The Danger of Light and Joy

Allow me to share an insight with you from JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring; something that, unfortunately, did not make the cut for the film.

Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord.

Gimli son of Gloin is not a Man, he is a Dwarf. Nevertheless, he represents the courage and fear of the male of our species better than Aragorn or Boromir. At our best, men will walk right into the darkness, ready to fight. And at our worst we mock it, feigning bravery and dismissing the dangers that present themselves to us. We believe this to be our central virtue: courage in the face of the enemy, whatever form it might take. And once we have overcome the fear of that enemy, we proclaim ourselves fearless. This is Gimli, bearing his axe and marching into the shadows of Moria without hesitation.

Gimli was ready for Moria; for the utter darkness, the labyrinthine passages, the orcs that held it and even the cave-trolls with their deadly spears. But Gimli was not ready for Lothlorien, the Golden Wood, brimming with light and wisdom and peace. Nor were any of them really ready for it, as evidenced by the misgivings of Boromir:

“Against my will we passed under the shades of Moria, to our loss. And now we must enter the Golden Wood, you say. But of that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed.”

“Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth,” said Aragorn. “But lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they now speak evil of Lothlorien.”

The Fellowship of the Ring was prepared to be scathed, even to be killed, but they were not prepared to be changed, to be undone. And of all the transformations that occurred, Gimli was perhaps in the lead; it is said that he wept openly as they floated away from Lothlorien. The reason: Trust and Reconciliation between two hostile peoples.

In the distant past, the Elves and Dwarves were partners and friends: the Dwarves garnered the Elves’ speech and learning, and the Elves garnered the Dwarves’ crafstmanship and industry. But after the Dwarves dug too greedily and too deep, and awoke the evil Balrog of Moria, the peace of the Elves was marred beyond repair, and no further kinship existed between the two races. And this rift was in itch on Gimli’s back, as he traveled with Legolas the elf among the Fellowship of the Ring. Although he was tolerant of Legolas as a fellow traveler, he was not prepared for real friendship, for trust, or for love.

This was the transformation that occurred in Gimli’s heart. Trust in him came slowly on the part of the Elves of Lorien; at first they blindfolded him while leading him through the forest. But when Galadriel herself, the queen of the Elves, showed him honor and respect, it changed everything. Darkness and evil could not defeat him, but light and love did, and he was undone like Isaiah the prophet. “Alas for Gimli, son of Gloin!” he lamented. And Legolas replied,

Alas for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream. But I count you blessed, Gimli son of Gloin: for your loss you suffer of your own free will, and you might have chosen otherwise. But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlorien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale.

May we all walk with courage, not only into that which would threaten life and limb, but even moreso into that which would transform us into the likeness of our Teacher, and bring us reconciliation with one another.

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