28 October 2016

'For some the only glimpse. For some the awaking.'


Titania, Queen of the Fairies -- C. Wilhelm

'It's a trap!' said Sam, and he laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword; and as he did so, he thought of the darkness of the barrow whence it came. 'I wish old Tom was near us now!' he thought. Then as he stood, darkness about him and a blackness of despair and anger in his heart, it seemed to him that he saw a light: a light in his mind, almost unbearably bright at first, as a sun-ray to the eyes of one long hidden in a windowless pit. Then the light became colour: green, gold, silver, white. Far off, as in a little picture drawn by elven-fingers, he saw the Lady Galadriel standing on the grass in Lórien, and gifts were in her hands. And you, Ring-bearer, he heard her say, remote but clear, for you I have prepared this.

(TT 4.ix.719-20)
This passage has always stuck in my mind for what seems to me a rather odd detail, the likening of Sam's vision of Galadriel to 'a little picture drawn by elven-fingers'. If not for the context of the scene and the sentences surrounding it, this image could well fit a description of one of those fairies, the tiny ones with dragonfly wings. What makes it more interesting is the way the whole passage develops around it and elevates it by pointing to a very different kind of Faërie. The touch of his sword brings him back to his first encounter with that perilous land in 'Tom's country', which in turn causes him to recall his second. And just as Bombadil's breaking open the barrow let the light of day dispel the darkness of the wight, so now the memory of that moment opens the 'blackness of despair and anger in his heart' to the light of Lórien and the star of Eärendil. 

With the light of the star-glass, moreover, yet another encounter is hinted at, since it was the light of the Silmaril that lit the way through the Shadowy Seas to Valinor. It is surely no accident that it is Sam, the character who is arguably the most alive to the power of Story, who makes these connections, or who, seeing the star of Eärendil itself, grasps what is perhaps the gist of all the great tales, that 'in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach' (RK 6.ii.922). 

Years later Tolkien wrote in Smith of Wootton Major of the doll like figure of the Fairy Queen on the Great Cake (Smith, 14), and Smith himself upon knowingly meeting the Queen for the first time thinks back through his life as he converses in thought with her,
... until he came to the day of the Children's Feast and the coming of the star, and suddenly he saw again the little dancing figure with its wand, and in shame he lowered his eyes from the Queen's beauty. 
But she laughed again as she had laughed in the Vale of Evermorn. "Do not be grieved for me, Starbrow," she said. "Nor too much ashamed of you own folk. Better a little doll, maybe, than no memory of Faery at all. For some the only glimpse. For some the awaking. 
(Smith, 37-38)
The star, the small figure seen in the mind, the Queen -- so like Sam's description of Galadriel (TT 4.v.680; Smith 31-32, 36-38) --  and the link to Faërie, are all here again, in a very different context, which is to be sure less dramatic, but no less suggestive of the power and importance of enchantment, of Faërie itself. We may also see, I think, a moment late in Tolkien's life when he could look back beyond the dislike he had acquired for the cowslip fairies of his youth to an evening in April 1910 when he saw Peter Pan and wrote in his diary: 'Indescribable but shall never forget it as long as I live. Wish E[dith] had been with me' (Carpenter, 47-48).1 


See also Dimitra Fimi here:
'Tolkien might be reflecting upon his own route as a writer, and especially on the evolution of his Elves from the tiny winged creatures of his early poems. Using the voice of the Queen of Faery, he seems to be fully accepting that the fairy creatures found in his early work are not worthy predecessors of his later Elves, but he also acknowledges that they triggered his interest and eventually led him to discover the real Land of Faery.'

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