Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘Lothlórien’

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…

“Lothlórien” is a chapter full of some of Tolkien’s most beautiful and painterly prose, as well as surprisingly extensive references to First Age history.

It is a chapter of rampant interlacement. The story of Amroth and Nimrodel echoes that of Aragorn and Arwen, Beren and Luthien, and Tuor and Idril. It hammers home the choices between love and safety, life and death, happiness and despair which so indelibly mark each of these great loves.

Aragorn’s comment regarding the peril of Lothlórien to those who bring evil with them is critical to understanding the development of Boromir in the coming months. He brings his evil, currently deep-seated, with him. His misunderstanding of the Ring, thinking of it only in terms of its potential military might lays the seeds for his downfall as far back as the Council itself. Both the darkness of Moria, and the piercing gaze of Galadriel temper his resolve.

Looking at this simple phrase, there is much more to see than just the immanent betrayal of Boromir. It recalls the tragic history of Middle-earth, where, as Elrond states at the Council, betrayal was ever the greater enemy. In this simple line is felt the reverberations of Hurin’s cry outside the Crissaegrim, Maeglin’s guidance of the orcs into Tumladen, Turin’s construction of the great bridge, Thingol and the dwarves of Belegost, or the sons of Ulfang at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and so many others. Therefore this is a peril which, in Middle-earth, would be most keenly felt. If anyone doubts the ability of Tolkien to weave stunningly complex characters or his capacity to encapsulate inner/moral/psychological turmoil, they have only to look to Borromir in the coming chapters.

Tolkien’s use of betrayal, doubt and corruption in this manner has many parallels with Shakespeare, though, as Tolkien would say of the Ents, Shakespeare never takes it far enough. In this discussion of betrayal, past and present, despair and the response to certain death was also covered. In these moments the meta-narrative of Tolkien’s possible philosophical musings is evident, evoking thoughts of Gandalf’s seminal maxim “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The group further discussed the nature of the Gifts of Men and Elves, death versus immortality. Long life or endless life leads to a certain inertia, but also yields endless weariness, loss of values, and the cumulative weight of tragedy. The elves exhibit many responses to the ravages of time: Rivendel’s embodiment of the night and knowledge (building off of the gnomish proclivities of the Noldor, ie. as ‘deep’ elves of knowledge and study and craft), and Lothlórien’s embodiment of the day and sunlight, which rests in a desire to preserve the bliss of bygone ages. In this specifically was seen the reasons for Lórien’s timelessness, and the ability of its environment to take away both age and care.

There are many intriguing similarities between the Mirrormere and the Mirror of Galadriel. There are qualities which define them both, principally the fact that the viewer does not see their own reflection and the ever present question of if what is being seen is real. Again, as with so much in this chapter, when Frodo, Sam and Gimli gaze into the pool reflections appear both past and future: Here the first Durin gazed into the pool at the founding of Khazad-dûm, here Balin gazed prior to his death, and in a similar way, Sam and Frodo observe mysteries in the depths of Galadriel’s Mirror.

It is curious that following the escape from Moria, after wandering in pain for quite some time, Frodo is rather insistently opposed to receiving care. Is this to preserve the secret of his mithril coat, as Bilbo asked? Or is this a sign of something deeper? Early in the text, Frodo is shown often attempting to solve issues himself. He wishes to go on the quest without any help, hoping to give his friends the slip, only bringing Sam because Gandalf told him to. Indeed, we find in this chapter (as so often before) Sam tags along with Frodo compulsively up to the Talan to meet Haldir. It raises the question: would Frodo have any companion in his quest if Sam did not cleave so closely to his duty? Both of these brief moments appear to reinforce the self-sufficiency which Frodo strives for, as well as his compulsive desire to keep those he cares about from pain, even if that requires further sacrifice on his part.

Also, at this moment, Tolkien’s recasting of an English rhyme from the 1700’s was found. Aragorn, upon finding the mithril coat, states “Here’s a pretty hobbit-skin to wrap an elven-princeling in!” Which wonderfully builds off of “Bye baby Bunting, Daddy’s gone a-hunting. Gone to fetch a rabbit skin to wrap a baby Bunting in.”

It should be noted at the Fellowship’s entry into Lórien, the elves are not surprised by the sight of Hobbits. They actually appear to have some familiarity with them. This subtly ties in hobbit history and migrations found in the Prologue, as at one time early hobbits dwelt along the river Anduin.

Tolkien’s wonderful humor is exhibited when the hobbits ready for bed in the flet. Pippin goes on talking for long while, an obvious motor-mouth, where Sam even scolds him. And Sam, of course, sleeps like a log.

Both Pippin and Merry, still in or just out of their tweens, are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. It was noted that both, as so many in the company, come from wealthy and even aristocratic backgrounds, and so this journey is really their first taste of life off ‘easy-street.’ Their part in the quest, like the entire Fellowship’s, is a process of refinement and tempering, until they reach the critical moment outside the Shire where Gandalf leaves them to their own devices.

Gollum follows the company to the very trees in which they sleep. Frodo at first feels dread and fear at the orcs passing below, but after they pass, his dread only grows. How does he sense Gollum? Is it the power of the Ring as Gollum is in some ways a rather corporeal wraith? Or is it simply the lingering relationship between Gollum and the Ring which is felt? It is currently in the best interest of the Ring to go with Frodo, to go on to Mordor, for the moment their paths coincide. To return to Gollum would be consignment to a cave far beneath the mountains, and next to no possibility of return to its master.

The final scene of the chapter, at Cerin Amroth, is overflowing with gorgeous description and Tolkien’s painterly and philological prose at its best. Here, Frodo’s description of the colors as “those he knew…but fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them” and his earlier vision of light for which no language had a name perfectly echoes the elves at Cuivienen or even Tolkien’s poem Mythopoeia. There is a philological sensibility here, by which words are truly only a myth about that which they describe, and as such only a tiny sliver of the seen or felt. There are rampant correlations to Owen Barfield and Eastern thought to be found here.

… until the hour of our next meeting.

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