Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘The Bridge of Khazad-dûm’

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…

When any group comes together to discuss “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm,” there is one supremely controversial topic which must be either discussed and vehemently argued or just as forcefully ignored: that is, the nature of Balrogs and the infamous question of wings.

Tolkien actually gives two distinct descriptions, one which uses metaphorical language and one which does not. This leaves the door open for interpretation. The color structure of the Balrog: blacks, reds, and yellows, demonstrate its affinity for Morgoth as they are coordinating color schemes. As discussed at the Pass of Caradhras, perhaps this is a case where ambiguity is a purposeful seed for fascination and study.

Color plays a large part in the chapter, particularly black, greys, yellows and white. They are used to contrast the destructive power of flame and evil and the holy or sacred primordial light of the secret fire which Gandalf wields.

The nature of the Watcher in the water at the west gate is a complete mystery; Tolkien gives very little detail to work from. It is possible the lake was contrived by orcs, but it is also likely a natural formation. Based on description from the record of the colony, the waters were once much higher, up to the door in fact. This refers back to the curious use of the word “narrow” in the previous chapter to describe the shore between the waters and the cliff-face. Perhaps the narrowness describes the space between the cliff and the natural shore, which has receded.

Stars appear on the page as a break between ‘chapters’ in the book the Fellowship finds. Why are these here, let alone mentioned? In a purely literary sense, it denotes a passage of time or theme or chapter. This is what Gandalf states. This may be a dwarvish annotation. Another interesting, though largely unfounded link lies in the many pointed stars which make up the crown of Durin as well as his emblem. In this sense, as these stars immediately follow the declaration of Balin as Lord of Moria, it may be a sort of illuminated manuscript decoration to link him with the line of Durin. A stretch, but interesting.

Who writes in their last moments in a record? Especially something so immediate, as ‘they are coming’ or ‘we cannot get out?’ The closest modern correlation is a tweet or a text. It also bears great resemblance to the sort of notes found in sudden disasters, where word of love or explanation are shared in the last moments knowing no escape is at all possible. This understanding lends a great deal of tragedy and hopelessness to the last moments of the Colony. It shows a profound courage and a hope to pass on a warning to survivors or those who might come searching.

Silence or Hush and Darkness are real and palpable characters in this chapter and previous one. They set the reader on edge in anticipation for what may come. Like the sensation deprived, the reader begins to hear and feel things in the Dark and Hush, in an ever accelerating drumbeat of Doom. The drums only occur briefly when Pippin drops the stone and before the ambush, but they are urgently felt in their absence throughout the chapter.

In the sudden ambush at the Chamber of Mazarbul, there are clear hints demonstrating that the Fellowship has been closely followed. Particularly given later statements by Haldir, the entire ambush is in part orchestrated by Sauron. It is connected to the first sighting of the Nazghul over the Pass, and the crebain, and the wargs. In this then, beyond the pull of the Ring, it is explained why the orc chieftain would go for Frodo first. The mind can play tricks on a reader. It always seems great masses of foes are involved, though in reality, given Tolkien’s numbers, it is likely only a few score orcs at most are involved at first.

Gandalf’s moment at the door from the Chamber of Mazarbul is an example of Tolkien at his painterly best. He paints a wonderfully vivid image of the moment. Is it a given, however, who is on the other side of the door? The use of the word ‘ghash’ or fire always seemed to point to the Balrog, but there is no explicit evidence beyond this. In any case, after this Gandalf is bone weary. He has not slept more than a few hours in the last five days, not since the siting of the crebain before the attempt on the Pass. He is so tired he cannot even light his staff.

If the other behind the door is the Balrog, they presumably would also be as bone weary (or would have prevailed). Either way, this demonstrates the great power and control of Gandalf the Grey in this final confrontation. The timing of his final effort, where he breaks the bridge, speaks volumes. Depending on the reading, it may be a last ditch attack/defense, or timed to get rid of the Balrog before Boromir and Aragorn got far on the bridge and so a move of protection and self sacrifice.

Grief and trauma are an integral part of this chapter. The Fellowship has been through an incomprehensible emotional roller coaster. In no less than three hours they have been ambushed, Frodo presumed dead, Gandalf near defeated, Frodo discovered alive, been forced to wander in the dark, discovering stairs as they go, faced a Balrog, and lost Gandalf. By the end of the chapter their nerves are so frayed, Frodo does not even notice his own weeping until he sees Sam’s tears. It is not until they leave the long dark that grief fully encapsulates them.

And fittingly, in one of Tolkien’s few uses of onomatopoeia, the chapter is marked by the constant beat of Doom, drumbeats in the deep.

… until the hour of our next meeting.

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