“There Will Be Few Gardens in Middle-earth That Will Bloom Like Your Garden”. Galadriel’s Gift to Sam Gamgee.

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

Last week we thought about the gift that Galadriel gave to Aragorn at her parting from the Fellowship. To Boromir she gives a belt of gold. To Merry and Pippin belts of silver with clasps wrought “like a golden flower”. They will put these clasps to good use later in the story when they are captives of the Uruk-hai of Isengard. And to Legolas she gives a bow “such as the Galadhrim used, longer and stouter than the bows of Mirkwood”. Legolas will put his gift to good use in the adventures that lie ahead for him.

To Sam she gives a very particular gift and one that is very close to her own heart.

Edward Beard Jnr imagines the giving of Galadriel’s gift to Sam.

“‘For you little gardener and lover of trees,’ she said to Sam, ‘I have only a small gift.’ She put into his hand a little box of plain grey wood, unadorned save for a silver rune upon the lid.’Here is set G for Galadriel,’ she said; ‘but it may also stand for garden in your tongue. In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it. It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you. Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there.'”

Galadriel may speak of her gift to Sam as small and in doing so she is kind to him, not wishing to overwhelm him, but in many ways the gift she gives is hardly less significant than the one she gave to Aragorn. If for Aragorn the green stone was a symbol of his kingly destiny, for Sam her small gift is a symbol of all that she has sought to preserve in Middle-earth. It is “a glimpse far off of Lórien”.

We saw when Sam was in Cerin Amroth how he saw in “sunlight and bright day” something more elvish than he had ever heard tell of, and how this had surprised him, thinking that Elves were for the “moon and stars”. Indeed, so moved was Sam by all that he saw and felt that he described his experience as being “inside a song”. Haldir responded by saying that Sam could feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim. Galadriel is a woman of the morning, of spring and summer, and in the beauty of Lothlórien she has made a land that expresses all that she is. Later in the story, at the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, Éomer and Gimli will partake of chivalric dispute over whether Galadriel is the most beautiful woman in Middle-earth or not. Éomer will choose Arwen Evenstar over Galadriel and Gimli will say that Éomer has chosen the beauty of the evening over that of the morning.

Eleniel captures morning upon Cerin Amroth.

Galadriel has seen something of her own spirit in Sam and that Sam, too, is a man of the morning. This is why he will be so important to Frodo in the journey to Mount Doom. Even after the Ring has gone to the Fire and it seems that it is the end of all things Sam will choose the possibility of hope by taking Frodo to a place away from the lava flows. And when Saruman lays waste to the Shire in revenge for his own fall it will be Sam who will use Galadriel’s gift, not only to make his own garden like Lothlórien, but to make the whole Shire a “glimpse far off of Lórien”. The effects of Galadriel’s blessing will perhaps surpass her own imagination. If her heart is now filled with thoughts of fading and ending, Sam’s heart is always filled with thoughts of making. He sees hope and healing beyond the wasteland.

Sam Gamgee healing the hurts of the world.

The Mirror of Galadriel. Sam Gamgee is Torn in Two Once Again.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 351-354

It was the Gaffer, Sam’s father, who expressed a pious hope that his son would not go getting mixed up in the business of his betters or he would land in trouble too big for him, and the Gaffer was right, Sam is way out of his depth, but then so too are the rest of the Fellowship. If they are to triumph in the end it will not be because of their strength or even their wisdom but because something greater than they are is at work in the story of Middle-earth.

But none of this is able to dampen Sam’s curiosity. He would “dearly love to see some Elf-magic”. He knows that what is going on around him in the enchanted land of Lothlórien is of a different order to the fireworks “that poor Gandalf used to show” and that Sam had just celebrated in verse but it is his childlike desire for the wonderful that is at work within him and it is in part at least to this desire that Galadriel responds, almost as a mother will do at a birthday party for her child.

The Mirror of Galadriel

But Galadriel has other purposes in mind than entertainment when she takes Sam and Frodo to see her mirror. She knows that it is these two, the Ringbearer and the one whose faithful companionship will be crucial if the quest is to be accomplished that she needs to test. Each of the others will have a vital part to play but it is only these two that she seeks out at this moment just before they leave.

It is Sam who must be tested first. What he sees in the mirror is what will later be The Scouring of the Shire.

“There’s that Ted Sandyman a-cutting down trees as he shouldn’t. They didn’t ought to be felled: it’s that avenue beyond the Mill that shades the road to Bywater. I wish I could get at Ted, and I’d fell him!”

And there is worse to come.

“They’ve dug up Bagshot Row, and there’s the poor old gaffer going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow. I must go home!”

The Scouring of the Shire as imagined by Owen William Weber

And this is the point of Galadriel’s testing. Will Sam go with Frodo to the very end, knowing, as he now does, that behind him, in the place that he loves the most in all the world, destruction is, or may be, taking place? Already we have seen Sam face the same test, at the moment at the Gates of Moria when Bill the Pony fled in terror and Sam had to help rescue Frodo from the Watcher in the Waters, and at the moment when it seemed that Galadriel was offering him the chance to fly back to the Shire to a nice little hole with a garden of his own. At each stage Sam has passed the test and stayed true to Frodo but this is the hardest of them all. The destruction of his home and he was not there to defend it.

Galadriel does not make a speech about how he must stay true to the Quest so that the Ring may be destroyed and the whole world, a world that includes the Shire, may be saved. She simply reminds him that he could not go back alone, that he knew already that things might be amiss in the Shire, and that the Mirror is not a reliable guide to the future.

Sam is shattered. At this moment he is in full accord with the Gaffer’s anxiety that it is a dangerous thing to get mixed up in the affairs of his betters. He has no more desire for magic. Cabbages and potatoes are better for him. He might, on reflection, note that we do not have to go looking for trouble in order to find it. Trouble is capable of finding us while we sit in peace by a well tended hearth. This is the cautious Gaffer’s experience, much to the malicious pleasure of Ted Sandyman. But at the last Sam speaks the words that emerge through all the tests he has been through; words that express his deepest truth.

“I’ll go home by the long road with Mr Frodo, or not at all.”

“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.

“Your Quest Stands Upon The Edge of a Knife.” Galadriel’s Silent Interrogation of Each Member of The Fellowship.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 346-349

At one time in her life Galadriel was made to endure an interrogation about events for which she was not responsible but in which she played a part. Melian, Queen of Doriath, and the mother of Lúthien Tinúviel, questioned her long about the reason why the Noldor had returned to Middle-earth from Valinor; long and searchingly until at last she learned the truth, or at least enough of the truth for her to be able fit more of the missing pieces into the puzzle and so make sense of it. Now Galadriel undertakes her own interrogation, in this case of the members of the Fellowship. She has good reason to do this and she declares her reason to them all.

Galadriel Searches the Hearts of the Fellowship

“Your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.”

And so she begins to hold each one with her eyes. It is the truth of their hearts that she seeks to discern. Her long years of wise perception and her gift of discernment are brought to bear upon each member of the Fellowship. For most of them the experience is excruciating and for some of them it is not so much the motives that they own that are brought into the open but those that they hide from themselves or justify to themselves.

Only Aragorn and Legolas are able to endure her gaze for very long. As we saw when we thought about the words that Aragorn spoke aloud to Arwen at Cerin Amroth, Aragorn no longer has hope beyond the ending of the Quest itself. He no longer has hope that he will win Arwen’s hand. That hope fell into the depths of Moria as Gandalf fell with the Balrog. He said to his fellows, “We must do without hope.” His life has been reduced to a pure simplicity. To take the next step and then the next until the end, doing whatever good he can do at each moment until there is no more that he can do. Legolas has no personal interest to declare in this matter for he has none. Elrond chose him to represent the Elves in the Quest and he will stay true to his calling.

As for the others the search of Galadriel’s eyes is much more disturbing. Sam finds that the possibility of returning to the Shire, to a home and garden, is laid out before him. It is what he will receive eventually but he has the choice, whether to try to grasp it now or to take the long road with Frodo. Later he will receive the same temptation to abandon Frodo but in another form. In the Mirror of Galadriel he will see his father in distress and the temptation will come, not in the form of his desire, which is always present, but as a cry for help. Poor Sam will hear this cry often, just as he did with Bill the pony, and each time with a breaking heart he will have to repeat the same words in his heart. “I had to choose, Mr Frodo. I had to come with you.” Sam’s loyalty to Frodo always comes at a cost.

That Merry also has a similar temptation is perhaps more of a surprise although we note throughout the story that once the four hobbits left the Shire Merry, who until that point had been the competent organiser until the moment that he fell into the clutches of Old Man Willow in the Old Forest, always and increasingly feels out of his depth, like a piece of luggage that others have to bear.

No-one asks Pippin what he experienced. Pippin is the little boy of the Company. The one that the others do not take with much seriousness. Gimli, and Frodo too, do not speak of what they are offered, or seem to be offered, which leaves us with Boromir.

“Almost I should have said that she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give. It need not be said that I refused to listen. The Men of Minas Tirith are true to their word.”

We do not learn at this point what it was that tempted Boromir. We probably find out at the time that he tries to take the Ring from Frodo and we will think about it then. At this stage it is enough for us to know that while each member of the Fellowship has reason not to be true to the Quest it is not so much the knowledge of that reason that they need to fear but the reasons that they try to hide from themselves. These are the temptations that have real danger both for them and the Quest.

Boromir Under the Gaze of Galadriel

“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.

“I Feel As If I Was Inside a Song, if You Take My Meaning.” The Fellowship at Cerin Amroth.

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

As so often in The Lord of the Rings Tolkien chooses Sam Gamgee to try to express the inexpressible. The Fellowship have arrived at Cerin Amroth after walking blindfolded all day through Lothlórien. At last messages come from the Lady Galadriel and all the blindfolds are removed. Frodo has had a growing sense that he is journeying back into the Elder Days and that here the ancient world is more than a memory, it still lives.

Alan Lee evokes Elanor and Niphredil on Cerin Amroth

“Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name.”

For Frodo language is no longer adequate for what he is experiencing.

“He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful.”

Eleniel imagines Cerin Amroth

This is the unmediated experience in which the ordinary, here expressed as colours with which we are all familiar, is transfigured. Such an experience is possible in any place and at any moment. It always comes as a surprise, surprised by joy as Wordsworth put it, and which C.S Lewis chose as the title of his autobiography. It is never possible to manufacture such an experience, to somehow create the right conditions for it to happen, but Frodo has developed a capacity better than many do to receive it through long practice of a love of beauty and a deep longing for it.

And so does Sam. Whereas Frodo knows that language is hopelessly inadequate for what he is experiencing and so remains silent Sam has no such inhibitions. He does not have any regard for his own ability to put things into words and so retains a childlike simplicity of speech. Whereas his old adversary, Ted Sandyman, constantly congratulates himself for his own cleverness, his ability to see through things and not be caught out, Sam has no such confidence. At the beginning of the story Sam expresses his desire to go on the journey in two simple ways. He wants to go with Frodo wherever Frodo goes and he wants to see Elves. Ted Sandyman would have laughed at him for this and no doubt he did but though Sam might be a little hurt by the scorn of others he is not deflected from his course by it. He is the truly simple one who wills one thing.

And so he is chosen as the right member of the Fellowship to put into words the experience of Cerin Amroth.

“It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,” he said. “I thought that the Elves were all for moon and stars; but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.”

A song has words but it is rare that they have the intention to explain things. The language of a song is the language of the heart, sometimes of the gut, but rarely of the head. And the music of a song, whether it is a marching tune to send soldiers into battle, or a gentle ballad to help lovers express how they feel about each other, can never be an explanation of anything. So Haldir does take Sam’s meaning, the meaning of Sam’s heart and he smiles.

“You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim,” he said. And this is most certainly true. But might we say that what Sam feels is not a power that originates in Galadriel but that which flows through her, enabling her to subcreate this earthly paradise in praise of Eru?

In his joyous essay, The Ethics of Elfland, G.K Chesterton tries to put into words what Frodo and Sam experience here and he does rather well! In it Chesterton says that perhaps God, like a child (like Sam Gamgee?) never tires of repetition so that the world can never be monotonous to God. “It may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.” And that repetition in nature is never “a mere recurrence” but an encore.

And it is in this encore in Cerin Amroth that Frodo and Sam delight and applaud.

“I Would Not Have You Go Without Seeing Kheled-zâram.” Gimli Takes Frodo to The Mirrormere.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.324-325

Gandalf has only just fallen into the abyss beneath the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and Aragorn is anxious that the Company should put as much distance as it possibly can between itself and the Gates of Moria. He knows that as soon as night falls orcs will commence their pursuit and all the lives of the remaining members of the Fellowship will be in great danger.

But despite both grief and danger there is one member who cannot leave this place without looking and that person is Gimli the dwarf. Even though, ever since Gandalf read aloud from the Book of Mazarbul in the chamber that held it and which contained the tomb of Balin, Gimli has known that Balin himself was slain by orcs at this spot he must still pause upon his journey and look.

Ted Nasmith’s depiction of Mirrormere. It feels like a devotion before a sacrament.

Gimli goes to look into the Mirrormere, the waters of Kheled-zâram about which we thought some weeks ago. It is the most sacred place in all the world of the dwarves, the place where Durin at his awakening looked, and saw his own reflection crowned by stars.

"He stooped and looked in Mirrormere, 
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head."

Gimli must look at this also and when he does so he looks upon the sacred mystery of his own people, star-crowned amidst the endless depths of space, a reflection in a flawless mirror, but only an image and not a reality. That reality, as the dwarves believe, lies ahead in some future time. And the language that they use to speak of this time is the awakening of Durin from sleep. Perhaps Balin went to look in the waters hoping to see his own reflection held by the crown of stars, wondering whether he might be Durin reawakened. The death that he suffered by an orc arrow there brutally put an end to such dreams if such dreams he had.

Alan Lee has us look at Mirrormere from a distance.
"But still the sunken stars appear 
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep, 
Till Durin wakes again from sleep."

Later Galadriel will understand why Gimli had to look upon the “ancient home” of his people and in expressing her understanding she will awaken love and devotion in his heart. Surely a love and devotion that he is feeling after, seeking for in his heart, as he goes to look in the waters but does not find until he sees it in the smile of one that he had thought an enemy.

But why did Gimli choose Frodo to be his companion in his search? We note that Gimli is not alone in making this choice. On the hill of Cerin Amroth, “the heart of Elvendom on earth” where Aragorn’s “heart dwells ever” he takes Frodo’s hand in his as he walks away from his own sacred place in order to continue the journey. It is as if both Gimli and then Aragorn wish to draw the Ringbearer into their stories, their sacred stories, thus linking the story that he must live and breathe with their own. Neither Gimli nor Aragorn seek to forge a friendship with Frodo. For Gimli that bond belongs to his friendship with Legolas while for Aragorn it belongs to some degree to Legolas and Gimli as they journey across the plains of Rohan in search of Merry and Pippin and then through many trials until the great battle before the gates of Minas Tirith, but is kept most truly for Arwen and for her alone. No, it is not friendship that they seek but an almost unconscious entwining of their stories, their deepest longings, with Frodo and the burden that has been laid upon him.

There is a sense in which Frodo is a figure who is becoming almost other worldly. A certain kind of holiness, of separateness, is being ascribed to him. Is it, for example, entirely a random choice on Tolkien’s part to have Pippin ask Sam what he saw in Mirrormere and not his old friend from rambles in the Shire? Perhaps there is a sense that what Frodo sees in this holy place belongs to him alone. It is Sam who must tell the others but Sam too has been rendered silent by the vision, by the mystery of this place.

Kimberley80 draws us closer in to what Durin saw.

“These Are Not Holes. This is The Great Realm and City of The Dwarrowdelf.” Gimli Speaks of The Glory of Moria Of Old.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 306-310

After a night spent in silent thought at the door to the guardroom Gandalf announces to a rested company the way that he will lead them. “It is time we began to climb up again.”

He leads them along what was once an important road and they make good progress. Eventually they pass through an arched doorway “into a black and empty space.”

Gandalf raises his staff and light blazes forth from it for a brief moment illuminating “a vast roof far above their heads upheld by many mighty pillars hewn of stone”. They are in one of the great halls of Moria, the dwarf city of old. Sam Gamgee, who as a hobbit knows a thing or two about holes and living in them, is overwhelmed both by the hall’s sheer size and darkness.

Alan Lee’s depiction of the Halls of Moria

“There must have been a mighty crowd of dwarves here once upon a time… and everyone of them busier than badgers for five hundred years to make all this, and most in hard rock too! What did they do it all for? They didn’t live in these darksome holes surely?” Sam is comparing the work of the dwarves of Moria to the creation of a hobbit hole in The Shire and he is overwhelmed by awe and by horror. Then Gimli replies.

“These are not holes… This is the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf. And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs.”

Peter Jackson gives us a sense of the smallness of the Company amidst the “black and empty space” of Hall 21.

In Peter Jackson’s film version of this scene the light that blazes forth from Gandalf’s staff is allowed to shine a little longer than in the book but this allows us to gaze longer at the ancient glory of the city. The style of architecture chosen there is medieval gothic and we do not know, of course, if that is what the dwarves would actually have chosen or if that is what was in Tolkien’s imagination as he wrote this beautiful passage. But I did not mind this when I first saw this scene in the film, indeed I found myself deeply moved by the dignified grandeur of a beauty that is passing away. Like the architects of the Gothic revival of the nineteenth century, men like Pugin who created the British Houses of Parliament, I think that medieval gothic was one of the great human achievements, seeking as it did to express divine beauty, essential beauty, for the sake of the glory of God alone. A few years ago a game of Monopoly was created which was located in the city of Worcester here in England that lies just a few miles from my home. I remember being much amused by the fact that the city’s cathedral was the most valuable property on the board. Of course it is easily the most beautiful building in the city but as to its monetary value how does one calculate this? If it were not a cathedral whose purpose is the worship of God what would it be used for? Any other use would diminish its beauty in order to make it more use-ful in the utilitarian sense that dominates modern thought. It might become a museum but then would be merely a memory of that which we once had and knew but which we would have lost.

What is the real estate value of Worcester Cathedral or might we understand its true value in other terms?

My experience of being moved by Peter Jackson’s powerful evocation of this scene was tinged with sadness. Like Gimli I felt that I was looking on a glory that was passing away and could never return. Tolkien’s world is one in which the future is one in which two possibilities seem to lie ahead. One is Sauron’s future which is a descent into darkness. It is one in which Sam’s “darksome holes” becomes the only reality there is. The other is more ambiguous in its nature. One is expressed in the hope of Aragorn and the Return of the King. The other is expressed in the world that Lotho Pimple and Ted Sandyman briefly tried to create in The Shire, a world of business opportunities. And although this world is thwarted at The Battle of Bywater and by the death of Saruman and the other principal actors one cannot help but feel that it lurks in the shadows waiting its moment. And it is this world, the world of greed for gain, that brought about the fall of Moria, through lust for mithril. Frodo wears a mithril shirt that is worth more money than the entire value of The Shire.

“I Had to Choose, Mr. Frodo. I Had to Come With You.” Sam Gamgee at The Doors of Durin.”

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 300-301

The final chapter of The Two Towers is entitled The Choices of Master Samwise, that terrible moment when Sam is convinced that Shelob has killed Frodo and that he must go on alone for the sake of the world, to bear the Ring to the Fire and so complete the task that Frodo was given at the Council in Rivendell. The very title that Tolkien gives to Sam, Master Samwise, in that chapter head, is the most dignified that he can give. Tolkien’s Shire is very much like the rural England of his childhood with clear class distinctions and so Frodo Baggins is entitled Mister while his gardener is Master. One of the themes that runs through The Lord of the Rings is the way in which the relationship between Frodo and Sam, one that begins as Master and Servant, becomes a friendship based upon all that they have shared together.

Not that Sam ever quite realises this. Even as they make their last journey to The Grey Havens together Sam still addresses Frodo as Mister. This is not just an expression of the society of Tolkien’s early years and of the Shire that he creates but it also shows us where Sam feels most at home for there is never a moment in his life in which he bears any resentment concerning his place in this world. When Frodo leaves Sam becomes the Master of Bag End, his family name changes from Gamgee to Gardner and he becomes a gentleman and Mayor of the Shire.

Perhaps Frodo had to leave in order to create this space for Sam because until that moment Frodo is the very centre of Sam’s world and whereas Frodo was probably already living in another world by the time he he made that last journey Sam had work to do in Middle-earth and needed to be a man of authority in order to do it. And it is Frodo’s place in Sam’s world that forces Sam to make his choice at Durin’s Doors when Bill the pony runs away from the terrible creature that lives in the pool before them suddenly attacks Frodo. Until that moment Sam was seriously considering disobedience to Gandalf’s gentle but firm instruction that Bill should be left behind at the gates of Moria for Sam had come to love this creature with whom he has shared so much and for whom he has had a special care. Sam knows that once you have given care to another creature there is a sense in which that creature has a claim over you forever.

John Howe depicts Sam’s Choice at the Gates of Moria

Gandalf knows this which is why he is so gentle in the way he gives Sam the instruction but it is not Gandalf’s instruction that finally forces Sam to make a decision great though Sam’s respect for Gandalf is, it is Frodo’s plight. It is almost certain that the monster in the pool is drawn towards Frodo as the Ringbearer, not that it has been some instruction by Sauron, but that its very being draws it towards the Ring as all creatures of its kind are.

“Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Frodo’s foot, and was dragging him into the water. Sam on his knees was now slashing at it with a knife.”

Sam has to choose between Frodo and Bill and he chooses Frodo. But it is a choice that almost tears him in two, something that Tolkien expresses in the tears and curses that pour forth from Sam as he runs back from the fleeing pony as he hears the sound of Frodo’s distress. The tears are the breaking of Sam’s heart while the curses are his anger against a universe that has made him make such a choice. For Sam goodness and happiness lies in a world that has been given to him, a world of fruitful and happy service, and at the moment in which he hears Frodo’s cry that world falls apart. Sam has to choose and choosing is something that Sam has never wished to do. Sam did not really choose to go with Frodo. He expresses what he does as obedience to a command. Whether or not we agree with him is neither here nor there. This is how Sam sees it and this is what gives him his dignity and his place in the world. And at the moment when Sam chooses, when he has to choose, it is this that enables him to achieve the impossible.

It is through all that they share together that a deep friendship is formed.

“The Road That I Speak of Leads to The Mines of Moria”. Gandalf Counsels the Fellowship to Take a Dark and Secret Way Under the Mountains.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 287-290

The road over the mountains has failed and the weary travellers are forced to consider another way. Until this point neither Gandalf nor Aragorn have consulted the rest of the company about what way they should take but now it is necessary that they should do so. Merry and Pippin would give up if they could but Gandalf makes it clear that there can be no turning back for if they do this there will soon be nowhere to go. To his credit Boromir has said nothing up until now but now he counsels that they retrace the steps that he took in his journey from Minas Tirith to Rivendell, passing through the Gap of Rohan. Gandalf makes it clear that this is no longer a possibility, the treachery of Saruman has seen to that.

And then Gandalf tells them of the way that he thinks best. He will take them through the Mines of Moria.

Alan Lee depicts the Dark and Secret Way Through Moria

“Since our open attempt on the mountain-pass our plight has become more desperate, I fear. I see now little hope, if we do not vanish from sight for a while, and cover our trail. Therefore I advise that we should go neither over the mountains, nor round them, but under them. That is a road at any rate that the Enemy will least expect us to take.”

Gandalf’s proposal is greeted with little enthusiasm except from Gimli the dwarf for whom the name of Moria calls to mind the greatest of his people’s achievements and the name of Durin, the greatest of their kings. Boromir simply dismisses the idea while Aragorn warns Gandalf that if he enters Moria he may never get out again. Frodo trusts the counsel of Gandalf, little though he likes the sound of this “dark and secret way” as Gandalf puts it. At the last it is not strength of argument that wins the day but a sudden attack by Wargs, the wolves of Mordor. Suddenly the way through Moria is the only option.

The Attack by Wargs Simplifies the Decision

And so begins the first of the dark ways through which Tolkien takes the Fellowship. There are three such ways and each one of them is associated with death as well as darkness. Gandalf will fall into the abyss in Moria after the attack of the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, will take the Paths of the Dead into Gondor; while Frodo and Sam will pass through Shelob’s Lair but only, in Frodo’s case, as one who has taken a deadly bite.

The Heir of Isildur Commands The Dead

For each of the Company who must go these ways there is a sense in which they tread the kind of path that Dante takes in his Divine Comedy. Each must go their own personal way through hell, each tasting something of death, and in Gandalf’s case, literally so, before they can emerge through it to what lies beyond. But for none of them is there some simple journey into Paradise. For Gandalf what lies beyond his dark road is his greatest challenge as he pits himself against the might of Mordor as well as against the leader of his own order. For Aragorn and his companions the journey through the Paths of the Dead will bring them to the battle at the gates of Minas Tirith. While for Frodo and Sam the path through Shelob’s Lair merely takes them into Mordor and all that lies ahead. While it may be too simple a thing to call this a Purgatory and so take my allusion to Dante a little further there is no doubt that for each of Tolkien’s characters who pass through their own dark ways further tests lie ahead that are no less challenging than what they have already faced.

For each of them there is a sense in which they are strengthened by the tests that they have already faced. Gandalf becomes the White after facing death itself, while Aragorn takes upon himself his true identity as the Heir of Isildur, the one who has the authority to command the obedience of the King of the Dead. And if Frodo enters Mordor as if a dead man stumbling step by step to Mount Doom, Sam enters it as a mighty hero, able to take his master to the conclusion of their journey.

And Paradise, what of this for each of Tolkien’s heroes? Tolkien leaves the answer to this question in the hands of Ilúvatar. As Aragorn was to put it, “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them there is more than memory.”