“I Will Not Walk Blindfold, Like a Beggar or a Prisoner”. The Sadness of a Divided World is Shown in the Beauty of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 332-340

After crossing the Nimrodel the Fellowship meet Elves of Lothlórien for the first time. Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin are guards upon the border and perform their duty conscientiously. In the night a company of orcs cross the stream so it is well that the Company are safe amid the high branches of a mallorn tree and in the morning they begin their journey further into the enchanted wood.

But here the story stumbles as if it has been plunged into darkness, for here the elven guards insist that one of the Fellowship must be blindfolded. Gimli the Dwarf cannot look upon the ways into Lothlórien.

“I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner,” he complains. “And I am no spy. My people have never had dealings with any of the servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done any harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.”

The Blindfolding of the Fellowship

That Gimli speaks the truth regarding his own heart there is no doubt but sadly there is much of the history of his people and the Elves that he leaves unsaid. In the tales of the Elder Days there are many sad stories of betrayal and readers of The Hobbit will remember how Legolas’s father, Thranduil of the Woodland Realm in the north of Mirkwood, imprisoned the company of Thorin Oakenshield among whose number was Gimli’s father, Gloín. They will then remember how Thorin, at first, refused to share any of the wealth of the Lonely Mountain following the fall of Smaug the Dragon and how with Dain Ironfoot of the Iron Hills he was prepared to go to war with Thranduil’s people in order to defend it.

But perhaps most sad of all was the history of Moria. We have seen how at one time there was close friendship between Durin’s people and the Noldor of Hollin, the people of Celebrimbor, how the gates of Moria could be opened by a simple expression of friendship but then how this golden age came to a terrible end first through Sauron’s betrayal of Celebrimbor who he had pretended to befriend in order to learn the lore of making rings of power and then through the disturbing of the Balrog hiding in the depths of Moria who slew Durin and drove his people from their home.

The Balrog of Moria

The tale of the peoples who dwelt east of the Misty Mountains during the long story of the rise of Sauron, first in Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood and then in Mordor, is one of a retreat behind defences. Such defences were necessary. We saw the company of orcs cross Nimrodel in search of the Fellowship and defence needed to be made against them and every land had to act in much the same way but what happened behind each fence was that the world beyond it became at first unknown and then suspect, even dangerous. So Celeborn of Lórien warns against Fangorn Forest while the people of Rohan know Lothlórien as Dwimordene, the place of phantoms. And for the Galadhrim, the tree people of Lothlórien, the dwarves who awoke the Balrog of Moria are most suspect of all.

Haldir, who has travelled on missions for his Lord and Lady puts it best of all.

“In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlórien, unless maybe in Rivendell, that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land.”

At the last Aragorn agrees that all the Fellowship will walk blindfold into Lórien so that Gimli is not singled out as a possible threat to its security. Gimli is now prepared to laugh as if this all a merry jest but all feel the sadness of being prisoners amid such loveliness.

The Beauty that cannot be seen in a Dangerous World.

“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.

“A Foresight is On Me”. How Gandalf Chooses.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 267-269

I have learned over the years in which I have written this blog that I have readers who know their Tolkien very well, often much better than I do, and so I am sure that there will be readers who will instantly know that the quotation that heads this week’s post is not from The Lord of the Rings. It is in fact from Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales. It comes from a chapter in which Frodo describes a conversation with Gandalf that takes place in Minas Tirith after the Ring has gone to the fire and Sauron has fallen. In that conversation Gandalf speaks of how he came to be convinced that Bilbo should be a part of the company that would make the journey to Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield.

JEF Murray imagines Gandalf’s first encounter with Bilbo the child, seeing him high in the branches of a tree.

I write about it here because we are thinking about the choosing of Frodo’s companions in the Quest of the Ring. We have already seen that the company is chosen, as much for its symbolic quality as for its effectiveness. Nine walkers will oppose nine riders. Nine of the free peoples of the earth will oppose the slaves of the Dark Lord. And as we journey through the unfolding of the story we find that it is the hobbits who will play central roles in it. The journey of Frodo and Sam to Mordor and the Mountain and the journey of Merry and Pippin, carried as prisoners of the orcs, to the borders of Fangorn Forest and the meeting with Treebeard are these central actions and none of the rest of the company go with them on these journeys. They will have other parts to play.

Gandalf’s support for Pippin is described as “unexpected”. When Pippin announced his intention to go with Frodo because there needed to “be someone with intelligence in the party”, Gandalf’s response was that Pippin would certainly not be chosen on that basis. But Gandalf is greatly drawn towards Pippin. Indeed I rather think that Gandalf liked Pippin to be nearby and found his simple honesty and friendliness to be a comfort. Was it because he needed such comfort that Gandalf liked to go to the Shire? In his account of how he came to choose Bilbo to go with the Dwarves to Erebor he speaks of how he had been going to the Shire “for a short rest” after a twenty year absence. “I thought that if I put [my dark thoughts] out of my mind for a while I might perhaps find some way of dealing with these troubles”.

And Gandalf meets Merry and Pippin while at play at Bilbo’s party.

Gandalf’s “dark thoughts” were about the reappearing of Sauron in Dol Guldur, about the ever present danger to the north of Middle-earth that was posed by Smaug the dragon in his occupation of the Lonely Mountain, about the fragility of the free peoples and about the opposition of Saruman to any direct action against Sauron. Gandalf’s thoughts are like a hammer striking against a hard surface with the intention of making it give way before the force of its blows. He knows that his thinking will not bring about a solution by itself. It will only keep bringing him back to that which is insoluble and so he heads for the Shire and a rest from his anxiety. The Shire folk have taught him how to play. It is there that he makes fireworks and it is there that he enjoys wholesome food, good beer and pipeweed. And it is on his way there, just outside Bree, that he encounters Thorin Oakenshield who is also beset with his own dark thoughts.

Alan Lee’s beautiful imagining of the “chance” meeting of Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield

Is it because he is in search of rest that Gandalf is open to something entirely unexpected? Is it his proximity to the Shire and to hobbits that makes the participation of Bilbo a possibility for the expedition to Erebor? In Carl Jung’s idea of synchronicity it is the empty space between the spokes of a wheel that give the wheel its usefulness just as much as do the spokes themselves. So it is the empty space that the Shire is for Gandalf in his endless labours that gives him the idea of Bilbo. And when the idea comes it does so with such force that he describes it as a foresight. Not that he knows what is to come but he knows that he has to listen to his inner voice and that Thorin has to listen to it too when he declares it aloud. Perhaps it is in knowing the power of Gandalf’s inner voice that Elrond too gives way to him about Merry and Pippin despite his own misgivings.

It is But a Trifle That Sauron Fancies. Gloín tells of the mission of the messenger of Mordor.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 234-36

One by one the company who are the Council of Elrond tell of how it is that they have come to Rivendell and as each listens to the other they begin to learn the truth of what Elrond says of how it is that they are sitting there on that October morning.

“You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find counsel for the peril of the world.”

The Council of Elrond

And so it is that Gloín is the first to give an account of why he is in Rivendell that day. A messenger of Sauron had come to the Kingdom under the Mountain seeking news of hobbits. For “one of these was known to you on a time”. That hobbit, of course, is Bilbo and the messenger seeks him because of the Ring. Although it is not stated explicitly it is clear as we read Gloín’s account that the messenger is a Ringwraith, one of the nine, the Nazgûl. His breath came “like the hiss of snakes” and all who stand near by shudder. Sauron wishes for his embassy to have a maximum impact and requires a herald who will be a cause of fear in all who hear him.

The Messenger of Sauron

But if Sauron’s intention is to create fear what he achieves is to inspire resistance. The messenger’s mention of hobbits serves only to remind Dáin Ironfoot, the King under the Mountain, of his bond of obligation to Bilbo without whom he would never have gained his crown. And it serves also to remind him and the other chieftains of the dwarves of the alliance that fought the Battle of the Five Armies and the shelter and counsel that Thorin Oakenshield’s party received at Rivendell during their journey. For we should not assume that just because Gloín and his companions are present at the Council that this represents a normal state of affairs in which ambassadors go to and fro between the hidden valley and the lonely mountain. If there is an ambassador whose labour in making alliances between the free peoples of Middle-earth is bearing fruit on this day in Rivendell then it is Gandalf, the Grey Pilgrim, the one who encouraged Thorin to make his journey to Erebor and who, for some strange reason, had him take a hobbit with him. And it was Gandalf who brought together the men of Dale and Esgaroth, the elves of the Woodland Realm and the dwarves to defeat the orcs of the Misty Mountains. Gandalf has followed hunches, grasped at straws, and held onto fool’s hopes many times and for many years before this moment, many times before the decision is made that will be the outcome of this Council.

The Battle of the Five Armies

Sauron too has been a builder of alliances over many long years. He is gathering them together for the great war even as the Council deliberates. He knows that many of the peoples of Middle-earth are not natural allies for all Gandalf’s efforts. There has been little love between elf and dwarf through the ages, much suspicion and sometimes outright hostility and even war. The dwarves have fought many battles against orcs through the centuries but apart from the Battle of the Five Armies they have fought them alone and they have usually felt alone in the world. Sauron’s alliance building is usually a mixture of threat and gift and so it is with the dwarves. The threat is war and the gift is of two of the rings of power once held by dwarf lords, rings that greatly increased their wealth. What choice will the dwarves make in the war that is to come?

It was no accident that Elrond placed Frodo and Gloín together at the table top of highest honour at the feast the night before. Gloín, the companion of Thorin Oakenshield had to become acquainted with the heir of Bilbo, the Ringbearer. He had to be reminded bodily of the bond between dwarves and hobbits, with the family of Bilbo.

“You have done well to come,” Elrond says to Gloín after Gloín speaks of his fears. “You will hear today all that you need in order to understand the purposes of the Enemy. There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it. But you do not stand alone. You will learn that your trouble is but part of the trouble of all the western world.”

“You do not stand alone”. Krystyn Janelle’s imagining of the Lonely Mountain.