“The Danger of Light and Joy”. Gimli Weeps Openly as He Bids Farewell to Galadriel and Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.369-370

As the three small boats that contain the members of the Fellowship are swept down the Great River, the Anduin, Gimli weeps openly as he mourns a loss that he never expected to experience.

In bidding farewell to Galadriel Gimli takes his worst wound.

“Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli, son of Glóin!”

Those who know the story will know that for Gimli there will be a torment in the dark that lies ahead for him that will almost cause him to abandon his fellows. They know too that in his finding of the glittering caves of Aglarond Gimli will find a beauty that will delight him, and give him a labour for years to come to satisfy his soul but none of this can diminish the sense of loss that overwhelms him now as the river carries him away from Lothlórien.

Hannah Joy Patterson’s beautiful imagining of the Caves of Aglarond.

For Gimli, in his encounter with Galadriel, has met something far greater than a beautiful person. He has met Beauty itself and now cannot know peace and contentment in anything less than an abiding in its presence. And Gimli has also discovered what it means to have been wounded by Beauty, to be utterly surprised by that wound, and to feel the pain that cannot be satisfied by anything less.

Gimli’s experience was one to which the members of the Inklings paid much attention. C.S Lewis chose as the title of his autobiography words from a poem by William Wordsworth, “Surprised by Joy” in which he speaks of his entire life as being a search for something that came upon him unawares in his childhood. Wordsworth’s poem is a telling forth of the way in which an unexpected encounter with Joy recalls him to the recollection of one that he has lost and back to the experience of that loss with almost the same keenness with which he first knew it. Gimli would understand what Wordsworth was trying to say and what both of them felt. Wordsworth could not understand how he was able to live his life forgetting, even for a moment, his “most grievous loss” but he does and so will Gimli. Perhaps it is a kindness that we are granted not to have to bear such pain constantly but both Wordsworth, and Gimli too, tell us that any kind of life that is smaller than the present moment in which both the joy and the pain are known in their entirety is not really to be alive at all.

For Lewis, the search for Joy led him eventually to Christian faith. Here, it is vitally important to understand that this faith is not in itself a satisfaction of the longing for Joy or for Beauty. For Lewis, and for all who follow this way, faith in Christ is not the end of the journey but a sure way forward that leads at the last to an entire participation in them both. The well known quotation of the 2nd century theologian, Iranaeus of Lyon, that “the glory of God is a human being who is fully alive” continues by saying that to be alive is to have the vision of God, by which he does not mean that we spend eternity staring at an old man with a long white beard but that we contemplate and entirely participate in, as Dante put it, “the love that moves the sun and other stars”.

Those who have been “surprised by joy” or wounded by beauty and by love know that any life that is less than a complete participation is in them is no life at all. Gimli knows this now and knows too that he will not find rest in anything less than that complete participation. There is no comfort for him now but Legolas is right in saying that his friend is blessed in suffering the loss of the Beauty that he has glimpsed of his own free will. The true search for Beauty and for Joy always lies onwards and never back until it finds at last its fulfilment in the divine vision.

“My Heart Would be Glad if I Were Beneath the Eaves of That Wood, and it Were Springtime.” The Fellowship Draw Near to Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.324-326

As Tolkien takes us from the dark of Moria and the terrible events at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm so the language that he uses grows ever richer and more verdant. It is Legolas, the Wood-elf from the green of Mirkwood who first speaks of the land that they approach.

“‘There lie the woods of Lothlórien!’ said Legolas. ‘That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land.'”

Ted Nasmith’s imagining of Lothlórien

The history of Lothlórien goes back to the earliest days of the First Age and a settlement there of Silvan, or woodland elves, kindred to Legolas’s own people. When the Valar called the Elves to come to Valinor for fear of Morgoth the Silvan elves had refused the call, choosing to stay east of the Misty Mountains in the vale of Anduin. It was these who were found by Galadriel and Celeborn, fleeing eastward from the war that destroyed the kingdom of Eregion in the Second Age and they became lords of the people who dwelt there. So it was that the two great strongholds of the Elves in Middle-earth were created after the destruction wrought by Sauron, Imladris or Rivendell founded by Elrond and Lothlórien founded by Galadriel and Celeborn.

The Sindarin elves who came with Galadriel named the woodland realm that they settled in Laurelindórenan, or the Valley of Singing Gold, so-called because of the mallorn trees, gifts of Gil-galad, that they had brought with them. It is of these that Legolas speaks in language that becomes ever more poetic.

“For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. Not till the spring comes, and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey.”

(I have not been able to find the name of the artist who has done this beautiful painting. Can anyone help me? )

You can almost feel Legolas savouring his own words like fine wine, especially the adjectives, golden, golden, and silver. Tolkien himself enjoyed a visceral relationship to language so that he could experience a word both in his senses and in his inner life and in passages like this, even though they are written in the Common Tongue, both for the sake of the Company and for his readers like myself, they are still able to convey a sense of this relationship. We too long to travel to this earthly paradise and to hear and taste the music of the singing gold.

But its name is no longer Laurelindórenan but Lothlórien. It has become the Dreamflower or even just Lórien, or Dream Land. Later Treebeard will speak of this to Merry and Pippin.

“Now they make the name shorter: Lothlórien they call it. Perhaps they are right; maybe it is fading, not growing. Land of the Valley of Singing Gold, that was it, once upon a time. Now it is the Dreamflower.”

The dream that the Fellowship will enter will still be potent, still intoxicating, and perhaps just a little frightening, very frightening for those who bring their peril with them as Sam will later put it to Faramir in Henneth Annûn. But it is a land that is falling asleep, “fading, not growing”. Tolkien skilfully shows a world that is still saturated with the myth of Eden. Like Legolas we cry with yearning, “My heart would be glad if I were beneath the eaves of that wood, and it were springtime!” or with Aragorn, “My heart will be glad, even in the winter”, but as we read The Lord of the Rings we come to realise that there is no return to Eden, that if there is to be a place for us, somewhere, then it lies before and beyond us. As Aragorn will say to Arwen Undómiel at his own ending, “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them there is more than memory.”

Anna Kulisz imagines the Fellowship in Lothlórien

Legolas and the Sea. A Longing for a Land Where Nothing Fades Away.

Legolas has long dwelt content in the green land of his people in the north of Mirkwood in rhythm with the trees of the wood as they breathe in and out in winter and summer, winter and summer, year upon year, year upon year as the ages pass.

It was Galadriel who first warned him of the call of the sea, words that came to him through Gandalf when they met in the depths of Fangorn Forest. “Legolas Greenleaf long under tree in joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea! If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore, thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.”

It was in the great ride with the Grey Company to the assault of the ships of the Corsairs of Umbar at Pelargir that Legolas first heard the sound of the sea. Gimli paid no heed to it but Legolas was stricken in his heart and as the companions of the Fellowship speak together of their adventures Legolas sings of a heart that is no longer at rest.

“To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying, the wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying. West, west away, the round sun is falling. Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling, the voices of my people that have gone before me? I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me; for our days are ending and our years falling.”

The deepest longing of the Elves is for a world in which nothing fades away. They themselves are immortal, age cannot touch them, but the world in which they live is always changing and in this lies their sadness. The lands in which they have lived in Middle-earth have been islands of relative changelessness. Rivendell, Lothlórien, the Grey Havens and the Woodland Realm in the north of Mirkwood, all have been places in which the memory of ancient beauty has been preserved but at the end of the Third Age with the passing of the Ring the change that they have long resisted has come at last.

It is one of the most profound ideas within The Lord of the Rings that so much that has been beautiful must pass away with the destruction of a thing that was entirely evil. The forging of the three elven rings, Nenya, Varya and Vilya accomplished so much that was good in the Second and Third Ages but none of this could have been achieved without the ringlore of Sauron in his disguise of Annatar in the court of Celebrimbor the lord of Eregion. Sauron played no part in the forging of the Elven Rings and yet their making was still linked to the forging of the Rings of Power and to the One Ring itself. The great temptation of the Elves lay in their very desire to preserve and it is this that Sauron exploited.

The one who chooses to be an enemy learns how to  perceive weakness in others and then exploits it. Indeed it seems to be this quality that marks out an enemy above all others. But when we choose to lay down that which we desire then the enemy has nothing more to exploit. It is the decision to destroy the Ring that enables Sauron’s foes to defeat him even as it was the decision to preserve beauty and to forge the Rings that linked the destiny of the Elves to that of their greatest enemy.

All things pass away and the one who learns this and who does not try to hold on to them can enjoy them without becoming prey to a melancholy that robs us of all joy. “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy. He who kisses the life as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.” Kissing the life as it inevitably and inexorably flies is one of the greatest wisdoms that we can learn. At this moment in the story Legolas is overcome with the sadness of loss. Let us hope that when the time comes for him to leave Middle-earth he will do so with thanksgiving and with joyful hope.

Artwork this week by Lorraine Brevig http://www.lorrainebrevig.com