With the Quest still before them, the Company must choose between darkness and defeat. Also, Gandalf is awesome.
The Company (they’re never actually referred to as “the Fellowship”, leading to some debate over whether the titular Fellowship refers to the Company or just the four hobbits) holds counsel after their retreat from Caradhras, and Gandalf makes the case for traveling through Moria, the abandoned dwarf-kingdom beneath the Misty Mountains (whence Balin was supposed to have gone). Gimli is (understandably) the only one with any enthusiasm for the endeavor, although not blindly optimistic like in the movie. Everyone expects to find the Mines more or less abandoned – Gimli knows there’s only a slim chance that Balin and his party might still be hiding out in there somewhere, what with the abundance of Orcs in the mountains, if nothing else.
Boromir is the most vocal dissident, mostly because he traveled through the Gap of Rohan on his journey north and refuses to see why they can’t go that way instead.
‘Things have changed since you came north, Boromir,’ answered Gandalf. ‘[…] When you came north, Boromir, you were in the Enemy’s eyes only one stray wanderer from the South and a matter of small concern to him: his mind was busy with the pursuit of the Ring. But you return now as a member of the Ring’s Company, and you are in peril as long as you remain with us. […]’
‘We do not know what he expects,’ said Boromir. ‘He may watch all roads, likely and unlikely. In that case to enter Moria would be to walk into a trap, hardly better than knocking at the gates of the Dark Tower itself. The name of Moria is black.’
‘You speak of what you do not know, when you liken Moria to the stronghold of Sauron,’ answered Gandalf. ‘I alone of you have ever been in the dungeons of the Dark Lord, and only in his lesser dwelling in Dol Guldur. Those who pass the gates of Barad-dûr do not return. But I would not lead you into Moria if there were no hope of coming out again.’
Why yes, Gandalf IS awesome! But most of the party remains reluctant, including Aragorn.
‘You followed my lead almost to disaster in the snow, and have said no word of blame. I will follow your lead now – if this last warning does not move you. It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!’
Then they get attacked by Wargs (sentient wolves, for those who haven’t read The Hobbit), and that changes everyone’s attitude in Gandalf’s favor.
This is a part of the story where the film frequently just attributed various lines and actions to different characters – and Merry was the one who suffered most for it. As they’re searching for the hidden gates of Moria by an ominous pool that was once a valley, Boromir is generally the least helpful and honestly kind of petulant – when they’re trying to figure out the password to open the gates and Gandalf says he doesn’t know it, Boromir loses it.
‘Then what was the use of bringing us to this accursed spot?’ cried Boromir, glancing back with a shudder at the dark water. ‘You told us that you had once passed through the Mines. How could that be, if you did not know how to enter?’
‘The answer to your first question, Boromir,’ said the wizard, ‘is that I do not know the word – yet. But we shall soon see. And,’ he added, with a glint in his eyes under their bristling brows, ‘you may ask what is the use of my deeds when they are proven useless.’
After a couple hours of failed passwords (too bad there’s no “Forgot Password” button), Boromir is bored and frustrated and throws a rock in the middle of the pool, which Frodo promptly chews him out for (in the movie, it was Merry who did the throwing and Aragorn who did the chewing out). Of course it all boils down to a mistranslation of tense (Gandalf read the inscription as “Speak, friend, and enter” when it was supposed to be “Say ‘friend’ and enter“), a very linguist joke. In the book, Merry is the one who notes the odd wording (eventually leading Gandalf to the answer), while in the movie Frodo solves it. Basically, PJ wanted to make Boromir more likable, Frodo more immediately useful, and Merry more comical. As far as Boromir goes, I have to admit that Tolkien was clearly unsympathetic toward his perspective. He’s the sort of person whose impulse is toward action, and he often makes snap judgments and sticks to them – doubtlessly useful on the battlefield, but not so helpful for long-term strategy or diplomacy. He’s rather like the Hobbits in that way, except his “normal” is war instead of peace (which is certainly understandable, considering his situation).
After Gandalf finally opens the gate, something comes out of the lake and grabs Frodo, scaring off Bill the Pony in the process. Sam had already been told they couldn’t bring Bill into Moria, and he’d been real upset about it, but when forced to choose between his pony and his master, of course he comes to Mr. Frodo’s aid (with a knife). He rescues Frodo and they all get through the door (except Bill, who quite sensibly ran off at the first sign of a strange water-monster), and then the creature shuts the gate and apparently blocks it up with debris.
‘I felt that something horrible was near the from the moment that my foot first touched the water,’ said Frodo. ‘What was that thing, or were there many of them?’
‘I do not know,’ answered Gandalf; ‘but the arms were all guided by one purpose. Something has crept, or has been driven out of dark waters under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.’ He did not speak aloud his thought that whatever it was that dwelt in the lake, it had seized on Frodo first among all the Company.
Even with the rest of the Company to help him, Frodo is still getting the brunt of the “bad luck”.
With the gate blocked, they have no choice but to travel through to the other side of the Mines, working primarily from Gandalf’s memory of his previous trip (going the opposite direction).
‘Do not be afraid!’ said Aragorn. There was a pause longer than usual, and Gandalf and Gimli were whispering together; the others were crowded behind, waiting anxiously. ‘Do not be afraid! I have been with him on many a journey, if never on one so dark; and there are tales in Rivendell of greater deeds of his than any that I have seen. He will not go astray – if there is any path to find. He has lead us here against our fears, but he will lead us out again, at whatever cost to himself. He is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel.’
I love these random made-up idioms! It warms my linguist heart. But on a more serious note, Aragorn has been second-guessing himself a lot since Caradhras, leaning entirely on Gandalf’s guidance…which probably has something to do with why he’s been so opposed to Moria, since his greatest fear seems to be losing Gandalf here.
Though [Frodo] had been healed in Rivendell of the knife-stroke, that grim wound had not been without effect. His senses were sharper and more aware of things that could not be seen. One sign of change that he soon had noticed was that he could see more in the dark than any of his companions, save perhaps Gandalf. And he was in any case the bearer of the Ring: it hung upon its chain against his breast, and at whiles it seemed a heavy weight. He felt the certainty of evil ahead and of evil following; but he said nothing.
It’s been my experience that our wounds can make us stronger, and perhaps allow us to see and understand more of the world around us.
They find a well at one point, and Pippin is stupid and curious and throws a stone in it (because throwing a stone helped SO MUCH at the gate). Then they hear hammer-strokes echoing from the depths in what sounds an awful lot like a signal.
For eight dark hours, not counting two brief halts, they marched on; and they met no danger, and heard nothing, and saw nothing but the faint gleam of the wizard’s light, bobbing like a will-o’-the-wisp in front of them. […]
As the road climbed upwards, Frodo’s spirits rose a little; but he still felt oppressed, and still at times heard, or thought he heard, away behind the Company and beyond the fall and patter of their feet, a following footstep that was not an echo.
Eventually they reach one of the ancient halls, where they all stop for a rest and a little Dwarf-education! Gimli sings a song, most notable for its much more strict meter, structure, and rhyming scheme (also he sings in “the Common Tongue”, not Dwarvish, which they generally only use among themselves). Gandalf explains that Moria rose to prominence because it was the only place where mithril could be mined, a strong and light metal that was extremely valuable to begin with and only increased in value after Moria was overrun by Orcs, with Sauron taking as much as he could for himself.
‘The Dwarves tell no tale; but even as mithril was the foundation of their wealth, so also it was their destruction: they delved too greedily and too deep, and disturbed that from which they fled, Durin’s Bane.’
Power itself is not the root of evil in this series, but the desire for power. There’s no such thing as “absolute power” – even the most powerful creature in the world would not be all-powerful, and so they would still desire more.
Anyhow, they explore the hall and discover a tomb with this inscription:
Balin son of Fundin
Lord of Moria
Until next time…