The Mirror of Galadriel. Sam Gamgee is Torn in Two Once Again.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 351-354

It was the Gaffer, Sam’s father, who expressed a pious hope that his son would not go getting mixed up in the business of his betters or he would land in trouble too big for him, and the Gaffer was right, Sam is way out of his depth, but then so too are the rest of the Fellowship. If they are to triumph in the end it will not be because of their strength or even their wisdom but because something greater than they are is at work in the story of Middle-earth.

But none of this is able to dampen Sam’s curiosity. He would “dearly love to see some Elf-magic”. He knows that what is going on around him in the enchanted land of Lothlórien is of a different order to the fireworks “that poor Gandalf used to show” and that Sam had just celebrated in verse but it is his childlike desire for the wonderful that is at work within him and it is in part at least to this desire that Galadriel responds, almost as a mother will do at a birthday party for her child.

The Mirror of Galadriel

But Galadriel has other purposes in mind than entertainment when she takes Sam and Frodo to see her mirror. She knows that it is these two, the Ringbearer and the one whose faithful companionship will be crucial if the quest is to be accomplished that she needs to test. Each of the others will have a vital part to play but it is only these two that she seeks out at this moment just before they leave.

It is Sam who must be tested first. What he sees in the mirror is what will later be The Scouring of the Shire.

“There’s that Ted Sandyman a-cutting down trees as he shouldn’t. They didn’t ought to be felled: it’s that avenue beyond the Mill that shades the road to Bywater. I wish I could get at Ted, and I’d fell him!”

And there is worse to come.

“They’ve dug up Bagshot Row, and there’s the poor old gaffer going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow. I must go home!”

The Scouring of the Shire as imagined by Owen William Weber

And this is the point of Galadriel’s testing. Will Sam go with Frodo to the very end, knowing, as he now does, that behind him, in the place that he loves the most in all the world, destruction is, or may be, taking place? Already we have seen Sam face the same test, at the moment at the Gates of Moria when Bill the Pony fled in terror and Sam had to help rescue Frodo from the Watcher in the Waters, and at the moment when it seemed that Galadriel was offering him the chance to fly back to the Shire to a nice little hole with a garden of his own. At each stage Sam has passed the test and stayed true to Frodo but this is the hardest of them all. The destruction of his home and he was not there to defend it.

Galadriel does not make a speech about how he must stay true to the Quest so that the Ring may be destroyed and the whole world, a world that includes the Shire, may be saved. She simply reminds him that he could not go back alone, that he knew already that things might be amiss in the Shire, and that the Mirror is not a reliable guide to the future.

Sam is shattered. At this moment he is in full accord with the Gaffer’s anxiety that it is a dangerous thing to get mixed up in the affairs of his betters. He has no more desire for magic. Cabbages and potatoes are better for him. He might, on reflection, note that we do not have to go looking for trouble in order to find it. Trouble is capable of finding us while we sit in peace by a well tended hearth. This is the cautious Gaffer’s experience, much to the malicious pleasure of Ted Sandyman. But at the last Sam speaks the words that emerge through all the tests he has been through; words that express his deepest truth.

“I’ll go home by the long road with Mr Frodo, or not at all.”

“What Do You Think of Elves Now, Sam?” Frodo and Sam Think About The Magic of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 351-352

What healing can be done after the fall of Gandalf is now complete. Frodo and Sam feel a growing restlessness, knowing that the task of taking the Ring to Mordor still awaits and, according to the wisdom of Sam’s gaffer “it’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”. Wisdom does not need to come from the mouths of the great in order to ring true and, with sadness, Frodo agrees with Sam.

But despite their growing restlessness, they still have time to think about what they have seen and learnt and Frodo has a question for Sam.

“What do you think of Elves now, Sam?”

What do you think of Elves now, Sam? Frodo and Haldir at Cerin Amroth by FÄeriel

Frodo asked the same question of Sam after the second night of their journey while still within the Shire when they had been given hospitality in the woods on the hills above Woodhall and Sam had answered that Elves were “a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak”. At that point in the journey Sam was still the loyal retainer, the one who had been given the job of “looking after Mr Frodo”. Now someone might use language like, to have an opinion about Elves is something that is above my pay grade. The language may appear more sophisticated but it still comes from an older world of masters and servants.

Alan Lee imagines the stay with Gildor Inglorien above Woodhall

But much has happened since that time, described by Frodo as seeming “a very long while ago”, and slowly Frodo and Sam are becoming friends. I have written before about how, even after all they had experienced together, Frodo would have to depart the scene in order for Sam to become Mayor of the Shire and a councillor to the King in his northern kingdom of Arnor, but here in Lothlórien we see Sam slowly becoming this person.

“I reckon there’s Elves and Elves. They’re all elvish enough, but they’re not all the same. Now these folk aren’t wanderers or homeless, and seem a bit nearer to the likes of us:they seem to belong here, more than even hobbits do in the Shire. Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning.”

Sam cannot know that in just a few years these people who “seem to belong” in Lothlórien, more even than hobbits do in the Shire, will have deserted it to go into the West. If he were to have known that it would have given him the sense of the impermanence of all things; that permanence is always illusory, as anyone who has ever emptied the house of a much loved elder after their death in order to prepare it for sale will know. But Sam does have a deep insight into the relationship between people and the land. As Tom Bombadil, who also knows something of the relationship between people and land, says of Farmer Maggot, “There’s earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open.”

Bombadil could have described Sam in much the same way and one can only hope that they got to know each other better in later years, but he could have used similar language to describe the Elves of Lothlórien. A deep harmony has been created between them and their land. As the great Irish farmer poet, Patrick Kavanagh, put it, “to know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience”. Sam, Tom Bombadil, Farmer Maggot, and Haldir too, would all have understood Kavanagh in a way in which the homeless wanderers, among whom I would count myself, can never do.

Sam recognises, rightly, that there is magic in this relationship. He can feel it working all around him and he wants to see the Elves perform it. What he does not know, at least not yet, is that the same magic is at work in the Shire also. For Hobbits the magic is almost entirely implicit and deeply hidden within the ordinary. For them, magic belongs to entertainment such as their enjoyment of Gandalf’s fireworks, and they regard anything beyond that as uncanny and to be feared. For the Elves the very same magic is explicit, intentional and also completely ordinary. If Sam but knew, he is much closer to the Elves than he has ever imagined.

The Magic of the Shire. Farmer and Mrs Maggot as imagined by Henning Jansen.

“When Evening in The Shire Was Grey”. Frodo and Sam Sing Songs of Gandalf in Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 349-351

Galadriel and Celeborn wisely leave the Fellowship to themselves after the encounter in Caras Galadhon and Galadriel’s silent interrogation of their hearts and minds. What the Fellowship needs now is rest and healing of weary bodies. Even though at its borders Lothlórien is alert to possible threat at its heart it remains at rest and so it seems that the Company does “little but eat and drink and rest, and walk among the trees”; and it is enough.

At first, as Aragorn put it, there is a desire simply to rest and to forget grief, grief at the loss of Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, but inevitably after a while their thoughts turn to their loss and their grief becomes keen.

It is Frodo and Sam who choose poetry in which to try to put that grief into some kind of form. Perhaps it is as they hear songs of Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, in the Sindarin tongue of their Elven hosts, that they begin to find their own thoughts move in the same direction. Perhaps it is, as Sam has already put it, that in Lothlórien they feel themselves to be “inside a song” that enables them to create their own.

When evening in the Shire was grey
his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away 
on journey long without a word. 

John Howe wonderfully captures Gandalf’s energy and vulnerability.

The words are beautiful and full of longing for what has been lost. The aching realisation that Frodo will never hear the sound of those footsteps coming along the path to his door again, a sound that always meant that something deep and rich, old and wise, was about to enter his life once again. But Tolkien is quick to introduce a disclaimer here. These words “feel faded as a handful of withered leaves”. Tolkien uses this sad image to describe Frodo’s feelings of inadequacy as he tries to put the person of Gandalf into words but we cannot help but feel that it is Tolkien’s own feelings of inadequacy as a poet that are on show here. Gandalf is far too great a figure to reduce to a few lines upon a page, or committed to memory in Frodo’s mind.

But a good poem is not a reduction of anything. Each line in Frodo’s evocation of Gandalf points us towards his greatness but also his simplicity. They speak of his mighty journeys; of his skill in languages; of his “deadly sword”, his “healing hand”.

Gandalf, a lord of wisdom

“A lord of wisdom throned he sat, swift in anger, quick to laugh, an old man in a battered hat who leaned upon a thorny staff.”

All through the poem Frodo gives us on the one hand, his greatness, and on the other, his vulnerability and all the time he is doing something that from their earliest encounters with one another, C.S Lewis admired in Tolkien’s work. It was after an evening reading The Lay of Leithian Tolkien’s verse telling of the story of Beren and Lúthien that Lewis wrote of myth making that it is the essence of a myth “that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader”. And surely here in Frodo’s lament for Gandalf the incipient allegory that is suggested to us is the connection between Gandalf, the mighty maiar clothed in the form of “a weary pilgrim on the road”, and what first Tolkien and then Lewis described as the true myth of the incarnation in which, in Christ, God is clothed in our humanity, not in its semblance but in all its reality. There is no incarnation in any part of Tolkien’s legendarium. He deliberately chose to set his story in a world that knows nothing of it but again and again, in the story of Gandalf, in the story of the true king hidden within the weather stained Ranger of the North who goes by the name of Strider, and in other characters, the true myth is suggested to us in many ways. Might this be why our hearts are drawn towards them?

He stood upon the bridge alone. Alan Lee imagines the dreadful moment.

“Your Quest Stands Upon The Edge of a Knife.” Galadriel’s Silent Interrogation of Each Member of The Fellowship.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 346-349

At one time in her life Galadriel was made to endure an interrogation about events for which she was not responsible but in which she played a part. Melian, Queen of Doriath, and the mother of Lúthien Tinúviel, questioned her long about the reason why the Noldor had returned to Middle-earth from Valinor; long and searchingly until at last she learned the truth, or at least enough of the truth for her to be able fit more of the missing pieces into the puzzle and so make sense of it. Now Galadriel undertakes her own interrogation, in this case of the members of the Fellowship. She has good reason to do this and she declares her reason to them all.

Galadriel Searches the Hearts of the Fellowship

“Your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.”

And so she begins to hold each one with her eyes. It is the truth of their hearts that she seeks to discern. Her long years of wise perception and her gift of discernment are brought to bear upon each member of the Fellowship. For most of them the experience is excruciating and for some of them it is not so much the motives that they own that are brought into the open but those that they hide from themselves or justify to themselves.

Only Aragorn and Legolas are able to endure her gaze for very long. As we saw when we thought about the words that Aragorn spoke aloud to Arwen at Cerin Amroth, Aragorn no longer has hope beyond the ending of the Quest itself. He no longer has hope that he will win Arwen’s hand. That hope fell into the depths of Moria as Gandalf fell with the Balrog. He said to his fellows, “We must do without hope.” His life has been reduced to a pure simplicity. To take the next step and then the next until the end, doing whatever good he can do at each moment until there is no more that he can do. Legolas has no personal interest to declare in this matter for he has none. Elrond chose him to represent the Elves in the Quest and he will stay true to his calling.

As for the others the search of Galadriel’s eyes is much more disturbing. Sam finds that the possibility of returning to the Shire, to a home and garden, is laid out before him. It is what he will receive eventually but he has the choice, whether to try to grasp it now or to take the long road with Frodo. Later he will receive the same temptation to abandon Frodo but in another form. In the Mirror of Galadriel he will see his father in distress and the temptation will come, not in the form of his desire, which is always present, but as a cry for help. Poor Sam will hear this cry often, just as he did with Bill the pony, and each time with a breaking heart he will have to repeat the same words in his heart. “I had to choose, Mr Frodo. I had to come with you.” Sam’s loyalty to Frodo always comes at a cost.

That Merry also has a similar temptation is perhaps more of a surprise although we note throughout the story that once the four hobbits left the Shire Merry, who until that point had been the competent organiser until the moment that he fell into the clutches of Old Man Willow in the Old Forest, always and increasingly feels out of his depth, like a piece of luggage that others have to bear.

No-one asks Pippin what he experienced. Pippin is the little boy of the Company. The one that the others do not take with much seriousness. Gimli, and Frodo too, do not speak of what they are offered, or seem to be offered, which leaves us with Boromir.

“Almost I should have said that she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give. It need not be said that I refused to listen. The Men of Minas Tirith are true to their word.”

We do not learn at this point what it was that tempted Boromir. We probably find out at the time that he tries to take the Ring from Frodo and we will think about it then. At this stage it is enough for us to know that while each member of the Fellowship has reason not to be true to the Quest it is not so much the knowledge of that reason that they need to fear but the reasons that they try to hide from themselves. These are the temptations that have real danger both for them and the Quest.

Boromir Under the Gaze of Galadriel

“Do Not Repent of Your Welcome To The Dwarf.” The Fellowship Tell the Story of Gandalf’s Fall to Galadriel and Celeborn.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 344-347

With the arrival of the Fellowship to the halls of Galadriel and Celeborn in Caras Galadhon at the heart of the realm of Lothlórien the tale of Gandalf’s fall into the abyss at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm must at last be told. So too has the manner of his fall at the hands of the Balrog of Moria, “of all elf-banes the most deadly, save the One who sits in the Dark Tower.”

Caras Galadhon as seen from Cerin Amroth by Ted Nasmith

If news of the fall of Gandalf has been the cause of great grief in the Elves of Lothlórien so news of the Balrog of Moria is the cause of great anger and most especially in Celeborn.

“Had I known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria again, I would have forbidden you to pass the northern borders, you and all that went with you. And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria.”

Vincent Pompetti imagines Celeborn and Galadriel together as they greet their guests.

Readers will note that even though Celeborn is angry with the whole company, even with Gandalf himself, it is Gimli who he singles out for his particular wrath. It is Dwarves who have stirred up the evil that has lain hidden long years in the depths of Moria.

Celeborn’s anger against the Dwarves has a long history. It began in the First Age of Arda when his kinsman, the Lord Thingol of Doriath gained possession of a Silmaril through the mighty deeds of Luthien and Beren who took it from the very crown of Morgoth himself. The Silmaril was the price that Thingol had demanded of Beren so that he could have the hand of Luthien in marriage. Thingol asked Dwarf craftsmen to put the Silmaril into the Nauglamir, greatest and most beautiful of the works of the Dwarves in that age. The Dwarves were overcome by desire for the Silmaril and demanded that Thingol give it to them in payment for their labour. When Thingol refused this they killed him and a war broke out between Dwarves and Elves with terrible slaughter upon both sides. Although Celeborn’s role in that war is never mentioned there can be no doubt that he played his part in it and that he carried both anger and distrust towards Dwarves in his heart thereafter.

Thingol and the Dwarves

That the telling of the tale of the events at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm does not end with a swift expulsion of the Fellowship from Lothlórien and disaster for their mission is thanks to the intervention of Galadriel. If Celeborn is the keeper of the memory of a perception of treachery upon the part of dwarves and of a bitter war in which his homeland was destroyed by them then Galadriel is the keeper of a very different one. In her heart she cherishes the memory of Melian, the wife of Thingol, who became like a mother to her. Melian was known for her great wisdom and through all the story of Thingol and his avaricious heart she tried to warn him that such a spirit could lead to no good. Thingol became a grasper after things, even treating his own daughter, Luthien, as if she were a possession and not a free person. Galadriel, after the spirit of Melian, is a giver of hospitality, even though, like Melian too, she has put a girdle around Lothlórien to keep all evil at bay. She made Aragorn and Arwen welcome, both separately and in giving space for their love for each other to grow. And now she extends a loving welcome to Gimli the Dwarf.

“She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf… looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding.”

For Gimli this moment is a turning point in his story. His looking up, away from his anger and sadness and into the face of Galadriel turns him into a lover of beauty. He offers her his heart in worship and this is no idolatry because idolatry is in essence the worship of things for the sake of a small, mean self, the kind of worship that led to the fall and mutual destruction of Thingol, his realm, and the Dwarves, long ago. Gimli becomes a servant of all that is beautiful for its own sake. He “kisses the joy as it flies”, as William Blake puts it and so comes to live in “eternity’s sunrise”.

Gimli finds love in Galadriel’s face.

“Arwen Vanimelda, Namarië!” What does Aragorn say to Arwen at Cerin Amroth?

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (HarperCollins 1991) pp.341-343

In last week’s post we entered Frodo’s inner world of longing, of his heart’s desire, but he is not the only one who, upon this sacred hill of Cerin Amroth, goes deep within his own soul and there for a brief moment becomes that longing, his own sehnsucht. As Frodo descends the hill he finds Aragorn there, “standing still and silent as a tree”. In his hand Aragorn is holding a flower of elanor and he is “wrapped in some fair memory”.

So intensely does Aragorn enter his memory that, for a moment, he becomes the man that he was in this place, so many years before. Frodo, whose own inner sight is now so keen, sees the “grim years” removed from Aragorn’s face and once again he seems “clothed in white, a young lord, tall and fair”. Those who have read the story of Aragorn and Arwen that is told in an appendix at the end of The Return of the King will remember that this is exactly how Aragorn appeared when he and Arwen stood on this very spot and pledged their love to each other.

“Clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair”. Matthew Stewart depicts the betrothal of Aragorn and Arwen.

Aragorn is the young lord, tall and fair, standing before Arwen in that moment, but he is also entirely present in this moment within a story whose ending he cannot see. And it is in this moment, as well as that, that he speaks aloud.

“Arwen vanimelda, namarië!”

Tolkien chooses here not to translate the words, spoken in Quenya, the language of the High Elves of the West. Those who really know languages, as he did, know that translation is a dangerous affair. Albert Schweitzer, the great German scholar of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, used to speak to English speaking audiences from time to time but although he could speak English perfectly well he always chose to speak in German and with an English translator because he felt that he needed his first language in order to speak most truly and meaningfully. Aragorn is a true son of Númenor, the heir of Elendil, the elf friend, and lord of the Dunedain, the men of the west who have remained true to this story. He speaks now aloud from the deepest place within his heart to the one who holds that heart forever.

Tolkien does not translate these words here but he does translate one of the words a little later in the story.

Namarië.

His translation there is of Galadriel’s song that the Fellowship hear just before they part from her. We will think about that song on another occasion but here it is enough to say that Tolkien translates the word as farewell. So is Aragorn bidding farewell to his beloved, the fairest beloved that he addresses in the word, vanimelda? Is this a goodbye, an adieu, a last ‘God be with you’? In one sense it is but I want to think about this farewell in a certain way, a way that I think emerges from a reading of Aragorn’s story from the failure to cross the Misty Mountains in the pass below Caradhras and Gandalf’s decision to go through Moria.

At this point there is a sense in which Aragorn loses hope. By this I do not mean that he gives in to despair, that he gives up, but that whatever sense that he had, that Frodo would succeed in his mission and that his deepest longing, his longing for Arwen, would be fulfilled has gone. In the pages ahead we will read of Aragorn and hope on a number of occasions and each time it will be in the sense that he must do without it. He must carry on until the end of his road wherever that leads simply because he must, because he has promised to do so. The German mystic of the middle ages, Meister Eckhart, coined a word (German is a wonderful language for doing such a thing!) that probably translates best as farewelling. For him this meant the purest form of detachment in which the soul chooses to refuse attachment to anything less than God. Aragorn does not have such faith in God, not in Eckhart’s Christian sense anyway, but this most heart rending of passages in all of Tolkien’s works ends by leaving open such a possibility.

“Here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we must still tread, you and I.”

Unless there be a light.

I have not found any artwork about the scene from The Fellowship of the Ring at Cerin Amroth that really satisfies me. This still from the scene in the camp below Weathertop is a beautiful expression of Aragorn’s longing.

Postscript

I have written before about the love story of Aragorn and Arwen and if you wish to read these posts please click on the tags, Aragorn and Arwen, and The Love of Aragorn and Arwen, below this week’s post. And if there are any scholars of Tolkien’s languages reading this please leave a comment below. I would love to learn from you, and others who have been touched by what I have written about this week.

A final thought. My own feeling is that the best translation into English of Aragorn’s words is “Arwen, O fairest beloved, farewell.” Do others agree or would you put it differently?

“To Fly Like a Bird to Rest in The Green City”. Frodo in Paradise in Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 340-343

While Sam Gamgee tries to find words to express his experience of Cerin Amroth Frodo remains in silence throughout the whole time that the Fellowship are there. But it is not a silence that separates him from his companions and from us. Sam, Haldir and Aragorn all speak to him, all draw him into their own thoughts, while we know what he is experiencing because Tolkien chooses to see Cerin Amroth through Frodo.

Alan Lee’s Cerin Amroth

Throughout The Lord of the Rings Tolkien subtly alters the voice through which he tells the story so that, for example, it is Pippin and not Gandalf through whom he shows us Minas Tirith and it is through Sam that we watch the final, agonising journey to Orodruin in Mordor. Indeed Frodo seems to fall more and more into silence as that journey continues.

But is Frodo’s growing silence simply a descent into emptiness, to nothingness, as the Ring slowly but inexorably tightens its grip upon his very being? Here in Cerin Amroth we are shown that something else is always at work within his heart. At the end he has “no memory of tree or grass or flower” but before that terrible moment when he feels naked before the utter malevolence in Barad-dûr there is always something else.

“Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there, upon the grass among elanor and niphredil in fair Lothlórien.”

Tolkien does not allow us too many entries into the inner world of his characters. Not for him a kind of stream of consciousness that pours out onto the page from a protagonist. There are moments, and Frodo’s dreams in Crickhollow and the house of Tom Bombadil are examples of this when he does, but just as dreams are in our own lives, these are uncertain glimpses. Here those glimpses take certain form and the form is Lothlórien, the “timeless land”. I wrote a few weeks ago when Gimli took him to see Mirrormere about how Frodo increasingly becomes otherworldly as the story progresses. The hobbit who Bilbo describes as being in love with the Shire, with “woods and fields and little rivers” is one who leaves home in every sense but rarely becomes completely homeless. He is the “wanderer from the Shire” who can find no place to rest his head except here.

Here we see, as we did in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, why Frodo is called elf-friend by Gildor Inglorien and recognised as such by Goldberry. It is not that he is friendly towards elves and elvish things but that he is able to enter the world in which the Elves live and dwell there too. Haldir invites him to climb up with him to the flet in the crown of trees upon the hill top and as Frodo prepares to follow him “he laid his hand upon the tree beside the ladder: never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree’s skin and of the life within it. He felt a delight in wood and the touch of it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself.”

Haldir shows Frodo the Land of Lórien. Ted Nasmith’s depiction.

I wrote about suddenness and how Gaffer Gamgee is afraid of it back in 2018 and of Louis MacNeice’s poem, Snow, which was written in the house where my wife grew up, and of the line, “The world is suddener than we fancy it”. The Elves inhabit this suddenness, not as with Frodo, as a sudden irruption into ordinary life but as timelessness. It is this that Frodo carries in his heart right up until the terrible moment near Orodruin and, might we say, it is this that holds him even through the ruin of the Cracks of Doom when he claims the Ring for himself, enabling him to make the long slow journey of healing, the “gentle purgatory” as Tolkien put it that will end in the Undying Lands.

The healing of Frodo that will be completed in the Undying Lands. Stephen Graham Walsh captures this beautifully.

“I Feel As If I Was Inside a Song, if You Take My Meaning.” The Fellowship at Cerin Amroth.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 340-343

As so often in The Lord of the Rings Tolkien chooses Sam Gamgee to try to express the inexpressible. The Fellowship have arrived at Cerin Amroth after walking blindfolded all day through Lothlórien. At last messages come from the Lady Galadriel and all the blindfolds are removed. Frodo has had a growing sense that he is journeying back into the Elder Days and that here the ancient world is more than a memory, it still lives.

Alan Lee evokes Elanor and Niphredil on Cerin Amroth

“Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name.”

For Frodo language is no longer adequate for what he is experiencing.

“He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful.”

Eleniel imagines Cerin Amroth

This is the unmediated experience in which the ordinary, here expressed as colours with which we are all familiar, is transfigured. Such an experience is possible in any place and at any moment. It always comes as a surprise, surprised by joy as Wordsworth put it, and which C.S Lewis chose as the title of his autobiography. It is never possible to manufacture such an experience, to somehow create the right conditions for it to happen, but Frodo has developed a capacity better than many do to receive it through long practice of a love of beauty and a deep longing for it.

And so does Sam. Whereas Frodo knows that language is hopelessly inadequate for what he is experiencing and so remains silent Sam has no such inhibitions. He does not have any regard for his own ability to put things into words and so retains a childlike simplicity of speech. Whereas his old adversary, Ted Sandyman, constantly congratulates himself for his own cleverness, his ability to see through things and not be caught out, Sam has no such confidence. At the beginning of the story Sam expresses his desire to go on the journey in two simple ways. He wants to go with Frodo wherever Frodo goes and he wants to see Elves. Ted Sandyman would have laughed at him for this and no doubt he did but though Sam might be a little hurt by the scorn of others he is not deflected from his course by it. He is the truly simple one who wills one thing.

And so he is chosen as the right member of the Fellowship to put into words the experience of Cerin Amroth.

“It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,” he said. “I thought that the Elves were all for moon and stars; but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.”

A song has words but it is rare that they have the intention to explain things. The language of a song is the language of the heart, sometimes of the gut, but rarely of the head. And the music of a song, whether it is a marching tune to send soldiers into battle, or a gentle ballad to help lovers express how they feel about each other, can never be an explanation of anything. So Haldir does take Sam’s meaning, the meaning of Sam’s heart and he smiles.

“You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim,” he said. And this is most certainly true. But might we say that what Sam feels is not a power that originates in Galadriel but that which flows through her, enabling her to subcreate this earthly paradise in praise of Eru?

In his joyous essay, The Ethics of Elfland, G.K Chesterton tries to put into words what Frodo and Sam experience here and he does rather well! In it Chesterton says that perhaps God, like a child (like Sam Gamgee?) never tires of repetition so that the world can never be monotonous to God. “It may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.” And that repetition in nature is never “a mere recurrence” but an encore.

And it is in this encore in Cerin Amroth that Frodo and Sam delight and applaud.

“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.