The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
The Morgul Vale does not sound like a particularly great place to visit. If the hobbits’ descriptions are anything to go by, the endless gloom, rotting flora, unclean water, unnatural light, and unshakable atmosphere of dread would be enough to keep all but the morbidly curious away. Throw in the unceasing watching and evil presence in the now-corrupted Tower of the Moon, and you are asking for trouble in visiting here.
What is interesting about the Morgul Vale is that perhaps more than anywhere else in Middle-earth, this is a place wretched and foul. Moria was dark; the Dead Marshes were unpleasant; the plains before the Black Gates devastated and pitiful. But even the bare and dusty stretches of Mordor that lead to Mt Doom itself are not as utterly evil as this place. In Minas Morgul darkness has seeped into the soil; while the Dark Lord’s transformation of Mordor has been intensive and sudden, here the corruption has been allowed to grow and fester for many ages of men. Perhaps only the Barrow-downs, so long left behind outside the confines of the Shire, imitate such a deep-rooted gloom, and even there not so intensely or entirely as in the dwelling place of the Nazgul.
We are in the heart of a land of evil here, and the land seeks to betray us, providing little cover for our hiding, and drawing us even closer to the presence of the Enemy. The Witch-king has such power here as to even feel the presence of some unknown entity in his lands and seek it out with his mind. Only the pure light and water of the opposing land – Lorien, the forest without stain – can resist the Nazgul and protect Frodo from falling under their spell: the basic entities of a whole land negate the foundations of a place so wretched and foul. We cannot linger long here, for every step is a burden, and every passing moment a tortuous lifetime.
Yet, the land betrays itself: this place wretched and foul hides the secret passage over the mountains into Mordor. Such a stair and tunnel are not without stain or darkness: yet in evil’s pride the unassuming road is left open. The darkness of the Morgul Vale protects the hobbits from searching eyes, and keeps them away from the roads of war over which the armies of Mordor now will travel. Into the valley of the shadow of death we travel with the hobbits, and we are kept safe by the folly of evil and the powers of good beyond our understanding.
It is not pleasant to dwell on places wretched and foul; may we be fortunate to not often need to travel through such corruption and darkness. Yet sometimes we must enter into lands unwholesome and unwelcoming to us, and in this we put ourselves in danger. In those dark times, through those dark lands, we must keep our senses to us, and remember those artifacts and instruments of the light pure and unconquered. For such a memory of things un-defiled will keep our minds and hearts on the goal ahead, and help us to pass through the Morgul Vale unhindered.