The Name of the Light

I just recently started the first of many re-reads I’ll be doing of The Lord of the Rings and I just need to go on record to say that the first 70 pages or so are NOT boring. Not in the slightest. Many have criticized Tolkien’s epic for its slow start, but I haven’t seen it. The action may be minimal, but the stage is simply being appropriately set. We need this base from which to leap off to the wider story and world. We need to have the good in life firmly established so we can see why it needs saving, so we can be reminded of hearth and home and how central they are to the health and well-being of our souls. Tolkien prepares us well in this regard for the conflict ahead.

But all that is just an observation and not the real point of this brief post, which is a simple little detail that harkens back to one of my early posts: the power of light. As Frodo is working his way out of the Shire with Sam and Pippin they have already needed to hide from a black rider twice and on the second occasion just as the rider is crouching down on all fours to sniff out the Ring like the bestial inhuman creature it is, singing drove it away. We might be tempted to think that it is simply the presence of other people approaching that drives the rider away, especially since we discover it is elves who are singing as they walk down the road, when in reality it is the song that drives it off, though of course Tolkien doesn’t explicitly tell us this. No, we must know the mythology and the deep lore contained in The Silmarillion if we are to see what is really going on here.

“O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!”

It’s almost like a breath prayer. Short enough to speak in one breath, but powerful enough to drive away even the most powerful servants of evil. Simply speaking the name of the light is enough to drive away the darkness. Which shouldn’t surprise us because our world works the same way. Spiritual darkness and evil cannot stand the Name of the Light. It is filled with too much glory and goodness. Too much truth. Too much beauty. It’s a name we should call on more frequently.

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on us.”

Nailed it!

So last week I briefly shared one of the things Peter Jackson got wrong, and to be fair it’s not as big an issue for me as his treatment of Faramir was in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that’s another issue. So what did Jackson get right in the third Hobbit film? What had me watching in wrapt attention yelling “Yes! Yes!” in my head so loudly that I didn’t even pay attention to the subtitles on the bottom of the screen?

Galadriel. Jackson portrayed her perfectly. But the small detail that have me raving was what Galadriel held in her hand as she called forth their true enemy, forcing him to reveal himself. You see, Galadriel is something special among the elves of Middle Earth. She is the last elf remaining in Middle Earth of those who saw the light of the trees in Valinor. She has actually seen the closest thing Ea (the world) had ever held to the uncreated light of Iluvatar. She saw that light and yet chose to leave it and return to Middle Earth. She abandoned the purest light the world could offer in exchange for the twilight. But yet, she bore it with her. She carried some of that light within her and this made her truly a force to be reckoned with.

But with that said, she was not of Sauron’s order. He, like Gandalf (Mithrandir), was one of the Maiar–a lesser order of angelic being–and she is a child of Iluvatar–bound to the world He created. But in her hand she carries a vial of water from her pool and this water contains the reflection of Earendil’s star–the last of the Silmarils created in ages long past by Feanor to preserve the light of the trees of Valinor. It is this light that forces Sauron and his wraiths to reveal themselves, because in Tolkien’s mythology the light has tremendous significance. This is why the elves (and later Frodo and Sam) cry out “Elbereth! Gilthoniel!” in times of greatest darkness. Elbereth and Gilthoniel are elvish names for one of the Valar (the greater order of angelic beings), Varda, who is most closely associated with the uncreated light of Iluvatar. They are, in essence, calling out “Light! Light!” in the darkness and watching the darkness flee. Brilliant stuff!

The simple fact that Jackson placed that vial in her hand for that crucial scene, speaks volumes about his familiarity with Tolkien’s mythology, which begs the question why he was so willing to play fast and loose with other pieces of Tolkien’s epic? Only Jackson can answer that, but for this little piece that Jackson totally nailed, I salute him!

For a fascinating read on the role of light in Tolkien’s mythology, see the amazing book Splintered Light, by Verlyn Flieger.