The final line of The Bridge of Khazad-dûm propels us straight into the pressing need for shelter in this chapter.
Doom. Grief at last wholly overcame them, and they wept long: some standing and silent, some cast upon the ground. Doom, doom. The drum-beats faded.
After the trauma of Gandalf’s fall in Moria, the Company must “do without hope” and reach the last stop in the wizard’s plans: Lothlórien. Aragorn cuts their tears short and they rush along the river towards the golden woods of Lothlórien, nearly forgetting Sam and Frodo’s wounds.
This chapter struck me as being about rest and how sometimes slowing down, and even stopping, isn’t a luxury; it’s necessary. The Company needs time to heal. Aragorn does what he can to tend to Frodo and Sam’s wounds when he realizes he’s overlooked them and they rest, barely out of sight of Moria’s smoking gates, despite the risk.
Rest and Recovery
Tolkien’s elves have a timeless quality, which is appropriate given their immortality. Being immortal doesn’t spare them the vulnerabilities of being alive, though. This combination of timelessness and vulnerability are what make the elves in Middle-earth so fascinating, because living forever means you have near infinite opportunities to hurt. It’s no surprise then that Tolkien’s elves are identified by a solemn sadness. With their lifetimes of disappointments, losses, and pain, the elves cultivate the virtues of rest by necessity — being alive is exhausting.
Without an expiration date on worldly pain elvish wisdom calls for respite: to slow down, rest and recover. Immortality helps, of course, because the fear of missing out doesn’t bite quite as hard when you’ve been around for 3000 years. Just being in the land of Lórien stretches time for mortals, and Frodo catches a glimpse of what it was like “before the world was grey,” on the banks of the Nimrodel.
For a moment Frodo stood near the brink and let the water flow over his tired feet. It was cold but its touch was clean, and as he went on and it mounted to his knees, he felt that the stain of travel and all weariness was washed from his limbs.
It’s not that the elves have a robust theory of self-care and take plenty of vacations; elves experience the world differently. The elves seem to have a greater awareness of the givenness of creation. I often hear Tolkien dismissed on the grounds that he spends a page describing trees, well, there’s a reason he does so. After being led, blindfolded, deeper into the woodland realm, Frodo’s eyes are uncovered and we’re told he “looked up and caught his breath.” This is followed by 240 words describing two types of non-existent flower and an invented species of tree. The grass in this clearing is “as green as Springtime in the Elder Days,” and it seemed to Frodo “he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world.” This is the what the world is like for elves; the flowers and trees, re-enchanted, recall the very real wonder of the world.
The company hasn’t even reached their destination, the city of the Galadhrim itself, and already they are recovering. The healing of their deepest wounds is still far off but this respite in Lórien is a foretaste of the wholeness promised by the best of creation.
There’s a lot to unpack here, I think. I haven’t even had occasion to deploy one of my favourite quotes in the whole book (easily in my Top 5) because I think it opens up a whole other perspective on the elves, their sadness, and the hopeful struggle of their long defeat. One reason I come back to this story again and again is for its magical ability to re-enchant everything I’ve allowed to become dim and boring. We all ought to talk about flowers more, and how trees make us feel.
The evil we bring with us
I meant to look at an exchange between Aragorn and Boromir just before they enter Lothlórien but I think it’ll be enough to simply quote it here and leave it as food for thought.
'By strange paths has this Company been led, and so far to evil fortune. [...] And now we must enter the Golden Wood, you say. But of that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few, none have escaped unscathed.'
'Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth,' said Aragorn. 'But lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of Lothlórien. [...]
'Then lead on!' said Boromir. "But it is perilous.' 'Perilous indeed,' said Aragorn, 'fair and perilous; but only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them.'
This entry in the blogging journey may get an update in the future. I had to put aside a lot of interesting observations for the sake of length so I’ll either revisit some of them in the next chapter or allow this post to grow in the telling! Next up, the Company arrives before the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien The Mirror of Galadriel. The Lady of the wood is nothing if not fair and perilous!