“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.

“Do Not Repent of Your Welcome To The Dwarf.” The Fellowship Tell the Story of Gandalf’s Fall to Galadriel and Celeborn.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 344-347

With the arrival of the Fellowship to the halls of Galadriel and Celeborn in Caras Galadhon at the heart of the realm of Lothlórien the tale of Gandalf’s fall into the abyss at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm must at last be told. So too has the manner of his fall at the hands of the Balrog of Moria, “of all elf-banes the most deadly, save the One who sits in the Dark Tower.”

Caras Galadhon as seen from Cerin Amroth by Ted Nasmith

If news of the fall of Gandalf has been the cause of great grief in the Elves of Lothlórien so news of the Balrog of Moria is the cause of great anger and most especially in Celeborn.

“Had I known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria again, I would have forbidden you to pass the northern borders, you and all that went with you. And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria.”

Vincent Pompetti imagines Celeborn and Galadriel together as they greet their guests.

Readers will note that even though Celeborn is angry with the whole company, even with Gandalf himself, it is Gimli who he singles out for his particular wrath. It is Dwarves who have stirred up the evil that has lain hidden long years in the depths of Moria.

Celeborn’s anger against the Dwarves has a long history. It began in the First Age of Arda when his kinsman, the Lord Thingol of Doriath gained possession of a Silmaril through the mighty deeds of Luthien and Beren who took it from the very crown of Morgoth himself. The Silmaril was the price that Thingol had demanded of Beren so that he could have the hand of Luthien in marriage. Thingol asked Dwarf craftsmen to put the Silmaril into the Nauglamir, greatest and most beautiful of the works of the Dwarves in that age. The Dwarves were overcome by desire for the Silmaril and demanded that Thingol give it to them in payment for their labour. When Thingol refused this they killed him and a war broke out between Dwarves and Elves with terrible slaughter upon both sides. Although Celeborn’s role in that war is never mentioned there can be no doubt that he played his part in it and that he carried both anger and distrust towards Dwarves in his heart thereafter.

Thingol and the Dwarves

That the telling of the tale of the events at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm does not end with a swift expulsion of the Fellowship from Lothlórien and disaster for their mission is thanks to the intervention of Galadriel. If Celeborn is the keeper of the memory of a perception of treachery upon the part of dwarves and of a bitter war in which his homeland was destroyed by them then Galadriel is the keeper of a very different one. In her heart she cherishes the memory of Melian, the wife of Thingol, who became like a mother to her. Melian was known for her great wisdom and through all the story of Thingol and his avaricious heart she tried to warn him that such a spirit could lead to no good. Thingol became a grasper after things, even treating his own daughter, Luthien, as if she were a possession and not a free person. Galadriel, after the spirit of Melian, is a giver of hospitality, even though, like Melian too, she has put a girdle around Lothlórien to keep all evil at bay. She made Aragorn and Arwen welcome, both separately and in giving space for their love for each other to grow. And now she extends a loving welcome to Gimli the Dwarf.

“She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf… looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding.”

For Gimli this moment is a turning point in his story. His looking up, away from his anger and sadness and into the face of Galadriel turns him into a lover of beauty. He offers her his heart in worship and this is no idolatry because idolatry is in essence the worship of things for the sake of a small, mean self, the kind of worship that led to the fall and mutual destruction of Thingol, his realm, and the Dwarves, long ago. Gimli becomes a servant of all that is beautiful for its own sake. He “kisses the joy as it flies”, as William Blake puts it and so comes to live in “eternity’s sunrise”.

Gimli finds love in Galadriel’s face.

“We Must Do Without Hope”. The Company Go On After The Fall of Gandalf.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 321-324

How do we carry on after the catastrophe has happened? The journey of the Fellowship through Moria has taken them at last to the terrible climax at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf has broken the bridge upon which both he and the Balrog confronted one another and then,

“With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasping vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”

“Fly you Fools!”

All in the briefest of moments the Company experience the terrible juxtaposition of relief at the fall of their deadly foe and then sheer horror as they witness in total helplessness the fall of Gandalf into the dark. At that moment it is Aragorn who is able to lead them all away from what remains a deadly danger out from Moria into the bright sun beyond its doors where grief overcomes them all.

The Fellowship Are Overcome By Grief

And so they stand in the strange unreality of a sunlit day after the dark, and the yet stranger unreality of being alive after they have lost one whom they have all loved, who presence has seemed to them to have been one of the few certainties in a world that is in constant flux; one whose very existence has enabled them to give shape to that world. It is Aragorn again who finds words to express this.

“‘We must do without hope,’ he said. ‘At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do.'”

This begins a thread that runs through the narrative of the next part of the story and is associated most with Aragorn. It is the theme of hope, the loss of hope and how to continue after hope has gone. Ever since the debate between Gandalf and Aragorn took place about which way the Company should cross the Misty Mountains Aragorn has been gripped by an inner sense that if they were to go through Moria something terrible would happen to Gandalf. All through the journey in the dark he has remained separate from the others, breaking his silence only at a moment when it seemed that doubt would take hold of them all. Might it be said that this inner sense, this foresight, has in some way prepared him for this moment? Might it be said that that all through Moria he has begun to live without Gandalf, who has been guide, even father to him?

“Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?”

The Fellowship must continue their journey, not because they have hope that they will succeed but simply because they have a task to fulfil. The Ring must go to the Fire. What part each one of them will play in this is not yet clear. Only upon Frodo has the obligation to complete the task been laid by the Council and Sam will go with him because that is who Sam is. The point will come in the journey when each member of the Company will have to make their own choice about what they must do and as this point is reached for most of them the choice will become harder to make. Only Boromir will be certain about what direction the Fellowship must take and at the last it will be his certainty that will enable, even force, Frodo to make his choice and the attack by the Uruk-hai will force the choice of the others. But what they will all have to do will have to be done without the hope that Gandalf gave them, that sense that whatever happened there would be someone to sort everything out. It has been wisely said that we know for certain that we are grown ups when we know that our parents are not going to come to rescue us from whatever predicament we have got ourselves into. That realisation can be catastrophic in nature and for some it comes too soon in life. Only time will tell whether it has come too soon for the Fellowship of the Ring.

“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.

“These Are Not Holes. This is The Great Realm and City of The Dwarrowdelf.” Gimli Speaks of The Glory of Moria Of Old.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 306-310

After a night spent in silent thought at the door to the guardroom Gandalf announces to a rested company the way that he will lead them. “It is time we began to climb up again.”

He leads them along what was once an important road and they make good progress. Eventually they pass through an arched doorway “into a black and empty space.”

Gandalf raises his staff and light blazes forth from it for a brief moment illuminating “a vast roof far above their heads upheld by many mighty pillars hewn of stone”. They are in one of the great halls of Moria, the dwarf city of old. Sam Gamgee, who as a hobbit knows a thing or two about holes and living in them, is overwhelmed both by the hall’s sheer size and darkness.

Alan Lee’s depiction of the Halls of Moria

“There must have been a mighty crowd of dwarves here once upon a time… and everyone of them busier than badgers for five hundred years to make all this, and most in hard rock too! What did they do it all for? They didn’t live in these darksome holes surely?” Sam is comparing the work of the dwarves of Moria to the creation of a hobbit hole in The Shire and he is overwhelmed by awe and by horror. Then Gimli replies.

“These are not holes… This is the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf. And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs.”

Peter Jackson gives us a sense of the smallness of the Company amidst the “black and empty space” of Hall 21.

In Peter Jackson’s film version of this scene the light that blazes forth from Gandalf’s staff is allowed to shine a little longer than in the book but this allows us to gaze longer at the ancient glory of the city. The style of architecture chosen there is medieval gothic and we do not know, of course, if that is what the dwarves would actually have chosen or if that is what was in Tolkien’s imagination as he wrote this beautiful passage. But I did not mind this when I first saw this scene in the film, indeed I found myself deeply moved by the dignified grandeur of a beauty that is passing away. Like the architects of the Gothic revival of the nineteenth century, men like Pugin who created the British Houses of Parliament, I think that medieval gothic was one of the great human achievements, seeking as it did to express divine beauty, essential beauty, for the sake of the glory of God alone. A few years ago a game of Monopoly was created which was located in the city of Worcester here in England that lies just a few miles from my home. I remember being much amused by the fact that the city’s cathedral was the most valuable property on the board. Of course it is easily the most beautiful building in the city but as to its monetary value how does one calculate this? If it were not a cathedral whose purpose is the worship of God what would it be used for? Any other use would diminish its beauty in order to make it more use-ful in the utilitarian sense that dominates modern thought. It might become a museum but then would be merely a memory of that which we once had and knew but which we would have lost.

What is the real estate value of Worcester Cathedral or might we understand its true value in other terms?

My experience of being moved by Peter Jackson’s powerful evocation of this scene was tinged with sadness. Like Gimli I felt that I was looking on a glory that was passing away and could never return. Tolkien’s world is one in which the future is one in which two possibilities seem to lie ahead. One is Sauron’s future which is a descent into darkness. It is one in which Sam’s “darksome holes” becomes the only reality there is. The other is more ambiguous in its nature. One is expressed in the hope of Aragorn and the Return of the King. The other is expressed in the world that Lotho Pimple and Ted Sandyman briefly tried to create in The Shire, a world of business opportunities. And although this world is thwarted at The Battle of Bywater and by the death of Saruman and the other principal actors one cannot help but feel that it lurks in the shadows waiting its moment. And it is this world, the world of greed for gain, that brought about the fall of Moria, through lust for mithril. Frodo wears a mithril shirt that is worth more money than the entire value of The Shire.

“Fool of a Took!” Gandalf and Pippin at The Well in The Guardroom in Moria.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 303-306

The weary travellers have come to a place in which three choices lie before them. Not that it is the Company that will make the choice. Every one of them has given this task to Gandalf. He is the guide through the vast mines of Khazad-dûm. But at this point Gandalf is unsure about which way to go and too weary to make a decision. There is a guardroom nearby and they decide to rest within it.

At the centre of the room there is a well that is completely unprotected and Pippin is strangely drawn towards it. Is it Aragorn’s words of warning that have this effect? “One of you might have fallen in and still be wondering when you were going to hit the bottom.” How deep is the well? Pippin needs to know and so he drops a stone into it. It is many seconds before the stone plunges into water in the depths below and when it does it makes a sound that reverberates around the cavernous walls of the well.

It is necessary now for engineers to suspend their disbelief. We have reflected on other occasions about the weaving of history and mythology within The Lord of the Rings and it is clear now that we have entered the realms of mythology, that which never happened but is always true. While we cannot conceive a well so deep that to raise a bucket of water by hand would be a task that would take a very long time indeed we can and do conceive abysmal depths in “the dark places of the earth”. We both fear such places within our own psyche and, as with Pippin, are strangely drawn towards them.

Perhaps we are both afraid of and drawn towards what might lie there. “Tap-tom, tom-tap, tap-tap, tom”

“That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one,” says Gimli. Has something been awoken by Pippin’s “foolish stone” that should have been left undisturbed? Should we ever awaken that which lies deep within us?

“Fool of a Took!”

“Fool of a Took!” Gandalf growls at Pippin. “This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!” And poor Pippin is given the first watch, “as a reward”.

Some readers may recall a gruff old teacher from their childhood experience of school. One who they respected but also feared, if only for the angry rebuke that they might occasionally receive. The relationship between Gandalf and Pippin seems very much like that of master and pupil. Pippin is not one of those brilliant pupils such as is Aragorn or Faramir or Frodo. Each of these come to understand the mind of their master to such a degree that he is able to entrust any task to them and know that they will carry it out, not just because they have become capable of doing so but also because they carry the meaning of that task in their hearts even as he does. There is a sense in which Aragorn, Faramir and Frodo become sons to Gandalf and in the case of Faramir in particular this becomes a source of resentment, one of many, in Denethor, Faramir’s biological father.

“All wizards should keep a hobbit or two in their care”.

Pippin is a different kind of pupil. In his saving of the life of Faramir he displays that he understands the heart of his master. But Pippin does something else that I am not sure that any of Gandalf’s other pupils do. He awakens affection in the heart of the gruff old wizard. This is not because of his aptitude or ability but because of his childlike nature. Later in the story after Pippin’s misadventure with the Stone of Orthanc Gandalf takes Pippin with him to Minas Tirith, to keep him from any further mischief, but also, I think, because at this crucial moment in Gandalf’s long life, he needs Pippin. Pippin brings a comfort to Gandalf that no-one else can. “All wizards should have a hobbit or two in their care, to teach them the meaning of the word.” Even now in the fearful dark of Moria, with the terrible abyss of the well close by, Gandalf soon relieves Pippin of his lonely duty, speaks kindly to him and sends him off to get some sleep. The guide is watching over all his charges and we can all rest. For a little while at least.

The guide is watching over his charges. Matt Stewart imagines Gandalf smoking in Moria.

“Do Not Be Afraid! He Will Not Go Astray.” Gandalf Leads The Company Through the Deep Places of The World.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 301-305

After the attack by the horror at the gate Gandalf begins to lead the Company through Moria. It is a journey that no-one wishes to make but inexorably, after Caradhras denied them passage over the mountains, after the attack by wargs and then by the watcher in the waters, they have to go through utter darkness.

“Who will lead us now in this deadly dark?” Boromir asks unhappily and Gandalf replies, “I will…and Gimli shall walk with me. Follow my staff!”

The journey through Moria will take three or four marches over forty miles and although Gandalf may sound confident his memory of a journey made long ago has largely faded and oftentimes the way is unclear and many dangers have to be overcome.

The Journey through the Dark by J.C Barquet

At one point the pause that Gandalf takes is longer than usual. He speaks with Gimli but Moria is beyond the imagination of this dwarf and Gandalf’s consultation is little more than an opportunity for him to think aloud. The anxiety of the Fellowship begins to grow and then Aragorn speaks.

“Do not be afraid! I have been with him on many a journey, if never on one so dark; and there are tales of Rivendell of greater deeds of his than any that I have seen. He will not go astray- if there is any path to find. He has led us in here against our fears, but he will lead us out again, at whatever cost to himself. He is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel.”

I will allow others to comment upon the cats of Queen Berúthiel. It will suffice here to note that Aragorn’s knowledge of this story is a fruit of the years that he spent in Gondor in the service of Ecthelion, father of Denethor and grandfather of Boromir. This service was done by him secretly as Thorongil . He never revealed his true identity although it is likely that Denethor guessed who he was and was jealous of the high regard in which Thorongil was held by the people.

Donato Giancola imagines the search for a way in Moria

What is important here is that Aragorn breaks his silence at a moment when fear is growing among the Company. Tolkien tells us that Aragorn’s silence has been “grim”. The decision to go through Moria had been taken against his advice and whereas Boromir’s unhappiness is voiced aloud Aragorn chooses to take the position at the rear of the line and to say nothing. And when he does speak the only reference that he makes concerning his fear is to say, “he will lead us out again, at whatever cost to himself.” For Aragorn’s fear is for Gandalf. He has a premonition that something terrible is going to happen to his friend.

This is the moment upon the journey of the Fellowship in which Aragorn first reveals his kingliness. While Gandalf gives his attention entirely to the task before him, to finding a way through the dark of Moria, Aragorn commands the courage of his companions. They are afraid and with some reason. They are effectively lost in this dark place. But as with the teacher who had charge of the group of school boys lost in caves in Thailand the one essential task at this moment is to maintain hope. Boromir is, of course, right to say it’s not my fault. As with Aragorn, the Company are there against his advice, but at this moment being right about decisions taken up to this point is of no value. There may be a time and place for reviewing past decisions although because the journey through Moria will never be repeated it is hard to think of when this will be but such a review has no value whatsoever now. All that matters is to keep what courage they still have and to follow their guide to whatever fate. Aragorn knows this and this is why he speaks. Thus we see that Aragorn is a king while Boromir is only a warrior.

Aragorn the Ranger and Aragorn the King

“Speak Friend and Enter”. Gandalf Tries to Enter Moria by the Western Gate but is Thwarted By His Own Cleverness.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 290-300

All who know The Lord of the Rings will remember that our title this week is a mistranslation by Gandalf of these words that turns a simple instruction into an impossible riddle. What, in happier times, had been knowledge available to all, had in these times of treachery and betrayal become something arcane, known only to initiates. I fear that we live in such times and so we have to surround information that is important to us with passwords and firewalls. Like Gandalf, if we cannot remember them then, like Gandalf, we might try different possibilities with growing frustration, or as I usually do, click on the link that invites me to change the password.

The Doors of Durin. One of the rare illustrations done by Tolkien himself in The Lord of the Rings.

The latter is not an option available to Gandalf and so he must find the words that will unlock the doors that Narvi made to allow free transport between the Elven Kingdom of Hollin and Durín’s Kingdom of Moria. He speaks of his knowledge of many such words and then tries one after another as each one fails in its purpose. His patience quickly deserts him but, of course, this has never been one of Gandalf’s best qualities. At one point Pippin comes close to having his head used to beat down the door but then at last, even as the Wargs of Mordor begin to howl once more, the answer finally comes to him.

Gandalf tries to solve a riddle that is only a simple instruction. Bohemian Weasel imagines the scene.

The words on Narvi’s door read pedo mellon a minno. Gandalf had translated pedo as speak and so never actually used the word that he was intended to say. His assumption was that something needed to be spoken and so he tried to find the correct word. It is only when he realises that pedo should be translated say that it all becomes clear.

Mellon is all he needed to say. Friend.

Imagine a world in which Friend is the only password that you will ever require in order to gain entrance to any place. Such a world is one that is filled with friends and not with enemies. Such a world is one in which the hounds of Mordor do not pursue you with the intention of taking your life and a lifeless lake, one that contains a terrible secret, does not bar your passage to your destination. Such a world is one in which doors rarely need to be locked or even closed, a world in which weary travellers can expect a friendly welcome. Indeed it is a world in which the word, friend, is no mere euphemism but one that conveys precisely what it is meant to mean. Only friends were intended or expected to approach the doors of Moria.

Now, once again, a group of friends stand before these gates that are closed. Four are hobbits, two are men, one is a dwarf, one an elf and one a wizard. I call them friends and they will become friends but the bonds that tie them all together are still fragile. We all know the fierce loyalty that binds the hobbits. “We are your friends, Frodo,” were the passionate words spoken in Crickhollow by Merry that declared the intention that he, Pippin and Sam would go with their friend to follow him “like hounds”. But the other bonds are less certain. Aragorn and Boromir are still wary of each other, watching one another from a careful distance and even at the gates of Moria the ancient enmity between Elves and Dwarves is displayed. When Gandalf speaks of the unusual friendship between Moria and Hollin Gimli immediately responds by saying:

“It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned”. To which Legolas replies, “I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves”.

And Gandalf puts an end to the quarrel by saying, “I have heard both, and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both.”

At this time in the story it is Gandalf who holds them all together and who will take them all into the dark.

“I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends.” Nathalie Kranich depicts the close friendship that develops.

“The Road That I Speak of Leads to The Mines of Moria”. Gandalf Counsels the Fellowship to Take a Dark and Secret Way Under the Mountains.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 287-290

The road over the mountains has failed and the weary travellers are forced to consider another way. Until this point neither Gandalf nor Aragorn have consulted the rest of the company about what way they should take but now it is necessary that they should do so. Merry and Pippin would give up if they could but Gandalf makes it clear that there can be no turning back for if they do this there will soon be nowhere to go. To his credit Boromir has said nothing up until now but now he counsels that they retrace the steps that he took in his journey from Minas Tirith to Rivendell, passing through the Gap of Rohan. Gandalf makes it clear that this is no longer a possibility, the treachery of Saruman has seen to that.

And then Gandalf tells them of the way that he thinks best. He will take them through the Mines of Moria.

Alan Lee depicts the Dark and Secret Way Through Moria

“Since our open attempt on the mountain-pass our plight has become more desperate, I fear. I see now little hope, if we do not vanish from sight for a while, and cover our trail. Therefore I advise that we should go neither over the mountains, nor round them, but under them. That is a road at any rate that the Enemy will least expect us to take.”

Gandalf’s proposal is greeted with little enthusiasm except from Gimli the dwarf for whom the name of Moria calls to mind the greatest of his people’s achievements and the name of Durin, the greatest of their kings. Boromir simply dismisses the idea while Aragorn warns Gandalf that if he enters Moria he may never get out again. Frodo trusts the counsel of Gandalf, little though he likes the sound of this “dark and secret way” as Gandalf puts it. At the last it is not strength of argument that wins the day but a sudden attack by Wargs, the wolves of Mordor. Suddenly the way through Moria is the only option.

The Attack by Wargs Simplifies the Decision

And so begins the first of the dark ways through which Tolkien takes the Fellowship. There are three such ways and each one of them is associated with death as well as darkness. Gandalf will fall into the abyss in Moria after the attack of the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, will take the Paths of the Dead into Gondor; while Frodo and Sam will pass through Shelob’s Lair but only, in Frodo’s case, as one who has taken a deadly bite.

The Heir of Isildur Commands The Dead

For each of the Company who must go these ways there is a sense in which they tread the kind of path that Dante takes in his Divine Comedy. Each must go their own personal way through hell, each tasting something of death, and in Gandalf’s case, literally so, before they can emerge through it to what lies beyond. But for none of them is there some simple journey into Paradise. For Gandalf what lies beyond his dark road is his greatest challenge as he pits himself against the might of Mordor as well as against the leader of his own order. For Aragorn and his companions the journey through the Paths of the Dead will bring them to the battle at the gates of Minas Tirith. While for Frodo and Sam the path through Shelob’s Lair merely takes them into Mordor and all that lies ahead. While it may be too simple a thing to call this a Purgatory and so take my allusion to Dante a little further there is no doubt that for each of Tolkien’s characters who pass through their own dark ways further tests lie ahead that are no less challenging than what they have already faced.

For each of them there is a sense in which they are strengthened by the tests that they have already faced. Gandalf becomes the White after facing death itself, while Aragorn takes upon himself his true identity as the Heir of Isildur, the one who has the authority to command the obedience of the King of the Dead. And if Frodo enters Mordor as if a dead man stumbling step by step to Mount Doom, Sam enters it as a mighty hero, able to take his master to the conclusion of their journey.

And Paradise, what of this for each of Tolkien’s heroes? Tolkien leaves the answer to this question in the hands of Ilúvatar. As Aragorn was to put it, “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them there is more than memory.”

“What of The Three Rings of The Elves?” Can They Be Used Against Sauron?

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 260-263

When Celebrimbor and Sauron (in his guise of Annatar) studied and then created the Rings of Power during the Second Age of Arda there were three rings made by Celebrimbor alone over which Sauron had no influence. Seven rings were made for the dwarves and nine for humankind. The dwarves proved to be of stubborn stuff and so even when Sauron was wielding the One Ring “to rule them all” these rings and their bearers did not fall under his sway. So began the long unhappy history of Sauron’s search for the rings of the dwarves which ended in Dol Guldur when Sauron took the last of them from Thráin.

The Three Rings of the Elves

The rings given to human lords brought them swiftly under the domination of the Dark Lord. The dwarves were always true to their essential nature, loving the things that they made, implacable both in friendship and enmity, but humankind was always constrained by their mortality in a very particular way. The very brevity of a human life meant that a choice had to be made. It still does. Some would look beyond the confines of their mortality and so live in hope accepting their fate while entrusting themselves to that which lay beyond them. So Aragorn said to Arwen at the end of his life, “We are not bound for ever to the circles of this world, and beyond them there is more than memory”. Or, as in the heroic world of the Rohirrim, they would laugh in the face of despair even as they confronted their own deaths, as did Éomer when it seemed certain to him that he would die in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Or, as with the Dunlendings, there was a dull, grim and embittered spirit, a nation of “Gollums”, ever resentful of perceived slights at the hands of others. Or, as with the people of Bree, the spirit and wisdom of Ecclesiastes, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your life which you have been given under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun”. The hobbits were perhaps closest in spirit to them.

But for the Númenorians and their descendants, the ones who had come closest to Valinor and the immortality of the Elves, there was for many a growing sense that mortality was a curse that had been imposed upon them and one that they should strive to overcome. It was nine lords from among such as these who seized the opportunity given to them in Sauron’s gift of rings and who learned that immortality as a mere extension of existence is an intolerable burden, a curse rather than a blessing.

The Nazgûl. Wraiths and Wrath

The Rings of the Elves were not made by Sauron but by Celebrimbor alone although these rings could not have been made without the craft that they had learned together. Perhaps Celebrimbor had some secret suspicion of Sauron or, more likely, the desire like Fëanor before him to make something that was his and his alone, but they were not made for “strength or domination or hoarded wealth, but understanding, making and healing, to preserve all things unstained”. As with the Elves themselves, but as an intensification of who the Elves were, they were bound to the earth itself in joy and in sorrow. In the healing of the hurts of the earth and in the preserving of its beauty they brought great joy. If only we could find the earthly paradises of Rivendell or Lothlórien in our world today or even the Shire as Sam Gamgee was to remake it using Galadriel’s gift; or perhaps such places would best be kept hidden from us as we would probably spoil them by turning them into tourist destinations. Could you imagine some kind of “Lothlórien-world”?

Tim Catherall’s Imagining of Lothlórien

There is a sense in which the three rings of the Elves were used against Sauron. Elrond’s healing power, Galadriel’s adamantine resistance and, above all, Gandalf’s unresting work in warming hearts in a world ever growing cold, all of these fruits of the Elven Rings meant that Sauron had been kept at bay for long years but now as Sauron bent all of his might and malice in the task of the conquest of Middle-earth the rings of the Elves could no longer resist him nor could the combined strength of its free peoples. At the last there could only be one choice that could be made and that was as Elrond counselled the destruction of the Ring.