Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Wargs, Shippey, and Middle Earth, the Land Worth Saving: Musings on The Fellowship of the Ring

Every time I read The Lord of the Rings, I find something new. This is a cliché. It is also the truth. In reading the warg attack on the Company, the line “These were no ordinary wolves” (FR, II, iii, 291) has always puzzled me – not because I don’t understand that wargs are unusual, but because Gandalf seems to think that they’re even worse than wargs. This time, however, I was abruptly reminded of Sauron’s role in The Silmarillion. He is the Lord of the Isle of the Werewolves, Tol-in-Gaurhoth. He takes on the shape of a wolf; he commands hordes of them, so of course he’d have extraordinary wolves in his service, even if this is several thousand years later. 

In this reading, I have also been struck by how much Middle Earth a vital part of The Lord of the Rings. I had not thought how much until it was mentioned in class, and since then it has been more and more clear to me that Middle Earth itself is not just a backdrop against which this journey takes place, but is a character and is as worth saving as any of the other peoples. It makes the characters the way they are, for as Sam later notes, “Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say” (FR, II, vii, 351). He is speaking of Lothlorien and the elves, of course, but the same could be said for the Shire and the Hobbits. 

Some of the most stirring passages of The Fellowship of the Ring are about the land. Legolas’ speech about Eregion, “[T]he trees and the grass do not now remember them [the elves]. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone” directly follows Gimli’s about the mountains that “stand tall in our [the dwarves’] dreams: Baraz, Zirak, Shathur…. [U]nder them lies Khazad-dum, the Dwarrodelf. Tolkien takes these two descriptive sections and uses them to tell us an astonishing number of things. Firstly, there is the love and longing of the dwarves for Khazad-dum, and the fact that a land where elves have dwelt is a land forever changed by them. Secondly we learn that these places are a deep part of the cultural heritage of the dwellers on Middle Earth. Legolas is not of the elves who lived in Eregion, Gimli has only seen Caradhras from afar, but the former hears the lament of the very stones for the elves who used to dwell there, and the latter desires above all else, at this point, to see the dark waters and cold springs of the Dimrill Dale. 

The Shire as a land is the entire reason Frodo is willing to go on this perilous quest. He “should like to save the Shire” despite sometimes feeling that “an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good” for the inhabitance (FR, I, ii, 61). The elves made the three rings so that they might gain “understanding, making and healing, to preserve all things unstained” (FR, II, ii, 262) which both Elrond and Galadriel have done in Rivendell and Lorien. 

As discussed in class, the length of the book between the set out from Bag End to the arrival at Rivendell is partly due to the sheer amount of description of the landscape. But there is a reason for this. By the time we arrive at Rivendell and read “The Council of Elrond”, Middle Earth has become something worth saving for its own merits. Not only are the “kind, jolly, stupid Bolgers, Hornblowers, Boffins, Bracegirdles and the rest” worth saving, but the green Hill, and the calm Water and the homey Green Dragon of the Shire are as well. By the time the hobbits arrive at Bree, the elven glade in the Woody End, the sleepy fields of Bamforlong, and the magic valley of the Withywindle are as important as Gildor, Farmer Maggot, and Tom and Goldberry. The Ring has to be destroyed. Not just for the people of Middle Earth, but for Middle Earth itself.

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