“There Must Be Someone of Intelligence in The Party”. On the Choosing of The Heroes Who Will Help Frodo to Take The Ring to The Fire.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.264-267

Elrond honoured Frodo’s offer of himself to take the Ring to the Fire by speaking of the heroes of the past. “If you take it freely,” he says, “I will say that your choice is right; and though the mighty elf-friends of old, Hador and Húrin, and Túrin, and Beren himself, were assembled together, your seat should be among them.”

Alan Lee depicts Túrin Turambar, one of the children of Húrin

When The Lord of the Rings was first published in 1954 little was known of these names except for Beren because of the story that Strider told to the hobbits in the camp below Weathertop on the night on which the Nazgûl attacked and wounded Frodo. The Silmarillion was not published until after Tolkien’s death and in the years since our knowledge of them all has grown thanks to the work of Christopher Tolkien. But if all we knew of them was the list that Elrond gives us, that phrase, “mighty elf friends” would be sufficient to evoke our deepest respect and even a little awe.

The four “mighty elf-friends of old” that Elrond names are figures of the First Age of Arda. They were the mortal Children of Ilúvatar who, upon entering Beleriand, chose to side with the Elves against Morgoth. Deeply flawed though they were, it was their implacable denial of despair in the face of the seemingly inevitable victory of darkness that shines out again and again through the long defeat of that age. Typical of this spirit we read of Húrin at the terrible battle of Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

“Last of all Húrin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and wielded an axe two-handed; and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll guard of Gothmog until it withered, and each time that he slew Húrin cried: “Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!”

Jenny Dolfen imagines Húrin at Nirnaeth Arnoediad

It is of heroes like this to which Elrond likens Frodo, not because of his martial ferocity but because of his quiet courage in the face of an impossible task. When he and Sam and Bilbo meet with Merry and Pippin, Frodo describes his mission as “a hopeless journey”. There is no point at which he regards it as anything less than hopeless and yet he never thinks of turning back, of resting in Rivendell, “a long while, perhaps for good”.

Frodo is a hero to stand with the Elf-friends of old because of the choice that he makes but what of Sam, Merry and Pippin? At first glance we might think that Tolkien uses them as some kind of comic relief and Pippin’s words about “someone with intelligence in the party” and Gandalf’s response to what Pippin says seem to show that this is indeed their purpose in the story. But at all times Tolkien wants us to see that the bonds of fellowship that bind the hobbits together have a power that cannot be measured through force of arms or even their intelligence. Later when Elrond chooses the party that will accompany Frodo, Sam and the Ring, he is minded to choose someone like Glorfindel, a mighty elf-lord, but Gandalf disagrees.

“I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom”

It is not that Gandalf has given way to sentimentality at this vital moment in the story but that he is true to his own charism, the grace that he has been given and which he has long nurtured. His teacher, the Lady Nienna, taught him to see with pity, not with blame and to warm the hearts of free peoples everywhere. He knows the power of a warmed heart especially when the world has grown cold and time and again, I suspect without really knowing why, his heart was drawn to the Shire and the simple hospitality of its people. His pleasure in good, simple food, good beer and a pipe to follow dinner meant that his own heart was warmed when he made these visits and if the only fruit of them was rest and the enjoyment of fireworks then this would have been sufficient for him but it was to these simple folk to whom the Ring was entrusted. Folk who live in the “merrier world” in which “food and cheer and song” are valued above hoarded gold.

The friendship of hobbits

“I Will Take The Ring, Though I Do Not Know The Way.”

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 260-264

How much we would like to view the hero as someone in an exalted state. The eyes should gaze intently to a distant point, towards the hero’s glorious destiny. The hero will stand alone and the admiring gaze of all will look up into those eyes for how could anyone look down at the hero. And the hero should be beautiful. How could it be otherwise? For the hero is the projection of our longings for ourselves, the exalted self that we long to be or, perhaps, to be with.

If this hero is beautiful it is not because he tried to be beautiful. If he is a hero it is not because he wants to be a hero.

Older and wiser heads may smile at such longing with a degree of indulgence, remembering that I used the words, high, lonely and destiny quite recently in this blog reflecting as we did so on the close kinship between Saruman the White and Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew. Am I suggesting that neither Saruman nor Uncle Andrew have never outgrown this rather adolescent longing? I rather think that I am. There is no blame attached to an adolescent being an adolescent but the world is blighted by adolescents who never grow up.

And when we compare these characters to the one who speaks the words of the title of this blog post so quietly and so reluctantly we know that we are talking about something quite different to the self admiration of these outgrown children. For Frodo shares little in common with Saruman. This is not to say that Frodo is completely free of the desire for exaltation. When he sat with Gandalf in his study at Bag End Frodo had felt “a great desire to follow Bilbo” flame up in his heart; a desire “so strong that it overcame his fear”. Perhaps at this point of the story the influence of Narya, the ring that Gandalf bears, is able to warm his heart, though even Gandalf is surprised. It is at that moment when he declares that “hobbits really are amazing creatures”. So there is a place and a time for exaltation but as the story reaches the place in which the decision has to be made concerning the Ring all exaltation, all warmth has gone. Frodo has met the implacable hatred of the Morgul Lord, has felt his blade pierce his flesh, the tiny splinter travel towards his heart. Now as he sits among the Council and listens to the debate about what should be done to the Ring he feels “a dead darkness in his heart”.

The debate continues. Boromir argues that the Ring should be used against Sauron, Elrond says that this is impossible; Glóin asks about the three Elven Rings and Elrond declares that they must remain hidden; Erestor of the Grey Havens speaks of the folly of trying to make the journey to Mordor and Gandalf answers that it is this folly that Sauron is incapable of grasping; and at the last it is Bilbo who asks what messenger should take the Ring to the fire.

No-one answers him. Either because they still feel that it is folly to take the road to Mordor or because they know that for them to carry the Ring is impossible all remain silent. And at the very last it is Frodo’s voice, this time struggling against an overwhelming desire to rest, that speaks “as if some other will was using his small voice”.

“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.”

After this everything is all quite simple. So it is once the great choices are made. All falls into place around them and the people who make them. Even Sam does not argue against the choice only that Frodo should not go alone. But the choice and the manner of its expression is the most moving moment of the whole story. It is the moral heart of the story. It is made, not at the conclusion of some process of selection with all the qualities of each candidate having undergone careful assessment but simply because one person has been called, has been chosen. And the choosing is like “the pronouncement of some doom”.

Are life’s truly great choices always like this? Do they always feel unavoidable, even inevitable, and yet they still have to be made? And do they always feel like pronouncements of doom? A last judgment against which no argument can be found? Such choices are practically inexpressible. Elrond rightly places Frodo amongst his mighty ancestors even as the heroes gathered in Rivendell had to remain silent as a hobbit stood to speak but even his words feel small against the magnitude of the choice.

Sam Shows Us that We are Part of a Very Great Story

Sam does not know it yet but he is beginning to see what the world truly is once you draw back the veil that hides reality from our eyes. In these last few weeks we have been thinking about Sam’s reflection on the story in which he and Frodo have been a part. Sometimes as we strive to put our thoughts into words it is as if an idea or, even better, an image, takes hold of us and suddenly we can see and speak of what we have seen.

Sam begins to see glimpses of the kind of story that they are in but being Sam, being most wonderfully, Sam, it is of Frodo that he now speaks:

“And people will say: ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’ And they’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”

This is all too much for Frodo who shares with Sam the plain good hobbit virtue of not taking oneself too seriously. It is too much to begin to think of hobbits as famous and it is certainly too much to think of himself as the “famousest” of them all! Frodo begins to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the thought but Sam is not to be put off. His imagination has been captured by the image of the storyteller at work who makes the world strange for a moment in order, at the end of the tale, to return the hearer to his own reality just a little changed. No matter that Sam’s story teller is a father reading to his own children. In this simplest of domestic settings he is no less than a bard with harp in hand chanting verses to the household of a great lord in a meadhall on a long winter’s night. And what Sam sees as Frodo tries to deflect him with his laughter is the stones of the mountains of the Ephel Dúath listening to a sound that “had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth”. He sees the “the tall rocks leaning over them” as if (and this is my image to add to Sam’s!) they are warming themselves upon a fire. Sam has become a mythmaker and not even Frodo’s deflecting mockery can stop him now.

Frodo will be carried to the very end of his quest by the mythmaking vision that has awoken within Sam. His laughter is at least in part a response to what he considers to be Sam’s efforts to cheer him up but what Sam has done is much, much more. In the days that lie ahead Sam will go into battle with a creature of the foulest kind and he will storm an orc tower in order to rescue his master. Such are the deeds of the greatest of heroes and even Beren himself would be honoured to numbered among a hero such as Sam will become and yet all Sam can do is to think of Frodo.

Maybe, like Frodo, we may not be able to see the story of which we too are a part for what it truly is. We should not blame Frodo and we should not blame ourselves either. Frodo bears a burden that even Gandalf and Galadriel feared to take and step by step on his weary pilgrimage to the very heart of Sauron’s power it robs him of all strength and joy. Soon he will have no more capacity to laugh or even to remember that there is a reality beyond the darkness of the dungeon of Mordor. No we should not blame him. But if we can do so then we should strive to do as Sam does and to strip away the veil from before our eyes. Tolkien spoke of the “True Myth” of the Incarnation that we will celebrate soon on December 25th that the Catechism to which he assented described thus:

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

Sam is beginning to glimpse glimmers of the True Myth and they will carry him to glory. They can do the same for us too. Our destiny, if we could but see it, is to become gods.