. Alas, not me

20 March 2024

Tolkien Tuesday -- "Pride and Prejudice" -- part 2 (Not All Elves!)

After the composed and often wise Elves we meet in The Lord of the Rings, the dangerously passionate Elves of The Silmarillion can come as quite a shock. I've seen more than one meme contrasting the Elves of the First and Third Ages. When we learn how bigoted many of the Elves were towards Men and Dwarves alike, calling Men "the Sickly" and "the Usurpers" among other charming names, and calling the Dwarves "the stunted people," and hunting them as if they were animals, it can come as something of a disappointment (S 91, 103, 204). 

In The Book of Lost Tales we find the earliest evidence for the prejudice against Men, and its roots may be very deep indeed. The first indication comes in "The Music of the Ainur," when Rúmil, the Elf who tells the tale, comments on some of the differences between Elves and Men.

Lo! Even we Eldar have found to our sorrow that Men have a strange power for good or ill and for turning things despite Gods and Fairies to their mood in the world; so that we say: “Fate may not conquer the Children of Men, but yet are they strangely blind, whereas their joy should be great.”

            (LT I 59)

Now to be fair to the Elves in The Book of Lost Tales only one group of Men is loyal to the Elves and they pay dearly for it. I mean of course the Men of Hithlum, led by Húrin. His son, Túrin, also sides with the Elves, but his is a complex and troubled legacy. Tuor is also from Hithlum, but unrelated to Húrin at this early stage of the legendarium. Together with his wife, Idhril, he leads the survivors of Gondolin to safety. Their child is Eärendil. (Keep in mind that at this point Beren is an Elf, not a Man.) It's also true that by time Rúmil is telling the tale, thousands of years later, Men and Elves are still in conflict with each other. Blindness may not seem such a terrible thing to accuse them of under the circumstances. 

But in The Book of Lost Tales the prejudice of Elves towards Men predates not only their first meeting, but even the awakening of Men. For when the Elves wished to pursue Melkor back to Middle-earth, Manwë tried to dissuade them. 

... he told them many things concerning the world and its fashion and the dangers that were already there, and the worse that might soon come to be by reason of Melko’s return. “My heart feels, and my wisdom tells me,” said he, “that no great age of time will now elapse ere those other Children of Ilúvatar, the fathers of the fathers of Men, do come into the world—and behold it is of the unalterable Music of the Ainur that the world come in the end for a great while under the sway of Men; yet whether it shall be for happiness or sorrow Ilúvatar has not revealed, and I would not have strife or fear or anger come ever between the different Children of Ilúvatar, and fain would I for many an age yet leave the world empty of beings who might strive against the new-come Men and do hurt to them ere their clans be grown to strength, while the nations and peoples of the Earth are yet infants.” To this he added many words concerning Men and their nature and the things that would befall them, and the Noldoli were amazed, for they had not heard the Valar speak of Men, save very seldom; and had not then heeded overmuch, deeming these creatures weak and blind and clumsy and beset with death, nor in any ways likely to match the glory of the Eldalië.

        LT I 150

That last sentence, which I have italicized, is hardly a flattering portrait of the Elves, and the narrator here in this tale, "The Theft of Melko and the Darkening of Valinor," is another Elf, Lindo. By this time in the story Melkor had been working for some time to estrange the Noldoli (Noldor) from the Valar by insinuating that the Valar had brought the Eldar to Valinor in order to use them as unwitting slaves and to cheat them of their god-given birthright, the world itself. Now Melkor's lies bear fruit, as hearing Manwë about the destiny of Men and the need to give them time to grow, Fëanor puts 2 and 2 together and, quick as an internet conspiracy theorist, comes up with 5. 

“Lo, now do we know the reason of our transportation hither as it were cargoes of fair slaves! Now at length are we told to what end we are guarded here, robbed of our heritage in the world, ruling not the wide lands, lest perchance we yield them not to a race unborn. To these foresooth—a sad folk, beset with swift mortality, a race of burrowers in the dark, clumsy of hand, untuned to songs or musics, who shall dully labour at the soil with their rude tools, to these whom still he says are of Ilúvatar would Manwë Súlimo lordling of the Ainur give the world and all the wonders of its land, all its hidden substances—give it to these, that is our inheritance."

(LT I 151)

Of this speech and its consequences, Lindo says: 

In sooth it is a matter for great wonder, the subtle cunning of Melko—for in those wild words who shall say that there lurked not a sting of the minutest truth, nor fail to marvel seeing the very words of Melko pouring from Fëanor his foe, who knew not nor remembered whence was the fountain of these thoughts; yet perchance the [?outmost] origin of these sad things was before Melko himself, and such things must be—and the mystery of the jealousy of Elves and Men is an unsolved riddle, one of the sorrows at the world’s dim roots.

       (LT I 151)

In this Lindo echoes something he had said previously about the early days of the darkening of Valinor: "Nay, who shall say but that all these deeds, even the seeming needless evil of Melko, were but a portion of the destiny of old?" (LT I 142).

It's easy to see the pride and prejudice of the Elves here, and maybe hear a distant echo of it in Gandalf's remark that the Elves, too, were at fault for their poor relations with the Dwarves (FR 2.iv.303). It's also easy to get the feeling that the sundered paths of Elves and Men begin in the Music itself. What I find most interesting, though, is the way both Manwë and Lindo struggle to understand why things are this way and whether it will prove a good thing in the end. They don't have answers. They have questions and they hope that this evil will be good to have been, even if it remains evil. 

19 March 2024

Tolkien Tuesday -- "Pride and Prejudice"

I had read The Lord of the Rings many times before I discovered Jane Austen. Yet the tone of the beginning sounded so familiar. I can easily imagine that, if Bilbo had married a silly person, and had had five daughters, the oldest two of whom would be remarkable, Mr Baggins and Mr Bennet would have had much in common.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”

Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”

Mr. Bennet made no answer.

“Do not you want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife, impatiently.

“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
                    Pride and Prejudice, chapter 1

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure.

This is probably not what was expected for Tolkien Tuesday, but here it is. There may be more later.

And I do think that Pippin would be very Mister Bingley.

07 March 2024

Forgetting the Way to Faërie -- a bit of L. M. Montgomery and Tolkien

Well, the Story Girl was right. There is such a place as fairyland—but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.
The Story Girl -- L. M. Montgomery 

I ran across the quote above on the internet the other day, and tracked it down to a 1911 novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame. It interested me for a couple of reasons. First I am trying to gather references to people who visited Faërie as children, but then forgot it and grew up, or grew up and forgot it. Second it reminded me immediately of a passage or two in The Book of Lost Tales, which I've been spending a great deal of time with over the last year. In the following passage an elf is speaking to Eriol, a mortal human mariner who has found his way to Faërie, about mortal human children who had done the same by a different path: 

Yet some [human children] there were who, as I have told, heard the Solosimpi piping afar off, or others who straying again beyond the garden caught a sound of the singing of the Telelli on the hill, and even some who reaching Kôr afterwards returned home, and their minds and hearts were full of wonder. Of the misty aftermemories of these, of their broken tales and snatches of song, came many strange legends that delighted Men for long, and still do, it may be; for of such were the poets of the Great Lands.

         LT I 19

In this passage Eriol writes in the epilogue of his book:

So fade the Elves and it shall come to be that because of the encompassing waters of this isle and yet more because of their unquenchable love for it that few shall flee, but as men wax there and grow fat and yet more blind ever shall they fade more and grow less; and those of the after days shall scoff, saying Who are the fairies—lies told to the children by women or foolish men—who are these fairies? And some few shall answer: Memories faded dim, a wraith of vanishing loveliness in the trees, a rustle of the grass, a glint of dew, some subtle intonation of the wind; and others yet fewer shall say……

LT II 288

I don't really have much to say about this at the moment, except that the connection between Faërie and poets and memory and forgetting is interesting. I have no information suggesting that Tolkien read Montgomery, though it's not impossible. I thought it might interest others as well.

18 February 2024

Tempt me twice, shame on me -- Sam and the Ring

Over at his blog, Joe Hoffman has thoughtfully suggested that Sam's moment of temptation by the Ring is not in fact his grand vision of being Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, who not only defeats Sauron but with a wave of his hand turns Mordor into a garden. Rather, Sam's moment of temptation is his urge to make a heroic last stand defending Frodo from the orcs in the pass of Cirith Ungol. 

I must admit I like the idea that this, too, is a temptation produced by the effect of the Ring. But the temptation of the Ring is not simply a one-off event, a test to be passed and left behind. And Sam's love of old stories is also visible in Sam's heroic last stand fantasy "for eyes to see that can" (FR 2.i.223). For when read with Sam's thought of throwing himself upon his sword or leaping from a cliff it shows that the Tale of the Children of Húrin is in Sam's mind in The Choices of Master Samwise (TT 4.x.732). 

I can see Sam's temptation beginning in the debate that goes on in his heart and mind about what "see it through" means now that, as Sam believes, Frodo is dead. There is a series of thoughts that runs from revenge (on Gollum) to suicide to duty to heroic sacrifice to the victory garden of Samwise the Strong, that is, from futility to delusion. 


I have also come up with a new piece of head-canon and a literary corollary to the laws of thermodynamics.

Reflecting on Sam's vision of turning Mordor into a garden with a wave of his hand, I came to believe that it was the act of forging the Ring that turned Mordor into a dead, poisoned post-industrial wasteland.

Reflecting on Joe's response to what I said in my book and my response to his response, I came to believe that literary interpretations are an expression of the growth of entropy which can only end in the meaning death of the universe.

06 February 2024

Arwen's Green Grave

"... and she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent.

"There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea."

(RK App. A, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, p. 1063)

Tolkien says that "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" is "the highest love story" in The Lord of the Rings (Letters #131 p. 229). He also referred to it as "the most important [tale] of the Appendices; it is part of the essential story, and is only placed so, because it could not be worked into the main narrative without destroying its [hobbit-centered] structure" (Letters #181 p. 343). Since Arwen also makes the Choice of Lúthien, which is the heart of what Tolkien calls "the kernel of the mythology" (Letters #165 p. 320), and The Lord of the Rings is famously part of the story of Beren and Lúthien, it is undeniably a very important tale. 

Now sometimes people take the paragraph I quoted at the start to suggest that Arwen despaired at the last, that she lacked the faith Aragorn displayed in his last words: "Behold! We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!" In my book, Pity, Power, and Tolkien's Ring: To Rule the Fate of Many, I argued that this was not so (254-58). She is grieving, yes, and full of sorrow, but that is not the same thing as hopelessness. Indeed Aragorn concedes the bitterness of their parting, and that sorrow and grief are a natural part of it. But despair need not be. I am not going to repeat the evidence and arguments I made there, but I would like to add some points here that I think lend additional weight to what I wrote there. 

The words that stand out to me as most important are "her green grave" and the most important fact is that her green grave shall endure until the ending of the world and Arda is healed. If we look at an earlier version of these words, which Tolkien abandoned, I think we can notice something else of significance.

Then Arwen departed and dwelt alone and widowed in the fading woods of Lothlórien; and it came to pass for her as Elrond foretold that she would not leave the world until she had lost all for which she made her choice. But at last she laid herself to rest on the hill of Cerin Amroth, and there was her green grave until the shape of the world was changed.

(Peoples 355)

The tone here is quite matter of fact. It's a very prosy account, certainly when compared to the high romantic regster of the passage as published. The draft version records the passing of a world; the published version evokes the sorrow and beauty of its passing. The most significant change, however, is the shift in tense. The original passage simply reports the past. While the published text also begins in the past tense, once Arwen has "laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth," that changes. After a brief rest at the semicolon, the sentence begins again with a new movement in the present tense. The combination of the present tenses with the three clauses governed by "until" gives the sentence the vivid prophetic quality that anticipates the future. And the green grave shall be there when that future comes. 

Of course her grave's greenness by itself suggests life and growth amid death and the oblivion of time. It's as if the world itself will remember her even if we do not. I did a quick survey of signficant hills and mounds that I could recall. Unsurprisingly, many of those places called "green" are graves, but not all. 

But first here's a few hills, which are not graves, and other places where the green seems significant:

  • "Before its western gate there was a green mound, Ezellohar, that is named also Corollairë; and Yavanna hallowed it, and she sat there long upon the green grass and sang a song of power, in which was set all her thought of things that grow in the earth" (S 38).
  • "To [the Teleri] the Valar had given a land and a dwelling-place. Even among the radiant flowers of the Tree-lit gardens of Valinor they longed still at times to see the stars; and therefore a gap was made in the great walls of the Pelóri, and there in a deep valley that ran down to the sea the Eldar raised a high green hill: Túna it was called. From the west the light of the Trees fell upon it, and its shadow lay ever eastward; and to the east it looked towards the Bay of Elvenhome, and the Lonely Isle, and the Shadowy Seas. Then through the Calacirya, the Pass of Light, the radiance of the Blessed Realm streamed forth, kindling the dark waves to silver and gold, and it touched the Lonely Isle, and its western shore grew green and fair. There bloomed the first flowers that ever were east of the Mountains of Aman' (S 59).
  • "Then Tuor looked down upon the fair vale of Tumladen, set as a green jewel amid the encircling hills" (S 239).
  • "There came a time near dawn on the eve of spring, and Lúthien danced upon a green hill; and suddenly she began to sing. Keen, heart-piercing was her song as the song of the lark that rises from the gates of night and pours its voice among the dying stars, seeing the sun behind the walls of the world; and the song of Lúthien released the bonds of winter, and the frozen waters spoke, and flowers sprang from the cold earth where her feet had passed" (S 165).
  • Cerin Amroth had "... grass as green as Springtime in the Elder Days" (FR 2.vi.350).
  • "Three Elf-towers of immemorial age were still to be seen on the Tower Hills beyond the western marches. They shone far off in the moonlight. The tallest was furthest away, standing alone upon a green mound. The Hobbits of the Westfarthing said that one could see the Sea from the top of that tower; but no Hobbit had ever been known to climb it" (FR "Prologue" 7). 
  • "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).

Now here are some graves that are definitely not green, and that's definitely no surprise:

  • "the Death Down" under which the orcs slain at Helms Deep had been buried by the Huorns: "no grass would grow there" (TT 3.viii.553).
  • "With toil of many hands they gathered wood and piled it high and made a great burning and destroyed the body of the Dragon, until he was but black ash and his bones beaten to dust, and the place of that burning was ever bare and barren thereafter" (Children of Húrin 257).
The Barrow Downs are of course as full of graves as their name suggests, but the evil there is invasive and comparatively recent, having been summoned by the sorcery of the Witch-king (FR 1.vii.130; RK Appendix A 1041; UT 348). For thousands of years before that the dead had rested there in peace and shepherds had pastured their flocks on the downs. Contrast the sunlit green grass outside the mounds, on which Bombadil spreads the treasure hoard to break the spell on the barrow, with the cold "pale greenish light" within the barrow, which is a prelude to the incantation and human sacrifice the wight is about to perform (FR 1.viii.140-45). The present evil of the Barrow Downs, brought by a hostile force from the outside, uses the green of the grassy downs to hide.

Consider also a series of graves in which despite all attendant sorrow the green grass has positive connotations. 
  • "By the command of Morgoth the Orcs with great labour gathered all the bodies of those who had fallen in the great battle, and all their harness and weapons, and piled them in a great mound in the midst of Anfauglith; and it was like a hill that could be seen from afar. Haudh-en-Ndengin the Elves named it, the Hill of Slain, and Haudh-en-Nirnaeth, the Hill of Tears. But grass came there and grew again long and green upon that hill, alone in all the desert that Morgoth made; and no creature of Morgoth trod thereafter upon the earth beneath which the swords of the Eldar and the Edain crumbled into rust" (S 197).
  • "‘Yes,’ [Túrin] answered. ‘I fled [the darkness] for many years. And I escaped when you did so. For it was dark when you came, Níniel, but ever since it has been light. And it seems to me that what I long sought in vain has come to me.’ And as he went back to his house in the twilight, he said to himself: ‘Haudh-en-Elleth! From the green mound she came. Is that a sign, and how shall I read it?'" (UT 124; Children of Húrin 218).
  • "They buried the body of Felagund upon the hill-top of his own isle, and it was clean again; and the green grave of Finrod Finarfin’s son, fairest of all the princes of the Elves, remained inviolate, until the land was changed and broken, and foundered under destroying seas. But Finrod walks with Finarfin his father beneath the trees in Eldamar" (S 175-76).
  • The burial mounds of the kings of Rohan, Théoden's included (TT 3.vi.507; RK 6.vi.976) are all green."Green and long grew the grass on Snowmane’s Howe, but ever black and bare was the ground where the beast was burned" (RK 5.vi.844-45).
  • "Then Thorondor bore up Glorfindel’s body out of the abyss, and they buried him in a mound of stones beside the pass; and a green turf came there, and yellow flowers bloomed upon it amid the barrenness of stone, until the world was changed" (S 243).
  • Elendil's grave: "...the hallow was found unweathered and unprofaned, ever-green and at peace under the sky, until the Kingdom of Gondor was changed" (UT 309).

Finally, I would note how phrases like "until the world is/was changed" convey a sense of the promise of the endurance of the green grass. In the passages quoted above we've seen a half dozen variations on the phrase. The Silmarillion ends with a reference to a change coming to the world someday: 
Here ends the SILMARILLION. If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred; and if any change shall come and the Marring be amended, Manwë and Varda may know; but they have not revealed it, and it is not declared in the dooms of Mandos.
(S 255)

The change it mentions is carefully presented in a conditional statement, but the main verb of the "if" clause is "shall," which all but promises that the change will come, and that Marring of Arda will be amended. Think of how differently this would read with even slightly different wording. For "if any change should come," or "will come," or "is to come," or "comes" are all less forceful than that prophetic "shall." 

Compare this to Tom Bombadil's enchantment as he breaks into the barrow to rescue the hobbits:

Get out, you old Wight! Vanish in the sunlight!
Shrivel like the cold mist, like the winds go wailing, 
Out into the barren lands far beyond the mountains! 
Come never here again! Leave your barrow empty! 
Lost and forgotten be, darker than the darkness, 
Where gates stand for ever shut, till the world is mended.
(FR 1.viii.142)
He casts the wight not only out of the green grave he has invaded, but also out of the world itself into the outer darkness "till the world is mended." If anybody in Middle-earth knows for sure that the world shall be changed and amended, it's Old Tom. That is the change that he and the grass on Arwen's green grave look forward to.