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Deciphering Visions in the Mirror of Galadriel


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. 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. Then he saw against the Sun, sinking blood-red into a wrack of clouds, the black outline of a tall ship with torn sails riding up out of the West. Then a wide river flowing through a populous city. Then a white fortress with seven towers. And then again a ship with black sails, but now it was morning again, and the water rippled with light, and a banner bearing the emblem of a white tree shone in the sun. A smoke as of fire and battle arose, and again the sun went down in a burning red that faded into a grey mist; and into the mist a small ship passed away, twinkling with lights. It vanished, and Frodo sighed and prepared to draw away.

So what do you think his vision showed? Personally, I identify the events as such:

the Sea. Darkness fell. The sea rose and raged in a great storm. Then he saw against the Sun, sinking blood-red into a wrack of clouds, the black outline of a tall ship with torn sails riding up out of the West. – Either one of these alone may not mean much, but taken together, I would say they describe the Downfall of Numenor and Elendil’s survival.

Then a wide river flowing through a populous city. Then a white fortress with seven towers. – This is clearly Osgilliath and Minas Tirith.

And then again a ship with black sails, but now it was morning again, and the water rippled with light, and a banner bearing the emblem of a white tree shone in the sun. – This could be either Elendil’s ship (assuming it was the same ship as the one seen before), or possibly (and personally I consider it more likely) Aragorn coming to rescue of Minas Tirith.

A smoke as of fire and battle arose, – Combined with above, I would say it is most likely the Battle of the Pelennor fields.

Between this and the following vision of Sauron, Frodo does indeed see the past, the present and the future.

By contrast, Sam’s vision is rather more straightforward and pertains to Frodo and Shire:

‘There’s only stars, as I thought,’ he said. Then he gave a low gasp, for the stars went out. As if a dark veil had been withdrawn, the Mirror grew grey, and then clear. There was sun shining, and the branches of trees were waving and tossing in the wind. But before Sam could make up his mind what it was that he saw, the light faded; and now he thought he saw Frodo with a pale face lying fast asleep under a great dark cliff. Then he seemed to see himself going along a dim passage, and climbing an endless winding stair. It came to him suddenly that he was looking urgently for something, but what it was he did not know. Like a dream the vision shifted and went back, and he saw the trees again. But this time they were not so close, and he could see what was going on: they were not waving in the wind, they were falling, crashing to the ground.

‘Hi!’ cried Sam in an outraged voice. ‘There’s that Ted Sandyman a-cutting down trees as he shouldn’t. They didn’t ought to be felled: it’s that avenue beyond the Mill that shades the road to Bywater. I wish I could get at Ted, and I’d fell him!’

But now Sam noticed that the Old Mill had vanished, and a large red-brick building was being put up where it had stood. Lots of folk were busily at work. There was a tall red chimney nearby. Black smoke seemed to cloud the surface of the Mirror.

‘There’s some devilry at work in the Shire,’ he said. ‘Elrond knew what he was about when he wanted to send Mr. Merry back.’ Then suddenly Sam gave a cry and sprang away. ‘I can’t stay here,’ he said wildly. ‘I must go home. They’ve dug up Bagshot Row, and there’s the poor old gaffer going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow. I must go home!’

So:
There was sun shining, and the branches of trees were waving and tossing in the wind. – The Huorns?

Frodo with a pale face lying fast asleep under a great dark cliff. Then he seemed to see himself going along a dim passage, and climbing an endless winding stair. It came to him suddenly that he was looking urgently for something, but what it was he did not know. – This is clearly Cirith Ungol.

And of course, his visions of Shire are clear.

Beyond the meaning of visions themselves, there is one more thing interesting to note: where Frodo’s visions pertain to the “bigger picture”, the past, the present and the future of the Middle Earth as such, Sam’s visions are restricted to Frodo and to Shire. This shows clear differentiation in terms of personality, and is one of Tolkien’s touches that I so appreciate.

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