The Darkness Cannot Overcome the Light

After leaving the crossroads with the memory of the sun dipping beneath the smokes of Mordor still fresh within them Frodo and Sam are brought face to face with the haunted tower of Minas Morgul. “All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light.” This is the city of the Ringwraiths, the most terrible of all the servants of Sauron, who were once men seduced by the greatness of the Dark Lord and the rings of power given to them that are inexorably bound to the Ruling Ring. They above all have been brought by the Ring and bound in the darkness “In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

Time and again Tolkien uses the motifs of Light and Dark within his tale. In recent chapters we have seen the wonderful play of light upon the falls of Henneth Annûn casting rainbow patterns upon the refuge that lies hidden behind them and we have seen the light of the sun falling upon the garland of flowers winding about the fallen head of the king whose statue once stood at the crossroads. Once moonlight welled “through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills”. But now Minas Ithil is become Minas Morgul and its light wavers and blows “like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse light, a light that illuminated nothing.”

When confronted by the horror that lies before them Frodo and Sam are almost overwhelmed. It is as if light and dark are principles of equal power that confront one another in an eternal conflict. Such is the reality that Sauron would have us believe in and when we thought about the Fall of Númenor a few weeks back https://stephencwinter.com/2015/08/25/faramir-remembers-numenor-that-was/ we saw how he sought to persuade its king of it. But Tolkien’s great myth is not of a universe in eternal conflict. A careful reading of The Lord of the Rings reveals a world in which light is the eternal principle that bursts through again and again despite all efforts to prevent it. And that is the point. Darkness in Tolkien’s world is but a temporary reality that requires huge effort to maintain and is always fragile and desperately vulnerable to the inbreaking of light. Indeed it is the very effort required to maintain the dark that will lead to the eventual undoing of its lord.

Myth is described as that which never happened and yet is always true. Tolkien’s great myth resonates gloriously with the truth that is declared every year at its darkest hour in the Feast of the Nativity, at Christmas: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. It resonates with the declaration that in the birth of the Christ child, as vulnerable as is the birth of any child, the illusion of the power of darkness is shattered. Tolkien described this as the True Myth, the one by which all mythology, indeed all reality, is to be understood so that all who embrace it will know an inbreaking of light, as hymn writer, William Cowper, campaigner against the Slave Trade, and one who struggled with depression all his life, put it, ”

Frodo and Sam, like Cowper in his darkest hours, will come almost to despair, but as we shall see as we journey with them into Mordor, the light cannot be overcome by dark. Hell must be harrowed because Hell is but a negligible thing so vulnerable to the invasion of light and so easily overcome by it.

The Dark Lord is Afraid of the Dark

Last week I tweeted the link to my Blog “The Darkness Shall be the Light” and then became anxious. What if people should think that I was a supporter of Sauron, the Dark Lord himself? Surely this would be the kind of slogan that either he or his lord, Morgoth, might use? And so I rapidly typed in the words, “And I don’t mean Sauron!” into my Tweet. But after sending it I began to think. Why should I not mean Sauron? For Sauron would try to twist anything to his own purpose, even light itself. Readers of this Blog will know that I have thought of Morgoth’s hunger for light, a story that Tolkien told in The Silmarillion, on a number of occasions. Tolkien tells how Morgoth destroyed the Trees of Light with the aid of the monstrous spider like creature, Ungoliant, and later how he stole the Silmarils, jewels made by Feanor that captured the light of the Trees, and placed them in his iron crown even though they caused him torment. Thus the relationship between Morgoth and his followers, Sauron foremost among them, is ambiguous and contradictory from the start. And how could it be otherwise? For Morgoth and Sauron desire that which will expose them and leave them vulnerable and will also remind them for ever of the blessed state that they have rejected in favour of their own desire for power over others.

And there is one thing more that struck me as I considered this. Sauron fears the very thing that he uses as a weapon against others. He does not delight in the dark as I might delight in a scene of great beauty like the view from a hill top. He can only use something. He cannot delight in it. For delight is the enjoyment of something or someone for their own sake. I do not seek to own the view that lies before me and even if I did I do not think that it could give me more pleasure than it does. Sauron can never think like this. He is only capable of thinking in terms of usefulness and especially in terms of how he can use something in order to gain more power over others. Long experience has taught him that he can use darkness as an instrument of fear, that by cloaking himself he can suggest to others that his power is greater than it truly is. He seeks to blot out the light of the sun in order to weaken the resolve of those who would resist him and yet he knows that should he fail what awaits him is endless night and he fears that above all. Sauron, the Dark Lord, is afraid of the dark, he is afraid of death.

And this makes him different from the members of the Fellowship of the Ring. They too fear the dark and yet they love the light more and for the sake of the light they will journey down dark roads, facing their own fear and overcoming it. It is because of the dark journeys that they themselves have taken that Gandalf and Aragorn are able to bring Théoden out of his dark places into the light and then onwards into battle with little hope first against Saruman and then the Dark Lord himself. They teach Théoden that beyond all nights there is a dawn and that at the ending of this world of shadows there is the True Dawn.

Near my home there is a woodland with two streams running through it that join at its heart. Last year in the dark months I did not venture into it except in the daylight. This year I have decided to make a daily journey in it to the point where the streams join a spiritual exercise. I want to make my own dark journey through the woods. It is only a journey of a couple of hundred yards but each day I leave the known way of the path that runs past the woods and step into them into sudden and deeper dark. I realise that I am reliant on my memory of familiar points along my way and also the feel of the ground beneath my feet. There is a narrow path through the woods though it is not distinct enough for me to be able to see it, even at my feet. I rely on making out the difference between feel of the trodden down ground of the path and the softer ground that lies to either side of it beneath my boots. At present I am concentrating on the physical experience. How it feels not to be able to see, the moments of anxiety when I miss my way, and the excitement and relief when I meet the joining of the streams or clasp a great beech tree that tells me that I am near the end of my own dark journey. Eventually I would like to develop a form of prayer that will make the experience more consciously my own and help me to open my self to whatever gifts this place and the walk through it at this dark time of the year might be awaiting me. Most of all I seek the dawn that come only through journeying through the dark of the night. Maybe I will meet and overcome the monsters in my own psyche. Maybe I will journey through my own sense of loss and the death of my hopes as Aragorn does.