“May It Be a Light to You in Dark Places, When All Other Lights Go Out.” Galadriel Gives a Phial of Light to Frodo.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.365-367

After Galadriel has given a gift of three of her golden hairs to Gimli there remains one last gift to be given, to Frodo, the Ring-bearer who is not last in her thoughts. She gives to him “a small crystal phial” that glitters as she moves it and “rays of white light” spring from her hand.

Anke Eismann imagines the giving of the Phial to Frodo.

“In this phial,” she said, “is caught the light of Eärendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Galadriel captures the light of the star of Eärendil in her phial. I have not been able to find an artist’s name for this. If anyone knows the who created this I would be delighted to add an ascription.

Frodo remembers the verses that Bilbo chanted about Eärendil in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, the verses that seemed to Frodo “to fit somehow” into something about which he was dreaming, about “an endless river of swelling gold and silver” flowing over him. This is Frodo’s immersion into the history of light of which he is a vital part and of which Galadriel’s phial is now a living symbol.

A ship then new they built for him 
of mithril and of elven-glass
with shining prow; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore on silver mast:
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
to gleam thereon by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him immortal doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.

Galadriel herself has been intimately involved in this history from the beginning. It is the story of how Fëanor made three exquisite jewels in which was captured the light of the two trees in Valinor, of Telperion and of Laurelin. Eventually the trees are destroyed by Morgoth with the aid of Ungoliant, the terrible spider-like monster and ancestor of Shelob, who Frodo and Sam will encounter in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol and who Sam will vanquish with the aid of Galadriel’s phial after Frodo is poisoned. After the theft of the Silmarils Fëanor will pursue Morgoth, defying the Valar who forbid him to leave Valinor. Along with his people, the Noldor, he steals ships from the Teleri, slaying them when they try to resist him, and so begins the tragic history of Middle-earth that reaches a climax in The Lord of the Rings.

A light when all other lights have gone out.

There is a sense in which the whole of this history is contained in Galadriel’s phial, both in its beauty and its sorrow. The light of the Silmaril that is captured in the phial is a sign of hope to which all the peoples of Middle-earth can look each morning and evening in the star that shines brightly above them. Eärendil brought hope to Middle-earth when it lay prostrate before the power of Morgoth and his star continues to do so today. In the terrible lair of Shelob, in a place where all other lights have gone out, Frodo cries out, “Aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima!” “Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars!” And at this moment when all hope is gone the light of the Silmaril blazes forth and the memory of the fall of Morgoth is rekindled.

But I mentioned sorrow too. For the story of the Silmarils is a story of trust betrayed. I mentioned the kinslaying of Alqulondë when the Noldor stole the ships of the Teleri but I could mention many other sorrows too. In fact one of the great themes of the story of the First Age as recounted in The Silmarillion is the telling of the sorrows of Middle-earth to the Valar. After the death of Beren Lúthien follows him to the underworld and sings to Mandos the most beautiful song in the world, a weaving together of the griefs of the Two Kindreds of Elves and Humankind that reduces the Lord of Death to tears of pity. Indeed we could add to this story that of Eärendil himself whose journey to Valinor is itself a plea to the Valar to take pity upon these kindreds.

Galadriel has been a part of both the sorrow and the beauty. She was a part of the rebellion of Fëanor and the Noldor, albeit reluctantly, but in her rejection of the Ring when it was offered to her by Frodo she displays her adamantine character and so wins a victory over evil that is vital for the success of the task of the Ring-bearer. Her gift to him is a symbol of that victory.

“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.

“What Do You Think of Elves Now, Sam?” Frodo and Sam Think About The Magic of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 351-352

What healing can be done after the fall of Gandalf is now complete. Frodo and Sam feel a growing restlessness, knowing that the task of taking the Ring to Mordor still awaits and, according to the wisdom of Sam’s gaffer “it’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”. Wisdom does not need to come from the mouths of the great in order to ring true and, with sadness, Frodo agrees with Sam.

But despite their growing restlessness, they still have time to think about what they have seen and learnt and Frodo has a question for Sam.

“What do you think of Elves now, Sam?”

What do you think of Elves now, Sam? Frodo and Haldir at Cerin Amroth by FÄeriel

Frodo asked the same question of Sam after the second night of their journey while still within the Shire when they had been given hospitality in the woods on the hills above Woodhall and Sam had answered that Elves were “a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak”. At that point in the journey Sam was still the loyal retainer, the one who had been given the job of “looking after Mr Frodo”. Now someone might use language like, to have an opinion about Elves is something that is above my pay grade. The language may appear more sophisticated but it still comes from an older world of masters and servants.

Alan Lee imagines the stay with Gildor Inglorien above Woodhall

But much has happened since that time, described by Frodo as seeming “a very long while ago”, and slowly Frodo and Sam are becoming friends. I have written before about how, even after all they had experienced together, Frodo would have to depart the scene in order for Sam to become Mayor of the Shire and a councillor to the King in his northern kingdom of Arnor, but here in Lothlórien we see Sam slowly becoming this person.

“I reckon there’s Elves and Elves. They’re all elvish enough, but they’re not all the same. Now these folk aren’t wanderers or homeless, and seem a bit nearer to the likes of us:they seem to belong here, more than even hobbits do in the Shire. Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning.”

Sam cannot know that in just a few years these people who “seem to belong” in Lothlórien, more even than hobbits do in the Shire, will have deserted it to go into the West. If he were to have known that it would have given him the sense of the impermanence of all things; that permanence is always illusory, as anyone who has ever emptied the house of a much loved elder after their death in order to prepare it for sale will know. But Sam does have a deep insight into the relationship between people and the land. As Tom Bombadil, who also knows something of the relationship between people and land, says of Farmer Maggot, “There’s earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open.”

Bombadil could have described Sam in much the same way and one can only hope that they got to know each other better in later years, but he could have used similar language to describe the Elves of Lothlórien. A deep harmony has been created between them and their land. As the great Irish farmer poet, Patrick Kavanagh, put it, “to know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience”. Sam, Tom Bombadil, Farmer Maggot, and Haldir too, would all have understood Kavanagh in a way in which the homeless wanderers, among whom I would count myself, can never do.

Sam recognises, rightly, that there is magic in this relationship. He can feel it working all around him and he wants to see the Elves perform it. What he does not know, at least not yet, is that the same magic is at work in the Shire also. For Hobbits the magic is almost entirely implicit and deeply hidden within the ordinary. For them, magic belongs to entertainment such as their enjoyment of Gandalf’s fireworks, and they regard anything beyond that as uncanny and to be feared. For the Elves the very same magic is explicit, intentional and also completely ordinary. If Sam but knew, he is much closer to the Elves than he has ever imagined.

The Magic of the Shire. Farmer and Mrs Maggot as imagined by Henning Jansen.

“When Evening in The Shire Was Grey”. Frodo and Sam Sing Songs of Gandalf in Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 349-351

Galadriel and Celeborn wisely leave the Fellowship to themselves after the encounter in Caras Galadhon and Galadriel’s silent interrogation of their hearts and minds. What the Fellowship needs now is rest and healing of weary bodies. Even though at its borders Lothlórien is alert to possible threat at its heart it remains at rest and so it seems that the Company does “little but eat and drink and rest, and walk among the trees”; and it is enough.

At first, as Aragorn put it, there is a desire simply to rest and to forget grief, grief at the loss of Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, but inevitably after a while their thoughts turn to their loss and their grief becomes keen.

It is Frodo and Sam who choose poetry in which to try to put that grief into some kind of form. Perhaps it is as they hear songs of Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, in the Sindarin tongue of their Elven hosts, that they begin to find their own thoughts move in the same direction. Perhaps it is, as Sam has already put it, that in Lothlórien they feel themselves to be “inside a song” that enables them to create their own.

When evening in the Shire was grey
his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away 
on journey long without a word. 

John Howe wonderfully captures Gandalf’s energy and vulnerability.

The words are beautiful and full of longing for what has been lost. The aching realisation that Frodo will never hear the sound of those footsteps coming along the path to his door again, a sound that always meant that something deep and rich, old and wise, was about to enter his life once again. But Tolkien is quick to introduce a disclaimer here. These words “feel faded as a handful of withered leaves”. Tolkien uses this sad image to describe Frodo’s feelings of inadequacy as he tries to put the person of Gandalf into words but we cannot help but feel that it is Tolkien’s own feelings of inadequacy as a poet that are on show here. Gandalf is far too great a figure to reduce to a few lines upon a page, or committed to memory in Frodo’s mind.

But a good poem is not a reduction of anything. Each line in Frodo’s evocation of Gandalf points us towards his greatness but also his simplicity. They speak of his mighty journeys; of his skill in languages; of his “deadly sword”, his “healing hand”.

Gandalf, a lord of wisdom

“A lord of wisdom throned he sat, swift in anger, quick to laugh, an old man in a battered hat who leaned upon a thorny staff.”

All through the poem Frodo gives us on the one hand, his greatness, and on the other, his vulnerability and all the time he is doing something that from their earliest encounters with one another, C.S Lewis admired in Tolkien’s work. It was after an evening reading The Lay of Leithian Tolkien’s verse telling of the story of Beren and Lúthien that Lewis wrote of myth making that it is the essence of a myth “that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader”. And surely here in Frodo’s lament for Gandalf the incipient allegory that is suggested to us is the connection between Gandalf, the mighty maiar clothed in the form of “a weary pilgrim on the road”, and what first Tolkien and then Lewis described as the true myth of the incarnation in which, in Christ, God is clothed in our humanity, not in its semblance but in all its reality. There is no incarnation in any part of Tolkien’s legendarium. He deliberately chose to set his story in a world that knows nothing of it but again and again, in the story of Gandalf, in the story of the true king hidden within the weather stained Ranger of the North who goes by the name of Strider, and in other characters, the true myth is suggested to us in many ways. Might this be why our hearts are drawn towards them?

He stood upon the bridge alone. Alan Lee imagines the dreadful moment.

“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?

“To Fly Like a Bird to Rest in The Green City”. Frodo in Paradise in Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 340-343

While Sam Gamgee tries to find words to express his experience of Cerin Amroth Frodo remains in silence throughout the whole time that the Fellowship are there. But it is not a silence that separates him from his companions and from us. Sam, Haldir and Aragorn all speak to him, all draw him into their own thoughts, while we know what he is experiencing because Tolkien chooses to see Cerin Amroth through Frodo.

Alan Lee’s Cerin Amroth

Throughout The Lord of the Rings Tolkien subtly alters the voice through which he tells the story so that, for example, it is Pippin and not Gandalf through whom he shows us Minas Tirith and it is through Sam that we watch the final, agonising journey to Orodruin in Mordor. Indeed Frodo seems to fall more and more into silence as that journey continues.

But is Frodo’s growing silence simply a descent into emptiness, to nothingness, as the Ring slowly but inexorably tightens its grip upon his very being? Here in Cerin Amroth we are shown that something else is always at work within his heart. At the end he has “no memory of tree or grass or flower” but before that terrible moment when he feels naked before the utter malevolence in Barad-dûr there is always something else.

“Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there, upon the grass among elanor and niphredil in fair Lothlórien.”

Tolkien does not allow us too many entries into the inner world of his characters. Not for him a kind of stream of consciousness that pours out onto the page from a protagonist. There are moments, and Frodo’s dreams in Crickhollow and the house of Tom Bombadil are examples of this when he does, but just as dreams are in our own lives, these are uncertain glimpses. Here those glimpses take certain form and the form is Lothlórien, the “timeless land”. I wrote a few weeks ago when Gimli took him to see Mirrormere about how Frodo increasingly becomes otherworldly as the story progresses. The hobbit who Bilbo describes as being in love with the Shire, with “woods and fields and little rivers” is one who leaves home in every sense but rarely becomes completely homeless. He is the “wanderer from the Shire” who can find no place to rest his head except here.

Here we see, as we did in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, why Frodo is called elf-friend by Gildor Inglorien and recognised as such by Goldberry. It is not that he is friendly towards elves and elvish things but that he is able to enter the world in which the Elves live and dwell there too. Haldir invites him to climb up with him to the flet in the crown of trees upon the hill top and as Frodo prepares to follow him “he laid his hand upon the tree beside the ladder: never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree’s skin and of the life within it. He felt a delight in wood and the touch of it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself.”

Haldir shows Frodo the Land of Lórien. Ted Nasmith’s depiction.

I wrote about suddenness and how Gaffer Gamgee is afraid of it back in 2018 and of Louis MacNeice’s poem, Snow, which was written in the house where my wife grew up, and of the line, “The world is suddener than we fancy it”. The Elves inhabit this suddenness, not as with Frodo, as a sudden irruption into ordinary life but as timelessness. It is this that Frodo carries in his heart right up until the terrible moment near Orodruin and, might we say, it is this that holds him even through the ruin of the Cracks of Doom when he claims the Ring for himself, enabling him to make the long slow journey of healing, the “gentle purgatory” as Tolkien put it that will end in the Undying Lands.

The healing of Frodo that will be completed in the Undying Lands. Stephen Graham Walsh captures this beautifully.

“I Feel As If I Was Inside a Song, if You Take My Meaning.” The Fellowship at Cerin Amroth.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 340-343

As so often in The Lord of the Rings Tolkien chooses Sam Gamgee to try to express the inexpressible. The Fellowship have arrived at Cerin Amroth after walking blindfolded all day through Lothlórien. At last messages come from the Lady Galadriel and all the blindfolds are removed. Frodo has had a growing sense that he is journeying back into the Elder Days and that here the ancient world is more than a memory, it still lives.

Alan Lee evokes Elanor and Niphredil on Cerin Amroth

“Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name.”

For Frodo language is no longer adequate for what he is experiencing.

“He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful.”

Eleniel imagines Cerin Amroth

This is the unmediated experience in which the ordinary, here expressed as colours with which we are all familiar, is transfigured. Such an experience is possible in any place and at any moment. It always comes as a surprise, surprised by joy as Wordsworth put it, and which C.S Lewis chose as the title of his autobiography. It is never possible to manufacture such an experience, to somehow create the right conditions for it to happen, but Frodo has developed a capacity better than many do to receive it through long practice of a love of beauty and a deep longing for it.

And so does Sam. Whereas Frodo knows that language is hopelessly inadequate for what he is experiencing and so remains silent Sam has no such inhibitions. He does not have any regard for his own ability to put things into words and so retains a childlike simplicity of speech. Whereas his old adversary, Ted Sandyman, constantly congratulates himself for his own cleverness, his ability to see through things and not be caught out, Sam has no such confidence. At the beginning of the story Sam expresses his desire to go on the journey in two simple ways. He wants to go with Frodo wherever Frodo goes and he wants to see Elves. Ted Sandyman would have laughed at him for this and no doubt he did but though Sam might be a little hurt by the scorn of others he is not deflected from his course by it. He is the truly simple one who wills one thing.

And so he is chosen as the right member of the Fellowship to put into words the experience of Cerin Amroth.

“It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,” he said. “I thought that the Elves were all for moon and stars; but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.”

A song has words but it is rare that they have the intention to explain things. The language of a song is the language of the heart, sometimes of the gut, but rarely of the head. And the music of a song, whether it is a marching tune to send soldiers into battle, or a gentle ballad to help lovers express how they feel about each other, can never be an explanation of anything. So Haldir does take Sam’s meaning, the meaning of Sam’s heart and he smiles.

“You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim,” he said. And this is most certainly true. But might we say that what Sam feels is not a power that originates in Galadriel but that which flows through her, enabling her to subcreate this earthly paradise in praise of Eru?

In his joyous essay, The Ethics of Elfland, G.K Chesterton tries to put into words what Frodo and Sam experience here and he does rather well! In it Chesterton says that perhaps God, like a child (like Sam Gamgee?) never tires of repetition so that the world can never be monotonous to God. “It may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.” And that repetition in nature is never “a mere recurrence” but an encore.

And it is in this encore in Cerin Amroth that Frodo and Sam delight and applaud.

“Do You Hear the Voice of Nimrodel?” The Fellowship Enter an Enchanted Land.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 328-332

A reading of The Lord of the Rings is a journey that runs between enchantment and disenchantment. It begins with Gaffer Gamgee discoursing on how cabbages and potatoes are better for his son than Elves and Dragons and how Sam would be wise to keep out of the affairs of his betters in case he lands in trouble too big for him. These are prophetic words indeed although the Gaffer will never see all that his son will see precisely by getting into trouble. And the Gaffer, for all his homespun wisdom and hobbit good sense, has no notion that one day he and his kind will be as much regarded as a kind of fairy folk as the Elves are in his own time.

Like the Gaffer, Boromir is easily disturbed by anything that is redolent of the uncanny. Although he names Lothlórien, the Golden Wood, his knowledge of it is more closely formed by the name that the Rohirrim have for the land the Company are about to enter, Dwimordene, or the Land of Phantoms. So it is already true that many who live in Tolkien’s world are disenchanted themselves and already fear anything that might exist outside an experience of cabbages, potatoes and things of that are of an easily accessible nature.

Anna Kulisz is enchanted by light shining through trees in Lothlórien

Understandably Aragorn is disappointed with Boromir because for him Lothlórien is the place of ultimate enchantment, for it was here that he first met Arwen. Even in our times the experience of falling in love transforms everything. Oscar Hammerstein may not have been making an intentionally philosophical point when he wrote the lyrics of “Some Enchanted Evening” but anyone who has truly fallen in love knows what he means. But Aragorn’s disappointment goes further. “Lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of Lothlórien.” The heirs of Númenor really ought to know better.

It is Frodo, one whose name, Elf-friend, means much more than a simple disposition to like Elves, who first becomes aware of the nature of the land that the Company have come to. First, in the crossing of Nimrodel, he feels “the stain of travel and all weariness” wash from his limbs. Did all his companions have the same experience? Tolkien does not answer the question but if Boromir had then surely his inclination to fear Lothlórien might have altered even just a little. And I doubt whether the orcs who followed some time later had any experience of healing in crossing the stream.

Stephen Graham Walsh evokes the healing power of Nimrodel

Legolas speaks to his companions about Nimrodel and as he does so they hear “the music of the waterfall running sweetly in the shadows”. But it is Frodo who hears “a voice singing, mingled with the sound of the water”.

“Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel?” asks Legolas and he tells them the story of the Silvan princess who once dwelt here long ago and whose memory lingers still in the land that was her home. As with so many songs of the Elves it is a tale of sadness about that which has been lost but it is beautiful yet. And as he sings his hearers are drawn further into Faerie just as Frodo, Sam and Pippin were when they were guests of Gildor Inglorien at the very beginning of their journey in their own familiar land.

Liga Klavina imagines Nimrodel whose memory enchants the stream that bears her name..

And that, of course, is what Tolkien is trying to convey to his readers. That it is possible, even in a place that we think we know so well that nothing about it could ever surprise us, to be suddenly drawn into an enchanted land. We have already spoken of how falling in love can do this. We might add moments like the birth of a child or when a ray of the sun suddenly bursts through the clouds illuminating all that lies around us. We might quickly get a hold of ourselves and reduce all experience to the atomic particles that make it up or we might follow the path of wonder and delight and see where it leads us. Frodo and Boromir will experience Lothlórien in very different ways because of the way in which they have nourished their inner lives.

“It Was Well Given!” Gimli Takes Delight in Frodo’s Mithril Coat and in Thorin Oakenshield’s Giving.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 326-328

Aragorn is anxious to put as much distance as possible between the Company and the eastern gates of Moria before darkness falls. He is sure that they will be pursued by orcs and so he pushes his companions to keep going. But in the fight in the Chamber of Mazarbul both Sam and Frodo were wounded and Frodo by a troll’s spear thrust that, as Aragorn put it, “would have skewered a wild boar”. At first the flow of adrenaline in battle enabled them both to forget their wounds and after that the fall of Gandalf drives everything from mind, heart and body, but as the weariness of the day continues so their hurts begin to claim attention.

“I am sorry, Frodo!” Aragorn cries. “So much has happened this day and we have such need of haste, that I have forgotten that you were hurt; and Sam too.”

So it is that at last Frodo’s hidden mithril coat is discovered. The Company has discussed it once before while in Moria when Gandalf spoke of how it was mithril that always drew the Dwarves back to their ancestral home.

Bilbo gives Frodo the coat of mithril.

Mithril! All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but the beauty of mithril did not tarnish or grow dim.”

It was one of Tolkien’s many achievements in The Lord of the Rings to create something that our imaginations are capable of conceiving and yet does not exist. He saw his work as that of a sub-creator and the word, “sub” was of vital importance here. He chose deliberately to place himself under the Creator in absolute distinction from Morgoth, and later Sauron, who in failing to create anything independently of Ilúvatar would only mar, mock or corrupt. The orcs were the saddest fruit of this desire to create in envy of Eru but one might argue that there were other works such as the corruption of Númenor that were just as unhappy. And here we might note that unhappiness was always the fruit of their work. Was there ever a time when they pursued happiness as a goal in and of itself? Perhaps in the earliest days but in all the history of Arda the works of Morgoth and then of Sauron and their followers are acts of despair. All they can do is to achieve control and thus reject happiness.

Not so Gimli. Readers of Tolkien’s works know how prone the Dwarves were to avarice. The desire of Thorin Oakenshield for the Arkenstone of Erebor almost destroyed the achievement won by the slaying of Smaug. That any gifts were given at all at the ending of The Hobbit seemed unlikely at one point but when at the last gifts were made they were indeed kingly as Gimli put it when he learned that Bilbo had been given a mithril coat by Thorin before he died. In Gimli’s eyes the knowledge that Thorin had given such a gift only made him the greater for great kings made great gifts in all worlds until modern times. And when Gimli finally saw the mithril coat upon Frodo his admiration and reverence only grew.

“But it was well given!”

The Caves of Aglarond. The shape and light beautifully evoked by Hannah Joy Patterson.

Later Galadriel will speak praise of Gimli and his understanding of wealth when she says of him that his hands “shall flow with gold” and yet over him “gold shall have no dominion”. It is not that Gimli has no concept of the idea of the price of things. He quite happily states that Frodo’s mithril coat is worth more than the entire value of the Shire but it is beauty that is the true ruler of Gimli’s heart. His greatest work after the War of the Ring was the creation of what artists would now call an installation in the Caves of Aglarond, a true act of subcreation made from crystal, the shaping of caverns and of light. And the gift that he will treasure most will be three tresses of the hair of Galadriel that he will wear next to his heart within a jewel that he has crafted himself.

Gimli asks for three tresses of Galadriel’s hair.

“I Would Not Have You Go Without Seeing Kheled-zâram.” Gimli Takes Frodo to The Mirrormere.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.324-325

Gandalf has only just fallen into the abyss beneath the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and Aragorn is anxious that the Company should put as much distance as it possibly can between itself and the Gates of Moria. He knows that as soon as night falls orcs will commence their pursuit and all the lives of the remaining members of the Fellowship will be in great danger.

But despite both grief and danger there is one member who cannot leave this place without looking and that person is Gimli the dwarf. Even though, ever since Gandalf read aloud from the Book of Mazarbul in the chamber that held it and which contained the tomb of Balin, Gimli has known that Balin himself was slain by orcs at this spot he must still pause upon his journey and look.

Ted Nasmith’s depiction of Mirrormere. It feels like a devotion before a sacrament.

Gimli goes to look into the Mirrormere, the waters of Kheled-zâram about which we thought some weeks ago. It is the most sacred place in all the world of the dwarves, the place where Durin at his awakening looked, and saw his own reflection crowned by stars.

"He stooped and looked in Mirrormere, 
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head."

Gimli must look at this also and when he does so he looks upon the sacred mystery of his own people, star-crowned amidst the endless depths of space, a reflection in a flawless mirror, but only an image and not a reality. That reality, as the dwarves believe, lies ahead in some future time. And the language that they use to speak of this time is the awakening of Durin from sleep. Perhaps Balin went to look in the waters hoping to see his own reflection held by the crown of stars, wondering whether he might be Durin reawakened. The death that he suffered by an orc arrow there brutally put an end to such dreams if such dreams he had.

Alan Lee has us look at Mirrormere from a distance.
"But still the sunken stars appear 
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep, 
Till Durin wakes again from sleep."

Later Galadriel will understand why Gimli had to look upon the “ancient home” of his people and in expressing her understanding she will awaken love and devotion in his heart. Surely a love and devotion that he is feeling after, seeking for in his heart, as he goes to look in the waters but does not find until he sees it in the smile of one that he had thought an enemy.

But why did Gimli choose Frodo to be his companion in his search? We note that Gimli is not alone in making this choice. On the hill of Cerin Amroth, “the heart of Elvendom on earth” where Aragorn’s “heart dwells ever” he takes Frodo’s hand in his as he walks away from his own sacred place in order to continue the journey. It is as if both Gimli and then Aragorn wish to draw the Ringbearer into their stories, their sacred stories, thus linking the story that he must live and breathe with their own. Neither Gimli nor Aragorn seek to forge a friendship with Frodo. For Gimli that bond belongs to his friendship with Legolas while for Aragorn it belongs to some degree to Legolas and Gimli as they journey across the plains of Rohan in search of Merry and Pippin and then through many trials until the great battle before the gates of Minas Tirith, but is kept most truly for Arwen and for her alone. No, it is not friendship that they seek but an almost unconscious entwining of their stories, their deepest longings, with Frodo and the burden that has been laid upon him.

There is a sense in which Frodo is a figure who is becoming almost other worldly. A certain kind of holiness, of separateness, is being ascribed to him. Is it, for example, entirely a random choice on Tolkien’s part to have Pippin ask Sam what he saw in Mirrormere and not his old friend from rambles in the Shire? Perhaps there is a sense that what Frodo sees in this holy place belongs to him alone. It is Sam who must tell the others but Sam too has been rendered silent by the vision, by the mystery of this place.

Kimberley80 draws us closer in to what Durin saw.