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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18 October 2016

C S Lewis Not Quite Discussing Neil Gaiman's American Gods




"Because the 18th century was fond of personifying abstractions ('Corruption has seized the provinces' etc.) and because Carlyle carried that further and gave us a tinge of poetry in his French Revolution, whence it passed into every writer who wants to write impressively on poetical and historical subjects, we have now reached a stage at which causes, movements, tendencies etc are talked of as if they were real things who did things: as if it were Bolshevism, not Bolsheviks, who fomented revolutions, and the revolutionary spirit, instead of the revolutionary spirits, which made men drunk.  The natural corollary is that the world is managed by beings such as 'Woman' or 'The Locarne Spirit' and real human beings are pawns in their hands. Now a days you can resist a given spirit or tendency only by hitching yourself to its equally spirituous or tendentious opponent -- much like an Egyptian who, helpless himself against the name of a god, can put it across it by means of the name of a higher god. I was just going to describe this as the return to polytheism. But the polytheists were more sensible for they accepted their positions as pawns because they believed in their gods. And if the wiseacre really believed in the beings to whom he attributes all public events (as I would be quite prepared to do with certain reservations) I could forgive him. But he is the first man to denounce you for a mystic if you hint that there might really be an entity such as the 'spirit of the age' over and above the human beings acting in the age. He is thus in the remarkable position of suspending everything on a peg which (he believes) isn't there, and preaching the uselessness of human endeavour because we are helpless in the hands of -- Nobody. However, the subject seems to be carrying me further than I foresaw."

from a letter to his brother on 9 July 1927.

16 October 2016

As One That Returneth from the Dead (The Lost Road V.283)



Recently I was listening to Mythgard's podcast on The Lost Road and I was struck by the following passage:
Maidros the chief of Fëanor's sons did deeds of surpassing valour, and the Orcs could not endure the light of his face; for since his torment upon Thangorodrim his spirit burned like a white fire within, and he was as one that returneth from the dead, keen and terrible; and they fled before him.
(Lost Road V.283)
While the podcast engaged in a very interesting discussion of the effect of 'returneth' here versus 'returns' in the parallel passage of The Silmarillion (152; podcast time index 1:07:00), it's actually the two comparisons together -- of Maedhros' spirit burning 'like a a white fire within' and of Maedhros himself to someone returned from death -- added to the result 'that the Orcs could not endure the light of his face' and 'fled before him' that led me to think of another character who in fact had died and come back. 

Not Gandalf, as one might first guess, but Glorfindel:
With his last failing senses Frodo heard cries, and it seemed to him that he saw, beyond the Riders that hesitated on the shore, a shining figure of white light; and behind it ran small shadowy forms waving flames, that flared red in the grey mist that was falling over the world. 
The black horses were filled with madness, and leaping forward in terror they bore their riders into the rushing flood. Their piercing cries were drowned in the roaring of the river as it carried them away.
(FR 1.xii.214-215)
Clearly, in describing Maedhros, Tolkien has a very definite idea of what 'one that returneth from the dead' would be like, and Glorfindel seems to fit that bill. Not only do the Ringwraiths flee before him here, but they did so even when he met them alone (FR 1.xii.210; RK App. A 1051).

The natural objection to this is that it wasn't until much later that Tolkien settled the question of whether the Glorfindel of Rivendell was Glorfindel of Gondolin reincarnated  (Yes, he is.) Indeed he discussed the matter in two separate essays composed over thirty years after he had written of Glorfindel of Rivendell (Peoples XII.377-382). Yet, as Christopher Tolkien points out, in 1938 Tolkien certainly regarded them as the same (Return VI.214-15; Peoples XII.377), and that's what is relevant here. Tolkien's portrayal of Glorfindel in The Lord of the Rings comes out of a period in which he was working on and giving great thought to the Quenta Silmarillion, where the passage on Maedhros appears. So in the comparisons he makes for Maedhros we may see well  some of the reality he imagined for Glorfindel in particular and perhaps for reincarnated Elves in general.

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13 October 2016

Hob Hayward, Robin Smallburrow, and the Words of Gildor Inglorion



In her preface to The Vanishing People Katherine M. Briggs writes:

Theological differences sometimes entered into fairylore. For instance, the word Hobgoblin may puzzle many people. Goblins are generally taken to be evil and malicious spirits, hostile to mankind. Hobs [...] are on the whole friendly towards men and ready to be kind to those who treat them civilly. The prefix Hob suggests a helpful spirit. Thus Hobthrust is a North Country Brownie and Hobgoblins are the great class of spirits who perform helpful labours for the country people. To most of the Puritans, however, all fairies were evil creatures, servants of the Devil, and Bunyan's 'Hobgoblin nor foul Fiend' has made a deep impression on our vocabulary.
(Briggs, 8)
As I was reading this, aside from the obvious reflections to be made on the word hobbit, another stood out, which was to me more interesting and amusing. For I think Tolkien may once again be having a bit of fun as he shapes the story. Who is the first hobbit Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin meet on their return to The Shire? Hob Hayward, whose very name sounds like that of a spirit who helps the country people with their labors (Hay-Ward). But here he is on the wrong side, helping the enemies of the Shire among whom we might expect to find a goblin rather than a hob; and though he seems quite glad to learn that 'Master Merry' isn't dead, he will not help Merry and his friends at all until they have driven off Bill Ferny. Thereupon he becomes a source of information, though he still has to fear that some of his fellow gatekeepers will inform on him (RK 6.viii.998-1,000).

Another hobbit in a similar position, and likewise bearing a suggestive name, is Robin Smallburrow, one of the Shirriffs who 'arrest' Frodo and his party the evening after they arrive in the Shire (RK 6.viii.1,001-1,003). His name is reminiscent of another spirit or fairy sometimes identified as a hobgoblin, the inimitable Robin Goodfellow. And while Robin Goodfellow was often mischievous, he can also be helpful, for which he is commonly repaid in food and drink. We may well see these traits combined in Robin Smallburrow's habit of stopping at inns for a pint whether on duty or not, Indeed a significant motive of his for becoming a Shirriff in the first place was 'knowing where the good beer was'. The position as he described it when he took it made it seem a bit of a lark. Sam also addresses him as 'Cock-robin', a name recalling a nursery rhyme which goes back to the eighteenth century and is perhaps derived from material that is much older.

The changes that have come to the Shire since Frodo and the others left are first made real in these two hobbits, whose jobs have been redefined in troubling ways. Beforehand, Robin Smallburrow travelled about the countryside visiting inns and hearing the 'news' of the Shire, much of which we would likely consider gossip if the pub conversations we witnessed in A Long-expected Party (FR 1.i.22-24) and The Shadow of the Past (FR 1.ii.44-45) are any guide. Hob Hayward worked at the Hay Gate, precisely the gate of which Merry says 'it is possible that in the morning even a Black Rider that rode up and asked for Mr Baggins would be let through' (FR 1.v.107). Which raises the question unasked at the beginning of A Knife in the Dark (FR 1.xi.176-77): just how did the Black Riders get into Buckland? And, now that we know of Hob Hayward, was he one of the guards ridden down by the Black Riders when they reached the gate?

Less than a week before the Black Riders attacked the house at Crickhollow Frodo met Gildor Inglorion, and expressed his dismay at hobbits finding themselves unsafe 'in their own Shire.' While sympathetic, Gildor tells him an important truth:
'But it is not your own Shire,’ said Gildor. ‘Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.’
(FR 1.iii.83)
While it may be tempting to see prophecy in Gildor's words, especially in view of what Sam sees in Galadriel's mirror (FR 2.vii.362-363)), the reality is that no one knew better than the Elves did the transience of the mortal world around them. His words simply anticipate what will happen, because it is what has always happened. The fact that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, raise the Shire against its enemies and drive them out, does not change what will happen in the end, as we shall see if we recall the Prologue and its long perspective on Hobbits. According to the narrator of the Prologue, who expects that his audience will know little or nothing of them, they are rare in his day, even smaller now than they once were, and elusive to the point of seeming magical because they possessed the 'art of disappearing swiftly and silently' (FR Pr. 1-2). Can it be an accident then that the names Hob Hayward and Robin Smallburrow are suggestive of fairies? The end of The Lord of the Rings of course marks the beginning of the Fourth Age, the time of the Dominion of Men (RK 6.v.971).  Thus even the names of these two passing, minor characters signal the changes to the Shire and the world that have already begun.

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