Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘A Knife in the Dark’ & ‘Flight to the Ford’

The Grey Havens Group Palantir has seen and heard much, but it is unpredictable and often fell. As the mists clear, the withered leaves of past conversations are revealed in barest shreds…

Though tremendous chapters, for which discussion spanned four meetings, very little comes through the Palantir for ‘A Knife in the Dark’ and ‘Flight to the Ford’. The first point recalled is the elvish sensibility of Aragorn when he claims to have no feeling of the wraiths nearby. The Black Breath and the despair of the ring wraiths are perceived as a dread, a visceral sensation, beyond the normal senses. The wording here is noteworthy, however, as Strider is at this moment searching for and analyzing evidence and markings. This is not the sort of language which would typically be used, but implies rather the supernatural sense of the Nazghul which is felt in the chill of the soul.

What was the actual motive of the Nazghul in attacking the dell below Weathertop? What did they hope to achieve? They were surprised by Frodo’s resistance and easily repulsed by his efforts alone. Or are they? Aragorn states that they may believe Frodo’s wound to be fatal. As Gandalf will explain in Rivendel, the blade shard was working its way in to Frodo’s heart, so their primary goal may have already been met. Their intent may have been to merely wound Frodo and snatch him up somewhere along the road, as they almost do at the Ford.

What actually repelled the wraiths? The invocation of the name of Elbereth. It is of note, as each of these elvish invocations is, in that it is a form of intercessory prayer. Particularly in this moment, in its effect it bears the hallmarks of the use of the name of Mary in an exorcism. The nature of the morghul blade and the shard is debatable. The shard’s relationship with the witch-king may be similar to the Ring-Sauron relationship. On the other hand, the blade, seen as tool, becomes an extension of self; not having its own agency, but still guided by the hand which struck.

Tolkien’s writing is often cyclical. As in The Hobbit, the company runs into a group of trolls in the hills. Here is Tolkien humor at its best. The moment actually parallels the defense against boggarts in Harry Potter very well. It is a dark chapter, but is broken by a moment of light and macabre cheer, and one of the few times Tolkien’s characters laugh out of mirth and not grim irony.

Tolkien’s humor in The Lord of the Rings is often hard to spot. It is very British and often lies deeply hidden in the text. The episode demonstrates further proof that Sam is a pub crawler and tavern singer, as his poem in tone and structure is the epitome of the impromptu pub song.

… until the hour of our next meeting.

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