Peregrin Took Teaches Us the Value of Cheerfulness in Dark Times

It is Pippin’s cheerfulness that gives courage to Beregond, the soldier of Gondor. It was the kind of cheerfulness that Tolkien met among the soldiers from the villages of England in the trenches of the First World War. On July 1st of this year we will remember the first day of the Battle of the Somme on which 20,000 British soldiers were killed and about 40,000 wounded. Tolkien was present at the battle and survived. My great uncle, Tommy Young, was also present and did not survive. I shall think of him especially on that day.

Tolkien received what was known, amongst the soldiers, as a blighty wound during the battle. This was a wound not serious enough to cause lasting damage but serious enough to mean that the soldier who received it would be withdrawn from the front line for a lengthy period of recuperation. To receive such a wound was generally regarded as good luck among the soldiers. Tolkien though had to live with the fact that among his closest friends he was the only survivor of the war.

It is with this memory that Tolkien begins to describe the preparations for the great battle of The Lord of the Rings at the Pelennor Fields. It may not have been this battle that was to be the decisive action of the story. That was the journey of Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom and the events in the Sammath Naur. But if Minas Tirith had fallen to the armies of Minas Morgul there would have been nowhere to return to for Frodo and Sam.

Pippin’s cheerfulness before the overwhelming might of Mordor reminds us of Sam Gamgee’s reflection at the Black Gate when  it appeared that the journey was at an end. Tolkien tells us that Sam “never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.”

It is this spirit that enables Sam to bring Frodo and the Ring to Mount Doom; that brings Merry and Eowyn to the place in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where they are able to slay the Lord of the Nazgûl; and which enables Pippin to save the life of Faramir in the face of Denethor’s despair and the passivity of his guard. It is not quite the same thing as the great joy that Pippin sees in Gandalf after the encounter with Denethor. Gandalf’s joy is a heavenly thing that Pippin, as yet, can only catch glimpses of; it is the inbreaking of another world into the world that Pippin knows and one that declares that even in the darkest of times the last word belongs to love and to joy and not to darkness. The cheerfulness of the hobbits is of a different order and belongs to the earth. It is a peasant quality that determines to make the best of whatever life brings, enjoying the good without too much expectation that it will last for long and bearing up under times of difficulty. It takes a quiet pride in maintaining the right kind of face. This is not a kind of dissembling, a deliberate attempt to deceive, unless it is to deceive an enemy, but it is a kind of virtue, most closely akin to fortitude. Perhaps the last time it was seen in British life to a great degree was during the heavy bombing of British cities during the Second World War by the German Luftwaffe, an action that was intended to demoralise the civilian population but which failed to do so. Perhaps it should be noted here that the bombing of German cities proved to be just as ineffective in this regard.

Pippin’s cheerfulness will be needed much in the days that lie ahead for the “darkness has begun”. But it will be no mere whistling in the wind. It will be a source of strength that will enable him to do brave deeds and will prevent the doing of great harm. We will do well to honour this quality and to develop it ourselves.

 

What Was Gandalf?

When we read the story of the journey of Frodo and Sam into Mordor we noted that he did so through the voice of Sam. Now he tells the story through Pippin and later he will do so through Merry. It is Pippin who watches Gandalf and Denethor wrestling with one another.

“Pippin saw a likeness between the two, and he felt the strain between them, almost as if he saw a line of smouldering fire, drawn from eye to eye, that might suddenly burst into flame.”

Pippin’s first reaction as he gazes at them both is that Denethor is the more kingly and that he is older.  In fact Denethor is only one year older than Aragorn and yet Denethor is indeed old while Aragorn is at the height of his powers. Both are descended from the race of Númenor and yet the story of Númenor runs more truly in Aragorn and this is not just because he is descended from Elendil and Isildur.

Pippin begins to see this as he gazes at them. Denethor may look more kingly and yet “by a sense other than sight Pippin perceived that Gandalf had the greater power and the deeper wisdom and a majesty that was veiled. And he was older, far older.”

Pippin is growing up. He is beginning to see things as they really are. In the New Testament this is called the discerning of spirits. Pippin still thinks of himself as a boy and when he meets Bergil later in the day he will feel the relief of not being among the mighty any longer but whether he wishes it or not he is leaving childhood behind. Thankfully he will carry the best of childhood with him as Gandalf did when he played with fireworks in the Shire at Bilbo’s party. The best of adults never lose it. There is a playfulness about them that travels along with the seriousness. In some like Tom Bombadil it is very strong indeed. In characters like Saruman and Denethor it has been lost almost entirely. In Théoden it is found through his brief friendship with Merry.

“What was Gandalf?” Pippin asks. Tolkien never quite reveals the mystery of one of his greatest characters. He tells us that the wizards, the Istari, first came to Middle-earth after the first thousand years as the darkness begins to grow once more. Their task is to encourage the free peoples of Middle-earth to resist it, each doing so in their own particular way. But what they were before this we are not told. When Gandalf confronts the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm he declares that he is “a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the  flame of Anor.” In his excellent book on Tolkien’s spiritual vision, Secret Fire, Stratford Caldecott speaks of the fire as Tolkien’s term “for the distinctive creative power of Eru” that represents “life, love and creativity, the wisdom and love of God that burns at the heart of the world and sustains it in existence- it is a willed emanation from the creative energy of God’s own self; it is the life of God shared with the world.” This is the fire that Melkor/Morgoth seeks for himself but he cannot find it “because it is with Ilúvatar”. Even Morgoth’s own existence is dependent upon God and so is Sauron’s and all who serve him. Thus they cannot create and can only mar as is most terribly true of the orcs who are twisted forms of the Elves the most beautiful of God’s creatures.

This is what Gandalf serves and yet it is, as Pippin realises, veiled. And that is the nature of love and of grace. It has to be veiled if it is to inspire courage and goodness in others and not to overwhelm them or force them to behave in a particular way thus taking away their freedom. There is nothing veiled about Saruman who seeks the admiration of others. And just like Pippin we have begun to learn wisdom when we stop looking for greatness in the obvious and begin to see it in the hidden and in the veiled.

His Name is Peregrin, a Very Valiant Man.

Thus declares Gandalf when challenged by the guards of the Rammas Echor, the defence that surrounds the fields of the Pelennor, the fertile farm lands that lie before the great city of Minas Tirith. Ingold, their commander, recognises Gandalf who has been to the city many times but who is his small companion? Gandalf replies:

“As for valour, that cannot be computed by stature. He has passed through more battles and perils than you have, Ingold, though you be twice his height; and he comes now from the storming of Isengard, of which we bear tidings, and great weariness is on him, or I would wake him. His name is Peregrin, a very valiant man.”

A few weeks ago we thought about the journey of Samwise Gamgee from simple gardener to mighty warrior. By doing so we did not seek to diminish the calling of gardener. Sam will return to his gardens gladly but he will be a kingly gardener even as Faramir will be a kingly gardener as Prince of Ithilien, the Garden of Gondor. The journey to manhood must pass through hardship, peril and battle. Such a journey will make a boy a warrior and perhaps a lover and a wise teacher too; and if the journey is continued until its ending it will make the man kingly.

Pippin began the journey as a boy. His ambition on its second full day, even after the first encounters with the Ringwraiths, was limited to spending as much time as possible in The Golden Perch at Stock in the East Farthing of the Shire and enjoying its excellent beer. That day lies just a few short months ago in the past and Pippin will never lose the boyishness that will always make him so attractive but since that day he has passed through the attack upon the camp below Weathertop, the fall of Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, the time he spent as a prisoner of the orcs of Isengard and then the time with Treebeard and the storming of Isengard. And last and as significant as all of these there is the humiliation that he suffered before the ravenous gaze of Sauron when he looked into the Seeing Stone of Orthanc.

All of these things have transformed Pippin, not by some kind of magical action that happens simply when a person passes through hardship and failure but by the wisdom that is learnt through such experience. Pippin is a little sadder and much wiser through what he has learnt so he declares:

“I am a hobbit and no more valiant than I am a man, save perhaps now and again by necessity.”

Ingold immediately recognises that these are words spoken by a true warrior one who has truly learnt the lessons of hardship. A boy would try to convince others of his courage by boastfulness. Pippin is no longer a boy.

The words that Gandalf spoke were not just intended for Ingold and his men but for Pippin also. Gandalf knows that whatever lies ahead Pippin will need great courage. In calling Pippin a man he calls him to manly deeds and bearing. Pippin may make light of all that he has been through. He is more aware of what he owes to the courage of Boromir and his humiliation with the Palantir than he is of any deed he may have performed but his back is a little straighter and he stands a little taller because of Gandalf’s words. Perhaps we should say especially because they are Gandalf’s words. Pippin will remember Gandalf’s angry rebukes.  A boy usually needs the blessing, the approval of a wise father in order to become a true man. “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Pippin has received a father’s blessing. He is Peregrin, a very valiant man.

Farewell (for a while) to Frodo and Sam

I began to write in this blog about the journey of Frodo and Sam from the Emyn Muil at the beginning of March in 2015 and now, about a year later, it is time to leave them where Tolkien does, at the gates of the orc tower that guards the pass of Cirith Ungol before it descends into the land of Mordor.

“The great doors slammed to. Boom. The bars of iron fell into place inside. Clang. The gate was shut. Sam hurled himself against the bolted brazen plates and fell senseless to the ground. He was out in the darkness. Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”

We have been on such a journey in this last year! We began with the frustration of the hobbits as they went round and round the hills of the Emyn Muil and then the capture of Sméagol and, for a time at least, his taming. Together with them we crossed the Dead Marshes and reached the Black Gate that was shut against them. Then we turned south for a time until we entered the spoiled beauty of Ithilien, Tolkien’s “dishevelled dryad loveliness.” In Ithilien we met the noble Faramir who showed the hobbits the true Gondor, born of Númenor and of the faithfulness of the Elf Friends, of Elendil and of his forefathers, Eärendil and Beren, and of his foremothers, Elwing and Lúthien. Then after an all too brief rest in the refuge of Henneth Annûn we journeyed on with Frodo and Sam and their treacherous guide into the Morgul Vale, climbed with them up the stair to Cirith Ungol and to Shelob’s Lair. There we encountered the horror of the monster that dwelt in those tunnels of darkness visible but we also saw the inbreaking of the  wondrous light of the Star Glass of Galadriel, the Morning Star of Eärendil, the Silmaril of Fëanor, and we saw Sam, the hero in the darkest moment, driving away the traitor, Gollum, and vanquishing Shelob herself. Shelob is defeated but not before she has stung Frodo and rendered him helpless. Sam takes the Ring from Frodo believing himself to be the last remaining member of the Fellowship and begins his journey towards the Cracks of Doom and the Ring’s destruction only to find that a  company of orcs has found Frodo and taken him alive into their guard tower. Frodo is a prisoner inside it and Sam is shut out.

And that is how it ends, at least for now. The door is shut. Frodo is a prisoner. Sam is shut out. I don’t blame Tolkien for stopping here. It’s as Frodo put it when he and Sam were talking about stories just before they entered Shelob’s Lair:

“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: “Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.”

So this post on my blog is dedicated to all who feel stuck, who feel they have reached a dead end in their lives. There is no way that Frodo and Sam can rescue themselves from this situation. Frodo is drugged and bound and soon he will be naked. Sam is one small hobbit and even if he uses the Ring it wouldn’t be long before he gets the attention of the last being in the world that he would ever want to meet. They cannot save themselves. Help will have to come to them from outside. It will come to you too. Ask for it.

This is no accident on Tolkien’s part. He wanted to tell a story in which the world was saved by the small. He believed (and so do I) that such a story was true to the Christian faith in which he believed. If you want to follow this thought further then listen to this talk by Brenton Dickieson http://apilgriminnarnia.com/2016/02/01/a-hobbits-theology-2016-pub-talk/ He puts it really well.

But now we have to leave Frodo and Sam. Next week we will be with Gandalf and Pippin once more. See you then.

 

Shagrat and Gorbag Carry Frodo to Mordor

As soon as Sam hangs the chain and the Ring that it holds about his neck we feel it!

“At once his head was bowed to the ground with the weight of the Ring, as if a great stone had been strung on him.”

Until this moment we have not known how great a burden Frodo has had to bear. We could not have known because the story is being told through Sam and Sam could not possibly have known for Frodo has hidden it from him.

But now we do know about Frodo’s burden even as we know that Frodo was wounded by the sword of the Lord of the Nazgûl and even as we know that he has been stung by Shelob. All that is left of him, or so it would seem, is a body bound by Shelob’s cords and that is what Shagrat, Gorbag and their orc companies find upon the road. They pick Frodo up and carry him to their tower that stands at the border of Mordor.

So this is how Frodo enters Mordor. Not as a mighty hero, sword in hand, nor even as a stealthy spy slipping through the defences of his foes; but as a body carried by orcs.

Even the orcs only carry him because, as Shagrat puts it, Frodo is “something that Lugbúrz wants.” Lugbúrz is the name that the orcs give to Barad-dûr, the fortress of Sauron. If it had not been for the orders that the orcs received from Sauron they would have left Frodo to die by the roadside or played with his body like a football. As it is The Dark Lord is concerned about news that someone has penetrated his defences and so gives some attention to the matter. His greater attention is given to the armies that he sent to overwhelm the defences of Gondor or else it would not be orcs that he would have sent to the pass of Cirith Ungol but something more trustworthy that would have carried Frodo straight to his presence. As it is the orcs carry Frodo just far enough…

For this theme is one that is very important to Tolkien. In this blog we have looked at it a number of times before, thinking about how Sam carried Frodo to Mordor https://stephencwinter.com/2015/03/17/sam-carries-frodo-to-mordor/  and how the Fellowship carried Frodo and Sam there as well https://stephencwinter.com/2015/03/31/the-fellowship-carry-frodo-and-sam-to-mordor/ . In Sam’s case he carries Frodo because it is a task that he has been given  (“Don’t you leave him, Sam Gamgee!”) and because he loves him. In the case of the Fellowship from the time of the attack by the  Uruk-hai at the Falls of Rauros until the Battle of the Pelennor Fields it is something that they are unaware that they are doing even though their thoughts often turn to Frodo and Sam. In the case of the orcs there is, of course, absolutely no sense of being a help at all. But for Tolkien what governs the actions of all that we have considered is Providence. It was Gandalf who told Frodo that he was “meant” to have the Ring and that this was “an encouraging thought”. Gandalf is reflecting on how the Ring first fell into Bilbo’s hands and was then passed onto into Frodo’s. Neither of them chose to have the Ring and this is terribly important. Sauron made the Ring, Isildur cut it from Sauron’s hand and Gollum murdered his friend so that he  could have it. Neither Bilbo nor Frodo ever desired the Ring although both found it hard to give up once they possessed it.

Here we see the vital relationship between Providence and Freedom. Providence does not destroy Freedom but works with it, but only if it is Freedom in the service of the Good. So at every point in Frodo’s journey help is given and most especially when unlooked for and at the darkest moments. Now even the implacable will of Sauron himself must serve the Good. Under his orders Shagrat and Gorbag carry Frodo into Mordor and thus bring about its destruction.

Sam Gamgee Teaches Us to Make Good Choices

Freaky Friday was a favourite movie in our family as our girls were growing up. Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother finds herself in the body of her daughter who is played by Lindsey Lohan and her daughter finds herself in her mother’s body and both of them discover that it is tough to be the other. And there is a line that we all came to enjoy  (and most especially my wife!) which was delivered by Jamie Lee Curtis to her daughter.

“Make Good Choices!”

It was a line that summed up a parent’s desperate desire for her child as she makes the journey towards adulthood and also the feeling of powerlessness that a parent feels as the child walks out of the door (which they must!) and into a world that the parent cannot control.

After he fights his great battles with Gollum and with Shelob Sam is presented with a choice. He is sure that Frodo is dead and that if the quest of the Ring is to be completed then he alone must do it. He remembers the words he spoke to Frodo at the beginning of their journey after they had met the elven company of Gildor Inglorion. “I have something to do before the end. I must see it through, sir, if you understand.”

And so poor Sam takes Sting and he takes the Star Glass of Galadriel and he takes the Ring. A voice within him declares that “the errand must not fail” and Sam knows that he must make up his own mind. No one can else can do it for him. Not that he has any confidence that he will make the right choice.

“I’ll be sure to go wrong,” he says, “that’ll be Sam Gamgee all over.”

We have been here before with Sam and what we know is that he will strive to do the right thing and that he will never be sure that he is doing the right thing. Furthermore, this time it will be even worse for Sam because in any moment of doubt in the story until now he has had a guiding principle that has carried him through and that has been to serve Frodo the best he can. Now, as far as he is concerned, Frodo is dead and the lode star of his life has been taken from him. Sam has to make a choice without him, perhaps for the first time in his life.

We are all grateful for the choice that Sam makes because if the orcs had found him beside Frodo the end would have been heroic but also swift and horrible. Sam is able to evade capture or death because he puts on the Ring. He then learns that Frodo is not dead but only drugged because Shelob’s preference is for live meat. He is horrified when he learns this but he has done the right thing. He could not possibly have saved Frodo from the orcs.

What has Sam taught us about making good choices in the really tough times in life? Surely the first thing is that often we will not be sure that the choice is right especially when more than one possibility seems to be the right one. Like Sam we will have to learn to live with the possibility that we may have been wrong. We may even feel, as Sam does, that we have acted against the grain of our nature. What we do know is that in a moment of crisis we must make a choice. Sam has made his and the very fact that he has made a choice makes all the difference. Next week we will see the part that Providence plays in every one of our lives but neither Providence nor Grace can be of much help to us if we remain entirely passive. We must make whatever choice we can even if it the only one we can make is to bear our lot as bravely and as lovingly as we can.

 

 

The Hero’s Journey of Sam Gamgee

After Frodo invokes Eärendil, the Morning Star, the bearer of the sorrows of Middle-earth to the Valar at the end of the First Age, he and Sam are able to break free of Shelob’s webs and for a moment it seems they are free. Frodo is drunk with the wonder of his escape, while Sam, for his part, is almost too cautious; so it is that Sam hides the Star Glass and in the darkness Shelob attacks Frodo while Gollum attacks Sam. All seems lost and yet a few minutes later Gollum is fleeing for his life while Shelob is “cowed at last, shrunken in defeat” and she hides herself away in a hole to nurse her malice and to heal herself from within.

During those few minutes Sam fights two mighty battles, both of which are far beyond him, and he emerges as a mighty and a victorious hero.

And he does not have any sense that this is what he is!

In his great work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces , Joseph Campbell describes the elements common to what he calls, the Hero’s Journey. And this is what Sam’s story has been. The story begins with Sam caring for Frodo’s garden and his longing to see the wonders of the wider world and, most of all, to “see Elves!” This dissatisfaction is the classic beginning of Campbell’s monomyth and it takes him on the journey that has now led him to Shelob’s Lair and the battles in defence of the master that he loves more even than his own life. Readers of my blog who know Campbell’s work will know of the resistance to the call to adventure that in Sam’s case is his sense of insignificance and also of the importance of a mentor. For Sam, my own belief is that the mentor takes various guises including Gandalf, Aragon and Galadriel but perhaps, most important of all, Frodo himself, who Sam regards as “the wisest person in the world.” Last year I wrote in this blog a posting that I entitled Frodo Carries Sam to Mordor https://stephencwinter.com/2015/03/24/frodo-carries-sam-to-mordor/ and it was Campbell’s sense of the vital role of the mentor that I had in mind there. At the beginning of the story Sam could only connect to the wondrous world through Frodo as mediator. That changes, and the change begins now, as Sam becomes a mighty warrior, part of the great ordeal of which Campbell also speaks. Later Sam will be revered as one of the great figures of his age and still he will hardly notice it!

This is what is unusual in Sam’s heroic journey. Sam has little or no awareness that he is on such a thing. To him if there is a hero then it must be Frodo. Even in the battle with Shelob Sam cries out in admiration when Shelob retreats before Frodo as he holds the Star Glass aloft. What songs will be sung about this great deed! I wonder if even Tolkien was taken by surprise by Sam? In The Fellowship of the Ring the story is told through Frodo but from the sundering of the Fellowship and through the journey to Mordor it is through Sam that the story is told. I will have much more to say about their different roles but here I want to show the way in which Sam grows through the journey.

This is where we will leave Sam today, covered in glory after his mighty battles but thinking only of Frodo. And I will end too on a personal note. Unlike Sam I have always lived with a consciousness of playing a part in a story. Often I have longed for Sam’s self forgetfulness but if I am to achieve it then the work must be a conscious forgetting. I must become the nothing (the no thing) of which the mystics speak. Not to be a zero but to become free of being a thing and to become a person. Once I wanted to be the hero of my own story albeit a religious one. Now I wish simply to be a man.