A Cure for Weariness, Fear and Sadness. Frodo in The Last Homely House, East of the Sea.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 219-220

I have been enjoying my imaginary rest in one of the wonderful beds in The Last Homely House as, I hope, have you as you have read the last pages of Tolkien’s great tale and my reflections upon them. Now it is time to get up and, with Frodo and Sam, who “has been getting to know some of the ways of the place”, it is time for us to get to know it a little better too. I don’t know about you but I could use a “cure for weariness, fear and sadness” right now. I know that beyond the hidden valley of Rivendell there will be many dangers to face but just for a while let us rest here to regather our strength and so make ready to face those dangers once more.

At rest in Rivendell

The journey eastward through Eriador in Middle-earth is always a journey towards hardship and danger; always away from the quiet lands of Bree, the Shire; and away from the Elven lands of Forlindon and Harlindon that lie hard against the great sea and the hidden lands beyond. When Bilbo Baggins made his journey to the lonely mountain of Erebor as recounted in The Hobbit this was the last time of rest before the passage through the Misty Mountains was to be attempted and all the adventures that were to befall him there and in the lands at their far side. Hence, in Bilbo’s mind it was always The Last Homely House.

Rivendell had always been a refuge from enemies right from its founding by Elrond in the middle of the Second Age when he had led an elven host against Sauron in the wars in Eregion after the making of the great Rings of Power by Celebrimbor, deceived as Celebrimbor had been by Sauron who desired only to learn ringcraft and to use all that he could learn to forge the One Ring, and through its power to subdue all lands and all peoples under his rule.

Elrond the Warrior by Ysydora

Sauron never achieved this end but also never gave up his age old desire to rule either. That this desire lies at the heart of The Lord of the Rings is made all too clear by Gandalf when he reminds the hobbits after Pippin’s ill judged words that “The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the Master of the Dark Tower of Mordor, whose power is again stretching out over the world! We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark.”

It was during the conflict with Sauron in Eriador that Elrond first founded the “refuge of Imladris” in 1697 of the Second Age, the same year in which Celebrimbor was killed. Eventually Sauron was driven from Eriador but not by Elrond but by the Dúnedain, the men of Númenor, who arrived in a mighty fleet and established dominions on the coasts of Middle-earth. Even his possession of the Ring was not enough for Sauron to withstand the power of Númenor but something else enabled him to overthrow that mighty land. The appendices at the end of The Return of the King put it in the most chilling way when they say, ” The shadow falls on Númenor”. No military defeat ever took place but an inner moral collapse most certainly did. Again, in the appendices, Tolkien uses a few words to terrible effect.

2251: Tar-Atanamir takes the sceptre. Rebellion and division of the Númenoreans begins. About this time the Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, slaves of the Nine Rings, first appear.

Surely, Tolkien has no need to spell out what happened in any explicit manner. Sauron did not seduce just anyone with his gifts. As we come to learn about Sméagol later in the story, a small and miserable creature is capable only of small and miserable evils. Only the great can do the greatest harms. Surely it was men of Númenor that Sauron seduced and made slaves to his will through the insidious gift of Rings of Power. And this is where the contrast between them and those who find refuge in Rivendell lies. There are those who will give everything, even their souls, for power. And there are those who seek “a cure for weariness, fear and sadness”.

And so throughout the long years, years that Elrond terms “the long defeat”, Rivendell remains a secret refuge, a Last Homely House for all weary travellers, a home in need for the remnant of the Dúnedain of the North and now, for a little while at least, a refuge for the Ringbearer and his companions, a place, as Pippin who recognises true joy when he sees it, where it is “impossible, somehow to feel gloomy or depressed”.

A Cure for Weariness, Fear and Sadness. Tolkien’s own imagining of Rivendell.

Frodo is Lucky to Be in Rivendell “After All the Absurd Things” He Has Done Since Leaving Home.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 213-19

As I wrote last week it is altogether too pleasant to think of getting out of bed after nearly three weeks in the wild since leaving Bree. Even Gandalf’s chastisements feel like pleasantries compared to the terror of the attack below Weathertop, the agony of the long miles from that moment and the flight across the Fords of Bruinen with the Black Riders in close pursuit.

Frodo recalls all that has happened to him. “The disastrous ‘short cut’ through the Old Forest; the ‘accident’ at The Prancing Pony; and his madness in putting on the Ring in the dell under Weathertop.” But he is still too tired to be able to judge himself and besides Gandalf continues after a long pause:

“Though I said ‘absurd’ just now, I did not mean it. I think well of you-and of the others. It is no small feat to have come so far, and through such dangers, still bearing the Ring.”

“I think well of you”

It is a major part of Tolkien’s skill as a storyteller that we have become so used to seeing the story through the eyes of the hobbits as, apparently, they stumble from one near disaster to another from the moment they set out from Bag End that we do not realise what an achievement their safe arrival in Rivendell is. Months later, in the pavilions at the Field of Cormallen, a bard will sing of these things as the deeds of mighty heroes and the armies of Gondor and Rohan will acclaim Frodo and Sam as such. For their part, the hobbits do not believe their own press. Perhaps it is as well that they don’t. To regard oneself as a hero is unwise. In a few weeks time we will be introduced to a character who longs to be seen by others as a mighty hero and have them come flocking to his banner. Things will go badly for him before his final redemption.

We could have looked at the journey of the hobbits from a number of other perspectives than their own. For poor old Fatty Bolger even the choice to go through the Old Forest is madness and that is before he encounters the Black Riders for himself. Aragorn does not think very highly of them, certainly at first when he meets them in Bree. After the raid on The Prancing Pony by the Black Riders and the loss of the pack ponies he gazes long at the hobbits “as if he was weighing up their strength and courage”. We get the impression that, at this stage of the story, he does not have much expectation of their ability to make the journey to Rivendell.

“weighing up their strength and courage”

He is nearly right, of course. And so is Gandalf. Frodo and his companions are lucky to have reached Rivendell. But then so too is Aragorn. And, as we shall learn later, so too is Gandalf. Perhaps it is Tom Bombadil who sees things with the most clarity. Tom makes no judgements about the hobbits knowing, as he does, the dangers of the world. Through his experience over many years he has learned the measure of these dangers, both those against which he can pit himself and those against which he cannot. As he says before his final farewell to the hobbits, “Tom is not master of Riders from the Black Land far beyond his country”.

And yet, despite their own frailties, despite their inexperience, even despite the power of the Nazgûl, Frodo and his companions arrive safely in Rivendell. Perhaps, as Frodo says, it was Strider who saved them. Perhaps, as Gandalf puts it, “fortune or fate” helped them, as well as courage. Perhaps, as we weigh up the challenges of life that we must face it is wise if we do not do too much ‘weighing up’. Either we will put too much confidence in our own ability or we will be so terrified that, like Fatty Bolger, we will never try the journey at all. Bombadil’s final advice to the hobbits remains the best. He tells the hobbits simply to be themselves. “Be bold, but wary! Keep up your merry hearts, and ride to meet your fortune!” And this is just what Frodo and his companions have done. And we might say also, this is what fortune has done too.

“Keep up your merry hearts and ride to meet your fortune”

You Shall Have Neither the Ring Nor Me! With the Aid of Glorfindel Frodo Escapes the Nazgûl.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp 203-09

The long miles of Eriador that seem for so long to have stretched out into an endless distance come to an end in a few moments of fear, anger, hatred and swift flight. Frodo clings to the mane of the horse of a great elven lord who is able to pass before the very faces of the Ringwraiths of Mordor and over the Fords of the Bruinen into the land of Rivendell.

Frodo flies to the fords of Bruinen upon Asfaloth by Donato Giancola

The elven lord is Glorfindel and it is through his aid that Frodo is able to make his escape and, even then, only just. Glorfindel makes only the briefest of appearances in The Lord of the Rings. He appears at this crucial moment; he plays his part in the Council of Elrond; and he attends the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen in Minas Tirith. In fact, so brief is his appearance that Peter Jackson feels able to leave him out of his films altogether, while even Tolkien decides not to make him a part of the Fellowship of the Ring but to take Merry and Pippin instead. But more on the latter choice later when we will give ample space to the Council of Elrond and its deliberations. On the former Jackson wanted to make Arwen a character who would appear less passive than she appears in the book. I have written about this elsewhere (click on the tag regarding Arwen’s banner below) so here it is an opportunity to think about Glorfindel.

As the hobbits journey from the Shire to Rivendell word reaches Elrond from Gildor Inglorien of their plight, of the pursuit of the Nine, and of Gandalf’s mysterious absence. Elrond decides to send out his greatest lords to aid them in their peril, those that could “ride openly against the Nine”, and one of these is Glorfindel.

Glorfindel

Indeed we might say that Glorfindel is Elrond’s greatest lord. He is one who has dwelt in Valinor itself, one of the Noldor who in great sadness but out of deep friendship accompanied Turgon, the Lord of Gondolin in the exile from the Undying Lands to Middle-earth, to Beleriand. Not all the elves who made the journey with Fëanor in pursuit of the Silmarils stolen by Morgoth took part in the kinslaying of Alqualondë but all were banned from ever returning to the Undying Lands.

Although the city of Gondolin was the one of the greatest works of the elves in Middle-earth eventually it fell to Morgoth’s armies and Glorfindel fell in battle against a Balrog, falling together with it into a deep abyss and so he died. And if this reminds you of the battle that Gandalf fought with a Balrog in Moria then so too does the rest of Glorfindel’s story. Thorondor, the greatest of the Eagles of Manwë rescued Glorfindel’s body while his spirit passed to the Halls of Mandos, of Waiting. In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Elves were reincarnated after a time of waiting but Glorfindel was rewarded for his bravery and goodness by being allowed to return swiftly to Valinor where he befriended Olórin, who in Middle-earth became known as Mithrandir or Gandalf. At different times both Gandalf and Glorfindel were sent by the Valar to give aid to the peoples of Middle-earth and at the Battle of Fornost in the year 1975 of the Third Age Glorfindel gave aid to Eärnur of Gondor in a battle against the armies of Angmar in a victory so complete “that not a man nor an orc of that realm remained west of the Mountains”. In that battle Glorfindel saved Eärnur from the Witch-king and had driven him from Eriador from that day onwards.

From that day until the time when the Witch-king led the Nine in their desperate search for the Ring Glorfindel dwelt in Rivendell playing his part in keeping Eriador as a place of comparative peace. And just as he had driven the Witch-king from Eriador at the Battle of Fornost so too does he enable Frodo to make his escape and in so doing he drives his ancient foe from the North once more. The Ring is kept from the grasp of Sauron, and Glorfindel drives the Nazgûl into the waters of the Bruinen that have risen in full flood to deny all foes entrance into the land of Rivendell.

Glorfindel Upon Asfaloth by Elena Kukanova

The wonderful story of Glorfindel is in keeping with that of Gandalf and of Aragorn. A willingness to serve patiently in obscurity and a preparedness to lay down everything at a moments notice for the common good. The way of the true servants of the light.

The Road Goes Ever On and On. Bilbo Sings for the Ending of an Age.

At last the great company arrive in Rivendell and the hobbits are reunited with Bilbo.

“Hullo, hullo!” he said. “So you’ve come back? And tomorrow’s my birthday, too. How clever of you!”

And the hobbits have that special and rare delight of telling their story to one who listens with pleasure and interest, although Bilbo is now old and drifts off to sleep from time to time. But after two short weeks, and with the first signs of Autumn, Frodo and Sam both feel the call to go home. And they have a sense that they must not delay any longer.

Bilbo sends them off with sadness and also some ceremony and then he starts to chant.

The Road goes ever on and on, Out from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, Let others follow it who can! Let them a journey now begin, But I at last with weary feet, Will turn towards the lighted inn, My evening-rest and sleep to meet.” 

There are three variants of this poem in The Lord of the Rings. The first comes at the decisive and remarkable moment of liberation when Bilbo freely gives up the Ring (with a little encouragement from Gandalf!) and sets off on his travels once again. At that moment Bilbo speaks of Pursuing it with eager feet and speaks of happiness and being swept off his feet. The Road, the One Road that is “like a great river; it’s springs… at every doorstep, and every path… its tributary” is at that moment all opportunity, all possibility.

Later on in the story we hear Frodo speak the same lines at the very start of his great journey and still in the Shire but this time the feet are not eager but weary. Frodo is contemplating the leaving of his home and his friends and a journey into danger.

And now Bilbo speaks of an end to the journey. The Road continues and others will follow it if they can. But he will do so no more. It is time to find a friendly inn by the roadside to enjoy a good meal and a long rest.

I am reminded of a prayer by John Henry Newman, founder of the Birmingham Oratory, whose priests undertook the responsibility of guardianship to Tolkien after the death of his mother. “Support us all the day long of this troublous life until the shades lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last.” I do not think it too fanciful to think that this prayer was in Tolkien’s mind when he wrote this final version of Bilbo’s poem. I first heard it when I was a choir boy in an English parish church near Oxford. The vicar always ended Evensong with this prayer and it had quite an effect on me even though I was just 11 years old. But the image of homecoming has always had this power for me.

Bilbo speaks the poem for himself but also for the ending of an age. For Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf it is also time to leave the Road to others. The Road goes ever on and on and Aragorn has the responsibility of founding a new age. “There is a real king now,” says Frodo to Bilbo,”and he will soon put the roads in order.” And Arwen has chosen to stay with him and not to leave the Road with her father. No-one knows where this road will lead. We walk the same road today pursuing our own errands that we have been given even as Bilbo did. The way as it was for him is often troublous but also wonderful. Each day unfolds both to us as it did to him. And the ending is a homecoming when the work is done.

Frodo is sent off with a blessing and a sense that he has a burden to shoulder once more. He senses that he is reaching the end of the Road but it is not quite just yet.

 

Aragorn and the Lonely Years

When Aragorn first met Arwen Undómiel in the hidden valley of Rivendell he could have no idea what journey was to lie ahead of him. It was loveliness that first called out to Aragorn just as it is with every young man who falls in love but just as it is with every young man falling in love this can never be just a private affair. And if this is so for every young man how much more it is with the heir of Isildur in the very year in which Sauron openly declares himself in the land of Mordor after his long exile and secret returning.

On the day in which Aragorn and Arwen marry in the City of Minas Tirith Tolkien tells us that “the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfilment.” This tale lasted for sixty-eight years.

At first Aragorn has to deal with his mother’s anxiety. For Gilraen the long slow years of the decline of her people have left her fearful about the future. It is not greatness that she sees when she looks upon her son but dependence upon the protection of Elrond. And Elrond himself knows that the long years of his sojourn in Middle-earth draw now to a close and that Arwen will go with him into the West unless something calls her to remain.

“There will be no choice before Arwen, my beloved, unless you, Aragorn Arathorn’s son, come between us and bring one of us, you or me, to a bitter parting beyond the end of the world.”

And so begins the years of labour and of separation. Aragorn becomes Thorongil, the Star Eagle, and serves Thengel King of Rohan and Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor doing great deeds among them and encouraging them to prepare for the crisis that will come. In Gondor he leads a fleet to the Havens of Umbar, destroying the fleet of the Corsairs and overthrowing their captain but at the height of his fame he leaves Gondor and begins his lonely journeys into the South and the East “exploring the hearts of Men, both evil and good, and uncovering the plots and devices of the servants of Sauron.”

And so Aragorn leaves behind the young man exulting in his glory, heir of great kings, captivated by the beauty of an Elven princess, the greatest among her people, even as was Beren long before, the mightiest of his forefathers. The long years of labour and separation leave their mark. He becomes “somewhat grim to look upon” unless he smiles but he becomes the hardiest of living men, skilled in craft and lore and “elven-wise”, the hero of his age who gives no thought to his own greatness but only to his task and to his longing.

“His face was sad and stern because of the doom that was laid on him, and yet hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart, from which mirth would arise at times like a spring from the rock.”

This is a beautiful picture of a man who has been shaped first by joy and then by the adversity that has to follow joy in order to refine it into something of lasting greatness. Aragorn’s majesty will be something that will not be for his benefit alone but will bring life and prosperity to all people. His is a journey from a princeling to a king. Readers will call to mind the moment in the story when he turns aside from his journey to Minas Tirith in order to undertake the pursuit of the orcs who have taken Merry and Pippin. To all extent this is a hopeless task and takes him from what seems far more important. He could try to follow Frodo and the Ring or go to Minas Tirith in its hour of need. His decision to follow the “unimportant” young hobbits proves crucial but he could not have known in what way. He makes the choice not upon a whim but because of the years in which his character has been forged. He trusts in the story of which he is a part sure that Frodo does not need him and that he will come to Minas Tirith at the right time and he risks all the years of hope for a single act of loving kindness whose reward is hidden from him. This is the true king!

Happy are Those Who Struggle

If Sauron were leader of the Fellowship, setting out from Rivendell in possession of the Ring, what would he do? Gandalf knows that it is a question that Sauron has asked himself. Sauron knows that the Fellowship left Rivendell and that they possessed the Ring. He knows something of each member of the Fellowship and that there are hobbits among them. And Gandalf knows that he fears that the Fellowship will go to Minas Tirith and there one of them will wield the Ring, assail Mordor with war, cast him down and take his place. Boromir counselled  that they should go to Minas Tirith but not that one of them should wield the Ring. He hid this desire even from himself.  And Gandalf and Galadriel were tempted to wield the Ring as well. Remember the occasions when Frodo offered the Ring to them, first to Gandalf at Bag End in the Shire and later to Galadriel in Lothlorien. Remember that both were tempted to the very limits of their strength to take it and seek to use it to cast Sauron down. Sauron knows that both have the capacity to do this and so he is afraid. He will unleash war against Minas Tirith as swiftly as he can before his enemies are strong enough to use the Ring to destroy him.

But…

What if Sauron is wrong? What if, as Gandalf says, “we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place?” This not is a thought that “occurs to his mind”. And Gandalf continues: “that we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not entered into his darkest dream.” Indeed Sauron is incapable of dreaming such things. Our dreams, whether waking or sleeping, are the fruit of our spiritual practice. By this I do not mean our religious practices although they can be of help to us in the shaping of our spiritual practice. What I mean is how we cultivate our desire. For Gandalf and Galadriel desire is a deeply complex thing. On the one hand they long to heal the world, to right wrongs and set things right. On the other hand the thought that the power to do this might fall into their hands and that they might be the heroic saviours of the world with all flocking to their banner is deeply attractive. You will note that Boromir desired the same thing. But Sauron does not suffer this agony. He has a different agony because for him only one thing has meaning and that is power over others for it is only power that can free him from the fear that haunts him, his agony that never leaves him, the fear that one day someone will have the power to destroy him and take his place.

Happy are those who know spiritual struggle. Happy are those who wrestle against their own weakness and who begin to learn their own limitations. Happy are those who learn to laugh at themselves, who know that they are not the centre of everything and that it is just as well for everyone that this should be so. Happy are those who know that they have a contribution to make and who make it with a proper self respect but who know that others have a contribution to make too and it may be that the others will receive more praise than they will. And happy are those who just sometimes wish that they could be praised too and allow a wry smile as they recognise the lingering potency of that desire!

Unhappy is Sauron and all like him who do not know this struggle, whose spiritual lives are simple, having been reduced to the pursuit of one desire. Kierkegaard once said that simplicity is to will one thing and he is right. Perhaps it is possible to achieve such simplicity in pursuit of the good. There are signs in The Lord of the Rings that Gandalf and Galadriel have achieved such simplicity. Jesus finally achieves it at the moment when he says, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” But if it is achieved then it is a victory won as the fruit of a renunciation that is a profound struggle that tests them and everyone who pursue such simplicity to their limit and beyond.

The Temptation of St Anthony

This has to be a word of hope to all of us who struggle. Our struggle should not be a cause of pity in others. Rather others should pity us only if we give up fighting. But more of that next week.