. Alas, not me: August 2019

31 August 2019

A Wizard or a Warrior -- But Why not Both?

'I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he's a jester. He'll end up by becoming a wizard – or a warrior!' 
'I hope not,' said Sam. 'I don't want to be neither!'
FR 1.xii.208
But maybe both?
[Sam] felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
RK 6.i.901

Two passages nearly seven hundred pages apart tell us about the working of the Ring on the mind. Do the 'wild fantasies' now arising in Sam's mind reveal the role he imagined for himself as a boy when he was listening to Mr Bilbo telling, say, the tale of Gil-Galad, just as Boromir's fantasies about becoming king of Gondor reflect his childhood desire for the Stewards to ascend the throne (FR 2.x398; TT 4.v.670)? The pull of the Ring's power allows us to imagine the fulfillment of desires we already had somewhere within us, even if we had set them aside as childish things. 

18 August 2019

'When winter first begins to bite -- Echoes and Re-echoes of Chaucer at FR 2.iii.273

In The Road to Middle-earth Tom Shippey argues (184-85) that the poem Bilbo recites to Frodo in The Ring Goes South 'in rhythm and theme ... echoes the magnificent coda to Love's Labour's Lost' :

When winter first begins to bite
and stones crack in the frosty night,
when pools are black and trees are bare,
'tis evil in the Wild to fare;
(FR 2.iii.273) 

When icicles hang by the wall
 And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,

(LLL 5.2) 
As far as rhythm and theme go there can be little argument, but I would suggest that we can say more here. For the words of Bilbo's poem echo the opening lines of þe Clerkes Compleinte, Tolkien's little known parody of the opening lines of Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Tolkien's Middle English original is followed by my rendering into Modern English:

þe Clerkes Compleinte 
Whanne þat Octobre mid his schoures derke
Þe erþe haþ dreint, and wetė windes cherke
& swoghe in naked braunches colde and bare,
& þ’oldė sonne is hennes longe yfare; 
The Clerk's Complaint 
When October with his showers dark
The earth has drowned, and wet winds creak
And sigh in naked branches cold and bare,
And the old sun has from here far fared;
The dark waters, the cracking stone and the creaking, naked branches, the cold of winter, the rhyme of bare and yfare tell the tale plainly: in composing Bilbo's verse Tolkien echoes his own echoes of Chaucer.* 

þe Clerkes Compleinte is most easily found in J. Fitzgerald's A "Clerkes Compleinte": Tolkien and the Division of Lit. and Lang. Tolkien Studies 6 (2009) 41-57.

I have not yet completed my research on this connection yet, so I am unsure whether someone else has already noted it. Even so, I believe it is interesting enough to mention.

17 August 2019

First Steps into Ithilien (TT 4.iv.648-52)

Another excerpt from To Rule the Fate of Many: Truth, Lies, Pity, and the Ring of Power, a much longer work I am writing at present.

If much of what we have seen in the first three chapters of Book Four traces a descent for Frodo, the next three chapters will show his path turn upward again. For the pity he showed Gollum is Frodo at his best, and confirms the good opinion Gandalf and Bilbo have of him. Soon, though, and in the name of his quest he uses the Ring to dominate a Gollum whom he would not kill and could not set loose. With use, the burden of the Ring increases until in doubt and despair he terrorizes Gollum with the threat of what he, as master of the Precious, would compel him to do ‘in the last need’. This is Frodo at his worst. His vaunting of his power over Gollum here is little different than Boromir’s boast as he tried to seize the Ring: ‘For I am too strong for you, halfling’. That neither Boromir nor Frodo can make good on his threat reveals once more the deception that lies at the heart of any experience of the Ring.
The green memory of the Shire, stirred by Sam’s recitation of Oliphaunt in the choking wasteland before the Black Gate, marks a turning point. It allows Frodo to reclaim some of his humanity, and with it some small hope. For his wish that the ‘third time may turn the best’ desires more than the transactional trust that has subsisted between him and Gollum thus far, an outcome possible only if they also ‘find Sméagol’ and Gollum reclaims his humanity.
Parallel to Frodo’s ascent in these chapters is his departure from ‘the desolation that lay before Mordor’ and entry into ‘Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate’ which ‘kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness’ (TT 4.iv.650). No one who has read The Lord of the Rings with the least attention needs to be reminded of this shift, so aptly described in the two phrases just quoted: from a ‘desolation’, where ‘nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness’ (TT 4.ii.631) to a ‘garden … now desolate’, that is to say, a garden where no one lived.[1] Tolkien’s remarkable selection of the word ‘dryad’ here evokes the immanent loveliness of the land by conjuring the reader’s understanding of the minor deities who lived in the woodlands of Greek Mythology. When we recall that the Old English for ‘dryad’ was ‘ælfen’[2] and that the narrative has been hinting at fairy tales for some time, we can see that the relief and recovery Frodo first experienced upon hearing Sam recite the ‘old fireside rhyme’, Oliphaunt, will continue in Ithilien.[3] But there are no Elves in Ithilien. To Frodo and Sam its woodlands smell of ‘the uplands of the Northfarthing far away’, that is, they smell of home, unlike the woods through which Bilbo passed on his approach to Rivendell eighty year earlier (H 90-91). For the first time in quite a while the hearts of the hobbits are lightened.
Sam and Frodo also feel themselves ‘reprieved’ by being there (TT 4.iv.648-49). Again we encounter a remarkable choice of words. Tolkien uses ‘reprieve’ only here, at the beginning of a section which ends with another, more formal, reprieve, as Faramir and Frodo revisit the question of Gollum’s deserts; and in fact Faramir spares Frodo and Sam the full weight of the law of the land (TT 4.vi.689-93). For even to walk in Ithilien is a capital crime for those not in the service of Gondor. Given Frodo’s words to Gildor about walking ‘in our own Shire’  (FR 1.iii.83), it is likely a measure of the horrors from which they have just emerged that two hobbits of the benignly anarchic Shire do not see this situation as the world-turned-upside-down.
Yet it is just such a world, in which Sam prepares a bit of home-cooking for Frodo as he sleeps just uphill from ‘a pile of charred and broken bones and skulls’, a ‘place of dreadful feast and slaughter’ (TT 4.iv.651). Here, too, Sam and Gollum banter like old comrades about coneys and taters despite their dislike of each other. Both look upon the sleeping Frodo, Sam seeing the same light welling from within him more clearly than he had seen it – we now learn – back in Rivendell (TT 4.iv.652) and which then gave Gandalf the hope that Frodo would become ‘like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can’ (FR 2.i.223). What Gollum sees as he looks at Frodo over Sam’s shoulder we never learn – much as we never learn what Bilbo saw in Frodo’s face in Rivendell which led him to say ‘I understand now…. I am sorry’ (FR 2.i.232) – but if he sees the same light Sam does, he has also ‘shut his eyes and crawled away without a sound’ (TT 4.iv.652). Strikingly juxtaposed with Sam’s expression of love and the light of Frodo, it is a poignant reminder both of the isolation imposed by the Ring and the longing for ‘the sun on daisies’ that may lie long hidden even in the darkest heart.

[1] See OED ‘desolate’, adj. and noun, 5 and 6a,which ‘are often combined in actual use’.
[2] For discussion of ‘ælfen’, its use to translate Latin ‘dryas’, and its close kin ‘ælf’, see Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England (2007). Page numbers to follow once I get home to my bookcase. 
[3] Besides Gollum’s ‘once upon a time’ (TT 4.iii.638), he speaks of ‘wonderful tales’ which ‘we used to tell in the evening, sitting by the banks of the Great River, in the willow-lands, when the River was younger too’ (TT 4.iii.641). These Sam answers with memories of tales the hobbits in the Shire knew, in particular the Oliphaunt (TT 4.iii.646-47). This leads Frodo to imagine a fairy-tale ending: Gandalf, whom he thinks dead, breaks down the Black Gate at the head of a thousand oliphaunts, which he believes mythical (TT 4.iii.647).

06 August 2019

Frodo, Boromir, and the Ring: Two Parallels in Characterization

Although we don't often think of Frodo and Boromir as alike, in critical situations with the Ring both react in similar ways.


These half-elves and wizards, they would come to grief perhaps. Yet often I doubt if they are wise and not merely timid.  
(FR 2.x.398, emphasis added)
But into Mordor ... had [Gandalf] ever journeyed there? And here he was a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go. 
(TT 4.iii.644, emphasis added)



'Why not get rid of it? Why not be free of your doubt and fear? You can lay the blame on me, if you will. You can say that I was too strong and took it by force. For I am too strong for you, halfling,' he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo.  
(FR 2.x.399, emphasis added)


'You revealed yourself to me just now, foolishly. Give it back to Sméagol you said. Do not say that again! Do not let that thought grow in you! You will never get it back. But the desire of it may betray you to a bitter end. You will never get it back. In the last need, Sméagol, I should put on the Precious; and the Precious mastered you long ago. If I, wearing it, were to command you, you would obey, even if it were to leap from a precipice or to cast yourself into the fire. And such would be my command. So have a care, Sméagol!'
(TT 4.iii.640, first emphasis original)
In the first set of passages both question the wisdom and courage of Gandalf, among others. In the second set both have violent responses to the question of possessing the Ring. Both are mistaken in their threats and opinions; and both are deceived by the pull of the Ring on their desires.