Friday, April 11, 2014

The Machine that Conquered Time

“’You cannot go home alone,’ said the Lady. ‘You do not wish to go home without your master before you looked in the Mirror, and yet you knew that evil things might well be happening in the Shire. Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them. The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds.” (LOTR 363) Like Hobbits, there is more than meets the eye to the Galadriel’s Mirror. While she boldly outlines its function in the aforementioned passage, an item so complicated and so powerful cannot be summed up that blatantly. The Mirror has the ability to induce visions – I will argue later as to whether or not these visions are dreams in Tolkien’s sense of the world – and what these visions demonstrate vary from person to person depending on their nature. That being said, these visions have certain underlying elements – for example, they are richly ingrained with a specific history of the secondary reality while also showing the desires and anxieties of certain individuals. Essentially, the Mirror of Galadriel serves as the symbolic physical entity that connects realities as opposed to the mental connection between the primary and secondary realities that is outlined by Tolkien in The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers.
The Mirror of Galadriel sequence is arguably one of the most cryptic moments in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, though parallels to his other works can aid in the clarification process. “Then there was a pause, and after it many swift scenes followed that Frodo in some way knew to be parts of a great history in which he had become involved,” so Tolkien writes as Frodo gazes into the Mirror (LOTR 364). These thoughts and sights were previously inaccessible to Frodo before he looked into the Mirror – he needed a physical object to aid him in this sense. One can see a connection between Frodo and the Mirror and Alboin in The Lost Road: “’I wish there was a ‘Time-machine’,’ he said aloud. ‘But Time is not to be conquered by machines. And I should go back, not forward; and I think backwards would be more possible” (TLR 52). This is a curious contrast – both the Mirror and Alboin’s dreams have the comparable function of allowing one to enter and view the past, though the Mirror could certainly be considered a “machine” – and one that has arguably conquered time. This is not necessarily an inconsistency or an oversight If anything, the mentioning of a machine that cannot be conquerable by time in The Lost Road is to underscore the significance and the raw power of the Mirror of Galadriel while adding another level of enchantment and mysticism to the world.
In a broader sense, the Mirror of Galadriel and the related texts hint at Tolkien’s conception of the nature of the nature of dreams themselves. Through his use of the sea as an underlying motif, Tolkien outlines two fine lines – one between dreams and nightmares, and the other between nightmares and stories. This is exemplified by Tolkien’s use of his own recurring dream and its placement in his stories: “I mean the terrible recurrent dream (beginning with memory) of the Great Wave, towering up, and coming ineluctably over the trees and green fields. (I bequeathed it to Faramir.) I don’t think I have had it since I wrote the ‘Downfall of Númenor’ as the last of the legends of the First and Second Age” (Letters 213). A similar dream is examined by Frodo in the Mirror: “The mist cleared and he saw a sight which he had never seen before but knew at once: the Sea. Darkness fell. The sea rose and raged in a great storm” (LOTR 364). This is also touched upon in The Lost Road: “He tramped on. ‘Dreams,’ he thought. ‘But not the usual sort, quite different: very vivid; and though never quite repeated, all gradually fitting into a story. But a sort of phantom story with no explanations. Just pictures, but not a sound, not a word. Ships coming to land. Towers on the shore. Battles, with swords glinting but silent. And there is that ominous picture: the great temple on the mountain, smoking like a volcano. And that awful vision of the chasm in the seas, a whole land slipping sideways, mountains rolling over; dark ships fleeing into the dark. I want to tell someone about it, and get some kind of sense into it. Father would help: we could make up a good yarn together out of it. If I knew even the name of the place, it would turn a nightmare into a story.’” (TLR 57)
All these stories have the consistent underlying motif of the sea, though they feature an absolutely negative slant. Recurring themes of darkness and destruction also pervade these nightmares. However, Tolkien also draws parallels between the sea and the formation of dreams on multiple occasions, though the most concise reference occurs with Alboin in The Lost Road: “Upon the wall Oswin found his son, a boy about twelve years old, lying gazing out to sea with his chin in his hands” (TLR 39). When organized by differing levels of horror, these different fragmented passages concerning the sea begin to form an outline of Tolkien’s conceptions of dreams. One on end is the initial formation of a dream based on one’s tangible surroundings. When one starts to progress down the line the dream turns into a nightmare, and finally, once a connection is established to something real as opposed to simply imagined (once again Tolkien demonstrating the power of names and language), the nightmare becomes a story. The Mirror of Galadriel, invoking Dunne’s work to some extent, allows the viewer to see every point on this line from one point – “the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass,” Galadriel claims – and thus is the impossible machine that was able to conquer time.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the differences between Galadriel's Mirror and a machine illustrate an important aspect of Tolkien's philosophy. The Mirror is, after all, quite a bit more passive than we generally understand machines to be. It reflects, rather than alters (it might be appropriate to ask what exactly it's reflecting here). Perhaps it is because of this reflection that the Mirror enables us to see in the future, while in dreams (and I think you're on to something by noting the passivity that is also present in dreams) we seem limited to the past.

    It's also interesting, as you point out, how these dreams ultimately appear to be nightmares. Does that say something more broadly about the nature of trying to see beyond this frame of time? We can think how Denethor and Saruman were warped by visions in considering this.