“If He Screws Himself Up to Go, He’ll Want to Go Alone.” Sam Gamgee Tells The Fellowship What Frodo Will Decide.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 393-394

While Frodo is making up his mind about what he is to do and after Boromir has tried to take the Ring from him the rest of the Fellowship continue to debate about which way all of them should go and about what choice Frodo ought to make. It is clear that the majority consider that the sensible option is to go to Minas Tirith but then Sam speaks up.

“I don’t think you understand my master at all. He isn’t hesitating about which way to go… He knows that he has to find the Cracks of Doom if he can. But he’s afraid.”

Frodo will seek to go to Mordor alone.

Sam, of all of the Fellowship, is not thinking about what he should, or wishes, to do. He made his choice in Lothlórien when he looked into Galadriel’s Mirror and saw the danger that was to threaten the Shire. He decided then that whatever was happening behind him he must go with Frodo to Mordor. And he knows that Frodo will go there because it is the task that he has been given and that when he makes up his mind to go, to “screw himself up”, as Sam puts it, he will want to go alone. And so Sam is not worried about which way to go. He is simply afraid that Frodo will want to go alone without him.

Aragorn knows that Sam is right. There are some courses of action that require the simple giving of orders but Aragorn knows that this is not one of those. This is why he has gathered them together in a circle and also why it did not concern him that Boromir had not been a part of the circle. He knew that Boromir had already made his decision and so did not need to be a part of the discussion. This wisdom is expressed in the Benedictine tradition of Christian monasticism in the Chapter House. This house was designed in the shape of a circle so that the abbot could gather with the whole community to make those decisions that required a common mind. While in the circle every voice was to be heard, even the voice of the most junior member of the community, and Aragorn will not make a decision until every voice has been heard. There is even a moment when he thinks that the decision has been made and that it is time to give orders. He will go with Frodo and with Sam and Gimli to Mordor while Legolas and Boromir will go with Merry and Pippin to Minas Tirith but there is enough uncertainty in his mind to for him to realise that even at this point the debate is not at an end which is why he is still ready to listen to Sam.

The Chapter House in Wells Cathedral

It is when Sam speaks that Aragorn realises that the key point within the debate has been made. Sam has spoken the truth for which he has been seeking and even though Pippin still tries to argue against what Sam has said and what Frodo will seek to do Aragorn realises that the decision has been made whether he, or any other, agrees with it or not.

And Aragorn has been listening to another voice throughout the debate, one that is not physically present but one that will speak the truth for which he has been seeking. When Pippin argues that Frodo must be prevented from going to Mordor alone Aragorn replies:

“He is the Bearer, and the fate of the Burden is on him. I do not think it is our part to drive him one way or the other. Nor do I think that we should succeed if we tried. There are other powers at work far stronger.”

When Aragorn speaks of “powers at work” he is not talking about Frodo’s strength of character, considerable though that is. He is talking about a power that guides and moves the course of things. Some people will look for a flow with which they seek to align their own actions while others will give that power a name. But however we see reality, if we are wise, we will seek to learn how to discern this power. Galadriel spoke of the how the paths of each member of the Company were already laid before their feet and that therefore they should not be overly concerned about which course of action they should take. At this moment none of the Fellowship know what is about to befall them but Aragorn knows what way Frodo will go and that it is not his part to oppose it.

“There are other powers at work”. The Song of the Ainur by Anna Kulisz

“Take Off the Ring!” Frodo’s Inner Struggle Upon Amon Hen.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 391-392

It all begins because Frodo has to flee from Boromir wearing the Ring in order to do so. Frodo climbs up the slopes of Amon Hen and finally reaches its top.

“He saw as through a mist a wide flat circle, paved with mighty flags, and surrounded with a crumbling battlement: and in the middle, set upon four carven pillars, was a high seat, reached by a stair of many steps.”

A beautiful depiction of Amon Hen by Woodhouse

The high seat upon Amon Hen has always been a place set apart for reflection, an expression of the belief that if only we can get high enough, if only we can somehow rise above all the chaos that surrounds us, we will achieve a kind of clarity and will know what we must do. But in all the long years since first the seat was placed upon this hill top by the men of Númenor there has never been a moment like this. No-one has been able to see as Frodo does because no-one has sat upon the chair while wearing the Ring.

And what Frodo sees is war. “The Misty Mountains were crawling like anthills; orcs were issuing out of a thousand holes. Under the boughs of Mirkwood there was deadly strife of Elves and Men and fell beasts. The land of the Beornings was aflame; a cloud was over Moria; smoke rose on the borders of Lórien.”

And last of all, and perhaps inevitably, Frodo’s gaze is drawn towards the place in which the Ring was forged and the tower in which its master dwells: “wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant, he saw it: Barad-dûr, Fortress of Sauron. All hope left him.”

A fascinating, almost surreal, depiction of the struggle upon Amon Hen by Joel Marriner.

It is at this moment that Frodo becomes aware that someone is searching eagerly, voraciously, for him, for the Ring that he is now wearing; and that this creature, whose very being has become an embodiment of desire, so entire, that if the thing that he longs for were to cease to exist there would be nothing left of him but a memory of what he once was, will find him. And it is at this moment too that he becomes strangely aware of a familiar voice telling him to take off the Ring.

“Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!

The struggle lasts only for a moment but during that time the whole fate of Middle-earth lies, literally, in the balance. Frodo is held, “perfectly balanced” between the Voice and the Eye. If Sauron is able to find him, to identify exactly where he is, then he will regain the Ring at last and darkness will fall.

Crucially, this moment is resolved when Frodo becomes “aware of himself again” as one who is free to choose and he takes off the Ring. “Then all the sky was clean and blue and birds sang in every tree.”

Frodo is not only able to think for himself again but he is able to achieve a clarity of purpose that all his seeing could never give him. Not that the vision that he has been given upon Amon Hen has been of no value for it has enabled him to see that he cannot put his trust in any power outside of himself because every power is as nothing compared to the power that resides within Barad-dûr. All that he has is the Self who is able to make this choice, the choice to go alone to Mordor.

The problem with hope is, as T.S Eliot puts it in his Four Quartets, is that “hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” There is no hope for Frodo in Minas Tirith because, for all its courageous beauty, it cannot stand at the last before the power that is rising against it. All that he has is himself and the choice that he made at the Council of Elrond to take the Ring to the Fire though he did not know the way. As Eliot puts it, following his teacher, St John of the Cross, we come to the point in which all hope has been stripped away and there we find, as Frodo does, that “the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing”.

Wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing”. A depiction of Minas Tirith.

“Give It To Me!” Boromir Tries to Take The Ring From Frodo.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 387-390

We have heard this before. The long speech full of self-justification and fine sounding words. But when we heard this speech before it came from the mouth of Saruman when he gave it to Gandalf in Isengard, calling upon Gandalf to co-operate with him and with Sauron. Do the greatest crimes always require such grandiosity? Are such justifications always couched in terms of a particular action being an exception to moral law?

After Aragorn announced to the Fellowship that the day of choice had come, the day on which they would have to decide whether to make a journey directly towards Mordor on the east bank of the Anduin or to remain on the west bank and go to Minas Tirith, Frodo was given permission to spend an hour in thought alone. And it was during this time that Boromir finds him and begins to declare his mind.

Anke Eissmann depicts the moment when Boromir finds Frodo

The speech begins with kindliness as it must. If the speaker intends to justify a crime then they must first establish their intention to do good.

“Are you sure that you do not suffer needlessly?” Boromir says. “I wish to help you. You need counsel in your hard choice. Will you not take mine?”

Ted Nasmith imagines Boromir as he gives “counsel”

So the speech begins with sweet reason but soon it begins to display the same kind of exceptionalism that we saw in Saruman. He spoke to Gandalf about the failing of the Elves and of “dying Númenor”, and of “weak or idle friends”, and all this is with the intention of justify his own desire to rule and his need to obtain the One Ring in order to do so. Boromir also speaks dismissively of “elves and half-elves and wizards”, of their claim to be wise which he considers to be merely a cloak for timidity. And for Boromir it is “failing Númenor” that is the exception, “true-hearted Men” who “will not be corrupted”. It is the same speech albeit with a different cast of characters and a different exception. And in both speeches what begins with a we ends inexorably with an I.

“The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!”

Compare these speeches to the words that Gandalf and Galadriel speak when Frodo offers the Ring to them. They both acknowledge what they might do if they were to possess the Ring and both are tempted to take it so that they might do good through its possession. But both know that the achievement of personal power always ends with a contempt for the lives of others. Others exist merely for the sake of the one who rules. Saruman and Boromir dismiss this refusal of personal power as timidity. Gandalf and Galadriel have both achieved this rejection of power for the sake of personal gain through long inner struggle and it is that struggle that proves vital in the ultimate destruction of the Ring and the overthrow of Sauron.

There is a wonderful moment in The Lord of the Rings in which Tolkien exposes the true reality of the speeches that Saruman and Boromir make and that comes when Gollum makes the same speech to himself, to his Sméagol self, during the journey that he makes with Frodo and Sam through the desolation before Mordor.

“See, my precious: if we has it, then we can escape, even from Him, eh? Perhaps we grows very strong, stronger than Wraiths. Lord Sméagol? Gollum the Great? The Gollum! Eat fish every day, fresh from the sea. Most Precious Gollum! Must have it! We wants it, we wants it, we wants it!”

Gollum the Great

It may be that Gollum’s ambition goes no further than a desire to eat fresh fish three times a day but once you realise that it is the same speech as Saruman and Boromir both make then you realise also that all desire for power for the sake of self-aggrandisement is ultimately as pathetic as is Gollum’s. It is not that Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond reject the use of power, but that power must be wielded for the Common Good and with as much restraint as possible. They also recognise that their part in the story of Middle-earth is soon to reach its conclusion, that they have played their part in it, and they recognise that power must pass to the ordained authority, which is the kingship that Aragorn will bear.

“Give it to me!”

“We wants it, we wants it, we wants it!”

The same speech. The same tragic desire.

“The Day Has Come at Last.The Day of Choice Which We Have Long Delayed.” Which Way Will Frodo Choose to Go?

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 386-387

It is the 26th of February in the year 3019 of the Third Age and when Frodo walks away from his companions so that he might have an hour in order to think he will not see them again until he wakes on the Field of Cormallen on April 8th. That is, I should have said, he will not see his companions save one, and briefly, tragically, another, until that day. During that time the world will change because of the choice that Frodo will make but also because of the choices of each of his companions, but at this moment none of them knows what those choices will be.

Anke Eismann beautifully expresses the anguished thoughts of the Fellowship on this “day of choice”.

Perhaps Frodo really does know but as he walks away in order to think he still struggles with that choice and with how he is to tell the others. Sam really does know. “Plain as a pikestaff it is,” he says to himself, but then for the very first time in all the story Sam chooses not to follow Frodo. Frodo has to make his own mind up.

That the Ring must go to the Fire is, for Frodo, beyond doubt. He made this promise at the Council of Elrond with the words, “I will take the Ring… though I do not know the way” and Elrond confirmed his choice at the departure of the Fellowship from Rivendell.

“The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid: neither to cast away the Ring, nor to deliver it to any servant of the Enemy nor indeed to let any handle it, save members of the Company and the Council and only then in gravest need. The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way. You may tarry, or come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows. The further you go, the less easy it will be to withdraw; yet no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will. For you do not know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road.”

Elrond’s words prove prophetic but perhaps, as is the true nature of prophecy, he speaks of what is always true and at all times. None of the Fellowship can foresee what they are to meet upon the road and the events that will follow Frodo’s request to spend time alone in thought are, at the moment when he makes that request, entirely unknown both to him or to any of the others. For each one of them it will be these events and not what they thought had been their considered opinions that will shape their choices. Gimli had wanted to swear an oath, as was the practice of his people, to stay with Frodo with Frodo until the very end but Elrond wisely persuaded him not to do this. On this day Gimli will need the freedom that Elrond gave him to make a choice that he never thought that he would ever have to make.

The Fellowship hear Elrond’s words and none of them know what these words will mean to each one of them.

Is there any point in all our struggles to make the great choices of our lives? Should we not simply accept, as Galadriel said to the Fellowship on the eve of their departure from Lothlórien, that the paths that each of us will tread are already laid before our feet though we do not see them?

As with Elrond’s words Galadriel’s are always true, always and timelessly wise, but surely there is a place for thought of the road ahead? Such thought acts as a preparation of the heart for the moment when the choice will have to be made. Frodo has already decided that he must take the Ring to the Fire and that this is his destiny. Sam is certain that he must go wherever Frodo goes. Aragorn longs to go to Minas Tirith but feels that it is his duty to go with Frodo. The events of this fateful day will appear to take him to neither but he will remain true to his deepest self.

Anke Eissmann depicts Frodo deep in thought moments before Boromir will make his choice quite clear.

“Behold the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings.” The Heir of Isildur Comes To His Kingdom.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 375-385

After the encounter with Gollum upon the eyot, the small island in the river, the danger of the journey begins to grow. Orcs upon the eastern side of the river fire at the Fellowship and, for the very first time, they meet a Nazgûl, mounted upon his foul winged steed. Legolas uses the bow given to him by the Elves of Lothlórien and brings the creature down from the sky. One cannot help but feel that a company of archers from Lothlórien, armed thus, would have been very useful at the siege of Minas Tirith.

It is not only the threat of enemies that grows as the party travels southwards but the river itself becomes more dangerous. More suddenly than Aragorn had anticipated the boats arrive at the rapids of Sarn Gebir and the Company are forced to carry both them and their baggage on an old portage-way on the western bank of the river until that danger is passed.

Every mile southwards is bringing them all closer to the moment when a choice will have to be made. Either, as Boromir is beginning to urge, they will make their way down to Minas Tirith or they will begin the journey to Mordor. Aragorn has little wish to make this choice and searches for any kind of sign to aid him in the task. His immediate aim is to reach the lake of Nen Hithoel that lies above the Falls of Rauros and which is fenced upon the left by Amon Lhaw, the Hill of Hearing, and upon the right by Amon Hen, the Hill of Sight. It is there that the choice must be made.

The Fellowship Cross Nen Hithoel

And before they reach this point the river cuts a narrow channel between the Pillars of the Argonath.

“As Frodo was borne towards them the great pillars rose like towers to meet him. Giants they seemed to him, vast grey figures silent but threatening. Then he saw that they were indeed shaped and fashioned: the craft and power of old had wrought upon them and, and still they preserved through the suns and rains of forgotten years the mighty likenesses in which they had been hewn.”

John Howe’s magnificent imagining of The Argonath

The likenesses are of Isildur and Anárion, the sons of Elendil, and first kings of Arnor and of Gondor, and they stand with hands raised and palms stretched outwards “in gesture of warning.” It is a terrible and an awesome place and poor Sam is overcome by terror. Indeed all the company are very afraid, all that is except Aragorn. In the film he is depicted standing proudly in the boat and it is a very impressive scene. Tolkien, more sensibly, has him seated, but his description of Aragorn is equally impressive. He is Strider “and yet not Strider”. He is proud and erect, “his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.”

“Fear not!” he said. “Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the House of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!”

Nought to dread maybe from these mighty symbols both of Aragorn’s ancestry and his destiny but Aragorn does fear the choice that he must make. He longs to go to Gondor. His heart “yearns for Minas Anor”, the ancient name of the city that is now Minas Tirith, the Tower of the Guard, but he also knows that the task that the Council gave to Frodo was to take the Ring to the Fire and now that Gandalf is gone how can he abandon Frodo?

Eventually, as Galadriel foretold in Lothlórien, his path is already laid before his feet. The path that he will take will lead neither to Minas Tirith nor to Mordor, not yet at least. It will be a series of events that are now entirely unforeseeable that will make the choice clear to him in a way that is impossible as he passes the Argonath or when he climbs Amon Hen. It is clear as he navigates the passage that his heart’s yearning must eventually lead him to his city but it is rare in our lives that the path between our current position and the place for which our heart yearns is a clear one, even for those of us for whom that place is known. Aragorn’s path to his city and to his kingdom will wind and twist through many unexpected places.

Aragorn at the Argonath

“So You Know About Our Little Footpad, Do You?” Gollum Follows The Fellowship Down The Anduin.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.371-375

“His longing for the Ring proved stronger than his fear of the Orcs, or even of light.” So said Gandalf to Frodo in the study at Bag End when he spoke to Frodo of Gollum, of the way in which, two years after the Ring left him in order to find its way back to its master, the Dark Lord who was calling it back to himself, Gollum had emerged from the darkness beneath the Misty Mountains in order to find the Ring and to revenge himself upon the “thief” who had stolen it, Baggins.

The encounter between Gollum and Bilbo deep beneath the Misty Mountains.

And it is the same desire that has driven his pursuit of the Fellowship since first he came upon them in the Mines of Moria. Somehow he had managed to escape the turmoil that followed the fall of the Balrog with Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and although his fear and loathing of Elves or anything elvish prevented him from entering Lothlórien, he had waited, hiding in the woods by the Silverlode, until the journey of the Fellowship began once more.

Aragorn has been aware of him all the time and has known who it has been that has been following them. On the one hand this is because he is one of the great trackers of the age, but it is also because he caught Gollum once. He had found him by a pool in the Dead Marshes, hunting for food and had driven him all the way to the Woodland Realm of the Elves in Mirkwood where Thranduil was to hold him prisoner. But he was not a prisoner for very long. Sauron had a purpose in mind for Gollum and that was to use his desire in order to help in the search for the Ring and so he was freed during an attack by orcs upon his guards and so had been hunting ever since. Probably it had been his intention to make his way through Moria from east to west and then to walk across Eriador all the way to the Shire and so track his mortal enemy down and to regain the Ring.

Although Gollum had dreams of becoming “Gollum the Great” once he had regained the Ring and of paying everyone back for all their mistreatment of him, as he saw it, Sauron had no fear of him. He knew that if ever Gollum were to find the Ring again he would be certain to use it, and as often as possible, and so it would not be long before his servants would track him down and to bring the Ring back at last to its Lord.

And so it is that Gollum has been floating upon a log down the Anduin in pursuit of the Fellowship and why he tries to climb onto the small island in the river where the the boats are moored where Frodo is sleeping even though Aragorn is there also. But Frodo is alert and draws Sting and Gollum quickly makes his escape.

“We shall have to trying going faster tomorrow,” says Aragorn to Frodo. “I wish I could lay my hands on the wretch. We might make him useful. But if I cannot, we shall have to try and lose him.”

The Fellowship Attempt to Escape From Gollum.

By driving their boats forward on the river the next day the Company are able to lose Gollum for a while but all such efforts are ultimately useless. Gollum’s desire for the Ring is so great that again and again he manages to find his way back to it until all comes to a head at the Cracks of Doom upon Orodruin. As Gandalf put it to Frodo Gollum has “no will left in the matter. If ever there was a time when Gollum had possession of the Ring it was very brief. He has never possessed the Ring. The Ring has always possessed him. He may think that he desires the Ring but it would be more true to say that desire has taken possession of him and will never let him go. There will be moments when the “little corner of his mind” that is still his own will emerge but that corner is very small and desperately weak. It will be his desire that will drive him on.

The story will come to its end at the Cracks of Doom.

“The Danger of Light and Joy”. Gimli Weeps Openly as He Bids Farewell to Galadriel and Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.369-370

As the three small boats that contain the members of the Fellowship are swept down the Great River, the Anduin, Gimli weeps openly as he mourns a loss that he never expected to experience.

In bidding farewell to Galadriel Gimli takes his worst wound.

“Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli, son of Glóin!”

Those who know the story will know that for Gimli there will be a torment in the dark that lies ahead for him that will almost cause him to abandon his fellows. They know too that in his finding of the glittering caves of Aglarond Gimli will find a beauty that will delight him, and give him a labour for years to come to satisfy his soul but none of this can diminish the sense of loss that overwhelms him now as the river carries him away from Lothlórien.

Hannah Joy Patterson’s beautiful imagining of the Caves of Aglarond.

For Gimli, in his encounter with Galadriel, has met something far greater than a beautiful person. He has met Beauty itself and now cannot know peace and contentment in anything less than an abiding in its presence. And Gimli has also discovered what it means to have been wounded by Beauty, to be utterly surprised by that wound, and to feel the pain that cannot be satisfied by anything less.

Gimli’s experience was one to which the members of the Inklings paid much attention. C.S Lewis chose as the title of his autobiography words from a poem by William Wordsworth, “Surprised by Joy” in which he speaks of his entire life as being a search for something that came upon him unawares in his childhood. Wordsworth’s poem is a telling forth of the way in which an unexpected encounter with Joy recalls him to the recollection of one that he has lost and back to the experience of that loss with almost the same keenness with which he first knew it. Gimli would understand what Wordsworth was trying to say and what both of them felt. Wordsworth could not understand how he was able to live his life forgetting, even for a moment, his “most grievous loss” but he does and so will Gimli. Perhaps it is a kindness that we are granted not to have to bear such pain constantly but both Wordsworth, and Gimli too, tell us that any kind of life that is smaller than the present moment in which both the joy and the pain are known in their entirety is not really to be alive at all.

For Lewis, the search for Joy led him eventually to Christian faith. Here, it is vitally important to understand that this faith is not in itself a satisfaction of the longing for Joy or for Beauty. For Lewis, and for all who follow this way, faith in Christ is not the end of the journey but a sure way forward that leads at the last to an entire participation in them both. The well known quotation of the 2nd century theologian, Iranaeus of Lyon, that “the glory of God is a human being who is fully alive” continues by saying that to be alive is to have the vision of God, by which he does not mean that we spend eternity staring at an old man with a long white beard but that we contemplate and entirely participate in, as Dante put it, “the love that moves the sun and other stars”.

Those who have been “surprised by joy” or wounded by beauty and by love know that any life that is less than a complete participation is in them is no life at all. Gimli knows this now and knows too that he will not find rest in anything less than that complete participation. There is no comfort for him now but Legolas is right in saying that his friend is blessed in suffering the loss of the Beauty that he has glimpsed of his own free will. The true search for Beauty and for Joy always lies onwards and never back until it finds at last its fulfilment in the divine vision.

“Farewell! Maybe Thou Shalt Find Valimar.” Galadriel’s Beautiful Farewell to The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 367-369

Farewell! Namárië! This is the last word spoken by Galadriel as the three boats that hold the members of the Fellowship float down the Silverlode to its confluence with the Anduin and so away from the earthly paradise of Lothlórien, into the empty lands beyond and all the adventures that lie before each one of them; adventures that lie before their feet but which they cannot know except as they take each step of the way.

I have always imagined this scene as depicted in the still from Peter Jackson’s film that I have included above, but Anna Kulisz gives me an entirely new perspective as I stand with Galadriel bidding farewell to the Fellowship and farewell too, though I cannot know it yet, to Lothlórien.

Galadriel’s farewell is a song that she sings to them in “the ancient tongue of the Elves beyond the sea”, in Quenya, a language spoken both by the Noldor of whom Galadriel is a Queen and by the Vanyar. It is the language that Gildor and his party speak in the Shire when they meet Frodo, Sam and Pippin at the beginning of their journey and it is a language of which Frodo has little knowledge. But, as T.S Eliot wrote on the subject of language, communication goes deeper than understanding, and in a documentary on Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland, the comment is made that it is the music of Eliot’s language that communicates before any understanding of the text. Perhaps it is to this that Tolkien refers when he speaks of “the way of Elvish words” that they remain “graven” in Frodo’s memory.

Throughout the years of her long sojourn that “have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West” Galadriel has spoken with her husband and with her people in Sindarin, the language of the Elves who never made the journey to Valinor, but now she pours out her heart in the language of her own people. For Galadriel has long nurtured a divided heart in which, as we read of her in Unfinished Tales “there dwelt in her the noble and generous spirit of the Vanyar, and a reverence for the Valar that she could not forget.” But there has also lain within her the part that she played in the rebellion of Fëanor and the Noldor, when although she opposed Fëanor in the kinslaying of Alqualondë nevertheless she still went with her people to Middle-earth against the command of the Valar and at the end of the First Age refused the pardon that the Valar extended to all who had been a part of the rebellion of Fëanor but had fought against Morgoth. As Tolkien says of her in Unfinished Tales “she had dreams of far lands and dominions that might be her own to order as she would without tutelage”. It was these dreams that began to take shape in her heart in the form of a thought as to what she might do if ever the Ring of Power might fall within her reach.

It was this thought, born of her ancient dreams, but dreams perhaps and even thoughts that had lain dormant through her long practice of the rejection of evil, a practice aided by Nenya the Ring of Adamant, that suddenly returned to her with almost overwhelming force when Frodo offered her the Ring at the episode of her mirror. But Tolkien tells us, when the moment of testing came “her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth for ever”.

That was to be her final destiny but at this moment, the moment of her singing her farewell song to the Fellowship, she has no knowledge of the pardon that she will receive and so all that they (and we also) can hear is her heartbreaking lament and her longing.

“Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!”

I have not been able to find an ascription to the artist who created this image of Valimar in the Undying Lands.

Was it to Frodo most of all of that company to whom she sang those words? It is Frodo, amongst all of them, that the longing for healing and of peace is strongest, a longing revealed in his dreams in the House of Tom Bombadil and a longing revealed, perhaps also, in the graving of Galadriel’s song upon his memory. These words stay within his heart upon every step of his journey to Mordor and maybe they become, against even his conscious thought, a lode star beyond the “end of all things” in the Cracks of Doom in Orodruin that will carry him, along with the faithful and loving service of Sam, both to that terrible moment and beyond it also. Maybe Frodo will find it.

“May It Be a Light to You in Dark Places, When All Other Lights Go Out.” Galadriel Gives a Phial of Light to Frodo.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.365-367

After Galadriel has given a gift of three of her golden hairs to Gimli there remains one last gift to be given, to Frodo, the Ring-bearer who is not last in her thoughts. She gives to him “a small crystal phial” that glitters as she moves it and “rays of white light” spring from her hand.

Anke Eismann imagines the giving of the Phial to Frodo.

“In this phial,” she said, “is caught the light of Eärendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Galadriel captures the light of the star of Eärendil in her phial. I have not been able to find an artist’s name for this. If anyone knows the who created this I would be delighted to add an ascription.

Frodo remembers the verses that Bilbo chanted about Eärendil in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, the verses that seemed to Frodo “to fit somehow” into something about which he was dreaming, about “an endless river of swelling gold and silver” flowing over him. This is Frodo’s immersion into the history of light of which he is a vital part and of which Galadriel’s phial is now a living symbol.

A ship then new they built for him 
of mithril and of elven-glass
with shining prow; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore on silver mast:
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
to gleam thereon by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him immortal doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.

Galadriel herself has been intimately involved in this history from the beginning. It is the story of how Fëanor made three exquisite jewels in which was captured the light of the two trees in Valinor, of Telperion and of Laurelin. Eventually the trees are destroyed by Morgoth with the aid of Ungoliant, the terrible spider-like monster and ancestor of Shelob, who Frodo and Sam will encounter in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol and who Sam will vanquish with the aid of Galadriel’s phial after Frodo is poisoned. After the theft of the Silmarils Fëanor will pursue Morgoth, defying the Valar who forbid him to leave Valinor. Along with his people, the Noldor, he steals ships from the Teleri, slaying them when they try to resist him, and so begins the tragic history of Middle-earth that reaches a climax in The Lord of the Rings.

A light when all other lights have gone out.

There is a sense in which the whole of this history is contained in Galadriel’s phial, both in its beauty and its sorrow. The light of the Silmaril that is captured in the phial is a sign of hope to which all the peoples of Middle-earth can look each morning and evening in the star that shines brightly above them. Eärendil brought hope to Middle-earth when it lay prostrate before the power of Morgoth and his star continues to do so today. In the terrible lair of Shelob, in a place where all other lights have gone out, Frodo cries out, “Aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima!” “Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars!” And at this moment when all hope is gone the light of the Silmaril blazes forth and the memory of the fall of Morgoth is rekindled.

But I mentioned sorrow too. For the story of the Silmarils is a story of trust betrayed. I mentioned the kinslaying of Alqulondë when the Noldor stole the ships of the Teleri but I could mention many other sorrows too. In fact one of the great themes of the story of the First Age as recounted in The Silmarillion is the telling of the sorrows of Middle-earth to the Valar. After the death of Beren Lúthien follows him to the underworld and sings to Mandos the most beautiful song in the world, a weaving together of the griefs of the Two Kindreds of Elves and Humankind that reduces the Lord of Death to tears of pity. Indeed we could add to this story that of Eärendil himself whose journey to Valinor is itself a plea to the Valar to take pity upon these kindreds.

Galadriel has been a part of both the sorrow and the beauty. She was a part of the rebellion of Fëanor and the Noldor, albeit reluctantly, but in her rejection of the Ring when it was offered to her by Frodo she displays her adamantine character and so wins a victory over evil that is vital for the success of the task of the Ring-bearer. Her gift to him is a symbol of that victory.

“What Gift Would a Dwarf Ask of The Elves?” Galadriel Gives Three of Her Golden Hairs to Gimli.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 365-367

Galadriel has prepared gifts for every member of the Company except for one and that member is Gimli the dwarf. Readers of my blog will remember that when the Fellowship first came to Caras Galadhon after the terrible events at the bridge of Khazad-dûm Celeborn was at first angered that a Balrog, Durin’s Bane, had been disturbed in Moria and that he was angry with Gimli, blaming him for this and even for the fall of Gandalf. Long years of division, suspicion and even hatred between Dwarves and Elves were recalled. Celeborn was a child of Doriath, a secret kingdom of the Elves of the First Age in Beleriand and did not forget the killing of Thingol, its king, by Dwarves after the making of the Nauglamir, a wonderful necklace that contained a Silmaril, the one taken by Lúthien from the crown of Morgoth.

“What gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?”

It was Galadriel who persuaded Celeborn to put aside his anger and to welcome Gimli into Lothlórien but surely the very fact that she has no gift prepared for him shows that she too is undecided about what kind of relationship she has with this dwarf. “What gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?” she asks him. There is no doubt that she wishes to heal a long hurt, not least because she knows that unless all the foes of Sauron stand together they will fall before him, but she does not know how this will be achieved.

“It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.”

The gentle words were, of course, Galadriel’s words to Celeborn that he should not repent of his welcome to Gimli but also her speaking of sacred names in his own language. He had “looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy” and seen there “love and understanding”. It was a moment that changed him for ever which does not mean that the change is the creation within himself of a quality that had never existed within him but that something has been awakened that hitherto lay dormant.

Galadriel is delighted by Gimli’s answer, her heart goes out towards him and she bids him make a request of her. She wishes to be generous and to heal the ancient enmity but she is entirely unprepared for the request that Gimli will make. Just as Frodo, when in complete innocence, offered the Ring to Galadriel and so exposed desires within her that she had, perhaps, hidden even from herself, so Gimli too, with the same innocence, touches something that has long lain hidden within her.

Gimli asks for nothing but he names a single strand of Galadriel’s hair “which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine.” Gimli cannot know that he is not the first to have made such a request of her, and that ages long before, Fëanor himself asked three times for a tress of her hair. Fëanor’s request was bold but not courteous. His desire was not just for her hair but for herself and she had refused him. Fëanor was one who wished to possess and Galadriel had perceived this darkness within his heart. Gimli, on the other hand, wishes only to love in pure devotion and so she gives him not only one strand but three, recalling the three times that Fëanor had made his request and the three times that she had refused him.

Elena Kukova imagines the beautiful hair of Galadriel.

Galadriel unbraids a tress of her golden hair that holds the light of Laurelin and Telperion, the ancient trees of Valinor that Morgoth destroyed, and places three hairs in Gimli’s hands. “I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”

Galadriel has been shaken to the very core of her being by the coming of the Fellowship to her land. She had expected that it would mean the end of Lothlórien just as she said to Frodo and she was prepared for this. What she had not expected was that in receiving them her Self would be revealed to herself. She is forced to become vulnerable in a way that she could never have anticipated. We will think about this when we look at her last song in a few weeks time. My belief is that her vulnerability will lead her, not to despair, but to hope. And so it does in all of us.