Right on schedule, I’ve finished Fellowship of the Ring for the Lord of the Rings Readalong, hosted this month by Clare. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the first part of the book here. Today, I’ll be focusing on Part 2.
The first part of Fellowship focused primarily on hobbits, but the second half of the book broadens the story considerably, giving us nine central characters, the titular fellowship. The fellowship is formed in Rivendell and comprises nine walkers—to match the nine riders who were pursuing Frodo in the first half of the book. There are the four hobbits that we already know, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin; the wizard Gandalf; two men, Aragorn and Boromir; one elf, Legolas; and one dwarf, Gimli. The group represents all the free peoples of Middle Earth, and their quest is to take the ring to the East—perhaps all the way to Mordor where it can be destroyed.
As with the first part of the book, I love how Tolkien eases the reader into the story. The company is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar characters, so it’s not at all overwhelming. And each member of the company has his own personality and motivation for coming. It does take a while to get to know the personalities of the three newcomers to the group, but it’s clear that each one has a history, even if most of that history is the history of his people. (This seems to be particularly the case with Legolas and Gimli, and one of the treats of the book is seeing the two overcome their antipathy for the other that results from their people’s history.)
This section includes some of the best suspense writing I’ve ever encountered. The chapters about the journey through Moria kept me up late on my first reading of the series, many years ago, and the impact is only slightly lessened with multiple readings since. The phrase “Drums. Drums in the deep” still sends shivers down my spine. On this read, I thought a lot about what makes it work so well. [Note: This discussion will get slightly spoilerly, but only slightly. I will be as vague as possible regarding the outcome of the journey.]
Moria is referenced several times before the company gets there. The longest discussion of the great dwarvish kingdom is in Gloin’s story of the disappearance of Balin and the other dwarves who attempted to reopen the mines. It’s a mystery and an interesting one because it involves characters from The Hobbit, but there’s nothing to make the reader suspect that the fellowship’s quest will involve this dread place.
The first real hint of its significance comes with the dispute between Gandalf and Aragorn about whether to journey through Moria. These two have always seemed to be of one mind, so the fact that they are openly arguing is startling. And Aragorn in particular seems set against it, not for the sake of the company but for Gandalf’s sake. So we know it will be a dangerous path. And then the company ends up not having a choice. They get there, they get in, and they’re locked in.
The scene that stands out to me the most is the reading of Balin’s journal. Hearing the desperate final written words of the dwarves is chilling, made even more so because there are so few details. What did happen there? And then the company hears the drums.
At the point, my anxiety as a reader is at a fever pitch. On my first read, I was young enough not to suspect just how serious the situation was—I knew it was dangerous, but the outcome hit me hard. For some reason, at age 14, I thought central characters of fantasy/adventure stories lived in a sort of protective bubble. I had no idea that a writer might go so far as to kill a central character. (Well, except in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but that was a special case.) After staying up until the wee hours to see the company through Moria on my first reading, I then ended up crying myself to sleep. Subsequent readings haven’t had quite that effect on me, because I know what’s coming, but I do still sometimes get a lump in my throat at the words, “Fly, you fools!”
Of course, after Moria, we have the lovely sojourn in Lothlórien, where on this read I was especially moved by Gimli’s encounter with Galadriel, the elf who rules Lothlórien with her husband Celeborn. (And incidentally, she seems to be the partner with the greater power, which is a wonderful thing to see in such a male-dominated story.)
I’ve always been moved by Gimli’s affection for Galadriel, but I’d never paid close attention to the passage where she wins his heart. It happens just after the elves have been complaining about the folly of going to Moria (Khazad-dûm in the dwarves’ language), and they’re obliquely blaming the dwarves, and Gimli as their representative, for what has happened there. And then Galadriel speaks:
Do not repent of your welcome to the Dwarf. If our folk had been exiled long and far from Lothlórien, who of the Galadrim, even Celeborn the Wise, would pass nigh and would not wish to look upon their ancient home, though it had become an abode of dragons.
‘Dark is the water of Kheled-Zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dûm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone.’ She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face, and then he smiled in answer.
One of the things that struck me here was the power of Galadriel’s not just speaking words of understanding, but speaking them in Gimli’s own language. It’s a remarkable moment and one that, I think, shows Tolkien’s ability to make goodness and grace more appealing and powerful than evil and resentment. Intimate moments like this are what make this epic story truly memorable.
In March, the readalong will focus on The Two Towers, and I’ll be hosting the discussions. Stop in again on Monday for an introductory post.