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Edge of Night

Jayne English

“Home is behind, the world ahead,

and there are many paths to tread

through shadows to the edge of night,

until the stars are all alight.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

All men are to pray and not give up.” Luke 18:1

We followed Frodo and Sam as they traveled to the depths of Mordor, treading “through shadows to the edge of night.” We saw them persevere through battles with barrow-wights, orcs, Nazgul, and sometimes with the dark side of those who went with them to guard and guide them. Throughout the trials of their journey to Mount Doom, they showed us a paradox that balanced on the edge of a knife: not giving up looks a whole lot like giving up.

Fiction can help us see truth pictorially. Just as God uses nature to declare his glory, he uses stories – as Jesus used parables – to inspire our imaginations to see life more clearly through the characters we follow. Jorge Luis Borges writes, “A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.” These relationships lead us to see our own lives, circumstances, and predicaments through the multiple angles that reading presents to us.

In Borges’s short story “The Aleph,” he describes a small sphere that contained “infinite things.” In the sphere, his character saw deserts and every individual grain of sand that made up the deserts. He saw every book and every letter in every book. He saw people, seas, dawns and sunsets, and “millions of acts both delightful and awful.” Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, means “to produce thousands” lending itself to Borges’s use of the sphere as being able to see everything in the world “from every angle of the universe.” If we could see all of life from thousands of angles, it might reveal to us the unexpected complexities involved in not giving up.

The edge of night that we travel vicariously with the hobbits is the moment in which both turning back and going on reside. Pippin wavered on that point battling hill trolls of Gorgoroth. He thought the battle was lost and “it seemed best to him to die soon and leave the bitter story of his life, since all was in ruin.” But then Beregond fell at his side and the troll-chief was upon him, so Pippin, with his last hope or last doubt (I believe, help my unbelief), plunged his sword into the troll. As the troll crashed on top of him, Pippin dropped from consciousness thinking, “So it ends as I guessed it would.” But even as he was letting go all hope, strangely content in defeat, “casting off at last all doubt and care and fear,” the cries of his rescue came: “The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!”

In the iridescent Aleph sphere where we can see the world’s infinities, we would see the moment where Pippin brandishes his sword – convinced he was giving up – become the moment that leads to his rescue.

Sam and Frodo swayed in that borderland, simultaneously giving up and going on, as black Mordor melted in the fire around them. Frodo was at the end of hope, telling Sam, “We are lost in ruin and down­fall, and there is no escape.” He quit there on the side of the mountain. They couldn’t know it, but the Aleph sphere would show us that giving up was about to turn on a point when Sam said, “Come, Mr. Frodo, let’s go down the path at any rate!” Taking those last steps down the path, where the rivers of lava passed them, led to their rescue by the eagle Gwaihir.

In his story, Borges calls the Aleph the multum in parvo, the much in little, because the limitless sphere containing “the unimaginable universe” was barely an inch in diameter. But its many angles would inspire us to see the intricacies of the edge of night, and the multifaceted ways stories illuminate life. Or as Gandalf puts it, “All wizards should have a hobbit or two in their care—to teach them the meaning of the world, and to correct them.”