Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘The Ring Goes South’

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…

The wrath of Caradhras is indeed great! The Mountain sent everything it had against GHG’s palantiri, attempting to prevent the discussion from continuing. Even so, for such an arduous and chaotic journey, the meetings were fruitful, and the six plus hours of discussion not wholly due to the Mountain’s fury.

Why are Elrond and Aragorn the primary selectors of the Fellowship’s members? In part, Elrond takes pride of place as the oldest and wisest of the Council, barring consideration of Gandalf. He is also the host. The Quest is the fulfillment of Aragorn’s fate and his final pursuit of the kingship, as such he plays a central role in it. Also, as the heir of Isildur, who largely causes this mess, he bears the weight of duty to see it through to the ultimate destruction of the Ring and Sauron. The two month delay between the Council and the leave-taking of the Fellowship is used primarily for scouting and the thought required of the selection of the Fellowship members. It may also be indicative of Aragorn’s need to gather himself and come to grips with his foretold role. In Elrond’s repeated question of Frodo’s resolve, may also be seen a potential inducement for Strider…a sort of ‘if he can do it, why can’t I’ situation.

Naming is of huge importance in Tolkien’s secondary world; his names mark a lexical importance not seen in naming conventions for many centuries. There is an element to prophesy to Tolkien’s names, but they are also more often than not given, received or taken on, becoming a way of speaking to the character of a particular person and their current state or where they would like to take their life.

Where do the scouts go? Particularly, what is the errand of the sons of Elrond? They clearly go to Lothlorien. However, it is not so described in the text; it is referred to in a rather round-about way, which may imply an element which has crept into the tale. In this ambiguity, there are a lot of questions to be discussed: Did they gaze into the Mirror? How much did they tell Galadriel? She would have known Frodo and Sam, and most likely Strider and Gandalf would be coming her way, but probably not the rest of the Company. And even if the full company is known, perhaps the inclusion of a dwarf is left out on purpose?

Frodo sees a red star waxing in the south. It is a clear reference to the same red star seen over Gondolin prior to its fall, and again before the suicide of Nienor; a link which draws this story closer to the full Legendarium and lends credence to the fact that it is indeed one and the same story as Sam will describe it at the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. The traditional superstitions regarding the planet Mars are implied here as well: as a portent of war and conflict.

Contemplating Merry and Pippin’s inclusion in the Fellowship led to tremendous discussion far afield. They are both eminently unsuitable for the quest, given they both treat it as a sort of holiday to begin with. It becomes a question of loyalty and friendship; even so, there is little evident value in their inclusion until they are left to their own devices with the Uruk Hai, or even later at their oath-takings. The question of their inclusion, however, led to the deeper question of why Elrond wanted to send them back to the Shire to begin with. Is it simply to save them from the arduous journey they obviously don’t understand? Or does he know of what changes are happening in the Shire? Or are yet to come? If this last is true, why wouldn’t he send further messengers? Are he and Gandalf hoping in hardship the hobbits of the Shire will toughen up? There is a certain level of callousness demonstrated by both Gandalf and Elrond here, which seems to point to an attitude towards complete focus on the quest at hand over any other concerns.

Elrond’s prescience here became the major point of inquiry; and tied to it the nature of knowledge gained via the Mirror. Elrond may or may not be prescient; but he doesn’t really need to be being as long lived as he is. Patterns arise in history; he should be capable of piecing together the likely outcome of events. The Mirror gives visions of things which are often questionable and incomplete. They are true in a sense, but the truth which comes from the information of an instant, and so may be changed. We got far afield in the mechanism by which the Mirror might work, as it is formed from the waters of a stream. Ulmo lord of waters is most versed in the Music of the Ainur and most able to see somewhat of the structure of the future, thereby lending that power to the MIrror. However, it only contains the Music in a stream, and of that only that in the ewer, and only that which is poured into the bowl…and that explains the incomplete or shaky vision which is given. It is much like the example of telling time. The instant you say it is present (or a given time) it is past. It can only be true and complete in a split second.

After the selection of the Fellowship, Bilbo and Frodo converse in Bilbo’s room. Bilbo shows complete disregard for Elrond’s home, plunging Sting into the woodwork, and the decoration of the Mithril coat seems excessive if it is to be an item of utility and not decoration. Why all this detail of crystal and pearls at this point in the story? The only answer which seems to fit is to establish its great worth before explaining the nature of mithril.

What does Bilbo mean when he uses the word “spared” to describe his hope that he be spared to write a sequel? To the modern mind it appears simply a wish to be spared death. But looking at spared’s meaning and development, it is closely tied with ‘thin’ and ‘sparse’, both close references to Bilbo’s sensation of being butter over too much bread. He hopes to survive. He may also question what destruction of the Ring will do to his long life. And he may solely be speaking of conserving time and energy in order to take on the task.

This led into the apparent ascetic aspects of both Bilbo and Frodo, and their slow withdrawal from the world to a more spiritual plane of existence. Which led further into portrayals of Men in art through history and thence into the integral ties between art, architecture and history.

It is often forgotten or conveniently ignored that the Fellowship travels exclusively under the cover of darkness after they leave Rivendel until they are defeated by Caradhras. As Borromir puts it, they are traveling as thieves in the night; which is a turn of phrase with particularly Christian meaning as it is used to describe the Second Coming. This fact, and Elrond’s prize winning worst pep-talk ever, as well as the noted lack of living sound in Hollin, lend an air of seriousness to the beginning of the quest. It creates a clear mood-dampening effect after the cheer and relief of Rivendel.

In a philosophical sense this demonstrates the necessary rhythms of life, the happy and the sad, the moments of action and the moments of contemplation. It was noted that from this point on the text accelerates relentlessly up to the sojourn in the secret wood at which point time again has little measure or perceivable meaning as in Rivendel.

Another fact taken for granted is that the Fellowship is never conceived as a permanent body. From its inception the various members intend to part to their own paths, with Legolas and Gimli planning such as early as the Pass of Caradhras. Only upon Frodo is the burden of going the entire distance laid. Yet, at the same time, there is much commentary about the uncertainty of their quest and what, or who, may be found along the way. They have to set out as an act of hope, which makes it utterly fitting they embark on December 25th. In each of these moves by Tolkien, in his timing and careful exposition of motives he harkens back to a medieval mindset in which there is a cosmic order which ripples through the ages.

Reaching Hollin, the reader is immediately struck by seemingly sentient stones. Are they sentient? Do their reported memories indicate some form of anthropomorphism or animism? Is this a particular skill of Legolas or all elves? This appears to be an elvish ability, which allows him to feel out the stones as another sense, to read their aura in a form of physiological or psychic archeology.

The ‘attack’ on the pass is a mystery, particularly who might be responsible: Sauron, Saruman (who there is little evidence for in the text), the landforms which would cause unpredictable weather, or Caradhras itself. Tolkien clearly lays out hints for many possible solutions, but lets the reader make their own conclusion, which led to an extended discussion on the nature of applicability. Each solution is feasible and changeable, and potentially placed to seed applicability wherein under different circumstances the text may constantly be read in a different light, but always validly as there is that implicit ambiguity. This topic continued in the vague description of the wisp of cloud which covers the stars before they attempt the pass. It should be read literally, as either just what is says or as the first sighting of a flying nazgul (taking into account Gandalf’s sense of feeling it pass overhead).

This chapter shows Legolas at his worst: a snarky, smug, annoying, and rude spoiled royal brat. As a prince, and most likely exposed to constant ‘respect’, it is very likely a learned behavior. And Gimli is much the same, though in a more coarse way. In both cases they are emblematic of what it means to be an elf or a dwarf respectively.

Gandalf’s possession of Glamdring is highlighted and specifically mentioned as the company made ready to set out. Tolkien’s choice to describe him as bearing his staff, “but girt at his side was the elven-sword” seems to imply that up to this point Gandalf did not bear his sword. That, and Gandalf’s desire to take the company through Moria may indicate some sense on his part of his battle with the Balrog. There is no evidence he yet knows the nature of the evil in the mines, but it appears he is well aware there is a major foe to be faced.

It is important to pay attention to Gandalf’s sleeping patterns. After the passing of the crebain, Gandalf does not sleep, or if he does, very little. In many ways this could be seen as indicative of his sense of the danger, the nearness of the accomplishment of his mission as ‘the Grey’ and thus his waning before waxing again as Gandalf the White.

… until the hour of our next meeting.

Gazing into GHG’s Palantir: ‘The Council of Elrond’

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…

‘The Council of Elrond’ is a truly enormous and monumental chapter, both in actual length and sheer weight of information. It is little wonder then that the Palantir has had to turn its gaze to no less than three different meetings in order to capture the full breadth of its analysis.

Strider is a man struggling to find himself. He is drowning in a sea of names which have been given to him; each name linked with a certain aspect of his character. As a philologist, it is not surprising Tolkien utilizes naming as a lexical device by which he may covertly create a meta-narrative. In this process, he invites his readers to do the same, endeavoring to follow the shifts in language, time and place across the great lists of names for the key characters in the legendarium.

At the Council, the Dwarves describe the mission of Balin to retake Moria. What does it say about the nature of dwarves that they allow an expedition to go twenty-five years without report? Also, in the discussion, and hesitancy of the dwarves may be seen the motives and taboos with regards to their relationship with Moria.

Many elves are present at the Council. Besides Legolas and Elrond, however, the most prominent and active member is Galdor, who is rather combative in his line of questioning. How do the Three relate to the One? What is the actual threat to the Three? If the One is destroyed they may fail. If they are used and Sauron has the One, he would enslave the minds of the three bearers.

The chapter, like some many, contains many portents and dreams. The dream of Faramir is prophetic. The fact that the mirror appears to him many times before Boromir reveals the sorry state of his family and his character as opposed to Boromir in their relationships with their father. Might Ulmo have been involved in the poetic dream? He often plays a part in the previous ages. How much of the meeting of all these important figures is chance or Providence?

What were Tolkien’s thoughts on Progress, ecology, mechanization and agriculture? In general, from his Letters and his fictional writing, his outlook would seem fairly bleak. Many of the ideas from which he worked actually stem from philosophies long developing from Romanticism and even long before. Though he is the first to so clearly describe and state the theory of sub-creation, and how it applies to literature, it is actually an ancient art. Art, architecture, philosophy, myths, language and word-craft have all sought the ultimate Truth, bottom or Substance. This train of thought, though apparent tangent, led to some truly brilliant insights about the nature of heroism and the heroes of the book: those who follow through with their mission, their place in life prevail. Those who break with that purpose fall unless they turn aside from the crooked path.

The nature of the power of the Three Rings is perhaps surprising. They preserve, inspire and heal, but lack any power towards true protection or socio-political power. The Dwarf Rings only bring more gold to their bearer, making them immensely wealthy, but also fairly incorruptible. The timing of the finding of the One, coinciding with Sauron’s expulsion from Dol Guldur, may not have been mere coincidence. It should be recalled that Golumn lives on an island within a great underground lake, to which a stream flows from the outside. Ulmo, Lord of Waters, is known to have used his influence far up the streams of Middle-earth, as is seen with both Finrod Felagund and Turgon. Might he have set some of the events in motion? Even going so far as to have hidden the Ring in the Gladden Fields until Deagol should come upon it?

In this discussion of Rings and powers and dominion, it is instructive to look at Sam’s time as ring-bearer and why he is not affected by it. His earthiness, his simplicity and his Love for his master are all likely culprits. However, the Ring may never have left Frodo, as it had Isildur, Gollum or Bilbo, but was taken and taken in an act of love no less.

Saruman, in this chapter, is a study of (and warning against) scientific thought and the philosophy of substance. He has broken the White to make the many colors, thereby both symbolically and actually breaking himself. He is a turncoat, both turning his cloak’s color, but also deceived friends both old and new. He is ruled by pride and an overweening sense of justice and duty. In his quest for Order, he has taken his cues from Sauron, and even made his own ring. Tolkien very pointedly does not capitalize this ring. It should be wondered if it has any power at all, or is it merely show of Saruman’s delusion.

How might the Ring be considered a weapon in Boromir’s hands (or in the ‘ideal’ bearer’s hands)? Potentially the Ring might grant the bearer leadership over the Nazghul if they were of great enough stature, but might also allow domination of other people too to prod them to the bearer’s will. The Ring would not be a traditional weapon as such, but a sort of Rallying force for the general.

To give the Ring to Tom Bombadil for protection would be utter folly, as the council decides. He is a creature wholly of the earth. He is content simply to be caretaker and has not interest in dominance or materialism. In this sense he is like the hobbits, namely Sam, who when tempted are confronted with truly silly visions, and like the dwarves in that he himself having mastery may not be dominated. The Council explores every feasible option. Actually, readers have already heard most of the arguments in “The Shadows of the Past,” where the decision has already been made in a form of ‘proto-Council.’

Bilbo’s offer to take the Ring and complete his quest is another example of Tolkien’s brilliant humor, particularly in reference to Gandalf’s advice. Gandalf is called Stormcrow for a reason, as he typically advises in times of strife and danger; here he recommends rest and writing. The moment may also be a nod by Tolkien to the notion of a sequel to Bilbo’s story in which he would be the primary character…but the Ring has grown and he has not (to paraphrase).

The perennial question throughout The Lord of the Rings is when the Ring is influencing events. Is it Frodo’s choice to accept the burden of the Ring, the Ring’s urging, or some combination of the two? Elrond’s subsequent acknowledgement and advice is very much in fitting with the description of Elvish advice described by Frodo so long ago in Woody End: they say both yes and no and often not what you want to hear. It is the sort of acclamation that forces Frodo to indeed take up the quest, for who could back out after such praise?

… until the hour of our next meeting.

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.