“Lockbearer, Wherever Thou Goest My Thought Goes With Thee.” Galadriel Sends Messages to Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 652-657

Back at Eastertide I wrote about the mighty battle upon Celebdil between Gandalf and the Balrog of Moria when it appeared to any who might look upward “that the mountain was crowned with storm”. If any would like to read what I wrote then please click on Gandalf the White in the tags below. At the battles end Gandalf threw his enemy down “and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin”.

Alan Lee’s magnificent depiction of the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog of Moria.

Gandalf died then and returned to the invisible realm for a time but was “sent back” to finish his work upon earth. It was upon the peak of Celebdil that Gwaihir the Windlord, mighty servant of Manwë in Middle-earth found him and carried him to Lothlórien for healing. And it was from Lothlórien that he came to Fangorn to be reunited with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli.

Gandalf brought messages from the Lady Galadriel for the three companions. Were there messages for the other members of the Fellowship? We never find out. Only three are ever revealed. Did Galadriel see the breaking of the Fellowship from afar in a way that Gandalf did not? Here I ask my readers to follow me as I imagine what may have happened. I have no authority in the text for what I am about to write but I think that this might be true to the character of Galadriel as she is portrayed in The Lord of the Rings.

We go back to the giving of gifts as the Fellowship departed from Lothlórien on their journey down the Anduin. There we remember that her attention was given largely to Frodo and Sam and then to Aragorn. Simple, though still beautiful, gifts were given to Boromir, Merry, Pippin and Legolas and then last of all she turned to Gimli.

“And what gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?”

Gimli asks a strand of Galadriel’s hair to treasure.

At first Gimli declares himself satisfied merely to have looked upon the Lady of the Galadhrim and to have heard “her gentle words”, following here the conventions of courtly love in a way that both surprises and delights Galadriel. Later we will see these same conventions from the Middle Ages in the wooing of Éowyn by Faramir when he tells her that even were she “the blissful Queen of Gondor” he would love her. But then Gimli does ask a gift from Galadriel’s hand and it is for a single strand of her hair “which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine”.

None of the portrayals of Dwarves in all Tolkien’s works are able to prepare us for this moment; most certainly not the portrayal of Thorin and his companions in The Hobbit when Thorin’s avarice almost leads to a battle which would have been catastrophic not just for the characters in that story but the whole history of Middle-earth. Gimli’s encounter with Galadriel has awakened something within his soul that has lain dormant, possibly all his life long. He learns that it is possible to love without needing to possess. Galadriel recognises this when she tells him that his hands “shall flow with gold” but that over him ” gold shall have no dominion”.

So great was Galadriel’s surprise and delight that she ponders her meeting with this Dwarf thereafter, a meeting that begins to heal the long animosity between Elves and Dwarves that stretches back to the wars of the First Age in Beleriand. And here I imagine that as she ponders she thinks of Gimli and Legolas together and their growing friendship. She knows that Frodo and Sam are beyond her aid now except for the gift she gave to Frodo. Merry and Pippin she is content to allow to journey on although she would be delighted by all the good that they share and cause in their adventures. And Boromir causes anxiety within her heart. Did she know that Aragorn would be with Legolas and Gimli? Not perhaps in the precise way in which Gandalf finds them in Fangorn but she both guesses that they would become sundered from Boromir and that the Hobbits might journey on together. Certainly in her message to Aragorn she makes it clear that she foresees for him a very particular journey and very particular companions.

So for Gimli there is given the very simple message that she thinks of him and that is enough. Gimli is ready for the next part of the story as he swings his axe in delight.

“I Have Spoken Words of Hope. But Only of Hope. Hope is Not Victory.” Gandalf Looks to The Future.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 652,653

The moment is about to come when Gandalf will lead Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to Edoras and to Meduseld, Théoden’s golden hall in the realm of Rohan. At that moment the story will leap forward once again even as Gandalf and the three companions leap forward borne by Shadowfax and the horses that ran from the camp on the night before Aragorn and his friends entered Fangorn. But just before this great leap there has been a pause, a drawing of breath, as Gandalf speaks of how things stand at this point in the story. And there is also the conclusion of a theme that has run through the story ever since he fell in Moria in the battle at the bridge of Khazad-dûm.

Aragorn speaks to his grief-stricken companions.

It was Aragorn who spoke then to his grief-stricken companions.

“Farewell, Gandalf!” he cried. “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?”

And then he added words that would both drive him on yet hang around his neck like the mariner’s albatross in Coleridge’s great poem:

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

To do without hope. To carry on without any sense that at the end of the long road there will be a completion of the taskdone. To carry on because that is what must be done and for no other reason.

And step by step, from the emergence of the Fellowship from the dark of Moria “beyond hope under the sky” until the reunion “beyond all hope” in the forest of Fangorn Aragorn has journeyed hopelessly.

Now hope is restored. Surely with Gandalf beside them once more there is hope they will triumph. But Gandalf speaks once again of their hope of victory.

“I have spoken words of hope. But only of hope. Hope is not victory. War is upon us and all our friends, a war in which only the use of the Ring could give us surety of victory. It fills me with great sorrow and great fear: for much shall be destroyed and all may be lost. I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still.”

I am Gandalf the White but Black is Mightier Yet.

To follow a road hopelessly is a courageous act for it is to do what must be done simply because the deed is right and not for any sense that a reward of some kind might lie at the road’s ending. We might compare the way in which Aragorn and his companions journey onward from Moria to the journey that Thorin Oakenshield and his company make to the Lonely Mountain in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. There, we might say, a part of what sustains hope upon the journey is simply not to think too much about its end, upon the dragon that must be faced and overcome. The dwarves and their hobbit companion go from obstacle to obstacle thinking of nothing more than how to deal with each one as it comes until at the secret door into the mountain Thorin informs Bilbo that the time has come for him to do his job without any sense of how this is to be accomplished. Hope of treasure certainly drives them forward but in another sense they also travel without hope because hope of success lies too close to fear of failure and death in the flames of Smaug. It is best not to think either of success or failure.

Aragorn has also put aside all thoughts of triumph or disaster, only focusing on whether the deed is just or not. But now Gandalf is returned and his hope rekindled. Gandalf does not counsel that they should do without hope. Indeed he tells Legolas that he should go “where he must go and hope”. But he warns them that hope is not victory.

I am reminded of the grim and rather frightening deputy head at my school who, when he would lead prayers at the start of the day, would do so with these words of St Ignatius Loyola. They seem to have been written in very much the same spirit that Gandalf displays here.

“Lord Jesus, teach us to serve you as you deserve. To give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to labour and not to seek for rest, to give and not to seek for any reward save that of knowing that we do your will.”

To labour and not to seek for rest. Yonatan Ayala depicts the labour of the three hunters in their journey across the plains of Rohan.

“The Choice Was Just and It Has Been Rewarded”. Why Did Aragorn Choose to Pursue Merry and Pippin?

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-653

When Aragorn chose, with Legolas and Gimli, not to follow Frodo and Sam but to go across Rohan in pursuit of the orc band that had taken Merry and Pippin to Isengard it was a brave choice but also one of despair. When he had set out from Rivendell with the rest of the Fellowship his purpose was to fulfil his destiny. Through all that was to lie ahead of him, whether war in Minas Tirith or a journey with the Ringbearer to the Cracks of Doom, he would claim the throne, both of Gondor and Arnor, and he would claim Arwen, daughter of Elrond, to be his bride. For Elrond had told him that only the king, both of Gondor and Arnor, could marry his daughter.

Aragorn longs for his beloved.

Perhaps it was always a desperate hope but, step by step, he was determined to pursue his hope right to the very end. But then Gandalf fell in battle against the Balrog in Moria and his hope was dashed. Not even when Galadriel gave him the green stone of his ancestors, borne by Eärendil himself was his hope truly rekindled. Not even when she said: “Take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!”

So it was that when the Company was attacked at Parth Galen and Boromir fell and Merry and Pippin seized by orcs Aragorn chose to pursue them. Until that moment he had felt that he had two choices. Either he would go with Boromir to Minas Tirith and play his part in the defence of the city or he would go with Frodo to Mordor and there to do all he could to try to destroy the Ring. He felt in his heart that it was his duty to go with Frodo, especially after the fall of Gandalf, but that same heart longed to go to Gondor where his destiny lay.

Aragorn choosing at a moment of sorrow and despair. Inger Edelfelt depicts the scene.

All this was taken from him at Parth Galen. Boromir fell in battle seeking to defend Merry and Pippin and Frodo set out for Mordor taking Sam with him. What little hope remained to him that he might yet fulfil his destiny was taken from him. What lay ahead was what he knew was a fruitless task. He would pursue the orc band that had taken the young hobbits across the plains of Rohan and probably die in an attempt to free them. The pursuit took him to the Forest of Fangorn where he even wondered whether he might starve to death alongside the companions that he had tried to rescue.

And then he met Gandalf in the very place in which he expected to die beyond all hope. On the one hand he is filled with joy as hope is rekindled. On the other hand he wonders what the vain pursuit of Merry and Pippin was for.

Gandalf speaks to him.

“Come, Aragorn son of Arathorn!” he said. “Do not regret your choice in the valley of the Emyn Muil, nor call it a vain pursuit. You chose amid doubts the path that seemed right: the choice was just and it has been rewarded. For so we met in time, who otherwise might have met too late.”

Aragorn chose a path that that was utterly alien in nature to the dark forces ranged against him. For they saw all things and all creatures as objects merely to be used for their own purposes. This was true from Sauron and Saruman right down to the meanest of orcs. He chose to lay down his life, his dreams and deepest longings, in the service of two figures that seemed to be of little more value than lost luggage. Gandalf describes the choice as just. Aragorn acted justly in choosing to serve the weak. And he speaks of reward. He speaks of a sense that reality itself rewards such choices. Sauron and Saruman would dismiss such talk as mere sentimental drivel and typical of the weakness of people like Gandalf, a weakness that deserved to be swept away. Gandalf, and Aragorn too, have placed their bets upon an entirely different reality. They believe in a universe that is just; not an impersonal even an implacable thing. And, says Gandalf, the choice is rewarded. The universe approves an act of justice and of mercy.

The universe approves the actor justice and mercy. Aragorn would die for Merry and Pippin. Anke Eismann depicts the young hobbits lost in the forest.

“The Enemy Has Failed- so Far. Thanks to Saruman.” What Does Gandalf Mean?

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.646-650

The treason of Isengard is one of the saddest stories within all that makes up The Lord of the Rings. One who was chosen by the Valar to rouse the peoples of Middle-earth against Sauron chooses to turn against them and to side with the very power against whom he was sent to fight.

Gandalf has been giving Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli a briefing on the state of affairs in the War of the Ring at this point in the story when he has been reunited with them in Fangorn Forest. He has spoken of how Sauron has no conception of the possibility that his enemies might want to destroy the Ring, being convinced that one of them will seize control of it and use it against him. With this conviction he is concentrating upon attack rather than defence. “If he had used all his power to guard Mordor, so that none could enter, and bent all his guile to the hunting of the Ring, then indeed hope would have faded: neither Ring nor bearer could long have eluded him.”

But what Sauron believes is that it will take time even for the most able of his enemies to learn how to wield the power of the Ring in a way that could ensure victory over him. Gollum, and then Bilbo later, possessed and used the Ring, but neither were able to do much more with it than to make themselves invisible. As Frodo draws nearer to Mordor he begins to become more aware of the Ring’s power threatening to use that power against Gollum in order to frighten him into co-operation, but compared to what Sauron could achieve if he were to regain possession of the Ring this is very small.

Because of this Sauron believes that he has a window of opportunity to strike a blow against his foes that will be strong enough to defeat them. His main goal is to capture Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor and that is where the main part of his attention is focussed. Surely this is the reason why he sent only a small company of orcs to waylay the Fellowship and not a more significant force. His concern would have been that any larger company would have attracted the attention of his enemies and he did not yet have enough control over the territory between Mordor and the Anduin to fight a battle far from home.

So Grishnákh’s force that took part in the attack upon the Fellowship was not particularly large, and disastrously for Sauron, not large enough to force Uglúk’s Uruk-hai to go to Barad-dûr instead of Isengard.

“Already he knows that the messengers that he sent to waylay the Company have failed again. They have not found the Ring. Neither have they brought away any hobbits as hostages. Had they done even so much as that, it would have been a heavy blow to us, and it might have been fatal. But let us not darken our hearts by imagining the trial of their gentle loyalty in the Dark Tower. For the Enemy has failed- so far. Thanks to Saruman.”

Andrea Pipano’s fine depiction of Saruman the White.

Gimli is confused by Gandalf’s words, wondering if what he means by them is that Saruman is not a traitor, but what Gandalf means is that Saruman is not only a traitor to the Valar and the free peoples of Middle-earth but also to Sauron. Saruman wants the Ring for his own purposes. He wishes to become lord of Middle-earth. But he too has failed to seize the Ring. He too has not even been able to capture hobbits. All that he has managed to achieve is, as Gandalf puts it, “to bring Merry and Pippin with marvellous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never come at all.”

Carrying Merry and Pippin to Fangorn. Inger Edelfelt depicts the ironic agents of good at their malicious work.

What Saruman has achieved by attempting to seize the Ring for himself is to make Sauron aware of his treachery. At this point of the story Sauron fears that it might be Saruman who has seized the Ring. Time and again irony has a big part to play within The Lord of the Rings. An action that is meant to do harm turns out to achieve the opposite of its intention. It might even be that irony is not merely a kind of chance event but is woven into the very fabric of reality.

“He is in Great Fear, Not Knowing What Mighty One May Suddenly Appear, Wielding the Ring”. Gandalf Speaks of Sauron’s Worldview.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-652

“Will you not open your mind more clearly to me?” Aragorn asks of Gandalf and so begins a situation room briefing from the one who has a better understanding of the big picture in Middle-earth than, perhaps, anyone in the story.

“The Enemy, of course, has long known that the Ring is abroad, and that it is borne by a hobbit. He knows now the number of our company that set out from Rivendell and the kind of each one of us. But he does not yet perceive our purpose clearly.”

Sauron does not perceive the purpose of his enemies at this point of the story, nor will he do so until the very end when Frodo claims the Ring within Mount Doom itself. And at that point we learn that “the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare”. But at this point it is all too late.

But why did the Dark Lord not even consider that it might be possible that his enemies would seek to destroy the Ring? Gandalf answers this question quite simply.

“He is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream.”

All the depictions of Sauron are merely expressions of his power.

It is a vital insight within The Lord of the Rings that goodness can understand evil because goodness has had to face and to overcome all that evil has to offer while evil understands nothing of goodness merely regarding it as a weak form of itself. So it was that when Frodo offered the Ring to Galadriel she replies by saying, “I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands”.

In order to understand goodness truly we need to think about those years of great desire and the slow formation of a character of adamant that took place during that time. Perhaps there were times within those years when Galadriel was tempted to the very limits of her endurance, perhaps as she watched the slow decay of all things around her and the rise of darkness close by her home with the Balrog in Moria and the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. Saruman could see these things too and he also desired the power that the Ring could give in order to overcome them. But while within the heart of Galadriel the desire for power lived alongside a longing to preserve beauty, goodness and truth, no such struggle took place within the heart of Saruman. He came to see the world merely in terms of strength and weakness and assumed that either Galadriel, Gandalf and Elrond were weak or ineffective or that they were secret competitors, merely hiding their desire behind a cloak of beneficence.

And what was true about Saruman was most certainly true about Sauron. Galadriel put this in these words:

“I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves. And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But still the door is closed!”

Still the door is closed!

This is why Sauron is in great fear. He assumes that as the Ring has indeed been found that it is inevitable that that one of the mighty among his foes will take it and use it against him. He may be puzzled why it would appear that the Ring is in the hands of creatures as insignificant as hobbits but this aspect of the story does not seem to bother him greatly. When before the battle at the Black Gate the so called Mouth of Sauron shows the tokens that seem to denote that Frodo has been captured he does so with the words, “What use you find in them I cannot guess; but to send them as spies into Mordor is beyond even your accustomed folly.” Sauron simply assumes that the hobbits are being used in some way because that is what he would do with them.

Goodness understands evil because it has had to overcome the temptation to possess all that evil seems to be able to offer. True goodness has been formed by this inner struggle. Evil on the other hand understands nothing of this. It has not been formed by struggle. The character of Sauron, Saruman, and Gollum, too, for that matter, is not formed by inner struggle but by their being taken possession of by their desire for mastery.

“Their Coming Was Like The Falling of Small Stones That Starts an Avalanche in The Mountains”. Gandalf Speaks of the Awakening of the Ents.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-649

What a gift gentleness is to a world grown weary with the mere exercise of power. And so Merry and Pippin awoke a kindliness within the heart of Boromir the warrior, inflated as he was by fantasies of his own greatness, who sought to gain what he desired by abuse of his strength in the attempt to steal the Ring from Frodo. When Aragorn ordered Boromir to stay with the young hobbits and to protect them as best he could he was simply trying to find some order amidst the chaos of battle and to give himself space to do what he felt that he must do, to find the Ringbearer; but what he gave to Boromir in the giving of that order was the opportunity to find redemption for his failure in the laying down of his life.

This alone would have been sufficient reason for the contested decision to include Merry and Pippin within the Fellowship but Gandalf speaks of more.

“But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains. Even as we talk here, I hear the first rumblings. Saruman had best not be caught away from home when the dam bursts!”

The falling of small stones that starts an avalanche.

There are three occasions in which hobbits are captured by orcs in The Lord of the Rings. No other character has to suffer this indignity although Éowyn is threatened with imprisonment by the Witch King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl. The capture of Merry and Pippin in the breaking of the Fellowship is the first; the second is the capture of Frodo by Shagrat and Gorbag near Shelob’s Lair; and the third the capture of Frodo and Sam by the road to the Black Gate in Mordor. And on each occasion the capture serves only to carry the hobbits nearer to their goal. In the case of Frodo and Sam the goal is known to them. Somehow they must take the Ring to the Fire at Orodruin and they need a road to follow in order to get there. In the case of Merry and Pippin the Uruk-hai of Isengard carry them across the plains of Rohan in order to deliver them at the feet of Treebeard.

There is a delicious irony in this, of course. Gandalf speaks of this to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. “Saruman also had a mind to capture the Ring, for himself, or at least to snare some hobbits for his evil purposes. So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvellous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all.”

The orcs bring Merry and Pippin to Fangorn Inger Edelfelt’s dramatic depiction of the hobbits’hard journey.

But there is something further to say in regards to Merry and Pippin. Gandalf again speaks of this to his companions when he tells them that Sauron, as well as Saruman, had tried to capture hobbits and to take them to Barad-dûr, either to retake the Ring or to keep them as hostages. Thankfully Sauron, as well as Saruman, failed to achieve their purpose and Gandalf adds: “Let us not darken our hearts by imagining the trial of their gentle loyalty in the Dark Tower.”

It is the gentleness of the hobbits that proves essential here. On the one hand it is a quality that is entirely disregarded by both Sauron and by Saruman. To them gentleness is merely an expression of weakness. But in delivering this quality to Fangorn the orcs of Isengard awaken the hearts of Treebeard and the Ents to their own destruction. It is gentleness of the young hobbits that delights the Ents, which reawakens them and reconnects them to their essential vocation, that of being shepherds.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and in their reawakening the Ents are recalled to that duty. Sacrifice is something that the powers of darkness are incapable of doing or even imagining. By this we don’t mean that they are incapable of sacrificing others for their own ends. They do this constantly without giving it a second thought. But they have rendered themselves incapable of any action that even remotely approaches self-sacrifice and so Frodo’s choice to take the Ring to the Fire, Sam’s choice to go with him, Gandalf’s sacrifice of himself in the conflict with the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Boromir’s sacrifice for the sake of Merry and Pippin, and the sacrifice that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make in their hopeless pursuit of the orcs who captured Merry and Pippin, all of these are simply incomprehensible to the dark powers and all of are essential to the ultimate victory of good over evil.

Gandalf did not mention his own sacrifice but it is crucial to the whole story.

“It Was Not in Vain That The Young Hobbits Came With Us.” Gandalf Speaks of The Fall and Redemption of Boromir.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 646-648

“Tell me of yourselves,” Gandalf asked of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, and so Aragorn tells the tale of the doings of the Fellowship since Gandalf fell in Moria until their meeting in Fangorn some six weeks later. He tells of their stay in Lothlórien, of the journey down river to Sarn Gebir in the hills of Emyn Muil and then of the sundering of the Fellowship and the death of Boromir.

“You have not said all that you know or guess, Aragorn my friend,” Gandalf replies to Aragorn as he thinks of Boromir. “Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.”

It was not in vain that the young hobbits came on the journey, if only for Boromir’s sake. Matthew Stewart captures the nobility of Boromir that he rediscovers at the end.

“A warrior, and a lord of men,” Gandalf says of Boromir, but not a thinker. And in this regard Boromir is different from his father, Denethor. Boromir set out upon the journey to Rivendell because it seemed a heroic enterprise. A dream came many times to Faramir his brother, as Boromir recounted to the Council of Elrond, and once it came to him. Why Faramir did not speak sooner of the dream we are not told. Perhaps he needed time for reflection. But as soon as Boromir had the dream he went straight with his brother to their father and demanded leave to go to Rivendell. Perhaps it required the man of action to put things in motion.

It was Boromir who had to do the heroic deed. Catherine Chmiel imagines the final parting of Boromir and Faramir as Boromir begins his fateful journey.

But why did the heavenly powers send the dream in the first place? Why was it necessary to make the link between Minas Tirith and Rivendell? Perhaps the link was meant to be Faramir who, like Aragorn, had been a pupil of Gandalf and who would have understood the need to destroy the Ring and not to use it in war against Sauron. An understanding that he was later to show when he met with Frodo and Sam in Ithilien. But Faramir made the dream a matter for thought and not for action, for understanding and not for deed, a private matter and not for debate and counsel. It was Boromir who instinctively made the connection between the dream and heroic action. The dream spoke of Imladris, of Rivendell, and so a journey had to be made. And perhaps this was a right reading of the dream and of the heavenly mind that sent it. The Council of Elrond was a providential gathering of the free peoples of Middle-earth. Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Humankind were represented there and were represented when the Fellowship was chosen to go with the Ring-bearer on his journey to Mordor.

Boromir never understood the necessity of the journey. “Why do you speak ever of hiding and destroying?” he asked of the Council. “Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need?” Perhaps the use of the adjective, Great, was a clue even then of Boromir’s state of mind. Greatness, power and decisive action were all that he could envisage. To hide and to destroy seemed unmanly, even craven. And although when Elrond and Gandalf sought to make it clear to him that the Ring could not be used against Sauron because it was “altogether evil”, Boromir bowed his head and replied, “So be it” his heart never accepted this answer. As a soldier he accepted the orders as they were given by the Council but his heart was never in them. And after Gandalf’s fall when everything was thrown into disarray and into doubt, and when it seemed that Aragorn did not know what action should be taken, whether to go directly to Mordor or to Minas Tirith, Boromir began to think of taking the Ring so that it could be used in battle to do what the only thing that he thought had any importance, the defeat of Sauron.

I suspect that Boromir was ultimately taken by surprise by his own thoughts. Not the thoughts about the need of his people but the fantasies that he was nourishing about his own greatness. When Gandalf and Galadriel were offered the Ring they were able to resist the temptation at least in part because they had brought it from the shadow places within their hearts into the light of conscious thought. Boromir never did that inner work nor thought that work was even of any importance. And so when his desires burst out into the open at the moment he tried to take the Ring from Frodo they took him by surprise. I think that we can see this by his horrified reaction after Frodo escaped from him. And we see his true spirit in the way in which he gave his life for Merry and Pippin. It was because the young hobbits were there and in need that allowed him to declare to himself what he truly was. A warrior, a lord of men, and a man of truth and nobility.

It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.

“Naked I Was Sent Back- For a Brief Time, Until My Task is Done.” Gandalf Speaks of The Battle With The Balrog of Moria.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.653-657

There is much to think about in all that Gandalf speaks of after his reunion with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, but this is Eastertide and so we will think about the terrible struggle between Gandalf and the Balrog of Moria, a struggle that ends in Gandalf’s death.

But this story does not end with his death.

“I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.”

Alan Lee imagines the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog

The Lord of the Rings is a story that weaves together both myth and history in a way that would have been familiar to Homer, to Snorri Sturluson or to the poet who wrote the story of Beowulf, but is quite alien to the modern mind. I have read many a commentator on Tolkien’s legendarium who has struggled to present his work as mere history, if such a thing can exist; and so they speak of the inadequacy of Tolkien’s economics for example. And from time to time I come across efforts to discover a historical King Arthur or Robin Hood. Tolkien does something far more interesting and far more exciting. He also does something that is more true than mere history. He is a writer of myth.

And so Gandalf tells of his struggle with the Balrog in a way that the hearers of Beowulf would have grasped immediately. As he tells us of the headlong fall from the Bridge of Khazad-dûm into the icy waters far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves and then of the ascent to the highest peak of the Misty Mountains we are not invited to ponder the cardiovascular systems of the two combatants even when Gandalf says that the icy waters almost froze his heart. What we are invited into is the great stories that transcend such things, of which our stories are a rich part if we will only understand them as such.

The battle between Gandalf and the Balrog ends with the deaths of them both. But Gandalf is sent back in order that he should complete his task. Tolkien never speaks of God explicitly in The Lord of the Rings, of Eru Ilúvatar as God is named in The Silmarillion. Even now Gandalf does not name the one who sent him back, the one who restored him to life but it is of Ilúvatar he speaks here just as he spoke of him when he told Frodo that both Frodo and Bilbo were meant to have the Ring.

For a time Gandalf lies upon the mountain top, this high place of the earth acting as a kind of threshold between earth and heaven, between the seen world of flesh and blood and the unseen world into which we only catch glimpses from time to time.

Gandalf Upon the Mountain Top

“I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of over-burdened stone.”

Once again there might be some who recognise in Gandalf’s telling of his story a certain similarity to the effects of hallucinogenics. They might be tempted to reduce Gandalf’s tale to just such an experience. But mystics know that it is not necessary to use such substances in order to see something of what Gandalf sees upon the mountain top. Gandalf lives in both myth and history and as he returns to the history of his time and the mighty struggle against Sauron that lies ahead, the task that he has been sent back to complete, he brings with him the mythic world in which he has dwelt entirely for a brief moment and for “a life-age of the earth”. He returns as Gandalf the White, more perilous than any upon earth except, perhaps, the Dark Lord Sauron, with whom he must now do battle.

Gandalf the White

“I Am Saruman, One Might Say, Saruman as He Ought to Have Been.” We Meet Gandalf The White.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 644, 645

We can be sure that if the mysterious old man who climbed up the hill upon which Merry and Pippin first met Treebeard was indeed Saruman we would now be subjected to a very long speech. It would be a speech about his greatness, one intended to fill his hearers with awe, but all Gandalf says about himself and his transformation is to say:

“Yes, I am white now,” said Gandalf. “Indeed I am Saruman, one,might almost say, Saruman as he should have been. But come now, tell me of yourselves!”

Gandalf the White.

When Gandalf was imprisoned by Saruman in Isengard he was subjected to such a speech. “We must have power,” Saruman said, “power to order things as we will, for that good that only the Wise can see.” Saruman was anxious, not only to subject Gandalf to his will but to convince him that he had the right to be the Lord of the Rings and thus Lord of Middle-earth.

From the beginning of the mission of the Istari, the wizards, to Middle-earth, Saruman was anxious that he should be its leader. And when with Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond he formed the White Council, a council of the Wise to oppose Sauron, he insisted that he should be its leader even though Galadriel argued that the leader ought to be Gandalf.

Although Gandalf never sought power for himself Saruman was always jealous of him and looked for ways to undermine the one who he believed to be his rival. So he made fun of Gandalf’s affection for hobbits and the Shire while beginning to forge links between the Shire and Isengard; and he mocked Gandalf’s enjoyment of pipe-smoking and of pipeweed, while secretly learning the art himself and purchasing the best of Longbottom leaf from Lotho Sackville-Baggins who became his agent in the Shire.

But most importantly of all Saruman believed that Gandalf was his rival in seeking to find and to take possession of the Ring. Like Sauron he was convinced that if anyone of sufficient strength were to find the Ring they would claim it for themselves and use it to become the ruler of all. And he became convinced that Gandalf was trying to find the Ring just as he was so that he should become lord of all and that when he began to suspect that the Ring was hidden in the Shire that the same hobbits who he had despised were being used for some obscure purpose in Gandalf’s plot.

All Saruman’s suspicions were, in his mind, confirmed when he and Gandalf met once again in Isengard after the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Gandalf demands that Saruman surrender the Key of Orthanc to him and his staff as pledges of Saruman’s good conduct and to be returned later to him if he should once again merit them. Saruman responded to Gandalf’s demand with undisguised rage.

“Later!” he cried, and his voice rose to a scream. “Later! Yes, when you also have the Keys of Barad-dûr itself, I suppose; and the crowns of seven kings, and the rods of the Five Wizards.”

Saruman was utterly convinced that Gandalf desired what he himself did, that Gandalf was his rival and therefore his enemy. And perhaps he feared that he was his enemy’s inferior, that Gandalf possessed a power that he himself lacked, and that he needed to surround himself with a fortress, an army and all the trappings of power in order to be what Gandalf was, in himself, alone, vulnerable and homeless in the world. And so he became unsatisfied with his white robes and made a coat of many colours for himself. There is a sense in which he gave up his white robes quite voluntarily having become unsatisfied with what they represented, that is that he was an emissary of the Valar in Middle-earth. That these robes should be given to Gandalf, the very one that he feared and hated most, only confirmed what he always believed, that Gandalf desired to rule just as he did.

Saruman of many colours by Harold Jig.

What he had forgotten, indeed despised, was that his power and status did not belong to him but had been given to him in order that he might be an emissary of the Valar in Middle-earth. His task was to do the bidding of his masters and so when he proved unfaithful in doing that task his masters stripped him of his robes and gave them to one who would do their bidding. Gandalf is now the White, Saruman as he should have been.

“Gandalf! Beyond all Hope You Return to Us in Our Need!”

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 640-645

This is a wonderful piece to write on Tolkien Reading Day, the day on which the Tolkien Society encourage us to read favourite passages from his work. This is one of my favourite passages and I would love to hear from you in the Comments below about the passages that you choose to read this day. Of course, Tolkien would have marked this day in his own life by going to Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, the news from the angel to Mary that she would conceive and bear a child who would be the Saviour of the World. He meant us to weave together in our minds the downfall of Sauron and this good news.

As Aragorn and his companions enter the Forest of Fangorn in search of Merry and Pippin, following the same stream that the young hobbits had two days before, Gimli becomes aware that their task is practically impossible. They have insufficient supplies to do more than starve with the young hobbits even if they find them.

“If that is indeed all that we can do, then we must do that,” said Aragorn. “Let us go on.”

Aragorn has been aware of the impossibility of their task since its beginning. It was Éomer who commented that Aragorn must know little of orcs if he hunted them in the fashion that he did. Aragorn knew that it was unlikely that he would catch up with the orc band and if they did they would likely perish in the attempt to rescue their friends. And even before this he had little hope. “We must do without hope,” he said to the Fellowship immediately after the fall of Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and ever since that moment Aragorn has gone on in a state of grim despair until this moment when he knows that it is likely that he has come to Fangorn to die.

The three companions climb the same rock shelf upon which Merry and Pippin met Treebeard two days before and it is from there that they see an old man moving through the woods below them. At first they are convinced that this must be Saruman until the wonderful moment of revelation and of recognition comes.

“”Mithrandir!” Legolas cries out in joy, firing an arrow into the air that bursts into flames as it flies. “Gandalf!” cries Aragorn “Beyond all hope you return to us in our need!”

Tim Hildebrandt captures the moment when Gandalf reveals himself to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli.

This moment of revelation, of a renewing of hope, is one of many that come through the story, each one enabling the members of the Fellowship to take the next steps towards the completion, the fulfilment of their journey, until Gollum takes the Ring to the Fire and Sauron falls at last on March 25th in the year 3018 of the Third Age of Arda.

This moment is, as Gandalf says to the three hunters, a turning of the tide. “The great storm is coming,” he says, “but the tide has turned.” And from this point onwards, although Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli will face many dangers they will face each one with a flame of hope burning in their hearts. The return of Gandalf is one of the great moments of eucatastrophe, “when the sudden ‘turn’ comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and hearts desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rents indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

These thoughts came from a lecture that Tolkien gave in Oxford in 1938 that he entitled, On Fairy-Stories. In the lecture Tolkien explicitly linked the “sudden ‘turn'” with the Christian Story, the story that he convinced C.S Lewis is “the true myth”, the story that means that all the glimpses of joy that we experience in the reading of fairy-stories and the great myths are not mere wishful thinking but true. All point to the birth of Christ, the moment about which the angel spoke to Mary, as the eucatastrophe of the history of humankind.

Tolkien never wrote explicitly about this in his own stories. He allowed the glimpse of joy as in this moment of joyful revelation when Gandalf is restored to his friends to do its own work in the hearts of his readers, leading all of them towards the true myth to which all myth bears witness.