When I read Marc’s description of the Encampment Night Watch, I couldn’t help but think of the encounter of the hobbits and Strider on Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring. I am not sure whether there is more a comparison or contrast to be found. You decide.
Having experienced the encampment Night Watch, it is easy to understand how a “watchfire” is a mixed blessing for those who are near it. The light of the fire illuminates a large area around the fire itself, but the brightness of that near light makes it more difficult, not easier, to see into the darker distance. What is more, the watchmen’s long and deep shadows, cast by the fire, create large areas of vulnerability. In fact, Father Ignatius successfully “captured” the Night Watchmen by sneaking up on them right in their own shadows!
The situation seems to be different in The Lord of the Rings. When on Weathertop the danger of the approaching Black Riders was first perceived, Strider had the hobbits surround the fire and face outwards. With the approach of the Nazgûl, not much else was to be done. Fortunately for Strider and the Hobbits, they had two advantages over our Night Watchmen. First, they were able to sense the presence of the Riders by the sheer terror and dread that the nearness of the wraiths caused. Frodo felt a “cold dread [creep] over his heart,” before anyone of them had yet definitely spotted one of the enemy. Secondly, what they were looking for could not be illuminated by the light, but was perceived by its absence of any reflected light. The hobbits “saw” the approaching wraiths as black shapes in the form of men. “So black were they that they seemed like black holes in the deep shade behind them.”
It is a bit ironic that the frightful encounter took place on Weathertop, at the crest of which were the ruins of the Tower of Amon Sûl, once the great watch tower of the Northern Kingdom, now a low, tumbled ring of broken stones. The Stone of Amon Sûl that had rested in the tower, was the greatest of the Palantiri, used by the men of Arnor to communicate with Gondor. It is also said the Elendil watched from the Tower of Amon Sûl for Gil-gilad before they set out to fight Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance. The place had a long and venerable history, and also a tragic one.
In the earlier part of the Third Age, the evil of Angmar and the division of Arnor, the Northern Kingdom, left the the Dúnedain weak and their lands in a state of decay. Eventually a host from Angmar overwhelmed Amon Sûl. The Tower was raised to the ground, and though the Palantir was rescued, later it was lost at sea. When the hobbits came to Weathertop, the greatness of the Northern Kingdom and its tragic fall was a memory that only Aragorn could fully appreciate.
The hobbits were certainly not the Dúnedain, but they were more vigilant and courageous than many of the big people who had watched Arnor decay and overrun. Strider, the King in disguise, worthy descendant of the men of the North, led the hobbits where many of his own people would not have gone.
Of course, our lighthearted game of the Night Watch had a point, and it should well taken. It is tragic to watch secularist filth creep into our country like a band of orcs in the night, leaving ruin all around us, while, self-centered and lazy, we watch it happen and all the while bemoan the advance of the dreadful shadow. Should we be surprised if one day we wake up and our sacred institutions are a smoking ruin? Don’t smirk. It is happening while we speak.
We have cowered before the thralls of Angmar and now our Catholic hospitals in Connecticut are turning the wheels of Morgoth himself. No, our precious little Shire is not safe at all.
The hobbits had no idea how much trouble they were in, but they had plenty of fear in the presence of the Black Riders. It was much worse than they knew. Perhaps that is the real difference between our night-blind boys at the Encampment and the hobbits on Weathertop. A real fear of a deathly darkness, blacker than a moonless night, froze the hearts of the hobbits. The Nazgûl were not perceived by light, but by darkness, and that darkness was a fear, but it was also something so hateful to the hobbits that they had to fight it.
Our watch, on the other hand was merely a game. Perhaps if the boys had really been afraid, they would have made sure, one way or another, that no one sneaked up on them in their own shadows.
After the Ring had been destroyed the hobbits returned to the Shire. They found it in decay with, among other things, the Old Mill destroyed and rebuilt as a filth spewing factory of Saruman. They could not bear it, and they took care of business.
The hobbits scoured the Shire, because there was a Shire to go back to. Early on, Frodo and his friends faced the darkness, not because it was convenient or even because they thought they would be victorious, but because it was the right thing to do.
Better to die fighting than to live reclining in the Lazy Boy and watching everything precious to us marred, twisted and destroyed by the enemy. The Night Watch was fun, but the whole point is that this is not a game.