Apr 10 2009 3:26pm

LotR re-read: Fellowship II.4, “A Journey in the Dark”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring Another week, another chapter in the Lord of the Rings re-read, this time Fellowship II.4, “A Journey in the Dark.” (I keep trying to get the posts ready before Friday, and keep having Life get in the way. This week it was a business trip and a briefly unwell SteelyKid. But I live in hope.)

As always, spoilers and comments behind the cut.

What Happens

Gandalf suggests that the Company go through Moria rather than admit defeat and return to Rivendell. No-one but Gimli likes this idea, and Frodo suggests that they wait until morning to decide, but the howling of wolves makes the decision for them. The wolves surround them on a hilltop; Gandalf confronts the leader and Legolas kills it, and the wolves vanish. They return later in the night, however, and attack the camp. Gandalf uses fire, and the non-hobbits their weapons, to kill a number of wolves and drive off the rest. In the morning, no bodies are found, only the arrows of Legolas undamaged on the ground.

The Company hastens to the Gate of Moria. They find that the valley before the walls has been flooded by a blocked stream. Gandalf reveals the inscription and emblems on the Gate’s wall, but cannot remember the opening spell at first. Just as he does, a tentacle/arm comes out of the pool and grabs Frodo by the ankle. Bill the pony runs away. Sam slashes at the arm and it lets go of Frodo, but twenty more come out of the water. The Company runs through the Gate and the arms slam it shut and block it behind them.

They travel through Moria without incident until they stop for a rest and Pippin drops a rock down a well, after which they hear hammers from the depths—except that Frodo thinks he hears something following them, which happens throughout the rest of the chapter. The next morning, they find Balin’s tomb.


Action! Woo!

But I also just like Moria, the sense of grandeur and hidden menace, and imagining what it must look like—not very well, since I have a poor visual imagination, but still. I think I must be closer to a Dwarf than an Elf.

* * *

The debate about going through Moria:

What do we suppose happened to Aragorn on his first journey through Moria? Is it referenced in any of the posthumous works, or shall we just speculate?

Aragorn tells Gandalf, specifically, to beware if he passes the doors of Moria. Someone, probably Graydon but I cannot find the comment now, argued that this is genuine foresight on Aragorn’s part. I had never read it that way, and am still not sure what I think of it. But the more interesting question is what Gandalf thinks of it. He says nothing in response to Aragorn’s comment, and though the chapter is almost entirely exterior to him, shows no sign at all of reconsidering or hesitating in reaction. Even if there had been another option, which there isn’t, it seems to me very true to my gut-level understanding of Gandalf’s character that concern for his own welfare just isn’t very high on his priority list: not fey or reckless, just . . . not concerned.

Looking through the rest of the passages I have flagged, I see that Aragorn and the narration agree with me: Aragorn says that Gandalf will lead them out “at whatever cost to himself,” and in a usefully-symbolic description of Gandalf’s choosing a literal path, the narration says, “he knew whither he wished to go, and he did not falter, as long as there was a path that led towards his goal.”

* * *

The wolf attack:

Do Aragorn and Boromir really trade proverbs—rhyming proverbs—at each other? “The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears.” “But where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls.” Yeesh. That is an exchange I’m happy to have skimmed over all this time.

Gandalf’s command to set the trees on fire is the same as the one he used to start the fire in the blizzard. Yes, I checked.

(The unsuccessful opening spell at the Gate has the word “ammen” in common, but that’s all.)

The description of Legolas’s arrow catching fire and “plung(ing) burning into the heart of a great wolf-chieftain” strikes me as a rare cinematic image, or maybe watching cheesy movies has warped my mind. A less kinetic description, but still good, is Gandalf as “a great menacing shape like the monument of some ancient king of stone set upon a hill.”

It does not appear that the hobbits actually fought, just stood ready.

They were “no ordinary wolves” indeed, to leave behind no bodies, only the undamaged arrows that Legolas shot them with. This strikes me as a very different approach from The Hobbit, and even from anything else that I can think of in LotR proper: they were corporal, because the weapons struck them, and then . . . they weren’t, apparently. Creepy, but sensible? I’m not sure.

* * *

During the journey to the Gate, the narrative, after having seemed to come pretty firmly down on the side of the blizzard being Caradhras, then casts doubt on this conclusion by saying, “That day the weather changed again, almost as if it was at the command of some power that had no longer any use for snow” and wanted visibility instead. Of course we have the usual “as if” equivocation, but still, I found this rather odd.

* * *

I like the way tension is slowly built regarding the pool before the Gate. We first see it and are told that it’s “ominous,” but in a static way: “a dark still lake” with a “sullen surface.” Then the Company has to cross a narrow creek at its corner that is “like a slimy arm”—foreshadowing!—and generally icky. Right after, there’s the first hint that something’s in the lake, with a swish-plop, ripples, and bubbles. The lake continues icky as they go ‘round it, with trees rotting in the shallows. It then drops out of our sight as they find the Gate, but comes back to our attention even more strongly when Boromir throws a rock in, there are bigger ripples, and Frodo expresses fear. A brief respite, as Gandalf figures out how to open the Gate, and then bang! A new section starts and Frodo gets grabbed.

(I acquit Boromir of causing the arms to come out, as the swish and bubble come “at the same instant” as the stone vanishing, rather than in obvious response, and whatever-it-was had already been roused. Possibly by the Ring, since as Gandalf thinks to himself, it grabbed Frodo first.)

Sam is the only one to act; everyone else is frozen in horror, and who could blame them? Middle-earth had been very non-Lovecraftian to this point, and suddenly, many many pale-green luminous tentacles ahoy!

(Frodo says later that “I felt that something horrible was near from the moment that my foot first touched the water.” I would put that down to understandable hindsight, except that later the narration explicitly tells us that post-Morgul knife, “His senses were sharper and more aware of things that could not be seen.”)

* * *

Other bits about the scene before the Gate:

Okay, someone do the filling-in thing that y’all are good at, and convince me that Gandalf’s talking to Bill the pony would actually be any help. Because that passage looks like just statements that would match his instincts anyway—find grass and go where you want—so how is that going to give him “as much chance of escaping wolves and getting home as we have”? Unless that was a backhanded comment on their chances, and that feels wrong, since Gandalf is genuinely sympathetic to Sam’s concern.

Gimli & Legolas re: the split between Dwarves and Elves: I note that while Gimli flat-out asserts, “It was not the fault of the Dwarves,” Legolas says, “I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves” (emphasis added). Which is a nice sum-up of the different ways the two species talk.

Until Gandalf identifies one of the emblems as the Star of the House of Fëanor, I’d forgotten that Celebrimbor was Fëanor’s grandchild (per The Silmarillion). But then I can never keep all of Fëanor’s descendants straight.

And I like the way this description uses contrasts with nature for emphasis:

Nothing happened. The cliff towered into the night, the countless stars kindled, the wind blew cold, and the doors stood fast.

It makes them feel so very immovable.

* * *

Bits about Moria proper:

Pippin has to summon up the courage to jump a seven-foot gap. Rather than jump around in my living room and try and guess how far I’d made, I looked around the Internet, which suggested that an average high school athlete can long-jump fifteen-ish feet. Since Pippin is shorter, seven feet strikes me as just plausible for him to make but be apprehensive about.

Sam laments the lack of rope, here, and I say to myself, didn’t anyone else think to bring some?

Pippin is “curiously attracted” by the well and drops the stone down it on “a sudden impulse.” I know exactly what he means, don’t you?—that awful fascination of cliff edges and the like. Though, being older than Pippin, I don’t give in to those fascinations. (Well, I mostly didn’t even when I was at his stage of life, either. Personality differences.)

When they get to the wide hall, Gandalf risks some light, not by a gradually-increasing brightness that would let their eyes adjust, but by a “blaze like a flash of lightning.” I disbelieve that this was useful or wise (surely a sudden flash would catch attention from outside as much or more?).

Like Sam (and how often am I going to write that, I wonder), I enjoy Gimli’s chant about Durin and Moria. Maybe it’s the nice straightforward iambs (she says, hoping that she’s properly identified the meter)?

I love this description of Frodo listening while on watch: “As if it were a breath that came in through unseen doors out of deep places, dread came over him.” Also the end of the chapter, which has a great thumping bleak quality to it:

“He is dead then,” said Frodo. “I feared it was so.” Gimli cast his hood over his face.

A very emphatic pause, between next chapter and next week. See you then.

« Fellowship II.3 | Index | Fellowship II.5 »

1. sps49
This is what I like about these rereads- in all this time, I never ever caught the creek "slimy arm" bit. Love it, and I love everyone else's eyes on the books.
Azara microphylla
2. Azara
When I read this as a kid, I hadn't yet read The Hobbit, and I remember thinking that the revelation of Balin's tomb fell a bit flat, when I hadn't any vivid idea of who Balin was. I think if I'd known The Hobbit well, that scene would have had much more impact.

I've always been fascinated by mithril and ithildin, truesilver and the starmoon that was used to write upon the doors. When the elves were so fond of moonlight and starlight, I suppose that Tolkien felt they needed something more than ordinary silver that tarnishes.
3. legionseagle
First, I'd like to defend the rhyming proverb thing. It sounds to me exactly like the sort of thing bored, soldiers on patrol (or waiting in the guardhouse to go out on patrol) might easily start a tradition of making up to pass the time.

Admittedly, I speak as one who spent most of the duller bits of a very cold cricket match swapping made-up-on-the-spot weather saws with a friend (the only one I can now remember is "When the wind turns cold and chilly batting longer would be silly" so I also don't think I can legitimately throw stones at "the wolf that one fears"on aesthetic or stop-stating-the-blindingly-obvious grounds). We were both LOTR fans of long standing, so possibly the subconscious influences ran deep.

Secondly, in terms of stating the blindingly obvious, or in fact not spotting the blindingly obvious, I think the scene before the Gates of Moria is great in that it shows Gandalf stumped by what is, in essence, a pun, because his thinking along magical lines overcomplicates the matter.

There's also the only example I've ever been able to find of somewhere where I think Tolkien deleted a few lines while drafting, and then didn't make the consequential correction in the published edition. In the published version what Merry says is, "What does it mean, speak, friend, and enter?". When it is revealed that Celebrimbor effectively has hidden the relevant clue in plain sight (which I still think is very funny, though unless the Elves of Hollin were able to impose a sort of Crying Game-style moral obligation against spoilers by returning visitors to newbies, I don't see why news of it wouldn't have leaked to Gandalf or at least Elrond) Gandalf says "Merry, of all people, was on the right track."

Now, on the words as published the only sense in which Merry was on the "right track" was a purely Socratic one: he at least knew he was ignorant whereas Gandalf thought he knew the answer but what he knew which wasn't so was leading him up the garden path all along. But I suspect there may have been some lost dialogue in which (perhaps) Merry puts forward some a theory based on punning or word-play and is pooh-poohed.

It would be nice symmetry if this were so, since the entry to Moria begins with a riddle, and we know what happened last time when we got hobbits, underground passages and riddles. If the riddle were intended to be solved by a hobbit in some earlier version that would have increased the symmetry (though might well have had to be changed for space or other reasons, leaving only the fragment we get).
4. DemetriosX
I am inclined to take Aragorn's foresight as genuine. As the journey progresses, he will come more and more into his full powers. This is a sign that the blood of Numenor flows in his veins. Gandalf is aware that he is right. He is after all somewhat reluctant to go through Moria, as if he knows what fate awaits him there.

I have never before really noticed the parallel of Boromir tossing a stone into the lake and Pippin dropping a stone down the well. The differing reactions of Frodo and Gandalf are also interesting.

Sam is the first to react when Frodo is grabbed, but is it this moment or when they all flee through the gate that he dithers between going to Bill and going with Frodo. As for what Gandalf says to Bill, I have always thought of it as a sort of blessing placed on the pony.

While I know exactly what you are talking about with Pippin's attraction to the well and impulse to drop a rock, I've often felt that there may have been more to it than that. Working of fate or the ring maybe.
Sacha G
5. Fortune_Prick_Me
About that rope, it's interesting how Sam makes up for it later on in Lothlorien and it actually come in handy, both to rescue Frodo and to bind Gollum.

I can't tell if this is foreshadowing or if writing this inspired Tolkein to use this later on (the tale grew in the telling).

Another possible foreshadowing bit may be between Pippin's dropping that stone and his later retrieving of the Orthanc stone, the Palantir - due to his tomfool of a Took's insatiable curiosity.

I always felt Gimli's grief was incredibly dramatic (in the good way) in this scene. Unlike the movie portrayal, I always felt him to be a young, earnest and enthusiastic, yet not silly dwarf. His rapture over the Glittering Caves and here over Khazad-Dum were truly moving.
6. Erunyauve
Fortune_Prick_Me @ 5:
Total agreement with you, on all the points, especially MovieGimli. Especially with the expanded scenes (really? he challenges Legolas to a drinking game and then starts talking about skinny-dipping? really?), he was quite silly in the movie.
One thing I noticed when I read this chapter is how it mirrors in many ways "A Knife in the Dark," and not just in the name.
Consider: The chapter opens with a sudden explosion of violence. Everyone travels to a rather spooky place with a lot of history, where there is strange writing. Then there is supernatural violence in which an unholy Thing attacks Frodo. Then there is more traveling (into darkness), and there is a sudden, thudding end and fear descends.
Also, this chapter marks the end of the arc of Bill the pony. Yes, he appears again in the very end, but that's essentially it for him. I interpret Bill (and his nice, boring name) as a link to all that the hobbits are leaving behind - they must put their past behind them, swallow their fear, and descend into the pit (literally!). As for why Sam is the person who jumps to help Frodo from the Watcher, I think that is because Sam is the hobbit who, at this points, actually understands. Merry and Pippin are rather oblivious still (they come to understand just what it is they've gotten themselves into later) and Frodo is too busy being freaked out, understandably. Sam's actions in this sequence are significant. He 1) jumps to Frodo's defense, using his sword for violence I think the first time (he drew it before, but this is the first time he's stabbed anyone) and then 2) pauses to look at Bill as they run into Moria. It is also Sam who voices what I think all the hobbits themselves are thinking: "Poor old Bill! Poor old Bill! Wolves and snakes! But the snakes were too much for him." Remember that wolves have not been seen in the Shire since the Fell Winter, long before any of the hobbits was born, and snakes (other than garden snakes) and other Lovecraftian (I totally agree that the Watcher is totally Lovecraftian) things are unheard of. The rest of Sam's comment, by the way, is the crux of Sam's development: he says that while the wolves and snakes were too much for Bill, he, Sam had to go with Frodo - he would never consider otherwise.
Tudza White
7. tudzax1
If Gandalf's words over Bill had no meat to them, why would he waste time saying them?

I always thought this was the equivalent of the kiss on the forehead Dorothy got.

" one will dare injure a person who has been kissed by the Witch of the North."
8. Elaine T
During the journey to the Gate, the narrative, after having seemed to come pretty firmly down on the side of the blizzard being Caradhras, then casts doubt on this conclusion by saying, “That day the weather changed again, almost as if it was at the command of some power that had no longer any use for snow” and wanted visibility instead. Of course we have the usual “as if” equivocation, but still, I found this rather odd.

I think Tolkien wanted to leave it an open question. He doesn't want readers to zero in on Sauron as the cause of all bad things. Somewhere he wrote about that. There are other bad powers in the world besides Sauron and Saruman. It even makes it into LotR when somewhere along the way Gandalf remarks that the world is gnawed by nameless evil that even Sauron doesn't know. And, of course, we're about to run into the Balrog/Durin's Bane.

I did think Gandalf's line in the previous chapter when discussing the blizzard "his arm has grown long" implies Sauron could have been behind the trouble, and Gandalf is seriously considering it.

While I'm here... I'm with those who take Aragorn's warning as genuine foresight. I think his unease about their course is also due to foresight that is being less specific, but warning him of upcoming trouble. He might even be getting the idea he's not going to Minas Tirith with Boromir as planned. Or it may simply be that all courses of action are bad.

If Gandalf can say that he hopes Moria is free of orcs as they were decimated by the Battle of Five Armies, I guess whatever Aragorn experienced in his first trip there wasn't orcs. It would have been between the Battle oFA and now. Maybe the sense of the Balrog - a weight of evil?

I do wonder how the world's most experienced traveler didn't think to pack wood along while climbing to the pass, or notice how his companions were handling the cold. Was Tolkien just trying to give Boromir something respectable to do?
9. Elaine T.
BTW, neither this blog nor the one on the previous chapter are live links in the index yet.
Kate Nepveu
10. katenepveu
sps49 @ #1, thank you, and you're welcome.

Azara @ #2, good point about the impact of Balin's tomb depending heavily on _The Hobbit_--I think that's very reasonable and one of the few things so far that really does depend on having *read* _The Hobbit_, not just heard about the events.

legionseagle @ #3, as far as "Merry was on the right track," hmm, I can see that some lines might've been cut out, but I could also read it, and have read it, in the "Socratic" sense, as you say. But I do like the idea that a hobbit might've actually solved the riddle.

(Also, it's said that the doors were usually open, so I don't think we necessarily need to attribute Gandalf's ignorance to really good spoiler protection. => )

DemetriosX @ #4, no reason Pippin & the well couldn't also have been the Ring, but since it's not necessary and since I don't _think_ we get hints of the Ring influencing other people that subtly, I'm inclined against it.

Fortune_Prick_Me @ #5, I hadn't connected up the rock in the well and the palantir. I think I like it. And yes to you & Erunyauve @ #6, comic-relief Gimli in the movies was really unfortunate.

Erunyauve @ #6, interesting parallel to "A Knife in the Dark"! I think I will have to look at the overall structure of the action so far for the next post--give it a closer look besides "lots more of it." I also applaud your discussion of Bill the pony & Sam--very useful, thanks.

tudzax1 @ #7, I agree Gandalf wouldn't waste time saying words over Bill, I just couldn't see how they were useful, is all.

Elaine T @ #8, you're right, the long-arm comment about the storm did leave open the possibility that Sauron was behind the weather, but I had taken it at the time to be a general warning rather than a specific assignment of blame. But I also agree that Tolkien was trying to open up the cast of bad actors to more than just Sauron, which is why I found it weird that the blame for the weather was possibly being shifted from a non-Sauron actor, Caradhras, to Sauron.

As far as Aragorn's not being the one to suggest bringing wood or check in on the hobbits, mmm, maybe the blood of Numenor keeps him warm? No? Then I got nothing. =>

(And thanks for the note about the index.)

And I just said it at the last post, but I'll say it again here too: thank you all for the comments that are consistently civil, even when we discuss fraught topics, as well as interesting and enlightening. I appreciate it more than I can adequately express.
Andrew Foss
11. alfoss1540
The Lake - My image of this lake has always been of the National Geographic pictures in the 80's Mono Lake. Wicked brown briney disgusting water. I never saw it personally, but I do recall seeing a small corner of San Diego Bay that we would visit polluted to a color of redish brown. I was about 11 years old and just remembered that only 1 year prior to that I swam in that same water - and imagined what might be in there waiting to grab from beneath.

Can anyone recall anywhere else in Middle Earth where there is something like this pool watcher. Lovecraftian is a perfect description. But not Balrog-like. I do not get where it came from, but it is almost as gross as Shelob's yellow underbelly or the fetid pools that Frodo almost slid into while sleeping on the Morgai.

Balin - I appreciated Frodo's memories of Bilbo's relationship with Balin. I also just reread the Hobbit and did not see that close relationship specifically with Balin - but the narrative does not do justice to a 9 month trip and all the memories they shared. I also liked seeing a specific instance of Frodo's first hand knowledege of the outside world before he set forth on his journey. Like when they saw the Stone Trolls, this is another aha moment to Bilbo's tales.

Action or not, I love this chapter and the next. Caves Scare the S___ out of me. And despite little action, I was totally on the edge of my seat again (14 reading or so). Gollum just made it all that much creepier!

The Flash of Light - seemed incredibly hasty (thank you Treebeard)for Gandalf to do that - knowing that there may be shafts to the outside world that could reveal that flash to anyone looking up ath the mountain. A simple torch or lighting a fire might suffice.

Pippin dropping the stone - I resented Gandalf's scolding, mostly because he did not do as harshly to Boromir for the same infraction.

Now - everyone think - at what point in their travels through Moria do the Orcs figure out what is going on and plan their attack??? It takes more than a little effort to move over 100 orcs,a few Trolls and a Balrog through the "roads" of Moria.
Sacha G
12. Fortune_Prick_Me
Seems there may be a lot at play in author construction here.

Boromir's tossing the stone in the lake awakens the Chtulu monster (Kate, I agree he is blameless himself) and Pippin's tossing the stone in the well starts up the drums of the orcs.

Erunyauve@6 The loss of Bill the pony as the last waypost or reminder of civilized/known lands from the Hobbit's perspective is just too perfect. I missed the significance of the simple "english" name versus more outlandish and "foreign" names to come. Great catch.

If the tale is seen as a Campbellian coming of age tale, could this be the last milestone before the "you're on your own moment". The flight at the ford, Weathertop and Old Man Willow could be just warnings of the trials to come.

Balin's tomb could be seen as closure to what we know from The Hobbit. It could also be seen as the final chapter of innocence, with Gimli casting his hood over his head as that final knell. From now on things will get dark; the children's book of spooky goblins will give way to the adult fantasy of bloodthirsty orcs. It shows that LOSS is in the Fellowship's future.

On a lighter note... thanks to all for inspiring comments.
13. Erunyauve
So it seems we are all agreed that the Watcher is C'thulu (or very C'thulu-esque, in any case). In that case: Ph'nglui mglw'nafh C'thulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!
Sorry, I just had to.
I find Boromir looking out for the hobbits and generally being smart (i.e. firewood), I'm torn between Tolkien wanting to make Boromir someone we care about - he's not a bad person, after all, and we should care about him - without making him too heroic. However, I think Boromir jumping into protect-the-hobbits mode is actually significant of his character arc as a whole. Boromir, in the council, looks on Bilbo in askance when he suggests destroying the Ring himself (only to realize that no-one else finds this funny). He then looks after the hobbits, because he thinks they need it. He then attempts to "persuade" Frodo to do the "right thing," i.e. give him the Ring. I'm noticing a pattern: Boromir doesn't see the hobbits as adults with agency. He sees them as lesser (perhaps children) in need of his protection and guidance. This paternalistic attitude is both good - he notices that they're freezing - and bad.
Eric Scharf
14. EricScharf
Aragorn tells Gandalf, specifically, to beware if he passes the doors of Moria. Someone, probably Graydon but I cannot find the comment now, argued that this is genuine foresight on Aragorn’s part. . . . Even if there had been another option, which there isn’t, it seems to me very true to my gut-level understanding of Gandalf’s character that concern for his own welfare just isn’t very high on his priority list: not fey or reckless, just . . . not concerned.

This goes straight to the question of predestination that is often raised with the issue of Gandalf's departure and return.  There are numerous instances of Gandalf acting as if the outcome of Frodo's quest were uncertain, even after his return as Gandalf the White.  This inclines me to think that it wasn't necessary that Gandalf fall in Moria for the quest to succeed, but Aragorn's apparent prescience and Gandalf's insouciant resolve make me wonder if Gandalf knows that some price had to be paid.

While Gandalf's fall has the arguably unnecessary consequence of the breaking of the Fellowship, his sacrifice not only achieves the Ring's safe passage across the Mountains but also takes the Balrog "out of the equation."  I'm reminded of the "chance-meeting in Bree" passage in Appendix A, wherein Gandalf darkly speculates on what role to which Sauron might have put Smaug.  And here I thought the chief accident of the "Lonely Mountain incident" was the Bilbo's finding of the Ring!
15. legionseagle
Kate said
What do we suppose happened to Aragorn on his first journey through Moria? Is it referenced in any of the posthumous works, or shall we just speculate?

Aragorn tells Gandalf, specifically, to beware if he passes the doors of Moria. Someone, probably Graydon but I cannot find the comment now, argued that this is genuine foresight on Aragorn’s part.

Speculation ahoy! I'm about to put forward a hypothesis which, while accounting for all of the known facts, does require two assumptions to be made.

Aragorn's maternal grandparents do seem to possess some kind of foresight, at least when it comes to the marriage of their daughter. It is therefore possible that Aragorn has inherited some kind of prophetic gift.

However, there is another candidate for the source both of his earlier evil impression of Moria and his fears, specifically, for Gandalf when the Company enter Moria.

Aragorn spent "a season" in Lorien in T.A. 2980. It is far from impossible that he looked into the Mirror of Galadriel during this period. In fact, I go so far as to suggest that this is in fact likely; as he had just become betrothed to Arwen he would want to know how that might turn out (including how Elrond was likely to take the news) and Galadriel, who appears sympathetic to his suit, might want to be sure that he went forward armed with as much foreknowledge as possible.

Let us suppose in looking in the Mirror Aragorn caught a glimpse of the Mines of Moria, of Gandalf perishing at the hands of some (unseen) force of great evil and of himself fleeing with great burdens upon him.

Then let us assume that some time later (I suggest almost immediately, since he enters from the Dimrill Gate, which is a very short distance from Lorien,) he is forced to pass into Moria. With the recollection of his vision, he would be constantly on edge for any sign of Gandalf and the evil which follows hard on his heels, and this would have contributed to the evil sense he felt there; the Balrog which sleeps lends horror to the orc that creeps.

On leaving Moria unscathed the natural assumption would be that the vision was one of those "might have been" scenes which the Mirror shows, since (as I have remarked before, in a slightly different context) fetching up somewhere like Moria is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, even in the lives of very unfortunate people.

But when he enters for the second time, with Gandalf actually at his side, he would realise that this time it must be happening for sure.

It is, as indicated, speculation.

incidentally, ElaineT's comment about the Battle of the Five Armies made me do some digging in the Appendices. Aragorn has just had his 11th birthday and is living in Rivendell when Bilbo comes back that way. I like the thought that one of the first eye-witness accounts Aragorn might have heard from someone who had recently fought in a pitched battle came from a hobbit, at a time when he wouldn't have been much more than hobbit size himself. It probably contributes to his over-estimating hobbit capabilities ever afterwards, like (to cross over to another thread, briefly) Fat Ninny's somewhat skewed perceptions of the relative sizes of him and Miles Vorkosigan, based on early formative experiences.
16. legionseagle
Incidentally this photograph of Loughrigg Cave, Lake District, England shows a lake in a cave (probably an abandoned copper mine) which was on a favourite walk of my family's, when I was a child. I never went in there without expecting a tentacle or several to grab my ankle, and the water levels fluctuated according to whether it had been a wet or dry summer, just as specified, and I'm not quite sure if I didn't expect orcs to issue from the back of the cave, either.
17. skinnyiain
'A very emphatic pause, between next chapter and next week.'

Didn't Tolkien pause for a long time in writing LOTR at this point, too? It must have felt like a turning-point to him just as much as it does to the Fellowship and to the reader. All links with things that are Shire-like have been severed (for the characters) and any sense that this book might be like the Hobbit in tone and content have gone (for Tolkien and for us).
18. DBratman
The reason nobody knows the password is stated in the text: in times of peace and occupancy the doors were kept open; and Gandalf on his one previous visit had not come in this way. Since the abandonment of Moria it had been, well, abandoned, and hardly anyone went there; further, the Westgate is very much the back door: the main halls are all at the East end.

There's nothing in the published drafts, at least that I've noticed, expanding on Merry's comment. But since Gandalf states that the inscription doesn't "say anything of importance to us," while Merry doesn't just admit to ignorance, but actually points out that the words are ambiguous to him, that strikes me as enough to put him on the right track where Gandalf is not.

Azara #2: Yes, if you'd known The Hobbit, the finding of Balin's tomb would be quite affecting.

The great, but nearly forgotten, Tolkien fan artist Annette Harper once did a wonderful portrait of the Fellowship at the Westgate. Gandalf is facing the inscription with his arms spread; Aragorn, Frodo, and Gimli are looking on, trying to help. Legolas is busy mending his arrows; Sam is holding the pony; Pippin and Merry are chatting away in a corner. And Boromir is sitting there with his chin resting in his hand, looking utterly disgusted and bored out of his skull.

(You can tell this drawing pre-dates the films because not one of the characters looks anything like the actors who played them. Portraying your own ideas of what they should look like seems to have become a lost art.)
19. legionseagle
DBratman@18 When you say "The reason nobody knows the password is stated in the text: in times of peace and occupancy the doors were kept open" that is, of course, a more-or-less accurate summary of the explanation given in the text (with one cavil, explained below).

The problem for a critic, like numerous other points in LOTR (including the "why did they hang about in Moria for two months just so they could set off over a bunch of Alpine-style mountains in the depths of winter?" issue raised in the previous read-through) is that when closely analysed the explanation given in the text is fundamentally and totally bonkers.

Now, that doesn't matter when reading the book. That's because of Tolkien's ability to make the reader suspend disbelief. Not just ability: genius. Hell, Tolkien didn't just suspend disbelief; he strapped disbelief to the backs of giant eagles and powered it at speeds of Mach 1 and above through rains of flying pumice and temperatures that could melt rock. And it was still airborne at the finish.

And it certainly doesn't matter when enjoying the book (provided you take the view that taking something apart and then putting it back together again, carefully, leaving no random screws on the carpet is not committing the Error of Saruman).

But if looking at the book from a loving, yet critical perspective, the explanation given in the text simply doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

What Gandalf says, and Gimli (importantly) endorses is this (emphasis mine): "They usually stood open and doorwards sat here. But if they were shut, any who knew the opening word could speak it and pass in." Note the "usually". In fact, thinking of Moria as an Oxford college, this pretty much translates as "The Porter's usually in the lodge, but if he happens to be on his tea-break, you'll find the key to the postern under the college cat's feeding bowl, just to the left of the Master's bicycle."

After the riddle is "solved" Galdalf says, "Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times."

Er, what?

Now, let us go back to the analogy and assume that as well as telling members of the College that the key is under the cat's bowl, the cat's bowl displays, round its rim, transcribed into elegant Greek letters, the legend, "Psst! Key under here, sunshine. And do you happen to have any spare sardines or other piscine matter about your person? Much obliged if so, squire."

So far, pretty much the equivalent of Moria, yes.

The problem is, the whole system is completely compromised the moment someone less than completely scrupulous strolls by with half a pound of haddock and a working knowledge of the Greek alphabet. And, once compromised, it's compromised for all time.

Now, are we supposed to conclude that Durin's Bane came out of a clear blue sky? That one day Moria's defences went straight from, "Who cares who wandering in here after closing time provided they feed the cat" to "Oops! Balrog in basement alert. We repeat, Balrog in basement alert"?

Or do we assume that as the times became less happy attention started to be paid to guarding the Gates? And, if so, why did no-one consider that among all the people who had passed through those Gates in happier days with a good eye for a riddle and a kind word for the cat one might have been less than wholly trustworthy?
20. DBratman
legionseagle #19: Rather than wrapping your head agonizingly around these problems, wouldn't it be easier to assume that the gate was more a formal entrance than a lock? After all, 1) there was no such gate on the East end; 2) when occupied, Moria had a lot of armed Dwarves inside.

There are also two other possibilities, though less supported by the text: 1) The wording is deliberately intended to mislead, and evil people do tend to be rather stupid (but then, so is Gandalf here); 2) the spell is unquestionably magic, so maybe it only works if the person saying "Friend" actually is one.
21. DBratman
Oh, and the Balrog didn't come in through the gate, if that's what you're implying. It had been hiding, or trapped, in the mithril-vein since the end of Morgoth's reign, and the West-gate wasn't built until the Second Age.
22. legionseagle
Thinking - rather sadly, now, with regard to current events - I agree that the forces of evil do "tend" to be rather stupid. But an awful lot of people have been killed, over the years, by those who assume that "tend" and "usually" equal "always" and "invariably".

In fact, when it comes to terrorism, the good guys have to be clever all the time. The villains only have to be clever once (something which currently has a particular resonance for me, if you happen to be following UK news at present).

And you make another point which reinforces my sheer awe at Tolkien's skill in the suspension of disbelief department. It had literally not occurred to me until you mentioned it that the Dimrill Gate of Moria has no - um - gate. The Eastern gate. The one facing Dol Guldur and Mordor. It That is just, as I said earluer, bonkers. Gloriously and completely bonkers.
23. DBratman
Moria has no eastern gate? Neither does Lothlorien. Neither does Rivendell. They are defended by more than walls. Walls defend Minas Tirith, but they're not really of much help against an overwhelming army.

(Also, there was no Dol Guldur, nor was Mordor settled by the Enemy, when Moria was first built. In those days the Enemy was far, far away to the North.)

As for the stupidity of evil, in Tolkien evil tends to defeat itself, have you ever noticed? "So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvelous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all!" - Gandalf, Book 3, chapter 5

I think all your objections can be best addressed by a phrase I find myself having to use quite often: "The Lord of the Rings is not a role-playing game of itself." If that response seems opaque, so be it.
24. legionseagle
DBratman@23 Rivendell, Lorien and Minas Tirith each have a ring-bearer available for defence at the time of their most intense assault. Helm's Deep, by contrast, stands - not falls - on the strength of its defences - in men and stone - unaided by magic. Whether an army is "overwhelming" or not is a function of what it has to overcome, and armies commonly encounter fewer difficulties fighting their way through open gates than past boiling oil and defended baileys.

Dramatically, of course, the greater the challenge, the greater the triumph. Also, I suspect, theologically. So I do not think that if it had structurally, dramatically or morally relied on the stupidity of evil to give victory LOTR would have the pre-eminent place in world literature it enjoys.

But, nevertheless, on a dramatic level the characters get to benefit fortuitously from that stupidity - in circumstances where, if Tolkien hadn't been as superbly good as he was, more people would have cried deus ex stultitia at the climax.
Michael Ikeda
25. mikeda

There actually are gates on the eastern end, although they are described as "shattered and cast down". The Fellowship passes through them on their way out.

"Out of the Gates they ran and sprang down the huge and age-worn steps, the threshold of Moria."

I suspect that you are right about the West-End gate not being the main ACTUAL defense when Moria was occupied. Presumably there were internal gates and other defenses.

And aside from anything else, there are a LOT of unpleasant things that can happen to an invading army in a huge cavern complex.
26. Elaine T
I suspect that you are right about the West-End gate not being the main ACTUAL defense when Moria was occupied. Presumably there were internal gates and other defenses.

The Bridge of Khazad-dum, frex. "an ancient defense of the dwarves" or wtte.

The chasm it crosses, even if not deliberately carved, put to good use.

Others exist we don't see.

There are watch points along the road internally, which last reread I remember wondering about - why were they there? Then I remmebered it's a city . Cities have good citizens and bad citizens. It's a wealthy city, which will attract people who want to obtain wealth illicitly. etc.

So defenses against external and internal threats undoubtedly exist.
27. UnderHill
Elaine T. @ 8 and Kate, re: Caradhras or Sauron?

'During the journey to the Gate, the narrative, after having seemed to come pretty firmly down on the side of the blizzard being Caradhras, then casts doubt on this conclusion by saying, “That day the weather changed again, almost as if it was at the command of some power that had no longer any use for snow” and wanted visibility instead.'

Instead of one or the other, I think it is both. Caradhras the Cruel, powerful in his own right and unfriendly to travelers, chucking snow at them because he wanted to and also because Sauron wanted him to. Then being influenced by Sauron to clear up for visibility's sake once the company had given up on crossing the pass and departed from his immediate environs. Don't see why the mountain couldn't have some autonomy while still being capable of being influenced by the long-armed Lord of the Rings.

Legionseagle @ 15: An eleven year old Aragorn meeting Bilbo in Rivendell! That is a startling and appealing image. It would certainly go along with their having the particular friendship they seem to have, if they met when Aragorn was still a boy.
Agnes Kormendi
28. tapsi
Re Aragorn: I'm not sure he journeyed through Moria... 'I too once passed the Dimrill Gate' said Aragorn quietly; 'but though I also came out again, the memory is very evil. I do not wish to enter Moria a second time.' which could mean he went in the Dimrill Gate, did whatever needed to be done there (hacking orcs, most likely), and came out again. This would be a lot like Dáin's reaction after he chased Azog through the gates, who refused to even consider resettling Moria.

Though that makes me wonder... just what did they see there? Dáin refers to "Durin's Bane" still waiting for them (why is Gandalf so surprised then? The Wise haven't figured out in the last thousand years that it was a balrog???) but if Aragorn saw the balrog, why did he say "um, just a bad feeling I have, you know, nothing specific..."?

Re the Hollin gate: when they were opened and stood open, that region was still under the dominion of strong elf lords allied with Durin's folk. Once Eregion fell to Sauron, the gates of Moria were closed -- and as we see, when they're closed, they're practically invisible and are actually part of the mountain wall. What better defense do you need? Apparently it's not that easy to even find them without magic or elven lore (and prior knowledge of their whereabouts)!

"He walked forward to the wall. Right between the shadow of the trees there was a smooth space, and over this he passed his hands to and fro, muttering words under his breath."

I think it's possible that when they're locked from the inside, the password doesn't work, but unless there are other gates on this side of the mountains, and "passed through" does not imply going in one end and coming out the other, these doors have last been opened from the inside, and very likely by Gandalf himself.

As for the password, it is possible Elrond and even Gandalf knew it at one point, though I don't think they necessarily did. Still, a lot happened in the intervening five-thousand or so years, so this tidbit about the exact password might have slipped their minds. Gandalf knows this is the Elven Gate, and he knows how to find it, and he's confident that his door-opening spells can open that door.

Also, the fact that the doors stood open most of the time doesn't mean they weren't heavily guarded. It is possible that when events took an unhappy turn, the password simply wasn't changed because 1) Celebrimor and his folk, who very likely were involved in the fashioning of these gates, lay dead, along with their arcane knowledge 2) the dwarves didn't want to be caught in the open, fiddling with the door.

Anyhow, the gates did stand the test, Moria wasn't destroyed from the outside. It held out during the entire Second Age (even though Sauron was considerably stronger then) and most of the Third, and was only laid waste by the balrog. Coming from the inside. And completely unexpected.
Michael Ikeda
29. mikeda

None of the Wise had seen Durin's Bane, they would have had to rely on eyewitness reports.

And adding the usual dwarven secretiveness to the fact that there probably were never that many dwarves (and likely no men or elves) who had gotten a good look at Durin's Bane and still survived, it seems very plausible that the Wise simply hadn't gotten enough details to identify Durin's Bane as a balrog.
30. DBratman
legionseagle #24: You're thinking like a role-playing gamer again. "The Three ... were not made as weapons of war or conquest: that is not their power." - Elrond, Book 2 Chapter 2. They do indeed protect Rivendell and Lorien, but not as part of a realpolitik calculation that they obviate the need for other defenses. (A kind of argument which wouldn't work well in the real world, incidentally: "We've got the Bomb, so we don't need other defenses.")

And what of Gandalf at Minas Tirith? That does have walls, but they would not stop the assault by themselves. We see Gandalf at work, and he's not zapping anybody with mighty Ring-power. He inspires the defenders with determination, and he doesn't need his Ring to do that. Others without Rings can do the same according to their power.

The point is made at Helm's Deep. You say that an army's strength is a function of what it has to overcome, but what it has to overcome is not walls. "No foe has ever taken the Hornburg, if men defended it" - Aragorn, Book 3, Chapter 7. Notice the conditional. It's the spirit of the defenders, not the walls, that save a citadel.

Minas Tirith has walls, but they cannot save the city so long as it is led by the despairing Denethor. As mikeda #25 helpfully reminds us, Moria did have east-gates, but they didn't protect it. Moria's fall came not through external invasion, but from the Balrog, who was released not through external agency, but because of the Dwarves' overweening lust for mithril.

Similarly, back in the First Age, Gondolin, Nargothrond, and Doriath all had the strongest defenses the mind of Elf could conceive. All were overwhelmed. Why? Essentially, because the defenders trusted too much in their defenses.

When you write of the supposed lack of defenses of Moria that "that is just bonkers," I am reminded of this of Boromir calling it "folly" to try to destroy the Ring rather than use it. Boromir Just Doesn't Get It, and that's what I'm seeing here.

Anyway, as Elaine T #26 and others have pointed out, there were other purely physical defenses of Moria, and as I already said, when occupied, Moria has an army of armed Dwarves inside, and that ain't cheesecake.
31. DBratman
Also, if you consider the Rings as weapons of defense for a moment: Elrond's Ring was originally worn by Gil-galad who gave it to him. That means Elrond presumably didn't yet have it when he founded Rivendell, even though Rivendell was founded as a refuge after the destruction of Eregion.

Gil-galad, meanwhile, was High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth, and thus responsible for its military defenses. If the Ring had been a vital tool for this purpose, it would have made no sense to give it even to one of his lieutenants.

But then I suppose you're arguing that none of this makes sense, which is unfalsifiable by your premises.

tapsi #28 and mikeda #29: Aragorn need not have actually seen the Balrog on his earlier visit to have found the memory of Moria very evil. Possibly he wouldn't have recognized one on sight, anyway: the person who does is Legolas. The Dwarves certainly hadn't known what it was. And if Aragon had seen it on his earlier visit, he might not have survived to tell about it.

Besides lacking details about the nature of Durin's Bane, it's useful to remember that the Wise weren't working from a D&D character sheet. The genius of Tolkien is that he makes his world open-ended. His characters can't say, "Hmm, it's not a dragon and it's not a troll and it's not a Nazgul, so it must be a Balrog because there's nothing else left." There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy, or as Gandalf puts it later on, "Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not."
Michael Ikeda
32. mikeda

not that easy to even find them without magic or elven lore

I have this vision of squads of orcs searching the mountains near Eregion all grumbling "Blast it! There HAS to be a gate around here somewhere!"
33. legionseagle
tapsi@28: Many of the points you and ElaineT@26 make are excellent in highlighting parts of Moria which in and of themselves are clearly effective defensive elements. The problem is that put all together they make no sense whatsoever if taken as a defensive system. As I highlighted in my comments at 19, I don't think this matters in the least to enjoyment of the story, in fact it makes me (at least) appreciate Tolkien's genius a great deal more that the pace and excitement of the Moria sequence are such that you don't stop to think, "Hang on a minute - they built what?

But they really don't make sense in terms of secondary world-building, although they do make a sort of cinematic sense. By "cinematic sense" I mean that feeling that castles have chandeliers so that people can swing on them during sword fights and theatres have chandeliers so that they can crash, dramatically, into the auditorium during the final act and in neither case is the choice of lighting mechanism dictated by anything other than its narrative purpose.

Take, for example, your point about the gates fading into the mountain side so that they look like part of the rock. A brilliant defensive idea and clearly part of the original planning. However, they used to have a road leading right up to them (also part of the original planning) and two holly trees planted either side of them. So the original strategic value of the camouflage approach is immediately dissipated by the narrative need to evoke the visual impact of a road which apparently vanishes into a solid rock wall. And then, similarly, having gone to the trouble of building camouflaged doors, the word that opens them is built into the doors themselves.

And then, at the other end of Moria you have the bridge over the chasm, as ElaineT pointed out. Part of the "ancient" defences, so presumably again created at a similar time to the West doors. Again, a fabulous defensive idea making use of a natural feature for defensive purposes. But only if the assault is coming from the East. The moment someone forces an attack through the West side the chasm and bridge combination sets up the conditions for a military disaster much like the fall of Singapore or the turning of the Maginot line.

Which means that when Moria's gates are "shut" after the fall of the elves of Hollin the only reason the problematic (but very beautiful) West Doors aren't replaced (or at least, reinforced) by something a bit more fit for purpose is that to do so would breach Pratchett's Law of Narrative Causation.
34. Lsana
Just a comment on the whole "gate" thing:

As far as I can tell, there was never meant to be a riddle on the gate. Have you ever been in one of those really big libraries where they couldn't possibly kick everyone out after closing? There's usually a sign that says, "If accidentally locked in after hours, call 555-HELP, and someone will come let you out." I interpret the inscription on the Gate of Moria as much the same: "If accidentally locked out after hours, say 'friend' and you can get in." Over the years, however, the plain meaning of the sign was lost.

As far as why Merry was on the right track, one possible interpretation of "What does that mean?" is "That doesn't make any bloody sense! Are you sure you translated it right?" Which, Gandalf later admits, he didn't. It wasn't, "Speak, friend, and enter," it was, "Say 'friend' and enter."

Whether this makes sense for a Moria or not, I'll leave to others to debate, but I'm willing to accept Moria had other, magical defenses that would cause problems if an invading army tried to come through the door.
Kelly McCullough
35. KellyMcCullough
I love the suggestion of Bill leaving as a sign of the shedding of the last vestiges of the normal. Nice.

On the gates, perhaps there's a not-quite-right theme. Because if we really want to talk about Tolkien and gates that don't make sense we ought to bring in the Hobbit. The back door of the Lonely Mountain with it's here again gone again flake of rock that hides the keyhole has always, even when I was a child, struck me as nonesensical.

So, when the sun hits the gate properly this little chip of rock falls out and exposes the keyhole. Then what? It leaps back up after the sun goes down? Because if that's the case, this must be the first time since it was made that conditions are right. Plus, arriving any time since Durin's Day means finding the keyhole. Or does the stone regenerate? Or did there used to be a dwarf whose job it was once every ten years to go out and stick the damned rock chip back in place. Or maybe the thrush does it and that's the real reason it hangs out there.
36. UnderHill
Just before Gandalf puts his blessing on Bill, I think he did something similar to something else entirely. I am struck by the response of Gandalf to the exchange between Gimli and Legolas that Kate mentions:

'It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned,' said Gimli.
'I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves,' said Legolas.
'I have heard both,' said Gandalf; 'and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand!'

I like to think it was Gandalf planted the seed of the great friendship that grew up between them. Perhaps not by giving an actual "blessing" as with Bill, but by more prosaic means. If Gandalf asked you to be friends with someone, however poorly disposed you were towards them, wouldn't you try?
37. legionseagle
KellyMcCullough@35: You're absolutely right. Do you suppose Dwarf kings were just suckers for the sales pitches of itinerant magical door salesdwarves? "It's unique, that's what it is. Who else has a secret door that can only be opened one day a year, and not then if it's pouring down or there's a cat in the vicinity? That's class, that is." Perhaps that, in addition to the love of gold, was the other evil influence the Seven Rings had over them.
Andrew Foss
38. alfoss1540
1)Gollum - What do we think? 1) Was Gollum sitting inside Moria waiting for them to come through? 2) Was Gollum following them closely and jump through the gates right at the same time as the Fellowship - as the Watcher destroyed the West Gate? 3) Was Gollum following on the West Side(up Caradhras?) and then snuck into Moria through some unmentioned Orc entrance?

Having him follow through Moria was an incredible Creepfactor, but I still can't get my head around how.

2) East Gate - in the Next Chapter the East gate is mentioned while reading the log of Moria from Balin's reign - Dwarves not Magical, so the comparison to Lorien and Rivendell not selling to me.
LT Tortora
39. Lucubratrix
alfoss1540@38, re Gollum, I tend to agree with 3. Gollum spent hundreds of years crawling through the roots of the mountains hunting Orcs; he must have known of secret entrances.

Along these lines, I think the gates must have been more of a ceremonial entrance, perhaps with some way of locking them from within that isn't mentioned because it's not relevant to the story. Or maybe Moria was simply an imperfect fortress that would not have held up well to a sustained siege (though it seems that it would have been difficult for an army to enter in great numbers; the advantage would have lain, as it usually does, with the defenders).
Eric Scharf
40. EricScharf
I've always read it that Gollum picked up the Fellowship in Moria.  He wasn't "waiting" for them to come to him; he just happened upon them, in much the same way that Bilbo happened upon the Ring in the first place.  Had Gollum started trailing the Fellowship while they were still in Eriador, Aragorn would have spotted him.
41. DBratman
In Chapter 9, when the Fellowship finally realize that it's Gollum who's following them, both Frodo and Aragorn assume that he picked them up inside Moria. And this would make sense, for Gollum was last seen escaping from the Elves in Mirkwood, east of the Mountains. So it's logical that, seeking for a way through the Mountains to the west in search of the Ring, he would enter Moria from the east end, and might even have gotten out by the west had he not run into the Fellowship first.

On another point that's been raised: the beginning of Chapter 3 explains clearly why the Fellowship rested as long in Rivendell as it did, and the characters express dismay that this means they'll be traveling in the winter. For this, Bilbo blames Frodo's decision to wait on leaving home until September, instead of going earlier.
42. UnderHill
Does anyone know if the under and through the Misty Mountains passages in "Riddles in the Dark" are part of, or connected to Moria? Or are they much further north?
43. UnderHill
And why would Aragorn have travelled into Moria? Any speculations? Was he looking for Balin and Company? Was it long before then?

Also, I vote for the thrush.
44. DBratman
UnderHill #42: The passages aren't connected through anything the Dwarves built. Moria is about 40 miles across on Karen Fonstad's map; the caves from The Hobbit are at least a couple hundred miles north.

But there may be ways unknown to them. I refer you again to Gandalf's account of the Balrog: "We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin's folk, Gimli son of Glóin. Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not."

And even they got no further than Zirak-zigil.
45. DemetriosX
@42 UnderHill

Re: Bilbo's caves. I don't think they're connected at all. Where Bilbo and the dwarves crossed is pretty far north of Moria. I don't have a map right to hand, but IIRC the pass they used was roughly at the same latitude as Rivendell, while both known entrances to Moria are considerably farther south.

As for the magic dwarf doors, I think the thing with the thrush reflects the very different natures of the two works. The Hobbit is much more of a fairy tale and the whole business with the thrush knocking fits that better.

And as for Gollum, I'm pretty sure he picked up the company in Moria by chance (or as much of a role as chance plays here). I think this may be mentioned specifically in the chronology in the appendices.
Agnes Kormendi
46. tapsi
@mikeda & DBratman

Yes I see how the Wise did not know Durin's Bane was a balrog (I was wrong about a quote by Galadriel and only checked it later; it is also obvious from that same scene that Aragorn has not seen the balrog before, nor would he have recognised it as such), though Gandalf of all people had a close relationship with the dwarves. But right, very likely no dwarf that saw the balrog lived to tell.

Or maybe Moria was simply an imperfect fortress that would not have held up well to a sustained siege

Quite the opposite, it did hold up against Sauron for most of the Second Age, after the fall of Hollin!

Right, the trees and the road would betray the location of the door, but not the door itself... perhaps it needed to be seen to be opened? (I'm still more bothered with Aragorn's earlier habit of not carrying a proper sword and that, but I understand your concern.) Anyway, it seem to have worked, as Sauron didn't take Moria.

Bilbo and the dwarves passed much further North; the road they took leads straight East from Rivendell, whereas the Company travelled South for over two weeks before they reached Moria.
Michael Ikeda
47. mikeda

Don't recall whether Gollum picking up the Company in Moria is mentioned in the Appendices.

It is mentioned in one of the chapters of Unfinished Tales, which says that Gollum made his way to the West Gate but was unable to open the doors by himself. And that the Company entering Moria probably saved Gollum's life, since he was basically stuck there.

(So Caradhas, probably partly at Sauron's request, blocks Redhorn Pass. Which diverts the Fellowship to Moria. Which results in Gollum following the Fellowship. Which ultimately results in the destruction of the Ring.)
48. DemetriosX
Just a couple of random thoughts about the gate with the equivalent of making your password Password or 6 asterisks.

1) As tapsi @46 suggested, maybe the door had to be visible for it to work. Gandalf had to do some considerable arm-waving to get the door to appear. Perhaps the door was originally always visible and was hidden during/immediately after the fall of Hollin.

2) Considering the door was built by some very powerful magic-wielders at a time when magic was a lot more prevalent and powerful than when the company arrived, it could be that one not only had to know the password, but also actually be a friend for it to work. Gandalf would undoubtedly qualify.
49. legionseagle
tapsi@46: I agree about Aragorn's sword, but plenty of people were playing about with that problem so I thought one more wasn't needed, especially since I didn't have anything to add. Except, come to think of it, it does tie it with the doors and the 25th December departure, all of which fall under the heading "Lovely symbolism, rotten logistics". And, in general, in Tolkien's hands symbolism trumps logistics and works superbly. I think one of the things that makes Diane Wynne Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland so hilarious is that she's looking at those cardboard cutout fantasy set ups where you get neither the symbolism nor the logistics and the result is an incoherent mess (and people never wear socks).
LT Tortora
50. Lucubratrix
Tapsi@46, I stand corrected. I should have been more clear in saying that it would have been possible for an invading army to take Moria assuming a lack of dedicated defenders (i.e., that there may be other ways in besides the West Gate, and the West Gate may not have been intended as a defensive measure). So, even if an enemy walked up to the door, said "Friend," and the door opened (unlikely!), it wouldn't be a simple matter of marching in and taking Moria.
51. Chris Johnstone
Just a couple quick comments. No-one seems to have connected the Watcher in the Water to the mythical kraken, which seems a bit... well... um, plainly obvious to me, although perhaps it isn't the case at all. The creature doesn't need to occur elsewhere in ME mythology because it contextually ought to exist in ME. So much of ME is a sort of mish-mash invented and conjectured Anglo-Saxon mythology and the Anglo-Saxons almost certainly had some sort of kraken-ish creature in their mythologies - no definite records of an AS version of a kraken survived, is all.

Does the Watcher in the Water seem Cthulu-ish..? I dunno. The similarities seem superficial to me. Perhaps I haven't read enough Lovecraft to be a good judge though. I think I'm right to say that Lovecraft also had a bit of a fear of the sea, so perhaps both Cthulu mythos creatures and the Water in the Water share a similar deep lizard-brain origin. Fear of tentacled, shapeless, nameless things in the ocean.

The vanishing wolves always intrigued me. They're not wargs, as wargs would leave bodies. Did Tolkien think this through himself? I suspect not. Probably, it was just spooky and cool to have vanishing bodies. If I were to hazard a rationale guess, I'd say the 'wolves' were actually some sort of debased and dwindled werewolf - sort in the same way that the spiders of mirkwood are only tiny little biddy versions of Shelob, these wolves are little biddy werewolves. That way it makes sense that they disappear when dead (and presumably also when in sunlight). Just my guess though.

Oh, and I notice yet more fear associated with water. The lake. The well. The creek. I'm beginning to feel suprised Tolkien was able to enjoy his holidays by the sea at all...
52. Elaine T
Mikeda @47;Don't recall whether Gollum picking up the Company in Moria is mentioned in the Appendices.

It is. Says he got there in August. Must have been hungry by the time the Fellowship tromped through.

On Moria's defenses, Gandalf remarks somewhere that the hall with the Bridge is one of the oldest parts of the cavern complex, so there probably wasn't much else in other directions to defend against.

I've also always wondered about the vanishing wolves and have no solutions or ideas about them. The text calls them 'wargs' and Gandalf's fire command uses the Elven word for werewolves. I can't think of any other places in Tolkien where their bodies disappear, though. Not even Cacharoth's (sp) the one that bit off Beren's hand. His body didn't disappear, because it was cut open to find the hand in his stomach still holding the Silmaril.

BTW, the index is still not updated. Kate N's postings on the last two chapters are still unlinked, hence hard to find.
53. birgit
I think the disappearing wolves are a hint that they are really allied with Orcs, who took the corpses away (but why did they not attack the company and why didn't anybody mention seeing their tracks?)
Terry Lago
54. dulac3
I don't know if the disappearing wolves needs to be overthought too much. I think it was really just something Tolkien threw in there to add some mystery to the event and underline the fact that this wasn't a normal wolf attack. It is meant to make the fellowship, and the reader, wonder what the heck is going on and point out that there are very bad, magical things with a malign will out to get if they needed the reminder. ;)

I'd also second Chris Johnstone's idea that the Watcher is more Kraken than Chthulu, except inasmuch as any tentacled watery creature is Chthulu-esque.

I don't want to go off track too much into the defenses of Moria issue, but I think the very fact that it is a complex of caverns populated by hordes of hardy Dwarves who know the layout inside-out probably makes up for the fact that the back door is a bit easy to get into. Assuming the Dwarves are still at the peak of their powers, and not a dwindled remnant like Balin's party, and already control the majority of the cavern systems, then any group of orcs stupid enough to go into them is likely to be separated and taken apart piece by piece by the defenders assuming the gate and the bridge can't provide enough initial stopping force. Add to this the alliance with the Elves of Hollin and I think Moria can be considered fairly safe...until destroyed from the inside by a creature as powerful as a Balrog.

I also always saw Gandalf's whispered words to Bill as analagous to a blessing. He's not telling the pony anything he doesn't already know, but he is shoring up his spirit and giving him an extra push as it were. After all, Gandalf's main use of Narya seemed to be in the enflaming of hearts with courage and hope.
Kate Nepveu
55. katenepveu
I didn't think of a kraken because the Watcher was in fresh water, not salt.

Also, until the Index is updated, you can use the links at the bottom of each post to step backwards. Sorry for the inconvenience.
56. Confutus
Except for the few years when Sauron was laying waste to Eregion, the West Gate always faced either friends or peaceful peoples for thousands of years until well into the Third age. There had never been any real need to fortify it against armies.

Even after about 1050 T.A. when orcs and other enemies began to multiply, and during the years when the Witch-King was active in Arnor, the lore required for anyone at all (especially the odd brigand, orc-chieftain, or passing troll) to reveal the writing, read it, and figure out the password has been or was being lost. As long as most enemies were few or far away, the dwaves might have kept watches outside and run patrols to keep undesirables from even coming close.

Gollum had been dodging orcs and living on fish and the odd squeaker in total darkness for hundreds of years under the Misty Mountains. Survival in Moria, also inhabited by orcs, would have presented no problem at all.
Andrew Mason
57. AnotherAndrew
Lsana@44: I agree totally. Tolkien comments on this in a letter. His correspondent had asked whether pedo mellon meant 'speak in a friendly manner'; Tolkien replied that it meant exactly what Gandalf took it to mean, 'say "friend"' or 'utter the word "friend"', those being more trustful times. I take this to imply, as you say, that there was no riddle; it isn't a password; it's just instructions for operating an automatic door. One may indeed question the adequacy of Moria's defences, but the 'password' isn't relevant to that, because it isn't part of the defences.
58. fizzchick
Re: "His arm has grown long" - I always assumed that the arm was that of Saruman, not Sauron. Sauron is looking for a hobbit, not a Fellowship, whereas Saruman is already suspicious of Gandalf's reticence about the rings. Plus, when they get out of Moria, the birds are sent by Saruman as spies.

I do love the image of Bill as the last vestige of the Shire.

As for the rope, Aragorn has wandered the wilderness for centuries, but he leaves Rivendell without ever saying to himself "Hmm, a piece of rope might be useful"? That seems more improbable to me than anyone else forgetting.
59. Will Belegon
Finally, in #57, Andrew speaks to what I was about to comment on... the door is locked, but it is no more a major part of defenses for war than is the lock on your front door.

It is important to remember that Moria was not built as a fortress. It is a city. A city that engages in commerce. At the time that it was built, there was no threat in that direction to guard against. The gate exists to allow people to go through it, not to prevent them from doing so.

You have a large population of craftsman who are presumably dependent on exporting the fruits of their labors... they really aren't looking to keep people out. They want people to find they can sell them the products of the smithy's, etc.

As to Elrond and Gandalf not knowing the password? Elrond was living far to the west while Moria was active...Olorin even more so. And Moria was not a path that had been considered, so a lack of research on the key to an old lock is not surprising.
Michael Ikeda
60. mikeda
Will Belegon@59

While the plan was to go through the Redhorn Gate, the conversation between Gandalf and Aragorn (that Frodo overhears) strongly suggests that both had in mind the possibility that they might need to go through Moria.

(Perhaps the password simply wasn't written down anywhere in Rivendell.)


The "his arm has grown long" remark follows immediately after Boromir's comment that "the Enemy" (referring to Sauron) is said to be able to govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow.

Then Gimli remarks "His arm has grown long indeed" if he can draw snow all the way from the North, and Gandalf responds "His arm has grown long."

By context, both Gimli and Gandalf are referring to Sauron.
61. Iain Coleman
As for the rope, Aragorn has wandered the wilderness for centuries, but he leaves Rivendell without ever saying to himself "Hmm, a piece of rope might be useful"? That seems more improbable to me than anyone else forgetting.

It's quite possible that Aragorn did bring rope, but it got left behind along with various other bits of kit (including torches) when they ran away from the thing in the water.
62. Will Belegon
Mikeda@60: You're right, that conversation does indicate that they had both at least considered it.

But also, the various guardrooms like the one where Pippin tosses his rock (always loved Gandalf's reaction) indicates that it isn't the only defense. Although such posts were probably used as police stations more than preparations for an invasion.
Charles Dunkley
63. cedunkley
One thought about Gandalf's flash of light is that it could ensure any lurking enemy would be driven away from the light.

The journey through Moria was always a fascinating part of the book for me. And the discovery of Balin's Tomb was a very powerful and emotional moment, especially considering Balin was my favorite of the dwarves from The Hobbit.

Also, I tend to view Aragorn's warning to indicate some sort of prescient ability on his part. Is it important one way or the other? I suppose not.

I wonder in some way if Gandalf's journey through Moria (and his subsequent transformation to Gandalf the White) sort of mirrors Aragorn's later journey through the paths of the dead, when Aragorn finally openly takes upon the mantle of Isildur's Heir.

Each is a journey of transformation.
64. *** Dave
Is there any consideration that the Watcher in the Water might be the part of the original defenses of the Western Gate -- degenerated, turned evil and icky over the long centuries, but part of the defenses that made this back door something less that a stroll in the park to break into?

Another question: how important was this door during the hey-day of Moria? A roadway, a door bracketed by holly bushes ... I have the sense that really it was more a matter of, "Hey, we should go ahead and punch a door into the back of the mountains here, just because we can. And it will make it easier when we want to trade something with those poncy elves over on that side," than, "Hey, here's the western exit of the great Moria super-highway."

I always found the destruction of the Western Door to be very sad. It passes almost without comment, but assuming there's just that one exit, it's another sign of the turning of the Age.
Kate Nepveu
65. katenepveu
cedunkley @ #63, interesting about the Paths of the Dead; they never "stick" for me, so I'm not sure, but as notable journeys underground, well, the question deserves asking.

*** Dave @ #64, since the pool at the Gate is new--the stream was dammed up to make it--the Watcher can't have been part of the Gate's defenses previously. Which does raise the question of how it got there in the first place . . . *envisions dozens of orcs carrying it overland in soaked cloth*
66. Confusador
I'm late to the party here, but cedunkley @ #63 has an interesting point about underground journeys. I think you could say much the same thing about Shelob's lair later with regard to Sam's transformation. It's got some of the same elements, especially with Death featuring prominently.
67. filkferengi
About the thrush and the keyhole in _The Hobbit_, perhaps Radagast the Brown is getting impressive results with minimal direct effort.
68. legionseagle
...perhaps Radagast the Brown is getting impressive results with minimal direct effort

Call it my deplorably low mind, but that has just summoned up a picture of someone yelling, "The thrush, the thrush is coming!" and a legion of formidable Haradrim warriors grasping uneasily at their lower garments while assuming distinctly uncomfortable expressions...
69. Liddle-Oldman
As for Gandalf putting a (possible) blessing on Bill The Pony -- I note that he also put a blessing on Barlyman's beer, which the innkeeper later comments on, saying that the beer has in fact been uncommonly good since then. I also note that Bill The Pony does, in fact make it back safely, despite the quite impressive dangers to something ruminant and tasty.

Then, of course, at various points Gandalf brings fire or darkness with a vocal command.

Apparently Galdalf's words do have real power; perhaps not earth-shattering power, but if he blesses something, it's a help.
Tyler Sliwkanich
70. slikz21
@59: Will Belegon

I was thinking the exact same thing in regards to commerce. If someone was going to attack Moria, I think the last thing that they would want is some kind of long, drawn out siege. The dwarves' best option would probably be to make Moria as inviting as possible and then destroy whoever is attacking on their own turf (i.e. narrow bridges and walkways).

This is why I don't really see the need to make Moria an impenetrable fortress. On the one hand it is a city, and on the other trying to oust a siege would be extremely difficult with limited entrances/exits (although, they probably had many secret entrances and exits anyways).
71. Gambit
I know this conversation was two years ago, but I just wanted to add a comment for posterity's sake.

In all the discussion of the password, no one recalled Tolkein's obsession with language and the linguistic underpinnings of the whole story. It isn't just the word "friend" in whatever language you use that is the password, it is specifically the Sindarin word "mellon". Given the way language works in this world (think of Gandalf reciting the ring inscription in Rivendell), I think it is very unlikely that Sauron's servants would be able to speak the password in a way that would get the gates to open for them.
Kate Nepveu
72. katenepveu
Gambit @ #71, belatedly as well--good point! We did talk at various times about linguistics and the attitude taken toward the written word and the power of language, but the idea that certain people might be _unable_ to speak that properly . . . it makes sense to me.
Chris Meadows
73. Robotech_Master
I realize I'm kind of late to the party here and probably nobody will ever see this, but:

legionseagle @3:

Now, on the words as published the only sense in which Merry was on the "right track" was a purely Socratic one: he at least knew he was ignorant whereas Gandalf thought he knew the answer but what he knew which wasn't so was leading him up the garden path all along. But I suspect there may have been some lost dialogue in which (perhaps) Merry puts forward some a theory based on punning or word-play and is pooh-poohed.

I'm a little surprised nobody in this entire discussion thread brought up the change to this scene in the movie version, in which it is a Hobbit (I can't remember if it's specifically Merry--it could be Frodo) who, after Gandalf has given up in disgust, says, "It's a riddle," and then asks Gandalf what the Elvish word for "friend" is.
I think that's one of those changes that works well in the movie. As legionseagle said, there's a sort of symmetry with a Hobbit solving a riddle to escape mountain caves, and another solving a riddle to enter them. And it gives the Hobbits a bit more active role in things.

Another movie change: the dropped rock becomes a skeleton that Pippin accidentally unbalances. I'm not sure just how well that works. But it was probably also necessary given the medium, as it's a bit harder to convey Pippin's innocent curiosity, and also everything has to be bigger for the big screen--and a skeleton does make a lot more noise than a pebble.

(Though that does bring to mind another interesting contrast: in the books there are no skeletons or corpses encountered until the entrance to Balin's tomb, and they don't even recognize what they are until the next chapter. I suppose in a visual medium you have to play up the spookiness of the place with skeletons because you don't have the ominous words.)

And one more thought: if Gandalf had done what he did at other places (such as the Council of Elrond) and read the inscription aloud in its native language first rather than translating it, the door would have opened when he spoke the word "mellon" that was part of the inscription!
Kate Nepveu
74. katenepveu
Robotech_Master @ #73, generally I kept my comments about the movies for the movie posts, which I see you've also found. =>

The skeletons in the movie made me roll my eyes hard--Gimli so busy rhapsodizing about beer and feasting and whatever that he doesn't notice that he's _walking over skeletons_? I don't think so.
75. Mathieu G
Very, very late to the party... But am I the only one bothered by the word Moria in the inscription?
I always thought the word was post-balrog, and not the proper word, even in Sindarin, for the Dwarrowdelf in its heyday.
Kate Nepveu
76. katenepveu
Mathieu G, excellent question, and I do believe you are right--Gimli says that "Moria" means "Black Pit" in Elvish. Though I'm not sure what the proper Sindarin would be.
77. Mathieu G
Looked it up, the period name in Sindarin is 'Hadhodrond', which translates to Dwarrowdelf, which has always been my favorite name for the place. :-)
The only semi-convincing explanation I've found online for 'Moria' showing up in the inscription is that it is a recreation by a Hobbit, drawn after the fact while writing the Red Book of Westmarch. It goes something like this: Gandalf translates Hadhodrond as Moria when he reads the inscription to the others (in Westron), and then the hobbit-author, much later, translates that back into Sindarin as Moria (which after all is also Sindarin!) to recreate the inscription... Which after all is not a photograph taken at the West Gate.
Yeah, not all that convincing unless you really buy the Red Book conceit.
The alternative would be that Moria was an acceptable, value-neutral name for Khazad-Dum in Sindarin at the time, and took on its negative meaning later... Unless we let go of the text's inerrancy. ;-)
Kate Nepveu
78. katenepveu
Yeah, I think I'm going to have to go with "it was a mistake" here. It happens!

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