“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.

“Farewell! Maybe Thou Shalt Find Valimar.” Galadriel’s Beautiful Farewell to The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 367-369

Farewell! Namárië! This is the last word spoken by Galadriel as the three boats that hold the members of the Fellowship float down the Silverlode to its confluence with the Anduin and so away from the earthly paradise of Lothlórien, into the empty lands beyond and all the adventures that lie before each one of them; adventures that lie before their feet but which they cannot know except as they take each step of the way.

I have always imagined this scene as depicted in the still from Peter Jackson’s film that I have included above, but Anna Kulisz gives me an entirely new perspective as I stand with Galadriel bidding farewell to the Fellowship and farewell too, though I cannot know it yet, to Lothlórien.

Galadriel’s farewell is a song that she sings to them in “the ancient tongue of the Elves beyond the sea”, in Quenya, a language spoken both by the Noldor of whom Galadriel is a Queen and by the Vanyar. It is the language that Gildor and his party speak in the Shire when they meet Frodo, Sam and Pippin at the beginning of their journey and it is a language of which Frodo has little knowledge. But, as T.S Eliot wrote on the subject of language, communication goes deeper than understanding, and in a documentary on Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland, the comment is made that it is the music of Eliot’s language that communicates before any understanding of the text. Perhaps it is to this that Tolkien refers when he speaks of “the way of Elvish words” that they remain “graven” in Frodo’s memory.

Throughout the years of her long sojourn that “have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West” Galadriel has spoken with her husband and with her people in Sindarin, the language of the Elves who never made the journey to Valinor, but now she pours out her heart in the language of her own people. For Galadriel has long nurtured a divided heart in which, as we read of her in Unfinished Tales “there dwelt in her the noble and generous spirit of the Vanyar, and a reverence for the Valar that she could not forget.” But there has also lain within her the part that she played in the rebellion of Fëanor and the Noldor, when although she opposed Fëanor in the kinslaying of Alqualondë nevertheless she still went with her people to Middle-earth against the command of the Valar and at the end of the First Age refused the pardon that the Valar extended to all who had been a part of the rebellion of Fëanor but had fought against Morgoth. As Tolkien says of her in Unfinished Tales “she had dreams of far lands and dominions that might be her own to order as she would without tutelage”. It was these dreams that began to take shape in her heart in the form of a thought as to what she might do if ever the Ring of Power might fall within her reach.

It was this thought, born of her ancient dreams, but dreams perhaps and even thoughts that had lain dormant through her long practice of the rejection of evil, a practice aided by Nenya the Ring of Adamant, that suddenly returned to her with almost overwhelming force when Frodo offered her the Ring at the episode of her mirror. But Tolkien tells us, when the moment of testing came “her wisdom was full grown and she rejected it, and passing the last test departed from Middle-earth for ever”.

That was to be her final destiny but at this moment, the moment of her singing her farewell song to the Fellowship, she has no knowledge of the pardon that she will receive and so all that they (and we also) can hear is her heartbreaking lament and her longing.

“Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!”

I have not been able to find an ascription to the artist who created this image of Valimar in the Undying Lands.

Was it to Frodo most of all of that company to whom she sang those words? It is Frodo, amongst all of them, that the longing for healing and of peace is strongest, a longing revealed in his dreams in the House of Tom Bombadil and a longing revealed, perhaps also, in the graving of Galadriel’s song upon his memory. These words stay within his heart upon every step of his journey to Mordor and maybe they become, against even his conscious thought, a lode star beyond the “end of all things” in the Cracks of Doom in Orodruin that will carry him, along with the faithful and loving service of Sam, both to that terrible moment and beyond it also. Maybe Frodo will find it.

“What Gift Would a Dwarf Ask of The Elves?” Galadriel Gives Three of Her Golden Hairs to Gimli.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 365-367

Galadriel has prepared gifts for every member of the Company except for one and that member is Gimli the dwarf. Readers of my blog will remember that when the Fellowship first came to Caras Galadhon after the terrible events at the bridge of Khazad-dûm Celeborn was at first angered that a Balrog, Durin’s Bane, had been disturbed in Moria and that he was angry with Gimli, blaming him for this and even for the fall of Gandalf. Long years of division, suspicion and even hatred between Dwarves and Elves were recalled. Celeborn was a child of Doriath, a secret kingdom of the Elves of the First Age in Beleriand and did not forget the killing of Thingol, its king, by Dwarves after the making of the Nauglamir, a wonderful necklace that contained a Silmaril, the one taken by Lúthien from the crown of Morgoth.

“What gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?”

It was Galadriel who persuaded Celeborn to put aside his anger and to welcome Gimli into Lothlórien but surely the very fact that she has no gift prepared for him shows that she too is undecided about what kind of relationship she has with this dwarf. “What gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?” she asks him. There is no doubt that she wishes to heal a long hurt, not least because she knows that unless all the foes of Sauron stand together they will fall before him, but she does not know how this will be achieved.

“It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.”

The gentle words were, of course, Galadriel’s words to Celeborn that he should not repent of his welcome to Gimli but also her speaking of sacred names in his own language. He had “looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy” and seen there “love and understanding”. It was a moment that changed him for ever which does not mean that the change is the creation within himself of a quality that had never existed within him but that something has been awakened that hitherto lay dormant.

Galadriel is delighted by Gimli’s answer, her heart goes out towards him and she bids him make a request of her. She wishes to be generous and to heal the ancient enmity but she is entirely unprepared for the request that Gimli will make. Just as Frodo, when in complete innocence, offered the Ring to Galadriel and so exposed desires within her that she had, perhaps, hidden even from herself, so Gimli too, with the same innocence, touches something that has long lain hidden within her.

Gimli asks for nothing but he names a single strand of Galadriel’s hair “which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine.” Gimli cannot know that he is not the first to have made such a request of her, and that ages long before, Fëanor himself asked three times for a tress of her hair. Fëanor’s request was bold but not courteous. His desire was not just for her hair but for herself and she had refused him. Fëanor was one who wished to possess and Galadriel had perceived this darkness within his heart. Gimli, on the other hand, wishes only to love in pure devotion and so she gives him not only one strand but three, recalling the three times that Fëanor had made his request and the three times that she had refused him.

Elena Kukova imagines the beautiful hair of Galadriel.

Galadriel unbraids a tress of her golden hair that holds the light of Laurelin and Telperion, the ancient trees of Valinor that Morgoth destroyed, and places three hairs in Gimli’s hands. “I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”

Galadriel has been shaken to the very core of her being by the coming of the Fellowship to her land. She had expected that it would mean the end of Lothlórien just as she said to Frodo and she was prepared for this. What she had not expected was that in receiving them her Self would be revealed to herself. She is forced to become vulnerable in a way that she could never have anticipated. We will think about this when we look at her last song in a few weeks time. My belief is that her vulnerability will lead her, not to despair, but to hope. And so it does in all of us.

“Take The Name That Was Given to You. Elessar, the Elfstone of the House of Elendil.” The Gift of Galadriel to Aragorn.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 364-367

At last the feast on the green lawn near the meeting of the Silverlode and the Anduin draws to a close and it is time for partings. Galadriel speaks to the Fellowship.

“We have drunk the cup of parting,” she said, “and the shadows fall between us. But before you go, I have brought in my ship gifts which the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim now offer you in memory of Lothlórien.”

As we shall see in the next few weeks these gifts differ greatly in significance depending upon the role that each member of the Fellowship will play in the story that is about to unfold and, in the case of Gimli, the gift will be one that he will choose himself, a token of a relationship that has been sundered for so long that its future is still uncertain. But the first gift is given to Aragorn and expresses a relationship that goes far back into history.

The Giving of the Elfstone to Aragorn by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Readers of The Lord of the Rings will remember that when Bilbo chanted his Song of Eärendil in the House of Elrond that he remarked that Aragorn “insisted on my putting in a green stone”, and Bilbo does, though never knowing the reason why. Bilbo simply puts an emerald onto the breastplate of Eärendil and leaves it at that but here in this scene in Lothlórien we finally learn of its true importance.

“‘Maybe this will lighten your heart,” said Galadriel;”for it was left in my care to be given to you, should you pass through this land.’ Then she lifted from her lap a great stone of a clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through the leaves of spring. ‘This stone I gave to Celebrian, my daughter, and she to hers; and now it comes to you as a token of hope. In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!”

John Howe depicts the Elfstone, Elessar

The story of the green stone in Tolkien’s legendarium took many forms over the years but in every source it was given first to Idril, daughter of Turgon, the founder and king of Gondolin, the hidden city and one of the great Noldor kingdoms in Beleriand in the First Age of Arda. Idril fell in love with Tuor, son of Huor, lord of one of the great houses of the Edain, the mortals who made alliance with the Elves in their great struggle against Morgoth. Turgon allowed Idril and Tuor to marry and Idril gave birth to Eärendil, the mighty hero who prevailed upon the Valar to come to the aid of Middle-earth as it lay prostrate before the might of the Dark Lord. Eärendil was the father of Elros and Elrond, and Elrond the father of Arwen Evenstar.

Their eyes met”. Jenny Dolfen depicts the first meeting of Idril and Tuor in Gondolin.

Idril and Tuor survived the fall of Gondolin and were able to rally the exiles of that city in the Havens of Sirion but when Tuor reached old age he took ship into the West with Idril and she gave the Elfstone to Eärendil with the words, “The Elessar I leave with thee, for there are grievous hurts to Middle-earth which maybe thou shalt heal.”

It is this power to heal that lies at the heart of the significance of Galadriel’s gift to Aragorn and this power is revealed in the prophetic words that she speaks to him in the giving of the gift. A prophecy, in its deepest meaning, is the revelation of a truth, one that lies hidden until the word is spoken. So just as the Elfstone of Idril and of Eärendil has lain secret in the care of the women who Aragorn names in his thanks to Galadriel for her gift and her words so too has the secret of the healing of Middle-earth through the heir of Eärendil, Elendil and Isildur, the one who is named Elessar, the embodiment of the true nature of the stone, who even as the stone is pinned to his breast is revealed in his kingly glory.

“O Lòrien! The Winter Comes, The Bare and Leafless Day”. Galadriel’s Lament as She Bids The Fellowship Farewell.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 361-364

Haldir’s return from the Northern Fences of Lothlórien to guide the Fellowship out from Caras Galadhon to the hythe, the small landing place upon the Silverlode where the boats promised by Celeborn await them, gives especial pleasure to Frodo for whom departure from the enchanted land is particularly hard. Their friendship grew in Cerin Amroth when Haldir took Frodo, not just into a place of beauty, but into the deeper meaning of that place to which the beauty pointed. Frodo longed to remain at rest within Lothlórien and that longing could not be satisfied until he came to Valinor itself, to “the far green country” that “opened before him under a swift sunrise” in his dream in the house of Tom Bombadil.

Frodo’s longing for true rest is constantly being refined by the ever growing burden that he bears, the burden of the Ring. As he reluctantly, makes his journey towards Mordor, yet with total dedication, he comes to know that Middle-earth can no longer be a home for him, not even the Shire. Already he has suffered the hurt of the Morgul blade that almost bound him to the will of Sauron to make him a tortured wraith alongside the Nazgûl. Elrond saved him from this fate but it has left its mark. Ahead of him still lies the terrible sting of Shelob in her lair and the tooth of Gollum that will cut the Ring from his finger and which will always remind him of how at the last he was defeated by the power of the Ring and so could not accomplish the heroic deed of casting it into the Fire. And all of these things will separate him, hurt by hurt from the world he once called home, the world that Bilbo said to Gandalf that he was still in love with, and so could not even make the journey to Rivendell that Bilbo was about to take after the long expected party all those years ago.

But if Frodo’s longing is being refined by all that he experiences upon this journey Galadriel’s longing is of a different kind. When the Company meet her swan ship upon the waters of the Silverlode they hear her sing, “sad and sweet”, not only of longing but also of loss.

O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.
O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a sea?
Ted Nasmith’s depiction of this scene upon the Silverlode

In these beautiful lines much of the long story of Galadriel is told. Her rejection of the forgiveness of the Noldor by the Valar at the ending of the First Age was because she wished to be a Queen, free from their rule, and to create her own realm within Middle-earth. This she has done with Celeborn in Lothlórien and it is here that she has created “the heart of Elvendom on earth” singing of leaves of gold so that in her song the golden tree that grew “by the strand of Ilmarin” in the Undying Lands might be remembered in her mallorn trees. But even in the creation of such beauty she and all Elves were caught up into the corruption of Sauron. Although Sauron played no direct part in the making of the three Elven Rings, one of which Galadriel bears, they are inexorably linked to his making of the One Ruling Ring so that if he triumphs all the works of the Elves will be laid bare before him and if he falls and the Ring is destroyed all the works of the Elves must eventually fall with him.

Is there a future for the Elves? Galadriel wonders if she will ever be permitted to return to Valinor after her long rebellion. Will she be condemned to share forever in the fading of the Elves and their works upon earth? Frodo senses her as “present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time”. And we too mourn the paradise that we have lost and long for a world in which that beauty might be restored and yet be free of the taint of corruption, and yet we long for more, a world that is more than memory in which all fading will be passed, our own included.

MH Shokuhi poignantly depicts Arwen amidst the fading of Lothlórien after the passing of the Three Elven Rings from the Earth.

“You Are Indeed High in The Favour of The Lady”. The Fellowship Delight in The Gifts of The Galadhrim Before They Leave Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 360-362

As the Fellowship begin the next stage of their journey packing their “slender goods” as they face the wild once again, Elves who can speak the Common Tongue bring gifts of food and clothing, and then boats and rope.

The pleasantness of lembas

“You are indeed high in the favour of the Lady!” they exclaim as the gifts are given, for it has not been their custom to be so generous to strangers. Doubtless according to the custom of hospitality to strangers provision would be offered but these gifts go far beyond what is customary. The Elves give lembas, “more strengthening than any food made by Men”, and they give garments, woven by the Lady Galadriel and her maidens themselves. They give rope much to the delight of Sam who “knows a bit about rope-making: it’s in the family as you might say”. And last of all they give boats, less to Sam’s delight who looks wistfully at the shore of the Silverlode as his companions make trial of their wayward craft before they set off on their journey.

John Howe carefully places rope in the boat given by the Elves of Lothlórien

Each of these gifts are expressions of the very essence of the intimate relationship between Elves and their world. Pippin is so filled with wonder by what he sees that he asks if they are magic. Here Pippin is close to Sam in his desire to see “a bit of magic like what it tells of in old tales” but the Elves do not know what Pippin means by his use of the word, magic.

Hobbits have an intimate relationship themselves with their land, with the slow rhythm of seed time and harvest, of careful observation of the seasons and of the right times and the right ways in which to prepare the soil for planting and the nurture of that soil and the crop that grows within it till the time comes for harvest and storing. Like the Elves they know of the many uses to which the things they grow can be put. They know how to preserve foodstuffs that can be used in winter. They can hang, dry and salt meat in a world without refrigeration in a way that now we see only in specialist delicatessens. And they can use the fibres of certain things that grow in order to make garments or rope. They can hide from strangers if they choose to do so, blending into the background with ease. All of this they regard as normal, the kind of skills that any hobbit can, and indeed should learn. Tom Bombadil recognises some hobbits as being akin to himself in terms of their relationship to the earth and when Sam expresses his interest in the rope that the company is given the Elves show genuine disappointment in not taking the opportunity to share a skill that they love with him.

Hobbits would never use the word, magic, to describe their own skills and neither do the Elves of Lothlórien. What both recognise is that the farmer’s and craftsperson’s relationship with tools and materials is, in the true sense of a word that is much abused, mystical. When a hobbit pays close and delighted attention to the flask of ale or beer in their hand or a pipe of pipeweed in their mouth, savouring its flavour, lingering over that flavour until it departs at the last, leaving behind a memory that is almost as delicious as was the taste at the moment when first encountered, that hobbit enters into a relationship with these things is sacramental. And the relationship is not only with these elements but with the others with whom they share this. The friendship that they enjoy in an equal sharing of food around a table enhances their delight in the taste of that food. Think of the moment when Mrs Maggot reveals the mushrooms that have grown in her fields and so transforms Frodo’s memory of the fields, the mushrooms and Farmer Maggot and his dogs.

Hobbits have little desire to give words to all of this that make more of it than they think it ought to have. And so too do elves. Unlike hobbits elves are immortal and so have so much longer to craft the relationship between things and to ponder its nature, so when the Lady Galadriel and her maidens weave robes they express the mystery of things in a way that hobbits call magical but but elves do not. And all of this is in sharp contrast to industrial manufacture that gives us quantity in such abundance as to create an illusion of wealth but which robs us of the kind of quality in which the Fellowship are able to delight as they receive these gifts.

Rob Alexander imagines an Elf clad in robes that almost form a part of the background here.

“Maybe The Paths That You Shall Tread Are Already Laid Before Your Feet Though You Do Not Know Them.” The Fellowship Prepare to Leave Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.358-360

Galadriel and Celeborn gather the Fellowship together and Celeborn addresses them.

“Now is the time… when those who wish to continue the Quest must harden their hearts to leave this land”

Which way will the Fellowship take?

All the Company are resolved to go forward but which way shall they go? The journey will take them down the valley of the Silverlode to the Anduin, the great river of Middle-earth, but which bank of the river will they follow after that? The west bank of the river will take them to Minas Tirith and Gondor. The east bank will take them to Mordor. It is “the straight road of the Quest”, the “darker shore”, but which way will they choose?

For Boromir the choice is clear. He will return to Gondor and to the defence of Minas Tirith. Most of the rest of the Company would prefer to go with him. Such a choice would at least delay the terrible moment when the path of the Quest must take them eastward and to the land of shadow.

Aragorn says nothing. In Rivendell the promise that he made was to go to the war in Gondor to fight alongside Boromir bearing Andúril, the Sword that was Broken reforged, but when Gandalf fell in Moria he became the leader of the Company and which way would Gandalf had chosen were he still with them?

Which way will Aragorn go?

Frodo, too, says nothing. He will not make his choice until the breaking of the Fellowship at Amon Hen and the Falls of Rauros. There the choice will be forced upon him and it will be to go on alone to Mordor, but it is a terrible choice, it is almost certainly a choice to die, and until that moment he remains in silence for he does not wish to die.

Celeborn offers the gift of boats to the Company and they are grateful for this, Sam excepted. On the one hand it eases their journey. They do not have to walk down the Anduin with packs upon their backs. On the other it postpones the moment when the choice will have to be made.

It is Galadriel who offers her wisdom to them regarding the choice. “Do not trouble your hearts overmuch with thought of the road tonight. Maybe the paths that each of you will tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not know them.” And so it will prove. When the time comes the path will be clear for each one of them. Merry and Pippin will be forced to take the road to Isengard when they are captured by orcs. Aragorn will choose to follow the captives and Legolas and Gimli will choose to go with him. Frodo will seek some kind of sign to help him find the way ahead and in the end the sign will be that Boromir will try to take the Ring from him and this will lead him to resolve to go alone to Mordor. Thankfully he will not succeed in going alone because Sam made his choice at the Mirror of Galadriel. Wherever Frodo goes he will follow. He no longer has any uncertainty in his heart about the path that lies before him.

I am sure that Galadriel knows that her words of counsel will not keep the Fellowship from anxious thoughts. The choice that must be made is so great, so terrible, that it is impossible that it can be made without being turned over and over in their minds. At least this is true for Aragorn who must lead them and Frodo upon whom the burden of the Ring has been laid, partly by his own choice at the Council of Elrond, partly by the command of that Council. Perhaps we will always agonise over the great choices of our lives and yet when we look back we see a certain simplicity in the pathway that we have followed. The paths that we have trodden have seemed laid before our feet only we were not able to see those paths until the moment came and we had to follow them. The wisdom of Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, The Road Not Taken, only seems clear as Frost puts it, “somewhere ages and ages hence”. Perhaps when paths must be chosen there has to be agony. We are rarely given freedom from that, at least with the big choices.

Frodo and Sam will go alone but together.

“What Do You Think of Elves Now, Sam?” Frodo and Sam Think About The Magic of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 351-352

What healing can be done after the fall of Gandalf is now complete. Frodo and Sam feel a growing restlessness, knowing that the task of taking the Ring to Mordor still awaits and, according to the wisdom of Sam’s gaffer “it’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”. Wisdom does not need to come from the mouths of the great in order to ring true and, with sadness, Frodo agrees with Sam.

But despite their growing restlessness, they still have time to think about what they have seen and learnt and Frodo has a question for Sam.

“What do you think of Elves now, Sam?”

What do you think of Elves now, Sam? Frodo and Haldir at Cerin Amroth by FÄeriel

Frodo asked the same question of Sam after the second night of their journey while still within the Shire when they had been given hospitality in the woods on the hills above Woodhall and Sam had answered that Elves were “a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak”. At that point in the journey Sam was still the loyal retainer, the one who had been given the job of “looking after Mr Frodo”. Now someone might use language like, to have an opinion about Elves is something that is above my pay grade. The language may appear more sophisticated but it still comes from an older world of masters and servants.

Alan Lee imagines the stay with Gildor Inglorien above Woodhall

But much has happened since that time, described by Frodo as seeming “a very long while ago”, and slowly Frodo and Sam are becoming friends. I have written before about how, even after all they had experienced together, Frodo would have to depart the scene in order for Sam to become Mayor of the Shire and a councillor to the King in his northern kingdom of Arnor, but here in Lothlórien we see Sam slowly becoming this person.

“I reckon there’s Elves and Elves. They’re all elvish enough, but they’re not all the same. Now these folk aren’t wanderers or homeless, and seem a bit nearer to the likes of us:they seem to belong here, more than even hobbits do in the Shire. Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning.”

Sam cannot know that in just a few years these people who “seem to belong” in Lothlórien, more even than hobbits do in the Shire, will have deserted it to go into the West. If he were to have known that it would have given him the sense of the impermanence of all things; that permanence is always illusory, as anyone who has ever emptied the house of a much loved elder after their death in order to prepare it for sale will know. But Sam does have a deep insight into the relationship between people and the land. As Tom Bombadil, who also knows something of the relationship between people and land, says of Farmer Maggot, “There’s earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open.”

Bombadil could have described Sam in much the same way and one can only hope that they got to know each other better in later years, but he could have used similar language to describe the Elves of Lothlórien. A deep harmony has been created between them and their land. As the great Irish farmer poet, Patrick Kavanagh, put it, “to know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience”. Sam, Tom Bombadil, Farmer Maggot, and Haldir too, would all have understood Kavanagh in a way in which the homeless wanderers, among whom I would count myself, can never do.

Sam recognises, rightly, that there is magic in this relationship. He can feel it working all around him and he wants to see the Elves perform it. What he does not know, at least not yet, is that the same magic is at work in the Shire also. For Hobbits the magic is almost entirely implicit and deeply hidden within the ordinary. For them, magic belongs to entertainment such as their enjoyment of Gandalf’s fireworks, and they regard anything beyond that as uncanny and to be feared. For the Elves the very same magic is explicit, intentional and also completely ordinary. If Sam but knew, he is much closer to the Elves than he has ever imagined.

The Magic of the Shire. Farmer and Mrs Maggot as imagined by Henning Jansen.

“When Evening in The Shire Was Grey”. Frodo and Sam Sing Songs of Gandalf in Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 349-351

Galadriel and Celeborn wisely leave the Fellowship to themselves after the encounter in Caras Galadhon and Galadriel’s silent interrogation of their hearts and minds. What the Fellowship needs now is rest and healing of weary bodies. Even though at its borders Lothlórien is alert to possible threat at its heart it remains at rest and so it seems that the Company does “little but eat and drink and rest, and walk among the trees”; and it is enough.

At first, as Aragorn put it, there is a desire simply to rest and to forget grief, grief at the loss of Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, but inevitably after a while their thoughts turn to their loss and their grief becomes keen.

It is Frodo and Sam who choose poetry in which to try to put that grief into some kind of form. Perhaps it is as they hear songs of Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, in the Sindarin tongue of their Elven hosts, that they begin to find their own thoughts move in the same direction. Perhaps it is, as Sam has already put it, that in Lothlórien they feel themselves to be “inside a song” that enables them to create their own.

When evening in the Shire was grey
his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away 
on journey long without a word. 

John Howe wonderfully captures Gandalf’s energy and vulnerability.

The words are beautiful and full of longing for what has been lost. The aching realisation that Frodo will never hear the sound of those footsteps coming along the path to his door again, a sound that always meant that something deep and rich, old and wise, was about to enter his life once again. But Tolkien is quick to introduce a disclaimer here. These words “feel faded as a handful of withered leaves”. Tolkien uses this sad image to describe Frodo’s feelings of inadequacy as he tries to put the person of Gandalf into words but we cannot help but feel that it is Tolkien’s own feelings of inadequacy as a poet that are on show here. Gandalf is far too great a figure to reduce to a few lines upon a page, or committed to memory in Frodo’s mind.

But a good poem is not a reduction of anything. Each line in Frodo’s evocation of Gandalf points us towards his greatness but also his simplicity. They speak of his mighty journeys; of his skill in languages; of his “deadly sword”, his “healing hand”.

Gandalf, a lord of wisdom

“A lord of wisdom throned he sat, swift in anger, quick to laugh, an old man in a battered hat who leaned upon a thorny staff.”

All through the poem Frodo gives us on the one hand, his greatness, and on the other, his vulnerability and all the time he is doing something that from their earliest encounters with one another, C.S Lewis admired in Tolkien’s work. It was after an evening reading The Lay of Leithian Tolkien’s verse telling of the story of Beren and Lúthien that Lewis wrote of myth making that it is the essence of a myth “that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader”. And surely here in Frodo’s lament for Gandalf the incipient allegory that is suggested to us is the connection between Gandalf, the mighty maiar clothed in the form of “a weary pilgrim on the road”, and what first Tolkien and then Lewis described as the true myth of the incarnation in which, in Christ, God is clothed in our humanity, not in its semblance but in all its reality. There is no incarnation in any part of Tolkien’s legendarium. He deliberately chose to set his story in a world that knows nothing of it but again and again, in the story of Gandalf, in the story of the true king hidden within the weather stained Ranger of the North who goes by the name of Strider, and in other characters, the true myth is suggested to us in many ways. Might this be why our hearts are drawn towards them?

He stood upon the bridge alone. Alan Lee imagines the dreadful moment.

“To Fly Like a Bird to Rest in The Green City”. Frodo in Paradise in Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 340-343

While Sam Gamgee tries to find words to express his experience of Cerin Amroth Frodo remains in silence throughout the whole time that the Fellowship are there. But it is not a silence that separates him from his companions and from us. Sam, Haldir and Aragorn all speak to him, all draw him into their own thoughts, while we know what he is experiencing because Tolkien chooses to see Cerin Amroth through Frodo.

Alan Lee’s Cerin Amroth

Throughout The Lord of the Rings Tolkien subtly alters the voice through which he tells the story so that, for example, it is Pippin and not Gandalf through whom he shows us Minas Tirith and it is through Sam that we watch the final, agonising journey to Orodruin in Mordor. Indeed Frodo seems to fall more and more into silence as that journey continues.

But is Frodo’s growing silence simply a descent into emptiness, to nothingness, as the Ring slowly but inexorably tightens its grip upon his very being? Here in Cerin Amroth we are shown that something else is always at work within his heart. At the end he has “no memory of tree or grass or flower” but before that terrible moment when he feels naked before the utter malevolence in Barad-dûr there is always something else.

“Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there, upon the grass among elanor and niphredil in fair Lothlórien.”

Tolkien does not allow us too many entries into the inner world of his characters. Not for him a kind of stream of consciousness that pours out onto the page from a protagonist. There are moments, and Frodo’s dreams in Crickhollow and the house of Tom Bombadil are examples of this when he does, but just as dreams are in our own lives, these are uncertain glimpses. Here those glimpses take certain form and the form is Lothlórien, the “timeless land”. I wrote a few weeks ago when Gimli took him to see Mirrormere about how Frodo increasingly becomes otherworldly as the story progresses. The hobbit who Bilbo describes as being in love with the Shire, with “woods and fields and little rivers” is one who leaves home in every sense but rarely becomes completely homeless. He is the “wanderer from the Shire” who can find no place to rest his head except here.

Here we see, as we did in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, why Frodo is called elf-friend by Gildor Inglorien and recognised as such by Goldberry. It is not that he is friendly towards elves and elvish things but that he is able to enter the world in which the Elves live and dwell there too. Haldir invites him to climb up with him to the flet in the crown of trees upon the hill top and as Frodo prepares to follow him “he laid his hand upon the tree beside the ladder: never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree’s skin and of the life within it. He felt a delight in wood and the touch of it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself.”

Haldir shows Frodo the Land of Lórien. Ted Nasmith’s depiction.

I wrote about suddenness and how Gaffer Gamgee is afraid of it back in 2018 and of Louis MacNeice’s poem, Snow, which was written in the house where my wife grew up, and of the line, “The world is suddener than we fancy it”. The Elves inhabit this suddenness, not as with Frodo, as a sudden irruption into ordinary life but as timelessness. It is this that Frodo carries in his heart right up until the terrible moment near Orodruin and, might we say, it is this that holds him even through the ruin of the Cracks of Doom when he claims the Ring for himself, enabling him to make the long slow journey of healing, the “gentle purgatory” as Tolkien put it that will end in the Undying Lands.

The healing of Frodo that will be completed in the Undying Lands. Stephen Graham Walsh captures this beautifully.