Having departed the peace and serenity of Elrond and Rivendell, we now make our way through the various realms that lie between Imladris and Gondor. At last, the Fellowship makes its way to the fabled Dwarven kingdom of Moria.
What stands out most to me about these chapters is the sense of ever-present danger that has little or nothing to do with any of the obvious adversaries. The entity that that forces them from off the peak of Caradhras is not Sauron or Saruman (despite what you might think from watching Peter Jackson), but some unnamed elemental spirit of the mountain itself. Like the powers that dwell in the deeps of the Old Forest, most notably Old Man Willow, Caradhras does not ally himself with the political entities of Middle-earth, and seems to have a general (rather than a focused) hatred of those that go on two legs. Here, Tolkien suggests that nature is largely uncaring about the lives and goals of those that go abroad in the world, which itself raises an interesting question about scope. Is the Ring, when all is said and done, such a big thing in the vast scope of natural history?
Likewise the Watcher in the Water, which seems to be a malevolent creature not necessarily related to Sauron, though perhaps drawn out due to his growing influence over Middle-earth. The creature does seem to be drawn to Frodo, but that may have more to do with the generally malevolent power of the Ring than a specified attack on the hobbit, as such. What makes the Water such a compelling, and frightening, figure is that no one, even Gandalf,
This is, after all, a part of the world far from tamed. The great wars that have swept across this landscape have ensured that the realm of Hollin is depopulated of its former Elven population and the Balrog and the Orcs have ensured that Moria is now empty of the Dwarves who have twice attempted to maintain a kingdom there. As in so much of The Lord of the Rings, one gets a sense of vast antiquity, of a realm that has known a period of grandeur and splendour but has now fallen into ruin and desolation (the latter being one of Tolkien’s favourite words). Even the stones, Legolas notes, have begun to forget the presence of the Elves, indicating the great span of years between the height of Eregion’s/Hollin’s glory and the moment the Fellowship inhabits.
As with so much of Tolkien’s legendarium, the land itself seems to protect the memory of the world. Kingdoms and realms may come and go, but rocks and stones and earth maintain their memory, for a time at least. Eregion, like Eriador, is a realm that contains within it echoes, faint now and distant, of the splendours of the past.
There is also a moment of genuine tenderness, when Sam is forced to release Bill rather than attempt to force him through the Mines. This is one of those moments at which Tolkien is so adept, showing us not only the grand scope of the action (the Quest), but also the smaller moments of personal drama, wherein the members of the Company must make wrenching decisions about the seemingly most mundane incidents. While this is one of those moments that are easy to gloss over in the heightened excitement of the attack of the Watcher and the wolves, it is nevertheless significant in that it shows the small, personal sacrifices made along the way of a greater Quest.
Next up, we continue our journey into Moria itself, where we will encounter the tomb of one of the most beloved figures of The Hobbit, and where the mighty Gandalf will find himself challenged by the creature of darkness that dwells in Moria’s ruined halls.