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.)