The chapter opens with Aragorn bidding farewell to Gandalf, and also stepping up to the wider role he will eventually play as King. Only with Gandalf gone can he grow into true heroic stature. All of them do, with even Boromir showing noble repentance after his great failure. And maybe Legolas the least, since the Elves are a fading race. Tolkien says that in one of his letters.
At that particular grim moment, the Fellowship look both forward and back. They have passed from dark to light, but are far from safe:
“’Alas! I Fear we cannot stay here longer,’ said Aragorn. He looked towards the mountains and held up his sword. `Farewell, Gandalf! ‘ he cried. ‘Did I not say to you: if you pass 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,’ he said. `At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do.’
“They rose and looked about them. Northward the dale ran up into a glen of shadows between two great arms of the mountains, above which three white peaks were shining: Celebdil, Fanuidhol, Caradhras. the Mountains of Moria. At the head of the glen a torrent flowed like a white lace over an endless ladder of short falls, and a mist of foam hung in the air about the mountains’ feet.
“`Yonder is the Dimrill Stair,’ said Aragorn, pointing to the falls. ‘Down the deep-cloven way that climbs beside the torrent we should have come, if fortune had been kinder.’
“`Or Caradhras less cruel,’ said Gimli. `There he stands smiling in the sun!’ He shook his fist at the furthest of the snow-capped peaks and turned away.”
This, I think, is the only occasion any of the good characters speak of revenge, apart from the Rohirrim and dwarves in The Hobbit. And Aragorn also allows Gimli to take a brief look in Mirrormere, which he had mentioned previously in his poem, and which he has never actually seen. And which could be seen as balancing the evil and artificially made pool that holds the Watcher in the Water outside the other door to Moria.
But they cannot spend long. The orcs might be keen on revenge:
“The Orcs will not, maybe, come out till after dusk, but we must be far away before nightfall. The Moon is almost spent, and it will be dark tonight.’”
When it is dark, they hope they are clean away:
“`There are no goblins near, or my ears are made of wood [said Gimli]. It is to be hoped that the Orcs will be content with driving us from Moria. And maybe that was all their purpose, and they had nothing else to do with us-with the Ring. Though Orcs will often pursue foes for many leagues into the plain, if they have a fallen captain to avenge.’
“Frodo did not answer. He looked at Sting, and the blade was dull. Yet he had heard something, or thought he had.”
Before that, Aragorn remembers to tend to Frodo. He shows good leadership by making an apology, while also mentioning the circumstances:
“For some time Frodo and Sam managed to keep up with the others; but Aragorn was leading them at a great pace, and after a while they lagged behind. They had eaten nothing since the early morning. Sam’s cut was burning like fire, and his head felt light. In spite of the shining sun the wind seemed chill after the warm darkness of Moria. He shivered. Frodo felt every step more painful and he gasped for breath.
“At last Legolas turned, and seeing them now far behind, he spoke to Aragorn. The others halted, and Aragorn ran back, calling to Boromir to come with him.
“’I am sorry, Frodo! ‘ he cried, full of concern. `So much has happened this day and we have such need of haste, that I have forgotten that you were hurt; and Sam too. You should have spoken. We have done nothing to ease you, as we ought, though all the orcs of Moria were after us.”
They also discover Frodo’s mithril coat.
I think all this gets omitted in the Jackson film. He can only show so much, but he also shows a lack of sympathy for the softer emotions. Probably shares the typical 1980s or Coolheart attitude in seeing it as needless. Not understanding that it is not just a moral duty, but also part of stable and long-lasting strength. Which in my view is why this Coolheart world is now coming apart in the face of challenges from both left and right – see Baby Boomers to Blame?
Within Middle-Earth, Aragorn evidently has to be reminded by Legolas, but then responds correctly. Has a fire made and water heated. And has a little of the athelas he had gathered at Weathertop, though it is dry and has lost some of its virtue. And when finished, they hide traces of the fire they made – a notable practical detail.
They are heading for Lothlórien, as Gandalf had intended. Most of the party know little of it:
“‘Here let us hope that the virtue of the Elves will keep us tonight from the peril that comes behind.’ [said Aragorn]
“`If Elves indeed still dwell here in the darkening world,’ said Gimli.
“’It is long since any of my own folk journeyed hither back to the land whence we wandered in ages long ago,’ said Legolas, ‘but we hear that Lórien is not yet deserted, for there is a secret power here that holds evil from the land. Nevertheless its folk are seldom seen, and maybe they dwell now deep in the woods and far from the northern border.’
“’Indeed deep in the wood they dwell,’ said Aragorn, and sighed as if some memory stirred in him.”
From Appendix A, the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, we learn that at age 49, he had taken refuge there, and unexpectedly had a second meeting with Arwen, whom he had first met in Rivendell.
Boromir, whose home is much closer, feels otherwise
“Boromir stood irresolute and did not follow. ‘Is there no other way? ‘ he said.
“`What other fairer way would 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. Believe what you will, there is no other way for us – unless you would go back to Moria-gate, or scale the pathless mountains, or swim the Great River all alone.’
“`Then lead on! ‘ said Boromir. `But it is perilous.’
“`Perilous indeed,’ said Aragorn, ‘fair and perilous; but only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them. Follow me! ‘”
But here, Boromir has a point. We’ll learn in the next chapter that Galadriel has been thinking like Saruman, desiring the power of the One Ring.
They push on, and Legolas then remembers Nimrodel, a lost elven queen. He recites a very beautiful poem.
From The History of Middle-Earth, Volume 7, we learn that Lothlorien appears suddenly as a future destination in the first draft of The Ring Goes South. Like many other characters, Nimrodel’s name changes several times before the final version. But significantly, she was there before Galadriel was imagined. I describe this in detail in the next chapter study.
They run into the local elves, who speak Legolas’s language, which Frodo does not understand. But one of them can also speak ‘Common Tongue’, having occasional dealings with humans.
“There was a sound of soft laughter over their heads, and then another clear voice spoke in an elven-tongue. Frodo could understand little of what was said, for the speech that the Silvan folk east of the mountains used among themselves was unlike that of the West…
“They stood up, and one of them uncovered a small lamp that gave out a slender silver beam. He held it up, looking at Frodo’s face, and Sam’s. Then he shut off the light again, and spoke words of welcome in his elven-tongue. Frodo spoke haltingly in return.
“`Welcome!’ the Elf then said again in the Common Language, speaking slowly. ‘We seldom use any tongue but our own; for we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and do not willingly have dealings with any other folk. Even our own kindred in the North are sundered from us. But there are some of us still who go abroad for the gathering of news and the watching of our enemies, and they speak the languages of other lands. I am one…
“`But we have heard rumours of your coming, for the messengers of Elrond passed by Lórien on their way home up the Dimrill Stair. We had not heard of hobbits, or halflings, for many a long year, and did not know that any yet dwelt in Middle-earth. You do not look evil! And since you come with an Elf of our kindred, we are willing to befriend you, as Elrond asked; though it is not our custom to lead strangers through our land.’”
Where did they see hobbits, if not in Middle-earth? It might be that lands to the far east do not count as part of it.
We also get a new insight on what happened in Moria:
“We have been keeping watch on the rivers, ever since we saw a great troop of Orcs going north toward Moria, along the skirts of the mountains, many days ago. Wolves are howling on the wood’s borders. If you have indeed come from Moria, the peril cannot be far behind.”
There are indeed orcs following them. But not only orcs: Gollum is also there and the elves see him.
“Immediately afterwards Haldir came climbing swiftly up through the branches. `There was something in this tree that I have never seen before,’ he said. `It was not an orc. It fled as soon as I touched the tree-stem. It seemed to be wary, and to have some skill in trees, or I might have thought that it was one of you hobbits.
“’I did not shoot, for I dared not arouse any cries: we cannot risk battle. A strong company of Orcs has passed. They crossed the Nimrodel – curse their foul feet in its clean water! – and went on down the old road beside the river. They seemed to pick up some scent, and they searched the ground for a while near the place where you halted. The three of us could not challenge a hundred, so we went ahead and spoke with feigned voices, leading them on into the wood.
“`Orophin has now gone in haste back to our dwellings to warn our people. None of the Orcs will ever return out of Lórien. And there will be many Elves hidden on the northern border before another night falls. But you must take the road south as soon as it is fully light.’”
There now comes the awkward matter of blindfolding Gimli, which naturally offends him. Aragorn solves it by having everyone blindfold. The chief elf agrees it is absurd, but cannot set aside the law:
“`Alas for the folly of these days! ‘ said Legolas. ‘Here all are enemies of the one Enemy, and yet I must walk blind, while the sun is merry in the woodland under leaves of gold! ‘
“`Folly it may seem,’ said Haldir. ‘Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlórien, unless maybe in Rivendell, that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land. We live now upon an island amid many perils, and our hands are more often upon the bowstring than upon the harp.
“`The rivers long defended us, but they are a sure guard no more for the Shadow has crept northward all about us. Some speak of departing, yet for that it already seems too late. The mountains to the west are growing evil; to the east the lands are waste, and full of Sauron’s creatures; and it is rumoured that we cannot now safely pass southward through Rohan, and the mouths of the Great River are watched by the Enemy. Even if we could come to the shores of the Sea, we should find no longer any shelter there. It is said that there are still havens of. the High Elves, but they are far north and west, beyond the land of the Halflings. But where that may be, though the Lord and Lady may know, I do not.’”
Contrast this with what Jackson made of it. I’ve never been hostile to the films, which had some excellent insights. But a lot more could be done, with more time to tell the tale and hopefully less need to please the ‘bums on seats’ who make or break a feature film. Perhaps even directed and scripted by someone with less of a Coolheart view.
Haldir also knows his people are in decline, and regrets it:
“`Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back and peace shall come again. Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever again be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime. For the Elves, I fear, it will prove at best a truce, in which they may pass to the Sea unhindered and leave the Middle-earth for ever. Alas for Lothlórien that I love! It would be a poor life in a land where no mallorn grew. But if there are mallorn-trees beyond the Great Sea, none have reported it.’”
Tolkien later decided that there were, which makes sense.
I also see an inconsistency about which elves can cross the sea. Is it just High Elves, or are Wood-Elves allowed? Or allowed if they have blood of the Teleri? After the defeat of Sauron, Galadriel will depart: but it seems her husband Celeborn cannot. From the Appendices, we learn that he expands his realm but then grows tired of ruling it alone, and moved to Rivendell to join the sons of Elrond.
We first hear of them in this chapter, along with news of Gollum:
“A marching host of Elves had come up silently: they were hastening toward the northern borders to guard against any attack from Moria; and they brought news, some of which Haldir reported. The marauding orcs had been waylaid and almost all destroyed; the remnant had fled westward towards the mountains, and were being pursued. A strange creature also had been seen, running with bent back and with hands near the ground, like a beast and yet not of beast-shape. It had eluded capture, and they had not shot it, not knowing whether it was good or ill, and it had vanished down the Silverlode southward.
“`Also,’ said Haldir, `they bring me a message from the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim. You are all to walk free, even the dwarf Gimli. It seems that the Lady knows who and what is each member of your Company. New messages have come from Rivendell perhaps.’
“He removed the bandage first from Gimli’s eyes. ‘Your pardon! ‘ he said, bowing low. `Look on us now with friendly eyes! Look and be glad, for you are the first dwarf to behold the trees of the Naith of Lórien since Durin’s Day!’”
It is not like Rivendell, as Sam remarks:
““[Frodo] turned and saw that Sam was now standing beside him, looking round with a puzzled expression, and rubbing his eyes as if he was not sure that he was awake. `It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,’ [Sam] said. `I thought that Elves were all for moon and stars: but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song. if you take my meaning.’
“Haldir looked at them, and he seemed indeed to take the meaning of both thought and word. He smiled. `You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim,’ he said.
Yet it is under threat:
““[Frodo] lifted his eyes across the river and all the light went out, and he was back again in the world he knew. Beyond the river the land appeared flat and empty, formless and vague, until far away it rose again like a wall, dark and drear. The sun that lay on Lothlórien had no power to enlighten the shadow of that distant height.
“`There lies the fastness of Southern Mirkwood,’ said Haldir. `It is clad in a forest of dark fir, where the trees strive one against another and their branches rot and wither. In the midst upon a stony height stands Dol Guldur, where long the hidden Enemy had his dwelling. We fear that now it is inhabited again, and with power sevenfold. A black cloud lies often over it of late. In this high place you may see the two powers that are opposed one to another; and ever they strive now in thought, but whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered. Not yet.’
But within the land, they are safe and can express themselves:
“At the hill’s foot Frodo found Aragorn, standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they once had been in this same place. For the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namárië! he said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.
“`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 in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man!”
Why he does not visit this nearby realm during his long reign as King of Arnor and Gondor is not explained.