On Deadly Wounds and Their Healing. Aragorn Tries to Offer Frodo Some Relief After the Nazgûl Attack.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 190-94)

There are times in a reading of The Lord of the Rings in which it is necessary to know that we are reading is not the kind of history that is a listing of events but a mythology. Doubtless it would do all students of history good to recognise the quasi-mythological nature of every historical narrative but Tolkien was not attempting a historical narrative that we must then seek to demythologise. He consciously sought to create a mythology, a sub-creation that honoured God. And so it is here in this description of the attack upon the camp below Weathertop by the Nazgûl. Could they have seized the Ring, even slaying the hobbits and Aragorn too? We must assume that they could. That they expected that Frodo would gradually fall under the malign influence of the Morgul-blade, a fragment of which was left in his shoulder, is without doubt, but the very nature of Frodo’s resistance to their attack shows that what happened that night was a spiritual battle as much as a clash between two forces of warriors. If it had merely been the latter I fear that the brave adventure of the hobbits would have ended that night and the Ring taken to be restored to its maker.

I know that the Morgul-king’s sword bears no resemblance to the description of the knife in The Lord of the Rings but this painting is a fine expression of the overwhelming power of the Nazgûl

As we saw last week Aragorn’s singing of The Lay of Leithian, the Tale of Beren and Lúthien, took the company into the spiritual milieu of the Elder Days and the songs of Lúthien that overcame Sauron and even Morgoth long ago. Aragorn invokes the same powers as did his ancestors and so the fragile circle of light that the Nazgûl invade is a different place to the simple camp that the travellers had earlier created.

So it is that even though, to his shame, Frodo is unable to resist the command of his foes to put on the Ring, he is able, even while wearing it, to invoke the name of Elbereth, the Queen of the Valar, the angelic beings charged by God to watch over the earth.

This was the name invoked by the company of Gildor Inglorien that drove away the Black Rider on that first encounter in the woods of the Shire .

“Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady dear! O Queen beyond the Western Seas! O light to us who wander here amid the world of woven trees!”

Elves in the Woody End, by Ted Nasmith

Gildor named Frodo, elf-friend, that night, and such names are not a trivial thing in Tolkien’s world but convey a reality. “More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth,” says Aragorn, speaking of Frodo’s resistance to the Morgul-king’s attack. And just as there is all the difference in the world between the casual naming of Jesus in everyday chatter and a cry to him in desperate need so too the naming of Elbereth by an elf-friend in need has great power, far more power than that of Frodo’s will to resist.

And so the Nazgûl withdraw for a season, ringless for the present but confident that soon Frodo will be a wraith like them and powerless to resist them any longer. But there is another power at work. Aragorn goes off in search of athelas. He knows this land and where he might find what he seeks. “It is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth… It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small.”

Later in the story Aragorn will be revealed to his people through the acts of healing that he will accomplish through the use of this herb but for now he has not yet come into his own, his kingdom, and he can do little more than stay the effects of the Morgul-blade. But perhaps all that he can do as a healer is to assist the healing that another desires. Later Éowyn will be healed, not by Aragorn’s power, but by her willingness to embrace the future and to let the past be at rest. For his part Frodo will be healed by the “Gentle Purgatory” (as Tolkien put it in a letter on the subject) that he will eventually accept and undergo in the Undying Lands. For now Frodo must endure his wound while his foes wait for the opportunity to seize the Ring and so to triumph.

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.