Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


FOTR: Bk 2, Ch 5

The Bridge Of Khazad-Dum
"The last thing written is in a trailing scrawl of elf-letters: they are coming."
"The Company of the Ring stood silent beside the tomb of Balin." And that is where Tolkien stood in 1940. He had a wicked case of writer's block, as he explains in the "Forward" of The Fellowship of the Ring:
"In spite of the darkness of the next five years [World War II] I found that the story could not now be wholly abandoned, and I plodded on, mostly by night, till I stood by Balin's tomb in Moria. There I halted for a long while. It was almost a year later when I went on and so came to Lothlorien and the Great River late in 1941."
World events and the demands of his position at Oxford proved to be taxing on him and while he seemed to have a feel for where the story would ultimately go, he now had to grapple with the different story threads that would soon unravel. Once he returned to his writing a year later, he seemed to proceed at a constant pace. While many feel that it is not until the beginning of the Two Towers that the story really gets going, I would argue that it really starts here. Besides the rest at Lothlorien, the action really gets turned up a notch, starting with this chapter.

The characters of the Fellowship survey the sight in the chamber: bones lying about, Orc-scimitars, cloven shields and helms, recesses cut into the walls. It is clear that a battle took place between the Dwarves and Orcs. Gandalf finds the remains of a book and reads the writings to ascertain what happened. It is an account of Balin and his companions entering Moria and re-claiming the realm. Beginning with the account of their arrival thirty years before, the writings continue until the fifth year from their arrival. The runes are written in what Gimli recognizes as Ori's handwriting.

Balin was killed in the Dimrill Dale, which lay just outside the Eastern entrance. He was shot by an Orc's arrow. Many Orcs soon arrived from the East, likely sent from Mordor. After a time, the Dwarves came under siege. They make reference to the Watcher in the Water; "the pool is up to the wall of the Westgate." They learn that Oin was taken by the creature. From his reading, Gandalf determines where they are in relation to the way out. No sooner does he insist that the company must leave at once when the rolling sound of drums echoes in the caverns - doom, doom, doom (interesting that Tolkien should use the word "doom" rather than boom). As had happened to the Dwarves twenty-five years before, the Orcs were coming.

The Orcs come running toward the chamber as Aragorn and Boromir try to bar the door. Gandalf notices they have at least one Cave Troll. As the Orcs try to pound through the door, the Troll shoves his foot partly through the opening. Frodo stabs the foot with Sting and both the Troll and the Orcs initially fall back. However, the Orcs soon come crashing through. One great Orc-chieftain charges in with a spear and plunges it towards Frodo. The spear catches him on his right side and he collapses. In the film Jackson has the Troll stab Frodo, and he carries the scene out with a melodramatic slow-motion technique. Aragorn cleaves the head of the Orc with Anduril and, as he picks up Frodo, he and the Fellowship escape out the back door. He is shocked to see that Frodo is alright (he and the rest of the Fellowship was not aware of Frodo's mithril coat underneath his clothes).

Gandalf hangs back and tells Aragorn to go on ahead with the others; "Swords are no more of use here. Go!" The walls begin to tremble. The drums continue to beat. When Gandalf catches up to the others, he urges the company forward, telling them that he has met his match. Gimli asks him what happened.
"I don't know," answered Gandalf. "But I found myself suddenly faced by something that I have not met before. I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting-spell on the door. I know many, but to do things of that kind rightly requires time, and even then the door can be broken by strength.

As I stood there I could hear orc-voices on the other side: at any moment I thought they would burst it open. I could not hear what was said; they seemed to be talking in their own hideous language. All I caught was ghash: that is 'fire'. Then something came into the chamber - I felt it through the door, and the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent. It laid hold of the iron ring, and then it perceived me and my spell.

What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me."
It is of course the Balrog that he speaks of. They head down many flights of stairs grateful to find that they are on the Eastern side of a burning gulf that lay between them and the orcs. The evil continues to pursue them. They approach the Bridge of Khazad-Dum that stretches over the black pit. The Bridge was narrow and meant to be a defense against an attacking army that approached from the East. They have to cross single file, with Gimli and the younger hobbits in the lead. Aragorn and Boromir hang back with Gandalf. Orcs swarm towards them with flying arrows and two Cave Trolls begin flinging great slabs of stone across the chasm so the orcs can cross. Then a great shadow soon appeared, powerful and terrible.
"It came to the edge of the fire and the light faded as if a cloud had bent over it. Then with a rush it leaped across the fissure. The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and a black smoke swirled in the air. Its streaming mane kindled, and blazed behind it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left it held a whip of many thongs."
Now it is interesting to note that there is a big debate as to whether the Balrog has wings or not. Tolkien describes the Balrog drawing itself up to its full height, and "its wings were spread from wall to wall". But a few sentences before, Tolkien says "the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings". So the question remains as to whether these "wings" were literal or metaphoric. Certainly if the Balrog had wings, then why doesn't it fly? There is an in-depth discussion of this at the Encyclopedia of Arda that you can read so I won't try and reinvent the wheel by rehashing it here. Suffice to say that I believe that the Balrog did have real wings, but they were very flimsy and not strong enough to be used for flying. However, they looked pretty imposing in the film.

The way that the encounter between Gandalf and the Balrog at the Bridge was portrayed in the Peter Jackson film is very close to the way it reads here. As the Balrog steps onto the Bridge, Gandalf smites it with his staff (sounds very Old Testament, no?). The Bridge under the Balrog collapses and it plunges into the chasm, but not before its whip lashes Gandalf's leg and pulls him in. Grasping desperately at the edge of the remaining part of the Bridge, the wizard cries to the Fellowship, "Fly, you fools!" and then he is gone.

Aghast, Aragorn herds the company out of Moria, through the East gate as Orc arrows continue to fly about them. The golden sunlight shines upon the Dimrill Dale. They collapse in disbelief that their dear friend has fallen.
"Grief at last wholly overcame them, and they wept long: some standing and silent, some cast upon the ground. Doom, doom. The drum-beats faded."
Next: Lothlorien

[Chronology: January 15th 3019 T.A.]

(revised 9/4/06)


At 7:49 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Here is where the drama begins. The Fellowship absorbs it's first casualty, and it's a big blow. The reader also absorbs the blow. "Gandalf dead? It can't be!" One is left to ponder why Tolkien would sacrifice so pivotal a character at this time, although we will soon enough discover for ourselves the reasons.

This also marks a more serious and sinister tone to the narrative. There is now a real danger that the story may not end up happily ever after. This is surely not "The Hobbit" any more.


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