Why yes, I'm numbering these like biblical citations now. Isn't that blasphenomenal of me? But let's be honest, Tolkien fans, at least all the ones I know and take seriously as Tolkien fans, probably know these books better than they know the Bible, like them better, and probably consider them more important, too. I know I do.
I took a day or two off from reading Fellowship of the Ring to clear my head and recover from a really bad idea that EssJay and I had, that being the Lord of the Rings cinematic drinkalong. It was loads of fun, but this original rule set definitely needs revision; most of us were half in the bag before Galadriel was done with the introduction. The deplorable results are on display for all to see at the storify that EssJay made.
But get a load of what we were working with:
I think we're definitely ditching the scenery porn rule. Some have argued that we were lumping too many shots that were there to establish location as scenery porn, but it's hard enough to keep up with the film, drinking, and tweeting, without spending extra cognitive effort on making that kind of nice distinction. I have spoken.
Now, on to the book, which we left in a very exciting and distressing moment. "Fly, you fools" indeed. And fly they do, spilling out into Dimrill Dale like so many cheezy poofs from a bag. The sound of the Orcs' drums is still echoing in our readerly ears as Aragorn grabs the spotlight for a small, gloomy soliloquy of the kind we'd more likely expect from Boromir: "Farewell, Gandalf... What hope have we without you?"
That little speech, and his follow-up, admonishing everybody to get going "We must do without hope" always puzzle me. For you see, Aragorn's nickname while he was growing up at Rivendell was Estel, which is the Sindarin (Elvish) word that means "hope, trust, a temper of mind, steady fixed in purpose, and difficult to dissuade and unlikely to fall into despair or abandon its purpose". Aragorn literally is hope.
See? Even Deviant Art says so.
And no, I don't think I'm reading too much into this. Tolkien is all about wordplay and plumbing the depths of his made-up knowledge. This is not just a throwaway line. It's a paradox that Tolkien planted here, deepening Aragorn's character for those who care to explore it, and still displaying, in the rest of his speech, those very characteristics for which Aragorn/Estel was named; he, like everybody else, is grieving, but he knows they must keep to their purpose as Gandalf would have wished. They can grieve on the run. I love this.
I also love this essay, or collection of essays, which I found while considering this question. I've pointed to a lot of silly speculations and crackpottery in these posts; it's good to remember that there's a lot of good and serious work to explore as well. Scroll down to the section, though, on Aragorn and Sam, which insists that Aragorn had a different Elvish word in mind, amdir, "hope based on reason" or "looking ahead" and that solves the paradox. I don't buy that; it makes even less sense, unless one takes the contorted position that what Aragorn is saying that they must do without reasonable hope and blunder on unreasonably?
Might as well take off the question mark and ignore the word order a bit and turn it into a positive statement, emphasizing the hope: "What hope we have!" Late at night this time around was when I came around to this passage, and that's what my tired mind did. I thought it was very clever, and further found myself musing about how perhaps Aragorn was regretting the loss of Gandalf, sure, sure, but also maybe a little glad that they'd be doing without the crutch of Gandalf's magic and lore; it was good they were going to have to Manve/Elve/Dwarve/Hobbitve up and take care of things themselves, good practice for the day, not far off, where even if the quest succeeded, there wouldn't be much magic in the world anyway. They'd best get used to it.
Like I said, I was tired. But even awake and properly hydrated, I find myself still liking this idea. Perhaps we'll discuss it further in comments, here or elsewhere. But onward!
Once everyone has bucked up and is ready to go, we find that Gimli isn't quite done playing tour guide. I love the moments he gets here, from shaking his fist at the Misty Mountains* to getting everybody to stop for a moment so he can admire Kheled-zaram, Durin's stone, a crumbling stone column that marks the spot from which Durin, the eldest of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, first looked into the Mirrormere, where his reflection showed a crown of stars over his head -- pretty much the first time any created being ever beheld his reflection. I always took this as a sort of (premature!) dawning of self-awareness in Middle Earth.** As origins-of-consciousness-stories go, I like this a hell of a lot better than Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Fruit. But then, as I've already expressed above, I like Tolkien better than the Bible anyway.
But so Gimli wants to recreate that magic moment, and drags Frodo along to share the experience, but unlike Durin, all they see is reflected scenery. Frodo is going to have to wait until he meets Galadriel to get revelations from the water. More parallels!
And speaking of Galadriel, onward to Lorien! Ah, Lorien, the stump-humper's paradise, where the mallorn trees (I always think of them as like really nice aspens) leaf out, the leaves turn golden in autumn, but don't fall until spring when the new leaves push them off. Where everyone lives in a really nice treehouse and is absurdly good-looking and always has enough to eat. Where Legolas is welcomed as a distant relative and Aragorn is well-known and the hobbits are treated as an interesting curiosity but Gimli is the fart in church, because as far as the Elves are concerned, his people's delvings in Moria are what brought evil (back to) the world. Which, sure, the
might still be sleeping way down deep under the mountains if no one had ever, ever mined there, but then the Elves wouldn't have all that beautiful mithril and other stuff that they prize. But their enjoyment of the goods the Dwarves have provided over the centuries is outweighed by their annoyance that there's a
down there, so, in a leap of logic that leaves this reader tumbling into the Cracks of Doom every time, they accept Legolas' and Aragorn's and Frodo's vouching for Gimli, but... insist that he be blindfolded when they conduct everybody through Lorien. Gimli says fine, but then Legolas has to be blindfolded, too. Legolas has a fit about this but soon it's decided that, to be fair, everybody will go blindfolded through the prettiest scenery Middle Earth has to offer. Sadz.
Fortunately, the blindfolds come off in the evening for camp, and everybody gets to see a little of the fairest of all the lands. Haldir lets everybody see some views from up high, and Aragorn has suddenly cheered up: he is in the land of Arwen's mother's people (Galadriel is Arwen's grandmother) and pretty much everything in that land makes him think of her: "Here is the heart of elvendom on earth... and here my heart dwells ever" he says, twirling a yellow elanor flower in his fingers. Has he regained estel and amdir? I think he has. Or if he hasn't yet, he soon will. Kind of literally. In his own quest, to re-establish the realms of Gondor and Arnor and to rule over them (with Arwen at his side), if not in Frodo's.
But even there...
Ah, Lothlorien. I was stymied to imagine it as a child, and even into young adulthood. Really, it was only when I came across Simon Schama's amazing Landscape and Memory and learned about the wonderful Bialowieza National Forest in Poland and Belorus that I even came close. I dream about visiting there someday, and walking under the hornbeam trees and pendunculate oaks that are so big they have names, and maybe seeing some wisent (European bison) while I'm there.
I'm pretty sure Caras Galadhon is right past that stand of trees.
But I digress. Again. You're used to that by now, though, right? Anyway, I would totally live in a giant treehouse in that forest, as Galadriel and Celeborn do. Especially if it's as beautiful as it looked in the film. OMG so much eye candy you'll get eyeabetes, the films.
And here's where we get the first idea of just how old Aragorn is. "It is eight and thirty years of the world outside since you came to this land," Galadriel says by way of welcoming him. We later learn that Aragorn is around 80 years old at the time of these novels, but he looks about 38. But even at his true age, he's still "a sapling beside a beech of many summers" compared to Galadriel's granddaughter and his future queen, Arwen. Still a kid as far as Galadriel and Elrond are concerned, a mayfly. But since he's the one who is going to inherit pretty much all of the troubles of Middle Earth after the Elves all go to the Grey Havens, they do their best to take him seriously, and in turn Aragorn seems to gain new strength and vigor and, yes, hope from this visit.
But here I am blathering about Aragorn, when this bit should be all about Gimli, who is about to single-handedly begin to heal the breach between Elves and Dwarves by pretty much falling head-over-heels for Galadriel (as Frodo pretty much did for Arwen back at Rivendell). And about Gandalf, whom Galadriel and Celeborn just now learn has been lost; they were expecting the whole party, in that smug, knowing way that Elves do, but where's the Wizard? Even Galadriel, a fellow wielder of one of the Elvish Three, can't figure out what has become of him. The reaction elicited here is our first real and direct experience of just what a big deal Gandalf is and has been in this world; he's not just a wizard, not some Man who has learned a lot of magic and obscure knowledge, but a demigod, older than the Elves, older than pretty much everything we'll see except maybe the
or Tom Bombadil.
And here Celeborn and Galadriel quarrel just a tiny bit. Celeborn is angry to hear what has become of Gandalf, says he was a fool to go to Moria and that had he known the Dwarves had managed to awaken the
(because, you know, there's no way that all the goblins infesting the place could ever have managed that, right?), he would not have allowed any of the party to enter his land. Galadriel disagrees, points out that Gandalf never did anything needlessly, and tells Celeborn to chill about the Dwarf already, and observes that "Dark is the water of Kheled-zaram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nvla, and fair where the many pillared halls of Khazad-dum in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone." And then she looks down at Gimli, who is pretty much sporting wood to hear the prettiest lady he'll ever see rattling off words in his own language: "and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and there saw love and understanding." And he does his best to bust out some flattery of his own, basically flirting with Galadriel right in front of her husband. PLAYA!
It's a little-known fact that all Dwarves are pimps.
Then Galadriel goes on to tell them what they pretty much already know, that they've taken on the most dangerous quest ever but maybe they'll prevail if they stick together. And then she undresses everyone with her eyes, according to Sam. While that happens, everybody is given the choice between sticking with the quest and getting something they really, really want. Apparently everybody made the right choice, though, because on we go!
The company spends an unknown number of very pleasant days resting up in Lothlorien. Legolas starts bringing Gimli along on all of his outings around the place, I guess because if the Dwarf is good enough for Galadriel, he's good enough for Legolas. Freaking snob.
Meanwhile, the Elves sing lots of laments for Gandalf, and Frodo makes up one of his own, which is quite nice, and everybody is surprised, because this is the first time Frodo's shown any poetic tendencies, but hey, he did drink the Kvasir at TomBom's house, you guys! And then Sam dispenses wisdom like a firehose dispenses water. Oh, Sam!
And then the MIRROR. Where Galadriel reveals to Frodo that she has one of the Three Rings and lets him and Sam look into a big basin of water that is enchanted to show "many things", past, present and potential. It's hard now not to think of the first time Luke uses the Force to check up on his friends and freaks out over his vision when Sam looks and sees the Shire enslaved and burning (which "may not come to pass" Galadriel warns him, but we know that it does, not at Sauron's hand, but Saruman's, after he is expelled from his stronghold at Orthanc). Galadriel reminds him that "the Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds," though, and Sam is way smarter than Luke, thank goodness!
Meanwhile, Frodo gets a look at a figure who looks like Gandalf, except he's wearing white. Or is it Saruman? Or is it Gandalf? No foreshadowing there!*** He also sees, among other things, Minas Tirith, the Grey Havens, Aragorn's Black Ship flying the banner Arwen is (at the time of this viewing) still making for him back at Rivendell****, and then, finally the
And then comes the famous bit where Frodo offers Galadriel the ring. Man, he sure does want to give it away. He has offered it to Gandalf, Aragorn, and now her, and none of them want it. Poor Frodo.
And finally the time has come to leave Lorien, but not without a boatload (hee) of gifts. Cloaks woven by Galadriel and her handmaids themselves. Brooches shaped like leaves. Lembas bread. Really good boats, so they don't have to decide for a while which side of the Great River to travel along -- one side goes to Gondor, where Boromir wants to go, and where Aragorn was going to go, too, except for losing Gandalf; the other to Mordor. Here the Fellowship first starts to weaken, for Boromir announces that he's going to Gondor "alone if need be." Oh, Boromir.
Nah, not alone. Pretty sure Mrs. Karenin will come with me.
And Sam, who has been fretting about not having packed rope from the beginning, is delighted that everybody also gets awesome Elvish rope! And reveals himself as a bit of a rope otaku, which sends the Elves over the moon! I love bits like this, you guys. Love.
And then everybody gets boating lessons, which, if you've never tried to handle a kayak or canoe, you want to know what you're doing before you're turned loose on the biggest, fastest river in the world, I think.
And then they're off. But wait, there's more! Like Ron Popiel, Galadriel can't stop sweetening the deal. She and Celeborn show up in a Swan Boat (Hello, Lohengrin!)****** and more gifts for everybody! Aragorn gets a sheath for Anduril, which will make the sword unbreakable from now on, and, after a bit of teasing, the Elessar/Elfstone*****, a beautiful green stone that has been fashioned into a brooch depicting a great eagle, that is an heirloom of Galadriel's and Arwen's family and for which Aragorn will be named when he is crowned. And Boromir and Merry and Pippin get blingtastic belts. And Legolas gets a new bow. And Sam gets the box of magic soil with which he will someday heal the Shire from Saruman's depredations, and a mallorn nut, with which he will replace the destroyed Party Tree. And Gimli gets a lock of Galadriel's hair, a shockingly intimate gift. I don't even want to get into her remarks about the skill of Dwarves with hands versus tongues. NO!******* And Frodo gets a phial that may or may not be one of the Silmarils, containing the light of Earendil's star. I've said elsewhere in this blog that I kind of buy it as a Sillmaril, but right here Galadriel as much as claims to have made it, trapping the starlight in some water from her mirror. So I guess if it's not an actual Silmaril, it's a good Silmarilcrum.
And there is also a great deal of journey foreshadowing, courtesy of Celeborn, whom I totally want to be my guide if I ever get to raft the Grand Canyon. Especially if we're in a Swan Boat.
And so begins the greatest float trip ever not chronicled by Stephen E. Ambrose or Wallace Stegner. Except Gimli and Legolas, now firmly established as an interspecies bromance, seem set to yammer through the whole thing. STFU, Gimolas!
I realize I'm probably the only person doing this PtBiB thing for whom The Great River is pretty much my favorite part. Hey, I'm from Saratoga, WY. Floating the North Platte River is pretty much why we live there. I would still live there if I could find a way to float the North Platte River for a living. It's just that there are a lot of other people who are better at it than me who are doing so, and the market is saturated. Also this year we're in epic drought mode and the floating season ended in May instead of August. Plus, nobody likes a river guide who basically has to wear a full-on chador on the boat. Oh, you would not believe my talent for sunburn. But anyway, yes, I would totally float the Anduin. Even after the trees fail and they start passing the Brown Lands.It's entirely possible that the main reason I fell out of love with fantasy was I could find no other fantasy stories that had Epic River Trips in them (and even this one doesn't really have enough). But I'll spare you further rhapsodizing on this subject, because I know this particular float trip is not really fun, especially not for my beloved Samwise: "He felt that the company was too naked, afloat in little open boats in the midst of shelterless lands, and on a river that was the frontier of war." Or for Merry and Pippin, stuck in a boat with Boromir, "who sometimes sat muttering to himself, sometimes biting his nails, as if some restlessness or doubt consumed him." Remember what I said about how there's always one jerk who has a really bad idea and won't let go of it...
And then, UH OH, we have what is probably at least our third crypto-Gollum sighting. He was in Moria, and he was dogging them outside Lothlorien... And now he's floating behind them on a log. Later on, Frodo catches a glimpse of him in the night (it's a pity that Smeagollum's devolution from proto-hobbit into whatever-he-is-now came with eyes that shine like dim little lamps in the darkness), and then Aragorn confirms that he's known about their stalker since Moria but didn't want to alarm anybody. WHA---???? Anyway, from then on out, at least until the river gets interesting, they decide to travel by night and sleep by day -- Gollum can't abide the sun, nor can most of the other nasties he might have alerted to their progress.
And then we come to some rapids, just in time also to come into the range of some hostile archers! Fortunately, it's night time, so our company make very poor targets, in grey cloaks floating past in grey boats. There are some near misses, and these rapids aren't too terrible, and it looks like a clean escape, but OH, something big and dark and cloudlike flies up to menace them from the air! Probably the first of the flying Nazgul! But Legolas shoots it down! Close shave!
And then it's argument time. First it's how much time actually passed in Lorien. Then it's whether Frodo should have blabbed that Galadriel has one of the Three Rings. And then... Oh, Boromir... it's where to go next. There are some serious rapids and waterfalls and such ahead, on the way to Mordor. But if everybody goes to Gondor (there to use the Ring as a weapon against Sauron per Boromir. Oh, Boromir), then they don't have to mess about with boats anymore, soon. Nobody else wants to do this. Aragorn finally gets Boromir to temporarily pipe down by promising that he'll decide one way or the other once he has stood and seen the view from Amon Hen above the Argonath, to which the river will bring them soon enough. A big deal for Aragorn is Amon Hen. And soon it will be for everybody else, too.
But first, portage time, because there are some rapids that even experts aren't dumb enough to shoot in a boat, and the Fellowship are not experts. Well do I know what that's like. You've been all mellow in the boat, drinking a beer, maybe doing some fishing, and suddenly you're out of the boat, carrying it and everything with it, usually making more than one trip back and forth, over usually rough terrain (because Murphy's Law), slapping at mosquitoes when you can get a hand free, getting dive bombed by hummingbirds if you're dumb enough to take off your hat and expose your red hair, ugh. But now add Orc Patrols. There is not enough ugh in the world for that.
It seems to me, though, that the mist-shrouded "sharp shells and stony teeth of Sarn Gebir" (the rapids they're skipping) are probably awful pretty. Sigh.
And so they finally make their way to the Argonath, where stand the giant statues of Isildur (not Isildur of the Ring, but an earlier ancestor) and Anarion, glaring defiantly at the frontier beyond the ancient borders of Gondor. In the presence of these images of his ancestors, Aragorn suddenly sits taller and seems to realize for real that he is the heir to a proud lineage and a mighty kingdom. "Under their shadow," he says, "Elessar, the Elfstone, son of Arathorn of the House of Valandil Isildur's son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread." Dude, when I type sentences like that, I tremble at their progeny. So much pseudo-Tolkienian crap, full of nonsense-sounding place names and risible speechmaking hath these books spawned. Oy.
Anyway, well, Aragorn/Elessar/Elfstone/Strider may feel he has nothing to fear, but, um, he does, because Orc attack. Well, not until the next novel, but soon. Aragorn senses its inevitability in the night, and Sting, Bilbo's Orc-detecting sword that he gave to Frodo along with his mithril coat, confirms it. But first, the sun comes up, and everyone sets to trying to make the decision they've been putting off, pretty much since Gandalf fell in Moria: where next, guys? Nobody wants to speak up, so Aragorn puts the burden on Frodo, who asks for an hour to himself to think about it. By all means, wander off alone, Frodo. Great idea.
And so in the most scenic place we may have yet seen (yeah, yeah, Rivendell, yeah, yeah, Lorien. Give me a big river and a huge waterfall and giant historic statuary any day), Boromir, Oh Boromir, finally has the chance to show his quality (wink). He stalks Frodo up the big stone steps to Amon Hen and, to give him credit, tries to reason with Frodo before he tries to take the Ring by force. There's some nice irony in his speech before he gets grabby, isn't there? "True hearted Men, they will not be corrupted," he says. "We do not desire the power of wizard lords," he says. And then all the sudden he's making a grab for it, and Frodo, no match for the big guy, can think of only one way out of his pickle, which is using the Ring to disappear. Which brings Boromir back to himself a little bit -- enough to realize he's failed anyway. "What have I done?" But Frodo is gone, up, up, up to Amon Hen, the "Seat of Seeing." And with the Ring on, he sees a LOT. And is Seen.
Frightened more than he ever has been before, Frodo decides he's got to go alone, that he can't trust anybody anymore, after Boromir's performance.
Meanwhile, everybody else is wondering what Frodo is going to choose to do. Boromir slips back into the discussion, and tells a version of what happened, in which Frodo took off unprovoked, of course. And everyone freaks out and decides to tear off looking for Frodo. Aragorn, who doesn't trust Boromir or his story, assigns Boromir to keep an eye on Merry and Pippen as they go one way.
Sam, meanwhile and famously, the best player of WWFD, thinks of checking where the boats are. Frodo is already taking off in one. Sam tries to jump aboard, misses, and goes into the water. Frodo yanks him out and onto the boat, amused and all but laughing at poor Sam, and dismissive even now, but Sam eventually wears him down with a masterful display of servile bullying. Off they go, Mordor or Bust!
THE END. FOR NOW.
*Like a disappointed fanboi who has finally gotten to meet his idol in person, only to discover said idol is kind of a jerk, Gimli is maybe not so enthusiastic about these peaks anymore.
**This event took place before Aule, who created the Dwarves without permission, was forced to put them to sleep until Illuvitar could get around to making Elves, because Middle Earth was supposed to be for the Elves.
***We never do get an idea, from the books, just how much the Istari look alike. PJ made one choice, casting Ian McKellen (!) and Christopher Lee (!!) and Sylvester McCoy (!!!) (the number of exclamation marks indicates my level of gushy approval of the choice, and even McKellen's mere one mark still represents about a half hour's worth of Snoopy Dance), but I always thought they were pretty damned hard to tell apart, visually, and so on my very first read of these books as a little, I was sure he was seeing Saruman. How I miss that blank slate innocence in reading them!
****Oh man, the banner. What a masterpiece of iconography Arwen makes for her man. The White Tree of Gondor, seven stars (representing the Seven Ships that brought everybody from Numenor [Middle Earth's Atlantis], probably, though there has been lots of speculation about that. LOTS) It asserts his heritage, his status as the Hope for the West and his overwhelming presence to anyone who sees it. Arwen is a smart cookie.
***** From Tolkien's Unfinished Tales: "There was in Gondolin a jewel-smith named Enerdhil, and he was the greatest of that craft among the Noldor after the death of Fëanor...it came into his heart to make a jewel within which the clear light of the sun should be imprisoned, but the jewel should be green as leaves. And he made this thing, and even the Noldor marvelled at it. For it is said that those who looked through this stone saw things that were withered or burned healed again or as they were in the grace of their youth, and that the hands of one who held it brought to all that they touched healing from hurt." Remember what's been said earlier (by which I mean later) about how "the hands of the King are the hands of a healer." Aragorn is slowly assembling, or repairing, all the tokens of his heritage that he'll need to demonstrate his claim to the throne of Gondor.
******I love Lohengrin. And I grew up hearing a story mom loves to tell about Lohengrin, a performance of which, one time, the prop guys screwed up and the Swan Boat left before Lohengrin could get aboard, and the singer, with the unbelievably awesome name of Leo Slezak actually sang "Wann geht der nächste Schwan?" (When does the next swan leave?). Which, trust me, if you're an opera fan, that's a hilarious story.
And this is totally going to be my next messenger bag, you guys.
*******I'm sure there's fanfic out there somewhere depicting Gimli someday using the hair to clone her for his personal enjoyment, though. God, sometimes I hate my brain.