“This Old Man Had a Hat Not a Hood.” Who Did The Three Hunters See Under The Eaves of Fangorn?

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.573-577

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli have found the site of the battle between the Riders of Rohan and the Orc band who had taken Merry and Pippin but they have found no sign of the hobbits themselves. Now before they continue their search they decide to make camp for the night right under the eaves of an ancient chestnut tree. They build a fire taking care not to cut wood from any living tree but only that which they can gather from the ground about them.

As they rest by their fire they ponder the journey that lies before them, a journey that is likely to take them into the forest itself.

“Celeborn warned us not to go far into Fangorn,” Legolas says. “Do you know why, Aragorn?”

But Aragorn knows little of the forest save that it is old, “as old as the forest by the Barrow-downs, and it is far greater. Elrond says that the two are akin, the last strongholds of the mighty woods of the Elder Days, in which the Firstborn roamed while Men still slept. Yet Fangorn holds some secret of its own. What it is I do not know.”

Alan Lee evokes the wonderful mystery of forests.

The journeys of The Lord of the Rings sometimes lead under the ground, such as the journey through Moria, the Paths of the Dead under the White Mountains between Rohan and Gondor and the path through Shelob’s Lair that passes under the mountains that surround Mordor. Each of these paths hide a deadly peril. The Balrog lurks in the depths of Moria; the Dead haunt the paths under the White Mountains; and Shelob lies in wait for any that might pass through her lair under the mountains of Mordor. All who pass through these dark ways will come to an end of themselves in some way and emerge the other side as different from the self that first entered in.

But the journeys through forests are different in nature. In these journeys a secret is encountered. The hobbits encounter Tom Bombadil in the Old Forest, a strange and delightful wonder. In Lothlórien, the Golden Wood, the Fellowship meet the Lady of the Wood, Galadriel. And in Fangorn Forest Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents, the Onodrim of which Legolas speaks by the campfire. Each forest is alive, not just as the aggregation of many things, many separate trees and other plants, but as an intelligence that holds all the separate parts together and which is expressed in the secret life hidden therein.

The night passes and Gimli is on watch by the fire when something happens that awakens all three. Or perhaps I should say that two things happen. An old man “wrapped in a great cloak” is seen standing in the firelight but who disappears when challenged by Aragorn. And the other thing is that the horses run off at the same moment.

Shadowfax, Chief of the Mearas.

Gimli is convinced that the old man is Saruman and that he has driven their horses away. He is partly correct in this. The following day the companions will meet Gandalf in the forest. It is one of the great moments of the story. Gimli will ask Gandalf if it was him or Saruman who he had seen by the fire and Gandalf will reassure him that he was not there so it was likely to have been Saruman; that Saruman had not been able to wait for his orcs to bring him the hobbits and with the hobbits the greatest prize of all, the One Ring. But it was not Saruman who drove away the horses. The following morning Aragorn will remark to the others that the horses did not sound as if they were fleeing in terror and Legolas will reply that “they spoke as horses will when they meet a friend that they have long missed.” The friend, as we will learn later, is Shadowfax, the greatest of horses who has drawn near to Fangorn in order to await Gandalf. If the companions knew this they would not have to worry about their horses. As Galadriel told them their paths are laid out before their feet and all they need do is to walk the paths in trust.

Gandalf and Saruman together.

“How Shall a Man Judge What to Do in Such Times?” Eomer Ponders The Making of Choices. To Aid or To Thwart Aragorn.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 565-571

Eomer dismisses his company in order to speak to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in private, and in order to give himself time to make his choice. Whether to aid or to thwart the hunters in their effort to find Merry and Pippin. He has already taken a risk in leading his men against the orc band that had slain Boromir and taken the hobbits prisoner. Theoden, the king, did not give him permission to go. Now what will he do about these three strangers who walk across the fields of Rohan?

Eomer needs space in order to make his decision. Anke Eissmann depicts the meeting between him and Aragorn.

Eomer needs space to think. He also needs space to reorient himself after all the things that he has just been told.

“It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dearf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

In my last piece on this blog I wrote about a world “grown strange”. I wrote about how hobbits were dismissed as mere “children’s tales out of the North” while Galadriel is feared as one who belongs to “net-weavers and sorcerers”. Tolkien once wrote that if someone comes bearing tales of dragons either he will not be believed and so will be dismissed as a mad man or he will be believed and so will be regarded as dangerous and uncanny. Aragorn and his companions seem to be regarded as both at one and the same time and so Eothain, who speaks for the ordinary person dismisses them as “wild folk” who should be left to their fancies.

Bilbo tells tales of dragons and so is dismissed as mad, even though he gives very good parties.

It was not just because the world would be a more delightful place if it were to be more magical, to be re-enchanted, that Tolkien and the other Inklings wrote their stories. It was because the world would be more true. So the good, the beautiful and the true are really one and in order for something to be true it is not necessary to separate it out from the beautiful.

Nor is it necessary to separate the true from the good. “How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” Aragorn’s answer is both clear and simple.

“As he has ever judged… Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

Boromir began to make his choice to take the Ring while in the Golden Wood.

So Eomer is left with a choice to make. Aragorn has made it clear to him that he will not abandon Merry and Pippin. He determined to find them when at Tol Brandir even at the cost of his own life. If the wise choice were simply about finding out what was in his own interest and then pursuing it he would certainly not have followed the orc band. The wise choice would probably have been to go on to Minas Tirith. He could have spoken of his promise made to Boromir and expressed genuine regret about the unhappy fate of Merry and Pippin but the principle of self interest would have left him little choice in the matter. Of course by going to Minas Tirith he would have brought himself into conflict with Denethor who would have contested any claim that he might have made, but then politics and the achievement of power is always a matter of navigation through one set of circumstances after another in seeking to achieve the goal. That Aragorn would not have met with Gandalf once again in the Forest of Fangorn nor played his part in the defeat of Saruman and through that to win the loyalty of Rohan not just in the battles that immediately lay ahead but in the future too would simply be unfortunate. After all, it is not possible to achieve everything at any one moment. But Aragorn does not make this choice. He chooses the good in his loyalty to the young hobbits and so wins the respect and the aid of Eomer who chooses to try to do the good also. He gives horses to the three companions to aid them in their task and this choice will cost him his freedom, for some time at least.

“They Will Look for Him From The White Tower… But He Will Not Return.” Boromir is Laid to Rest in an Elven Boat.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991,2007) pp. 538-544

Legolas and Gimli find Aragorn kneeling beside the body of Boromir and, at first, they fear that he is mortally wounded too. But soon they are reassured and learn of all that has taken place, of the slaying of Boromir by many orcs as he sought to defend the hobbits.

Now there are questions to answer. Are the hobbits still alive or have they been taken by the orcs? And if they have been taken which way have they gone? They know that Boromir had gone to defend Merry and Pippin but were Frodo and Sam among them? What should they do now? Should they follow the orcs to aid Merry and Pippin or should they find Frodo’s tracks and follow him for the sake of the quest? It is an evil choice that lies before them.

“First we must tend the fallen,” Legolas says. “We cannot leave him lying like carrion among these foul orcs.”

Aragorn stands over the body of Boromir in this poignant depiction by Anke Eissmann.

They do not have time to bury Boromir or raise a cairn of stones above him and so they determine to lay him to rest in one of the elven boats. We are reminded here of the ship burials of the Norse or Germanic peoples of Europe. The most famous of these burials here in England is the Sutton Hoo burial from the early 7th century of an Anglo-Saxon king laid to rest in a a ship that was nearly 90 feet long and when discovered in a famous excavation in 1939 was found to contain the most spectacular treasures from as far afield as Byzantium and Sri Lanka.

The Sutton Hoo ship burial and the famous warrior’s mask now kept in the British Museum.

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli lay what treasures they can around the fallen hero, son of Denethor, Lord of Gondor. “The grey hood and elven-cloak they folded and placed beneath his head. They combed his long dark hair and arrayed it about his shoulders. The golden belt of Lórien gleamed about his waist. His helm they set beside him, and across his lap they laid the cloven horn and the hilt and shards of his sword; beneath his feet they put the swords of his enemies.”

And so the Anduin, the mighty river of Gondor, takes Boromir over the Rauros falls and down through Osgiliath “out into the Great Sea at night under the stars”.

It is a deeply poignant moment within the story. A brief pause amidst all the frantic action that has taken place that day and all that lies ahead of the three companions. As Tolkien was writing this scene he must have thought of the many fallen soldiers at the Battle of the Somme in which he fought and, most of all, of Robert Gilson and Geoffrey Bache Smith of the Tea Club, Barrovian Society, the T.C.B.S of King Edward’s School in Birmingham, both of whom fell in 1916.

For so many of the dead in that war there could be no pause amidst the fighting and the carnage amidst the trenches of the western front. Many bodies could not even be identified and it was not until after the war ended that the people of Great Britain began the long and patient task of creating memorials to their war dead. From the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, over which Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was carried at her funeral, to the memorial at the Menin Gate in Ypres in Belgium where those whose bodies were never identified are remembered, to the war cemeteries in Belgium and in France where thousands upon thousands lie, among whom are two of my mother’s uncles, and then the memorials raised in communities up and down the land for those who they had lost, the people of Britain did all that they could to honour their fallen. And we still do on each Sunday nearest to the 11th of November every year at those same memorials in all but a small number of villages across the land where everyone came home from the war. No such villages exist in my county of Worcestershire.

There is much debate among Tolkien scholars about the extent to which The Lord of the Rings is as much a memorial to the fallen of the Great War as it is the creation of a myth that reaches back into a distant past. The recent biopic about Tolkien’s early life certainly suggests this and I, for one, am persuaded. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli do all that they can to give meaning to the fall of Boromir and Tolkien makes heroes of the thousands who fell on the western front by creating a myth big enough to contain their stories.

One of the many war cemeteries in Belgium and Northern France from the Great War of 1914-18.

“It is I That Have Failed. Vain Was Gandalf’s Trust in Me.” Aragorn’s Despair at The Breaking of the Fellowship.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 537-540

“Alas!” said Aragorn. “Thus passes the heir of Denethor, Lord of the Tower of the Guard! This is a bitter end. Now the Company is all in ruin. It is I that have failed. Vain was Gandalf’s trust in me. What shall I do now? Boromir has laid it on me to go to Minas Tirith, and my heart desires it; but where are the Ring and the Bearer? How shall I find them and save the Quest from disaster?”

The Death of Boromir by Anke Eissmann

Boromir is dead, having fallen in the attempt to protect Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-hai of Isengard, and Aragorn kneels in despair beside his body. At the moment when he makes this speech he knows nothing of the whereabouts of any other member of the Fellowship. Boromir died before he could tell Aragorn whether Frodo and Sam were captured along with the young hobbits and he does not even know where Legolas and Gimli are. For all intents and purposes it seems that the Quest has failed and that all hope has died.

Aragorn does not know it yet, but this, for him, is the lowest and the darkest point of the story. From the moment when the Company was defeated in its attempt to cross the Misty Mountains beneath Caradhras and the decision was taken to attempt the journey through Moria Aragorn has been an inner pathway downwards to this place. It seems clear that he had some kind of foresight of Gandalf’s fall in Moria even before the battle at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Apart from the speech that he makes to the Fellowship in the dark of the Mines in order to raise their faltering morale he remains silent and a little distant. The next speech that he makes is to a grief stricken Company who have come through Moria but are themselves in despair at the loss of their guide. “We must do without hope, ” he says to them, and there is little doubt then that he has lost his own.

When, at last, the Fellowship reach the refuge of Lothlórien, Frodo descends from the hill of Cerin Amroth to find Aragorn “standing still and silent as a tree”, and hears him say, “Arwen vanimelda, namarië!” These are words of longing and of farewell as Aragorn bids his own farewell to any hope that he might achieve happiness in this life.

At the last parting from Lothlórien Galadriel reminds Aragorn of his mighty lineage and gives to him “the Elessar”, the green stone that Idril, the daughter of Turgon of Gondolin gave to Eärendil, her son, with the words, “there are grievous hurts to Middle-earth which maybe thou shalt heal”. Galadriel reminds Aragorn that he holds this story of healing as heir of Gondolin and of Eärendil, as rightful King of Gondor and of Arnor, and sends him upon his journey down the Anduin with this declaration ringing in his ears. When the boats of the Fellowship pass through the Argonath Aragorn greets his mighty ancestors as one who has come to claim the inheritance that is his but soon after comes the sundering and now he is alone amidst the wreckage of all his hope, both for personal happiness and for the world.

The Hildebrandt brothers depict the moment when Galadriel gives the Elessar to Aragorn.

Boromir dies with the horn of Gondor and his sword in his hand. Despite his own sense of failure Boromir dies a hero’s death in a way that both he and his warrior people understand. Such a death for them is a good death, offered in despite of despair. But at the very moment in which Boromir was fighting his last battle Aragorn was running first up, and then, down Amon Hen first in vain search for Frodo and then in vain attempt to come to Boromir’s aid. All is vain and Aragorn carries this sense in his unhappy heart even as he kneels beside Boromir. As those who know the ending of the story we know that this is Aragorn’s lowest point but he does not know this. For him it seems that a door is opening that bears the words that Dante reads above the gate of Hell. “Abandon all hope you that enter here.” There is no comfort that can be offered to Aragorn. Not yet. We must simply wait with him in silence.

Abandon all hope. Inger Edelfelt depicts Aragorn’s despair.

“You Have Conquered. Few Have Gained Such a Victory. Be at Peace!” Is Aragorn Just Being Kind to Boromir as He Dies?

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.537-540

In Tolkien’s telling of the tale the whole of Boromir’s last fight takes place off stage and we are taken with Aragorn upon his pointless climb after Frodo up Amon Hen and then his equally pointless descent of the hill when he hears the horn of Boromir and realises that both Boromir and, probably, the hobbits are in need. At last he draws his bright sword, and crying out, Elendil! Elendil! he crashes through the trees.

But it is all too late. Aragorn finds Boromir “sitting with his back to a great tree” as if he was resting. His body is pierced by many orc arrows, his sword is broken near the hilt and his horn is cloven in two by his side.

Inger Edelfelt’s poignant depiction of the death of Boromir.

Boromir’s final words are both a report on how the hobbits have been taken by orcs and an admission of guilt.

“I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,” he said. “I am sorry. I have paid.”

Anke Eissmann depicts the terrible moment in which Boromir comes to try to take the Ring.

Aragorn’s response is one of great, and gentle, kindness.

“No!” said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!”

And Boromir smiles; and then he dies.

Is Aragorn simply being kind to a dying man? One might begin to try to answer this question by saying that such kindness is never a simple matter. When we are with someone as they reach the moment in which they will cross the river, never to return, it is a deeply solemn affair. We are aware that a fellow human being is entering into a mystery about which we know almost nothing. If we are people of faith then we will have received from our traditions some sense of what awaits them and rightly we will seek to comfort the one who is dying with the confidence of that tradition but we all know that faith does not mean seeing. We may even receive some comfort from the dying. A good friend of my wife told me that when her mother was dying she began to speak with joy to the people who were waiting to greet her and our friend was, indeed, greatly comforted by this. But for all the comforts death remains a mystery.

“Alas!” said Aragorn. “Thus passes the heir of Denethor, Lord of the Tower of Guard! This is a bitter end.”

But Aragorn’s words to Boromir are more than a matter of comfort, important though that is. They are a matter of truth. Boromir did conquer. Although he did try to take the Ring from Frodo, almost immediately after Frodo’s escape he became aware of what he had done and returned with bitter regret to the place where the rest of the Company were. He met Aragorn’s distress and anger without any attempt at self justification and upon Aragorn’s command to go after Merry and Pippin and to watch over them he did so without question and then gave his life in their defence when they were attacked and taken by the Uruk Hai of Isengard. One might think that for the heir of the Steward of Gondor, one of the mightiest lords of Middle-earth, to give his life for hobbits, perhaps the least significant of its peoples, was a wasted gift, but doubtless Boromir remembered his words to Frodo, of his curse upon all halflings, and wished with all his heart to undo them, to pay a price for what he had sought to do.

Boromir’s deed in laying down his life for the hobbits was a victory over his desire, at all costs, to achieve greatness, to be the hero of Middle-earth and the Third Age. In itself this was a conquest. But it also achieved much in the task of the Fellowship. In taking Merry and Pippin the orcs believed that they had accomplished their mission to seize the halflings and so Frodo and Sam were able to make good their escape and to continue their journey to Mordor. Surely the fact that a great warrior was defending the hobbits convinced Uglûk and the Isengarders that they had done what they had been ordered to do. There was no need to hunt and kill anyone else. They could return to base. The lives of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were probably saved by this mistake. And surely there is something in Aragorn’s declaration that Minas Tirith would not fall that is linked to Boromir’s conquest. Just as the pity of Bilbo, when he did not begin his keeping of the Ring with the murder of Gollum, was to rule the fate of Middle-earth, might we not say that Boromir’s conquest over the corrupting power of the Ring in his own heart, expressed in his sacrifice for the hobbits and his truth telling to Aragorn, also rules the fate of his people?

I love this depiction of Boromir’s last moments. The picture is entitled ‘The Horn of Boromir’ by Matthew Stewart. Note the contrast between the fear on the faces of Merry and Pippin, the violence of the orcs, and the achievement of an inner peace shown upon the face of Boromir. He has conquered indeed.

Many thanks to Overly Devoted Archivist for letting me know about the source of the artwork. To find Matthew Stewart’s work please go to the comment below and click on the link there.

“It’s No Good Trying to Escape You.” Frodo and Sam Set Off For Mordor Together.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 395-398

Even though all the Fellowship recognise the wisdom of Sam’s words when he spoke of how Frodo was determined to go alone to Mordor, and that the time that he was taking was not to make up his mind about the right course of action but to find the courage to begin, the debate is not at an end. Merry and Pippin, at least, are still certain that they all should all go to Minas Tirith. It is only when Boromir arrives that the story is able to move on.

‘”Where have you been, Boromir?” asked Aragorn. “Have you seen Frodo?”‘

Boromir is not ready yet to tell his story, to admit his failure, but he says enough to throw the rest of the Company into panic and despite Aragorn’s efforts to prevent them Merry and Pippin run off in one direction, Legolas and Gimli in another and Sam in another yet.

“Boromir! I do not know what part you have played in this mischief, but help now! Go after those two young hobbits, and guard them at the least, even if you cannot find Frodo.”

And so Aragorn runs after Sam while Boromir makes his final journey in search of redemption. For he will fall in battle while doing as Aragorn had commanded, willingly laying down his life for the hobbits, willingly paying with his life for his attempt to seize the Ring from Frodo by force.

Once again it is Sam, who is closest to the mind and heart of Frodo, who works out what is really going on. After Aragorn catches and passes him, making his way up to Amon Hen, Sam realises that Frodo is making his way to the boats using the invisibility that the Ring gives him, and that it is Frodo’s intention to escape them all. Desperately, Sam makes his way towards the place to where the boats are moored, caring nothing now for anything, not even for his own life, as long as he can find Frodo. Even his fear of water will not stop him until the moment comes when he fears that he will drown.

Even his fear of water will not keep Sam from Frodo.

“Save me, Mr. Frodo!” gasped Sam. “I’m drownded. I can’t see your hand.”

At last Frodo gets them all safe back to shore but he is furious, convinced that Sam has come to do what he feared the most, to prevent him from going to Mordor. It is only when he realises that Sam wants to help him do what he planned that he relaxes at last and is actually pleased that Sam has caught him.

“So all my plan is spoilt!” said Frodo. “It’s no good trying to escape you. But I’m glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. Come along! It is plain that we were meant to go together. We will go, and may the others find a safe road! Strider will look after them. I don’t suppose we shall see them again.”

So it is Boromir who sends each member of the Fellowship towards the place that they must go. Merry and Pippin will be carried by the Uruk-hai of Isengard just in time to meet Treebeard who has made a rare visit to a hill on the eastern border of Fangorn Forest. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, while in the process of a vain pursuit of the young hobbits, will arrive in Fangorn just in time to meet Gandalf and so rouse Rohan and their king from deadly slumber to great deeds. And Frodo and Sam will go step by step towards Mordor and the destruction of the Ring.

Frodo is sure that he is going to his death but he is at peace with his choice. All that he has to do is to do his duty. But Sam is not so sure that they are going to die. Nothing will keep him from staying with Frodo right to the very end but he has not forgotten the Shire and his heart lies there. Will he see the others again?

“We may, Mr. Frodo. We may. ”

Sam still looks beyond the Cracks of Doom to the future.

“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.

“Take The Name That Was Given to You. Elessar, the Elfstone of the House of Elendil.” The Gift of Galadriel to Aragorn.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 364-367

At last the feast on the green lawn near the meeting of the Silverlode and the Anduin draws to a close and it is time for partings. Galadriel speaks to the Fellowship.

“We have drunk the cup of parting,” she said, “and the shadows fall between us. But before you go, I have brought in my ship gifts which the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim now offer you in memory of Lothlórien.”

As we shall see in the next few weeks these gifts differ greatly in significance depending upon the role that each member of the Fellowship will play in the story that is about to unfold and, in the case of Gimli, the gift will be one that he will choose himself, a token of a relationship that has been sundered for so long that its future is still uncertain. But the first gift is given to Aragorn and expresses a relationship that goes far back into history.

The Giving of the Elfstone to Aragorn by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Readers of The Lord of the Rings will remember that when Bilbo chanted his Song of Eärendil in the House of Elrond that he remarked that Aragorn “insisted on my putting in a green stone”, and Bilbo does, though never knowing the reason why. Bilbo simply puts an emerald onto the breastplate of Eärendil and leaves it at that but here in this scene in Lothlórien we finally learn of its true importance.

“‘Maybe this will lighten your heart,” said Galadriel;”for it was left in my care to be given to you, should you pass through this land.’ Then she lifted from her lap a great stone of a clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through the leaves of spring. ‘This stone I gave to Celebrian, my daughter, and she to hers; and now it comes to you as a token of hope. In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!”

John Howe depicts the Elfstone, Elessar

The story of the green stone in Tolkien’s legendarium took many forms over the years but in every source it was given first to Idril, daughter of Turgon, the founder and king of Gondolin, the hidden city and one of the great Noldor kingdoms in Beleriand in the First Age of Arda. Idril fell in love with Tuor, son of Huor, lord of one of the great houses of the Edain, the mortals who made alliance with the Elves in their great struggle against Morgoth. Turgon allowed Idril and Tuor to marry and Idril gave birth to Eärendil, the mighty hero who prevailed upon the Valar to come to the aid of Middle-earth as it lay prostrate before the might of the Dark Lord. Eärendil was the father of Elros and Elrond, and Elrond the father of Arwen Evenstar.

Their eyes met”. Jenny Dolfen depicts the first meeting of Idril and Tuor in Gondolin.

Idril and Tuor survived the fall of Gondolin and were able to rally the exiles of that city in the Havens of Sirion but when Tuor reached old age he took ship into the West with Idril and she gave the Elfstone to Eärendil with the words, “The Elessar I leave with thee, for there are grievous hurts to Middle-earth which maybe thou shalt heal.”

It is this power to heal that lies at the heart of the significance of Galadriel’s gift to Aragorn and this power is revealed in the prophetic words that she speaks to him in the giving of the gift. A prophecy, in its deepest meaning, is the revelation of a truth, one that lies hidden until the word is spoken. So just as the Elfstone of Idril and of Eärendil has lain secret in the care of the women who Aragorn names in his thanks to Galadriel for her gift and her words so too has the secret of the healing of Middle-earth through the heir of Eärendil, Elendil and Isildur, the one who is named Elessar, the embodiment of the true nature of the stone, who even as the stone is pinned to his breast is revealed in his kingly glory.

“Maybe The Paths That You Shall Tread Are Already Laid Before Your Feet Though You Do Not Know Them.” The Fellowship Prepare to Leave Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.358-360

Galadriel and Celeborn gather the Fellowship together and Celeborn addresses them.

“Now is the time… when those who wish to continue the Quest must harden their hearts to leave this land”

Which way will the Fellowship take?

All the Company are resolved to go forward but which way shall they go? The journey will take them down the valley of the Silverlode to the Anduin, the great river of Middle-earth, but which bank of the river will they follow after that? The west bank of the river will take them to Minas Tirith and Gondor. The east bank will take them to Mordor. It is “the straight road of the Quest”, the “darker shore”, but which way will they choose?

For Boromir the choice is clear. He will return to Gondor and to the defence of Minas Tirith. Most of the rest of the Company would prefer to go with him. Such a choice would at least delay the terrible moment when the path of the Quest must take them eastward and to the land of shadow.

Aragorn says nothing. In Rivendell the promise that he made was to go to the war in Gondor to fight alongside Boromir bearing Andúril, the Sword that was Broken reforged, but when Gandalf fell in Moria he became the leader of the Company and which way would Gandalf had chosen were he still with them?

Which way will Aragorn go?

Frodo, too, says nothing. He will not make his choice until the breaking of the Fellowship at Amon Hen and the Falls of Rauros. There the choice will be forced upon him and it will be to go on alone to Mordor, but it is a terrible choice, it is almost certainly a choice to die, and until that moment he remains in silence for he does not wish to die.

Celeborn offers the gift of boats to the Company and they are grateful for this, Sam excepted. On the one hand it eases their journey. They do not have to walk down the Anduin with packs upon their backs. On the other it postpones the moment when the choice will have to be made.

It is Galadriel who offers her wisdom to them regarding the choice. “Do not trouble your hearts overmuch with thought of the road tonight. Maybe the paths that each of you will tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not know them.” And so it will prove. When the time comes the path will be clear for each one of them. Merry and Pippin will be forced to take the road to Isengard when they are captured by orcs. Aragorn will choose to follow the captives and Legolas and Gimli will choose to go with him. Frodo will seek some kind of sign to help him find the way ahead and in the end the sign will be that Boromir will try to take the Ring from him and this will lead him to resolve to go alone to Mordor. Thankfully he will not succeed in going alone because Sam made his choice at the Mirror of Galadriel. Wherever Frodo goes he will follow. He no longer has any uncertainty in his heart about the path that lies before him.

I am sure that Galadriel knows that her words of counsel will not keep the Fellowship from anxious thoughts. The choice that must be made is so great, so terrible, that it is impossible that it can be made without being turned over and over in their minds. At least this is true for Aragorn who must lead them and Frodo upon whom the burden of the Ring has been laid, partly by his own choice at the Council of Elrond, partly by the command of that Council. Perhaps we will always agonise over the great choices of our lives and yet when we look back we see a certain simplicity in the pathway that we have followed. The paths that we have trodden have seemed laid before our feet only we were not able to see those paths until the moment came and we had to follow them. The wisdom of Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, The Road Not Taken, only seems clear as Frost puts it, “somewhere ages and ages hence”. Perhaps when paths must be chosen there has to be agony. We are rarely given freedom from that, at least with the big choices.

Frodo and Sam will go alone but together.

“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?