As soon as the hobbits were clear of the Old Forest they hurried on their journey, hoping to arrive in Bree before nightfall. They planned to spend the night at the Prancing Pony, the leading Inn of Bree and one recommended by Old Tom. The hobbits arrived in Bree well after nightfall and had to be let in by the town’s gatekeeper. Once the gate was shut behind them a dark spindly creature with yellow eyes crept over the top of the wall and vanished into the shadows. The hobbits were being followed.
The town of Bree was situated at the crossroads of many old ways. Any travellers who passed this way would normally stay at the Prancing Pony. This made the Prancing Pony a central meeting place for all the surrounding lands. It was here that Frodo first came upon the dark weatherworn ranger known as Strider. Strider caught Frodo’s attention and, with a wave of his hand, invited Frodo over to sit by him.
Strider asked Frodo for a word in private, about a matter which concerned them both. Frodo reluctantly obliged and they organised to meet later in Frodo’s room. That evening Strider knocked on Frodo’s door and entered. He obviously knew something of the Ring and all but forced himself upon the hobbits.
Strider told Frodo that he must accompany them. He professed to know something of the enemy and warned that, if they wished to make it to Rivendell, he was their only hope.
Frodo was wary and the young Sam did not like Strider at all. Who was this dark and secretive ranger? For all they knew he could be the enemy. Yet it was true that they were unlikely to make it to Rivendell on their own.
Frodo remained uncertain. At this point Barliman Butterbur, the inn keeper, entered the room with a much belated letter from Gandalf. Barliman was to have sent the letter onto the Shire but had neglected to do so. Only now did Frodo receive Gandalf’s letter.
In the letter Gandalf had two things to say. The first was that Frodo should leave the Shire at once! Secondly, Gandalf advised Frodo to look out for an old friend of his, Aragorn. Aragorn was to be recognised by his broken sword. He travelled under the name of Strider!
Now Frodo was no longer suspicious of the hooded ranger. For Strider was Aragorn, the son of king Arathorn, and a leader amongst men. Frodo was glad to have his assistance. Having sorted out all confusion and distrust the hobbits took their rest whilst Aragorn stood guard. Tomorrow they would make for Rivendell.
As a town on the crossroads and a meeting place for travellers, Bree was much busier than the Shire. Frodo, our reluctant hero, had left the private life of the Shire and now entered the wider community. This passage is inevitable. In taking up the challenge of our current global crisis one’s point of focus moves away from the personal sphere of life and out into the society in which one lives.
The hobbits were not entirely comfortable amongst this greater activity of Bree and Frodo is wary when he is first approached by the dark hooded ranger, Aragorn. It is often the more reflective and sensitive individual who is concerned with the issues raised by the global crisis. Be they male of female such individuals tend to have a stronger relationship with the receptive or feminine aspects of their being – shying away from the development of a more directive or masculine set of character traits. The private and personal realm is preferred over public life and activity.
As such, worldly challenges and responsibility are typically avoided, as are positions of power and authority. The individual may be more interested in the arts and healing than in economics and world politics. Whilst more than adept in the ways of the feminine, he or she may not be accustomed to dealing with society at large. In seeking peace and quiet, one often shrinks from the outward challenges and conflict of life. This disinterest in the masculine realm can flow over into a distrust of the masculine.
To compound the problem, this distrust is valid - the masculine desire for power and control does sit at the root of our problems. Frodo’s wariness of Aragorn shares in this validity. For Aragorn is the heir of Isuldur, a great warrior-king who was seduced by the temptation to power and claimed the One Ring as his own. Had Isuldur sacrificed the Ring when he had the chance, Middle Earth would be free of its evil force. The masculine has had a long history of claiming and abusing power. Why then should it be trusted now?
With the help of Gandalf’s letter Frodo soon discovers that Aragorn is, in fact, a friend and valuable ally. Aragorn is not typical of a masculinity which is estranged from the feminine. He is not hungry for power and though a warrior, he does not abuse his strength. Later in the story we learn that Aragorn is betrothed to Arwen, the elven daughter of Elrond. We also learn that Aragorn has the gift for healing and, unbeknownst to the Hobbits, was a guardian of the Shire. These attributes all point toward a masculine energy which is in positive relationship to the feminine. Aragorn is strong and wilful, yet gentle and protective. He embodies all the qualities ascribed to a strong and healthy masculine without being divorced from the sensitivity of the feminine. He is a sacred warrior who seeks to honour and preserve life.
Aragorn is also a good friend of Gandalf’s. In myth and legend, the true king would often have a noted figure of wisdom at his side. We see this with King Arthur and Merlin in the grail legend. The two form a pair – the wiseman being responsible for keeping the king in relationship to God and the king being responsible for the implementation of Gods will on earth. This pairing of king and wiseman represents a balanced psychological state. The individual who has this balance is both inwardly attuned to the demands of the greater Self as well as outwardly focused and active within the world. Such a person has the capacity to actualise the greater potential which exists within us all.
This attunement to the feminine and greater Self is now required of our modern-day leaders. We can no longer afford to support strong men or women with little vision and no relationship to the feminine. They may be capable economic managers of our industrial system, yet they care little for the earth and soul of life. The issues of the global crisis and the breakdown of our community need to be raised as top priorities. Our past century has witnessed the power of such sacred-warriors as Mahatma Ghandi, Martin-Luther King and Nelson Mandela – all leaders with a strong inner conviction and a vision for a better world. More recently, ecologically sensitive individuals have banded together and formed several environmental groups and the political parties. This is a positive development. We would do well to provide these organizations with our continued support. We also need to encourage our own selves to come forward. In a speech given at his inauguration, Nelson Mandela calls for us all to make our presence felt in the world.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God, your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in every one of us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.12
In his quest to return the Ring Frodo must overcome his distrust and accept the help of Aragorn. In our story Aragorn plays the role of a warrior, yet he is also a king who is yet to assume his throne. Psychologically speaking, we need to embrace our will and our power. We need to learn to act in the world and battle for what we believe in. The war against those forces which threaten life on Earth cannot be won with insight and high ideals alone.
Prior to his meeting with Aragorn, Frodo had only Gandalf, a figure of wisdom, as his guide. With Aragorn, Frodo embraces an ally who may assist him in a way that Gandalf could not. Whilst Gandalf serves to educate and inspire Frodo, it is Aragorn who helps him to fight. Through harnessing our will and conviction we carry right thought forward into right action. Here is where we begin to make a difference in life.
Early the next morning Aragorn led the Hobbits out of Bree and on towards Rivendell. The Ring Wraiths were sure to be looking for Frodo and his Ring on all the main roads. It was for this reason that Aragorn led the hobbits off the roads and onto the hidden tracks. Taking these paths would mean safe but slower progress.
Within a few days the party had reached Weathertop. From there Aragorn spotted three Ring Wraiths who had picked up on their trail. The wraiths were almost upon them. Aragorn and the Hobbits readied themselves for the night and its inevitable conflict. Wood was gathered and a large fire was built. Night fell.
Soon the Ring Wraiths could be felt all around. As they drew near an irresistible urge to wear the Ring grew inside Frodo. He fingered it in his pocket then, so easily, it just slipped on. Immediately Frodo’s vision changed. The wraiths, who were ghosts by day, became hauntingly real whilst his friends disappeared. He was in their world now.
One of the wraiths struck the defenceless Frodo and he fell down wounded. Then, with a last effort, he removed the ring from his finger and reappeared the to the world of his friends. There he lay with the Ring clasped tightly in his hand.
Aragorn had only seen Frodo vanish, then a flurry of shadows. Now Frodo lay there with a nasty wound to his shoulder. Beside him was a wicked knife with a thin sliver missing from its tip. The knife vapourised and was gone.
The party pushed on. Every day Frodo grew weaker and weaker. Starting in his shoulder a deadly chill spread out across his body. The Ring Wraiths pulled back and were now waiting. They had delivered Frodo a fatal wound – soon the Ring would be theirs.
Frodo neared his end. The party continued, carrying Frodo on towards Rivendell. As they neared the gates of Rivendell, they were met by Glorfindal, an envoy sent out by Elrond. Frodo was placed upon Glorfindal’s horse. The Ring Wraiths drew near as they sensed the possibility of Frodo’s escape.
The Ring Wraiths charged. Frodo’s horse leapt forward and raced for Rivendell. As he entered the stream, at the gates of Rivendell, the wraiths were close behind. Then just as Frodo rode up onto the opposite embankment he turned and cursed the enemy. At that instant a great wall of water came rushing down and washed the Ring Wraiths from their steeds. Frodo passed out and remembered nothing more.
Frodo had begun to fade and was near death. Had he not reached Rivendell in time he would have been beyond all aid. In Rivendell Elrond tended to Frodo’s wound. After four nights he found and removed the evil splinter that had worked its way toward Frodo’s heart. Soon Frodo returned to consciousness, well set on the way to recovery. His faith was restored, and he now realised how far he had already come.
Frodo must escape the Ring Wraiths who seek to overpower the hobbit, take the Ring, and deliver it to their master, the Dark Lord. Aragorn leads the hobbits off the main roads and onto an alternative set of paths. This ‘alternate’ way is slowly being mapped out and represents a very real solution to many of our modern-day problems. Alternative energy, alternative health practices, alternate modes of transport, housing, farming, and economic management all offer a means by which we may live in harmony with nature. From world politics to household consumption, there now exists a significant body of knowledge which addresses the many ways in which we may foster the greater wellbeing of our planet and ourselves.
Escaping the Ring Wraiths means living a holistic lifestyle and remaining true to a new set of ethics. Yet such a radical change in lifestyle can be highly idealistic. The Ring Wraiths willed Frodo to wear the Ring and he soon found himself obeying a command which was not his own. Amidst mainstream society it is enormously difficult, if not impossible, to tread gently upon the earth.
In wearing the Ring Frodo suffered a terrible moral defeat. In his quest to destroy the Ring and place it beyond the grasp of all, Frodo found that he himself had been unable to resist the temptation of the Ring. Frodo is wounded in the shoulder, that part of the body capable of carrying a great load. From there the splinter worked its way in towards his heart and paralysed his body. Frodo neared death.
This is a precarious juncture in the quest to return the Ring. For some it may be the end. In failing to maintain our high ideals we may easily decide that the challenge before us is simply too difficult. We may lose heart and grow sceptical of our previously held aspirations, asking ourselves “what hope is there of changing the ways of the world when I cannot even mend my own ways?”
Yet this attempt and failure is a very necessary, though painful, part of the quest. Previously we were asked to find our strength, now we must discover our weakness. We need to fail. Through failing we are humbled and out of this humility we are drawn into a more honest perception of ourselves. When we live in accordance with a rigidly held set of principles, we remain righteous and aloof. From these heights we are unable to acknowledge that which is weak and in need of development within our own being.
Whilst suffered as a defeat, the confrontation with one’s own shadow is also an enlightening experience. Frodo’s encounter with the Ring Wraiths quickly evolved into a deeper recognition of the enemy. He could now hear their voices where others could not; he could feel their force of will as it conflicted with his own. In failing to live up to our ideals we are introduced to the shadow and the seeds of evil as they exist within our own selves. This is a most important turning point. No longer do we argue with or blame others, as it is ourselves who have become the enemy.
If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say they do this or they do that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the house of gathering. Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is wrong in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.13
In accepting responsibility, we empower our own position, for we are no longer the victim of influences external to ourselves and beyond our control. To a greater or lesser degree, we all contribute to the global crisis. What matters most is our response to the recognition of this fact. What saved Frodo from certain defeat was his ability to recognise the error of his ways and remove the Ring.
In Rivendell, Elrond found and removed the evil splinter that had worked its way into Frodo’s heart. To ‘take it to heart’ is to take it personally. The wound Frodo suffers is the wound of shame. Shame paralyses our being and prevents us from acting and speaking out. We may feel unable to preach a new morality when we are unable to live these principles ourselves. In our shame we say and do nothing.
Like Gandalf, Elrond is the keeper of one of the three great elven rings. Whilst Gandalf wears Narya, the ring of fire, Elrond wields Vilya, the ring of air. Where fire relates to the capacity for intuitive understanding, air is allied with the capacity to think and reason. Air is the most impersonal of the four elements, air allows us to stand back and assess a situation objectively.
When we look at the scope of the global crisis objectively it is immediately obvious our problems will not be solved without sustained effort. Idealism, which is predisposed to failure, needs to mature into a more rational appreciation of the challenge before us. Through an objective assessment of global crisis, a long-term strategy may be devised. In the story this is the purpose of the Council of Elrond.
13 Jung, “Psychology and Religion” (1938/1940), Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, par 140.