“Seeing Is Both Good and Perilous”. Frodo Looks Into The Mirror of Galadriel.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.354-357

“Do you now wish to look, Frodo?” said the Lady Galadriel. “You did not wish to see Elf-magic and were content.”

Alan Lee imagines Frodo looking into The Mirror of Galadriel.

Last week we saw how Sam did look into the Mirror of Galadriel having “wanted to see a bit of magic like what it tells of in old tales”; thinking, as he did, that all magic was of the variety of a conjuring trick and done either for the purpose of entertainment or to make the world a little more wonderful. What he did experience was nothing of this kind but deeply disturbing as he was forced to witness the destruction of his own home and his father fleeing as a refugee. And now will Frodo look into the Mirror?

What Frodo sees once he has made up his mind to do so is at first the great story of which he has become such a vital part; a hero, as Elrond put it, worthy to sit among “the mighty Elf-friends of old”. He sees the mighty sea that both destroyed the land of Númenor and brought the ships of Elendil, storm tossed to Middle-earth. He sees the mighty fortress of Minas Tirith and then the ship that will carry the King back to his city. And at the last he sees the ship that will carry him away from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands for his healing from the many wounds that he has taken in giving to it a future and a hope.

But it does not end there. Frodo sighs and prepares to turn away from the vision, having understood little, if any, of what he has seen, when he is arrested by something else. He sees at first a darkness, an emptiness, and then he sees an Eye, and soon knows that this Eye is searching for him. “Frodo knew with certainty and horror that among the many things that it sought he himself was one.”

Frodo sees the Eye that is searching for him.

Frodo has seen what Sauron has become. A lidless eye endlessly searching throughout the world for anything that might pose a threat to its own existence. Not that Sauron has been reduced yet to this alone. Gollum will speak of the nine fingers upon his hand which are enough to do terrible things, but this is the main form in which he exists within the earth. He is one who sees, or perhaps we should say, one who seeks, for he is not omniscient. Frodo knows that the Eye cannot see him unless he chooses to put on the Ring.

“Seeing is both good and perilous”. These were Galadriel’s words to Frodo when he asked whether or not he should look into the Mirror and her wisdom could have been either for Frodo or for Sauron. To Frodo because it is often the wisest course of action simply to deal with what is immediately in front of us. To see too far into the future can well render us impotent in the present. Or, as in the case of Sam, may tempt us to leave a pathway that had seemed entirely right in order to solve a problem that we will be perfectly capable of solving later on down the road after we have completed our present task.

And what of Sauron? His ability to see is good in so far as he is able to gather information about the world about him but ultimately what he sees is desperately limited and he is paralysed by the gaps in his knowledge. He cannot penetrate the minds of his enemies and even when he can, as in his use of the Palantír, the Seeing Stones, he still has to deal with the duplicity of Saruman and the essentially noble character of Denethor. And when he sees Aragorn in the Stone of Orthanc, he will misinterpret what he sees so badly as to cause him to leave himself fatally vulnerable to the one thing that he fails to predict. The painstakingly slow journey of the Ring into the very heart of his realm.

Sauron completely misinterprets what he sees in the palantír.

So does Frodo see anything of good? Well the answer is that he does. He sees that Sauron cannot see him unless he chooses to reveal himself. He will always have a choice to make and though this choice will become like an intolerable weight about his neck the power to make this choice will open a way for him to Orodruin itself.

A Far Green Country Under a Swift Sunrise. Frodo’s Dream in the House of Tom Bombadil.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 132-133

“Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was all rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”

This dream passage comes at the beginning of Frodo’s journey on the last night of the hobbits’ stay in the house of Tom Bombadil, the second of two important dreams at this part of the story, the other of which was the tower dream in Crickhollow the night before the hobbits entered the Old Forest. But Tolkien uses the same words at the end of the story at the very end of Frodo’s earthly travels following his sea voyage with Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond, the Ringbearers, into the West, and Tolkien makes a point there of remembering Frodo’s dream as it is fulfilled.

The Grey Havens by Alan Lee

A far green country under a swift sunrise. As far back as 1944 Tolkien intended to end his story with a remembrance and a fulfillment of the dream in Bombadil’s house. He meant to use these words as a frame about his story. (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien p. 104). Of course at this point of the story, with all the struggles that lie ahead of him, Frodo has no notion of this, but the story and the storyteller does. As we have considered in other posts Frodo is a part of a story far greater than he is. He is meant to have the Ring. He will be overcome by its utterly malign power but by grace he will not be destroyed either by the Ring nor by its maker, nor will he be caught up in its destruction; but neither will he find healing in Middle-earth. By the prayer of Arwen Undómiel, whose place he will take on the ship bearing her father, Frodo will be permitted to enter the Undying Lands and there he will be healed.

A Far Green Country

But why does Tolkien refer to Frodo’s healing in Undying Lands at this point of the story? It does Frodo no good in so far as we are able to tell and until we, who read The Lord of the Rings, come across these words once again at the end of the story, it has no effect upon us either. There is no comfort to be gained here for any of us.

I think that there are two things to be said. On the one hand it is an encouragement to read The Lord of the Rings again and again, as I hope you are doing. There are so many layers of meaning to be discerned within the story that we will discover more and more with every reading. But the other speaks to how Frodo, and we ourselves as his fellow creatures, must live. Frodo will carry this dream within his subconscious throughout and there, no doubt, it will do its work within his psyche as dreams will always do but the dream will point to a reality that does not require our conscious assent to be entirely itself. Even before Arwen’s prayer or before Frodo’s despair that he will ever find healing in Middle-earth, a place has been prepared for him in which, as Tolkien put it in another letter, Frodo will go “both to a purgatory and peace” (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien p. 328). There is no sense in which this purgatory is a punishment in the usual way in which this has been understood and if prayers are required to release him from it it can only be that what awaits him beyond the circles of the world is of such surpassing wonder that to be denied it, even in an earthly paradise, is punishment by comparison. Those of us who are mortal can only grasp this reality by faith and be encouraged in it by those occasional glimpses that might be afforded to us, but even these are enough to strengthen us to live our lives courageously and so fulfill our calling even as Frodo does.

I am grateful to Keith Kelly and Michael Livingston for a fine paper published by The Mythopoeic Society and which can be accessed through the link below.

Frodo Longs to See the Sea. The Dream at Crickhollow.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 105-106

Frodo has made up his mind. He will leave the Shire the very next morning as early as possible and he will go through the Old Forest. All is ready thanks to Merry, the great organiser, and so the hobbits make their way to bed after tidying up, of course.

And there Frodo dreams. At first he dreams of a forest with creatures snuffling at its roots. Frodo is sure that they are looking for him and that they will find him.

Frodo is sure that they will find him

And then Tolkien writes that Frodo “heard a noise in the distance” and that he thought at first that it was the wind in the trees of the forest. But then, in that way in dreams in which you know that you know something, without knowing why or how, Frodo realises that the sound that he can hear is that of the sea. Actually, Tolkien does not spell, sea, as I have done in its generic form as not being the land. He speaks of the Sea. The Sea. The great Sea that parts Middle-earth from the Undying Lands. The Sea over which the Elves may pass in order to reach those lands but which is a way that is denied to mortals.

We learn that this is not the first time that Frodo has heard this sound in his dreams, that it is a recurring and troubled theme within them. And so we are brought within his inner life. Dreams will play an important part in The Lord of the Rings. As in our own experience they will always leave us with as many questions as answers. Tolkien had too much insight into the mystery of the human psyche to write write one of those all too popular books on “the interpretation of dreams” in which particular objects or images within a dream are assigned particular meanings. Such an understanding of dreams would either make Frodo in some sense, omniscient, or it would give that quality to us, the reader. As it is, both Frodo and us as well have to stumble through life in the dark, walking by faith and not by sight.

“Suddenly he found he was out in the open. There were no trees after all. He was on a dark heath, and there was a strange salt smell in the air. Looking up he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge.”

Ted Nasmith’s evocation of The Sea

So Frodo is taken in his dream from a vision of a forest and creatures snuffling about just as he had heard the Black Rider sniffing for him. Everything in this part of the dream takes him downwards and this is the journey that he must now take. Even in his dream this feels a hopeless affair. The creatures will find him. But then Tolkien uses the word, Suddenly, and we look upwards with him to a tall white tower, alone on a high ridge. We are taken from the journey that he must take to the journey that he longs to take, even though he does not know what that journey is.

“A great desire came over him to climb the tower and see the Sea.”

The great Tolkien scholar, Verlyn Flieger, comments on this passage in her book, Splintered Light. She speaks of an “implied desire to climb up and look outward to the immense unknown.” And then she speaks of a “very real attribute of the human psyche: the desire to seek something without knowing what it is.” Or to use the great insight of Augustine of Hippo, to keep on searching restlessly until we find our rest in the ultimate, or in God.

Significantly, Tolkien does not give us our last glimpse of Frodo at the end of the story as he does to his companions as they gaze outwards to the last glimpse of the light of the phial of Galadriel as the ship dips over the horizon. He takes us onwards with Frodo until journeys end as Frodo “beholds white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise”. Frodo must take the journey into danger and darkness but his heart longs for something else and one day he will find it.

I am grateful to the blog written by Jonathan McIntosh, The Flame Imperishable, for many of the insights in this week’s post and for the quote from Verlyn Flieger. You can find it at https://jonathansmcintosh.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/frodos-dream-tower/