The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 640-645
This is a wonderful piece to write on Tolkien Reading Day, the day on which the Tolkien Society encourage us to read favourite passages from his work. This is one of my favourite passages and I would love to hear from you in the Comments below about the passages that you choose to read this day. Of course, Tolkien would have marked this day in his own life by going to Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, the news from the angel to Mary that she would conceive and bear a child who would be the Saviour of the World. He meant us to weave together in our minds the downfall of Sauron and this good news.
As Aragorn and his companions enter the Forest of Fangorn in search of Merry and Pippin, following the same stream that the young hobbits had two days before, Gimli becomes aware that their task is practically impossible. They have insufficient supplies to do more than starve with the young hobbits even if they find them.
“If that is indeed all that we can do, then we must do that,” said Aragorn. “Let us go on.”
Aragorn has been aware of the impossibility of their task since its beginning. It was Éomer who commented that Aragorn must know little of orcs if he hunted them in the fashion that he did. Aragorn knew that it was unlikely that he would catch up with the orc band and if they did they would likely perish in the attempt to rescue their friends. And even before this he had little hope. “We must do without hope,” he said to the Fellowship immediately after the fall of Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and ever since that moment Aragorn has gone on in a state of grim despair until this moment when he knows that it is likely that he has come to Fangorn to die.
The three companions climb the same rock shelf upon which Merry and Pippin met Treebeard two days before and it is from there that they see an old man moving through the woods below them. At first they are convinced that this must be Saruman until the wonderful moment of revelation and of recognition comes.
“”Mithrandir!” Legolas cries out in joy, firing an arrow into the air that bursts into flames as it flies. “Gandalf!” cries Aragorn “Beyond all hope you return to us in our need!”
This moment of revelation, of a renewing of hope, is one of many that come through the story, each one enabling the members of the Fellowship to take the next steps towards the completion, the fulfilment of their journey, until Gollum takes the Ring to the Fire and Sauron falls at last on March 25th in the year 3018 of the Third Age of Arda.
This moment is, as Gandalf says to the three hunters, a turning of the tide. “The great storm is coming,” he says, “but the tide has turned.” And from this point onwards, although Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli will face many dangers they will face each one with a flame of hope burning in their hearts. The return of Gandalf is one of the great moments of eucatastrophe, “when the sudden ‘turn’ comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and hearts desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rents indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”
These thoughts came from a lecture that Tolkien gave in Oxford in 1938 that he entitled, On Fairy-Stories. In the lecture Tolkien explicitly linked the “sudden ‘turn'” with the Christian Story, the story that he convinced C.S Lewis is “the true myth”, the story that means that all the glimpses of joy that we experience in the reading of fairy-stories and the great myths are not mere wishful thinking but true. All point to the birth of Christ, the moment about which the angel spoke to Mary, as the eucatastrophe of the history of humankind.
Tolkien never wrote explicitly about this in his own stories. He allowed the glimpse of joy as in this moment of joyful revelation when Gandalf is restored to his friends to do its own work in the hearts of his readers, leading all of them towards the true myth to which all myth bears witness.