Farewell (for a while) to Frodo and Sam

I began to write in this blog about the journey of Frodo and Sam from the Emyn Muil at the beginning of March in 2015 and now, about a year later, it is time to leave them where Tolkien does, at the gates of the orc tower that guards the pass of Cirith Ungol before it descends into the land of Mordor.

“The great doors slammed to. Boom. The bars of iron fell into place inside. Clang. The gate was shut. Sam hurled himself against the bolted brazen plates and fell senseless to the ground. He was out in the darkness. Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”

We have been on such a journey in this last year! We began with the frustration of the hobbits as they went round and round the hills of the Emyn Muil and then the capture of Sméagol and, for a time at least, his taming. Together with them we crossed the Dead Marshes and reached the Black Gate that was shut against them. Then we turned south for a time until we entered the spoiled beauty of Ithilien, Tolkien’s “dishevelled dryad loveliness.” In Ithilien we met the noble Faramir who showed the hobbits the true Gondor, born of Númenor and of the faithfulness of the Elf Friends, of Elendil and of his forefathers, Eärendil and Beren, and of his foremothers, Elwing and Lúthien. Then after an all too brief rest in the refuge of Henneth Annûn we journeyed on with Frodo and Sam and their treacherous guide into the Morgul Vale, climbed with them up the stair to Cirith Ungol and to Shelob’s Lair. There we encountered the horror of the monster that dwelt in those tunnels of darkness visible but we also saw the inbreaking of the  wondrous light of the Star Glass of Galadriel, the Morning Star of Eärendil, the Silmaril of Fëanor, and we saw Sam, the hero in the darkest moment, driving away the traitor, Gollum, and vanquishing Shelob herself. Shelob is defeated but not before she has stung Frodo and rendered him helpless. Sam takes the Ring from Frodo believing himself to be the last remaining member of the Fellowship and begins his journey towards the Cracks of Doom and the Ring’s destruction only to find that a  company of orcs has found Frodo and taken him alive into their guard tower. Frodo is a prisoner inside it and Sam is shut out.

And that is how it ends, at least for now. The door is shut. Frodo is a prisoner. Sam is shut out. I don’t blame Tolkien for stopping here. It’s as Frodo put it when he and Sam were talking about stories just before they entered Shelob’s Lair:

“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: “Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.”

So this post on my blog is dedicated to all who feel stuck, who feel they have reached a dead end in their lives. There is no way that Frodo and Sam can rescue themselves from this situation. Frodo is drugged and bound and soon he will be naked. Sam is one small hobbit and even if he uses the Ring it wouldn’t be long before he gets the attention of the last being in the world that he would ever want to meet. They cannot save themselves. Help will have to come to them from outside. It will come to you too. Ask for it.

This is no accident on Tolkien’s part. He wanted to tell a story in which the world was saved by the small. He believed (and so do I) that such a story was true to the Christian faith in which he believed. If you want to follow this thought further then listen to this talk by Brenton Dickieson http://apilgriminnarnia.com/2016/02/01/a-hobbits-theology-2016-pub-talk/ He puts it really well.

But now we have to leave Frodo and Sam. Next week we will be with Gandalf and Pippin once more. See you then.

 

Faramir Remembers “Elvenhome that Is”

“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

As Faramir leads his men in an act of remembrance before they eat his mind turns to “Elvenhome that is” that lies forever beyond Númenor and can no longer be reached by any save those to whom grace is given by the Valar, the angelic rulers of the earth. For after the faithless kings of Númenor sought to invade the deathless lands and so achieve immortality for themselves the world was changed, “bent” as Tolkien put it, so that those who dwelt within it could only sail endlessly and wearily within it, returning once again to the point where they began.

So it is that for Faramir, as for his ancestors, Elvenhome is a place to which they cannot go even as the fate of the Eldest is one that he cannot gain. For it is the fate of the Eldest, the Elven folk, not to die just as it is the fate of humankind to become weary of life and then to leave it. In the Akallabêth, the tale of the downfall of Númenor, messengers from the Valar try to explain this to the King of Númenor. The Eldar “cannot escape, and are bound to this world,never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs.” Wherever they dwell upon the earth, either in the Blessed Lands or within Middle-earth they draw from each place its deepest beauty and they teach all other peoples to do the same according to their kind and their deepest longings. So it is that the lands of Rivendell and of Lothlórien represent within Middle-earth a living memory of blessedness as long as they endure and yet those who dwell within them must watch the decay of all things living about them and to hold an ever growing sorrow within the heart as they remember that which was and is no longer.

The sorrow of the Eldest is not the fate of humankind for whom even the longest life is so achingly brief. And yet for humankind is the sorrow of the discovery of delight that must then be left behind, first in weariness and then in death. The messengers of the Valar spoke of this fate, not as a punishment, for, “Thus you escape,”  they said, “and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness… This we hold to be true, that your home is not here, neither in the land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World.”

So Faramir looks toward “Elvenhome that is” and knows he can never go there nor know the deathlessness that its people know. Even if he wished it the temptation to go its shores is no longer a possibility for him. He must remain within the circles of the world and its fate. He may choose, even as we may, to regard this fate either as punishment or as possibility. We live in a time in which the most powerful among us desire an immortality within the world and cry out against all that confines them whether death or the smallness of the world or the limits of its resources. They and all who wish to be like them regard all that is good in the world as something to be stolen either by guile, by wit or by force. That which is praiseworthy is only themselves and the measure of these qualities that they believe they possess. Nothing is gift to be delighted in for its sake alone and most certainly the thought of One who gives gifts freely never crosses their mind. For a gift can be enjoyed when received with gratitude but it can never be possessed as if it were never given and they wish only to possess.

Faramir has already told us that he rejects the desire of his ancestors to be a master of slaves even “of willing slaves” and so he is prepared to receive life and all good within it as a gift. And the gift of mortality? Is Faramir prepared to receive that as good? That we shall consider next week as we think with him of “that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

The Darkness Shall Be The Light

I have not written this Blog since Easter. My silence began because I was invited to give a series of talks in a church near by that took up all my creative energy at that time. I don’t know if it was the talks that took away the energy, or their subject matter, or something that was going on inside me at that time and since, or a combination of all three, but I have not done much by way of creative work since that time. In the next few weeks I will be leading a couple of days entitled “Our Wounds are Our Teachers”. The title comes from Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan. Much of the most helpful material, to me at least, comes from Bill Plotkin’s “Soulcraft” and especially the chapter, “The Darkness Shall Be The Light”. Perhaps it is a testimony to this new work (both inner and outer) that I am able to write again.

This Blog has been an attempt to read J.R.R Tolkien’s great work, “The Lord of the Rings” as a source of wisdom and to share what I find there. When I last wrote I was standing with Théoden, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas in the rain outside the Golden Hall of Meduseld in Edoras. The rain was washing away the cloying dust of Théoden’s long imprisonment, both within his own hall and within the darkness of his own soul. His liberators had come to him with a power born of their own dark journeys. Gandalf the Grey, the secret pilgrim, was now clothed in white, his true greatness revealed at last, after his battle with the Balrog of Moria and his journey through death itself. Aragorn, the true King of Gondor and Arnor, as he reveals himself to Eomer and to Hama at Théoden’s door, has passed through his own sense of failure at the breaking of the Fellowship, the death of Boromir and the capture of Merry and Pippin by Orcs. He abandons the Quest of the Ring in order, as he believes at the time, to lay down his life in a hopeless attempt to free the young hobbits. Gimli and Legolas have been his faithful companions in this attempt and together they stand with a power that they have not known before.

For Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, their Dark Journeys have truly been their light and now they can share this with Théoden and his people who rise from darkness and despair by their aid to go to war with Saruman at Helms Deep. In our imaginations we go with them in that journey to war against the lords of darkness and despair. In our lives it may be that we are better able to stand with others in their dark journeys so that they too can discover that these journeys have been givers of light even as we discover that our own dark journeys are the greatest source of light in our own lives.

On Learning to Receive Good News

It can almost be as hard to receive and believe unexpected good news as it is to receive and believe the opposite. Disappointment can become a habit of life and preparing for it so that we can bear it when it comes can become the main discipline of our inner lives. The expectation of disappointment and our preparation for its “inevitable” arrival has a way of creeping into every fibre of our being. We will see this negative expectation at work in two major characters of The Lord of the Rings in later postings on this blog. One is Théoden of Rohan and the other is Denethor of Gondor.

The return of Gandalf is one of the glorious moments of the whole story. We saw him fall with the Balrog into the abyss in Moria, crying, “Fly, you fools!” as he did so. We shared in the grief of his companions at his loss and in the sense that their task had become so much harder if not impossible. We have reflected more than once on how for Aragorn the unexpected burden of the leadership of the company threw him into doubt regarding his personal ambitions. And we could say that although it was the attack of the orcs that finally sundered the Fellowship of the Ring that it was from the fall of Gandalf that such a sundering became inevitable.

And now in the Forest of Fangorn as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli bravely pursue what seems a hopeless cause, Gandalf returns to them.

“They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy and fear they stood and found no words to say.”

They are able to receive this good news with joy and then to continue their journey with renewed hope. Soon they will know that there is no point in continuing to search for Merry and Pippin. They will waste no time on comments like, “so why did we bother, then?” Only one thing will matter to them and that will be to do the next task, and then the next one and the next one. In this they differ from Théoden (at first at least) and from Denethor. Denethor, most of all, has become so set in his belief that good days are only pauses on the inevitable road to destruction that he considers all who continue to have hope as fools and so Gandalf is dismissively called the “grey fool”. In Théoden despair is mixed with guilt. He regards himself as a failed king. Aragorn is different from both. He has passed through his time of despair, not even regarding his own failure as something that disqualifies him from doing the next task with all the strength that he can bring to it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi resister, wrote powerfully about this not long before he was arrested and held in the Tegel prison in Berlin.

He reflected on ten years of resistance to the Third Reich within Germany, much of which had been ineffective, and upon all that he and his fellow resisters had learnt through those years. He wrote that he had learnt that it was of no importance whether anyone emerged as a hero from this experience. All that mattered was to keep on asking the question, day after day after day, “How is the next generation to live?” Aragorn has stopped worrying about whether he is a hero or whether others see him as one. All that matters is the task. Once that is clear to him he has no barrier within himself to weeping tears of sorrow or of joy and no barrier to living a faithful life.