Pondering my first posting to the new blog of the Grey Havens Group, I have decided to tell a somewhat strange tale. It concerns Elves and Dwarves and the perilous places that we sometimes must visit upon our various quests. But wherever we go in the world, if we speak the word “friend,” it will open many magic doors for us.
Reading Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, I always look forward to entering Lothlorien. At that point in the quest, Gandalf has been taken by a Balrog into the frightful chasms of Moria; hideous orcs have been stirred to violence; and the way has been dark and dreadful under cruel Caradhras. But now we come to the realm of Lothlorien, the Golden Wood, where hearts expect to be glad.
Things indeed begin well enough. Haldir the Elf welcomes Frodo and Legolas kindly. But he adds ominously, “[I]t is not our custom to lead strangers through our land.” Now we know this truth: the Elves of the Golden Wood feel somewhat wary of strangers.
This may well be the kind of prudence one finds in immortality. But then, hearing of a Dwarf in the company, Haldir declares with a sense of alarm, “I cannot allow him to pass.” And the next day, crossing the Silverlode, Haldir makes ready to blindfold Gimli the Dwarf. Clearly Tolkien wants us to feel a little doubtful of the Elves and their chilly suspicion of Gimli. And Gimli is not at all pleased with the ancient wisdom of the Elves.
This adds a sense of half-seen depth to the tale. We glimpse enough of the story to know that Dwarves and Elves have a history, and intriguing hidden vistas help to make Middle-earth feel real. We wonder rightly whether the Elves might be wise to be suspicious of Dwarves who stumble hurriedly into their realm; and we understand Gimli’s resentment at being treated with suspicion.
But driving through Kansas in early 2010 of the Seventh Age of the World, I came away with a slightly deeper understanding of Gimli’s displeasure. It happened like this:
One early morning I left my home under a starless night and I drove into the cold Central Plains. I saw several trains along the way. Beside the dark road a mysterious animal stared at me. And I drove on through the dawn of a sunless day. And after turning right at Salina, after crossing Mulberry Creek, I received a formal greeting from the Sunflower State. The Highway Patrol pulled me over.
A chilly drizzle fell upon the hurrying patrolman as I opened my window. He wanted to see my driver’s license. He also felt curious about what I might be doing in Kansas. I’m on my way to a funeral, I said. It happened to be the funeral of our family leader. After listening to my story, and after studying my license, he said I’d gotten too close to a truck, but this time he would let me off with just a verbal warning. Thanks officer, I said, I’ll be more careful.
But he hadn’t pulled me over, merely worried about my driving skills that day. A half-hidden backstory provides the deeper context of this tale.
You see, he had first driven up next to me there on the highway as we sped along under a cloudy cold rain. And I had glanced over to see him leaning toward me in his seat, carefully studying me through his passenger window. With a shiver, I could tell that he wanted to know whether I might be a Dwarf! His suspicions sufficiently aroused by what he saw of me, he dropped back and activated his lightbar.
The patrolman stepped up to my window and he said, “I am not the master of the law, and cannot set it aside. I have done much in letting you set foot over Celebrant.” The name on his badge read “Haldir.” So after explaining that I was in mourning just then for the fallen leader of our Fellowship, I planted my feet and I set my hand on my axe and I said, “I will go forward free, or I will go back to my own land!”
And he could have bent his bow at me and he could have said, “A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!” But after hearing the accents in my voice, he had to admit that I might not be a Dwarf after all. He said I was free to go.
I thanked him but I didn’t feel grateful. I felt a chill. My look – my hair and my face – had told him that I might be… I might well be a Dwarf smuggling illegal goods from the Blue Mountains to Dale, passing stealthily through his land. He needed a closer look. To hear my voice; to see my name.
As it turned out, I lacked the damning accents of a Dwarf. And my name was not at all Dwarvish. So he let me go. And for my part, having been interrogated by the secret power of that perilous realm, I whispered to myself, “It is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed.”
The next year I happened to have dealings with the Office of the Lord and Lady of that realm. An Elf who served the Lord Celeborn contacted me about the content of a special exhibit on the Museum Flet of the College of the Galadhrim, and I had a pleasant exchange with him.
I didn’t say anything about how I had been greeted that previous year by a patrol of the Golden Wood. I didn’t say anything about the chill I had felt under the cloudy drizzle that had fallen as I took note of the blindfold in the patrolman’s hand. For he had been prepared to blindfold me. To lead me blind into rumored perils of dreadful paths.
Dealing with Celeborn’s representative – his name was Chris Howell – I tried to be helpful and for my trouble I received a book in the mail as a gift. I have it here now as I set down this account. It is called Enough Good People. The cover says it is about “inter-cultural collaboration.” I like that idea. It sounds friendly. I’m sure it says somewhere inside: Pedo mellon a minno.
The sentiments of that book are easily applied to people who do not resemble Dwarves in that land. But the Dwarves need it most of all. So for those stiff-necked Dwarves who set forth to quest into perilous lands under sunless skies, if by chance you find yourself entering that realm across the Celebrant, where Elvish hearts expect to be glad, speak the word “friend,” and you may yet find good people to open their doors for you. And may you escape unscathed!