It’s been some time since my last update on Lucy’s first LotR experience. If you’ve not been following along, or are new here, then, in brief, I will simply say that (among other random Tolkien-related musings) I have been capturing thoughts on certain key moments within the tale.
In a recent post on this topic, Gandalf had just revealed to the Council that Saruman was, in fact, a traitor. A great deal has happened since then. The Ring headed south; the Company was defeated by Carahras; the journey in the dark had awful consequences; a rest was taken; the Great River was traversed; the Fellowship was broken; a hero was redeemed; the great hunt was undertaken; the hobbits were captured and escaped; moots were held; and the hunters have at long last arrived at Fangorn. They camped out overnight under the eaves of the forest, and encountered a mysterious but silent old man dressed in white, whom Gimli adamantly proclaimed to have been Saruman.
I should note at this point that, after reading the Khazad–dûm chapter of Fellowship, I was careful to emphasise to Lucy that Gandalf was, in fact, now dead. I also have mentioned a few times (both before and since beginning the book) that “people can and will die” in this story. I want the threats to be real for her. Otherwise, what’s the point?
So it was that Lucy had no trouble whatsoever in agreeing with Gimli, whispering behind clawed fingers, It’s Saruman! Indeed the following day, when the trio entered Fangorn, they had not gone far at all before they encountered (seemingly) the same mysterious old man. This time he is dressed in what is described (by Gimili) as ‘dirty grey rags’ [LotR, iii, 5, ‘The White Rider’]. Yet it is soon revealed that these ‘rags’ are nothing more than a disguise intended to cloak a power that the old man would prefer to remain hidden (for now).
After some initial debate and talk of truncheoning his titfer, Gandalf reveals himself, making his rather timid re-entrance into the story so far truly remarkable.
The old man was too quick for him. He sprang to his feet and leaped to the top of a large rock. There he stood, grown suddenly tall, towering above them. His hood and his grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. He lifted up his staf, and Gimli’s axe leaped from his grasp and fell ringing on the ground. The sword of Aragorn, stiff in his motionless hand, blazed with a sudden fire. Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air: it vanished in a flash of flame.
‘Mithrandir!’ he cried. ‘Mithrandir!’
‘Well met, I say to you again, Legolas!’ said the old man. [ibid]
Note that at this point, despite Legolas’ outcry, the narrator still identifies the stranger as the old man. Perhaps it is for this reason that, when I looked at Lucy to see if there was any reaction yet, she simply stared back, waiting for what was to come next. It could also be that Mithrandir went over her head. We have talked about it already, of course. But the name is not nearly so common as is Gandalf, and she may simply have forgotten what it meant.
They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say.
[A beat; a pause; no discernible reaction.]
At last Aragorn stirred. ‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over my sight? Gandalf!’
There could be no doubt now. All was revealed. How would Lucy react? Would she gasp with the shock? Would she leap for joy? Or, like the companions, caught between wonder, joy, and fear, would she remain simply silent, gaping at me until I continued?
I heard the sound of a slap. Expecting a Kevin McAllister moment of open-mouthed shock, both hands to her face, I looked up.
My friends: my daughter…the love of my life…the most precious of gifts…she who believes above all else in unicorns, magic, and happy endings…my friends, I tell you that she facepalmed.
“What’s with the facepalm, Lu?”, I asked. Without looking up, from behind her hand, she grumbles a reply: “That’s not Gandalf.”
Lucy assumed that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli had leapt from the cliffs of insanity. She couldn’t believe these three about to be duped so easily as all that.
We finished the chapter, and through Gandalf’s own recollection and my supplementary explanations, all became clear. Or, as clear as it can at this stage of her Tolkien education.
Gandalf is alive. He has a magnificent horse. And Lucy is as pleased as can be.