Welcome to January 15, 3019 of the Third Age. This is a pretty huge day, historically. And it’s a pretty busy one. Let’s go!
Book Two, Chapter 4: A Journey in the Dark
“He woke and found that the others were speaking softly near him, and that a dim light was falling on his face.”
The Balrog and the Loss of Gandalf
Frodo woke after pretty much everybody was up. His sleep wasn’t great, as he kept having “dreams” about whispers and “two pale lights,” which we can pretty well assume were Gollum. After breakfast, they followed Gandalf’s lead and came upon a wide corridor, and before long, Balin’s Tomb.
This gave Gandalf a good idea where they were, and also showed him the way they had to go to get out. And then there were drums.
‘Trapped!’ cried Gandalf. ‘Why did I delay? Here we are, caught, just as they were before.’
Gimli had been mesmerized by the last entry in the Book of Mazarbul “We cannot get out.” He was repeating it, and it seems as if Gandalf might have been taken under its “spell” for a second. Then he says, “But I was not here then. We will see what – ”
With that, Gandalf took charge, correcting the plans of both Aragorn and Boromir, hunks to the end. It was soon discovered that there were Orcs, Uruks and even a cave-troll. During the ensuing melee, Gandalf isn’t mentioned at all, until the end when he calls for a timely retreat. Through it, he acts as a rear guard, though Aragorn protested. ‘Do as I say!’ said Gandalf fiercely. ‘Swords are no more use here. Go!’
Through his powers, Gandalf held back the enemy for as long as he could, admitting that he was “rather shaken.” After walking for an hour without the sounds of pursuit (mostly going down stairs), Gandalf admitted that he had been “suddenly faced by something that I have not met before.”
Gandalf had heard the Orcs talking of fire, and then he felt through the door that something else had entered the chamber. “The orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent.” Gandalf could tell that the thing had “perceived” him and his spell cast upon the door.
This was the Balrog, and here we learn a bit about it (before actually knowing it’s a Balrog). Gandalf did not have any idea what it was, “but I have never felt such a challenge.” It wasn’t necessarily stronger than him, but it cast a counter-spell, which nearly broke Gandalf. He doesn’t just say that it nearly broke his own spell, but that it nearly broke him. Of course, Gandalf’s spell was fully broken by the Balrog’s counter, and he had to cast another, which ultimately broke the door.
With the door gone, Gandalf should have been able to get a look at the thing before him. But the only glimpse afforded to him before it threw the wizard down the stairs showed him that “something dark as a cloud was blocking out all the light inside.”
It can’t be stressed enough that Gandalf didn’t know that it was a Balrog. This says quite a bit about the War of Wrath that closed out the First Age. So thorough was the destruction of Morgoth that everything related to him was wiped out, including Balrogs – or so it was thought.
Gandalf knew that there were many evil things in Middle-earth that had no connection to either Morgoth or Sauron. They were evil for evil’s sake and maybe even too numerous to count. So it’s not really surprising that he didn’t know specifically what it was.
During a brief respite, Gandalf said to Frodo that he took after Bilbo. “There is more about you than meets the eye, as I said of him long ago.” Gandalf said that a couple of times to Bilbo – or something similar. “There is always more about you than anyone expects!”
As they continued, led by Gandalf, they saw the light of fire set by the Orcs. It seems to have been set before they confronted them in Balin’s Tomb, as Gandalf led them through another passageway instead of the main corridor. It placed the fire between the Fellowship and the Orcs. All that separated our heroes from escape was the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm.
The bridge was narrow and dangerous, and spanned a dark and seemingly bottomless chasm. Gimli now took the lead while Gandalf and Legolas took the rear guard position.
After giving the description of the Balrog (“a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.”) it’s Legolas who knows what it is.
Since he was born after the War of Wrath, Legolas had definitely never seen a Balrog before. But he was probably raised with the legends enough to know exactly what one looked like. That probably seems a bit of a stretch. Why have Legolas know what it is at all? Why not Gandalf?
‘A Balrog,’ muttered Gandalf. ‘Now I understand.’ He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. ‘What an evil fortune! And I am already weary.’
Now Gandalf understood what he saw at the door in the brief second before he was thrown down the stairs. Like Legolas (apparently), he knew the history of the Balrogs, their powers, and that they could kill all of them before breakfast.
‘Fly! This is a foe beyond any of you. I must hold the narrow way. Fly!’
The battle between Gandalf and the Balrog is really fascinating. Though Gandalf had Glamdring in his right hand, this wasn’t really a battle of physical strength. The Balrog could see what Gandalf was – an Ishtar, a wizard. Or at the very least, he could see that Gandalf was no ordinary Man or even some lofty necromancer. Just to drive that point home, Gandalf called:
“I am the servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Arnor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”
Here, Gandalf was telling the Balrog that he was one of the Ainur – that he was a Maiar. The flame of Arnor is the same Flame Imperishable that Illuvatar gave to the Ainur in the Ainulindale of the Silmarillion. And while Gandalf had within him the Flame Imperishable, the Balrog was merely the “flame of Udun,” a flame from beneath Thangorodrim, where Morgoth used to live. Unlike Gandalf, the Balrog served a dead master.
The fight then turned more physical, though both were obviously augmented by their powers. But that didn’t last long. With his staff, Gandalf purposely broke the bridge which the Balrog had now stepped upon. The demon fell, but caught Gandalf with his whip. “He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss.”
With the way out before them, and the bridge gone, the Fellowship, now minus one Grey wizard, made their escape.
On the Road to Lórien
The first thing the Fellowship did was mourn. Aragorn started it off with a bit of “I told you so” (too soon, hunk). ‘Farewell, Gandalf!’ he cried. ‘Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas I spoke true! What hope have we without you?’ This sounds very similar to the Dwarves’ lamentations in The Hobbit after Gandalf left them.
Following a short pep talk, Aragorn became their leader, pointing out Dimrill Stair – a series of small waterfalls, and pointing out that they should have come that way, as if he were some Monday morning quarterback. Of note is the mountain Caradhras, which had provided the snowstorm that kept them from using the Redhorn Pass and Dimrill Stair. Now it was sunny and would have been relatively easy to cross.
This must have been very hard on Gimli. He had always wanted to see Moria and the Mirrormere, which they came upon next. He recalled Gandalf telling him “May you have joy of the sight!,” but now all seemed lost. “Now long shall I journey ere I have joy again.”
The path they traveled was once a great paved Dwarvish road. Now it was old and cracked and resembled stairs more than a highway. Along the path, there were ruins, and then a single broken column. This was Durin’s Stone.
This was not Durin’s grave, but a monument to mark where Durin the Deathless looked down into the Mirrormere and saw a crown upon his head. Actually, it was the reflection of the mountains, but Dwarves apparently dug symbolism as much as Mithril. They saw seven “stars,” which Durin had seen as well. This probably went on to represent the seven Durins that they believed would come. It was also where Balin was killed, though I’ll get to that at a later date (promise).
The Fellowship then followed the Silverload toward Lothlorien, their next destination.
Shortly after seeing the forest quite a ways before them, Frodo and Sam began to lag behind, as they had been wounded in the fighting. Aragorn, I’m noticing, can get a bit passive-aggressive. When he saw how far behind Frodo and Sam had fallen, he apologized – sort of. “You should have spoken. We have done nothing to ease you, as we ought, though all the orcs of Moria were after us.” That’s sort of dickish, no? Clearly, he was spending too much time around Elves.
Soon enough, they found a dell and took a bit of rest. They were only a few miles from Moria at this point, so resting wasn’t exactly something they wanted to do. It was around 3pm and the sun was soon going to set. If they didn’t want a repeat of the events following the Dwarves’ adventures after leaving the Misty Mountains, they better make it short.
They started a fire and Aragorn tended to Sam and Frodo’s wounds, using the same athelas leaves that he had gathered at Weathertop. Though Sam was willing to be tended, Frodo wasn’t. This is where they found that Bilbo’s Mithril armor has saved Frodo’s life.
Nobody but Frodo and Bilbo knew he had it, though Gandalf might have been suspicious back in the guard room in Moria: “Bilbo had a corslet of mithril-rings that Thorin gave him. I wonder what has become of it? Gathering dust still in Michel Delving Mathom-house, I suppose.”
Gandalf suggested that its worth was greater than the whole Shire put together, but once Gimli got a look at it, he noted that the wizard undervalued it. And that it saved the life of the Ringbearer several times during the fight, its value was truly immeasurable.
Welcome to Lórien
After a quick meal, they were on the road again. The dusk was turning to dark, and shortly after the stars appeared, Frodo again “heard something, or thought he had.” And again, it was Gollum, who had slipped out of Moria with the Fellowship.
Gollum’s flapping was soon overtaken by the wind rustling the leaves of the Golden Wood – Lothlórien! Legolas and Aragorn were jazzed, while Gimli figured that the Elves had long since abandoned it. Boromir, having heard the legends of what was basically known as Faerie in Gondor, wanted almost nothing to do with it. Aragorn, again, got all passive aggressive, and Boromir rolled his hunky eyes and they went on.
A mile or so later, they came upon Nimrodel, a legendary stream in the Elf-world. Even Legolas knew songs about it. After they crossed, he sang one about Amroth and Nimrodel. Nobody asked him to. He just did it. I talked at length about it here.
After a quick chat about history, they went deeper into the woods. Losing their way, Legolas scampered up a tree. While up there, he argued dickishly with the Hobbits.
Soon the Fellowship was discovered by three Elves of Lórien – Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin. After a speedy introduction, Haldir insisted they sleep in the trees, since there were squads of Orcs looking for them.
While falling asleep, some Orcs came near, but missed them as they moved deeper into Lórien (where Haldir explained they would all be slaughtered – damn, Elf!). Haldir also saw Gollum, but didn’t want to shoot him because he wasn’t sure what it was (and also didn’t want Gollom’s cries to bring the Orcs back).
A Quick Check-in with Gandalf
By this point, if you’re still reading at all, you might be wondering about the old Gandalf fellow. How is his day going?
Though the rest of the Fellowship don’t know this, his day sort of went from bad to worse. After falling off the bridge, he just kept falling.
We learn in Two Towers, Chapter 5, that Gandalf fell for a “long time.” While falling, the Balrog’s fire burned Gandalf before they both plunged into cold water.
The water extinguished’s the Balrog’s fire and he became “a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake.”
They’d continue their battle, with the Balrog clutching Gandalf and Gandalf hewing the Balrog.
Tomorrow! It’s just more walking, but we’ll be here.
Camera: Bolsey Jubilee
Film: Polypan F 50