There’s something about Tolkien’s Middle-earth that stokes my imagination! It’s so easy to step into the Third Age where the hassles and aggravations of the real world just slip away. I even get drawn into the extra appendices at the end! (Personally I think they’re one of the best parts of the books! Why is that? Comments anyone….)
Since 2013, when I visited Hobbiton in New Zealand (and that’s another blogpost!), LotR has taken a more profound meaning for me. Scenes, images and sub-plots from the book seem to sidestep my logical, pre-frontal cortex and mix in with my memories and emotions.
I’ve blogged before using Tolkien’s world as an illustration. In that instance the ‘quote’ and the story it underpinned, helped me describe to my friends, family and colleagues why I was walking out of a secure, well-paid and prestigious job after nearly 20 years. But this ‘Mediation on Moria’ different: to me, the Middle-earth stories have now become allegorical or metaphorical.
Tolkien himself is quoted as saying he “cordially dislike(d) allegory in all its manifestations”, so the way the stories impact me is nowhere near what the author intended. Could it be that because I read the books as a teenager and my thinking has been shaped by them because I absorbed the world of Middle-earth at that crucial stage of mental and emotional development ? Maybe, but perhaps there’s another explanation: I (and others) suspect Tolkien disliked allegory, but loved allegorically-inspired tales.
I think Tolkien was inspired by old stories and legends, which were crafted and honed to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. Stories that were written down are printed forever – fixed and static. But, stories that were told were temporary – adaptable, flexible and even forgettable. The storytellers would adapt the plots and scenes to give the ‘best’ narrative, letting those tales that didn’t engage the audience die by the fireside. There’s almost an ‘evolutionary selection’ of the good yarns! A good story is one which the audience can relate to, it has metaphors that they understand: it has meaning to them. Fairy tales have this. So do Aesop’s fables.
My latest reflection was after watching the Moria scene (Journey into the Darkness) on DVD (extended edition of course!). I closed the laptop, stopped, and just sat there allowing thoughts to surface, noting them down and trying to work out why and what it meant. The same sort of process Lal writes about here.
So, let me take you on my allegorical journey through the Mines of Moria…
The Fellowship of the Ring is made up of nine different characters, (from five different species!) and personalities. That’s me! That’s us all. (What? I hear you cry!) Take a look at the concept behind the movie Inside Out (or perhaps something a bit more serious like the IFS system): we’re all a single person with many parts (or you could say many personalities). For me, understanding that I am made up of different characters means I not stuck as Gandalf, or Boromir, in these scenes: I can jump between each of the nine walkers to extract the full metaphorical experience.
The West-gate and the Watcher in the Water
In the plot the Fellowship are forced to pass though the Misty Mountains via the dwarf-made tunnels of Moria. Only Gimli wants to walk that route where he believes his uncle is still King there. Gandalf, who for me represents wisdom and knowledge, believes that Moria is a dangerous road. In the past I’ve ignored clear-headed, wise council and taken ‘dangerous paths’ because false hopes made me believe I’d be ‘royally welcomed’.
At the start of the scene the Fellowship are looking for a secret door; one that can only be found under starlight or moonlight. Before I take the first step of a Journey Into the Darkness I have to actively search and find the Door. Play Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 backwards: the door will be opened if you knock, and you will find it when you seek.
At the West Gate of Moria the door opens only with a password. Wisdom doesn’t help solve the riddle of the door, because the answer is is very simple: “Mellon”. To enter this part of the inward journey there needs to be an openness and an acceptance of the difficult times ahead; an acknowledgement, acceptance – even friendship – with the coming trials. Entering into the Darkness as a friend parallels the experiences of the mystics like St John of the Cross and his ‘dark night‘.
But the entrance is a place of uncertainty: after crossing the threshold there’s a strong desire to retreat, that’s why the destruction of the West Gate, by the Watcher in the Water, those things that have chased me here in the first place, force my hand and – in the end – I can only move forward.
The rear images of my cloth-eared DVD box!
The cross road and Balin’s Tomb
There are no timetables for the Journey Into the Darkness: when the way is uncertain we just need to come to a full stop and just wait, pausing until the path ahead becomes clear after some clue arises.
At Balin’s Tomb the hopes and ambitions of welcome, reward, comfort are shattered: the journey stays dark, and there is no relief until the end comes. The burial chamber is a place of grief and hopelessness, of sad stories of desolation, attack and destruction. In the battle Frodo is stabbed, and protected by an undershirt of mithril: the value of which was ‘greater than the Shire’. Those that protect us from mortal danger in the world are far more valuable to us than our materialistic, earthly possessions.
The Balrog and the Bridge of Khazad-dum.
The Balrog contains those elements which cannot be defeated (or at least not yet), but watched for, guarded against, and ordered ‘back to the shadow’. In that battle on the Bridge of Khazad-dum, the Fellowship loses it’s wise guide. The key member of the group falls away: but through the grief, sorrow and sadness the journey needs to go on. There comes a time when our intellectual knowledge can no longer lead us in the journey we must take, but it’s such a powerful player in our lives that it cannot be ignored – it needs to fall into the unknown where we cannot hear it’s voice. The guidance and the wisdom in the character of Gandalf comes back later in the story, greater and more powerful after defeating the Balrog, but that is still an unknown future .
As the years go by, certain scenes in LotR take on new meanings for me. Yeah, I’ll forget most of what I’ve written here in the hustle and bustle of life, but they’ll be a treat waiting for me when someone says ‘Wanna watch Lord of the Rings?”
(This post was originally published as ‘Meditation on Moria’ here.)