LotRFI Pt.22–Of Rohan

When I was a child, the character I identified with the most out of the whole book was Pippin. Somehow, though, the passages I loved the most were those in Rohan. I loved the descriptions of the open plains where horses could run for miles at a stretch. This is probably strange because I did not grow up around open plains, spending most of my time in the hill region in America’s southern states. I also only rarely had encounters with horses. I still very much liked the idea of horses, the riding of them, not the care of them. (If I were to confess all, I would have to tell of a certain early birthday party where my present was a horse ride.)

Pursuit in Rohan by Ted Nasmith
Image copyright Ted Nasmith

Nevertheless, I feel that I was drawn to the passages in Rohan because of their otherness. While I identified with the hobbits and saw their journey as something relatable, the expansive medieval world of Rohan was something I had only ever experienced in books and in my imagination. I certainly had no clue that the Rohirrim were inspired by the Anglo-Saxons, but I could feel the ancientry and sense of history that pervades the pages.

To get to more specific responses, I am sure that no consistent reader will be surprised by the fact that I was untrusting of Éomer when he first interacts with the Three Hunters. Perhaps I had a bit more reason to be mistrustful here than previously, as his men actually drew weapons on the protagonists. After his decision to gift them horses, I knew I would like him for the rest of the story, and I was not let down.

I will go into Théoden’s character in much more detail in a later post, but here I wanted to mention that he seemed to me a kind of father figure. Once Gandalf releases him from Wormtongue’s influence, he becomes a kind, generous leader. I must admit that I developed quite a soft spot for him and was grieved by later events.

This will have to suffice for a general introduction to Rohan. Much more to come!

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to take a look at some of the events which take place in the opening chapters of book three, but I think we will also examine Legolas soon!

What Do You Think?

What was your first impression of Rohan?
When did you discover the tie of the Rohirrim to Tolkien’s day job?
​Have I missed anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.21–Boromir the Brave

In a previous post, I indicated that the death of Boromir was not the “breaking” of the fellowship, but its mending. Many readers may question my ability to see this act in such a positive light, given my previous post about my mistrust of Boromir. As I stated earlier, I saw Boromir as totally “corrupted” by the Ring, and this only exhibited itself when Boromir had a chance to fulfill his desires. To me, the fact that Frodo left the company means that Boromir, for all intents and purposes, could never fulfill his desire to obtain the Ring for use in battle. This allows him to be free to be a noble, valiant, courageous man in his final act. No longer under the burden of the ring, his true nature comes back. This does not undermine my earlier interpretation at all. In fact, it bolsters my perspective that Boromir was under the Ring’s influence for the entire trip.

Image copyright Jef Murray

Several readers will identify the flaw in this reasoning, and I will remind them that I was eleven at the time. The fact is, Boromir did not know that the Ring was lost forever at the time of his sacrifice. He knew that Frodo had run away from him and that enemies were attacking. It is possible that Frodo could be hiding until the attack is over, then he could reappear and oust Boromir from the group. Whatever the case may be, my interpretation is not entirely supported by the sequence of events for the characters in the text. As a child, though, I already knew that Frodo was gone from the fellowship and out of Boromir’s reach, so this influenced my interpretation of events.

This is another instance of what can be called, and has been called by many (most notably Harold Bloom), ‘misreading.’ It is an interpretation of the text that is that a reader honestly holds until she/he later interprets the text in a different way. I should note that, while some of these ‘misreadings’ sometimes prove to be invalid after a later examination of the text, that does not change the important influence that such a reading can have on the reader. In fact, these misreading are an important part of the reader’s experience of the text, since the correction or alteration of interpretation is not a unique experience among readers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Into the land of the Horse Lords: Rohan!

What Do You Think?

Do you have a ‘misreading’ experience like this?
If so, how has it changed your view of the text over time?
​Am I missing something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.20–Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Unlike the death of Gandalf, I saw the fissures forming in the Fellowship long before Frodo set out on his own. The decision seemed like the appropriate one to me, and I loved how Sam is the only member of the Fellowship that understands how Frodo is thinking; this understanding put Sam and me in a very small club together. This was one of the first scenes where I started to understand Sam’s depth. His ability to parse out his master’s actions and understand the animating emotions is more than I expected of Sam up to this point. We will have more on my interpretation of Sam later, when he really comes into his own.

Image copyright Cor Blok

For now, I also wanted to focus on the importance of the “breaking” of the Fellowship. Many fans cheered Jackson’s decision to include the death of Boromir in the first film. I have to admit that I did not appreciate the change for several reasons. First, is the fact that Tolkien’s text is formatted in such a way to emphasize that the end of the Fellowship is not death, but the physical, and perhaps mental, splitting of the group. If death were the cause for the ending of the Fellowship, then the Fellowship was already broken in Moria. The end of the Fellowship, however, is when Boromir falls to temptation and tries to take the ring. This sparks an abiding mistrust in Frodo. This infighting and conflict is the brokenness indicated by the chapter title.

This idea is underscored in the first chapter of the second volume. Here, Boromir mends the rent he caused by dying for Pippin and Merry; furthermore, Aragorn indicates that, if the Fellowship remains true to one another, then it will not have been in vain, regardless of the outcome.

‘My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left’ (TT, I, i, 419).

Therefore the “breaking” of the Fellowship is a temporary condition that exists in the gap between books two and three. It is rectified by Boromir’s death, not caused by it.

This sentiment is one that I felt when I was younger, but I could not really express it well. It has taken considerable time and reflection to be able to make it seem as clean and neat as it does here.

Where do wee go from here?

I want to focus on Boromir’s death a bit more, then head into Rohan!

​What do you think?

Did you like Jackson’s change?
What do you think is the true “breaking of the Fellowship?”
​Have I missed something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.19–Galadriel’s Mirror

Finally, we come to Galadriel’s mirror and the surrounding scenes. Again, I must admit to a ‘misreading’ of an important scene in LotR. Since I did not trust Galadriel, my interpretation of her speech at the well was closer to Jackson’s than to mainstream Tolkien criticism. I did not like his over-production of the scene because I thought it was a cheap way to build suspense, but I did feel uncertainty in this scene while reading it. (I also started to grow exasperated with Frodo’s tendency to throw the Ring at any strong character nearby.) It was not until I understood the Arwen story from the appendices and started to read Galadriel’s history from S, that I understood the true nature of the interaction.

Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Beyond this observation, there is an element in these scenes that molded the way I interpreted ‘magic’ in Tolkien’s secondary world. The characterization of ‘magic’ throughout the Fellowship’s stay in Lothlórien left a profound impact on me the first time I read Tolkien’s work. It made so much sense to me that magical creatures would not interpret their own actions as magical, but as part of their life. It was a logical perspective, but one I had not considered before. The further characterization of ‘magic’ by Galadriel, wherein she expresses confusion about how it is applied to good and evil intentions was revelatory for me:

‘This is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same words for the deceits of the Enemy’ (FR, II, vii, 362).

This rational approach to magic was so verisimilitudinous with the way that people who understand a concept dispel the mystery of those who do not that I was completely sold on the existence of ‘magic’ in Tolkien’s world.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk about the breaking of the Fellowship, then move in to the second volume!

What Do You Think?

What do you think of Tolkien’s characterization of magic?
Did you follow the Arwen subplot on your first reading?
​Did I miss something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 18–Lothlórien

FR, II, vi starts with a good bit of character development: Aragorn laments his prescience; Gimli reflects at Kheled-Zâram; Legolas talks about the relations between his kindred and the elves of the Golden Wood; Boromir shares a mistrustful legend of his people; and the hobbits yearn for a return journey.

Image copyright IaValerosa from Iavalerosa.com

Once the company enters the Golden Wood, they encounter sentries from Lothlórien. These guards are mistrustful of the Fellowship and confront them with force. For the first time in my reading of LotR, I did not know if I could trust all of the elves in the story. The tension between the Fellowship and this small group of guards continues word arrives from Lothlórien that the Fellowship is expected and allowed to walk freely. I must admit that I was wary of the elves up until the Fellowship left Lothlórien.

I thought that the depiction of the Cerin Amroth and Caras Galadon were too good to be true. I suppose that this is another example of taking Frodo too seriously when he warns that the agents of the enemy seem fair and feel foul (to paraphrase FR, I, x, 171). Galadriel’s mind tricks when she greets the Fellowship certainly bolster this interpretation. As Boromir reflects:

‘Maybe it was only a test, and she thought to read our thoughts for her own good purpose; but almost I should have said that she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give’ (FR, II, vii, 358).

This made me question Galadriel’s motivation for welcoming the Fellowship. I knew that Aragorn has spoken of Galadriel as a friend, but I did not know if perhaps she had changed allegiances, maybe she was like Saruman. I should admit that I completely missed the relationship between Arwen and Aragorn in my first reading of the text, which means that I did not have this extra connection to reinforce the idea of Galadriel’s commitment to Aragorn.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk about Galadriel and her mirror a bit more, then on to the final chapter of FotR​.

What Do You Think?

Did you always trust the Lothlorien elves?
How did you interpret Galadriel’s temptations?
​Did I miss anything important? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.17–The Gate and the Chamber

Honestly, I do not have much to say about Moria itself. The incident with Pippin and the well, I want to save for talking about Pippin’s development as a character, and I have already covered the death of Gandalf. The only other incidents that I paid much attention to in my first reading were the puzzle of the gate, including the fight with the Watcher, and the discovery of the Chamber of Mazarbul.

The puzzle at the gate was an interesting pause in the movement of the text for me. I liked how it acted as a hiatus from the onrush of foes to serve two purposes: to develop character more and to heighten suspense. The depth of character comes first. When the gates are finally revealed, Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas all have dialogue which indicates that they have learned some of the lore surrounding the doorway and its design:

‘There are the emblems of Durin!’ cried Gimli.

‘And there is the Tree of the High Elves!’ said Legolas.

‘And the Star of the House of Fëanor, said Gandalf.

Image copyright J.R.R. Tolkien

Along the journey through the mines, Gandalf constantly turns to Gimli for counsel. These chapters start to establish the usefulness of having both a dwarf and an elf among the Fellowship; however, there is more to the scene at the gate than showing the learning of Legolas and Gimli, it also demonstrates the practicality of hobbits when the wise over think something simple. Out of the whole Fellowship, it is Merry who finds the hint for the words of opening. This demonstrates the importance of having characters with a practical approach to the world around them. While Gandalf and many of the others constantly seek to interpret events and artifacts for their deeper meaning, the hobbits often take things at face value and concern themselves mostly with the world of concrete reality. Frodo is perhaps the largest exception to this rule, though each of the hobbits grow a tendency to interpret events as the story progresses.

The second aspect of this scene comes with the introduction of the Watcher in the Water. This event is the second physical threat that confronts the Fellowship after Rivendell. Unlike the Wargs, however, the warriors seem stunned by the sudden appearance of this adversary. Sam leaps to Frodo’s aid, then Gandalf commands them to move on. Gandalf’s words “Rous[ed] them from the horror that seemed to have rooted all but Sam to the ground where they stood” (FR, II, iv, 309). For the second time in the same location, the hobbits have proved themselves worthy to be among the Fellowship. Despite how the movie interprets this event, Tolkien’s characterization of the action leaves more mystery surrounding the nature of the Watcher. I had never assumed that there was some gigantic octopus-like head which combined all the arms, nor did I assume that the Fellowship could hold their own against the Watcher. These were both additions from Jackson’s interpretation which I have never accepted.

Image copyright Anke Eissmann

The other interesting scene during my first reading was the Chamber of Mazarbul. I have to admit that, not knowing how long the trip through Moria was going to take, I felt like the plot dragged a bit in the Mines. It felt like an arduous trek through darkness, which I did not particularly enjoy. Therefore, I was elated when something finally happened three-fourths of the way through the trip. In fact, I remember setting the book down at least once and resuming later. It was not until the action resumed in Balin’s tomb that I regained my momentum for the story. The chamber, just like the gate scene, has the dual purpose of character development and conflict. First, this section expounds upon the history of Moria and Gimli’s attachment to it. Then, the major confrontation with enemies inside Moria begins with the vanguard that assaults the Fellowship in the chamber. The pace quickened here, and this propelled me into and beyond the next chapter, which I cover in my preceding post.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I think that the next stop will be to talk about Galadriel and her mirror.

What Do You Think?

Did I miss something in the Mines of Moria? Did you have another part that you enjoyed?
Do you like or dislike Jackson’s interpretation of the Watcher in the Water?

LotRFI Pt.16–Gandalf Falls

Gandalf was my favorite character from the beginning of LotR. As I noted in a previous post, I always found him mysterious and funny. Unlike H, Gandalf was present throughout LotR, so the reader has the chance to know him well. His character was so well developed that I could often laugh at the little word-games he played on the hobbits, while always taking his warnings seriously. This is probably why his death at the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm was so heart-wrenching for me.

My reaction was not immediate. I thought that it was surely some kind of trick, Gandalf would levitate out of the chasm somehow. It was not until the other characters reacted and the chapter ended that it finally sunk in. This death was sudden and unexpected. There was no dramatic pause in his fall, as the movie depicts, rather this famous line comes out of the pit while he is falling. Aragorn’s seizing of control and his determination to get the Fellowship out of Moria drives the reader on and does not leave time for reflection until the chapter concludes.

Image copyright David Wyatt

I must admit that I cried profusely before I began reading the next chapter. . I ruminated a while on how nonchalant the passage about Gandalf’s death seemed. It was not built-up and magnanimous as Thorin’s in H.  Perhaps it was Tolkien’s war experience that taught him how death is a sudden separation. Unfortunately, when I read LotR, I was too young to know about literary tropes. I knew of the quest archetype, of course, but I had no indication whatsoever that Gandalf, as the mentor figure, had to leave in order for the rest of the fellowship to mature.

As much as the heights of Caradhras shaped my understanding of Tolkien’s world, the depths underneath the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm defined the terms of the quest. Suddenly, I became aware that the true hazard of the quest was death; abduction or discovery were no longer the worst possible outcomes, but sudden and permanent death. As someone who had read mostly “children’s literature” up to this point, death was not the consequence of failure in most of my reading. Perhaps this is the point when I realized that the world I entered weeks before was more than just a fantasy land, but there were dire consequences here, worse than in the real world (I was, and still am, fortunate in how few times I have had to experience the death of a loved one).

I will take a moment to clarify that, on my initial reading, I did not fall victim to either of two popular fan interpretations of this passage. I never believed that Gandalf meant anything other than “run” when he shouts the word fly. Also, I never had any notion that the Balrog had literal wings. I always read the passage which sparked this fan theory as a metaphor, and I suppose I never questioned it because the Balrog falls down the expanse. I probably just justified that he could not have fallen if he had wings. (Perhaps this is a bit easier with the naiveté and certainty of youth, as I never considered alternatives such as “the Balrog had wings, but their span was too large to be efficacious in the depths.)

LotRFI Pt.15–Caradhras Changes Everything

I have always had inordinately strong opinions about the passage about Caradhras. In fact, it was changes made to this episode that made me shout “no!” when I went to see Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings in theaters.

I was familiar with other literature that gave a sense of autonomy to nature before I read LotR, and I was excited to see that Tolkien does the same throughout the text, even before getting to the fully autonomous Treebeard. As a child, I loved the idea that trees could have volition and emotions. Tolkien takes this wondrous idea and pushes it one step further in the Caradhras episode. As the snows on Caradhras foil the attempt of the Fellowship to pass over the mountain, this exchange occurs:

‘We cannot go further tonight,’ said Boromir. ‘Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.’

‘I do call it the wind,’ said Aragorn. ‘But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.’

‘Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name,’ said Gimli, ‘long years ago, when the rumor of Sauron had not been heard in these lands.’ (FOTR, II, iii, 289)

Here Boromir tries to attribute the malevolent weather to Sauron or one of his agent; however, but Aragorn and Gimli are quick to halt this impulse and clarify that there are other forces at play in the world. Gimli goes so far as to specify that the will is probably that of Caradhras himself.

Image copyright Ted Nasmith

I cannot emphasize this enough: this passage changed my worldview the first time I read it. To ascribe volition to not just plants, but to all of nature, to the very earth itself! This was a truly awe-inspiring thought for me. I remember walking around for days thinking about the ramifications of this idea. What does it mean to till an earth that could feel the cuts? What does it mean to dynamite a mountain that can fight back? To this day, I occasionally ponder this “what if” question when I consider my lifestyle.

Let me be clear, I did not instantly change and become an eco-warrior or any of the other clichés, but this passage made me think about how I affected the soil, the rock, and the foundations of our planet for the very first time. I had already learned about trees and had Arbor Day plantings and such, but this was so much more inclusive than those lessons. If you can impact the ground, then make an influence on the world in every second of every day.

Imagine watching Peter Jackson’s movie after that. Jackson ascribes the wind to Saruman! Doing so completely changes Tolkien’s entire conception. It flattens all of nature, except Ents/Huorns, to mere things with no will or agency. This was by far the biggest disappointment for me leaving the theater.

LotRFI Pt.14–Wargs

The beginning of the next episode which features wild animals is remarkably contrary to the crebain incident. Without warning, Aragorn names the enemy: “Aragorn leapt to his feet. ‘How the wind howls! He cried. ‘It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!’” (FR, II, iv, 297) The story then becomes a rapid exchange of dialogue as the Fellowship makes decisions and outlines plans for their journey. Then there is a lull in the activity as the Fellowship makes camp and sets a watch against the wolves. Then, the fight begins as Wargs encircle the camp and the Fellowship is forced to fend them off.

Image copyright Katarzyna Chmiel-Gugulska

This encounter always reminded me of the fight where Strider, Frodo, and the other hobbits struggled against the Ringwraiths near Weathertop. In each case the protagonists are encircled by enemies near a campfire and must use fire itself to drive away the enemy. It is probably this desired parallel that makes Gandalf’s role so significant to me. Unlike the somewhat successful attack by the Ringwraiths earlier, Gandalf, with some assistance from Legolas, drives away the Wargs before they can hurt anyone. Gandalf puts forth some of his power, seeming to grow in stature and power, as he grabs a branch and with it causes “fire to leap from tree-top to tree-top” until “the whole hill was crowned with dazzling light” (FR, II, iv, 299). At this sight, and the death of their leader, the Wargs flee. Gandalf’s might and skill saves the group and keeps the wolves at bay until they can reach Moria. While the crebain serve to deepen the ominous atmosphere in Hollin, the Fellowship confronts the wolves and staves them off. While there is still fear of their return, there is every indication that this is a manageable threat.

As a note of full disclosure: I read The Call of the Wild by Jack London a few years before LotR. It quickly became one of my favorite books when I was around ten years old. I enjoyed the escapism I found in the Alaskan wild and the grittiness of the writing; however, I mostly enjoyed the book because I loved Buck, the canine protagonist who relates the story. I undoubtedly channeled some of the horrific images from that book into the threat presented by the Wargs here.

Where do We Go From Here?

I want to take a step back, chronologically, and take some time to ruminate on Caradhras. This was a particularly important insight for me, and I hope I can do it justice!

What Do You Think?

I have depicted my first interpretation of the Crebain the Warg encounters as very different in nature. Do you agree with this perspective? Do I miss some important similarities?

LotRFI Pt.13–Crebain

After leaving Rivendell, the narrative makes many asides into the description of geography and scenery, and there is much interaction among the Fellowship which helps to establish each character as well as their roles within the group; however, there are two major encounters with groups of wild animals that I want to look at in a bit more detail: the crebain and the wolves.

Image copyright Daniel Govar

The Fellowship encounters the crebain in the land of Hollin, little more than a fortnight out from Rivendell. Unlike the movie interpretation of these events, the significance of the crebain is not in their appearance, but in the silence which their approach instills in the land. Aragorn observes how “No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at times…Yet now all things are silent. I can feel it” (FotR, II, iii, 284). This passage is so ominous that I underlined it several times. As a reader, I was very afraid of anything that could cause an entire region to change its character! I imagined some sort of invisible blight that had somehow scared all of the animals of the area, but left the land untouched. What kind of monstrosity would be capable of such a thing?

It is because of this anticipatory passage that the appearance of the crebain is so impactful: What starts as a shadow in the distance takes on an ominous import as the source of such devastation and fear. This led to an interesting fluctuation of emotions for me. At first the cloud terrified me. Then, as I discovered, along with Sam, that it was simply a large flock of birds, I felt a sense of relief. Aragorn’s reaction to the birds, and his subsequent explanation of their significance renewed my sense of looming fear. The trick that Tolkien pulls here he does several times (including earlier with the black riders), and I do not know that I had ever before experienced this unique skill by any other author. He started with a kind of anxiety about the unknown cause of the stillness in Hollin, and somehow Tolkien identifies the immediate cause of the anxiety for the reader, but still leaves an ominous foreboding and completely unanswered questions. In my previous readings, whenever the source of the anxiousness was identified, there was something to be done. The enemy could be faced, fled, or reasoned with. The enemy became a known quantity. In this instance, the reader understands that the crebain are simply an implement. Whether they spotted the Fellowship or not is left uncertain, as is their ultimate master, although there are some pointed speculations. Furthermore, simply because they are under a malevolent influence does not entirely answer the question of why all of Hollin has gone quiet. What do the beasts and other birds have to fear from the master of the crebain?

While it was such a small occurrence when compared to the quest of the Ring, this episode really had an effect on my reading as a child. Largely because a part of the natural world is here used as an implement of evil, the event underscored my cautiousness and unwillingness to trust in characters with an unknown past (including Boromir).