“I Will Not Walk Blindfold, Like a Beggar or a Prisoner”. The Sadness of a Divided World is Shown in the Beauty of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 332-340

After crossing the Nimrodel the Fellowship meet Elves of Lothlórien for the first time. Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin are guards upon the border and perform their duty conscientiously. In the night a company of orcs cross the stream so it is well that the Company are safe amid the high branches of a mallorn tree and in the morning they begin their journey further into the enchanted wood.

But here the story stumbles as if it has been plunged into darkness, for here the elven guards insist that one of the Fellowship must be blindfolded. Gimli the Dwarf cannot look upon the ways into Lothlórien.

“I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner,” he complains. “And I am no spy. My people have never had dealings with any of the servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done any harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.”

The Blindfolding of the Fellowship

That Gimli speaks the truth regarding his own heart there is no doubt but sadly there is much of the history of his people and the Elves that he leaves unsaid. In the tales of the Elder Days there are many sad stories of betrayal and readers of The Hobbit will remember how Legolas’s father, Thranduil of the Woodland Realm in the north of Mirkwood, imprisoned the company of Thorin Oakenshield among whose number was Gimli’s father, Gloín. They will then remember how Thorin, at first, refused to share any of the wealth of the Lonely Mountain following the fall of Smaug the Dragon and how with Dain Ironfoot of the Iron Hills he was prepared to go to war with Thranduil’s people in order to defend it.

But perhaps most sad of all was the history of Moria. We have seen how at one time there was close friendship between Durin’s people and the Noldor of Hollin, the people of Celebrimbor, how the gates of Moria could be opened by a simple expression of friendship but then how this golden age came to a terrible end first through Sauron’s betrayal of Celebrimbor who he had pretended to befriend in order to learn the lore of making rings of power and then through the disturbing of the Balrog hiding in the depths of Moria who slew Durin and drove his people from their home.

The Balrog of Moria

The tale of the peoples who dwelt east of the Misty Mountains during the long story of the rise of Sauron, first in Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood and then in Mordor, is one of a retreat behind defences. Such defences were necessary. We saw the company of orcs cross Nimrodel in search of the Fellowship and defence needed to be made against them and every land had to act in much the same way but what happened behind each fence was that the world beyond it became at first unknown and then suspect, even dangerous. So Celeborn of Lórien warns against Fangorn Forest while the people of Rohan know Lothlórien as Dwimordene, the place of phantoms. And for the Galadhrim, the tree people of Lothlórien, the dwarves who awoke the Balrog of Moria are most suspect of all.

Haldir, who has travelled on missions for his Lord and Lady puts it best of all.

“In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlórien, unless maybe in Rivendell, that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land.”

At the last Aragorn agrees that all the Fellowship will walk blindfold into Lórien so that Gimli is not singled out as a possible threat to its security. Gimli is now prepared to laugh as if this all a merry jest but all feel the sadness of being prisoners amid such loveliness.

The Beauty that cannot be seen in a Dangerous World.

“Do You Hear the Voice of Nimrodel?” The Fellowship Enter an Enchanted Land.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 328-332

A reading of The Lord of the Rings is a journey that runs between enchantment and disenchantment. It begins with Gaffer Gamgee discoursing on how cabbages and potatoes are better for his son than Elves and Dragons and how Sam would be wise to keep out of the affairs of his betters in case he lands in trouble too big for him. These are prophetic words indeed although the Gaffer will never see all that his son will see precisely by getting into trouble. And the Gaffer, for all his homespun wisdom and hobbit good sense, has no notion that one day he and his kind will be as much regarded as a kind of fairy folk as the Elves are in his own time.

Like the Gaffer, Boromir is easily disturbed by anything that is redolent of the uncanny. Although he names Lothlórien, the Golden Wood, his knowledge of it is more closely formed by the name that the Rohirrim have for the land the Company are about to enter, Dwimordene, or the Land of Phantoms. So it is already true that many who live in Tolkien’s world are disenchanted themselves and already fear anything that might exist outside an experience of cabbages, potatoes and things of that are of an easily accessible nature.

Anna Kulisz is enchanted by light shining through trees in Lothlórien

Understandably Aragorn is disappointed with Boromir because for him Lothlórien is the place of ultimate enchantment, for it was here that he first met Arwen. Even in our times the experience of falling in love transforms everything. Oscar Hammerstein may not have been making an intentionally philosophical point when he wrote the lyrics of “Some Enchanted Evening” but anyone who has truly fallen in love knows what he means. But Aragorn’s disappointment goes further. “Lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of Lothlórien.” The heirs of Númenor really ought to know better.

It is Frodo, one whose name, Elf-friend, means much more than a simple disposition to like Elves, who first becomes aware of the nature of the land that the Company have come to. First, in the crossing of Nimrodel, he feels “the stain of travel and all weariness” wash from his limbs. Did all his companions have the same experience? Tolkien does not answer the question but if Boromir had then surely his inclination to fear Lothlórien might have altered even just a little. And I doubt whether the orcs who followed some time later had any experience of healing in crossing the stream.

Stephen Graham Walsh evokes the healing power of Nimrodel

Legolas speaks to his companions about Nimrodel and as he does so they hear “the music of the waterfall running sweetly in the shadows”. But it is Frodo who hears “a voice singing, mingled with the sound of the water”.

“Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel?” asks Legolas and he tells them the story of the Silvan princess who once dwelt here long ago and whose memory lingers still in the land that was her home. As with so many songs of the Elves it is a tale of sadness about that which has been lost but it is beautiful yet. And as he sings his hearers are drawn further into Faerie just as Frodo, Sam and Pippin were when they were guests of Gildor Inglorien at the very beginning of their journey in their own familiar land.

Liga Klavina imagines Nimrodel whose memory enchants the stream that bears her name..

And that, of course, is what Tolkien is trying to convey to his readers. That it is possible, even in a place that we think we know so well that nothing about it could ever surprise us, to be suddenly drawn into an enchanted land. We have already spoken of how falling in love can do this. We might add moments like the birth of a child or when a ray of the sun suddenly bursts through the clouds illuminating all that lies around us. We might quickly get a hold of ourselves and reduce all experience to the atomic particles that make it up or we might follow the path of wonder and delight and see where it leads us. Frodo and Boromir will experience Lothlórien in very different ways because of the way in which they have nourished their inner lives.

“It Was Well Given!” Gimli Takes Delight in Frodo’s Mithril Coat and in Thorin Oakenshield’s Giving.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 326-328

Aragorn is anxious to put as much distance as possible between the Company and the eastern gates of Moria before darkness falls. He is sure that they will be pursued by orcs and so he pushes his companions to keep going. But in the fight in the Chamber of Mazarbul both Sam and Frodo were wounded and Frodo by a troll’s spear thrust that, as Aragorn put it, “would have skewered a wild boar”. At first the flow of adrenaline in battle enabled them both to forget their wounds and after that the fall of Gandalf drives everything from mind, heart and body, but as the weariness of the day continues so their hurts begin to claim attention.

“I am sorry, Frodo!” Aragorn cries. “So much has happened this day and we have such need of haste, that I have forgotten that you were hurt; and Sam too.”

So it is that at last Frodo’s hidden mithril coat is discovered. The Company has discussed it once before while in Moria when Gandalf spoke of how it was mithril that always drew the Dwarves back to their ancestral home.

Bilbo gives Frodo the coat of mithril.

Mithril! All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but the beauty of mithril did not tarnish or grow dim.”

It was one of Tolkien’s many achievements in The Lord of the Rings to create something that our imaginations are capable of conceiving and yet does not exist. He saw his work as that of a sub-creator and the word, “sub” was of vital importance here. He chose deliberately to place himself under the Creator in absolute distinction from Morgoth, and later Sauron, who in failing to create anything independently of Ilúvatar would only mar, mock or corrupt. The orcs were the saddest fruit of this desire to create in envy of Eru but one might argue that there were other works such as the corruption of Númenor that were just as unhappy. And here we might note that unhappiness was always the fruit of their work. Was there ever a time when they pursued happiness as a goal in and of itself? Perhaps in the earliest days but in all the history of Arda the works of Morgoth and then of Sauron and their followers are acts of despair. All they can do is to achieve control and thus reject happiness.

Not so Gimli. Readers of Tolkien’s works know how prone the Dwarves were to avarice. The desire of Thorin Oakenshield for the Arkenstone of Erebor almost destroyed the achievement won by the slaying of Smaug. That any gifts were given at all at the ending of The Hobbit seemed unlikely at one point but when at the last gifts were made they were indeed kingly as Gimli put it when he learned that Bilbo had been given a mithril coat by Thorin before he died. In Gimli’s eyes the knowledge that Thorin had given such a gift only made him the greater for great kings made great gifts in all worlds until modern times. And when Gimli finally saw the mithril coat upon Frodo his admiration and reverence only grew.

“But it was well given!”

The Caves of Aglarond. The shape and light beautifully evoked by Hannah Joy Patterson.

Later Galadriel will speak praise of Gimli and his understanding of wealth when she says of him that his hands “shall flow with gold” and yet over him “gold shall have no dominion”. It is not that Gimli has no concept of the idea of the price of things. He quite happily states that Frodo’s mithril coat is worth more than the entire value of the Shire but it is beauty that is the true ruler of Gimli’s heart. His greatest work after the War of the Ring was the creation of what artists would now call an installation in the Caves of Aglarond, a true act of subcreation made from crystal, the shaping of caverns and of light. And the gift that he will treasure most will be three tresses of the hair of Galadriel that he will wear next to his heart within a jewel that he has crafted himself.

Gimli asks for three tresses of Galadriel’s hair.

“My Heart Would be Glad if I Were Beneath the Eaves of That Wood, and it Were Springtime.” The Fellowship Draw Near to Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.324-326

As Tolkien takes us from the dark of Moria and the terrible events at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm so the language that he uses grows ever richer and more verdant. It is Legolas, the Wood-elf from the green of Mirkwood who first speaks of the land that they approach.

“‘There lie the woods of Lothlórien!’ said Legolas. ‘That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land.'”

Ted Nasmith’s imagining of Lothlórien

The history of Lothlórien goes back to the earliest days of the First Age and a settlement there of Silvan, or woodland elves, kindred to Legolas’s own people. When the Valar called the Elves to come to Valinor for fear of Morgoth the Silvan elves had refused the call, choosing to stay east of the Misty Mountains in the vale of Anduin. It was these who were found by Galadriel and Celeborn, fleeing eastward from the war that destroyed the kingdom of Eregion in the Second Age and they became lords of the people who dwelt there. So it was that the two great strongholds of the Elves in Middle-earth were created after the destruction wrought by Sauron, Imladris or Rivendell founded by Elrond and Lothlórien founded by Galadriel and Celeborn.

The Sindarin elves who came with Galadriel named the woodland realm that they settled in Laurelindórenan, or the Valley of Singing Gold, so-called because of the mallorn trees, gifts of Gil-galad, that they had brought with them. It is of these that Legolas speaks in language that becomes ever more poetic.

“For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. Not till the spring comes, and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey.”

(I have not been able to find the name of the artist who has done this beautiful painting. Can anyone help me? )

You can almost feel Legolas savouring his own words like fine wine, especially the adjectives, golden, golden, and silver. Tolkien himself enjoyed a visceral relationship to language so that he could experience a word both in his senses and in his inner life and in passages like this, even though they are written in the Common Tongue, both for the sake of the Company and for his readers like myself, they are still able to convey a sense of this relationship. We too long to travel to this earthly paradise and to hear and taste the music of the singing gold.

But its name is no longer Laurelindórenan but Lothlórien. It has become the Dreamflower or even just Lórien, or Dream Land. Later Treebeard will speak of this to Merry and Pippin.

“Now they make the name shorter: Lothlórien they call it. Perhaps they are right; maybe it is fading, not growing. Land of the Valley of Singing Gold, that was it, once upon a time. Now it is the Dreamflower.”

The dream that the Fellowship will enter will still be potent, still intoxicating, and perhaps just a little frightening, very frightening for those who bring their peril with them as Sam will later put it to Faramir in Henneth Annûn. But it is a land that is falling asleep, “fading, not growing”. Tolkien skilfully shows a world that is still saturated with the myth of Eden. Like Legolas we cry with yearning, “My heart would be glad if I were beneath the eaves of that wood, and it were springtime!” or with Aragorn, “My heart will be glad, even in the winter”, but as we read The Lord of the Rings we come to realise that there is no return to Eden, that if there is to be a place for us, somewhere, then it lies before and beyond us. As Aragorn will say to Arwen Undómiel at his own ending, “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them there is more than memory.”

Anna Kulisz imagines the Fellowship in Lothlórien

“I Would Not Have You Go Without Seeing Kheled-zâram.” Gimli Takes Frodo to The Mirrormere.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.324-325

Gandalf has only just fallen into the abyss beneath the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and Aragorn is anxious that the Company should put as much distance as it possibly can between itself and the Gates of Moria. He knows that as soon as night falls orcs will commence their pursuit and all the lives of the remaining members of the Fellowship will be in great danger.

But despite both grief and danger there is one member who cannot leave this place without looking and that person is Gimli the dwarf. Even though, ever since Gandalf read aloud from the Book of Mazarbul in the chamber that held it and which contained the tomb of Balin, Gimli has known that Balin himself was slain by orcs at this spot he must still pause upon his journey and look.

Ted Nasmith’s depiction of Mirrormere. It feels like a devotion before a sacrament.

Gimli goes to look into the Mirrormere, the waters of Kheled-zâram about which we thought some weeks ago. It is the most sacred place in all the world of the dwarves, the place where Durin at his awakening looked, and saw his own reflection crowned by stars.

"He stooped and looked in Mirrormere, 
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head."

Gimli must look at this also and when he does so he looks upon the sacred mystery of his own people, star-crowned amidst the endless depths of space, a reflection in a flawless mirror, but only an image and not a reality. That reality, as the dwarves believe, lies ahead in some future time. And the language that they use to speak of this time is the awakening of Durin from sleep. Perhaps Balin went to look in the waters hoping to see his own reflection held by the crown of stars, wondering whether he might be Durin reawakened. The death that he suffered by an orc arrow there brutally put an end to such dreams if such dreams he had.

Alan Lee has us look at Mirrormere from a distance.
"But still the sunken stars appear 
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep, 
Till Durin wakes again from sleep."

Later Galadriel will understand why Gimli had to look upon the “ancient home” of his people and in expressing her understanding she will awaken love and devotion in his heart. Surely a love and devotion that he is feeling after, seeking for in his heart, as he goes to look in the waters but does not find until he sees it in the smile of one that he had thought an enemy.

But why did Gimli choose Frodo to be his companion in his search? We note that Gimli is not alone in making this choice. On the hill of Cerin Amroth, “the heart of Elvendom on earth” where Aragorn’s “heart dwells ever” he takes Frodo’s hand in his as he walks away from his own sacred place in order to continue the journey. It is as if both Gimli and then Aragorn wish to draw the Ringbearer into their stories, their sacred stories, thus linking the story that he must live and breathe with their own. Neither Gimli nor Aragorn seek to forge a friendship with Frodo. For Gimli that bond belongs to his friendship with Legolas while for Aragorn it belongs to some degree to Legolas and Gimli as they journey across the plains of Rohan in search of Merry and Pippin and then through many trials until the great battle before the gates of Minas Tirith, but is kept most truly for Arwen and for her alone. No, it is not friendship that they seek but an almost unconscious entwining of their stories, their deepest longings, with Frodo and the burden that has been laid upon him.

There is a sense in which Frodo is a figure who is becoming almost other worldly. A certain kind of holiness, of separateness, is being ascribed to him. Is it, for example, entirely a random choice on Tolkien’s part to have Pippin ask Sam what he saw in Mirrormere and not his old friend from rambles in the Shire? Perhaps there is a sense that what Frodo sees in this holy place belongs to him alone. It is Sam who must tell the others but Sam too has been rendered silent by the vision, by the mystery of this place.

Kimberley80 draws us closer in to what Durin saw.

“We Must Do Without Hope”. The Company Go On After The Fall of Gandalf.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 321-324

How do we carry on after the catastrophe has happened? The journey of the Fellowship through Moria has taken them at last to the terrible climax at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf has broken the bridge upon which both he and the Balrog confronted one another and then,

“With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasping vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”

“Fly you Fools!”

All in the briefest of moments the Company experience the terrible juxtaposition of relief at the fall of their deadly foe and then sheer horror as they witness in total helplessness the fall of Gandalf into the dark. At that moment it is Aragorn who is able to lead them all away from what remains a deadly danger out from Moria into the bright sun beyond its doors where grief overcomes them all.

The Fellowship Are Overcome By Grief

And so they stand in the strange unreality of a sunlit day after the dark, and the yet stranger unreality of being alive after they have lost one whom they have all loved, who presence has seemed to them to have been one of the few certainties in a world that is in constant flux; one whose very existence has enabled them to give shape to that world. It is Aragorn again who finds words to express this.

“‘We must do without hope,’ he said. ‘At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do.'”

This begins a thread that runs through the narrative of the next part of the story and is associated most with Aragorn. It is the theme of hope, the loss of hope and how to continue after hope has gone. Ever since the debate between Gandalf and Aragorn took place about which way the Company should cross the Misty Mountains Aragorn has been gripped by an inner sense that if they were to go through Moria something terrible would happen to Gandalf. All through the journey in the dark he has remained separate from the others, breaking his silence only at a moment when it seemed that doubt would take hold of them all. Might it be said that this inner sense, this foresight, has in some way prepared him for this moment? Might it be said that that all through Moria he has begun to live without Gandalf, who has been guide, even father to him?

“Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?”

The Fellowship must continue their journey, not because they have hope that they will succeed but simply because they have a task to fulfil. The Ring must go to the Fire. What part each one of them will play in this is not yet clear. Only upon Frodo has the obligation to complete the task been laid by the Council and Sam will go with him because that is who Sam is. The point will come in the journey when each member of the Company will have to make their own choice about what they must do and as this point is reached for most of them the choice will become harder to make. Only Boromir will be certain about what direction the Fellowship must take and at the last it will be his certainty that will enable, even force, Frodo to make his choice and the attack by the Uruk-hai will force the choice of the others. But what they will all have to do will have to be done without the hope that Gandalf gave them, that sense that whatever happened there would be someone to sort everything out. It has been wisely said that we know for certain that we are grown ups when we know that our parents are not going to come to rescue us from whatever predicament we have got ourselves into. That realisation can be catastrophic in nature and for some it comes too soon in life. Only time will tell whether it has come too soon for the Fellowship of the Ring.

“You Cannot Pass.” Gandalf Confronts The Balrog at The Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.310-323

At the end of their journey through Moria the Company are pursued by orcs and trolls and then, worst of all, by a Balrog, one of the most terrible servants of Morgoth, a survivor of the Elder Days, that had hid from the wrath of the Valar in the depths of the Misty Mountains until it was disturbed by dwarves delving ever deeper in search of mithril in the Mines of Moria. For this is Durin’s Bane. This is why the dwarves have always failed to return to their ancient kingdom and why Balin and his companions had finally fallen after early success in their attempt to regain their ancestral home.

Not knowing the true identity of his foe Gandalf has attempted to turn back its power and has exhausted himself in the process. Now he stands alone on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm knowing that unless he overthrows his enemy the Quest of the Ring and the lives of all the Fellowship are at an end.

“The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring gleamed cold and white. His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm.”

Alan Lee depicts the battle on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Note how all the light comes from Gandalf and not from the Balrog.

It is at this moment of crisis, of deepest need, that Gandalf reaches down into the innermost depths of his being, of his soul, there to find his true self.

“‘You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.'”

Those who are careful readers of Tolkien will have become used to certain aspects of his style as a writer. Things such as the way that he uses capital letters in certain nouns and his use of exclamation marks. They will notice that the sentence, “You cannot pass”, does not end with an exclamation mark neither at the moment when Gandalf first speaks to the Balrog nor when he repeats these words. In other words Gandalf does not shout. This is not a challenge of a warrior to his foe. It is a simple statement of reality.

The reality is that of the world in which Gandalf and the Balrog both stand. The Balrog is, even in its terrible power, a creature of the shadow, not of the flame in whose light all the works of evil are no more than shadow, even its fire. In his excellent study of the spiritual vision of J.R.R Tolkien, Stratford Caldecott describes the Secret Fire, “the flame of Anor” as “Tolkien’s term for the distinctive creative power of Eru. It is God’s ‘secret’, for only God can truly create ex nihilo (from nothing). For Tolkien the fire represents life, love and creativity, the wisdom and love of God that burns at the heart of the world and sustains it in existence- it is a willed emanation from the creative energy of God’s own self; it is the life of God shared with the world” (Secret Fire by Stratford Caldecott, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003, p107).

Anna Kulisz wonderfully imagines the Ainulindalë and the Secret Fire at its heart.

This is what Gandalf serves, what Morgoth lusted after in order to possess for himself but could never attain except as a gift freely offered by Eru to all who, like Gandalf, offer their lives in free service to him. Morgoth and his terrible servants, like the Balrog and like Sauron himself, could never possess the fire because they could never serve. The fire that they wield is mere shadow and it is to the Shadow that Durin’s Bane must return. It cannot pass.

Tolkien expresses this wonderfully as the Balrog responds to Gandalf’s words. “The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew.” And so begins their mighty struggle upon the Bridge of Khazad-dûm to which I will return next week.

Gandalf Gives Light in the Dark of Moria. Matt Stewart’s fine depiction of the Servant of the Secret Fire.

“These Are Not Holes. This is The Great Realm and City of The Dwarrowdelf.” Gimli Speaks of The Glory of Moria Of Old.

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.

Alan Lee’s depiction of the Halls of Moria

“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.”

Peter Jackson gives us a sense of the smallness of the Company amidst the “black and empty space” of Hall 21.

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.

What is the real estate value of Worcester Cathedral or might we understand its true value in other terms?

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.

“Fool of a Took!” Gandalf and Pippin at The Well in The Guardroom in Moria.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 303-306

The weary travellers have come to a place in which three choices lie before them. Not that it is the Company that will make the choice. Every one of them has given this task to Gandalf. He is the guide through the vast mines of Khazad-dûm. But at this point Gandalf is unsure about which way to go and too weary to make a decision. There is a guardroom nearby and they decide to rest within it.

At the centre of the room there is a well that is completely unprotected and Pippin is strangely drawn towards it. Is it Aragorn’s words of warning that have this effect? “One of you might have fallen in and still be wondering when you were going to hit the bottom.” How deep is the well? Pippin needs to know and so he drops a stone into it. It is many seconds before the stone plunges into water in the depths below and when it does it makes a sound that reverberates around the cavernous walls of the well.

It is necessary now for engineers to suspend their disbelief. We have reflected on other occasions about the weaving of history and mythology within The Lord of the Rings and it is clear now that we have entered the realms of mythology, that which never happened but is always true. While we cannot conceive a well so deep that to raise a bucket of water by hand would be a task that would take a very long time indeed we can and do conceive abysmal depths in “the dark places of the earth”. We both fear such places within our own psyche and, as with Pippin, are strangely drawn towards them.

Perhaps we are both afraid of and drawn towards what might lie there. “Tap-tom, tom-tap, tap-tap, tom”

“That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one,” says Gimli. Has something been awoken by Pippin’s “foolish stone” that should have been left undisturbed? Should we ever awaken that which lies deep within us?

“Fool of a Took!”

“Fool of a Took!” Gandalf growls at Pippin. “This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!” And poor Pippin is given the first watch, “as a reward”.

Some readers may recall a gruff old teacher from their childhood experience of school. One who they respected but also feared, if only for the angry rebuke that they might occasionally receive. The relationship between Gandalf and Pippin seems very much like that of master and pupil. Pippin is not one of those brilliant pupils such as is Aragorn or Faramir or Frodo. Each of these come to understand the mind of their master to such a degree that he is able to entrust any task to them and know that they will carry it out, not just because they have become capable of doing so but also because they carry the meaning of that task in their hearts even as he does. There is a sense in which Aragorn, Faramir and Frodo become sons to Gandalf and in the case of Faramir in particular this becomes a source of resentment, one of many, in Denethor, Faramir’s biological father.

“All wizards should keep a hobbit or two in their care”.

Pippin is a different kind of pupil. In his saving of the life of Faramir he displays that he understands the heart of his master. But Pippin does something else that I am not sure that any of Gandalf’s other pupils do. He awakens affection in the heart of the gruff old wizard. This is not because of his aptitude or ability but because of his childlike nature. Later in the story after Pippin’s misadventure with the Stone of Orthanc Gandalf takes Pippin with him to Minas Tirith, to keep him from any further mischief, but also, I think, because at this crucial moment in Gandalf’s long life, he needs Pippin. Pippin brings a comfort to Gandalf that no-one else can. “All wizards should have a hobbit or two in their care, to teach them the meaning of the word.” Even now in the fearful dark of Moria, with the terrible abyss of the well close by, Gandalf soon relieves Pippin of his lonely duty, speaks kindly to him and sends him off to get some sleep. The guide is watching over all his charges and we can all rest. For a little while at least.

The guide is watching over his charges. Matt Stewart imagines Gandalf smoking in Moria.

“Do Not Be Afraid! He Will Not Go Astray.” Gandalf Leads The Company Through the Deep Places of The World.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 301-305

After the attack by the horror at the gate Gandalf begins to lead the Company through Moria. It is a journey that no-one wishes to make but inexorably, after Caradhras denied them passage over the mountains, after the attack by wargs and then by the watcher in the waters, they have to go through utter darkness.

“Who will lead us now in this deadly dark?” Boromir asks unhappily and Gandalf replies, “I will…and Gimli shall walk with me. Follow my staff!”

The journey through Moria will take three or four marches over forty miles and although Gandalf may sound confident his memory of a journey made long ago has largely faded and oftentimes the way is unclear and many dangers have to be overcome.

The Journey through the Dark by J.C Barquet

At one point the pause that Gandalf takes is longer than usual. He speaks with Gimli but Moria is beyond the imagination of this dwarf and Gandalf’s consultation is little more than an opportunity for him to think aloud. The anxiety of the Fellowship begins to grow and then Aragorn speaks.

“Do not be afraid! I have been with him on many a journey, if never on one so dark; and there are tales of Rivendell of greater deeds of his than any that I have seen. He will not go astray- if there is any path to find. He has led us in here against our fears, but he will lead us out again, at whatever cost to himself. He is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel.”

I will allow others to comment upon the cats of Queen Berúthiel. It will suffice here to note that Aragorn’s knowledge of this story is a fruit of the years that he spent in Gondor in the service of Ecthelion, father of Denethor and grandfather of Boromir. This service was done by him secretly as Thorongil . He never revealed his true identity although it is likely that Denethor guessed who he was and was jealous of the high regard in which Thorongil was held by the people.

Donato Giancola imagines the search for a way in Moria

What is important here is that Aragorn breaks his silence at a moment when fear is growing among the Company. Tolkien tells us that Aragorn’s silence has been “grim”. The decision to go through Moria had been taken against his advice and whereas Boromir’s unhappiness is voiced aloud Aragorn chooses to take the position at the rear of the line and to say nothing. And when he does speak the only reference that he makes concerning his fear is to say, “he will lead us out again, at whatever cost to himself.” For Aragorn’s fear is for Gandalf. He has a premonition that something terrible is going to happen to his friend.

This is the moment upon the journey of the Fellowship in which Aragorn first reveals his kingliness. While Gandalf gives his attention entirely to the task before him, to finding a way through the dark of Moria, Aragorn commands the courage of his companions. They are afraid and with some reason. They are effectively lost in this dark place. But as with the teacher who had charge of the group of school boys lost in caves in Thailand the one essential task at this moment is to maintain hope. Boromir is, of course, right to say it’s not my fault. As with Aragorn, the Company are there against his advice, but at this moment being right about decisions taken up to this point is of no value. There may be a time and place for reviewing past decisions although because the journey through Moria will never be repeated it is hard to think of when this will be but such a review has no value whatsoever now. All that matters is to keep what courage they still have and to follow their guide to whatever fate. Aragorn knows this and this is why he speaks. Thus we see that Aragorn is a king while Boromir is only a warrior.

Aragorn the Ranger and Aragorn the King