Frodo and Sam Lead Us into the Dark

Should I say that Frodo and Sam lead us into the dark? It is the last place that either of them wish to go and this is no ordinary dark.  This is the  dark of Shelob’s Lair, a deeper and a denser dark even than the tunnels of Moria, “a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought.  Night had always been,  and always would be, and night was all.”

Neither Frodo nor Sam ever wished to be here. Gollum wished otherwise for this is his act of betrayal.  He has led them into this trap into to have them killed and so, he hopes, to recover the Ring. Perhaps I should have entitled this piece, “Gollum leads us into the dark.” But my choice of title was deliberate.  Readers of The Lord of the Rings are here because they have come to love Frodo and Sam.

And I have another meaning. I  cannot read this part of the story without thinking of my own experience of darkness.  I have never been in a darkness in which I have been afraid. Once in Africa  I remember being guided through a darkness so deep that I could only just make out my guide in front of me but I was not afraid because I trusted him, even though he was a stranger, and my trust proved justifiable. I reached a safe place from which I could continue my journey the next day. No, for me the darkness that is fearful is an inner darkness. This is the darkness in which “even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light” fades out of thought. In his “East Coker” T.S Eliot puts it this way :

“O dark, dark, dark. They all go into the dark…/ And we all go with them into the silent funeral. No one’s funeral for there is no one to bury.”

And in the lines between those that I have quoted he makes it clear that being of good reputation is of no protection from the journey into the dark. It is one that we all must take. And the darknesses through which we pass during our lives are most fearful because they speak to us of the dark at the end of life.  The dark from which we fear there will be no end. Frodo and Sam feel this: “One hour, two hours, three hours : how many had they passed in this lightless hole? Hours- days, weeks rather.”

The dark that we are certain will end does not have the power of the dark that we fear to be endless. Yet so many of the great myths seem to require of their heroes such a journey. Tolkien knew this very well and the True Myth that he spoke of in a conversation with C.S Lewis,  a conversation that changed Lewis’s life for ever, speaks of a journey through the total darkness of death itself, a journey into an a aliveness so complete that death can have nothing to do with it at all. Eliot speaks of it in “East Coker”, “I said to my soul, be still,  and let the dark come upon you which shall be the darkness of God.”

So there is a darkness of God.  And it is a real darkness,  not the gentle turning down of the lights for an intimate evening together but the terrible darkness of death itself, the dark through which Jesus passed of which the creeds speak saying that he descended into hell. Eliot speaks of it in our experience in these words:

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope for hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love for love would be love of the wrong thing;  there is yet faith but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. ”

So we have to learn how to die before we die so that we can truly live without fear of death or of the darknesses that come upon us in our lifetime.  We learn how to die in order to be fully alive.

Frodo Finds Strength to Do What He Must Do

“Who can now hold the fords when the King of the Nine Riders comes? And other armies will come. I am too late. All is lost. I tarried on the way. All is lost. Even if my errand is performed, no one will ever know. There will be no one I can tell. It will be in vain.”

And so once more Frodo falls into despair as the sable clad armies of Minas Morgul pass by him on their way to take the fords of Osgiliath and then onward to assail the mighty fortress of Gondor itself, Minas Tirith. For Frodo Gondor now bears a human face and it is Faramir’s face that he can see as he watches the Lord of the Nazgul pass him by. His body still carries the memory of the wound that he received at the hands of that fell king at Weathertop. Now he sees him at the head of armies. Who can withstand him?

At all times Frodo has lived at the edge of his despair on his journey and most especially after the fall of Gandalf in Moria and then the attempt by Boromir to seize the Ring at the Falls of Rauros and the sundering of the Fellowship. At all times he is exhausted and as, he says to Sam, the Ring is “heavy on me, Sam lad, very heavy. I wonder how far I can carry it?” Yet time and again he finds strength to go on. We remember the refreshing dream just before the Black Gate and his laughter at the song of the Oliphaunt that Sam sings. We remember most of all the unexpected friendship that he found in his meeting with Faramir. Each moment has been unlooked for but each has found him out and given him strength to journey on once more. Now as he gazes upon the armies of Mordor and weeps in his despair it is a voice that reaches out to him.

“Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!”

And something in the voice, for it is Sam’s voice, calls him back to the Shire and to Bag End where everything is at peace, where he is at home. And in the inbreaking of the memory of home and of peace, entirely unsought for, he finds strength once again. “Despair had not left him, but the weakness had passed.” He knows what he must do even if there is nothing left to save and no one that he can tell. “What he had to do, he had to do, if he could, and that whether Faramir or Aragorn or Elrond or Galadriel or Gandalf or anyone else knew about it was beside the purpose.”

The purpose is the task itself and few people ever reach the maturity that Frodo displays here. It is an essential part of our growing up that we want to please the important people in our lives. At first this means our parents and grandparents. I still carry in my heart words of praise and encouragement that my grandmother spoke to me at a key moment in my life. They will always be a source of pleasure and of strength to me. But there comes a point when to go in search of such praise and to need someone to tell will keep us from doing the work that we came to this life to do. There comes a time when we must bid farewell, first to our grandparents and then to our parents, and even if we have had the fortune to find wise and kindly fathers and mothers in the communities, in the organisations, in which we have lived and worked there comes a time when we find that they must leave us. If there are to be such fathers and mothers then we must become them ourselves. The moment when we come to this place will be a lonely one but those who reach it and who do not flee from it as Frodo does not flee from it now are those who bring strength and blessing to others on the same journey.

To Have Found Such Friendship Turns Evil to Great Good

It is with the greatest reluctance that I must leave Faramir today. Frodo and Sam only had the briefest of stays with him and for much of that time were uncertain about the true nature of the man they had just met. Over this summer I have had the pleasure of returning once again to their encounter and to spend some months both enjoying it and reflecting upon it.

Faramir now bids farewell to his guests, allowing the Ring to depart with them, not clinging to the last opportunity to achieve certain victory for Gondor, choosing rather to risk defeat, enslavement and darkness than a victory that would in reality be an even greater darkness than the triumph of Sauron. In this refusal to cling Faramir chooses to empty himself and as they part so Frodo speaks:

“Most gracious host… it was said to me by Elrond Halfelven that I should find friendship upon the way, secret and unlooked for. Certainly I looked for no such friendship as you have shown. To have found it turns evil to great good.”

Surely as Frodo speaks he is thinking of the evil of Boromir’s attempt to seize the Ring and to do what Faramir refused to do. At this moment of the story Frodo knows nothing of Boromir’s final triumph over the power of evil at work in his soul and can see only the uncontrolled lust disfiguring that once fair face. The memory of that face has stayed with him from that moment until now and it has darkened Frodo’s heart. Not only has he not looked for such friendship as Faramir has shown him but he has feared untruth, hidden intent and betrayal. Such fear has a way of gaining a creeping hold even upon the most noble of hearts and so in Frodo’s thanks he speak of the evil that such a creeping hold will bring about. It is his own heart that has been set free from that evil by Faramir’s friendship.

And what of the future? Neither Frodo nor Faramir can look ahead to see what the future might bring. Faramir has already said that he cannot speak to Frodo with “soft words”.

“I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun.”

Neither Frodo nor Faramir expects to escape the evil of the final triumph of the Dark Lord any more any more than Saruman expects it and so becomes an ally of Sauron hoping either to share in his triumph or to gain the Ring for himself or to even to make one when his Ring lore is complete. Faramir and Frodo have no more expectation of victory than Saruman does and yet they refuse to follow his way, the way of despair.

Surely this is the insight that Dante had when he spoke of the words written over the gateway into Hell, “Abandon all hope all you that enter here!” at the beginning of his Divine Comedy? There is a profound difference between the loss of hope for one’s own personal survival and even the triumph of one’s cause and the loss of hope that leads to either a passive or active embracing of evil. The latter is surely the despair of Hell, the despair of Sauron or of Saruman. The former believes that in the rejection of despair even the greatest of evil will be turned to good in a manner that as yet is entirely unforeseen. In the friendship that Faramir offers to Frodo and that Frodo at last is able to receive they both say their “Yes” to this belief.

To have found such friendship must turn even the greatest evil to great good.

Faramir Teaches Us How to Remember Well

Faramir has completed his interrogation of Frodo and now he takes Frodo and Sam to a secret refuge. As they walk together Faramir begins to speak of what is in his heart.

“For myself… I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves.”

Faramir is a man of memory. Each beauty that he recalls, the White Tree, a scion of Nimloth the Fair, the tree given to Elros, first king of Numenor, by the Valar and the Silver Crown of Elendil that awaits the return of the true king, is alive within his heart. Indeed these beauties, and his long contemplation of them, shape his heart. Now that Boromir is dead Faramir is heir of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, whose task is to rule until the King returns and yet Faramir does not speak of ruling as did his brother. For the White Tree cannot flourish until the king returns and when the king returns the Steward will rule no longer. And even the task of ruling is not seen as being the mistress of slaves, “not even a kind mistress of willing slaves” but as a beautiful queen among other queens, “loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty; and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as a men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.” When someone remembers in the way that Faramir does that which is remembered is not an expression of a longing to return to some idealised past. Later we will see Denethor expressing his wish that all could remain unchanged, that all could be as it once was. For people such as Denethor the way in which meaning in life is formed connects to something perceived as lost. For such a person life becomes a matter for regret and the ability to do good is sadly diminished. Such a person may become so wedded to that which is lost that they may even try to hinder the good that others would yet do. This is not so with Faramir. He does not allow memory to become the pathway to despair. For Faramir, the memory, the beauty and the ancientry are an inspiration to present action and to present wisdom.

When Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings it formed part of his desire to make a mythology for England. Mythology has been described as that which never happened and that which is always true. The nature of modernism is to believe that the only truth is that which has happened and seeks to reduce everything to something that can be observed and measured. Thankfully modernism has never held complete sway over our hearts and minds or else we would have no ability to perceive beauty or to experience joy or grief. But when we experience such things those who are modernists whether consciously or not do not know what to do with them. Modernism offers us no narrative that allows the experience of beauty, joy or grief to enrich or enliven us. All we are left with, at best, is mere nostalgia and its attendant regret. At worst we give way to despair completely. Tolkien’s work challenges all its readers to engage with the gift of our own history in such a way that we can be enlivened and as we examine our own lives we will want to consider the role that memory plays; whether it enlivens us or leads us toward despair.