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PostPosted: Thu Jan 23, 2014 11:08 pm 
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It must first be said, that this chapter contains one of the most iconic scenes that Tolkien ever wrote, made all the more so by the filmmakers (and particularly Sir Ian McKellan), really nailing the scene. I speak of course of Gandalf's confrontation with the Balrog at the bridge that gives this chapter its name. But it is the way that Tolkien sets up that confrontation that gives it much of its power, in my opinion.

We begin the chapter in Balin's Tomb, following the beautiful scene in which we learn of the old dwarf's demise. In a nice touch, we see Frodo recalling Balin's visit to the Shire and "Bilbo's long friendship with the dwarf.", This a nice example of how Tolkien uses the Hobbits to humanize the tale, but then he explicitly notes how far the tale has already traveled from its humble roots: "In that dusty chamber in the mountains it seemed a thousand years ago and on the other side of the world." What a brilliant touch, and one that I can't say I have directly noted before.

We then discover the Book of Mazarbul, the record of Balin's fortune kept his folk, particularly by Ori in "a large bold hand using an Elvish script." Drums, drums in the deep! Could anything be more evocative than that?

The discovery of the book also helps Gandalf figure out where they are, the Chamber of Records. But before they can move on they are attacked by Orcs. Frodo to his surprise goes on the attack, stabbing a cave troll that was forcing the door open. This is the Frodo that never makes an appearance in the book.

Then Frodo himself is attacked by a great Orc-chieftain with (as Aragorn later says) a "spear-thrust would have skewered a wild boar" but survives because of the Mithril coat, leading Gandalf to note that like Bilbo before him, there was more to Frodo than met the eye. It is also interesting to note that like the Watcher in the Water, the Orc-chieftain singled out Frodo for attack.

Next Gandalf has his first confrontation with the Balrog, but neither he nor we know what it is that he is confronting. All we know is that it is something very powerful, and that the Orcs say something about fire. They continue on, pursued by the Orcs, and the beater of the drums, with fire behind them and arrows flying. But then Legolas drops his bow and cowers, revealing that "a balrog is come," Durin's Bane as Gimli says. Of course we have no idea what either a balrog or Durin's Bane is, but it sure sounds dire! Thus follows Gandalf's confrontation with the "demon of the ancient world," his victory, and his Fall, and the grief of the company as they make their escape. But of these things, I will let others speak.

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Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 8:15 am 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
We then discover the Book of Mazarbul, the record of Balin's fortune kept his folk, particularly by Ori in "a large bold hand using an Elvish script." Drums, drums in the deep! Could anything be more evocative than that?


Just reading in snatches before the school run...this description of Ori's writing in Elvish script leaps out now - where did Ori learn to write in Elvish? From Bilbo, perhaps, since Elf-Dwarf relations were surely not the best at this time!

Later when the Fellowship hear the sound of drumming in the deep and many hurrying feet, Tolkien has them echo Ori's words, perhaps subconsciously:

Quote:
"They are coming!" cried Legolas.
"We cannot get out," said Gimli.


Also wanted to add how sad the details of Balin's demise seem in retrospect - he was always the lookout "man" in TH, yet he was felled by an arrow from a hidden archer... :(

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:05 am 
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where did Ori learn to write in Elvish? From Bilbo, perhaps, since Elf-Dwarf relations were surely not the best at this time!


U.S.-Afghan relations have not been very good for a while, but that doesn't stop American soldiers from learning Urdu and Pashtun. :)

As for this chapter, it is so immeasurably perfect that I have difficulty even talking about it. It's almost worshipful. The depths of space and time and memory captured in one place, in one chapter. So good that my vulgar words can only diminish it!


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:23 am 
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I've read some more now...

They do indeed have a cave-troll!

Interesting to note how Boromir's blade glances aside when he tries to hew at the troll's arm, and is notched, yet Frodo is able to stab deeply into the troll's foot, drawing black blood which smokes on the floor and causes the troll to withdraw his foot momentarily. Aragorn's comment "The hobbit's bite is deep! You have a good blade, Frodo, son of Drogo!" show that at least he recognizes the worth of an Elven dagger as more than a "letter-opener." ;)

VtF wrote:
Next Gandalf has his first confrontation with the Balrog, but neither he nor we know what it is that he is confronting. All we know is that it is something very powerful, and that the Orcs say something about fire.


Yes, Tolkien chooses to build suspense here by describing Gandalf's stuggle in limted, retrospective detail, teasing us with sparing details, and indeed, we are left unsure whether even Gandalf actually know what he has faced... he seems puzzled by the use of the word "Ghâsh" (fire) and when they reach the First Deep he is surprised by the flames: "There is some new devilry here," and it is not until the Balrog actually appears that Gandalf understands what he must accomplish in order for the others to survive.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 2:55 pm 
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Re Ori - Elf-Dwarf-Man relationships around Mirkwood were pretty good after the events of the Hobbit, IRCC.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 3:20 pm 
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So it was just Gloin that still held a grudge over his treatment by the Wood-Elves?

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 3:33 pm 
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My interpretation of Ori's facility with Elvish is that it hearkens back to the good relations that go back to the days of Narvi and Celebrimbor.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 3:53 pm 
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Frelga wrote:
Re Ori - Elf-Dwarf-Man relationships around Mirkwood were pretty good after the events of the Hobbit, IRCC.

Well, Gimli and Legolas don't get along very well at first!


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 4:49 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
My interpretation of Ori's facility with Elvish is that it hearkens back to the good relations that go back to the days of Narvi and Celebrimbor.


Good point...I can understand and appreciate why he would have learnt Elvish, but I wonder why he used it in preference to Dwarvish Cirth/Angerthas

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 4:55 pm 
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I would guess, because he felt better able to express himself in that language. I think it is meant as a comment about Ori's personality, as much as anything else.

PtB wrote:
As for this chapter, it is so immeasurably perfect that I have difficulty even talking about it. It's almost worshipful. The depths of space and time and memory captured in one place, in one chapter. So good that my vulgar words can only diminish it!


While I agree with your assessment of the chapter, I disagree with your assessment of your own ability to do it justice. I do hope that you will try.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:28 pm 
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Elentári wrote:
So it was just Gloin that still held a grudge over his treatment by the Wood-Elves?

It could be that he was "over it" until he heard that the Wood-Elves treated Gollum better than the dwarves. I can understand that rankling.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:31 pm 
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Good point!

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 25, 2014 9:42 pm 
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Like PtB, I don't think there's much I can say about this chapter - it's so good that it really speaks for itself!

The initial fight between Gandalf and the Balrog in the chamber of Marzabul is interesting, and really the closest we get to a "wizard duel" in the books.

So is Moria the oldest dwarf settlement? I was under the impression that Nogrod and Belegost were older, but Gimli's chant makes it sound like Moria came first.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 3:38 pm 
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Here's one thing that's stood out to me on this re-read: Sam really likes the epic/heroic poems and songs, especially about the Elder Days. In this chapter, for example, he says that he wants to learn Gimli's song. At least in this way, he is more like Bilbo than any of the other hobbits. Also note their similar reactions to Caradhras and the Misty Mountains that I posted in The Ring Goes South.


Last edited by kzer_za on Mon Jan 27, 2014 3:07 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 8:50 pm 
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I really like that about Sam. Though I would add that Frodo seems to share that appreciation for epic (and vulgar) poetry as well.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 9:28 pm 
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Frodo appreciates it, but I don't think he has quite the same fascination as Sam. And so far, I think Frodo generally prefers the more hobbity poems (which Sam also likes, of course). Though it's possible we'll see some stuff later on I've forgotten about!


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 10:24 pm 
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I think that has to do with Sam's naïveté concerning the poetry. He comes to it fresh and full of wonder and curiosity, which I love about him.

Frodo, with Bilbo as his patron, has been more schooled on the subject, and thus approaches it all with a touch more intellectualism.


Last edited by Passdagas the Brown on Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 11:23 pm 
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As Tolkien says, "Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book." On the other hand, "Frodo is not intended to be another Bilbo."

kzer_za wrote:
So is Moria the oldest dwarf settlement? I was under the impression that Nogrod and Belegost were older, but Gimli's chant makes it sound like Moria came first.


I'm honestly not sure, although we know of course that the Longbeards were the first kindred to awaken, and we know that the remnants of the the Firebeards and the Broadbeams went to Moria after being decimated by the Elves of Doriath and Beren. I'm not clear, however, whether Moria was the first dwelling place that Durin the Deathless and the rest of the Longbeards built or not. If so, it was definitely older, if not, I'm not sure.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:02 am 
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I want to focus on Tolkien's masterful narrative style and use of language in this chapter to illustrate why I come uncomfortably close to worshiping it as holy writ. These are my impressionistic responses to the chapter, which I think are more valuable than anything more analytical I might say.

Quote:
The Company of the Ring stood silent beside the tomb of
Balin. Frodo thought of Bilbo and his long friendship with
the dwarf, and of Balin’s visit to the Shire long ago. In that
dusty chamber in the mountains it seemed a thousand years
ago and on the other side of the world.


"Long ago," "a thousand years ago," "dusty chamber," "on the other side of the world," with references back to a previous adventure, adding a decidedly melancholic atmosphere to it all. These are simple sentences, with simple words, yet they pierce my history and adventure-loving heart like cold steel. A deep emotional moment happening deep under the Earth. These are the kind of stories that get my blood running.

Quote:
By both the doors they could now see that many bones were
lying, and among them were broken swords and axe-heads,
and cloven shields and helms. Some of the swords were
crooked: orc-scimitars with blackened blades.


The tension begins to build...slowly but surely. And I love how Tolkien's simple prose is shot through with little moments of evocative alliteration: "blackened blades."

In terms of Gandalf's reading of the "record of the fortunes of Balin's folk," I will stick to my previous assertion that my vulgar self can add little to Tolkien's words. This is a masterpiece of language and suspense-building. As Gandalf says, in reference to Ori's account: 'I fear he had ill tidings to record in a fair hand..." I have only praise to record in a rough hand. Though I will quote one of my favorite passages, which to this day connects me to the thinly-sketched Balin in a profound way:

Quote:
‘...Balin lord of Moria fell in Dimrill Dale. He went alone to look in Mirrormere.'


The first time I read that I felt struck by an orc arrow myself! All I could think about was "What is this mysterious and evocatively-named 'Mirrormere'? And why was Balin alone, looking into it?" Whatever Mirrormere was, I felt a deep desire to look into it myself, danger or no.

Quote:
Doom, doom came the drum-beat and the walls shook.


Just perfect prose. These "drums in the deep" make for great alliteration, but the images and sounds these simple words convey are astounding. The thought of being deep underground, in these ancient chambers revered by these ancient bearded warriors, and to hear drums pounding and echoing in chambers that are deeper still. Gives me the shivers just writing about it.

Quote:
There was a rush of hoarse laughter, like the fall of sliding stones into a pit; amid the clamour a deep voice was raised in command. Doom, boom, doom went the drums in the deep.


More of Tolkien's perfect prose, shot through (like "elf shot") with poetry (I always felt that Tolkien's best poetry was his prose!). I mean, "laughter, like the fall of sliding stones into a pit." Has anyone ever conceived of laughter that sounds like that? To me, only Tolkien seems capable of imagining such a sound being associated with laughter. And again, those "drums in the deep," likely mimicking the heart beats of the frightened company.

Quote:
A fire was smouldering in his brown eyes that would have made Ted Sandyman step backwards, if he had seen it.


Love this little reference to Shire politics in the midst of horror.

Quote:
His broad flat face was swart, his eyes were like coals, and his tongue was red; he wielded a great spear.


An author of lesser skill would have taken at least a paragraph to describe this imposing enemy. In one line, Tolkien achieves one of the best descriptions of a "baddie" across the six books. I hoped for so long to see this orc brought to life on the big screen, and was rather disappointed when PJ replaced him with a troll (though a great-looking one, I admit, and loosely based on the "scaled arm" that tried to get itself in earlier).
Quote:
Doom, doom went the drums in the deep. The great voice
rolled out again.


Love this repetition. Tolkien is almost like an orchestral conductor in this chapter, directing his drummers to pound away at just the right times.
Quote:
Suddenly at the top of the stair there was a stab of white
light. Then there was a dull rumble and a heavy thud. The
drum-beats broke out wildly: doom-boom, doom-boom, and
then stopped. Gandalf came flying down the steps and fell to
the ground in the midst of the Company.
‘Well, well! That’s over!’ said the wizard struggling to his
feet. ‘I have done all that I could. But I have met my match,
and have nearly been destroyed.


Frankly, I found this "off-screen" confrontation with the balrog (who we have not yet been introduced to) to be more powerful even than the ultimate confrontation on the bridge. My mind was roiling with questions about whatever it was that caused Gandalf the great wizard to be nearly "destroyed." This mystery was further deepened by Gandalf's subsequent account:
Quote:
‘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 ghaˆsh: 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.
For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I
had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a
strain. The door burst in pieces. Something dark as a cloud
was blocking out all the light inside, and I was thrown backwards
down the stairs.


Chills. Period.

Quote:
I am afraid Balin is buried deep...


More great alliteration. "Balin...buried...deep." At this point, I very much feel like Sam does later on in Lothlórien. Like I am in an old song.

Quote:
Legolas turned and set an arrow to the string, though it
was a long shot for his small bow. He drew, but his hand fell,
and the arrow slipped to the ground. He gave a cry of dismay
and fear. Two great trolls appeared; they bore great slabs of
stone, and flung them down to serve as gangways over the
fire. But it was not the trolls that had filled the Elf with terror.


I am always bowled over by this bit. On my first reading, the image of "great trolls" bearing "great slabs of stone" was simply awe-inspiring. Like some evil inversion of Moses descending from the mountain with his slabs of stone. But then immediately afterwards, I am told that this awesome sight is not the thing that filled Legolas with terror. It was something else!

Quote:
The ranks of the orcs had opened, and they crowded away,
as if they themselves were afraid. Something was coming up
behind them. What it was could not be seen: it was like a
great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of
man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror
seemed to be in it and to go before it.


I believe this is the moment when I decided that Middle Earth was real, and had existed in my mind since birth. For many years in my youth, I had often dreamed of an "undefined" shadow, moving towards me and sometimes trapping me in my bed with a great weight on my chest. This nightmare was coming to life as I read.

Quote:
‘A Balrog,’ muttered Gandalf. ‘Now I understand.’ He
faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. ‘What an evil fortune!
And I am already weary.’


IMO, one of the best few lines of dialogue across all of Tolkien's works. My shoulders feel slumped in weariness just reading it. It reminds me of the near-universal feeling one gets when rather than raining, it "pours." At the time, it was school exams, the death of my grandfather, social anxieties, etc. Without any deep psychological profiling, Tolkien placed me in the shoes of an ancient spirit of legend!
Quote:
Boromir raised his horn and blew. Loud the challenge rang
and bellowed, like the shout of many throats under the
cavernous roof. For a moment the orcs quailed and the fiery
shadow halted. Then the echoes died as suddenly as a flame
blown out by a dark wind, and the enemy advanced again.


Horns, and "many throats," and "cavernous roofs," and dark winds. I am convinced that Tolkien was deeply inspired during this chapter - that traveling deep under the Earth with his pen sparked a fire in his creative soul, much like the dwarves sparked a fire that turned out to be their "bane." In this way, the balrog represents to me the peril and promise of seeking answers in the dark - the "blank spaces" on the map. The heart desires it, and suppressing such desires can lead to boredom, mediocrity and depression. But following these desires too far, and too deep, can indeed awaken dangerous beasts. Perhaps Tolkien's own inclination to explore (and make up stories about) the "blank spaces" in Anglo-Saxon myth, language and history has a parallel here? Perhaps the world of Middle Earth acted as some form of a "bane" to his academic duties? :) I doubt that was intended, but there's something rather psychologically powerful, in a nebulous way, about the balrogs, that leads me to a personal interpretation. This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that they are rather unique. Like the giant spiders, nothing quite like them appears in much of the Northern myth that Tolkien knew so well.

ETA: Though they do remind me of some demons described in eastern myths. Certain old descriptions of the devil, among Magyar tribesmen, also have a "balrogy" feel...

Quote:
The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the
middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but
in his other hand Glamdring gleamed, cold and white. His
enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it
reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the
thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils. But
Gandalf stood firm.


Someone on these forums once used the phrase "mythic moment" to describe a scene in PJ's films. I'd like to commandeer that phrase here. A mythic moment par excellence.

Quote:
The fires went out, and blank darkness fell. The Company
stood rooted with horror staring into the pit.


Anyone who's experienced profound grief knows about the "pit." Whether it sits in your stomach or your mind, staring into it is usually the first stage of such grief.

Quote:
They stumbled wildly up the great stairs beyond the door,
Aragorn leading, Boromir at the rear. At the top was a wide
echoing passage. Along this they fled. Frodo heard Sam at
his side weeping, and then he found that he himself was
weeping as he ran. Doom, doom, doom the drum-beats rolled
behind, mournful now and slow; doom!


I am not a weepy fellow, but this passage did get me. The first time I read it, I was too shocked to fully process what had happened. But on subsequent readings, I often tear up. Not necessarily from grief at Gandalf's passing (as I know he will be back), but due to personal experience with the type of sudden, shocking loss that might lead one to not be conscious of their tears.

Quote:
Thus, at last, they came beyond hope under the sky and
felt the wind on their faces.


Can one count themselves among the living if they do not feel the wind on their faces when reading this? Perhaps, but it's not the kind of life I want. I'll keep on climbing in and out of Khazad-Dums (both literally and figuratively) for as long as I live.


Last edited by Passdagas the Brown on Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:27 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 27, 2014 1:52 am 
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Thank you, PtB. :love: Reading your post felt like reading that passage for the first time. Though for me the tears come at the very end:

Quote:
They looked back. Dark yawned the archway of the Gates under the mountain-shadow. Faint and far beneath the earth rolled the slow drum-beats: doom. A thin black smoke trailed out. Nothing else was to be seen; the dale all around was empty. Doom. Grief at last wholly overcame them, and they wept long: some standing and silent, some cast upon the ground. Doom, doom. The drumbeats faded.


It was my first encounter (I was a child then) with that kind of finality and loss, and the disbelief it causes. No, this can't be true! In the books I'd read up until then, it usually wasn't.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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