“The Danger of Light and Joy”. Gimli Weeps Openly as He Bids Farewell to Galadriel and Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.369-370

As the three small boats that contain the members of the Fellowship are swept down the Great River, the Anduin, Gimli weeps openly as he mourns a loss that he never expected to experience.

In bidding farewell to Galadriel Gimli takes his worst wound.

“Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli, son of Glóin!”

Those who know the story will know that for Gimli there will be a torment in the dark that lies ahead for him that will almost cause him to abandon his fellows. They know too that in his finding of the glittering caves of Aglarond Gimli will find a beauty that will delight him, and give him a labour for years to come to satisfy his soul but none of this can diminish the sense of loss that overwhelms him now as the river carries him away from Lothlórien.

Hannah Joy Patterson’s beautiful imagining of the Caves of Aglarond.

For Gimli, in his encounter with Galadriel, has met something far greater than a beautiful person. He has met Beauty itself and now cannot know peace and contentment in anything less than an abiding in its presence. And Gimli has also discovered what it means to have been wounded by Beauty, to be utterly surprised by that wound, and to feel the pain that cannot be satisfied by anything less.

Gimli’s experience was one to which the members of the Inklings paid much attention. C.S Lewis chose as the title of his autobiography words from a poem by William Wordsworth, “Surprised by Joy” in which he speaks of his entire life as being a search for something that came upon him unawares in his childhood. Wordsworth’s poem is a telling forth of the way in which an unexpected encounter with Joy recalls him to the recollection of one that he has lost and back to the experience of that loss with almost the same keenness with which he first knew it. Gimli would understand what Wordsworth was trying to say and what both of them felt. Wordsworth could not understand how he was able to live his life forgetting, even for a moment, his “most grievous loss” but he does and so will Gimli. Perhaps it is a kindness that we are granted not to have to bear such pain constantly but both Wordsworth, and Gimli too, tell us that any kind of life that is smaller than the present moment in which both the joy and the pain are known in their entirety is not really to be alive at all.

For Lewis, the search for Joy led him eventually to Christian faith. Here, it is vitally important to understand that this faith is not in itself a satisfaction of the longing for Joy or for Beauty. For Lewis, and for all who follow this way, faith in Christ is not the end of the journey but a sure way forward that leads at the last to an entire participation in them both. The well known quotation of the 2nd century theologian, Iranaeus of Lyon, that “the glory of God is a human being who is fully alive” continues by saying that to be alive is to have the vision of God, by which he does not mean that we spend eternity staring at an old man with a long white beard but that we contemplate and entirely participate in, as Dante put it, “the love that moves the sun and other stars”.

Those who have been “surprised by joy” or wounded by beauty and by love know that any life that is less than a complete participation is in them is no life at all. Gimli knows this now and knows too that he will not find rest in anything less than that complete participation. There is no comfort for him now but Legolas is right in saying that his friend is blessed in suffering the loss of the Beauty that he has glimpsed of his own free will. The true search for Beauty and for Joy always lies onwards and never back until it finds at last its fulfilment in the divine vision.

“It Was Well Given!” Gimli Takes Delight in Frodo’s Mithril Coat and in Thorin Oakenshield’s Giving.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 326-328

Aragorn is anxious to put as much distance as possible between the Company and the eastern gates of Moria before darkness falls. He is sure that they will be pursued by orcs and so he pushes his companions to keep going. But in the fight in the Chamber of Mazarbul both Sam and Frodo were wounded and Frodo by a troll’s spear thrust that, as Aragorn put it, “would have skewered a wild boar”. At first the flow of adrenaline in battle enabled them both to forget their wounds and after that the fall of Gandalf drives everything from mind, heart and body, but as the weariness of the day continues so their hurts begin to claim attention.

“I am sorry, Frodo!” Aragorn cries. “So much has happened this day and we have such need of haste, that I have forgotten that you were hurt; and Sam too.”

So it is that at last Frodo’s hidden mithril coat is discovered. The Company has discussed it once before while in Moria when Gandalf spoke of how it was mithril that always drew the Dwarves back to their ancestral home.

Bilbo gives Frodo the coat of mithril.

Mithril! All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but the beauty of mithril did not tarnish or grow dim.”

It was one of Tolkien’s many achievements in The Lord of the Rings to create something that our imaginations are capable of conceiving and yet does not exist. He saw his work as that of a sub-creator and the word, “sub” was of vital importance here. He chose deliberately to place himself under the Creator in absolute distinction from Morgoth, and later Sauron, who in failing to create anything independently of Ilúvatar would only mar, mock or corrupt. The orcs were the saddest fruit of this desire to create in envy of Eru but one might argue that there were other works such as the corruption of Númenor that were just as unhappy. And here we might note that unhappiness was always the fruit of their work. Was there ever a time when they pursued happiness as a goal in and of itself? Perhaps in the earliest days but in all the history of Arda the works of Morgoth and then of Sauron and their followers are acts of despair. All they can do is to achieve control and thus reject happiness.

Not so Gimli. Readers of Tolkien’s works know how prone the Dwarves were to avarice. The desire of Thorin Oakenshield for the Arkenstone of Erebor almost destroyed the achievement won by the slaying of Smaug. That any gifts were given at all at the ending of The Hobbit seemed unlikely at one point but when at the last gifts were made they were indeed kingly as Gimli put it when he learned that Bilbo had been given a mithril coat by Thorin before he died. In Gimli’s eyes the knowledge that Thorin had given such a gift only made him the greater for great kings made great gifts in all worlds until modern times. And when Gimli finally saw the mithril coat upon Frodo his admiration and reverence only grew.

“But it was well given!”

The Caves of Aglarond. The shape and light beautifully evoked by Hannah Joy Patterson.

Later Galadriel will speak praise of Gimli and his understanding of wealth when she says of him that his hands “shall flow with gold” and yet over him “gold shall have no dominion”. It is not that Gimli has no concept of the idea of the price of things. He quite happily states that Frodo’s mithril coat is worth more than the entire value of the Shire but it is beauty that is the true ruler of Gimli’s heart. His greatest work after the War of the Ring was the creation of what artists would now call an installation in the Caves of Aglarond, a true act of subcreation made from crystal, the shaping of caverns and of light. And the gift that he will treasure most will be three tresses of the hair of Galadriel that he will wear next to his heart within a jewel that he has crafted himself.

Gimli asks for three tresses of Galadriel’s hair.

Gimli Teaches Us The Importance of Seeing

After the victorious ending of the Battle of Helm’s Deep Gandalf takes Théoden and a small company with him to go to Isengard and for the first time since the sundering of the Fellowship at the Falls of Rauros the pace of the story is able to slacken somewhat. The pursuit of the orc company who seized Merry and Pippin, the rush to Edoras and the battle that followed all lie behind and many and great dangers lie ahead, but for a brief time Legolas and Gimli have time to look about them and to wonder.

Both of them are drawn to those things that delight them most. For Legolas this means all that grows in the earth and he wonders at the Ents and the trees that they tend; and for Gimli this means the earth itself and the wondrous caves of Aglarond that he has just encountered.

Legolas is drawn to the ancient wonder that dwells within the Forest of Fangorn that we thought about when Merry and Pippin escaped from their captors and met Treebeard in Fangorn. Immediately he wants to know, to understand and to communicate: “They are the strangest trees that ever I saw…and I have seen many an oak grow from acorn to ruinous age. I wish that there were leisure now to walk among them: they have voices, and in time I might come to understand their thought.”

And in this we remember that Treebeard told the hobbits that it was Elves who first taught speech to the Ents. It is Elves who long to commune with all living things and to draw them into their own beatitude, their own state of blessing, that all creation might find its own voice and thus speak with the One.

But if Legolas is moved by his delight in the living forest he is outmatched in this by his good friend Gimli. The three pages in The Lord of the Rings in which Gimli describes the Glittering Caves of Aglarond are among the most beautiful in the whole work and Tolkien gives this beauty to a dwarf! Even Legolas declares, “I have never heard you speak like this before.” I wish I had space to quote them in full but I will just have to encourage you to read them for yourself. Just one section must be quoted and that is Gimli’s response to Legolas’ concern that Dwarves might mar the natural beauty of the caves in their greed for gain.

“No, you do not understand,” said Gimli. “No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin’s race would mine these caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap- a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day- so we could work…”

As we read these words they call to mind Leonardo da Vinci working in this way on his great fresco of The Last Supper at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. It is said that he would spend whole days just looking at his work as it unfolded and doing nothing. Imagine describing such a way of working in an appraisal interview!

What we see described here at this brief moment of rest in the story is the fruit of intense seeing and then the using of the language of seeing. Tolkien gives to these two friends the roles of artist and poet. And why do so at this moment in the story? Is it perhaps to make the contrast with Saruman, the man whose mind is full “of metal and wheels”, who we are about to meet face to face, even greater? Or is it to show that these heroes are more than just warriors and are only warriors at all at greatest need? Surely at the least he shows us that his warriors are first of all great lovers and that it is because of this that their prowess in battle can bring forth good. Tolkien will return to this later in the story in his reflection on the contrast between the brothers, Boromir and Faramir, but we will leave this part of the story, perhaps, contemplating our own need to train our ability both to see and to learn to describe what we can see.