The Lord of the Rings Reread

LotR re-read: Fellowship II.5, “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm”

We continue the Lord of the Rings re-read with Fellowship II.5, “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm.” Spoilers and comments behind the cut.

What Happens

The Company finds a book recording the fortunes of Balin’s folk in Moria. It states that the Dwarves drove out Orcs on their arrival and found truesilver (mithril) in their first year, and that Orcs killed Balin and overran the Dwarves in their fifth year, trapping the last of them in the room with Balin’s tomb. As Gandalf finishes reading, the Company hears an enormous drum-beat and the sound of many Orcs approaching.

The Orcs attack. Frodo is pinned to the wall by a spear, and amazes everyone by not dying. Gandalf sends the rest of the Company out the other exit to wait at the bottom of the stairs. At the top, he attempts to spell shut the door, and is met by a terrible challenge; the struggle causes the door to burst and much of the chamber to collapse.

The Company descends. When they arrive at the level below the Gates, they find that, because they did not use the main road, they are on the exit side of a fire-filled chasm. As they arrive at the narrow Bridge leading to the outside, a Balrog (Durin’s Bane) arrives. After the rest cross, Gandalf holds the Bridge against the Balrog, eventually breaking the Bridge at the Balrog’s feet. But as the Balrog falls, it pulls Gandalf into the abyss.

The Company, now led by Aragorn, flees Moria and grieves in the sunlight outside.


I’ve been looking at this chapter pretty much since I posted about the last one, and I just don’t find a lot of things to say about it. (And yet it still took me until Friday to post, you say? Well, yeah, but that’s because SteelyKid got sick again in the middle of the week, and eight-month-olds believe very firmly that misery loves company. (She’s better now.)) On the other hand, perhaps a non-mammoth post would be a nice change of pace?

* * *

In the Chamber of Mazarbul:

The record book mentions “Durin’s Axe,” possibly in the context of Balin claiming lordship, which appears to be an orphan reference; anyone?

This chapter makes good use of repetition for effect, starting with “We cannot get out” three times in the section Gandalf reads. It also employs the very simple but, as far as I’m concerned, brilliantly effective device of characterizing the drum beat as sounding like “doom,” which economically communicates how the Orcs are feeling in a manner than increases the reader’s tension: for instance, when the door to the Chamber of Mazarbul bursts, “(t)he drum-beats broke out wildly: doom-boom, doom-boom, and then stopped.”

Uruks of Mordor are among the attack, which I believe is the first definite sighting of non-supernatural Mordor creatures in the book. The text doesn’t specify which kind of Orc attacked Frodo: I’d suspect it was a Mordor orc since it went past Boromir and Aragorn to get to Frodo, but the Watcher also targeted Frodo first and it seems harder to imagine how it could be explicitly, affirmatively allied with Sauron.

The cave troll, Boromir, and Frodo: either swords are of much lower quality these days, or the hide on a troll is much thicker at the arm than the foot, or both. Probably both, though I don’t think we know about the lineage of Boromir’s sword, if any. (Also, blood smoking when it hits the floor? Any bio types want to comment on whether this is remotely plausible or just window-dressing?)

Sam kills an orc. He shows no reaction to this that I can remember, probably because of the intervening shock of Gandalf’s fall and the fact that he has no reason to see orcs as anything but animals. There is no mention of Merry or Pippin’s actions in the fight.

“Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.” Is this a hint at their future friendship, or just convenience?

* * *

The eponymous Bridge:

Wow, I love this section. It has such fabulous descriptions, like the first time the Balrog’s seen clearly:

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.

I love the rhythm of the darkness, rushing, fire generally, and of the third sentence particularly. Also, the Balrog’s mane catches fire and it doesn’t care: how bad-ass is that?

I note in passing that Boromir’s sounding of his horn comes after Gandalf falters and and leans on his staff and Legolas and Gimli drop their weapons in dismay, and just before Gandalf “recall(s) his strength” and tells the others to fly.

The repetition of “You cannot pass” three times in Gandalf’s initial speech echoes and inverts the repetition of “We cannot get out” from the start of the chapter.

Another masterful section of prose follows:

The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.

From out of the shadows a red sword leaped flaming.

Glamdring glittered white in answer.

It’s almost redundant to go on to say that the swords then met in a ringing clash, because the abrupt change from a very long anticipatory sentence (two semi-colons and a colon!) to two terse one-sentence action paragraphs practically conveys that shock on its own.

The section after Gandalf’s fall is also extremely effective writing, particularly the way the ending paragraph keeps increasing the feeling of forlorn loss:

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 drum-beats faded.

(See what I mean about how brilliant the drums are?)

Clearly I must be missing a lot about this chapter. Go on, tell me what.

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