FoTR - The Shadow Of The Past: Bk I, Chapter II

A chapter by chapter as well as general discussion of Tolkien's masterpiece
Riv Res
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Postby Riv Res » Sat May 08, 2010 10:44 pm

... And then I made a great mistake. Yes, Frodo, and not the first; though I fear it may prove the worst. I let the matter be. I let him go; for I had much else to think of at that time, and I still trusted the lore of Saruman.

Well, that was years ago. I have paid for it since with many dark and dangerous days. The trail was long cold when I took it up again, after Bilbo left here. And my search would have been in vain, but for the help I had from a friend: Aragorn, the greatest traveller and huntsman of this age of the world. Together we sought for Gollum down the whole length of Wilderland, without hope, and without success. But at last, when I had given up the chase and turned to other parts, Gollum was found. My friend returned out of great perils bringing the miserable creature with him.


Hhmmm ... Aragorn was not above doing the dirty work and going into the Dead Marshes to find him. This happens in TA 3017. Everything seems to be coming to a crescendo.

I would love to have a discussion on why Aragorn left Gondor and Ecthelion so abruptly in TA 2980 and went to Mordor at that time. A case could be made that he left so suddenly because it was becoming all too evident that both the Steward and the people of Gondor began holding Thorongil in higher esteem than Denother, the heir to the Steward ... but why did he go to Mordor?
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Lindariel
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Postby Lindariel » Sun May 09, 2010 2:24 am

Riv, Aragorn's sojourn into Mordor is an INCREDIBLY TANTALIZING portion of this story that the Professor just left dangling there for us. I think of it as the final step in Aragorn's coming-of-age process. (1) He has already proven himself among his own people, The Northern Dunedain Rangers, and been accepted as their Chieftain; (2) Next, he proves himself (albeit in the guise of Thorongil) once again by raising through the ranks of Gondor's principal ally -- Rohan -- to become a trusted counselor and captain to Thengel King; (3) Then, again as Thorongil, he proves his mettle to the Steward of Gondor. Also, sometime during these first three periods, he undertakes long journeys into Rhun and Harad, becoming the hardiest and farthest-travelled man of his time.

The (4th) and final step is to reconnnoitor/face his primary enemies -- Sauron and his chief servant The Witch King of Angmar. It should be noted that this sojourn into Mordor was not an incredibly lengthy one -- certainly less than a year -- because he leaves Ecthelion's service sometime in 2980, last seen headed East toward Mordor, yet later in 2980 he arrives in Lorien and trothplights with Arwen on the hill of Cerin Amroth. However, one could argue that as poisonous as the land of Mordor is, a lone mortal probably would not last there very long, no matter how skilled and hardy they might be. Frodo and Sam are only in Mordor-proper for 10 days (from March 15 when they escape Cirith Ungol through the destruction of the Ring and their rescue by the Great Eagles on March 25). So certainly, spending a few months alone in Mordor is nothing at all to sneeze at! Aragorn himself says, "If a man must needs walk in sight of the Black Gate, or tread the deadly flowers of Morgul Vale, then perils he will have."

"Other tasks now call me," is the message Thorongil sends to Ecthelion. I do wonder if Aragorn received specific counsel to undertake some sort of reconnaissance mission in Mordor (from Gandalf? Elrond? his own foresight?), or if he simply felt he was at last ready to take a look at his enemy, to take that last step into manhood.

Think of it this way. Aragorn has just achieved his greatest military victory to date -- the destruction of the Corsair fleet in their own harbor. It's time to face his greatest fear. This is the moment when the wise old sorceror sends the fledgling hero alone into the cave to face the dragon; the time when young Luke Skywalker goes into the forest against Yoda's advice and faces down the vision of Darth Vader, only to discover that the monster has his own face; the sword goes into the fire to be tempered.

I'd REALLY love to know what happened!!
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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Postby Merry » Mon May 10, 2010 3:48 am

Those were my thoughts, too, Lindariel: the Hero's Journey myth sort of demands it. But this doesn't tell us much about what he did while he was there.
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Postby Lindariel » Mon May 10, 2010 12:41 pm

I know, Merry. But Riv wasn't asking what Aragorn was doing in Mordor. She wanted to know why he went there, and my answer is bascially that it was just something he had to do, probably even felt compelled to do.

Now, if you're asking for speculation on what he might have been doing there, my guess is that he was spying out the situation at Minas Morgul and around the Black Gate, maybe also around Cirith Ungol. He does specifically mention the first two places in the quote above.

Did his time in Mordor include an encounter with one or more Ringwraiths? I don't know. We know that he HAS encountered them at some point in his life because he clearly implies this in his first conversation with the hobbits in Bree:

"They will come on you in the wild, in some dark place where there is no help. Do you wish them to find you? They are terrible!"

The hobbits looked at him, and saw with surprise that his face was drawn as if with pain, and his hands clenched the arms of his chair. The room was very quiet and still, and the light seemed to have grown dim. For a while he sat with unseeing eyes as if walking in distant memory or listening to sounds in the Night far away.

"There!" he cried after a moment, drawing his hand across his brow. "Perhaps I know more about these pursuers than you do."


I do love this moment, because it is perhaps one of the most vulnerable moments for Aragorn in the entire tale. However, it gives us practically no clues for when this event took place in Aragorn's timeline. We do know from Appendix B that Sauron did leave 3 of the Nazgul in command of Dol Guldur after his withdrawal to Mordor in 2941. So I do wonder if Aragorn's reference to "They will come on you in the wild, in some dark place where there is no help," isn't a hint that his encounter with the Ringwraiths was somewhere outside of Mordor "in the wild."

Did he encounter them on one of his visits to Mirkwood (with 3 Nazgul stationed in Dol Guldur, that's entirely possible)? Or on patrol with the Dunedain somewhere in the North in the Witch King's former domain? Or on his sojourn to find Gollum? Personally, I find these scenarios to be far more likely than the possibility that Aragorn encountered one or more Ringwraiths during his time spying about in Mordor. I just don't believe he could possibly have survived such an encounter within Sauron's domain. He may have felt the presence of one or more of the Nine within Minas Morgul, and that certainly would be terrible enough! But I just can't envision a scenario in which Aragorn could have prevailed in an encounter with a Ringwraith inside Mordor where their Master's power, even without the Ring, was so terrible and nearly absolute.

I do think Aragorn probably endured terrible privations, not to mention several dangerous scuffles with orcs (Angie over at the former WRoR posted a series of WONDERFUL stories imagining what Aragorn's sojourn in Mordor might have been like, along with Arwen looking out for him from afar through her Grandmother's Mirror -- too bad we can't access them any more!). We should recall that Sam does overhear Shagrat mentioning encountering "filthy tarks" and saying, "He's got past the Watchers, and that's tark's work." A "tark" is Black Speech for a man of Gondor. I wonder if this refers to some of Aragorn's spy work during his time in Mordor?

Whatever happened while in Mordor, Aragorn emerges as a man truly tempered and hardened by fire. I think it is no coincidence that this horrible episode is followed by a period of time in Lothlorien in which he is reunited with his lady love and Arwen commits her life to him. No, he isn't yet the King of Gondor and Arnor, but in her eyes (and we must assume also in Galadriel's eyes), he is fully worthy of her love. He has passed through the fire and emerged the Warrior-Priest-King Apparent.

The fact is, we'll never really know what happened while Aragorn was in Mordor, but it is fun to speculate, isn't it?
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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Postby Riv Res » Mon May 10, 2010 1:19 pm

Lindariel wrote:I know, Merry. But Riv wasn't asking what Aragorn was doing in Mordor. She wanted to know why he went there, and my answer is basically that it was just something he had to do, probably even felt compelled to do.


This is the crux of the whole matter for me, and I am loath to figure it out. As you say, Lindariel, Tolkien (to my knowledge) gives us no clues whatsoever. It is something I would like to ask someone like Shippey. :wink:

Why did he have to do it? I can see no pressing reason that required him to journey there at that time ... unless Tolkien was building this trip into Aragorn's character and his repertoire. But why? We already knew that Aragorn could and would do the tough stuff. Why tack on this trip?

From his farewell message to Ecthelion, it is as if he needed to be tested, and so he went to Mordor. :?
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Postby Merry » Mon May 10, 2010 1:55 pm

Great speculation, Lindariel!

Just one more bit: didn't the two blue wizards disappear in 'the East'? I have sometimes wondered if Gandalf asked Aragorn to look for them. But this is highly speculative, I know.
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Postby Lindariel » Tue May 11, 2010 12:40 pm

I've wondered about that too, Merry, but I think the more urgent imperative for Aragorn for travelling incognito through the far lands of Rhun and Harad and Khand "where the stars are strange" was simply, "Know thine enemy." Sauron had more than just orcs at his command; he also had the allegiance of several exceptionally different and disparate tribes of people with their own culture and tactics of warfare. Since he would be likely to meet these people on the plain of battle, and hopefully, also over the negotiating table, it would be best for him to know them as closely as possible. Who knows what kind of friendships Aragorn might have sparked and what little seeds of knowledge and understanding he might have scattered about in an effort to temper the commitment of certain key personages to Sauron's campaign and to prepare the ground for the possibilities of negotiations should hope prevail and Sauron be destroyed. Or what knowledge he returned with concerning battle tactics that might have aided him on the Pelennor and before the Black Gate?

Now, along the way, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if Aragorn made discreet inquiries about the two Blue Wizards, but I don't think that was the chief purpose of his travels.
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Postby Merry » Tue May 11, 2010 2:06 pm

I guess there's not enough information to tell, Lindariel: one of those purposefully mysterious puzzles Tolkien left to make it seem more like real life.

But if Gandalf is already lining up the chesspieces, anticipating a showdown with Sauron, think about what having two more wizards on the good side might represent! Of course, they might have been as useful as Radagast, but you never know. So sending Aragorn on such a mission might have seemed like an acceptable risk and, in the process, he would have been able to do the recon mission you suggest as well.
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Riv Res
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Postby Riv Res » Tue May 11, 2010 4:58 pm

I wonder if anything in the volumes of The History of Middle-earth would shed some light. Will have a look. :wink:
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Postby Lindariel » Tue May 11, 2010 8:47 pm

Riv, here's the entry on the Blue Wizards from the Encyclopedia of Arda:

Blue Wizards -- A translation of the term Ithryn Luin referring to the two least well-known of the Five Wizards. After landing in Middle-earth, they travelled directly into the far east with Curunír (better known as Saruman), so that they were never given names by the peoples of western Middle-earth. We do, however, have hints of what their names might have been among other peoples: some sources give Alatar and Pallando, while others suggest Morinehtar and Rómestámo. These variations needn't contradict one another: indeed, all the more famous Wizards had several different names.

The mission of the Blue Wizards was to travel to eastern lands occupied by Sauron, and help to foment unrest among his subject peoples. Whether they succeeded or not, even Tolkien was unsure, though he imagined that they had probably failed ('...I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and 'magic' traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.' - The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, No 211, dated 1958). It's also uncertain why they remained in the east while Curunír returned: perhaps this was part of the original plan of the Valar, or perhaps Saruman decided he would have greater success in the west. Whatever the reason, his two blue-cloaked companions were never heard from again.


And here's the entry on Radagast:

Radagast -- One of the Five Wizards, Radagast was said to have been the fourth of the Wizards to appear in Middle-earth. Like all his Order, he carried a rod and had a distinctive colour (in Radagast's case this was Brown). In his earlier life in Valinor he had been a friend to beasts and birds (his original name was Aiwendil, 'bird-friend') and the living things of Middle-earth became his special province2. He also had great knowledge of plants and herbs, and apparently possessed the ability to create illusions3.

Like the others of his Order, Radagast had been charged with aiding Elves and Men in their coming struggle against the Shadow. Once in Middle-earth, Radagast came to prefer to company of animals and birds to that of the people he was sent to aid, and he ultimately achieved very little. He settled at Rhosgobel, near the southern borders of Mirkwood, in a location close enough to Dol Guldur to suggest that it may have played a part in the attack on that fortress by the White Council in III 2941. At some point later in history he abandoned this homestead.

In the War of the Ring, Radagast played almost no part. His only action of any consequence was to send Gwaihir with news to Orthanc, thus unwittingly aiding Gandalf's escape from the Pinnacle. He may also have had some role in sending the Eagles at occasional crucial moments in the War (especially in the final battle at the Gates of Mordor) but if so his actions are not recorded.

We know nothing of Radagast's fate after the Fall of Sauron. Though he failed in his purpose to kindle resistance to the Dark Lord, it is not said that he was banned from returning to Aman, and it seems likely that he did so at some point. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, though, that he remained among his friends the wild creatures of Middle-earth.

Notes
1
In Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien indicates that his father intended to change this derivation and bring Radagast in line with the other wizard-names Gandalf and Saruman, by associating it with the old language of the Men of the Vales of Anduin. No alternative meaning is provided (indeed, Tolkien stated that the name was 'not now clearly interpretable'). One possible source (a somewhat unfounded conjecture) would be Old English rudugást, 'brown spirit' (rudu strictly means 'red' or 'red-brown' - it is the source of the modern word 'ruddy').

Some other sources suggest a connection between Radagast's name and certain old European deities, particularly the Slavic god known as Radigast or Radegast. If Tolkien meant for such a connection to exist, he failed to record the fact.

2
Radagast's affinity for the creatures of the wild was not unique, and seems to have been shared by the other Wizards to some extent. Gandalf could certainly also communicate with birds and animals, and Saruman could apparently use birds as his spies.

3
According to Gandalf, Radagast was a 'master of shapes and changes of hue' (The Fellowship of the Ring II 2, The Council of Elrond). The meaning of this is open to question, but it seems to suggest that he was skilled at creating phantasms or illusions, or at disguising his appearance.

If Radagast could change his form, or trick the minds of others, that raises the curious possibility that he may have played other parts in the story of The Lord of the Rings than the ones we know. One obvious candidate would be the mysterious stranger encountered by Aragorn and his companions on the borders of Fangorn. This strange figure, never explicitly identified, is generally assumed (and reasonably so) to have been Saruman. On the other hand, his strange behaviour (wandering alone in dangerous territory, and doing no more harm than releasing the company's horses) hints that this just might have been Radagast in Saruman's shape.


Personally, I wouldn't be so quick to sell Radagast short. Who knows what kind of good work he did among the birds and beasts of the Wild in order to keep as many as possible away from Sauron's dominion. It was bad enough that the Lords of the West had to fight against Sauron and Saruman's orc armies and human allies. Imagine if Sauron had also managed to corrupt the vast majority of birds and beasts to his will! Radagast may have very quietly made an extraordinary contribution to the success of the Ring War.

It is also possible that Radagast did not come "into his own," so to speak, until after Saruman's demise and Gandalf's departure from Middle-earth. A gentle soul like Radagast would have flourished given the opportunity to help heal the many ills to land and wildlife inflicted by the War of the Ring and Sauron's long dominion in Dol Guldur and Mordor. There are also all of those orcs and trolls left behind without leadership and guidance. Can they perhaps be redeemed through the patience and healing of a Wizard?

There's an extremely interesting story by jodancingtree at Stories of Arda based on this premise called "Following the Other Wizard: A Journey into Healing." It proposes something of an "alternate universe" in which Frodo does NOT depart for the Undying Lands, but must try to find healing and peace of mind within Middle-earth -- with Radagast, rather than Gandalf, as his guide on a very different kind of quest. Here's a link to it, if you're interested: http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapterlis ... p?SID=1286
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

Riv Res
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Postby Riv Res » Tue May 11, 2010 9:23 pm

Good stuff Lindariel.

I can tell you that there is no further illumination on Aragorn/Thorongil going to Mordor in The Peoples of Middle-earth, the book from The History that deals with the Appendices.

I guess we are left to our of devices. :twisted:
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Postby Iolanthe » Fri May 14, 2010 4:28 pm

This has all been really interesting to read. Did Aragorn actually enter Mordor? We know his 'face was turned' to it when he left Gondor, and that he walked before the Black Gate and in the Morgul Vale, but does Tolkien specifically say he actually entered it? If so how on earth did he manage it? Maybe he spent his time reconnoitering the area around Mordor, looking for entrances and cracks in the defences. Gandalf certainly knew the horrors of Cirith Ungol and the Morgul Vale. Maybe he had a lot of his information from Aragorn?

Although it would be a great test to actually enter Mordor it would also be an unnecessary risk unless it was at the last or greatest need (like Frodo and Sam's mission). Surely Aragorn was too important for the future of Middle-earth for Gandalf to send him there for anything less than destroying the Ring, and with the weight of future Kingship on him why would he decide himself to enter with little chance of coming back?

I'm for a reconoitering trip around the outer mountain walls :wink: .
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Postby Riv Res » Fri May 14, 2010 4:53 pm

Iolanthe wrote:Did Aragorn actually enter Mordor? We know his 'face was turned' to it when he left Gondor, and that he walked before the Black Gate and in the Morgul Vale, but does Tolkien specifically say he actually entered it? If so how on earth did he manage it? Maybe he spent his time reconnoitering the area around Mordor, looking for entrances and cracks in the defences. Gandalf certainly knew the horrors of Cirith Ungol and the Morgul Vale. Maybe he had a lot of his information from Aragorn?


Yes, Iolanthe, in Appendix A we read that he did indeed enter Mordor ...

'It came to pass that when Aragorn was nine and forty years of age he returned from perils on the dark confines of Mordor, where Sauron now dwelt again and was busy with evil. He was weary and he wished to go back to Rivendell and rest there for a while ere he journeyed into the far countries; and on his way he came to the borders of Lórien and was admitted to the hidden land by the Lady Galadriel.'


So Tolkien tells us he indeed entered Mordor. :D

I used to wonder why these heroes such as Aragorn had to spend so much time wandering in the far countries. Tolkien, as one would expect, answered my questions in that all encompassing chapter, The Council of Elrond. His comparison there of the two characters, Aragorn and Boromir, was a striking contrast. ... Aragorn with his deep knowledge and understanding of the peoples and places and perils of almost all the lands of middle-earth ... and then Boromir who only knew Gondor, who it seemed had never traveled outside his own borders until he went to Rivendell and thus held a very narrow view of the world. :wink:
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Postby Merry » Fri May 14, 2010 6:31 pm

I have to admit that I don't know what "on the dark confines of Mordor" means! Could it mean the borders, as Iolanthe suggests?
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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Riv Res
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Postby Riv Res » Fri May 14, 2010 7:22 pm

'confines' says to me that he was inside the border. :D
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