When we think of the many burdens and eventual traumas that Frodo had to deal with by the end of the story, what do we remember? We know of the physical maiming of course, and Shelob’s sting. We also know of the psychological blow that the Ring inflicted on Frodo – the pain of being wrenched from it was unbearable. And though Frodo was robust, and his intent for goodness protected him somewhat, that pain never went away. Gandalf did say, in fact, right at the start as they sat in Frodo’s study in Bag End “I could not ‘make you’ [give up the Ring] – except by force, which would break your mind.” (Bk 1: ii: 59). That Frodo retained any sanity at all after Gollum’s fateful intervention – even with the help of healers – is remarkable.
But what we hear less of is the damaging, but less tangible, impact of feeling constantly watched. Sauron’s spies are scattered throughout Middle-earth. He has ways of knowing via traitors, palantirs, or the Nazgûl. And worst of all, his dark twisted lust for the Ring binds him to its whereabouts as it draws nearer to Mordor. One of the most chilling episodes of the book occur as Frodo pauses at the summit of Amon Hen. There we are told:
What a difficult year 2020 has been for everyone, the world over. I have heard of much grief and loss – and what is more, loss that cannot be mourned in the normal way. I learned many things this year (as I am sure has everyone) but for the first time I understood that being able to mourn properly and attend a funeral is in fact a blessing and something to be grateful for, even as one deals with death. Being able to share that difficult moment with loved ones and friends, through which the heart grows bigger even if it is in pain, is, I now understand, a great privilege.
This drawing is the companion to this one. It needs very little explanation, I hope, but it is of course Bilbo Baggins at the entrance of Smaug’s Lair in the Lonely Mountain. It is the exact opposite to the first scene in the Hobbit, when we are introduced to Bilbo in front of his green, round, door at Bag-End, in the gentle peace of The Shire. There, he had not a care in the world, smoking his pipe, and without even a hint of adventure about him. Here, he stands behind an altogether different doorway, one that leads to possible death. The smokes that surrounds him are not pleasant, but are stinking, foul, suffocating fumes. He is in the very cauldron of his adventure, the same adventure he so resisted at the start; and it has altered him forever. As we are told at this scene: Continue reading →
At last, a new blogpost, to (nearly) coincide with Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday! This is the second and last post on The Shadow of the Past…I’ve narrowed it down to a few themes, but there is so much more that could be said on this one chapter.Continue reading →
Welcome. It’s that time of year when research deadlines and marking pile up into a dark, ominous cumulonimbus above my head; so my usual blog topics will need to wait. But as I left home for work on Tuesday morning these verses came quite suddenly to me, a reminder or rather a warning of what not to do and how not to be: Continue reading →
Tolkien’s artwork, rather than his writing, was my first gateway to Middle-earth; so Jeffrey J. MacLeod’s and Anna Smol’s recent article “Visualizing the Word: Tolkien as Artist and Writer” (Tolkien Studies, volume 14) is of particular interest to me. The authors propose a reevaluation of Tolkien’s imaginative and writing process to recognise the integral role that Tolkien’s own practice and knowledge of visual art had on his stories. They make four core arguments:Continue reading →
C. S. Lewis’ defence of Tolkien’s work gives insight into the types of criticism it elicited. Chief among those criticisms were its supposed lack of realism, and lack of character development or moral complexity. Lewis robustly argues against both allegations, and with characteristic succinctness states “we know at once that it has done things to us.” Notably this review came only 2 days after Tolkien’s final instalment was published, in response to criticism that was clearly already in full flow since the earlier volumes. It demonstrates the extent to which even a great piece of work will encounter rejection and snobbery, but also demonstrates the value of even one strong ally who supports your work. Below is Lewis’ essay in full.