Note: This is the first of a three-part presentation of Lórien screencaps, but only this post will contain an essay. I have relegated this discussion to the bottom, so that only those interested need see it.
The Film Scene: Frodo Hears the Voice of Galadriel.
~ After traveling for some time, the friends reach the woods of Lothlórien, and enter it.
Gimli Stay close, young hobbits. They say that a great sorceress lives in these woods, an elf-witch of terrible power. All those who look upon her fall under her spell….
Voice of Galadriel: Frodo!
Gimli: ... and are never seen again.
Voice of Galadriel: Your coming to us is as the footsteps of doom. You bring great evil here, Ringbearer.
Sam: Mr. Frodo?
Gimli: Well, here is one dwarf she won't ensnare so easily. I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox!
~ Suddenly, they are all surrounded by Elves with drawn bows.
Haldir: The Dwarf breathes so loud we could have shot him in the dark.
As usual, the screencaps have been cropped and adjusted for brightness, contrast and focus.
~ Frodo hears the voice of Galadriel:
Reflection on Frodo’s Heightened Powers of Perception
~ as shown in the Lothlórien chapters of LotR.
"Seeing is both good and perilous."
~ Galadriel to Frodo in The Mirror of Galadriel.
There is no moment in the Tolkien story, entering the Golden Wood, in which Frodo hears the voice of Galadriel. Nevertheless, I thought the film scene worked extremely well.
For one thing, Frodo is gorgeous in the shots. He’s Frodo at his best in these: both beautiful and manly. His expressive face could have come from the dramatic painting of the late Renaissance or early Baroque.
For another thing, the lighting for this brief scene comes closest to portraying the woods of Lorien as “Golden”. It's late in the day, so it's rather dark, but the colours are more warm than cool, which I think of as book-like. In Tolkien's story, just before Sam remarks, “I feel as if I was inside a song”, he says of Lórien,‘It’s sunlight and bright day. (…) I thought that Elves were all for moon and stars, but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of.’
Except for a few segments, film-Lorien is a night world: blues and violets, edged with silver and shadow. Galdriel’s glade is green, but a wet green, dark as the floor of a rain forest.
Another thing I appreciate about this film scene is that the telepathic communication depicted—when Frodo is able to hear Galadriel speaking to him in his mind—helps show, in its own way, that Frodo is possessed of specially heightened powers of perception.
From the time of the wound from the Morgul blade, Frodo’s powers of perception and sensory acuity are noticibly increased. Gandalf remarks on the change in Frodo in Rivendell, noting a new translucency about him. The Light within Frodo shines through the better, but, perhaps, if his physical being is more … permeable ... it also is easier for the Dark to be perceived, even to enter in.
In The Mirror of Galadriel, Galadriel seems to confirm it. She tells Frodo that his senses of perception have been increased and changed, because of the Ring. The Ring is a dark instrument, but its effects are not all evil.
After Frodo sees the Eye in the mirror, he suddenly notices Galadriel's ring (Nenya), and is awed. It is not permitted to speak of this ring, she says, “divining his thought” ....[B]ut it cannot be hidden from the Ring-bearer, and one who has seen the Eye.
After Frodo offers her the Ring, she tells him that he is ["gently"] revenged for her testing his heart at their first meeting. But, she notes,You begin to see with a keen eye.
Even more pointed is what she tells Frodo after she has resisted the temptation of the Ring he offers, and he asks her why he cannot see the other wearers of the rings, or divine their thoughts. He has not tried, she answers, but in fact he is not strong enough, and has not trained his will to the domination of others. (The bold-face emphases are mine.)'Only thrice have you set the Ring upon your finger since you knew what you possessed. (...) Yet even so, as Ring-bearer and as one that has borne it on finger and seen that which is hidden, your sight is grown keener. You have perceived my thought more clearly than many that are accounted wise. You saw the Eye of him that holds the Seven and the Nine. And did you not see and recognize the ring upon my finger?
In terms of his physical senses, Frodo noticed in Moria that he could see and hear in the dark much better than he could before. After he has left Lothlórien far behind, he notices changes in his abilities in the Emyn Muil. His intuitive sense is keener, too. He begins to sense the Eye as a constant presence—without ever putting the Ring on—feeling it as an assault beating upon him, as a prying force trying to pierce the mental wall he struggles to maintain.
He also is able to sense the good in the Emyn Muil, with this heightened power. When he is stranded on a rock face, stricken temporarily blind by the cry of a Nazgul overhead, Frodo is terrified, unable to move. It is when the Elven rope, the gift of Galadriel, is lowered before his face that he is able to see again, the slender "life-line" emerging from the blackness as a silver thread, connecting him to Sam (and life), and a sign of hope.
The Lórien chapters show Frodo’s increased sense of things already in place: both physically and at a deeper, almost mystical level—what I am calling "intuitive". But in Lórien he senses mostly good, not evil things.
The book chapter Lothlórien portrays a much more involved entry into the realm of the Galadhrim, with vaster distances to cover (physically and psychologically), and more time spent traversing it. A major hitch occurs when Haldir intercepts them. Before they can proceed, because he is a Dwarf, Gimli must be blindfolded. At Aragorn’s command, the others allow themselves to be blindfolded too, since Gimli, feeling humiliated and incensed, refuses to cooperate. As they walk along thus, various members of the Company talk with Haldir. But Frodo is silent.The Company filed slowly along the paths in the wood, led by Haldir, while the other Elf walked behind. They felt the ground beneath their feet smooth and soft, and after a while they walked more freely, without fear of hurt or fall. Being deprived of sight, Frodo found his hearing and other senses sharpened. He could smell the trees and the trodden grass. He could hear many different notes in the rustle of the leaves overhead, the river murmuring away on his right, and the thin clear voices of birds in the sky. He felt the sun upon his face and hands when they passed through an open glade.
Frodo’s heightened senses might seem to be only the result of being deprived of sight, but there are other sequences in which Frodo's perceptions go deeper. Beyond what is available to his acute bodily senses, with his intuitive powers he becomes more and more attuned to the “other” quality—or ‘reality’—that flows under and through Lórien. For Frodo, a sense of the “otherness” of Lórien begins earlier, when he wades across Nimrodel, even before the Elves intercept them.One by one they climbed down and followed Legolas. For a moment Frodo stood near the brink and let the water flow over his tired feet. It was cold but its touch was clean, and as he went on and it mounted to his knees, he felt that the stain of travel and all weariness was washed from his limbs.
When all the Company had crossed, they sat and rested and ate a little food; and Legolas told them tales of Lothlórien (…).
At length a silence fell, and they heard the music of the waterfall running sweetly in the shadows. Almost Frodo fancied that he could hear a voice singing, mingled with the sound of the water.
‘Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel?’ asked Legolas.
Frodo was not “fancying” things, as it turned turns out, and Legolas could sense it.
It is immediately after the passage in which Frodo and the others are blindfolded, and Frodo finds his physical senses heightened, that this paragraph comes:As soon as he set foot upon the far bank of Silverlode a strange feeling had come upon him, and it deepened as he walked on into the Naith: it seemed to him that he had stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the Elder Days, and was now walking in a world that was no more. In Rivendell there was memory of ancient things; in Lórien the ancient things still lived on in the waking world. Evil had been seen and heard there, sorrow had been known; the Elves feared and distrusted the world outside: wolvers were howling on the wood’s borders: but on the land of Lórien no shadow lay.
What Frodo is picking up is not something that is available to the physical senses, although it comes through them. What is notable is the way Frodo hears and sees, as well as what he makes of what he senses.
Here is another almost hallucinatory passage which depicts Frodo's newly-heightened point of view:The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter there no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien there was no stain.
Lórien: the land upon which "no stain” ... "no shadow" lay. It is the closest thing to "Arda Unmarred" remaining east of the Sea. The motif of Lórien as that which is untainted and fresh and immediate is repeated, as well as the sense of it as that which is absolutely ancient, primordial.
These passages, more than any others in Tolkien, give me a sense of what it might be like for a mortal—for Frodo—to enter the Undying Lands. I receive these passages as glimpses of what Frodo will experience when he finally reaches Tol Eressëa.
The next passage is the one that I think most strongly portrays Frodo experiencing his environment not only through heightened perceptions, but with specifically “Elvish” eyes. In fact, it is Frodo’s way of perceiving—not Elvish looks or a genetic ancestry that goes back to the fabled fairy wife—that I think constitutes his “Elvishness”. It is a way of perceiving that distinguishes him from his mortal companions.
In the scene below, Frodo and his friends, coming nearer and nearer to the heart of Lothlórien, are entereing the circle of white trees upon the knoll of Cerin Amroth, elanor and niphredil growing upon the grass, where years ago Aragorn plighted his troth to Arwen Undómiel. (Emphases mine.)They entered the circle of trees. As they did so the South Wind blew upon Cerin Amroth and sighed among the branches. Frodo stood still, hearing far off great seas upon beaches that had long ago been washed away, and sea-birds crying whose race had perished from the earth.
Haldir had gone on and was now climbing to the high flet. As Frodo prepared to follow him, he laid his hand upon the tree beside the ladder: never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree’s skin and of the life within it. He felt a delight in wood and the touch of it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself.
In the passage just cited, Frodo is shown having another of his insights into the dichotomy of Lórien (its extreme antiquity and its immediacy, its ultra-aliveness). But it shows something else.
Frodo’s revelation while touching the bark of the tree has a strong parallel in another Tolkien story, Aldarion and Erendis, published in The Unfinished Tales. In that story, the attitude of Aldarion, the great mariner-king of Númenor, can be seen to represent the attitude of Men. That is, when Aldarion sees a tree, he sees a tree in terms of its potential for use. Sailing to Middle-earth, Aldarion is awed at the sight of the virgin forests there. But what sends his heart racing is not the sight of trees themselves, but the thought of the fleet he will be able to build from their wood.
His wife, Queen Erendis, also a Númenorean of high birth, demonstrates an attitude towards trees that is closer to that of her Elvish forebears. The felling of the trees grieves her. She sees trees as beautiful and worthwhile in themselves, not primarily as the means to an end. The sight of Aldarion's ships returning to Númenor from Middle-earth loaded with hewn timber gives her sorrow. Her reaction demonstrates the Elvish viewpoint. The Elves, it is emphasized throughout the stories of Arda, see and appreciate the natural world as having its own life, beauty, and integrity. Men look at the same world and see resources: material to be used or brought under sway.
So, in the passage quoted above, Tolkien is giving Frodo a specifically “Elven” perspective. Whatever may have been Frodo’s perceptions of the natural world before he took up the Quest, they are altered irrevocably, I think, by his time in Lórien—his experience there accentuated by the opening, deepening, and heightening of his perceptions from wearing and carrying the Ring, and his Morgul-wound.
Frodo's "Elvishness" comes from a perspective he shares more and more with the First-born. During the Quest, Frodo learns all the more to see, appreciate, and love things for what they are in themselves, not just for what they can be made of them or what they can be made to do.
A bit more on Frodo's heightened perceiving, and its wider impact on his life.
In the paragraph immediately following, from Lothlórien, Frodo is shown gazing at the Elf-city in the distance and the land beyond, outside Lórien. How and what he sees offers a comparison between the immortal and the mortal lands. It also implies a comparison between Frodo's newly-engendered feelings for the two realms.
Frodo looked and saw, still at some distance, a hill of many mighty trees, or a city of green towers: which it was he could not tell. Out of it, it seemed to him that the power and light came that held all the land in sway. He longed suddenly to fly like a bird to rest in the green city. Then he looked eastward and saw all the land of Lórien running down to the pale gleam of Anduin, the Great River. He lifted his eyes across the river and all the light went out, and he was back again in the world he knew. Beyond the river the land appeared flat and empty, formless and vague, until far way it rose again like a wall, dark and drear. The sun that lay on Lothlórien had no power to enlighten the shadow of that distant height.
Just as I feel I was shown a glimpse of what the Undying Lands would be for Frodo in the passages above, I feel that this passage foreshadows what it will be for Frodo to try to return to the Shire and his old life. It’s not just the Ring-malaise that sends Frodo across the Sea. He is wounded, he is in pain, but it is not just that. Frodo has seen too much, it is true, but not just of what is terrible, he has glimpsed too much of what is sublime.
In the passage above, the land that Frodo notes as “flat and empty, formless and vague,” turns out to be southern Mirkwood, a land where the shadow has been creeping back. What interests me is that when he looks across the river and feels “all the light go out”, he experiences it as being “back in the world he knew”.
This reminds me of nothing so much as Frodo’s remark at the end of Homeward Bound, in RotK. The hobbits are returning to the Shire, and Gandalf has left them for Bombadil's. The four Travellers are riding on the East Road heading towards the Brandywine Bridge when Merry speaks.‘Well, here we are, just the four of us that started out together,’ said Merry. ‘We have left all the rest behind, one after another. It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.’
‘Not to me,’ said Frodo. ‘To me it feels more like falling asleep again.’
"Like falling asleep," Frodo murmurs. How that reminds me of when he viewed the lands beyond Lórien—life-ages of experience earlier—and felt himself to be “back in the world he knew", that is, a land that seemed in comparison to Lórien "flat", "formless", "vague", "empty".
The Morgul wound was just the beginning when it opened Frodo up—to both the wonderful and the terrible, his sight seeing more and more deeply.
Many things are said about Frodo’s “Sight”. To me, the power of seeing that he showed in the Lórien passages is the Sight that matters: his acute powers of perception, tuned in to his environment at a depth level. It's not the ability to see the future, or to see what was happening to Gandalf in Isengard. The Sight that glimpses into the heart of the world’s reality is the greatest sight of all. Along with the Wise, Frodo seems to have had a share in it.
Perhaps Frodo's share in Elvish sight—by which I mean an Elvish way of perceiving—an Elvish aesthetic, if you will—is what struck people when they described Frodo as both young and old. The Elves, too, seemed to those who met them at once youthful and ancient.
But such "Elvish sight" would have been very isolating for a mortal, since few or none would share it. The more I read his story, the more I see this as another reason why it was necessary, and inevitable, that Frodo sail into the West.
ETA: My good Tolkien-and-Frodo-friend, jan-u-wine (the poet), because she is not on LJ and because she had a lot to say, wrote her comments to me in an email.
The commenters to this post have been very generous, insightful, and gracious. Jan's thoughts, too, are insightful and gracious, but so fully-developed it seemed good to me to include them in the body of the the entry (rather than in three or four comment boxes). I asked Jan if I could post her comments in this manner, and she has consented.Jan-u-wine's Response to Mechtild's "On Frodo's Heightened Powers of Perception":
I have just finished reading your essay. Really, there are no words. You may not believe this, but many of these things I say in poetry because I can NOT say them as clearly and beautifully as you do in this essay, drawing the picture as a whole, then narrowing it until the conclusions emerge like charcoal turned to diamonds by the press of the earth.
Linda, this is not only a well-reasoned and researched work, it is beautiful in its own right. Unlike most essays, which seem to regard anything short of something in need of KY as sacrilege (ie: dry to the point of pain), this (like its subject) flows with light and joy and love.
What an immense (though seeming-simple) thought, that all of these heightened senses were a result of the Ring and the Morgul wound—and, I should have to think, those in tandem with his own *Frodo-ness*—himself as he existed before-hand. He would not have become *thus* without the Ring and the wound, but neither would he have become * thus* if (for example) he'd been Samwise to begin with (though I daresay Sam would have loved to experience Lórien as Frodo did). Viewed in that way, there was a bit of bitter-sweet good in the Ring. Of course, he'd not have missed the heightened senses, and the lovely things he knew as a result, had the Ring never come to him.
I very much agree with Erendis' view of the natural world. Although I note that we ( I include myself) don't grieve SO much that we disdain to use (for instance) wood to build houses or make paper of. But I suppose it is in the attitude one shows, as well. Are we "spendthrift" with the beauty of the world—do we count it as Erendis' husband did? Or are we like Frodo, growing all the time into an ever more perceptive being that sees and appreciates and loves every single atom that is life, just FOR the fact that it lives and was joyfully created and part of the Song, equally, with us?
I loved your point about why Frodo must go over-Sea....not because (or not only because) he has known "evil", but because he is, in fact, a different creature, marked as much by his foray into that which is *Beautiful* beyond thought as that which is *foul* beyond measure.
In every way except the physical one, he could not "go Home again".
I often have wondered just what exactly he meant by "it feels like falling asleep again". I only knew that it made me profoundly sad. But I think you've hit upon it. Like the "napping" Ents, for Frodo to live in the Shire again, he'd really have to go back to sleep: he'd have to *unlive* not just the bad memories, but he'd need to forget what else he'd seen.. And some of those things not only must have excited him in the moment, but I should think, being the vital, curious person he was, they would keep on calling to him.
And, really, would he truly *wish* to give up any of his memories, since the experiences which made them up caused him to become the "educated" Frodo that Tolkien spoke of.
He'd know little peace within the Shire. It had not changed, not really. It was he who was changed. I should think that made him love the Home he must leave more, like a toy that one no longer wants to play with (one being an adult, now) is looked upon with an even larger fondness than when it was played with as a "favorite". But it was a rather perfunctory, "memoried" love, wasn't it? It wasn't a love that would get him through the day. At the end of *those* days, it was (symbolically) the stars, and what they represented to him, that spoke. I wonder now if it were any coincidence that Arwen's necklace was star-like. In a sense, Frodo must "follow his star", mustn't he? And that star, I should think, would be Eärendil, the Mariner, whose journey was oft so like his own, and, of course, ends in the West..
I have to lift both of these lines out. I can't decide which is more beautiful:
"The Morgul wound was just the beginning when it opened Frodo up - to both the wonderful and the terrible, his sight seeing more and more deeply."
"…the sight that glimpses into the heart of the world's reality is the greatest sight of all. Along with the wise, Frodo seems to have had a share in it."
That very simple sentence doesn't, on the surface, sound like much: "glimpsing the world's reality". Most people probably think that they *do* this. But they don't, really, I think. It seems to me that we are always looking for the very *large* things to explain this world, and that is not really where the meanings and explanations lie. The world is elegant but it is also simple.. It is *plain* in its meaning. It wants to be understood. And therein, I think, lies the rub. We cannot see what lies before us, for we are looking for a "larger" truth. . We must make something difficult of what is * not*. And so we come the circuitous route to our understanding (if at all). I think Frodo was closer to this goal even before the Ring. The quest refined him, educated him. But it did not refine what was not already a fine (just untempered) metal. If the Ring was forged, well, so was he. And it is to his credit that he emerged, earthly flesh and all, the better and more beautiful for it. In the end, he found the simple truth that love, having it, giving it, receiving it, is the thread upon which the world is woven, the spark that ignites all that is good.
During his time Over Sea,, after he had (as Tolkien says) learnt how to properly place himself in the framework of the grand story he'd been in, when he had made those few last steps in humility, how he must have rejoiced in seeing himself as a "simple" person, complete, at last, within an equally *simple* love.
This essay is beautiful and I feel honored to have read it.
~ March 6, 2007
Links to other LotR screencaps here.