Visions of Beauty: Lothlorien and the Power of Beauty

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The linkage between this notion of festival and the experience of art is not difficult to grasp.  A work of art has an “organic unity” that “displays autonomous temporality.”[24] Gadamer suggests that music serves as the best example of this idea.  Music has its own tempo as an art of time.  The tempo markings on a piece of music are “indications” but require interpretation in light of the whole composition.  One must enter into the music as a whole in order to understand the tempo markings and interpret the piece correctly.  This is further illustrated by rhythm.  Rhythm, as an expression of tempo, requires that we enter into the dynamic of the piece and, in fact, “introduce rhythm into it.”[25] Gadamer writes, “[E]very work of art imposes its own temporality upon us, not only the transitory arts of language, music, and dance.”[26]

In the “Relevance of the Beautiful” Gadamer points to the deeper “telos” of his analysis:

To sum up the results of these brief reflections: in the experience of art we must learn how to dwell upon the work in a specific way.  When we dwell upon the work, there is no tedium involved, for the longer we allow ourselves, the more it displays its manifold riches to us.  The essence of our temporal experience of art is in learning to tarry in this way.  And perhaps it is the only way that is granted to us finite beings to relate to what we call eternity.[27]

Tolkien: the Power of Beauty and the Beauty of Power

After the tragic events of Moria, the company enters Lothlorien, the Golden Wood.   It is winter, (both as to the season and as to the time of the elves in Middle Earth) and yet, the experience is one of almost unspeakable beauty.  As they passed, blindfolded, into Lothlorien, Frodo felt that “he had stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the Elder Days, and was now walking in a world that was no more” for “on the land of Lorien no shadow lay.”[28]

Like pilgrims they are led, as blind men, into the cathedral dedicated to beauty – yet a beauty that even now is threatened and is destined to fade.  When the blindfolds are removed Frodo is “lost in wonder.”[29] The light illumined Cerin Amroth, in such a way, that all was seen with an immediacy and purity as if one was seeing the “mound of Amroth” in the first moment of its conception.  It is unblemished by time or deformity or stain.  It was, as Sam put it, like being “inside a song.”[30] This is like Eden, this is a symbol of heaven, this is the place of healing, and this temporal embodiment of beauty exists under a great threat and is facing great change.

When, finally, the company entered the presence of Celeborn and Galadriel at Caras Galadhon, the Lord and Lady are both described as “grave and beautiful.”[31] This is but the first of several references to the inter-play of both beauty and power.  After the story of the fellowship was recounted, Galadriel “held them with her eyes, and in silence looked searchingly at each of them in turn.”[32] In the hours that followed this first encounter between the company and Galadriel, each one acknowledged how her “look” penetrated into their very being.  This was most troubling to Boromir.  He questions Galadriel’s purposes.  Aragorn sternly responds:

You know not what you say.  There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself. Then let him beware!  But tonight I shall sleep without fear for the first time since I left Rivendell.[33]

In these encounters several of the themes or concepts indicated by Gadamer are found.  In a very real sense, the community of elves in Lothlorien, as does the company itself, symbolizes the Church. The process by which the members of the fellowship are led to their meeting with Celeborn and Galadriel is one shaped by the patterns of worship and festival.  The language used to describe the moral life and light of the elves is further evidence of the interrelationship between goodness and beauty.  The experience of the fellowship is one of “timelessness” that is shaped and sustained by song, “play” (in the sense of worship), restoration, and, as they are departing and thus beginning the most dangerous part of their journey, the reception of very important gifts.

It is, however, in the evening dialogue between Galadriel, Frodo, and Sam, before the “Mirror of Galadriel,” that the most revealing moment transpired.  The Mirror reveals desires, hidden dangers, images of the possible future, and events that are presently occurring in far-off lands.  It is as dangerous as it may be revealing. Therefore, it “is dangerous as a guide of deeds.”[34] To look into the mirror requires both “courage and wisdom.”  In the Mirror Frodo saw the “Eye” of Sauron, the Enemy.  Frodo “stepped back (from the mirror) shaking all over.”[35] The Lady says,

I know what it was that you last saw for that is also in my mind.  Do not be afraid! But do not think that only by singing amid the trees, nor even by the slender arrows of elven-bows, is this land of Lothlorien maintained and defended against its Enemy.  I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves.  And he gropes ever to see me and my thought.  But still the door is closed![36]