Wait not for the Dawn!

One of the greatest illusions from which we can suffer is the belief that life works out as a consequence of our strategies and plans. We believe that if we can get the strategy right we will get the outcome right. But life rarely works out that way. As British prime minister, Harold MacMillan once said when asked what he feared most, “Events, dear boy, events”.

After the encounter with Saruman at Isengard the company begin to make a steady progress back towards Helms Deep. It is when they make camp after the first day’s travel that an entirely unexpected event changes the story completely. Pippin had been the first to reach the Palantir, the Seeing Stone of Orthanc, after Wormtongue, ignorant of its purpose, tried to drop it from a high window onto one of his enemies below. From the moment Pippin touched the Stone he wished to look more closely at it but when he did so he encountered the one person that anyone using it was able to see, Sauron the Dark Lord. And so for the first time Sauron looked upon a hobbit, the creature he had wanted to see ever since he first heard the name of Bilbo Baggins and learned that a hobbit possessed the Ring of Power that he made and then lost in battle at the end of the Second Age over three thousand years before.

Immediately Gandalf knows that everything has changed, that Sauron will believe a hobbit to be held by Saruman in Isengard and that it is Saruman who still holds the Stone of Orthanc, for it is by this means that they have communicated while Saruman has fallen into treason and betrayal. “That dark mind will be filled now with the voice and face of the hobbit and with expectation,” says Gandalf. Any belief that Gandalf had that there might be still some time to make preparation has gone; and when a moment later a Nazgul flies overhead, one of Sauron’s mightiest servants, making his way to Orthanc to confront Saruman there. Gandalf’s response is immediate.

“The storm is coming. The Nazgul have crossed the River! Ride, ride! Wait not for the dawn! Let not the swift wait for the slow! Ride!”

Gandalf sweeps up Pippin and rides with him upon Shadowfax, the swiftest steed of the age. They must go to war at Minas Tirith, the great citadel of Gondor, and they will reach it before anyone else.

Events, coming suddenly upon Gandalf, have changed everything, requiring a leap of faith with no guarantee of the outcome. All he knows is that everything must be risked upon one venture. All must be at the battle and give all in the battle. Nothing can be kept in reserve.

There will be times in our own lives when all must be risked in such a manner. How can we be ready when such a time comes? As we have seen we cannot determine when the moments of crisis will come in our lives and that it is an illusion to believe that we can exercise control over them. What we must do is to live our lives in such a manner that will prepare us to act just as Gandalf does when such moments come. The tradition of the Christian faith calls such moments the coming of the Kingdom when all comes to judgement, when all must be ventured upon a leap of faith. It is the tradition of this faith that “the Law leads us to Christ”,  that if we are to be ready for the Kingdom we must develop a life of disciplined waiting. Simone Weil called this disciplined waiting, “Forms of the Implicit Love of God” and said it can be expressed in three ways, by love of neighbour expressed in acts of justice, by love of the order and beauty of the world and by love of religious practice. Each of these, she said, can prepare us for the Kingdom that is at hand, the moment of crisis to which all our lives will come.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, Pippin, Théoden and Eomer have all come to the great crisis of their lives and they must venture their lives upon it. How they will acquit themselves will be determined by the preparation that they have made for this moment.

The True Power and Majesty of Kings

As Aragorn journeys further and further away from Gondor, the place of his dream, on what seems to be the hopeless quest of rescuing Merry and Pippin from the orc host who have taken them prisoner, he encounters a war band of the Riders of Rohan riding homeward from the destruction of that very host. The war band are commanded by Eomer, nephew of Théoden, king of Rohan and against the orders of the king they have set out after the orcs on hearing of their incursion into Rohan. On meeting Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli they challenge them. Aragorn’s response to the challenge is astonishing. He invokes the name of his mighty ancestor, Elendil, the last and only king of the two kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor and then he continues:

“I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dunadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose swiftly!”

Aragorn has no more time for courtesies, however time honoured they might be. This is the true crisis, the moment of doom, of judgement, and courtesy is at such moments simply time wasting. Nor is there time for weighing up what choices might be available. Aragorn has given his command, “Choose swiftly!” and the command must be obeyed whether Eomer chooses for him or against him. Eomer is awestruck, but so are Gimli and Legolas who have travelled with him since Rivendell.

“They had not seen him in this mood before. He seemed to have grown in stature while Eomer had shrunk and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone. For a moment it seemed to Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown.”

Readers may remember the “kings of stone”. We encountered them on the river journey down the Anduin from Lothlorien and they may remember that Aragorn gave his ancestors a lordly greeting and then seemed to shrink into himself in his boat. It was the time of doubting when Aragorn questioned his very identity. It was the time of his Wilderness Temptation but that time is now over. It may be that in his pursuit of Merry and Pippin Aragorn has had to lay aside his kingly ambition for a time. It may be that he will lay down his life in a vain pursuit. But he no longer does so as a man wracked with doubt. The choice he has made is a kingly choice, a free choice, and he will not be thwarted by any man.

Readers may also have noted that I have used words like “Wilderness Temptation” and “Emptying”. I might also have used the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The witness of the gospels and of the letters of the New Testament to Jesus the King resound with the same language that, in The Lord of the Rings, bears witness to Aragorn, who will be king of Gondor and Arnor. It is not that Tolkien is making Aragorn into a kind of Jesus, but that this language,and the language of the New Testament, reveals true kingship to us; the language first of self doubt and of emptying, and the language also of command. Aragorn has revealed himself to all as their true king.

Choose swiftly! Are with me or against me? The time of judgement has come! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!