merely a memory of that which we once had and knew but which we would have lost.
My experience of being moved by Peter Jackson’s powerful evocation of this scene was tinged with sadness. Like Gimli I felt that I was looking on a glory that was passing away and could never return. Tolkien’s world is one in which the future is one in which two possibilities seem to lie ahead. One is Sauron’s future which is a descent into darkness. It is one in which Sam’s “darksome holes” becomes the only reality there is. The other is more ambiguous in its nature. One is expressed in the hope of Aragorn and the Return of the King. The other is expressed in the world that Lotho Pimple and Ted Sandyman briefly tried to create in The Shire, a world of business opportunities. And although this world is thwarted at The Battle of Bywater and by the death of Saruman and the other principal actors one cannot help but feel that it lurks in the shadows waiting its moment. And it is this world, the world of greed for gain, that brought about the fall of Moria, through lust for mithril. Frodo wears a mithril shirt that is worth more money than the entire value of The Shire.