March 23, 3019 – Sam & Frodo Draw Closer; Aragorn’s Numbers Dwindle

Welcome to March 23rd. We’re so close now.

Sam and Frodo

(“Such daylight as followed was dim…” Book Six, Chapter 3 – Mount Doom)
Sam and Frodo had left the road to Barad-dûr the previous day, and now walked and crawled and picked their way across a blacked, scorched lava field.

Frodo was beyond exhausted. Sam offered to carry the Ring for him, but Frodo reacted in the very Gollumy way one might expect. He quickly simmered and was his old self again. He explained that it was too late for that. “I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad.”

Sam then turned to the strictly practical, suggesting that they lighten their load as much as possible. They through off the Orc armor, tossed away the shields, the cloak, the heavy belts, the cooking gear. Almost everything was gone. Sam tossed it all into a fissure so that Gollum might not get it.

Sam, however, kept Sting, some rope, a bit of lembis, and what was left of their water, as well as the phial of Galadriel and the box she gave him.

Sam tried to reminisce about days not too long ago, but Frodo couldn’t really remember any of it.

And so they continued their walk. Frodo seemed to have regained some energy. But as the sun drew lower, so did he. At the end of the day, Sam gave Frodo the second to last mouthful of water, going without for himself.

As Frodo dozed or zoned out, Sam took up a conversation with himself. He thought of the Shire, of his friends. Of Rosie Cotton again. He wanted to go home. But the way home was through Mount Doom.

He argued with himself, in a way that Sméagol and Gollum might. One side told him it was useless, that death was all that awaited them no matter what they did. And the task? Sam didn’t even know what it was. Somehow get the Ring into the Cracks of Doom, wherever they are. Frodo was nearly useless.

But of course, our Sam won out.

‘I’ll get there, if I leave everything but my bones behind,’ said Sam. ‘And I’ll carry Mr. Frodo up myself, if it breaks my back and heart. So stop arguing!’

There was a small tremor, and the volcano began to stir.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, and the warriors of Gondor

(“Upon the fourth day from the Cross-roads and the sixth from Minas Tirith…” Book Five, Chapter 10 – The Black Gate Opens)

The march north for Aragorn and his army was about to change. For four days they had passed through the more or less lush lands known as Ithilien. With the Ephel Dúath mountain range on the right, and the forests on their left, they strove towards the Black Gate.

On this day, however, “they came at last to the end of the living lands.” All the ground for miles from the Pass of Cirith Gorgor was a vast desert. It was a terrifying sight for those used to Rohan.

Some in Aragorn’s column couldn’t handle this. He understood. For the most part, these were young men, and this was probably their first long journey away from home.

Instead of continuing with the main column, Aragorn allowed them to go home, but wished them to do one thing on the way there. Cair Andros, the island in the Anduin used by the Enemy as a crossing to take Minas Tirith from the north, was still held by their foes. The Enemy had been defeated at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, but likely left a contingent back at Cair Andros to guard the crossing. These men sent back were to retake it and rout the Enemy.

This dwindled Aragorn’s forces to 6,000. They were 7,000 strong when they departed Minas Tirith, but with the men left behind at the Cross-roads, and the men leaving now, his numbers were greatly reduced.

Still, they would continue forward.

March 13, 3019 – Shelob’s Final Attack; Sam’s Finest Moment; Minas Tirith Besieged

Things are certainly not looking great for Minas Tirith. There’s trouble on their left, right and – most of all – front. We know how it will all work out, but at this point, nobody else does. Also, this is a pretty huge day for Sam. Maybe Sam’s finest moment ever.

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

(“It seemed light in that dark land to his eyes that had passed through the den of night.” Book Four, Chapter 9 – Shelob’s Lair)

When last we left our Sam and Frodo, they had just escaped Shelob’s tunnel. Immediately after this escape, Frodo saw the dark morning as one of “sudden hope.” They were out of the lair, but still had to clear Cirith Ungol, the pass. They were running.

But the exit they escaped from wasn’t Shelob’s only exit. Sam’s fear grew, despite his wearing of the Phial of Galadriel, and Sting was glittering in Frodo’s hand.

From Sam’s left, Shelob pounced between them. She ignored Sam and focused on Frodo, whose back was towards her, running. Sam tried to call out to him, but Gollum attacked him, throttling the hobbit by his throat. Sam was able to wrestle free and crack Gollum’s wrist with Faramir’s staff. Sam hit Gollum again, breaking the staff over his back. Sam grabbed his sword, and Gollum skittered away.

Meanwhile, Shelob attacked Frodo, wrapping him in her web. Sam quickly grabbed Sting, which Shelob had knocked out of Frodo’s hand, and cleaved off one of her feet before stabbing her in her damn face from below. Go Sam! And with hardly a moment lost, he slashed her underbelly. It hardly did any damage at all to her exoskeleton, but there was a wound, and poison dripped out of it.

Sam was under the spider, and she hoped to smother him to death with her body. Unaware that Sam was still holding the blade, she stabbed herself, driving Sting into her body while trying to crush poor Sam. But Sting bit hard, and repelled her. This gave Sam a few seconds kneel by Frodo and assess how he was doing. Not well. Sam was pissed.

She was about to spring on him again for a killing blow, but called upon Galadriel. Then, out of nowhere, Sam unleashes a string of Sindarin at Shelob. He threatened her and the Phial grew brighter. This freaked Shelob the hell out. She tried to escape, and did, but not before Sam hacked off another leg or two. She was gone. Sam was left alone with the unconscious Frodo, poisoned by Shelob’s venom.

Sam, of course, thought Frodo was dead. What was he to do? Give up? Go on? Go home? Sam wept and held Frodo’s cold hand. In time Sam resolved to take the Ring and go one. He was the last of the Fellowship. He took the Ring and vowed to return to Frodo’s body “when the job’s done.”

He began to walk and climb out of the pass of Cirith Ungol when he hear Orc voices. They were coming closer, closing in from all sides. Sam put on the Ring. The Orcs were all around him and around Frodo. The Orcs took Frodo’s body with them, heading back to their tower. Invisible, Sam followed them into Shelob’s tunnels.

Through the Ring, Sam could understand the language of the Orcs. It seems to be “translated” into Sam’s own Shire-speak. It’s all very fun. Anyway, the Orcs went into a hidden passage and Sam couldn’t follow. He could hear them, however, and they knew there were two – Frodo and himself. Only, they thought it was a large Elvish warrior, not another Hobbit. But the important thing was Shagrat telling Gorbag that “This fellow isn’t dead!”

The voices were moving away, and so Sam was able to scramble over the rock door and follow them. He made a move to attack them and rescue Frodo, but he misjudged the distance. They were far ahead. As they closed a gate behind them, Sam threw himself against it and was knocked out.

He would be unconscious until the morning of the next day. And thus Frodo and Sam have finally left the Two Towers volume.

If you’re curious, pretty much everybody else left it on March 6th, eight days before.

Gandalf, Pippin, Denethor and Faramir

(“The bells of day had scarcely rung out again, a mockery in the unlightened dark…” Book Five, Chapter 4 – The Siege of Gondor)

If the fighting abated through the night, it did not do so for long. Morning brought the full retreat from Osgiliath and an attack on the walls of the Pelennor, which the Enemy was using explosives to breach.

By mid-morning, Gandalf returned from the front. Visiting Denethor and Pippin, Gandalf told them that Faramir was still alive and with the rear guard. They hoped to hold the wall.

But there was worse news. Fugitives had been streaming into Minas Tirith from Cair Andros in the north. Another army was on the move, having crossed the River Anduin. Denethor knew this already and had a plan.

That afternoon, the wounded and retreating men from the walls began to enter the city. The outskirts were on fire by evening, and this fire was moving closer. There was hope, but it was dwindling as the Enemy drew closer to the city itself.

With nightfall, the main army that once held the walls was at the city, and the rear guard, still commanded by Faramir, was all that stood between the Enemy and the gates. The Nazgûl flew above them. This set the men of Minas Tirith into a rout.

Denethor’s plan was for every horseman in the city to form up and wait for his signal. Most of this sortie was made up of swan-knights of Dol Amroth, one of the few Gondorian forces not from Minas Tirith proper. Originally from Belfalas along the coast. Led by Prince Imrahil and Gandalf, the 700 or so men attacked, saving the rear guard from annihilation.

Gandalf’s presence dealt with the Nazgûl and the swan-knights handled the advanced forces of the Enemy. The advance was halted with great slaughter With that, Denethor recalled his forces. When they returned, the saw the Faramir was desperately injured, perhaps pierced by a dart fired from one of the Nazgûl. This was bad.

Denethor hardly acknowledged his apparently dying son, instead, he consulted his Palentír.

Rohan was no longer expected, blocked by the Enemy who crossed at Cain Andros. Of course, they could not know that the Riders of Rohan were now encamped in the Druadan Forest, just north of Minas Tirith.

The city was besieged, and now it was only a matter of time.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Army of the Dead

(Most of this information comes from “The Tale of Gimli and Legolas” as published in War of the Ring.)

The day previous, Aragorn’s column drove the enemy before him to Pelargir, a large Gondorian city on the Anduin. On this day, they would attain victory.

They rode through the night, fighting as they went. Rumors from the countryside around them held that it was not Aragorn who was leading the column, but Isildur come back from the dead.

These rumors caused great fear in the enemy as they fled toward the Anduin. When Aragorn and his men drew closer to the river, they saw the great harbor and the enemy’s ships within in – the fleets of Umbar.

Here, they fought, and the fear within their enemy was their greatest weapon. Some of the enemy escaped, to be sure. But many more were scattered and unable. Orcs were left to guard these empty ships.

Many Gondorians who had been liberated by Aragorn had fallen in with his ranks, bolstering his numbers. In the weeks before Aragorn arrived, the enemy had scoured the land capturing slaves, and holding them on their ships. Now, seeing the coming army under Aragorn, Isildur heir, the slaves on the ships of Umbar rebelled and overthrowing their masters, liberating themselves from their bondage.

A few of the ships were set on fire by the enemy, but most were abandoned. By nightfall, the many ships left in the fleet were under Aragorn’s command.

The following morning, they would set course for Minas Tirith.

March 11, 3019 – The Armies Approach Minas Tirith; Lórien Attacked

Today seems to be a day where Tolkien was getting all the pieces into play for the story’s finalé. However, that’s not to say that nothing happens, as you’ll see.

Sam, Frodo, and Gollum

(“In a dark crevice between two great piers of rock they sat down…” Book Four, Chapter 8 – The Stairs of Cirith Ungol)

In the Frodo’s part of the tale, Tolkien blurred the divisions between days. The darkness certain helped this, but it helps us see that our Hobbits were exhausted.

That said, he did specifically work out what happened each day of the darkness (of course he did). Some of that is in the ‘Tale of Years’ (Appendix B), and some of it is from his notes on the finished text. It’s not incredibly surprising that this timeline had a few variations, but that is a bit out of our grasp or the time being.

They made camp in a a crevice of rocks. Sam and Frodo, rather than sleeping right away, stayed up and talked. They understood that this was probably their last “meal” together. On February 29th, Sam counted the rations and decided that they had about three weeks worth left. This is short of that mark, especially if you add the food given to them by Faramir. They seemed to still have some lembas from Rivendell, but that was basically magical hardtack. By “meal,” this indicates the last of their food from Gondor. They were also nearly out of water – a slightly bigger issue.

They talked of old Tales, and if anyone would remember them. Sam dips into a bit of the Silmarillion, and it dawned on him that “to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?” (I always get a bit misty here.) When Frodo laughted, Tolkien reminds us that “Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth.”

But Frodo brings up a wonderful point:

“‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’”

They then noticed that Gollum was missing. In his notes, Tolkien explains: “Gollum slips off to see Shelob.” He played around with the date of the actual visit for some time before settling on right now. He also indicates in his notes that Gollum did not return until the next day. The story also supports this. Appendix B’s “Tale of Years” makes it seem like it all happened on the same day. But it didn’t.

Anyway, Frodo didn’t think it’s a huge deal that Gollum is missing. Sam still didn’t trust him. Frodo had a point – why would Gollum wait until now to send the Orcs after them? He concluded that it was probably “some little private trick of his own that he thinks is quite secret.”

And then it was sleep.

Meanwhile, Gollum was meeting with Shelob. He had had some contact with her in the past. The recent rise of Sauron had scared most of the living things away from her lair. Gollum wanted the Ring, but couldn’t kill Frodo. Shelob needed food, and didn’t care about the Ring. This was the perfect plan. She wouldn’t eat the Ring and he could then find it among the bones of the Hobbits.

This seems to be the entire day. But again, what is a “day” here? There’s no sunrise, no Shire clocks. I guess we’ll just have to trust Tolkien on this one.

Gandalf, Denethor and Faramir (and Pippin)

(“The next day came with a morning like a brown dusk, and the hearts of men, lifted for a while by the return of Faramir, sank low again.” Book Five, Chapter 4 – The Siege of Gondor)

That morning, before most were awake, a council of war was held. Because of the attacks in the south, the city of Minas Tirith was too weak to launch any sort of offensive. They also wondered if the Riders of Rohan were coming at all.

In truth, the Enemy in the south was being dealt with by Aragorn and the Army of the Dead (we’ll get to that shortly), and the Riders of Rohan were well on their way (we won’t cover that today since it’s basically just riding and camping). All seemed lost, but all was not lost.

Denethor argued that Sauron would attack first at Osgiliath. But Cair Andros, an island and river crossing about 50 miles north of the city, was also an issue. But Denethor blew that off – it was manned, and there was no way to bolster it. What he didn’t know was that it had fallen the day before.

Out of spite, Denethor ordered Faramir to lead the troops at Osgiliath. He parted with his father, Denethor, on pretty bad terms.

That night, word reached them that the army of Sauron had left Minas Morgul and were closing in on Osgiliath. This was the same army seen by Frodo and Sam the day before, the army led by the Witch-king.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Army of the Dead

There’s not too much to tell concerning Aragorn’s column out of the Paths of the Dead. But on this day, there was a battle. Gimli retells their tale in “The Last Debate,” but Tolkien had a more fleshed out version written which he never published.

On this day, around nightfall, they marched into the town of Linhir. It was here that the people against them made their stand. The column had been pushing the enemy back from town to town, but here, at Linhir, along the banks of the Gilrain, they attempted to make a stand.

Gathered before Aragorn’s army was “a great strength of the Haradrim, and of their allies the Shipmen of Umbar, who had sailed up Gailrain-mouth and far up the waters of Anduin with a host of ships and were now ravaging Lebennin and the coast of Belfalas.”

In essence, the allies of Sauron to the south had attacked as a way to pin down reinforcements coming to Minas Tirith. Each of these town had a garrison and each of those garrisons were unable to fight in Minas Tirith because they were too busy saving their own homes. Aragorn’s column was marching through to not only liberate at towns, but to bring the garrisons with him.

Of course, having an Army of the Dead is enough to freak out both the attackers and home defenders. Because of this, they crossed into Lebennin unopposed and encamped for the night.

In the story, we learn that it was only Angbor, the Lord of Lamedon, who understood what Aragorn’s mission was. He was told to fall in behind the Army of the Dead if he could.

‘Thus we crossed over Gilrain, driving the allies of Mordor in rout before us; and then we rested a while.’

Treebeard and Galadriel

Though we know almost nothing about this, it seems that Lórien was attacked on this day. You’ll remember on March 7th when Galadriel sent the Eagles as messengers to summon the Ents to Lórien. This was the reason and result.

The only thing the “Tale of Years” tell us is: “First assault on Lórien.” We’ll have to dig deeper.

In his notes (as published in The War of the Ring), Tolkien relates that:

“Treebeard and many Ents set out [on the 7th] at once at great speed and cover over 200 miles, coming down on the enemy camp at south end of Down in Eastemnet on 11 March.”

The fight apparently lasts overnight or at least into the next day. We’ll pick it up tomorrow.

February 25, 3019 – Arrival near Amon Hen

Welcome to February 25, 3019 of the Third Age. Today is a day of choices for the Fellowship. They’ve known this all along. Once reaching Parth Galen, they’d have to figure out where to next and how.

Book Two, Chapter 9: The Great River
“As soon as it was fully light they started. Already the fog was thinning.”

The Anduin River between Sarn Gabir and Nen Hithoel (the lake before the Falls of Rauros) had cut deep into the Emen Muil.

‘Before the travellers lay a wide ravine, with great rocky sides to which clung, upon shelves and in narrow crevices, a few thrawn trees.’

Before long, the river narrowed and became swifter, the boats faster. But soon they were before the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings – the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, “silent wardens of a long-vanished kingdom.” They were built by Rómendacil II, the 19th King of Gondor, some 1750 years prior to our story.

After passing the Argonath, the peak atop the island of Tol Brandir (the Tindrock) could be seen. to the right was Amon Hen. They would camp below it at Parth Galen.

We’re told that “They could go no further without choice between the east-way and the west. The last stage of the Quest was before them.”

After establishing camp, Frodo pulled his sword Sting from its scabbard. The edges were lightly glowing which indicated Orcs were “not very near, and yet too near.” Aragorn hoped that they were on the other side of the river. He had never heard of Orcs at Amon Hen before.

Whatever decisions they would make, they could make the following day.

The First Battle of the Fords of Isen

I don’t want to get into this too much. If you’re interested in all the details, they are available in Unfinished Tales.

Long story short – Saruman wanted to conquer Rohan, but knew that he had to take out not only Éomer (King Théoden’s nephew), but also Thóedred, his son. Both were against his servant and spy Gríma Wormtongue. Once they were done away with, Rohan would be his.

The first battle was a tactical loss for Saruman and Isengard. But Saruman’s entire purpose was to kill Théodred. He ordered that his best warriors to focus their attention on him. In the midst of battle, one of the giant Orcs had been able to get close enough to kill the King’s son.

With that, the forces of Isengard retreated easily back to their stronghold. Rohan held the battlefield at the end of the day, but the purpose of the battle was not the field, but the field commander – Théodred – who lie dead where he was slain.

A Quick Gandalf Aside

Gandalf had left Lórien on February 20th. For this day, Tolkien wrote in his notes that “Gandalf reaches Fangon; sends Gwaihir to spy out lands for news.”

And that is all.

February 22, 3019 – New Moon or Not New Moon, Let’s Party!

Greetings and welcome to February 22, 3019 of the Third Age. The Fellowship is still floating down the Anduin, traveling by night in the hopes to avoid Gollum.

Tolkien tells us that “time passed without event until the seventh day.” Today is that Seventh Day, so let’s see what the event is!

The daytime itself offered nothing of interest. The sky was gray, the wind was from the East, and there was a clearing around dusk.

The Event

The only event of the Seventh Day was this:

There the white rind of the new Moon could be seen glimmering in the remote lakes. Sam looked at it and puckered his brows.

That’s it. The next line is “The next day the country on either side began to change rapidly.”

So basically we have a new moon and Sam’s puckered eye brows. I suppose that’s an event.

Even so, the next day, Aragorn will Man-splain to Sam that “well, actually, it wasn’t really the new moon, the new moon was on the 23rd you stupid Hobbit.” Or something like that.

So the event is Sam mistaking the basically new moon for the actual new moon.

Big day.

Behind the Scenes with the Orcs

Thought he probably wasn’t, it’s possible that Tolkien was referencing the Orcs. That last we heard about the two companies of the Enemy led by Uglúk and Grishnáhk, they had been driven to the east shore of the Anduin by the Rohirrim. That was on February 10th. Since then, they seem to have stuck to that side of the river.

In his notes (as published in Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion), there were parties of Orc scouts searching for the Fellowship. On this day, they finally track them down.

With this news, Grishnákh from Mordor summons a Nazgûl. The catch was that Sauron would not allow the Wraith to cross to the west side of the Anduin.

This could get interesting. See you tomorrow.

February 19, 3019 – Creepy Boromir and a Gollum Encounter

Welcome to February 19, 3019 of the Third Age! It’s more river floating today!

Book Two, Chapter 9: The Great River
“In the next day or two, as they went on…”

This Feeling of Insecurity

Tolkien is somewhat in montage mode here, combining two days into one (for a paragraph). While the Fellowship had been content to just float with the current of the river, now four days out of Lothlórien, “they took to their paddles and hastened forward.”

A chilly wind blew from the east – remember, it was February. Each of them were busy with their own thoughts.

A Peek into Their Minds

Tolkien here gives us a rare glimpse into the thoughts of a few of the Fellowship.

Legolas was frolicking under the stars, running around under the beech trees in the summer.

Gimli was thinking about gold and Galadriel’s hair and if he could make a gold box or something to put Galadriel’s hair into. Kinda weird, but okay.

Sam was getting more used to being a boat, but wasn’t super thrilled about it.

Merry and Pippin, however, were not having a good time.

Creepy Ass Boromir

“Boromir sat muttering to himself, sometimes biting his nails, as if some restlessness or doubt consumed him.”

I am very familiar with how unbelievably creepy this is. There is a guy at work who will sort of whisper/mutter to himself. You can’t make out the words, but you can hear the cadence. Sometimes, when you’re talking to him, after replying to what you said, he’ll repeat your own words under his breath several times in a whispery muttering. It sounds like something out of a horror movie and is indescribably unsettling.

So yes, Boromir, you’re creeping everyone out. To heighten the discomfort, Pippin saw in Boromir “a queer gleam in his eye, as he peered forward gazing at Frodo.”

We’ll find out later the struggle which Boromir was facing – the draw of the Ring, which was consuming him.

It’s Gollum!

As the sun was setting, Sam was getting sleepy. He thought he saw something floading behind Gimli’s boat, but then it was gone. A log with eyes?

That night in camp, Sam told Frodo about it. At first, Sam thought he had a dream about a log with eyes.

Frodo admitted that he had seen something following them back in Moria. And also near Lórien. Both figured out that it was probably Gollum.

But into the night, Gollum was seen again. He got to within a yard or two of Frodo. Seeing this, Frodo drew Sting and faced Gollum head on. The weird little guy slipped back into the water with a bit of a hiss. He then floated on down stream.

All this commotion woke Aragorn, who said that he had noticed Gollum since Moria, but didn’t say anything. He had tried to catch Gollum a couple of times, but it didn’t work. Aragorn warned that Gollum was dangerous. He was worried that he would tell the Enemy where they were.

Of course, he couldn’t know that Gollum had done this before. But that was nearly a month ago. Gollum likely didn’t want to deal with Uglúk again, and the chances of him just wandering back to the Enemy were slim.

Since they probably couldn’t catch him, they would try to lose him.

Camera: Imperial Savoy
Film: Ilford Pan F Plus

February 18, 3019 – The Fellowship and the Brown Lands

It’s February 18, 3019 of the Third Age! There’s not a lot to talk about today. Gandalf is still resting in Lórien, and the Fellowship is floating down the Anduin.

Book Two, Chapter 9: The Great River
“As the third day of their voyage wore on…”

The Brown Lands

When they started from Lothlórien, they were among tall grey trees, but as the first few days wore on, “the trees thinned and then failed altogether.” On their left, the eastern banks of the river, the land sloped from high toward the water. The slopes were brown and lifeless, “as if fire had passed over them.” There were no trees, no plants, no grasses – not even rocks.

“They had come to the Brown Lands,” we’re told. To Aragorn, they didn’t seem to be natural. This wasn’t how they originally were made. He considered that it had to have been disease or war or some “evil deed of the enemy” that turned them into what they saw before them.

Tolkien explained in an unfinished index that the name, Brown Lands, was derived from the word Berennyn, which was a translation of the Sindarin word baran, which meant “brown, yellow-brown.”

That Aragorn did not know their story is telling in and of itself. He was a Ranger and if how the Brown Lands became brown was lost to the Dúnedain, and even apparently to the Elves, the truth must be ancient.

And ancient it was! Later in the narrative, we’ll learn from Treebeard some of what happened. The way that he tells the story, the Entwives were more concerned with their gardens than with the Ents themselves, and they ordered their trees to grow as they wished. These became the gardens in which the Entwives lived, on the western side of the Anduin, and the Ents would visit every now and then.

Treebeard explained that “when the Darkness came in the North, the Entwives crossed the Grate River, and made new gardens.” It’s been suggested that “the Darkness” was Sauron and the War of the Last Alliance, which took place at the end of the Second Age – over 3,000 years before our story began. However, in that war, Sauron didn’t come down from the North, but came from the south and east.

But I’d wager this was a much earlier war and a much earlier Darkness – when Morgoth attacked from Angband. Treebeard also made reference to being one of three remaining Ents “that walked in the woods before the Darkness.” If both Darknesses were the same (and they were), then it would be a bit shortsighted to think that he’s talking about the Third Age. In the First Age, when Morgoth attacked, he ended up ruling most of Middle-earth, so even if his forces didn’t specifically get to the gardens of the Entwives, they would have been under his command.

How So Brown?

But what happened to turn these lush gardens into the ugly and barren Brown Lands? The Entwives crossed to the eastern side of the Anduin in the First Age, and were basically forgotten by the Ents until the very end of the Second Age, during the War of the Last Alliance. Before that time, according to Tolkien, the Entwives had taught the Northmen (the Éothéod, ancestors of the Rohirrim) and Hobbits, who lived around the Anduin in the Second Age, a bit about agriculture. The Ents decided it would be nice to see the Entwives again, and crossed the river to find them, but found only the Brown Lands devoid of everything, including the Entwives.

While Treebeard focused upon the search for the Entwives, Tolkien, in a 1954 letter explained a bit of their fate. The gardens were destroyed by Sauron’s scorched earth policy “and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin” during the War of the Last Alliance.

While this explained the Brown Lands, where they had been lush gardens, it might also explain the land on the western banks of the Anduin, on the Fellowship’s right. This was The Wold – a Middle English word meaning a forested area. However, this land, like the Brown Lands on the opposite shore, wasn’t forested. It was “flat, and in many places green with wide plains of grass.” There were reeds in abundance and hills beyond them.

Unlike the Brown Lands, the Wold seemed to have recovered some, though it was still treeless. The name indicates that at some point, probably before the War of the Last Alliance, it had been a forest. And since that time, it had a much more human history – one of campaigns and war.

Slightly Less Ancient History

At the time of the Fellowship, it was part of Rohan, but 3,000 years before, at the end of the Second Age, it became part of northern Gondor. At that point (and probably before), it was claimed by the Dunlendings, a tribal group of Men who more or less kept to themselves. After about 2500 years, they were driven out of the area (though they didn’t seem to live on the Wold proper) by the Rohirrim.

In Unfinished Tales, we learn that around the same time, some of the Easternlings, commanded by the Enemy at Dol Guldur, attacked into Gondor with bands of Orcs. They came in over the Wold and and were driven back by Eorl. The largest of these battles happened on the Field of Celebrant, just to the north. The warring would continue for years until Eorl was killed fighting on the Wold.

In the months before Frodo left the Shire, the Nazgûl crossed the Wold twice. First was in early July, as they moved west from Dol Guldur, crossing the Anduin. The second time was in mid September. After a fruitless search, they regrouped at the Wold, and were then ordered by Sauron to ride west to Isengard, thinking that Saruman had the Ring. From there, they went to the Shire.

And though there would be a bit more history to be made on the Wold, this was how it stood when the Fellowship passed by it. More than likely, Aragorn would have known most of this later history concerning the Wold. Though none of it was mentioned in Lord of the Rings, Tolkien might have hinted at such a past when he wrote that beyond the reeds and hills, Frodo could see “away on the edge of sight a dark line, where marched the southernmost ranks of the Misty Mountains.”

The Black Swans

All along the river, the only animal they had seen were birds. On this day, they saw swans. Black swans. Now, swans are always assholes. Always. But these swans might have had a bit more assholery than normal swans.

Were they spies of the Enemy? We already have seen the Saruman used birds, the raven-like crebain specifically, as spies. It’s seems likely that these black swans were used in the same way. Aragon seemed to at least suspect it.

Sam, creeped out by the swans and the land, became more and more uneasy. The lack of trees, which he had felt “harboured secret eyes and lurking dangers” were gone. And now “he felt that they Company was too naked, afloat in little open boats in the midst of shelterless lands, and on a river that was the frontier or war.”

Camera: Mamiya RB67 (1974)
Lens: Mamiya-Sekor C 3.8/90mm
Film: Kodak Portra 160
Process: DIY ECN-2

February 15, 3019 – The Mirror of Galadriel and Preparing to Leave

Today is February 15, 3019 of the Third Age, the day when Sam and Frodo looked into Galadriel’s Mirror. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get on it.

Book Two, Chapter 7: The Mirror of Galadriel
“One evening Frodo and Sam were walking together in the cool twilight. Both of them felt restless again.”

The Curious Incident of the Mirror in the Night Time

After staying in Lothlórien for a few weeks, Sam and Frodo were walking at night, talking about Elves and how the Fellowship would soon have to leave and continue their quest. Frodo mentioned his desire to see Galadriel once more, and with that, she appeared. “She spoke no word, but beckoned to them.” They came to her and she led them to the Mirror, telling them, “I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will.”

She further explained to the awe-struck hobbits that she could command the Mirror to reveal many things. To some people, though she didn’t mention who, she could show what they wanted to see. The Mirror would also show things that people didn’t want to see, “and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold.”

So apparently, Galadriel had a Mirror that could show some people what they wanted to see, but it could also show (even those people?) things they didn’t want to see, and when it did, it was better for them. This makes some sense. It’s usually better to not have our opinions and feelings reinforced when we’re trying to learn new things. But she went on.

Though she claimed to be able to command the Mirror to reveal many things, she couldn’t or wouldn’t do that now for Sam and Frodo. Galadriel wanted the Mirror to freestyle it on the hobbits. Where before she said that she could command the Mirror, here she wanted them to “leave the Mirror free to work.” And when it did that, she could not tell ahead of time what they would see.

What the Hell, Girl?

Let’s stop here and ask a very important question – just what the hell was she doing? It seems like she could have tailored the Mirror to the hobbits, to the quest, gaining for them some help by guiding it to show them things they didn’t want to see. She made the claim that she could facilitate that. But instead of doing that – instead of being obviously helpful – it seems as if she just wanted to see what would happen if the hobbits took on the Mirror by themselves.

That’s fine enough, but then she explained what the Mirror could do: “it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell.” And now our question really becomes important – just what the hell was she doing? Even under her guidance, the Mirror would show past, present and future, but it was so muddled that most couldn’t tell which was which! And instead of guiding the hobbits, she wanted them to work it on their own.

How is this not endlessly reckless? How can even the wisest act upon this, knowing that what he perceives as the future, might not just be not the future, but might just as well be the past? How could the one who had gazed into the Mirror even begin to parse its depths? And most importantly, how could Galadriel think this was a good idea?

Sam’s Vision

Sam was first up (after Frodo didn’t reply), and he wanted to see what was going on in the Shire. But what the Mirror showed Sam was a future where Frodo was stung by Shelob. This dissolved in Sam’s wish. The trees of the Shire were cut down, a new mill was erected, and Bagshot row was dug up.

Sam wanted to return home, but Galadriel reminded him that he couldn’t go back alone.

Galadriel then brought up a pretty good point. “You did not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire.” And she again reminded him that her Mirror could show many things, including the future, so the things he saw might not have happened yet. What’s more, she told him that if he stayed true to the quest, the things he saw might be prevented, adding in the end, “The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds.”

Yes! Yes it is! So what the hell was she doing? Sam sat down and was immediately in despair over having ever come on this journey. Soon, he resolved to continue it, in the hopes of making it back to the Shire someday.

Ultimately, it could be argued that while the Mirror gave him doubts and fears that he hadn’t had prior to looking into it, it also strengthened Sam’s resolve to stay with Frodo.

Frodo’s Vision

With Frodo, Galadriel played it cool. When he asked her if he should look, she even advised against it, saying that she wouldn’t “counsel you one way or the other.” What he would see, if he saw anything, “may be profitable, and yet it may not. Seeing is both good and perilous.”

But she was not done with the pitch. After playing coy and flippant, she slid toward encouragement: “Yet I think, Frodo, that you have courage and wisdom enough for the venture, or I would not have brought you here. Do as you will!” Under all the layers of nonchalance and indifference, she had brought them to the Mirror specifically so they could look in it. And while she certainly didn’t force either to look, she knew what to say to both in order to convince them to do what she wanted them to do.

Frodo agreed to look, and saw a series of things. First was a wizard in white which gave Frodo doubts – was it Gandalf or Saruman? He then saw Bilbo in his room in Rivendell. The table was littered with papers. The vision then turned to history (maybe the history which was written on those disordered papers), reminding him how he was involved in these great stories.

His vision changed again, now to the sea, in a scene that seems like it could be from Elendil’s escape from Númenor. Still in the past, he saw a city next to a wide river (Osgiliath and the River Anduin), and then a white fortress with seven towers (Minas Tirith).

The vision then turned to the future, though Frodo, of course, couldn’t tell one from the other. He saw Aragorn’s ships arriving at Minas Tirith before the Battle of the Pelannor Fields. He then saw the battle itself, with fire and smoke, which dissolved into a mist where he saw a small ship, “twinkling with lights” passing away – Frodo’s own ship sailing to the West.

And just as Frodo was ready to look away, the Mirror went dark and empty like an abyss. And in it “appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror.” The eye then searched for something, and Frodo knew that it was looking for him (along with many other things). He also knew that the Eye could not see him unless he [Frodo] willed it. The Ring on a chain around his neck grew heavy and weighed him down toward the Mirror, as if it were pulling toward the Eye. The Mirror grew hot and steam came up from it as Frodo drew nearer to it. Galadriel reminded him not to touch the water. The spell was broken, and the vision disappeared.

The Eye

While Galadriel didn’t address any of the first bits of Frodo’s vision, she had a bit to say about the Eye – “for that is also in my mind.” The Eye wasn’t actually in the Mirror. It wasn’t using the Mirror to look for Frodo. Rather, it was a vision of the Eye looking for Frodo. And since this vision was also in Galadriel’s mind, it’s a safe assumption that she put it there herself after saying she wouldn’t effect the Mirror one way or the other.

She then told Frodo not to be afraid. The Dark Lord, she said, was also looking for her and for Lothlórien, “and he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But still the door is closed!”

The Rings

Following the visions, Galadriel showed Frodo her Ring, Nenya, explaining that the keepers of the Elven rings cannot be hidden from the Ring-bearer. If the One Ring was not destroyed, Sauron would know the location of the three Elven Rings, and that would be pretty bad.

On the other hand, if the One Ring was destroyed, the three Elven Rings would be powerless. Either way, the Elves were basically done with the whole Middle-earth thing.

Discouraged, Frodo offered the One Ring to Galadriel. That didn’t go over well, and she seemed to accuse him of tempting her.

“Gently are you revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting. You begin to see with a keen eye.”

This says a whole hell of a lot more about Galadriel than it does Frodo. She did want the Ring, of course. But couldn’t take it. “For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! it was brought within my grasp.”

I went into much more detail about this here.

Moving on, she refused the Ring and “passed the test … I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” I talked about what that means here.

The Coming Farewell

That night the company started Chapter 8: Farewell to Lórien. They didn’t have to go home, but they couldn’t stay there. The Fellowship met with Galadriel and the other guy, and discussed exactly how they were leaving (boats down the Anduin).

It was their last night in Lothlórien. The talked about what was to happen next. Boromir wanted to go home (though he wasn’t super whiny about it), but he also hinted that he wanted to use the Ring to save Minas Tirith. Frodo was a little freaked out by this.

It’s late now, so good-night! See you tomorrow!

Camera: Smena 8M
Film: GAF Super Hypan; 50iso (x-1970s)
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min

I Wrote a LOT About Galadriel

When I started working on this blog four years ago, I wrote a great deal about Galadriel and her darkness. I grabbed some of the text to use in the recent posts, but the vast majority of it doesn’t quite fit in with the current project.

Still, I’d like to collect all of the posts into one, which is why I’ll do here.

The Annals of Galadriel – How Tolkien Created the Unfinished Queen
There is no other character in Tolkien’s legendarium who changed as often and as much as Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlórien. Unlike many of his Elves, she did not come from the older stories. What follows is a timeline detailing Tolkien’s writing of Galadriel and the changes he made.

The First Glimpse of Lothlórien, Some History, and Some Doubts
I wanted to start by giving a bit of a history of the Silvan Elves beginning in the Second Age. How did Lothlórien come to be?

The Stain Upon Lothlorien
I re-used some of this text recently, but you might enjoy the whole thing. We are told that “On the land of Lórien there was no stain.” However, I think I might have found one: xenophobia.

Galadriel Works her Whammy on the Fellowship
Let’s take a closer look at Galadriel’s ability to read peoples’ minds. Much of the last post was taken directly from this one. But here it is in full.

The Dangerous Traditions of Elves and Dwarves
An exploration into the relations between Elves and Dwarves, focusing mostly on Lórien.

Like a Lance in Starlight – The First Appearance of the Lady Galadriel
Here, we’ll take a look into how Tolkien created Galadriel, and when. She wasn’t from the old Silmarillian stores, but a new invention.

Since the Dawning of the Sun – Galadriel’s History in Lord of the Rings
A brief look into the writing history of Galadriel within the Lord of the Rings framework. We’ll also hint at changes to come.

With and Without Galadriel in the Super-Exciting Tale of Years!
Most readers don’t even bother with the Tale of Years. But we’ll take a deep dive to figure out even more about Galadriel.

Sam’s Vision in the Mirror – Just What the Hell was Galadriel Thinking? (Part 1)Frodo’s Vision in the Mirror – Just What the Hell was Galadriel Thinking? (Part 2)
Both of these posts take a close look at Galadriel’s power and motives when it came to her Mirror (which doesn’t happen until the day before they leave Lórien, February 15th). And seriously, what the hell was she thinking?

‘You Will Give Me the Ring Freely!’ – Galadriel Gets Freaky
Let’s find out exactly how Galadriel Feels about the One Ring.

Passing the Test and STILL No Valinor for Galadriel!
Does Galadriel even know if she can return to Valinor? I suspect not.

‘A Queen She Was’ – Of Galadriel and the Rings of Power, Etc… (Mostly Etc.)
A bit of Galadriel’s in-story history.

‘To Rule There A Realm of Her Own Will’ – Galadriel and Why She Came to Middle-earth
Maybe Galadriel is a little darker than we think.

‘But I See Evil There’ – Galadriel’s Omission and Wandering
More of Galadriel’s in-story history.

Galadriel: Globe-Trotter and Realm-Ruler – Beyond the Silmarillion
Let’s look at Galadriel in the later Silmarillion writings.

Celebrimbor Loves Galadriel – Jumping the Shark or Fine Idea for a Spin-off Series?
A review of more of Tolkien’s later thoughts on Galadriel.

‘A Ban Was Set Upon Her Return’ – Tolkien Reinterprets His Own Writing
Was Galadriel actually banned? Did Tolkien ever make up his mind?

Galadriel’s Tragic Pride and Darkness
Tolkien changes his mind in his very late writings.

Tolkien’s Final Words on Middle-earth – Galadriel Unstained
Just what it says – Tolkien’s last words (basically).

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Kodak Elite Chrome (xpro – expired 2003)

January 7, 3019 – Three Mountains Before Them

Welcome to January 7, 3018 of the Third Age. The Fellowship has been on the road now for 15 days. Let’s check back in with them to see how it’s going. I’m sure it’s fine.

Book Two, Chapter 3: The Ring Goes South
“They had been a fortnight on the way when the weather changed..”

A Day in the Life

Over the past two weeks or so, the Fellowship kept basically the same schedule. They walked generally south after sunset and covered about 15 miles each night. During they day, they camped.

“They slept uneasily during the middle of the day, in some hollow of the land, or hidden under the tangled thorn-bushes that grew in thickets in many places.”

It doesn’t appear that they ever made a campfire, as their meals were “cold and cheerless.” They also stayed away from paths or roads, though they likely paralleled an old road.

The weather was almost always cold with “an icy blast” coming off the Misty Mountains.

This was their toil for two weeks. But today something was a little different.

Seeing into the Past

On this day the weather changed. The clouds, which had hung low for most of the journey, lifted. Out came the sun and the Fellowship could see the land before them.

To their front were mountains “that seemed now to stand across the path the Company was taking.” This isn’t really shown on the maps, they could see three mountain peeks. The two highest were Caradhras and Celebdil, also known as the Redhorn and Silvertine, respectively. Southwest of them was Fanuidhol, also called Cloudyhead.

Incidentally, Gimli recognized the mountains, having seen them once before. In the Dwarf language, they were called Barazinbar, Zirakzigil and Bundushathur. Tolkien had a long and detailed struggle with what to name these three peaks in several different languages. Apparently, they were based upon his memory of the mountains in Switzerland – specifically Jungfrau and its surrounding peaks (more on that later).

Between Caradhras and Celebdil was Redhorn Pass, which was where the Fellowship planned to finally cross the Misty Mountains. This was the only pass between Rivendell and the Gap of Rohan (near Isengard, the Fords of Isen, Helm’s Deep, etc), and that was 250 or more miles farther south.

‘We have reached the borders of the country that Men call Hollin; many Elves lived here in happier days, when Eregion was its name.’

They camped on Hollin Ridge, which was near the land known as Hollin, named after the holly bushes that were in abundance. The Elves, however, called the place Eregion. In the Second Age, this had been ruled by Galadriel and Celeborn, and then Celebrimbor. It’s most famous for being the place where the Elves befriended Sauron, mostly thinking that he had turned over a new leaf. It was where the Rings of Power (except for the One Ring) were created.

Anyway, Gandalf explained that they were headed for Dimrill Dale, just on the other side of Redhorn Pass. This also had a bunch of names. The Elves called it Nanduhirion, but it’s most famously known as Azanulbizar. It was there where the Orcs killed Thror and the Dwarves attacked in retaliation.

The battle was actually for Moria, which was under Celebdil/Silvertine. Gandalf was hoping to bypass the mines of Moria and take Redhorn Pass over the mountains.

As Gandalf was explaining that they must go from Redhorn Pass, down the River Silverloade, into the “secret woods” (Lorien), “and so to the Great River,” he cut himself off. Merry asked him where they would go after that, but all Gandalf would say was: “We cannot look too far ahead. Let us be glad that the first stage is safely over.”

“Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there.” He never told the Fellowship about the whole trusting Sauron/forging the Rings of Power thing.

Legolas wasn’t so sure about this: “But the Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago.”

This is such a beautiful and weird little passage. In the Silmarillion, we’re told: “Eregion was nigh to the great mansions of the Dwarves that were named Khazad-dûm, but by the Elves Hadhodrond, and afterwards Moria. From Ost-in-Edhil, the city of the Elves, the highroad ran to the west gate of Khazad-dûm, for a friendship arose between Dwarves and Elves, such as never elsewhere there had been, to the enrichment of both those peoples. In Eregion the craftsman of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the People of the Jewel-smiths, surpassed in cunning all that have ever wrought, save only Fëanor himself, and indeed greatest in skill among them was Celebrimbor.”

These Elves were more like Dwarves in a way, and Legolas was touching upon that. Though they were Elves – a race typically associated with trees – it was the stones that remembered them, not the plants. This was because of their association with the Dwarves.

Figuring out the Days

Since the Fellowship are hiking at night, it’s not easy trying to figure out when to write about the events that happened. If we keep to our modern schedule where the next day begins at midnight, then the conversation above took place on January 8th.

But prior to clocks (which were absent in Middle-earth [neverminding Bilbo’s clock]) “midnight” didn’t really mean anything. The days likely began at dawn. And even with that, the conversation would still have taken place on the 8th.

But there’s a lot I want to write about this day, so I’m going to make an exception. Since the Fellowship’s days began when they awoke in the afternoon, we’ll just say that the conversation happened on the 7th, as it would have been the 7th to the Fellowship – the 8th not starting for them until they awoke hours later.

When’s Next?

The 8th, of course! See you and a bunch of crows tomorrow!

Camera: Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex (1939)
Film: Fuji NPS 160L (x-11/91)