Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘Farewell to Lórien’

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…

“Farewell to Lórien” is a highly poetic, emotional, and atmospheric chapter. Throughout, there is an undercurrent of sadness, melancholy and foreshadowing. Just as the chapter marks the end of the Fellowship’s stay in Lórien, it also continues the inexorable march of the elves towards doom. As such it is a very heavy chapter, setting the tone for many such impossible decisions and partings to come.

The boats given to the company are emblematic of elvish advice, neither saying yes or no. They are helpful and do aid the quest, but they push off the inevitable choice of direction. For now, in their grief at parting, this is perhaps a good thing. It is also darkly humorous that in this action Celeborn is able to pass all responsibility or blame for the outcome of their quest to the Fellowship.

In this chapter, in particular, and increasingly as the journey continues, Boromir is quite the arrogant boor. When all others contemplate their future path in silence, recognizing the ultimate choice truly lies with Frodo and Aragorn, Boromir refuses to shut up, but presses his agenda relentlessly. Though this has largely been his goal from the beginning of the quest, the use of the word “suddenly” in the midst of his argument is critical. This is a key word Tolkien uses almost exclusively to indicate the influence of the Ring. Therefore, it is likely some (or much) of his vehemence is not wholly his own.

Why is Boromir so susceptible to the power of the Ring? In part because he continues to see it as a tool and a weapon, and always has. As a soldier, he understands orders, and so accepted the need to destroy the Ring. However, as time has passed, that resolve, if ever there was, is slipping away. Based on his family, and his profession, it is likely Boromir has grown to weigh his own self-worth by his valor in arms and victories in the battlefield. He has always been under his father’s thumb, feeling the need to impress, whereas Faramir, as the second son, is able to escape and gain perspective in other pursuits. The Ring is a means to an end, a way to ultimate respect.

Elrond, compared to Galadriel, who almost constantly discusses the fading of the elves, appears indifferent or even defeatist. There is not as evident a desire in Imladris to preserve and maintain time. Being of the Wise, and half-elven, and lord of one of the last havens of the Noldor, such resignation begins to make sense. Their coming to Middle-earth has led to nothing but sorrow; and Imladris is little more than a memory clinging to the glories of ages long past. And so the coming age of Men, and the final voyage to the West, would come as relief. In Lothlórien, the times of the past and the place have been preserved whole and entire. Though a pocket, outside while in the world, it maintains the bliss of a bygone age. One is memory and lore, the other joy in the present.

The hiatus in Lórien is proof of the dangers in meeting friendly allies along the road. It becomes a safe haven, from which the questors may hide from the concerns of their task. Though here they require emotional healing after the loss of Gandalf, it is an implicit danger which all come to understand after leaving.

Upon leaving Caras Galadhon, the company now faces the West. Whereas entry into the city symbolically places one’s back to the Valar, leaving it and facing West acknowledges the need to move on, to accept the challenges of life and the quest no matter the outcome. This is a debatable piece of applicability, but leads to many insights.

In the gift-giving, in a reversal of the initial welcome, Frodo is included in among the rest of the Fellowship seated before Galadriel and Celeborn. This may be read in many ways, but appears to indicate that the test is past. Galadriel has made her decision; there will be no more temptation and therefore no explicit danger in the Ring.

Much time was spent discussing the genealogy of Galadriel and her history. She is Fëanor’s neice, the daughter of his half-brother Finarfin. It is said the light of the Two Trees of Valinor shown in her golden hair. Whether out of greed for use in his jewels, or lust of beauty, Fëanor desired her, and requested a lock of her hair. She refused. This is the history which makes Gimli’s request so striking and potentially dangerous. Her past experience leads Galadriel to question Gimli closely to determine the nature of his request.

Like the phial given to Frodo, this gift binds the current quest to the First Age, particularly to the life and adventures of Eärendil. The lock of hair bears the light of the Two Trees, just as the phial captures the light of the last Silmaril in the waters of Galadriel’s mirror. This is truly the last war of the War of the Jewels, as Sam realizes at the stairs of Cirith Ungol.

The point is driven home by Galadriel’s song of farewell, which evokes a sense of great age and sorrow. Looking closely at the translated text, it is evident that this song is likely one from the first age, sung in farewell and even sorrow, as the eldar sent ships west in search of Valinor. The key hint lies in the description of “Varda…[uplifting] her hands…and all paths are drowned in deep shadow…” which beautifully portrays the mists of confusion placed in bulwark around the Blessed Realm. At the same time, the song rings of hope, and may even be the words of Elwing singing as Eärendil leaves the shores of Middle-earth. The hopes of the two singers, Galadriel and Elwing, are much the same. The desire is for hope beyond hope and a salvation which seems beyond all grasp.

In a humorous aside, Galadriel’s miraculous appearance at the point to sing her farewell was questioned. While the Fellowship travels by water, under a swift current, she is somehow able to walk, or teleport to the meeting of the two streams, a seeming impossibility.

… until the hour of our next meeting.

Mirth in Middle-earth

Goofing off one day in the throne room at Barad-dûr, several Wraiths noticed Sauron grimacing into his glowing palantír.  There stood a tiny seven-foot-tall Aragorn, waving a tiny sword.  Hitting the log-off button angrily, Sauron fumed, “Thinks he’s so funny!  How did he know about my feet?!”

Wraith at work

In Tolkien’s Middle-earth we encounter nine rather gloomy Ringwraiths and it would be difficult to imagine a more serious bunch of not-quite-dead fellows.  Whatever remnant of weird stuff they might be made of, not a single one of those guys could be said to have even the ghost of a decent funny bone.

Sauron’s feet were less like feet, and more like… The paws of a werebeast.  In ancient days, escaping the fearsome grip of Huan, his enemy, Sauron’s shape-shifting magic had become fickle.  He ever since had to wear tennis shoes around the House of Lamentation to hide the truth about his feet.  Aragorn was right, the Dark Lord didn’t need to wear socks since the fur was so thick.  Plus, he felt a terrible urge right now to lift one paw and scratch under his chin!

Sauron's secret

My point is that it can’t be pure coincidence that there are nine occurrences of the word “mirth” in The Lord of the Rings.  When I think of this, I always conclude, oh sure, Frodo got the ring to Mount Doom and Gollum took it into the fire.  But by the time Frodo found the doorway into Orodruin, he had entirely lost his sense of humor.  He stood there at the Crack of Doom unable to recall even a single one of the wisecracks he had come up with, for posterity.

One Wraith turned to another.  An eerie whisper floated out of the dark hood, “The boss sure would like to give that Aragorn the finger!”  The hood of the other Wraith nodded and hissed, “But he already gave it to Isildur!”

Everyone knows it was Galadriel’s laughter that really saved Middle-earth.  I have always liked the way she laughed when Frodo offered her the Ring.  A moment later, contemplating the temptation, “suddenly she laughed again” and in so doing she passed her test.  You see, the Valar exiled her because she took herself way too seriously and they found it tiresome.  Mirth won back her passport to Valinor.

Wraith having fun

A third Wraith leaned near the first two, “Have you ever noticed how he counts us on his fingers when he does the roll-call at our staff meetings?”  The first one shot back, “Yep!  And you’re always one of the pinkies!”

There is plenty of warm good humor in the Shire, but we first glimpse “mirth” as a kind of enchantment in the House of Bombadil.  It turns out that old Tom has been waiting for millennia for someone to stop by with the One Ring.  Rather than fuss nervously about what to do about the fate of Middle-earth, Tom has in mind a fun practical joke.  I’d bet that he told Goldberry all about the look on Frodo’s face.

Wraith having fun

Later that day in the locker room in Barad-dûr, a Wraith came rushing in, his dark hooded cloak flapping.  “Didja hear the news?!”  He looked around.  He wasn’t sure where the other fellow was standing.  When a towel and a vial of shampoo lifted up from a nearby bench, he knew where to look.  A thin reedy voice quavered, “Uh-huh.  We’re all gettin’ promotions!”

Tolkien’s mirth is a weighty matter of magic and wisdom.  We observe this truth through Pippin’s eyes in Minas Tirith when he glimpses in Gandalf’s careworn visage “a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”  Galadriel must have known about Gandalf’s penchant for a good gag.  She surely rejected the Ring for fear of ending up in Gandalf’s routine down at the local comedy pub in Minas Tirith.

“Garn!” rasped the first Wraith, “I sure didn’t know the Lidless Eye had that many tear ducts!  You’d think he just lost another finger, instead of that pompous old No-Dude-Will-Ever-Kill-Me Lord of the Nazgûl!”  The Wraith followed the floating towel and vial into the showers.  An invisible throat cleared, “Well, the boss did try to give the old dwimmerlaik a few tips about what not to say on a first date!”

Describing Aragorn in the appendices, Tolkien provides us with the ninth and last use of “mirth.”  Someday a diligent scholar will find among Tolkien’s scribbled manuscripts the thing that Aragorn said to Sauron while skyping him through the palantír.  It’s likely that Aragorn’s jokes were pretty clunky, and on that occasion, rather than chuckle lightly to emphasize the honest effort at humor, Aragorn felt compelled to wave his sword around.

Wraith snickering

The towel came to rest on a hook and the shower came on.  It flowed through empty space.  The shampoo vial rested untouched on a ledge.  The first Wraith stood watching for a moment and turned away, disappointed.  He’d always been curious to see how the others washed their hair.  He hadn’t been able to figure that out since he… faded.  That’s why he always wore a big ugly cloak with a hoodie – after all these years his hair looked pretty frightful!

I’m certain that Tolkien’s Ringwraiths forgot long ago how to snicker.  We can only guess how things might have gone for them if they’d retained even the slightest clue about how to pull off a decent practical joke.  With even a modest amount of experience at pranking, they might have had a little warning when the punchline came for them in the end.

The second Wraith watched him leave.  They always pulled this joke on that guy.  Everyone knew he was desperate to figure out how they washed their hair.  And he had no clue about the truth.  All eight – uh, seven now – of the other Wraiths were totally bald!

Lidless Eye