Summary: Book 2, Chapter 5: The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

Inside the chamber containing Balin’s tomb, Gandalf finds a half-burned book among bones and broken shields. The tome is the record of Balin’s people in Moria; it tells of their last days, when they were besieged both by hordes of Orcs and by a mysterious force much more ominous than Orcs. The final page of the record, hastily scrawled, is terrifying in its vagueness: “We cannot get out . . . drums in the deep . . . They are coming.”

The Company, scared and saddened, is about to leave the chamber when they suddenly hear the booming of a drum deep below them, along with the noise of many running feet. They bar the west door of the chamber just as a troop of Orcs arrives, along with a great cave-troll. The cave-troll forces its way through the door, but Frodo stabs its foot with Sting and the monster withdraws. Then the Orcs break through the door, but many are slain by the Company and the rest retreat. Gandalf sees a chance to escape, so he leads the Company out through the unguarded east door—but not before an Orc-chieftain stabs Frodo in the side. The rest of the Company is amazed to see Frodo still alive.

Gandalf holds the door shut with a closing spell while the others flee, but he feels a powerful counter-spell from the other side. The ensuing battle of spells collapses the doorway, and then the entire room. The wearied wizard rejoins the Company and leads them down toward the lower halls. Finally, they come to the Second Hall, just opposite the gate that leads out of Moria. The Company runs across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, a slender arch of rock over a seemingly bottomless chasm. As they turn to look back, though, Legolas cries out in horror and Gimli covers his eyes.

Out of a band of Orcs leaps a great shadowy form, wreathed in flame and yet surrounded by shadow and darkness. It is a Balrog. Gandalf commands the others to flee while he holds the bridge. The Balrog swings a flaming sword and leaps forward, but the wizard stands firm. With a mighty spell, Gandalf breaks the bridge in two. The Balrog tumbles down, but in falling, casts its whip around Gandalf’s ankles and pulls him down into the depths of the cavern. As Gandalf falls, he shouts to the Company, “Fly, you fools!” Aragorn hurriedly leads the Company out of the Great Gates of Moria. They stumble a mile or so away from the mountain and then all collapse in grief.

Summary: Book 2, Chapter 6: Lothlórien

With Gandalf lost, Aragorn assumes command of the Company. Hopeless though they all feel, the Ranger leads them away from the Misty Mountains and toward the Elvish forest of Lothlórien (often simply called Lórien). Stopping briefly to tend to Frodo’s injury, Aragorn is amazed to find Bilbo’s coat of mithril, which saved Frodo from his spear wound in Moria. Moving on, the Company comes to a deep well of crystal-clear water. Legolas and Aragorn are relieved to arrive at Lórien, but Boromir is wary; among Men, the name of the forest is surrounded by strange rumors.

Legolas tells the others of the history of Lothlórien: sorrow came in the Dark Days, when the Dwarves awakened the evil in Moria that then spread out into the hills and threatened Lórien. Gimli bristles at this mention. The Company enters the woods as night falls but is suddenly stopped by a group of Elves, led by one named Haldir, who have been watching from the trees. Luckily, the elves recognize Legolas as kindred and have also heard something of Frodo’s quest, so they bring the strangers up to their tree-platforms. After night falls, a company of Orcs passes under them, chasing after the Fellowship, but the creatures are waylaid by the Elves. Frodo and the others then see another strange creature—a small, crouching shape with pale eyes—but it slips away into the night.

In the morning, the Company walks further into Lórien, reaching the river Silverlode. At one point, the Elves tell Gimli that he must be blindfolded so that he does not know where he is walking, especially because the Dwarves and Elves have not gotten along since the Dark Days. Gimli strongly objects, and the dispute nearly comes to blows. Thinking quickly, Aragorn demands that all the Company, even Legolas, be blindfolded. Gimli assents, so all the members of the Fellowship are led blindfolded into the Naith, or heart, of Lórien. Once they arrive, Haldir receives word that the Lady Galadriel, queen of the forest, has decreed that the Fellowship’s blindfolds may be removed.

When the blindfolds are taken off, the strangers behold a forest that seems to belong to another age. Its trees and flowers surpass the beauty of any other growing things, and the light and colors are ethereal golds and greens. They are at Cerin Amroth, a hill with a double ring of trees that is, in Aragorn’s words, “the heart of Elvendom on earth.” Haldir takes Frodo and Sam up to a platform on top of the trees, from which they gaze at the enchanted land surrounding them, noticing also the forbidding lands beyond. When the hobbits descend, they find Aragorn in a powerful and blissful daydream.

Analysis: Book 2, Chapters 5 & 6

“The Bridge of Khazad-dûm” contains the longest stretch of continuous action in The Fellowship of the Ring, and Tolkien’s skill at sustaining the dramatic action in the chapter is remarkable. He sets the scene with the ominous entries in the Dwarf journal that mention “drums in the deep.” Then, moments later, the Company itself hears those same drums, and Legolas and Gimli, perhaps unwittingly, echo the scrawled last words of the journal: “They are coming” and “We cannot get out.” The drums themselves owe some of their frightfulness to the fact that Tolkien evokes their sound with the word “doom” (or sometimes “doom-boom”) rather than the more typical “boom.” The throbbing pulse of the Orc drums punctuates the action and hints at something that has been awakened from its dormancy deep beneath Moria. Tolkien’s visual descriptions further the sense of drama. In the previous chapter, the Fellowship moves from the quiet, spooky tunnels into the dark, silent hall, occasionally hearing strange, distant noises. As the tension builds throughout Chapter 5, so do the noise and the visuals, until finally at the bridge itself there converge roaring Orcs, flying arrows, leaping flames, Trolls, a fearsome demon, a sword and whip of fire, and the bridge itself, thin and arching over a gaping chasm of nothingness. After Gandalf and the Balrog fall, the flames die and the noise fades accordingly. Like a director, Tolkien adds significance to the action of his characters by augmenting the scene with the equivalent of stage directions of all kinds.

With Gandalf’s plunge into the chasm, which is arguably the climax of The Fellowship of the Ring, we see the fulfillment of one of the many prophecies that are told throughout The Lord of the Rings. In the chapter before Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog, Aragorn makes a strange warning when he reluctantly consents to Gandalf’s plan to enter Moria: “I will follow your lead now—if this last warning does not move you. It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!” It is unclear whether Aragorn recalls some prophecy he has heard in the past, or whether he has had a prophetic insight of his own. In any case, he is proven prescient when Gandalf falls into the chasm.

Aragorn’s prediction is one of many prophecies throughout Tolkien’s novel, many of which are contained in songs or verses that link present and future occurrences to the past—often the distant, ancient past. These prophecies not only create a sense of anticipation that moves the plot forward, but also tie The Lord of the Rings to the mythological tradition that precedes it. Greek myth is one of the most familiar arenas of prophecy, as seemingly every mortal and god in Greek myth is subject to the predictions of the fabled oracles. Numerous characters in the Greek myths live out prophecies made long before their births, usually unwittingly. Tolkien, in his inclusion of similar prophecies in the mythological world of Middle-earth, emphasizes and explores the importance and nature of fate. Many of the events prophesied in The Lord of the Rings happen for seemingly no reason, or at least not for a reason that is immediately clear. Though Tolkien does not explicitly refer to any gods or higher powers that may govern the workings of Middle-earth, these prophecies, in a sense, imply an overarching consciousness or direction that controls the events that transpire in the universe of the novel.

After the tumult and tragedy of the journey through Moria, Tolkien leads us into the near-heavenly quiet and peace of the Elvish forest of Lothlórien. This pattern of hairbreadth escapes followed by intermissions of peace is a recurring structure throughout the novel: we see it first in the flight to the Ford of Bruinen followed by a respite in Rivendell, and now in the escape from Moria to Lórien. In both cases, the peace comes in the realm of the Elves. The Elves live in a world set apart and protected—a world out of the past, as Frodo notes during the stay in Lórien. Tolkien’s pattern of action followed by respite serves, in part, to propel the narrative along without inundating it with a series of frenzied battles or chases that go on without interruption. This pacing also mirrors the embattled, tumultuous state of Middle-earth. As Elrond says, Middle-earth is increasingly a place in which small pockets of goodness and safety are surrounded by a sea of darkness. To move from one to another of the islands is to move from safety to danger and back again.

Tolkien’s Middle-earth is, of course, entirely the author’s own creation, but his intimate knowledge of the natural world allows him to ground it and lend it an everyday immediacy. We especially see this blending of the real and the invented in the forest of Lórien. Along with the mystical athelas and mellyrn trees, Lórien contains the more familiar fir-trees, harts-tongue, and whortle-berry; along with Orcs and Trolls, there are wolves and ponies. This blending of the authentic and the fantastic not only makes the landscape more believable and not so completely whimsical, but also allows Tolkien to sustain the conceit that Middle-earth—with its magic and great deeds and battles between good and evil—is the earlier universe that has somehow become the more banal and mundane world we know today. Some elements of this older world remain, but many have disappeared. Tolkien leaves the reasons for this transformation intentionally unexplained, allowing our own imaginations to take over.