On Missing a Major Part of the Action

The Uruk-hai

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How much of the action do we miss in the details of our lives? (Source)

“So it was that they did not see the last stand, when Uglúk was overtaken and brought to bay at the very edge of Fangorn.” So writes Tolkien for Merry and Pippin, but not for us, for in telling us what they did not see, the author reveals to us that hidden scene. It is a mechanism common for Tolkien and throughout The Lord of the Rings: just consider that the volume possesses two entire appendices (A and B) that detail both in prose and in chronology all the events occurring around the Fellowship that do not appear in the main narrative’s unfolding. Legolas and Gimli will allude to such a feature later on when, desiring the strength of their peoples’ armies at a major battle, they will remember that their own races are under siege, and many great deeds are occurring elsewhere.

“If the others have escaped, they’ve probably all gone with Frodo,” reflects Pippin as he drops his Elven brooch to the ground. Yet it is not so, and in fact it is his story, not Frodo’s, on which we linger now. Pippin does not realize the importance he and Merry will play in the grand unfolding of events. Yet they do not linger and did not see the last fight between their kidnappers and unintentional rescuers. For their centrality to the tale, they missed a major part of the action, an event that muddles the mind of the Wise from Isengard to the Great River. When the songs are sung of the showdown on foot between Éomer and Uglúk, and of the glorious feats of the Third Marshall of the Mark, and of the victory that day, they will be foreign to the hobbits’ ears, even though they lived them.

For as detail-minded we may think we are, we often miss a major part of the action. It is hard to know what is relevant, what is important, and what will be remembered in the haste of the present. We flee or move or act based on immediate impulses – personal security, personal opinion, personal objectives – and miss the grand stories occurring around us. We wonder: how will history recall our times and our days? When the songs of our age are sung, how many of them will we have lived, and how many of them will we almost have known, having passed in and out briefly without realizing the incredible moments happening?

For, perhaps more than any other members of the Fellowship, we share so many close similarities with Merry and Pippin. We are the main character of our own stories, and yet we are not. We are important, essential, destined perhaps, for some moment, for some action, for some choice and chance of good, however big or small. Even so, we miss a major part of the action, and the narrative unfolds all around us, and we miss important details and the threads of the tale being woven. And when we read the histories later, or hear the story told years down the road, we marvel that we were there, and yet  weren’t really there: it was our story, but we missed so much of it.

Lent is a time for such reflection: to consider how much we have missed of our own stories, the details we didn’t think worth consideration that sparkle in annals of time. And also to reflect on the smallest of our story in the grand-ness of the great story of all, the story which now unfolds to a terrible mountain and an empty tomb, a story in which we miss a major part of the action, and yet remain an important part to its unfolding.


2016’s Reflection: “On Lies
2015’s Reflection: “On Orcs

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On Sleep

The Riders of Rohan

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All tuckered-out after a 135 mile run (Source)

The race of the Three Hunters is an exhilarating, yet exhausting, read. Éomer’s reaction matches as our own: “The deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall. Forty leagues and five you have measured ere the fourth day is ended!” 45 leagues in four days on foot: that’s about 135 miles by modern measurement. Given that a league by its original definition is how far a person could walk in an hour, and that four days have only 96 hours in total, that achievement’s significant is made all the clearer: not only have the Elf, Dwarf, and Man run far, but seemingly without rest!

We who have traveled with the Three Hunters, unlike Éomer, know that this claim is not exactly true: the company has rested, and even occasionally slept, along the way. But each moment of pause and sleep was debated and doubted: would such a recovering delay allow them to find the trail of the orcs in the daylight, or lose it to the passage of time? Would rest put the captives too far ahead of the rescuers? Would the three pursuers be able to accomplish any great feats if they overtook the orcs without rest? A hard choice, notes Aragorn. His ultimate decision takes into account many factors: the light of the moon, the flatness of the plain, the possibility of a hobbit’s escape or a division of the orcs. But nevertheless, and perhaps to Legolas’s dismay, they take the time to rest.

It is ironic, perhaps, that among the three, it is Gimli the Dwarf who has the most realistic perspective on sleep, needs it most similarly to how we need it. Legolas, as an Elf, can “sleep” while awake, resting his mind in the forest-like dreams of the Elves. Aragorn, as a man of kingly stock, has the capacity to delay sleep for long periods when needed, though, as he revealed in Lorien, that sleep comes quickly in places of security. It is Gimli who speaks what our hearts would speak: “Even I […] cannot run all the way to Isengard with any pause. I must rest a little to run the better.”

We who dwell in modern times can oft feel like the Three Hunters: pressed to the race, burdened to run on, exhausted by a sense of busy-ness and pursuit from which we cannot stop. Most of us do not chase after something nearly as important or endangered as the young hobbits held by the orcs, yet even those of us who do run for such a noble end must rest. In sleep we find renewed strength. After sleep we may better see the path, or discover allies who will help us on our quest. Sleep restores our mind and prepares us for the journey ahead, even when the sleep is uneasy or short.

Yet, we may feel like Legolas, looking across the horizon after a period of rest: “They are far far away. I know in my heart that they have not rested this night.” Evil does not sleep, and foul deeds may happen as we rest. But we must not fall into that temptation. For there is wisdom and holiness in rest when patiently considered and allotted. For the Sabbath was made holy by the rest of the Creator, and Christ Himself found time for rest in the midst of His many labors.


2016’s Reflection: “On Ransoming the Captives
2015’s Reflection: “On Being Too Short to Have One’s Head Cut Off

On the Evils of a Single Day

The Departure of Boromir

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With patient thought, much may be discovered to help decide (Source)

At this point, it would be apt for Aragorn to recall the old saying, “When it rains, it pours.” This single day (February the 26th, if you want to know) is one full of ills for the Ranger from the North: the dispersal of the Fellowships, the death of Boromir, the capturing of Merry and Pippin, the disappearance of Frodo and Sam. All seems to be going against Aragorn, and he wrestles with himself, weighed down by a guilt that he has led the company astray and an uncertainty of what he should do next.

I suspect that it is unlikely that either you or I have ever (or will ever) be attacked by orcs near the falls of Rauros, but how too frequently do we have such miserable days! The days where nothing seems to go our way, where all our anxieties and fears seem really at last, where we doubt ourselves and the steps ahead of us. We are surprised by the soldiers of the Enemy in our own lives – both internally and externally – and everything is scattered. We might seek to take a step back and gaze outward to see what we can see, but we are brought back quickly to reality by the urgent horn-calls of the moment. We might stand by worthy friends looking for comfort, only to find that they look to us for a decision. In those overwhelming hours, what are we to do?

First, we do what we must before we decide on any course of action. “Then let us do first what we must do,” wisely notes Legolas: before the hard choice of following after Frodo or rescuing the other hobbits, the Three Hunters must see to the proper care of Boromir. It is hard for us of the modern era to understand this imperative, I think, unless we are among the rare few that have had to fight in war, but the duty to bury the dead is at the core of ancient societies and among warriors. It is important that one who fought bravely be honored in death, and that their bones not be allowed to be dishonored or desecrated by the foul things of the world. Nevertheless, the last of the Fellowship realize that they cannot linger, and so choose to fulfill their commitment to their fallen comrade in a way with both nobility and speed. All the same, before anything else, what must be done is done.

Second, Aragorn is not hasty in responding to the plight of the day. He is meticulous in examining evidence, looking for clues into what happened, and determining with logic the likeliest course of events. With this patience and thoroughness he can conclude without reasonable doubt which hobbits escaped and which were captured, and while that may not make the decision easier, it makes reflection to his decision more accurate. The other riddles hinted at by the details they uncover – the possibility of Saruman’s forces being present, the new type of soldier among them – will prove valuable information for Aragorn and his friends down the road in Rohan, information that they may have lacked otherwise.

Finally, Aragorn is committed to his decision. “Maybe there is no right choice,” says Gimli. After doing what he must and gathered all the evidence he could, Aragorn thinks, pauses, and decides. In that decisions is some pangs of regrets – that he can no longer guide Frodo, that he would have gone with him to the end – but in the clearness of his heart Aragorn finds decisiveness, and in that a commitment to the new goal. Though all is in chaos among him, and his deeds that day darkened, nevertheless, Aragorn sets out his new course and pursues it without regret. And in his manner – of necessity, of patience, and of commitment – we may learn some kernels of wisdom for our stormy days.


2016’s Reflection: “On Our Tempest of Desire
2015’s Reflection: “On the Good and Tragic Death of Boromir, Captain of Gondor

On Temptation and Good Sense

The Breaking of the Fellowship

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The weighing of such things (Source)

In these pages we have stark contrast between Boromir the man and Samwise the hobbit. Their differences seem obvious: strong vs timid, proud vs humble, traveler vs local, independent vs follower. Yet on the slopes of the great river we see other aspects arise: the moral collapse of Boromir vs the sturdy loyalty of Sam. We observe Boromir’s fall into temptation, and Sam’s rise into good sense.

We have noted slow hints of the unfolding of Boromir’s mind, all the way back at the Council of Elrond. His pride has ever been on display, but so has his valor, and his sense of duty and commitment to protecting the Fellowship. He is a leader of men who is neither the first nor second commander of this Fellowship, and it clearly stings him to see his advice and perspective so often disregarded. Yet, it was not until he entered the secret woods and met the Lady Galadriel that a sudden change seemed to take place in him: the muttering, the nail-biting, the unshakeable concern. Was this the natural conclusion of the Fellowship’s continued approach to Minas Tirith? Or did the examination of the Elven queen break something inside of Boromir? Or, to think of it another way: was the fall of Boromir inevitable?

In his temptation, we glean interesting insights from observation and word. The justifications he uses; the arguments he makes; the see-sawing between friendly support and bitter resentment: these things are both like and unlike Boromir. They are aspects of his personality, deep-rooted. Yet they are also not in his nature, and in his image of himself as a man of Gondor, one who does not lie, or harm those in need of protection, or abandon his task.

Compare, then, the man with the hobbit. Sam may be young and out of his league, but what he does know he knows well. He knows his master better than Frodo knows himself: he understands what Frodo cannot put into words, and can therefore predict both before and during the breaking of the Fellowship what will unfold. And though Sam is both timid and weak, he nevertheless is both stout and brave, especially when it comes to the things he cares most about: the Shire, his Gaffer, Frodo. He dives after the boat (a vessel for which he has no liking) into water in which he cannot swim: he cannot know for sure that Frodo will save him. Yet, that’s where his good sense gets him: on a seemingly one-way journey to Mt. Doom.

What is there for us in these ends of both Boromir and Sam? Much, as there normally is, and things that cannot be addressed in full here: the choosing of the straight road over the easy one, the tragic dissent of a man weighed with much, the need for proper swim classes in the Shire. Yet, perhaps, we may note two things. First, Boromir shows us that what we consider our strengths may often times also be our greatest temptations. Second, Sam shows us that in moments of weakness and crises, pausing to let good sense guide us may help us obtain our goal. And as the Fellowship breaks, and the Fellowships of the Ring ends, these are simple yet valuable lessons to learn.


2016’s Reflection: “On News from the Seat of Seeing
2015’s Reflection: “On Sundering

On the Likenesses of the Kings of Old

The Great River

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Behold, the likenesses of the kings of old (Source)

There are some places that bring out a different side of a particular person experiencing them. An alumnus returning his alma mater and revisiting his old stomping grounds. A woman coming upon her hometown after a long period away. A dreamer who visits an exotic land often imagined but never seen with naked eye. The change in the person can take varying from: some combination of awe, excitement, nostalgia, and overwhelmedness. Yet, at the core, it is frequently a sense of fulfillment, of authentic living, of a part of oneself long hidden or unknown that the places bring back out into the sunlight. That aspect was always present in the person, but it took the location to surface it for observation by both self and others.

The Argonath is that location for Aragorn. As Frodo notes, under the shadows of these intimidating pillars Aragorn’s voice becomes strange, and though it is the same Ranger from the North sitting in the boat with him, in this place his form has changed: erect, proud, skillful, with a light in his eyes, kingly. It is implied that he has never seen this place before (he is unfamiliar with the river at this point, and he mentions his long-desire to see the Pillars of the Kings), but this is a location that has lingered in his dream nevertheless. It is a location that holds both his heritage and his future. It is a place of both inspiration and challenge. It is a feature of both passion and reflection. Though Aragorn has never seen the Argonath, it is nevertheless a place he is all too familiar with, and it has meaning because of that; Frodo, perhaps, has and will have a similar relationship with the Sea that he has never seen.

We who have been nourished by the stories of the Bible can also recall such places of unveiling: the locations of the Burning Bush, for example, or of the Transfiguration, or of the Last Supper. At each of these places occurred a moment of historic revelation, of a clear unveiling of some true thing. Yet in the likenesses of these places is their still power, for though most of us will never know these locations with our waking eyes, yet they still hold sway over our thoughts. They are like our Argonath, and we hold such a desire to look upon the likenesses of our ancestors and the kings of old. What Jew has not wondered at the overpowering sensation of taking off one’s sales before the living fire of God? What Christian has not meditating on how he or she would have responded had Moses and Elijah appeared alongside the Transfigured Christ? What Catholic, not to exclude any others, has not dared to dream to stand in the shadows of that first Eucharist, and in the awe and wonder of that location found nothing to dread?

Place has purpose and meaning. Even when the events that transpired there have long since passed, the rocks and stones remember. It is why pilgrimages are popular, and why holy sites hold such sway over us. It is why a woman loves her hometown, a man his alma mater. It is why even having never seen a place before they can appear so real in our dreams and desires. And in such locations we can be transformed, and in gazing upon the likenesses of the kings of old, we too can feel like exiles return at last to our own lands.


2016’s Reflection: “On Drudgery and Dreariness
2015’s Reflection: “On the Passing of Time

On Time and Timeless Longings

Farewell to Lórien

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“There long the golden leaves have grown upon the branching years” (Source)

There is something strange about time in the woods of Lórien. We know that time doesn’t seem to pass while in the Elven realm, a trait it shares in part with Rivendell and may be a feature of Galadriel’s ring of power. It is is winter in the outside world when the Fellowship makes its way into Lothlórien, and so when Legolas and Haldir note with disappointment that they shall not see the golden mallorn in their fullness, we do not think twice about it. But then Galadriel says that  the spring and summer have fully passed, not only for Lórien, but for the Elves as a whole. What is Tolkien trying to say about time?

Some of the allusions made in Lothlórien appear hidden in the two songs Galadriel sings, though they require a bit of knowledge about the history of the Elves that Tolkien notes elsewhere. Long ago, after the Elves first awoke in Middle-earth, they were led by the great angelic forces of the world west across the Sea to Valinor, an Eden-like paradise. There the first mallorn trees grew, in imitation of the Trees of Light, which were among the most beautiful objects ever brought into being. But after the Trees were destroyed and the Silmarils, jewels that held within the last light of those Trees, were stolen, many Elves left Valinor on a journey of revenge, and Galadriel was among them. But in their angry haste that set themselves apart from their kin and from their home, and the way back to Valinor was closed off, seemingly forever.

So now, beyond the Sundering Seas the Elves now rest, and watch as the beautiful things they create pass and fade, even though they in their immortality linger. While the Elf-realms were once great and fair, the Elves cannot hold back time forever, and so the leaves fall, winter comes at last, and even should the Fellowship succeed, nothing will stop the world from changing. And though the Elves long to return to Valinor and to the Elven-homes, there is a problem: even when the rare ship can set sail across the Sea, there is a chance that they will not be welcomed back. This is especially true for the most willful leaders of the original company that left, which includes Galadriel. Will a ship be able to take her back? Will the powers that she once scorned accept her once again?

Galadriel, then, and all the Elves, are trapped between time and timeless longings. They love the beauty of the world, the good things that have been able to create in Middle-earth, but immortality weighs on them, and they long for their once home. That is why the Sea has such an appeal to Haldir, even though he has never seen it. It is why Celeborn must drink the cup of passing, though he may never see his realm as fair again. And it is why Galadriel’s songs are full of beauty and of sorrow, of memory of beautiful lands long-lost and of the hopeful promise that one day she might find Valinor again.

What do Elven songs and concerns have to do with us? We may not be Elves, and our history might diverge from theirs, but we too are caught between time and timeless longings. We at times can wonder in our own creation, but we often see it fade in front of us, or recognize its passing that shall occur when we are gone. We too long for long lands, and wonder whether we will be welcomed back: is there something beyond the Sea of our life, and will we find a home there? And perhaps, in these challenging times, we feel that Winter has come at least, and Spring and Summer will only be a memory from now on. In those moments of profound sadness, when we reflect on time and timeless longings, we can take up Galadriel’s song as our own:

“I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew…”


2016’s Reflection: “On Feeding the Hungry
2015’s Reflection: “On the Gift of Three Golden Hairs

On Remaining Who We Truly Are

The Mirror of Galadriel

By Molly Egilsrud

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What shall we become otherwise become? (Source)

Why didn’t Galadriel take the Ring? It was offered to her willingly. Isn’t she more fit to wield it than a wandering hobbit? Unlike Gandalf and Elrond she would not be a Dark Lord, but rather a Queen. She has clearly pondered and looked long into her own mirror, imagining what she would be like with the One Ring, wishing to be a queen so beautiful that “all shall love [her] and despair.”

But when offered, when finally actually tempted, she refuses. “I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” She understands that the glimpse we see of the evil Queen is not her real self. If she took the ring, she would lose not only her autonomy, but her identity. Sure she would start by helping the good people of the world like Sam and the Old Gaffer, but before long she would answer only to the darkness and so be transformed into someone even she wouldn’t recognize.

This not say that it is easy or without sacrifice. Tolkien tells us that Galadriel says those words sadly. She understands that in order to remain herself, the beautiful things she has created must fade and she too must eventually go West. Moreover, she must give up the vision of everyone worshipping her beauty and of being stronger than the foundations of the Earth. But in this sacrifice, she will actually do more to protect the good and free people of Middle Earth. Of course, Frodo may have failed in his journey to Mount Doom, but he would certainly fail if she accepted the Ring.

In this way, Galadriel is not the “biggest tease this side of the Misty Mountains” as previously alleged by this blog, but may have a little bit of wisdom for us Lenten wanders as well, no mirror required. It is so easy for us to think the sins we feel trapped in or the vices we secretly aspire to are our true selves. But really, only when we cast these aside do we find ourselves. Then hopefully we have the joy of discovering that we are better, more selfless, gentler people than we had ever dared hope. But in order to do this, we must make peace with the reality that some of our grand dreams will not come to fruition and that we cannot desperately try to keep everything good and beautiful in our lives the same. Our own Lothlóriens will also fade, but to remain ourselves, we must die to ourselves. Only then can we keep evil people from digging up Bagshot Row.


2016’s Reflection: “On Love
2015’s Reflection: “On What Even the Wisest Cannot Tell