“I Will Not Walk Blindfold, Like a Beggar or a Prisoner”. The Sadness of a Divided World is Shown in the Beauty of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 332-340

After crossing the Nimrodel the Fellowship meet Elves of Lothlórien for the first time. Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin are guards upon the border and perform their duty conscientiously. In the night a company of orcs cross the stream so it is well that the Company are safe amid the high branches of a mallorn tree and in the morning they begin their journey further into the enchanted wood.

But here the story stumbles as if it has been plunged into darkness, for here the elven guards insist that one of the Fellowship must be blindfolded. Gimli the Dwarf cannot look upon the ways into Lothlórien.

“I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner,” he complains. “And I am no spy. My people have never had dealings with any of the servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done any harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.”

The Blindfolding of the Fellowship

That Gimli speaks the truth regarding his own heart there is no doubt but sadly there is much of the history of his people and the Elves that he leaves unsaid. In the tales of the Elder Days there are many sad stories of betrayal and readers of The Hobbit will remember how Legolas’s father, Thranduil of the Woodland Realm in the north of Mirkwood, imprisoned the company of Thorin Oakenshield among whose number was Gimli’s father, Gloín. They will then remember how Thorin, at first, refused to share any of the wealth of the Lonely Mountain following the fall of Smaug the Dragon and how with Dain Ironfoot of the Iron Hills he was prepared to go to war with Thranduil’s people in order to defend it.

But perhaps most sad of all was the history of Moria. We have seen how at one time there was close friendship between Durin’s people and the Noldor of Hollin, the people of Celebrimbor, how the gates of Moria could be opened by a simple expression of friendship but then how this golden age came to a terrible end first through Sauron’s betrayal of Celebrimbor who he had pretended to befriend in order to learn the lore of making rings of power and then through the disturbing of the Balrog hiding in the depths of Moria who slew Durin and drove his people from their home.

The Balrog of Moria

The tale of the peoples who dwelt east of the Misty Mountains during the long story of the rise of Sauron, first in Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood and then in Mordor, is one of a retreat behind defences. Such defences were necessary. We saw the company of orcs cross Nimrodel in search of the Fellowship and defence needed to be made against them and every land had to act in much the same way but what happened behind each fence was that the world beyond it became at first unknown and then suspect, even dangerous. So Celeborn of Lórien warns against Fangorn Forest while the people of Rohan know Lothlórien as Dwimordene, the place of phantoms. And for the Galadhrim, the tree people of Lothlórien, the dwarves who awoke the Balrog of Moria are most suspect of all.

Haldir, who has travelled on missions for his Lord and Lady puts it best of all.

“In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlórien, unless maybe in Rivendell, that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land.”

At the last Aragorn agrees that all the Fellowship will walk blindfold into Lórien so that Gimli is not singled out as a possible threat to its security. Gimli is now prepared to laugh as if this all a merry jest but all feel the sadness of being prisoners amid such loveliness.

The Beauty that cannot be seen in a Dangerous World.

“You Cannot Pass.” Gandalf Confronts The Balrog at The Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.310-323

At the end of their journey through Moria the Company are pursued by orcs and trolls and then, worst of all, by a Balrog, one of the most terrible servants of Morgoth, a survivor of the Elder Days, that had hid from the wrath of the Valar in the depths of the Misty Mountains until it was disturbed by dwarves delving ever deeper in search of mithril in the Mines of Moria. For this is Durin’s Bane. This is why the dwarves have always failed to return to their ancient kingdom and why Balin and his companions had finally fallen after early success in their attempt to regain their ancestral home.

Not knowing the true identity of his foe Gandalf has attempted to turn back its power and has exhausted himself in the process. Now he stands alone on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm knowing that unless he overthrows his enemy the Quest of the Ring and the lives of all the Fellowship are at an end.

“The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring gleamed cold and white. His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm.”

Alan Lee depicts the battle on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Note how all the light comes from Gandalf and not from the Balrog.

It is at this moment of crisis, of deepest need, that Gandalf reaches down into the innermost depths of his being, of his soul, there to find his true self.

“‘You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.'”

Those who are careful readers of Tolkien will have become used to certain aspects of his style as a writer. Things such as the way that he uses capital letters in certain nouns and his use of exclamation marks. They will notice that the sentence, “You cannot pass”, does not end with an exclamation mark neither at the moment when Gandalf first speaks to the Balrog nor when he repeats these words. In other words Gandalf does not shout. This is not a challenge of a warrior to his foe. It is a simple statement of reality.

The reality is that of the world in which Gandalf and the Balrog both stand. The Balrog is, even in its terrible power, a creature of the shadow, not of the flame in whose light all the works of evil are no more than shadow, even its fire. In his excellent study of the spiritual vision of J.R.R Tolkien, Stratford Caldecott describes the Secret Fire, “the flame of Anor” as “Tolkien’s term for the distinctive creative power of Eru. It is God’s ‘secret’, for only God can truly create ex nihilo (from nothing). For Tolkien the fire represents life, love and creativity, the wisdom and love of God that burns at the heart of the world and sustains it in existence- it is a willed emanation from the creative energy of God’s own self; it is the life of God shared with the world” (Secret Fire by Stratford Caldecott, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003, p107).

Anna Kulisz wonderfully imagines the Ainulindalë and the Secret Fire at its heart.

This is what Gandalf serves, what Morgoth lusted after in order to possess for himself but could never attain except as a gift freely offered by Eru to all who, like Gandalf, offer their lives in free service to him. Morgoth and his terrible servants, like the Balrog and like Sauron himself, could never possess the fire because they could never serve. The fire that they wield is mere shadow and it is to the Shadow that Durin’s Bane must return. It cannot pass.

Tolkien expresses this wonderfully as the Balrog responds to Gandalf’s words. “The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew.” And so begins their mighty struggle upon the Bridge of Khazad-dûm to which I will return next week.

Gandalf Gives Light in the Dark of Moria. Matt Stewart’s fine depiction of the Servant of the Secret Fire.