21 August 2014

And the sound of them sank deep into his heart

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West.  There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.
(RK 6.ix.1030)

I just wrote about this passage in a note on The Lord of the Rings, but right now this quote isn't about Tolkien.  It's about me, and life, and reading.  The day after I published that post I went down the Jersey Shore.  Once I lived there, close enough to the sea to hear it through my bedroom window, late at night when the town lay sleeping and every sound but the waves on the beach, and the summer breeze tousling the sycamores, had been stilled.  Nearly every summer of my life from the time I was eight until the time I was forty I spent beside the sea; and for years too short and too few I lived there year round.  The sounds and smells and movements of the sea, the way it looks in every kind of light, winter or summer, day and night, in the clear or the black storm or the gray day's rain -- all of this sank deep into my heart long ago, where it lives with every word I have ever devoured about the sea, from Homer to Melville to Tolkien to Patrick O'Brian, from Odysseus weeping by the shore for Ithaca to Jack and Stephen playing duets in the cabin as they sail down the Med.

For me, dwelling beside the sea was like living in some other, more sacred realm, some other Eden, upon the nearer shores of Faerie.  Every place I have ever lived since seems short a dimension, graceless, fallen.  And though I have liked some of these places betters than others, all are to some degree lonely, and not home -- never home -- because they are not the sea and the shore.  And at one point, sunk in a double sorrow, I so longed for home and an end to my unhappiness that, as I watched the final shot of the movie, The Perfect Storm, in which the last fisherman, soon to die, soars up the climbing slope of a gigantic wave, I thought it wouldn't be such a bad way to go.

But in a strange and literary and not entirely insane way that scene comforted me, because the solitude of the character reminded me of my own, and my longing for the sea drew me in, and the awareness that the author had to be able to imagine a scene and loneliness that no one ever witnessed.  And that scene led me to think on others, on the whole sequence in Persuasion, that incomparable joy of a book, in which Anne Eliot, who lives immersed in such loneliness, visits the seaside at Lyme Regis, and suffers from her misapprehensions of Captain Wenwtorth's feelings for her; and that in turn led to that letter of hope and anguish he writes to her later in Bath.

So it's not that Sam Gamgee stood by the sea listening to the waves, as I did a couple of weeks ago.  It's that someone who had this experience of one close enough to it that he could cast it into a form that I could recognize as something I felt and knew.  What I felt and imagined, others did too.  I could stand there on the shore, with the waves washing around my knees, and look at all the people I didn't know, and see their love of being there and the pleasure they took in it, and I could understand it entirely.  I could watch the children play in the waves, as I did.  Watch the children watched over by their fathers as mine watched over me.  Watch people swim and fish and sun themselves, just as I did.  I can look at these people and almost inhabit them because I have not forgotten what all these things are like, never will.  And there was the sound of the waves sinking in, and the long shadowed light of the evening sun, and the gin breeze, all heady and full of sleep.  And past and present, real and imagined, lived and read, were all pretty much one for a while there.

But for as long as they do last, books give us something else: Literature reminds us that we’re not alone on this planet. You’re not alone in this time. You’re not alone in this experience. And not only are you not alone in your city, your nation, your moment—you’re not alone in history. Sappho felt the way you feel. Or Shakespeare, or John Donne. We have this connection. And we are able to have a kind of conversation. The fragments we shore against our ruin—everything that we have read, whatever little fragments we retain, are part of our understanding of the world, the way we see the world, and our conversation that we have with ourselves and with the world. 

Just like the waves, the books sink deep into my heart.   For a long time I thought they allowed me to escape from this world.  But this is untrue. What they do instead is release me from bondage. I remain in the world, but they ransom me.

18 August 2014

Frodo's question to Galadriel

At the end of The Mirror of Galadriel, after she has refused Frodo's offer of the Ring, he asks her a very telling question.

... 'I pass the test,' she said.  'I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.' 

They stood for a long while in silence.  At length the Lady spoke again. 'Let us return!' she said.  'In the morning you must depart, for now we have chosen, and the tides of fate are flowing.'
'I would ask one thing before I go,' said Frodo, 'a thing which I often meant to ask Gandalf in Rivendell.  I am permitted to wear the One Ring: why cannot I see all the others and know the thoughts of those that wear them?'
'You have not tried,' she said. 'Only thrice have you set the Ring upon your finger since you knew what you possessed.  Do not try.  It would destroy you.  Did not Gandalf tell you that the rings give power according to the measure of each possessor?  Before you could use that power you would need to become far stronger, and to train your will to the domination of others.  Yet even so, as the Ring-bearer and as one that has borne it on finger and seen that which is hidden, your sight is grown keener.  You have perceived my thought more clearly than many that are accounted wise.  You saw the Eye of him that holds the Seven and the Nine.  And did you not see and recognize the ring upon my finger?  Did you see my ring?' she asked turning again to Sam.
'No, Lady,' he answered.  'To tell you the truth, I wondered what you were talking about.  I saw a star through your fingers.  But if you'll pardon my speaking out, I think my master was right.  I wish you'd take his Ring.  You'd put things to rights.  You'd stop them digging up the Gaffer and turning him adrift.  You'd make some folk pay for their dirty work.'
'I would,' she said.  'That is how it would begin.  But it would not stop with that, alas!  We will speak no more of it.  Let us go!'
(FR 2.vii.366)
Our attention in this chapter is usually taken up by events that are far more dramatic: Galdariel's 'testing' of the hearts of the Fellowship at their first meeting; the visions Sam and Frodo see in her mirror; or Galadriel's eloquent rejection of the Ring just a moment before this.  While that's all quite understandable, I'm not sure that any of these events is more revealing than this one: Frodo asks someone who clearly could use the Ring to devastating effect about using the Ring himself.

Is Frodo's question merely an innocent one?  Can any such question about the Ring be innocent? His remark that he had 'often meant to ask Gandalf at Rivendell' seems almost disingenuous or -- what is perhaps more likely -- self-deceived.  For Gandalf had been telling him since the night Bilbo left the Shire seventeen years earlier that he should not use the Ring, as well as pointing out the harmful effects of doing so (FR 1.i.36, 40 [three times]; ii.48-49, 53-54; iii.67, 75; x.170); much of the point of the Council of Elrond was that the Ring could not be used (FR 2.ii.67); and Frodo had also spent over two months in Rivendell with Gandalf.  If he failed to ask, it was not because an opportunity to do so was wanting. Given the opposition of Gandalf and Elrond to using the Ring, Frodo may also be overstating the case when he says that he is permitted to wear it.1

Frodo, moreover, phrases the question as if he sought merely awareness (to see the holders of the other Rings) and information (to know their thoughts), but Galadriel immediately understands the matter very differently.  To her it is plainly a question of power and domination. They are the prerequisite means for using the Ring to the end Frodo mentions.  Consider also her words about her own experience with Sauron, who 'gropes ever to see me and my thought.  But the door is still closed,' (FR 2.vii.365, emphasis mine).  It seems clear that she can remain unseen and keep her thoughts unknown only because she has her ring and Sauron lacks his.  But if he were to regain the One, 'then we are laid bare to the Enemy,' and the Elves 'will cast all away rather than submit to Sauron,' (FR 2.vii.365).

It's very interesting in this context that Galadriel seems to have the ability to know Frodo's thoughts.  For at their very first meeting she penetrates his mind, and those of the rest of the company, and can tell enough about them from what she sees there to 'test' them.  As she does so, she 'holds' them with her eyes; almost none of them can 'long endure' her gaze; and it is she who 'at length ... release[s] them from her eyes,' (FR 2.vii.357).  As for the test itself,

All of them, it seemed, had fared alike: each had felt that he was offered a choice between a shadow full of fear that lay ahead, and something he greatly desired: clear before his mind it lay, and to get it he had only to turn aside from the road and leave the Quest and the war against Sauron to others. 
(FR 2.vii.358)
Galadriel here demonstrates the very power and dominance she later tells Frodo he would need to develop in order to use the Ring as he wishes.  We might also glimpse these abilities of hers elsewhere. Unlike Celeborn, she knows for a fact that Gandalf set out with the Company (FR 2.vii.355); she knows that Gandalf told Frodo about how the Ring confers power proportionally on its users (FR 1.ii.53); and she knows precisely how many times Frodo has used the Ring, which would seem an odd detail for Elrond to include in a report, even one carried by his redoubtable sons (FR 2.iii.274).Rather, she learned these facts directly from Frodo's thoughts.

It is also interesting that on this same occasion, her eyes start out on Frodo and seem to be on him still when she says 'your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all.  Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.' (FR 2.vii.357; cf. 358: 'She held you long in her gaze, Ring-bearer.') We most often tend to think of Boromir in this context, but Galadriel appears to have been looking at Frodo, she says 'all,' and Frodo is of course far more exposed to temptation than any of them.  His peril is always the greatest, and our sympathy for his courage and suffering should not blind us to that. His inability to throw the Ring into the fire at Bag End predicts his inability to do the same at Mt Doom (FR 1.ii.61).  And the lonely road he is travelling ends with the words 'The Ring is mine' (RK 6.iii.945).  We may not like that, but we can't forget it.  The attempt to use the Ring destroys the weak, and 'the very desire of it corrupts the heart[s]' of the powerful and the Wise (FR 2.ii.267).  This is fact.

But isn't it only natural that, after what he's been through, Frodo would feel the need for power?  After all he's been hunted by Black Riders, Orcs, and Gollum; speared in Moria; stabbed by an enchanted blade on Amon Sûl and nearly turned into a wraith himself; attacked by a blackhearted willow; taken prisoner by the undead; and stunned to witness the death of the most powerful person he knows at the hands of an ancient demon. And, perhaps most pertinently here, the one time he defied the Nazgûl they laughed at him and would have captured him and the Ring if not for the intervention of others more powerful than they (FR 1.xiii.214-15).

Yes, of course it's natural.  Nothing in fact could be more natural under these circumstances than for Frodo to wish for the power to use the Ring, if only to protect himself and his friends, to save the Shire and fulfill his Quest.  In the same way, however, Gandalf might desire the strength to do good out of pity (FR 1.ii.61), and Boromir might desire strength to defend Minas Tirith (FR 2.ii.267, x.397-399). But, as Galadriel says to Sam, 'That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that, alas!'  Seen in this way, her words are as much a warning to Frodo not to try to use the Ring as they are an explanation to Sam of why she cannot take it.

This passage shows quite nicely the grey and subtle dangers of the Ring.  In one moment Frodo is humble and noble enough to give Galadriel the Ring of his own free will; in the next he is shading the truth and asking her how to use the Ring to dominate others.  Frodo's progress here from the one to the other mirrors what Galadriel says her own would be if she had the Ring.  This scene offers a neat conclusion to a chapter that begins with Galadriel testing the hearts of Frodo and his companions, then testing Sam and Frodo further with her mirror, until Frodo in turn tests her heart with his gentle offer of incredible dominion.  Yet his test will not be over for as long as he carries the One.  The emphasis Frodo places on himself in his question is as telling as the question itself: 'Why cannot I see all the others and know the thoughts of those that wear them?'  We have not seen the last of the will to dominate revealed in these words.3

All of this may seem to suggest a darker vision of Frodo than is the norm, but that is to see only a part of the picture here.  For Frodo's question and Galadriel's answer are not all there is to this scene.  Her words both before and after Frodo's question are also important:
'Let us return!' she said.  'In the morning you must depart, for now we have chosen, and the tides of fate are flowing.'
'We will speak no more of it.  Let us go!'
We have chosen?  Galadriel pairs herself with Frodo.  For they have something essential in common. Both have chosen to reject the Ring -- she by refusing Frodo's offer of the Ring, and he by making the offer.  But so far from being alarmed when Frodo reveals his temptation by the Ring -- which he does not perceive as clearly as she perceives hers -- Galadriel counsels him against even attempting to use the Ring as suggests.  For, no matter how innocent his desire may seem to him, the will to dominate lies at its root.  She points out that as Ring-bearers they already see much that others do not, like Sam, for example, who not only does not see the ring on her finger, but still thinks she should take the One despite all she said in her rejection of it. She says that they will speak no more of it, not because their choice at this moment has delivered them from temptation, but because there is nothing more to say of it.  As Frodo's experience will increasingly reveal, the test never ends while the Ring lasts.4 They must go on.  That is all they can do.  The tides of fate are flowing.


I can find no passage in The Lord of the Rings to support Frodo's claim. Permission may be implicit in his position as Ring-bearer, but permissibility and advisability are two different things.  But I would not wish to overstate my case by arguing from silence.

Note also how Galadriel's words at FR 2.vii.355, before Aragorn tells her that Gandalf is dead: 'Now tell us where [Gandalf] is; for I desired much to speak with him again. But I cannot see him from afar, unless he comes within the fences of Lothlórien: a grey mist is about him, and the ways of his feet and of his mind are hidden from me.' She clearly expects to be able to see him and know his thoughts, likely because they both held Rings.  Cf. also RK 6.vii.985, where the keepers of the Three and Celeborn converse with each other telepathically by mutual consent. Frodo is not talking about consensual perception and knowledge, however.

A line may be drawn from this moment through to 'The Ring is mine' at RK 6.iii.945. Consider also the way Frodo uses the power of the Ring over Gollum in The Taming of Sméagol (TT 4.i.618) and The Black Gate is Closed (TT 4.iii.640-41).  Even in the darkly humorous scene at Henneth Annûn where Frodo threatens Gollum with the Ring, Frodo is exerting his will to dominate another (TT 4.vi.687-688).  Finally, as Frodo watches the Witch King leads his troops off to war in Gondor, he realizes 'that he had not, even if he put [the Ring] on, the power to face the Morgul-king -- not yet.' (TT 4.viii.707).  Not yet?  Indeed.

In his Mythgard Academy class on The Two Towers, Corey Olsen argues (starting at about 20:00), rightly I think, that by not taking the Ring from Frodo by force once he came within her reach Galadriel had already passed the test, that is, before Frodo ever offered her the Ring.  But I would suggest that her words here, especially 'now we have chosen,' indicate that the choice is never so simple or so easy that one can make it only once. 

07 August 2014

'Well, I'm back.'

Everyone who has read The Lord of the Rings remembers the ending well.  Frodo has sailed off into the West with the Elves, leaving Sam, Merry, and Pippin behind on the hither shore, listening to the sea.

At last the three companions turned away, and never again looking back they rode slowly homewards, and they spoke no word to one another until they came back to the Shire, but each had great comfort in his friends on the long grey road.
At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland, and already they were singing again as they went.  But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as the day was ending once more.  And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected.  And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath.  'Well, I'm back,' he said.
(RK 6.ix.1031)

The last line we all know and love, and I daresay many of us have murmured it to ourselves, or even said it aloud, when we came home from some long journey of our own.  The words allow the book to culminate in a satisfying moment, a homely moment as Tolkien might have said, in which the hero (yes) tells us that he is back again.

But we should stop to consider how the last two paragraphs set up this line.  First read the lines again.  Read them aloud.  They have a balance and a cadence given to them by all those 'ands' and commas, slowly rolling and full of rests, which allow the brief final line to bring resolution to the whole.

To start with, the first paragraph, which is a single sentence, and the first sentence of the second paragraph echo each other in style and structure.  Both open with the words 'at last', to give a sense of completion and relief.  Both continue with three coordinate clauses linked by 'and,' which balance the final steps of their journey and lend them equal emphasis. So far so good, in fine, old rhetorical style.

Then Tolkien nicely varies the structure of the paragraphs to reflect the action, while still preserving the echo and, in effect, the parallelism.  In the first paragraph Merry, Pippin, and Sam are still together, and their companionship is an important source of solace for them. So Tolkien gives us a final clause, a fourth independent clause, separated by a comma and a 'but' which signals that it is closely connected to what went before, but also that it is a connection with a difference.  In the second paragraph, however, Merry and Pippin quickly part company with Sam, and so the independent clause beginning 'But' also begins a new sentence emphasizing that separation.  The 'but' clauses are no longer truly parallel, though they feel and sound that way.

And now that Sam is on his own, Tolkien further heightens the style.  Starting with 'And he went on,' we get three sets of coordinate clauses split over two sentences, and not only are the clauses within each set linked by 'and,' but the clauses themselves are also each introduced by 'and.'  Together they nicely set up the two short, simple sentences of the last line. (Punctuating a paragraph with a short sentence at the end is something Tolkien excels at.)

Nor is that all.  For these two paragraphs set up the concluding words in substance as well as style.  The first paragraph is about returning from a wider world and not looking back.  The friends and comrades who belong to that world, or who no longer belong to the world of the Shire, are gone.  Their adventures are done.  The second paragraph is about returning to a world that is smaller, and somewhat changed -- as they themselves are -- but still very much their own.  And the descriptions hark back to details mentioned earlier in the last two chapters.

The singing of Merry and Pippin 'already' and 'again' as they head off to Buckland recalls to us 'the two young Travellers [who] cut a great dash in the Shire with their songs and tales and finery, and their wonderful parties,' in the house at Crickhollow which they share (RK 6.ix.1025).1  Sam is 'expected' by Rosie back in the bliss of Bag End, just as, when he first returned, she said she had been 'expecting [him] since the spring' (RK 6.viii.1008).  And of course The Grey Havens is the chapter in which we see Sam marry, start a family, and become master of the house in which he had served.  It is all this that he comes back to.  This is the grace that the sacrifice of Frodo obtained (RK 6.ix.1029; cf. FR 1.ii.62).

But there is also a more distant correspondence here that we often miss.  For this is not the first time we have seen Sam walk home of an evening.  In The Shadow of the Past we find Sam, whom we have never met before,2 having a pint3 of beer at The Green Dragon in Bywater.  There he is eager to discuss the troubling rumors of the world outside and the 'sailing, sailing, sailing' of the Elves into the West never to return.  But his drinking companions scorn and laugh at such news as 'fireside-tales and children's stories' (FR 1.ii.44), recounted by people who are 'cracked' (Bilbo and Frodo), and which at any rate have no relevance at all to the Shire (FR 1.ii.45).  But their scoffing makes no impression on him.

Sam sat silent and said no more.  He had a good deal to think about. For one thing there was a lot to do up in the Bag End garden, and he would have a busy day tomorrow, if the weather cleared.  The grass was growing fast.  But Sam had more on his mind than gardening.  After a while he sighed, and got up and went out.
It was early April and the sky was now clearing after heavy rain.  The sun was down, and a cool pale evening was quietly fading into night.  He walked home under the early stars through Hobbiton and up the Hill, whistling softly and thoughtfully.
(FR 1.ii.45)
Here, too, Sam is looking forward, and tomorrow will indeed be a busy day.  For while trimming that fast growing grass, he will overhear Frodo and Gandalf speaking about the Ring, and be drawn into that wider world and larger tale from which he see him returning 'at last' in The Grey Havens.


1The parties of Merry and Pippin in their house at Crickhollow are also reminiscent of the 'lively' annual birthday parties of Frodo and Bilbo mentioned back in FR 1.i.22, even before the great party of the first chapter.

2Sam has been mentioned before, by his father in the earlier pub scene in A Long-Expected Party (FR 1.i.22-24), but the relationship between that scene and this one is a topic for another day.

3Yes, it comes in pints, as the Gaffer could have explained (FR 1.i.24): 'There's some not far away that wouldn't offer a pint of beer to a friend, if they lived in a hole with golden walls.'

04 August 2014

Happy Endings, by S. Gamgee

In The Grey Havens Sam accompanies Frodo on one final journey, but it's not until they meet Elrond, Galadriel, and Bilbo on the road that Sam grasps its purpose. Frodo is not going to visit Bilbo in Rivendell, but to the Grey Havens to sail across the sea to Valinor.

'But,' said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, 'I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you've done.'
'So I thought too, once.  But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam.  I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.
(RK 6.ix.1029)

Frodo is not going to get the happy ending that Sam wished for him, and that Bilbo, and indeed Sam, had imagined years earlier at Rivendell:
'What about helping me with my book, and making a start on the next? Have you thought of an ending?' [asked Bilbo.]
'Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant,' said Frodo.
'Oh, that won't do!' said Bilbo. 'Books ought to have good endings.  How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?'
'It will do well, if it ever comes to that,' said Frodo. 
'Ah!' said Sam. 'And where will they live?  That's what I often wonder.'
(FR 2.iii.273-274, with Tolkien's emphasis)

Sam's 'often' in this passage is fascinating.  For it indicates that Sam has already begun to see the adventure that he and Frodo were in as part of a story, just like Bilbo's.  With time and experience Sam will come to recognize that their story is in fact part of a much greater story, that of Beren and Luthien ('Why ... we're in the same tale still! ....  Don't the great tales never end?' TT 4.v.712).  But here, now, in the woods of the Shire as they meet Elrond, Galadriel, and Bilbo on their way to the Havens, Sam's vision of a happy ending for him and for Frodo collides with a reality that had grieved him before their quest had ever begun.  Early in The Shadow of the Past he says of the Elves:
'They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us,' said Sam, half chanting the words, shaking his head sadly and solemnly.'
(FR 1.ii.45)
Only now this sorrow has a very personal sting.  After all that he and Frodo had been through together, the fact that he and his wife and child were living in Bag End with Frodo must have seemed to Sam the most complete answer to the question he had 'often wonder[ed]' about.  But Frodo must leave and go sailing into the West with the Elves, and Sam must remain, as Frodo tells him, for 'as long as your part of the Story goes on.' (RK 6.ix.1029)

And so Frodo sails:
And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water.  And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
(RK 6.ix.1030)
Which explicitly recalls the beginning of the chapter Fog on the Barrow-Downs:
That night they heard no noises.  But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.
(FR 1.viii.135)
If we pause here to consider the narrator for a moment, interesting facts emerge. For most of The Lord of the Rings the narrator is Frodo, as the scene in which he turns his and Bilbo's book over to Sam makes clear (RK 6.ix.1027), 'but Chapter 80 was unfinished, and after that there were some blank leaves,' which Frodo expected Sam to fill: 'The last pages are for you.'  Adding Bilbo's writings (The Hobbit, nineteen chapters) to Frodo's (The Lord of the Rings, sixty-two chapters) we learn that chapter eighty is in fact not the last but the penultimate chapter, The Scouring of the Shire.  So Sam finished this chapter -- perhaps starting from 'And that's the end of that' at RK 6.viii.1020, where the tone becomes less somber and more colloquial -- and wrote all of The Grey Havens himself.

What does this mean?  Sam could not have known what Frodo saw or heard once he boarded the ship.  In fact the text seems intended to draw our attention to this detail. After seeming to run ahead at least several days with Frodo ('until at last on a night of rain'), it returns to Sam on the quay:

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West.  There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.
(RK 6.ix.1030)
Frodo gets white shores and a bright sunrise, Sam nightfall and a vanishing shadow. Frodo hears elven song from across the water, Sam the waves quietly washing the shore.  Sam the character who still has a part to play in the continuing story cannot know more than the darkness of night and the murmur of the sea.  Sam the character has what the life of Middle-earth can offer: the 'great comfort' he finds in the companionship of Merry and Pippin on the way home; and in the sound of their voices raised in song as they part company with him and head merely to Buckland while he takes the turn for Bywater. Sam the character has the great comfort of returning home, to the warmth of a fire and the pleasure of an evening meal, to the love of Rose and the joy of Elanor.  And these are great comforts indeed.

But Sam the narrator can pretend to a knowledge that is greater and a comfort more profound than Sam the character enjoys.  Sam the narrator can imagine for himself, and for us, that Frodo's dream in the house of Bombadil was a prophecy, now at last realized in 'a swift sunrise.'  Sam the narrator can grant Frodo the happy ending his sacrifice seemed to deny him.

And I can't imagine many readers would disagree, or wish to.


A very nicely parallel passage to this use of the dream in the house of Bombadil may be found at TT 4.viii.714, where Frodo the narrator imagines a moment that no character could have seen, a fact which he also draws attention to in the text.  I am currently writing about this scene, and will post a note on it in time.


All citations are to the single volume 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings.

29 July 1954 -- 29 July 2014

The other morning I stopped at the deli counter of my local market.  As I was placing my order with one person, another suddenly began speaking to me rather passionately, telling me how much she loved the shirt I was wearing.  Since most of me is often submerged in my own thoughts, it took a moment to realize that the ardent voice I heard was addressing me and not someone else.  I am also not accustomed to anyone getting this enthusiastic about my clothing.

As it was, this young woman was admiring my t-shirt -- black with (for a t-shirt) a rather subtle rendering in a chalky red and gray of Smaug and the Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit -- and saying that the trailer for the third part of Peter Jackson's adaptation looked pretty cool.  I agreed about the trailer and thanked her for the compliment.  She was very kind and warm and spontaneous; and chance meetings (as we call them in Middle-earth) with strangers who share your interests are always welcome.

But from a certain perspective this meeting of ours was not entirely by chance.  It had been arranged for us before ever we were born, on 29 July 1954, the day The Fellowship of the Ring was first published.  At that time no one foresaw the eventual success of The Lord of the Rings.  Quite the contrary in fact.  The publisher thought he might be about to lose a lot of money, but considered the book a work of genius, which merited publication regardless of the risk.  And to be sure, if The Lord of the Rings had been the failure the publisher feared, there would have been no published Silmarillion, no Unfinished Tales, no History of Middle-earth, no movies, no trailers, no t-shirts, and no chance meeting with which to pass a friendly moment.

Of course the publication merely set the stage.  For everyone who responds passionately to a work must find something in it that corresponds to something in themselves.  What the work offers, and what the reader needs, must answer each other.  This most often happens in the short term.  A book, a movie, a tv show becomes popular for a time.  Interest burns white hot.  Then it's gone.  

Other works possess a more enduring interest.  For most of my life The Lord of the Rings has been popular, though never so much as in the years since the first of Peter Jackson's movies appeared.  For me the work has held my interest since I first encountered it at the age of eleven. <!-- copyright thomas patrick hillman 2014 --> Then it was the adventure, the heroism, the mythic vision of a whole world that Tolkien had so clearly in view even if the legendary past of Middle-earth was  -- for us in the days before The Silmarillion was published -- no more than echoes in song and mountain peaks rising from beyond a veiled horizon.  As I've grown older, I've learned to see far more than that in terms of style, and characterization, and description, and themes, and the way he weaves them all together to advance the whole Tale.  Always, though, the tone of 'elegiac retrospect' that permeates almost all of Tolkien's work has found in me a sympathetic reader.

So, since I enjoy reading and discussing Tolkien so much, I've decided to try something out. I will soon begin posting on this page some of my observations about The Lord of the Rings.  But to help organize them and make them easier to find as their numbers grow I've created one page for each of the six books of The Lord of the Rings, where I'll have links and very brief summary of each post.  Since I've been looking at the later books rather a lot lately, posts about these will be the first to appear.  In time, however, I will be posting notes on every part of the Tale.

And perhaps these will lead to more chance meetings.


'Elegiac retrospect' is a wonderful term Tolkien coined (as far as I can tell) in his commentary on Beowulf to describe, in Edith Wharton's phrase, 'the poignancy of vanished things.'