“I Will Not Walk Blindfold, Like a Beggar or a Prisoner”. The Sadness of a Divided World is Shown in the Beauty of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 332-340

After crossing the Nimrodel the Fellowship meet Elves of Lothlórien for the first time. Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin are guards upon the border and perform their duty conscientiously. In the night a company of orcs cross the stream so it is well that the Company are safe amid the high branches of a mallorn tree and in the morning they begin their journey further into the enchanted wood.

But here the story stumbles as if it has been plunged into darkness, for here the elven guards insist that one of the Fellowship must be blindfolded. Gimli the Dwarf cannot look upon the ways into Lothlórien.

“I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner,” he complains. “And I am no spy. My people have never had dealings with any of the servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done any harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.”

The Blindfolding of the Fellowship

That Gimli speaks the truth regarding his own heart there is no doubt but sadly there is much of the history of his people and the Elves that he leaves unsaid. In the tales of the Elder Days there are many sad stories of betrayal and readers of The Hobbit will remember how Legolas’s father, Thranduil of the Woodland Realm in the north of Mirkwood, imprisoned the company of Thorin Oakenshield among whose number was Gimli’s father, Gloín. They will then remember how Thorin, at first, refused to share any of the wealth of the Lonely Mountain following the fall of Smaug the Dragon and how with Dain Ironfoot of the Iron Hills he was prepared to go to war with Thranduil’s people in order to defend it.

But perhaps most sad of all was the history of Moria. We have seen how at one time there was close friendship between Durin’s people and the Noldor of Hollin, the people of Celebrimbor, how the gates of Moria could be opened by a simple expression of friendship but then how this golden age came to a terrible end first through Sauron’s betrayal of Celebrimbor who he had pretended to befriend in order to learn the lore of making rings of power and then through the disturbing of the Balrog hiding in the depths of Moria who slew Durin and drove his people from their home.

The Balrog of Moria

The tale of the peoples who dwelt east of the Misty Mountains during the long story of the rise of Sauron, first in Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood and then in Mordor, is one of a retreat behind defences. Such defences were necessary. We saw the company of orcs cross Nimrodel in search of the Fellowship and defence needed to be made against them and every land had to act in much the same way but what happened behind each fence was that the world beyond it became at first unknown and then suspect, even dangerous. So Celeborn of Lórien warns against Fangorn Forest while the people of Rohan know Lothlórien as Dwimordene, the place of phantoms. And for the Galadhrim, the tree people of Lothlórien, the dwarves who awoke the Balrog of Moria are most suspect of all.

Haldir, who has travelled on missions for his Lord and Lady puts it best of all.

“In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlórien, unless maybe in Rivendell, that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land.”

At the last Aragorn agrees that all the Fellowship will walk blindfold into Lórien so that Gimli is not singled out as a possible threat to its security. Gimli is now prepared to laugh as if this all a merry jest but all feel the sadness of being prisoners amid such loveliness.

The Beauty that cannot be seen in a Dangerous World.

“Do You Hear the Voice of Nimrodel?” The Fellowship Enter an Enchanted Land.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 328-332

A reading of The Lord of the Rings is a journey that runs between enchantment and disenchantment. It begins with Gaffer Gamgee discoursing on how cabbages and potatoes are better for his son than Elves and Dragons and how Sam would be wise to keep out of the affairs of his betters in case he lands in trouble too big for him. These are prophetic words indeed although the Gaffer will never see all that his son will see precisely by getting into trouble. And the Gaffer, for all his homespun wisdom and hobbit good sense, has no notion that one day he and his kind will be as much regarded as a kind of fairy folk as the Elves are in his own time.

Like the Gaffer, Boromir is easily disturbed by anything that is redolent of the uncanny. Although he names Lothlórien, the Golden Wood, his knowledge of it is more closely formed by the name that the Rohirrim have for the land the Company are about to enter, Dwimordene, or the Land of Phantoms. So it is already true that many who live in Tolkien’s world are disenchanted themselves and already fear anything that might exist outside an experience of cabbages, potatoes and things of that are of an easily accessible nature.

Anna Kulisz is enchanted by light shining through trees in Lothlórien

Understandably Aragorn is disappointed with Boromir because for him Lothlórien is the place of ultimate enchantment, for it was here that he first met Arwen. Even in our times the experience of falling in love transforms everything. Oscar Hammerstein may not have been making an intentionally philosophical point when he wrote the lyrics of “Some Enchanted Evening” but anyone who has truly fallen in love knows what he means. But Aragorn’s disappointment goes further. “Lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of Lothlórien.” The heirs of Númenor really ought to know better.

It is Frodo, one whose name, Elf-friend, means much more than a simple disposition to like Elves, who first becomes aware of the nature of the land that the Company have come to. First, in the crossing of Nimrodel, he feels “the stain of travel and all weariness” wash from his limbs. Did all his companions have the same experience? Tolkien does not answer the question but if Boromir had then surely his inclination to fear Lothlórien might have altered even just a little. And I doubt whether the orcs who followed some time later had any experience of healing in crossing the stream.

Stephen Graham Walsh evokes the healing power of Nimrodel

Legolas speaks to his companions about Nimrodel and as he does so they hear “the music of the waterfall running sweetly in the shadows”. But it is Frodo who hears “a voice singing, mingled with the sound of the water”.

“Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel?” asks Legolas and he tells them the story of the Silvan princess who once dwelt here long ago and whose memory lingers still in the land that was her home. As with so many songs of the Elves it is a tale of sadness about that which has been lost but it is beautiful yet. And as he sings his hearers are drawn further into Faerie just as Frodo, Sam and Pippin were when they were guests of Gildor Inglorien at the very beginning of their journey in their own familiar land.

Liga Klavina imagines Nimrodel whose memory enchants the stream that bears her name..

And that, of course, is what Tolkien is trying to convey to his readers. That it is possible, even in a place that we think we know so well that nothing about it could ever surprise us, to be suddenly drawn into an enchanted land. We have already spoken of how falling in love can do this. We might add moments like the birth of a child or when a ray of the sun suddenly bursts through the clouds illuminating all that lies around us. We might quickly get a hold of ourselves and reduce all experience to the atomic particles that make it up or we might follow the path of wonder and delight and see where it leads us. Frodo and Boromir will experience Lothlórien in very different ways because of the way in which they have nourished their inner lives.

“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

“There Are Fell Voices on The Air”. Caradhras Defeats The Fellowship of the Ring and Makes Them Seek Another Path.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 279-286

Somehow the Company must find a way to cross The Misty Mountains in order to continue their journey towards Mordor. Aragorn knows the way the way over the mountains by the Redhorn Gate that will drop down to the Dimrill Dale and then on to the secret land of Lothlórien and he is anxious that they do not cross the mountains through Moria, a way that Gandalf describes as “dark and secret”.

Alan Lee’s imagining of the Redhorn Gate

I have only had limited experience of walking a trail through high mountains but two things stand out in my memory. One is that I was a small and insignificant thing and that the mountains were completely indifferent to me. They could not care whether I lived or died. I confess that I found this to be most unsettling. Most of my experience had been in the gentle, cradling landscape of southern England which, like the Shire is a land of “woods and fields and little rivers”. To be in mountains where snow is deadly was something new to me. Like Sam I always welcomed snow as a little boy as something that I could play in. “A pleasant event and a chance for fun.” When I awoke in the mountain hut in which I was staying to see snow on the ground round about me I did not think much of it but my German companions who had much more experience of snow in the mountains made an immediate decision to head down the mountain to the village in the valley below. Our expedition was at an end.I awoke in the shelter of a mountain hut but the Company had to make do with a cliff-wall. Sam doubtless expresses the feelings of his fellow hobbits when he declares, “If this is shelter, then one wall and no roof make a house.” He and his companions have to face an icy wind, driving snow and falling rocks but they sense that that there is something else. In the wind they hear “shrill cries, and wild howls of laughter” and the rocks that they can hear crashing down from above seem to have a malevolent purpose. It is Boromir who speaks this sense aloud.

“Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.”

“There are fell voices on the air”. Ivan Cavini’s dramatic depiction of Caradhras.

Those who have grown up in a disenchanted clockwork world will dismiss Boromir as a superstitious man and to a certain extent they will be right. Boromir does regard the unfamiliar as being uncanny and dangerous, and he will show this most in his reaction to Lothlórien. But Aragorn, who as we will see, loves Lothlórien, also lives in an enchanted world.

“”I do call it the wind,” he says. “But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.”

Passages like these in The Lord of the Rings briefly carry us back to a high romantic world in which the heroes are children of the gods as well as of human mothers. But as Tom Shippey notes in his The Road to Middle-earth Aragorn is not such a hero and Frodo is most certainly not either. Neither has a divine father as did Achilles or the Volsungs. The brief return to the high romantic world seemingly cannot be sustained. Aragorn’s, “I do call it the wind”, and Sam Gamgee’s unhappy complaint both bring us back to mere weather but Aragorn reminds us of an older world in speaking of things in the world that “have purposes of their own” among which is Cruel Caradhras.

The Lord of the Rings is at least in part an elegiac work that mourns the passing of an enchanted world. Can we hope for a re-enchantment? How many of us would welcome the return of mountains that do not love us or weather that wants to kill us? Like the Company we might choose a different way in which to cross the Misty Mountains.

“What of The Three Rings of The Elves?” Can They Be Used Against Sauron?

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 260-263

When Celebrimbor and Sauron (in his guise of Annatar) studied and then created the Rings of Power during the Second Age of Arda there were three rings made by Celebrimbor alone over which Sauron had no influence. Seven rings were made for the dwarves and nine for humankind. The dwarves proved to be of stubborn stuff and so even when Sauron was wielding the One Ring “to rule them all” these rings and their bearers did not fall under his sway. So began the long unhappy history of Sauron’s search for the rings of the dwarves which ended in Dol Guldur when Sauron took the last of them from Thráin.

The Three Rings of the Elves

The rings given to human lords brought them swiftly under the domination of the Dark Lord. The dwarves were always true to their essential nature, loving the things that they made, implacable both in friendship and enmity, but humankind was always constrained by their mortality in a very particular way. The very brevity of a human life meant that a choice had to be made. It still does. Some would look beyond the confines of their mortality and so live in hope accepting their fate while entrusting themselves to that which lay beyond them. So Aragorn said to Arwen at the end of his life, “We are not bound for ever to the circles of this world, and beyond them there is more than memory”. Or, as in the heroic world of the Rohirrim, they would laugh in the face of despair even as they confronted their own deaths, as did Éomer when it seemed certain to him that he would die in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Or, as with the Dunlendings, there was a dull, grim and embittered spirit, a nation of “Gollums”, ever resentful of perceived slights at the hands of others. Or, as with the people of Bree, the spirit and wisdom of Ecclesiastes, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your life which you have been given under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun”. The hobbits were perhaps closest in spirit to them.

But for the Númenorians and their descendants, the ones who had come closest to Valinor and the immortality of the Elves, there was for many a growing sense that mortality was a curse that had been imposed upon them and one that they should strive to overcome. It was nine lords from among such as these who seized the opportunity given to them in Sauron’s gift of rings and who learned that immortality as a mere extension of existence is an intolerable burden, a curse rather than a blessing.

The Nazgûl. Wraiths and Wrath

The Rings of the Elves were not made by Sauron but by Celebrimbor alone although these rings could not have been made without the craft that they had learned together. Perhaps Celebrimbor had some secret suspicion of Sauron or, more likely, the desire like Fëanor before him to make something that was his and his alone, but they were not made for “strength or domination or hoarded wealth, but understanding, making and healing, to preserve all things unstained”. As with the Elves themselves, but as an intensification of who the Elves were, they were bound to the earth itself in joy and in sorrow. In the healing of the hurts of the earth and in the preserving of its beauty they brought great joy. If only we could find the earthly paradises of Rivendell or Lothlórien in our world today or even the Shire as Sam Gamgee was to remake it using Galadriel’s gift; or perhaps such places would best be kept hidden from us as we would probably spoil them by turning them into tourist destinations. Could you imagine some kind of “Lothlórien-world”?

Tim Catherall’s Imagining of Lothlórien

There is a sense in which the three rings of the Elves were used against Sauron. Elrond’s healing power, Galadriel’s adamantine resistance and, above all, Gandalf’s unresting work in warming hearts in a world ever growing cold, all of these fruits of the Elven Rings meant that Sauron had been kept at bay for long years but now as Sauron bent all of his might and malice in the task of the conquest of Middle-earth the rings of the Elves could no longer resist him nor could the combined strength of its free peoples. At the last there could only be one choice that could be made and that was as Elrond counselled the destruction of the Ring.

Aragorn and Arwen Plight Their Troth in Lothlórien.

Did Galadriel know the effect that she was creating when she bade Aragorn cast aside his travel worn garments and arrayed him “in silver and white, with a cloak of elven-grey and bright gem on his brow”? I think that she did. Like Elrond she knows that the crisis to which their long lives has always pointed is upon them but unlike him she has been able to say her yes to it. One last great test awaits her when the Ring comes to Lothlórien but she will pass the test, remain Galadriel, diminish, and pass into the West. Elrond is not tempted to take the Ring. His temptation is to hold onto his daughter and take her with him into the West.

So, whether he has been arrayed as an Elf-lord from the Isles of the West by design or otherwise Arwen meets Aragorn once again after long years of parting and “her choice was made”. She gives her heart to him and upon the fair hill of Cerin Amroth in the heart of Lothlórien they plight their troth.

Tolkien tells us that they “were glad” when they did so and yet even at the moment of gladness they glimpse the reality of the choice that they are making. To the East there lies the Shadow and the choice that Sauron has made. For him the end of all things is darkness and before that the desire for power over everything. Aragorn declares that “the Shadow I utterly reject” and Arwen makes the rejection with him. They will never submit to the Dark Lord.

But they say no to something else too and that is the Twilight. It is the Twilight, the memory of light, and especially of the light of the setting sun. The aching beauty of Twilight carries with it a remembering of that which is already being lost. We gaze westward to the setting sun as its light transforms all upon which it falls and even as it catches at our hearts we know that soon it will be dark. On the eve of Midsummer, the time when Aragorn and Arwen pledged themselves to one another, and the day upon which they married, the twilight in the north will last almost throughout the night hours and yet even in its gentle beauty it is not the day. Arwen makes her choice and it is the man who stands before her that is her choice and in so doing she chooses the glory of the sun standing high in the sky dispelling the darkness of the night forever.

It is a glorious choice. “I will cleave to you, Dúnadan” she tells him and yet she must make her farewell also. She turns from the Twilight. And she turns from her people and, hardest of all, she turns from her father. And “she loved her father dearly.”

Elrond knows that one day she will taste the full bitterness of her choice even as he does. So why does she choose her man of the noonday sun, the King of Gondor and of Arnor, healer of the wastelands, the Lord Elessar? Of course she is captured by the wonder of him and yet she also says her yes to his hope that more lies beyond the circles of the world than memory.

Arwen’s faith is the man that she has chosen, and his rejection of the Shadow. It is also her decision not to choose the Twilight. Like most of us it is not the subtlety of a philosophical system that grasps her but a relationship, a choosing of one way, one road, and in her case, of one man.

Next week we will end these reflections upon the love of Aragorn and Arwen with the bitterness that she must taste at the end. We cannot escape that, even as Elrond foretold, but, just as Arwen chose, we say our yes to gladness and the hope that our gladness and happiness are not in vain. It will be a good meditation for Easter.