Stop, Enjoy the Wonder
by Dan Cruver
“Do not spoil the wonder with haste!”—so answered Legolas to Gimli when asked if they (Legolas, Merry, and Gimli) could visit the “caves of wonder” underneath Helm’s Deep. When they were last at Helm’s Deep, having just defeated the Uruk-Hai (The Two Towers, Chapter 8), Gimli told Legolas of the breath-taking beauty of those vast caverns. So beautiful, Gimli claimed, that Dwarves “would pay pure gold for a brief glance!” Legolas retorted, “And I would give gold to be excused, and double to be let out, if I strayed in!”
Gimli then proceeded to wax eloquent as he described the beauty of the “caves of wonder”:
“immeasurable halls, filled with an everlasting music of water that tinkles into pools, as far as Kheled-zaram in the star light…gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel…Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities, such as the mind of Durin could scare have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on in the dark recesses where no light can come…It makes me weep to leave them” (152, 153).
On and on Gimli waxed, until Legolas finally replied, “Then I will wish you this fortune for your comfort, Gimli, that you may come safe from war and return to see them again. But do not tell all your kindred! There seems little left for them to do, from your account. Maybe the men of this land are wise to say little: one family of busy dwarves with hammer and chisel might mar more than they made.”
But Legolas had misunderstood Gimli’s meaning, so Gimli proceeded to set him straight.
“No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap—a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day—so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock. And lights, Legolas! We should make lights, such lamps as once shone in Khazad-dum; and when we wished we would drive away the night that has lain there since the hills were made; and when we desired rest, we would let the night return” (153).
Finally, Legolas understood:
“‘You move me, Gimli,’ said Legolas. ‘I have never heard you speak like this before. Almost you make me regret that I have not seen these caves. Come! Let us make this bargain—if we both return safe out of the perils that await us, we will journey for a while together. You shall visit Fangorn with me, and then I will come with you to see Helm’s Deep’” (153).
When we, the readers, finally arrive in chapter 2 of The Return of the King, some thirteen chapters after the above scene in The Two Towers, only three nights have passed since Legolas promised Gimli that they would explore the “caves of wonder” (49). After a quick journey to Orthanc following the Battle at Helm’s Deep, Legolas and Gimli returned to the fortress, this time with Merry in tow. It was then that Gimli, eager to show Merry the caverns of Helm’s Deep, asked Legolas if he thinks they have time to visit them. “Nay! There is no time,” answered Legolas. “Do not spoil the wonder with haste!” (italics mine).
To appreciate what Legolas means by “Do not spoil the wonder with haste,” it’s helpful to read the previous few pages. Chapter 2 begins with the company returning to Helm’s Deep from Orthanc. As they rode, a group of thirty horsemen was gaining on them quickly. Éomer and his Riders quickly turned around to halt the horsemen and asked, “Who are you? And what is your haste?” (47). This is the first of many occurrences of the word haste in this chapter. The company learned that the horsemen were riding in haste in order to find Aragorn son of Arathorn.
When Aragorn asked the leader of the horsemen, Halbarad, to tell them why they had come to find him, and how many they are, Halbarad answered, “I have thirty with me…That is all of our kindred that could be gathered in haste” (48). Aragorn then told Halbarad and his men that they have found their company “riding in haste and danger.”
In the very next scene, Elrond’s son Elrohir says to Aragorn, “I bring word to you from my father: The days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead” (48). Aragorn then replies, “Always my days have seemed to me too short to achieve my desire…But great indeed will be my haste ere I take that road.”
When at last the company had returned to Helm’s Deep, they stopped to rest for a brief time. After Merry had slept a bit, Gimli told him about the “caves of wonder” and then asked Legolas if they had time to explore them before they journeyed on (49).
Unfortunately, the days in which the company found themselves demanded haste if Middle-earth was to be saved. Gimli wanted to show Merry the wonders of the caves beneath the fortress before they continued on, but Legolas well knew that their wonder would be spoiled if the caves were explored in haste.
And so, with the words, “Do not spoil the wonder with haste,” Legolas teaches us a lesson about the enjoyment of wonder. It requires patient and unhurried exploration. In order to enjoy wonder in our busy day-to-day living, we must slow down so that we can calmly and carefully take in what it is we are seeing and experiencing. Haste is to wonder what water is to fire. The fire of wonder cannot burn when it is drenched with the water of haste.
As we all know, life in the 21st-century is too often rushed, hurried, and frustrating. Its gravitational force pulls us into constant movement, hindering us from slowing down enough to enjoy what’s right before us. But wonder can’t be hurried. It won’t be rushed. Wonder doesn’t run on a 21st-century clock. As much as the digital age has allowed us to connect with more people and places, it has equally hindered our ability to experience wonder. Haste spoils wonder. With the haste and pace of modern day living, wonder gets left behind. Wonder walks slowly. It takes its time. It’s never in a hurry.
If you feel like your life is just too busy, if you feel stressed more often than not, remember this: haste spoils wonder. When wonder is absent from our lives, something feels off. We feel out of sorts. We “feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” What we need when we feel this way is to slow down and open our eyes. You are surrounded by all kinds of gifts (trees, flowers, green grass, mountains, hills, the sun, moon, and stars, etc). So, intentionally slow down and look, observe. Be present to all that is around you. Take it all in. Tolkien was once asked what Middle-earth was based on. His answer? “If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the earth as it is.”
Both Middle-earth and our Present-earth have plenty to delight in. So, stop, and enjoy the wonder.