The Company has barely begun to grieve the loss of Gandalf, and their quest is still far from over.
‘Farewell, Gandalf!’ [Aragorn] cried. ‘Did I not say to you: if you enter the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?’
He turned to the Company. ‘We must do without hope.’
The hobbits take a bit of a backseat this chapter, with Gimli and Legolas instead taking prominent roles. I feel like Tolkien didn’t care nearly as much about the Dwarves as the Elves (I mean, we never get to see a live Dwarven city even in The Hobbit, while we see two Elven cities just in Book II here). He does seem to respect the Dwarves’ love of the mountains, but that’s about it. Basically, the Dwarves tend to be a little too boring. And it just occurred to me that we never hear what Gimli was before he joined the Company – he’s the son of one of Thorin’s companions, but that’s it. Was he a craftsman? I don’t know, and the book doesn’t seem to care. He’s just a convenient representative for his people. At least with Legolas you know that he’s a prince and can make some assumptions based on that (also he’s not the only elf in the trilogy).
‘There lies the Mirrormere, deep Kheled-zâram!’ said Gimli sadly. ‘I remember that he said: “May you have joy of the sight! But we cannot linger there.” Now long shall I journey ere I have joy again. It is I that must hasten away, and he that must remain.’
Aragorn leads them to the woods of Lothlórien, an ancient dwelling-place for the Elves. Legolas is understandably excited (evidently there hasn’t been any communication between Lothlórien and Mirkwood for a long time), but Boromir is less than enthusiastic.
‘Is there no other way?’ he said.
‘What other fairer way could you desire?’ said Aragorn.
‘A plain road, though it led through a hedge of swords,’ said Boromir. ‘By strange paths has this Company been led, and so far to evil fortune. Against my will we passed under the shades of Moria, to our loss. 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.’
Since they’re still in danger of orcs, Legolas suggests that they do as the people of Lothlórien do and sleep in the trees (which the hobbits are not at all thrilled about), but when he climbs a tree, he finds some Elves already there. They invite him and Frodo up the tree, since they had gotten news of the Quest from the messengers Elrond sent out before they left Rivendell. The Elves of the Golden Wood (or Galadhrim) are secluded even by Elf standards, with most of their people not bothering to learn the Common Tongue since they have so little contact with the outside world. All seems to be going smoothly, until Legolas finally mentions that one of their companions is *gasp* A DWARF!
‘A dwarf!’ said Haldir. ‘That is not well. We have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days. They are not permitted in our land. I cannot allow him to pass.’
Of course they eventually agree to let Gimli through (partly because there are orcs en route and they don’t have time to argue if the Company is supposed to get out of harm’s way), but on the condition that Gimli will be blindfolded when they journey into the forest the next day.
I appreciate Tolkien’s intent of presenting racial conflict, but it’s not exactly widely applicable in real life. The Elves and the Dwarves are mostly just resentful of one another for things like awakening the Balrog in Moria or trying to get each other’s treasure and the resulting cycles of revenge (or at least bitterness). It’s not like one race conquered the other and considered them less than people – they always hold a degree of respect for each other, even when they disagree strongly. I guess this may also serve to highlight how out of the loop the Galadhrim are, considering that even the Mirkwood Elves forgave the Dwarves enough to renew commerce with them, even if there’s still some resentment and prejudice.
Anyhow, Frodo’s still been sensing some wary creature following them, and he hears it again after the orcs pass through.
Something was now climbing slowly, and its breath came like a soft hissing through closed teeth. Then coming up. close to the stem, Frodo saw two pale eyes. They stopped and gazed upward unwinking. Suddenly they turned away, and a shadowy figure slipped round the trunk of the tree and vanished.
This time, however, somebody else saw the creature – Frodo seemed partly convinced that it was all just his imagination, but Haldir clearly saw it this time.
The next day they set out for the city – and they try to blindfold Gimli. Needless to say, he does not take it well.
Gimli drew his axe from his belt. Haldir and his companions bent their bows. ‘A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!’ said Legolas.
‘Come!’ said Aragorn. ‘If I am still to lead this Company, you must do as I bid. It is hard upon the Dwarf to be thus singled out. We will all be blindfold, even Legolas. That will be best, though it will make the journey slow and dull.’
[…] ‘I am an Elf and a kinsman here,’ said Legolas, becoming angry in his turn.
‘Now let us cry: “a plague on the stiff necks of Elves!”‘ said Aragorn.
Having them blindfolded actually makes the journey more interesting, as Tolkien gets to focus exclusively on senses besides sight. Or just conversation, which is fine by me.
‘Happy folk are Hobbits to dwell near the shores of the sea!’ said Haldir. ‘It is long indeed since any of my folk have looked on it, yet still we remember it in a song. Tell me of these havens as we walk.’
‘I cannot,’ said Merry. ‘I have never seen them. I have never been out of my own land before. And if I had known what the world outside was like, I don’t think I should have had the heart to leave it.’
‘Not even to see fair Lothlórien?’ said Haldir. ‘The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.’
Elrond seems to have been correct in his assessment of Merry and (presumably) Pippin, but Gandalf was also right.
As soon as he had set foot upon the far bank of Silverlode, a strange feeling had come upon [Frodo], and it deepened as he walked on into the Naith: it seemed to him that he had stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the Elder Days, and was now walking in a world that was no more. In Rivendell there lived memory of ancient things; in Lórien the ancient things still lived on in the waking world. Evil had been seen and heard there, sorrow had been known; the Elves feared and distrusted the world outside: wolves were howling on the wood’s borders: but on the land of Lórien no shadow lay.
Then they receive word from the Lady of the Galadhrim that everyone (including the Dwarf) can walk unblinded, and after that they take a rest and enjoy the scenery for a bit. Aragorn in particular is wrapped up in a fair memory – evidently he came to the spot where Arwen fell in love with him and agreed to marry him (he fell in love with her first, but it took a couple decades for her to acknowledge him as an equal).
‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, ‘and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.
Until next time…