The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

14 January 2010

The wisdom of Tolkien

We watched another installment of The Lord of the Rings tonight. This time it was the first half of The Two Towers, extended version. This bit begins with Gandalf the Grey standing on the Bridge of Khazad Dum, holding back the Balrog of Morgoth, allowing the Fellowship to escape. It would seem that Gandalf has beaten the fiery beast, and he turns his back as the creature plummets to unknown depths of thank-goodness-he's-goneness . Only Mr. Balrog manages to wrap his tail around Gandalf's ankle, and pulls the old wizard down with him.

Every time I watch this scene, or come to it in the book, I implore him: don't turn your back on him! Don't do it! Don't turn around! But every time he does it: he turns around. And falls to unknown depths of oh-my-goodness-Gandalf's-goneness. He doesn't just fall and fall and fall... Gandalf has to fight the big, burly ball of flame that is the Balrog through many levels of fire and then water, before finally landing on a bleak mountain top, having defeated the nasty thing. We suppose that he has died, that Gandalf the Grey, Greyhaim, the fun guy with all the cool fireworks, the source of hope for the Fellowship and the only one (seemingly) with a clue what they ought to do is written out of the story at this point, and that the remaining eight must now trudge along without him.

But no. That's not the case, as my sister pointed out to me when once again this evening I cried out "Don't turn around!" She said "But then he couldn't become Gandalf the White" which is true and a very good point. Gandalf the Grey was a very cool guy; very wise, respected, gifted with useful wizardly abilities - all good stuff. But Gandalf the White became head of his order, had deeper wisdom, stronger abilities and no longer had to wear the large, droopy grey hat. He glowed, his clothes and hair were so white.

And I realized - as if this were a brand new insight - that this is what happened to my dad. I would rather he hadn't left me standing on the bridge, back at Khazad Dum. I hate the thought that he went through fire and was engaged in a horrible battle and so on. Like the hobbits who cried on the mountain side as the loss of their friend, I grieve his absence. But he's not just my dad anymore: he's Pop the White, (though, probably in heaven his name is Don the White) and his strength is greater than ever.

That's a happy thought. Thank you, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

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