Waiting in line at a border crossing, I am reminded of a classic scene of misinterpretation from a classic fantasy novel: Lord of the Rings.
“Speak, friend, and enter.” The members of the Fellowship of the Ring ponder the instructions that are carved into stone above the mammoth door.
Gandalf, the wizard who had guided them thus far and who had translated the words from whatever arcane language they were in, scratches his head. Perhaps I paraphrase from the original Tolkien text, but you get the point: He’s flummoxed, stumped, stymied. What secret word is to be spoken to open the door and gain access to the subterranean passage?
He had brought them here to steal a march on mortal and non-mortal enemies lying in wait for them in the mountain passes ahead. He had brought them here to improve their chances of completing their quest: to destroy the One Ring. To save the world.
Now, here they are, stymied by a riddle he cannot guess and a door that will not open.
Over the next minutes or hours (or minutes that seem like hours to the set-upon travelers, maybe), he tries every magic word he can think of.
“Open, Sesame! Abracadabra! Hocus pocus! Alakazam! A lí peanut butter sandwiches!” (Perhaps I paraphrase.) But nothing works. Finally, he is beat and he knows it.
Then and only then, his subconscious elbows him in the ribs. His head snaps up.
He walks up to the door confidently and says, in the arcane language of the carved instructions, “Friend.” And the door swings wide.
Ah. The words actually said, “Say ‘friend’ and enter.”
Gandalf is both tickled pink (perhaps I paraphrase . . . ) and annoyed with himself. He has figured it out, yes, but his mistranslation/misinterpretation has cost them time they dearly needed. Saving the world can put you on a tight-ish schedule.
On our own tight-ish schedule, we’re sitting in line at the border crossing at Sault Ste. Marie. En route from Ottawa to a small bay on Lake of the Woods, about 45 minutes southwest of Kenora, we have come here to bypass the north shore of Lake Superior. Fearing no enemies, mortal or otherwise, we are just trying to take the road less scenic but also less travelled, winding, and slow. The road, in fact, through the United States.
The American border guard beckons us forward. As we pull up to the wicket, he leans out. In the arcane language of his occupation, he gives the Big Guy his instructions.
“Speak, friend, and enter.”
Ah. A Tolkien aficionado, perhaps? Or perhaps I paraphrase.