“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.

“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