~ 9 August 2022 ~
The Reading, and Ensuing Thoughts
This week we started Book 2, Chapter 4: A Journey In The Dark.
After partially climbing the mountain and being forced to retreat, the group are made to confront the options left open to them: to go around the mountain or under it. Only Gimli seems keen to take Gandalf’s suggestion to try the path through the Mines of Moria.
However, their choice is made for them when they hear the howling of Wargs. They spend the night at the top of a small hill on top of which are a few trees and a circle of boulders. Trapped as they were, they lit a fire and waited.
Throughout the night they could see the shining eyes of the animals that had besieged them, and they have a couple of confrontations with the Wargs. The last one is just before dawn, where a great fight ensues. Come morning, no bodies are found, only the arrows belonging to Legolas.
The company press on. Gandalf thinks they have between fifteen and twenty miles to cover before they reach the Gate of Moria. The journey is tricky for they are weary and the land they are now in is unfamiliar to them all. Gandalf, searching for particular landmarks realises (with help from Gimli) the waterfall and stream he was looking for to help guide them has been dammed, and the valley before the Walls of Moria and the mountains, flooded.
They have to skirt the lake now there, but are forced to walk through some of the shallow yet dirty water at one point, before they come to the end of the Elven road, which in times passed led up to the gate. The door though is hidden. As night falls, the light of the moon illumines the secret doorway and the inscription above it. Gandalf, who once knew many passwords and spells in numerous languages, cannot remember the one for this door.
Whilst Gandalf is trying to think of the password, the others begin to unload the pony, decide what to take and what to leave, sharing the items out amongst them. Tempers start to fray a little as the waiting to get inside the mines goes on, ending with Gandalf shouting at the door in exasperation, before throwing his staff on the ground.
My heart broke for Sam at having to be parted from Bill the pony, but with what followed, I’ve never loved Gandalf more for taking the time to whisper powerful “words of guard and guiding” to the pony.
The encounter with the Wargs here made me think of the encounter with the wolves and goblins in the chapter “Out of The Frying-Pan Into The Fire” in The Hobbit.
Next week we will finish Book 2, Chapter 4: A Journey In The Dark.
Middle Earth Musings and Meditations
There is an ominous theme to this half of a chapter, that I don’t think struck me as strongly before this re-read. It’s not only that the company are currently on a perilous part of their journey (defeated by the mountain and the snow, attacked by the Wargs, forced to walk through the dark lake) but it is the word choices used throughout these pages which conjure this overarching feeling of tension and this unsettling undercurrent of danger and the unknown.
The language is dark. It speaks of admitting defeat and failure if they cannot not press on. It feels very much like the company’s dark night of the soul.
Some of the words that stood out to me (though there were many others) included: weary, troubled, bitter, destroyed, deadly, evil, dread, darkly, ill omen, desperate, disaster, fear, bleak, decayed, trudged, sullen, unwholesome, stagnant, night-shadows, distressed, and accursed.
This word list sums up this half a chapter very well and gives an indication of the mindset of some of the characters too, I think.
Tolkien’s illustration of the Doors of Durin is perhaps one of his most widely-recognised and iconic drawings. Indeed it is a beautiful image, and one of my favourites from The Lord of the Rings.
It’s interesting that this doorway represents the friendship between two races which now do not get along so easily, and also what it suggests in terms of the presence of Gimli and Legolas in the company.
For those wishing to read further about these doors, I can recommend the article on the Tolkien Gateway.
Just a side note: I’ve always been reminded of The High Priestess tarot card when looking at this illustration. I think it is because the two columns of the archway remind me of the two pillars which flank her…And, at least in the context of this chapter, there are parallels in as much as both represent gateways into the hidden, the unknown…
The Lord of the Rings Question of the Week:
Without speculating or speaking of what may or may not happen to character(s) later in the story, what do you make of Aragorn’s warning to Gandalf? Where do you think that warning has come from? What do you think of Gandalf’s response – or lack thereof – to it?
I think the warning Aragorn gives speaks of an inherent gift of foresight, though it isn’t defined enough to expand upon it. I imagine it being perhaps akin to clairsentience: he can feel or sense something but cannot explain more than that because he simply does know anything else. After all, Aragorn was always against taking this road unless it could not be avoided, and that meant him rather taking the hobbits up and over a mountain, in winter, in a blizzard.
As for Gandalf’s reaction to the warning, I don’t think that he is fearless or reckless, or that he doesn’t believe in Aragorn’s warning. I think he operates from the position of “if it’s best for everyone else” then it must be right and be for the greater good.