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.

Pedo Mellon a Minno (Speak Friend and Enter)

Pondering my first posting to the new blog of the Grey Havens Group, I have decided to tell a somewhat strange tale.  It concerns Elves and Dwarves and the perilous places that we sometimes must visit upon our various quests.  But wherever we go in the world, if we speak the word “friend,” it will open many magic doors for us.

Reading Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, I always look forward to entering Lothlorien.  At that point in the quest, Gandalf has been taken by a Balrog into the frightful chasms of Moria; hideous orcs have been stirred to violence; and the way has been dark and dreadful under cruel Caradhras.  But now we come to the realm of Lothlorien, the Golden Wood, where hearts expect to be glad.

Things indeed begin well enough.  Haldir the Elf welcomes Frodo and Legolas kindly.  But he adds ominously, “[I]t is not our custom to lead strangers through our land.”  Now we know this truth: the Elves of the Golden Wood feel somewhat wary of strangers.

This may well be the kind of prudence one finds in immortality.  But then, hearing of a Dwarf in the company, Haldir declares with a sense of alarm, “I cannot allow him to pass.”  And the next day, crossing the Silverlode, Haldir makes ready to blindfold Gimli the Dwarf.  Clearly Tolkien wants us to feel a little doubtful of the Elves and their chilly suspicion of Gimli.  And Gimli is not at all pleased with the ancient wisdom of the Elves.

This adds a sense of half-seen depth to the tale.  We glimpse enough of the story to know that Dwarves and Elves have a history, and intriguing hidden vistas help to make Middle-earth feel real.  We wonder rightly whether the Elves might be wise to be suspicious of Dwarves who stumble hurriedly into their realm; and we understand Gimli’s resentment at being treated with suspicion.

But driving through Kansas in early 2010 of the Seventh Age of the World, I came away with a slightly deeper understanding of Gimli’s displeasure.  It happened like this:

One early morning I left my home under a starless night and I drove into the cold Central Plains.  I saw several trains along the way.  Beside the dark road a mysterious animal stared at me.  And I drove on through the dawn of a sunless day.  And after turning right at Salina, after crossing Mulberry Creek, I received a formal greeting from the Sunflower State.  The Highway Patrol pulled me over.

A chilly drizzle fell upon the hurrying patrolman as I opened my window.  He wanted to see my driver’s license.  He also felt curious about what I might be doing in Kansas.  I’m on my way to a funeral, I said.  It happened to be the funeral of our family leader.  After listening to my story, and after studying my license, he said I’d gotten too close to a truck, but this time he would let me off with just a verbal warning.  Thanks officer, I said, I’ll be more careful.

But he hadn’t pulled me over, merely worried about my driving skills that day.  A half-hidden backstory provides the deeper context of this tale.

You see, he had first driven up next to me there on the highway as we sped along under a cloudy cold rain.  And I had glanced over to see him leaning toward me in his seat, carefully studying me through his passenger window.  With a shiver, I could tell that he wanted to know whether I might be a Dwarf!  His suspicions sufficiently aroused by what he saw of me, he dropped back and activated his lightbar.

The patrolman stepped up to my window and he said, “I am not the master of the law, and cannot set it aside.  I have done much in letting you set foot over Celebrant.”  The name on his badge read “Haldir.”  So after explaining that I was in mourning just then for the fallen leader of our Fellowship, I planted my feet and I set my hand on my axe and I said, “I will go forward free, or I will go back to my own land!”

And he could have bent his bow at me and he could have said, “A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!”  But after hearing the accents in my voice, he had to admit that I might not be a Dwarf after all.  He said I was free to go.

I thanked him but I didn’t feel grateful.  I felt a chill.  My look – my hair and my face – had told him that I might be… I might well be a Dwarf smuggling illegal goods from the Blue Mountains to Dale, passing stealthily through his land.  He needed a closer look.  To hear my voice; to see my name.

As it turned out, I lacked the damning accents of a Dwarf.  And my name was not at all Dwarvish.  So he let me go.  And for my part, having been interrogated by the secret power of that perilous realm, I whispered to myself, “It is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed.”

The next year I happened to have dealings with the Office of the Lord and Lady of that realm.  An Elf who served the Lord Celeborn contacted me about the content of a special exhibit on the Museum Flet of the College of the Galadhrim, and I had a pleasant exchange with him.

I didn’t say anything about how I had been greeted that previous year by a patrol of the Golden Wood.  I didn’t say anything about the chill I had felt under the cloudy drizzle that had fallen as I took note of the blindfold in the patrolman’s hand.  For he had been prepared to blindfold me.  To lead me blind into rumored perils of dreadful paths.

Dealing with Celeborn’s representative – his name was Chris Howell – I tried to be helpful and for my trouble I received a book in the mail as a gift.  I have it here now as I set down this account.  It is called Enough Good People.  The cover says it is about “inter-cultural collaboration.”  I like that idea.  It sounds friendly.  I’m sure it says somewhere inside: Pedo mellon a minno.

The sentiments of that book are easily applied to people who do not resemble Dwarves in that land.  But the Dwarves need it most of all.  So for those stiff-necked Dwarves who set forth to quest into perilous lands under sunless skies, if by chance you find yourself entering that realm across the Celebrant, where Elvish hearts expect to be glad, speak the word “friend,” and you may yet find good people to open their doors for you.  And may you escape unscathed!