Following Frodo and Sam’s mindtrip experience with Galadriel, it’s time that the Fellowship was moving on, something that Celeborn and the missus make clear. Seems the welcome has worn out. Boromir is really loud and obnoxious in this opening scene, insisting that he has to go on anyway and will stay true to the quest for as long as he can: “I shall go to Minas Tirith, alone if need be, for it is my duty”. Still protesting too much.
Aragorn is troubled, which is not good. The weight of the leadership role is on him, and he isn’t doing great so far, seemingly happy to put off the crucial decisions for as long as possible. The Fellowship is badly in need of a plan, and for clear leadership. It is astonishing that they haven’t really considered this kind of stuff, where to go at a certain point, how to get into Mordor and so on. Maybe Gandalf was just phoning it in. The Fellowship has clearly over relied on the wizard big time, as becomes clear as they greater discuss the journey to come. The Elves of Lorien will give them access to the Anduin as a travel route, but that can only take them so far. Eventually, Aragorn will have to make a choice, between following the Ring-bearer into the fire, or following what might seem like his more destined path, to Minis Tirith and the war. That Aragorn is presented dealing with such an internal struggle is actually good to see, and his uncertainly is well presented: “…what help could he or any of the Company give to Frodo, save to walk blindly with him into the darkness?”
Merry shows a bit of use here, being experienced with the boats that the Fellowship will be using shortly. Nice to see the hobbits get to do stuff other then, well, nothing.
When they actually get down to talking about where to take the quest, the Fellowship can’t agree on what to do. There seems to be two clear choices: Go direct to Mordor right now, or head to Minis Tirith and…see? The whole thing seems a little hopeless anyway and it seems to have never been considered. Seriously, how was Gandalf planning on getting into Mordor, even if he was going to stopover in Minis Tirith on the way? We’ll see this even more clearly in Book Four, when Frodo and Sam reach the Black Gate. Mordor is very hard to get into (you could say that one does not simply walk into it…). There seems to be no obvious answer, unless Gandalf had some trick up his sleeve, to deal with this question (He never really mentions it in later chapters). Crucially, and perhaps for the best, we get no internal preference in Frodo’s mind. He’s as undecided as everyone else.
Boromir is starting to get very obvious here, as he has a bit of a verbal slip – “it is folly to throw away…throw away lives I mean”. He’s been tipping for the last few pages, and he’s approaching vertical. You’d think somebody would notice at this stage as we move towards the climax of this particular subplot. Aragorn especially, should notice something, but is too wrapped up in his own troubles. This is going to be bad news later. The Fellowship, as its name implies, is supposed to be a united force, but in this chapter things are unravelling fast, as Boromir sets out his stall and insists that the apparent end goal of the quest – the land of Mordor – is not his. He’s going home, to Minis Tirith, even if he has to go there alone. This solitary streak, a certain kind of insidious individualism, is at odds with how the Fellowship should be proceeding.
More magic Elves stuff, in fact nearly the last of it, follows. This time it’s two things. You have Lembas bread, more magic foodstuffs that will let us get past the supply problem in later Books, and the cloaks, which will give them a degree of stealth automatically. It is never, naturally, rightly explained how the cloaks work, but that is par for the course so far.
As the Fellowship heads out for some boat practice (good to see that they’re not all automatically good at everything) we get hit sideways by the sudden announcement that Gimli and Legolas are now best friends. Somehow. Somewhere between the arrival and all that latent racism up to their departure, the two became BFFs, after that brief mention of them hanging out more in the last chapter. This is all well and good, it’s an interesting thing for Tolkien to try and tackle. But this section of it is clumsy and a bit out of nowhere, with their dynamic leaping forward down the expected path without any elaboration.
Before the group heads off down the river, it’s xenia time again with one last feast. The Elves, from the original group we met in the Shire, through to Rivendell and now here, are big into this kind of social interaction, clearly. Celeborn comes out with some helpful advice finally, telling the group about how far they can go on the river, what obstacles to look out for on their way and at what point they’ll actually have to abandon the course. It is nice for an Elvish character to not been annoying when it comes to these kind of issues. One must also raise an eyebrow at the mention of a place called “Noman-land”. Is this a thinly veiled reference to World War One?
Celeborn also warns them off Fangorn Forest, a first mention for another location that, due to the characters talking about it for more than two sentences, we’ll be heading off to at some point. Boromir scoffs at his advice, suddenly the asshole again, and then starts bragging about how much time he’s spent in the wild. Not exactly acting like the most rational, stable person in the world right now, is Boromir. Celeborn rebuffs him, and we know whose eventually going to end up being right here.
A definitive choice is coming for the Fellowship anyway, where they’ll have to put all of this humming and hawing behind them. Once they get to the Falls of Rauros, they either have to turn east direct towards Mordor, or west into Gondor. Aragorn keeps putting this decision off, which is very concerning, but it adds to the tension raising that the audience knows that. No more trudging along, they (especially Aragorn and Frodo) have to finally man up and decide where they are going. But, as we will see, it’s not going to work out like that and their continuing hesitance to decide on a course will lead to near disaster.
Galadriel gives out some gifts. The focus in this section is very much on Aragorn and his briefly explored subplot with Arwen, but it is still very vague. We haven’t even explicitly had it stated that the two are “involved” just implied very heavily. The jewel that Galadriel gives him is one of the more unique gifts, which speaks volumes of the relationship between Aragorn and the Elves. It certainly means a lot to Aragorn: “…it seemed to them that many years of toil had fallen from his shoulders.”
Most of the other gifts are rather boring. Belts for Merry, Pippin and Boromir (though the Gondorian’s, a gold encircling thing, might be worth a second look for hidden meanings), a bow for Legolas, some seeds for Sam, a Chekov’s Gun that won’t fire until the final chapter of the book. Gimli gets some…hair. Yeah, a tad odd that, though I suppose you can overlook the strangeness in favour of its symbolic worth as a reconciliation between Elf and Dwarf. Frodo’s phial is the important one, a potent weapon in times to come, though its significance must be lost to the audience at the present time.
The Fellowship leaves Lorien, the extended farewell finally coming to an end. Gimli is genuinely saddened, a strange sight to see, his love for the place something that has not really been fully expanded upon before. It’s clear from this closing snippet of conversation on the boats that the Legolas/Gimli relationship is now firmly set and will be a staple in the story from now on. From there, the Fellowship can only remember the strange and timeless land they inhabited briefly:
“For so it seemed to them: Lórien was slipping backward, like a bright ship masted with enchanted trees . . . while they sat helpless upon the margin of the grey and leafless world.”
The final lines depict the Fellowship gliding away into the dreary stream of the river, all cold, uninviting and dominated by threatening looking trees. Frodo falls into an “uneasy sleep” with nothing decided and much still to be pondered.
“Farewell To Lorien”, in its brevity and contained plot beats of significance, is another indicator that Tolkien had lost the run of himself at this point. The three Lorien chapters could easily have been conflated, and this is, perhaps, never more obvious than here, in what seems like a slightly extended addendum to the last chapter, a small bit of set-up for stuff to follow after, as the quest actually gets underway again. The closeness of Legolas and Gimli is suddenly introduced in an unsatisfactory matter, Boromir continues to let the mask slip, and Aragorn starts showing off his worst leadership traits.
While these are quite important things to showcase, it isn’t really enough to justify “Farewell To Lorien” as a distinct chapter of its own, which suffers from a few really unnecessary moments of the titular leavetaking being drawn out, this long goodbye increased by a couple of disposable songs and more Elf mysticism in regards Valinor and the possibility of returning west. Tolkien obviously wanted to spend as much time as he could with the Elves, but he really was at the very limits of what he could realistically get away with here. It’s also just very maudlin and downbeat throughout, to an extent that gets tiresome. Most readers must be chomping at the bit for the story to get going again. Thankfully, that is exactly what is going to happen.
Row, row, row your boat…
For more Chapter by Chapter reviews of The Lord of the Rings, check out the index here.