. Alas, not me: July 2019

21 July 2019

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Best Preserved of All? (FR 2.i.225)

[Frodo] got out of bed and discovered that his arm was already nearly as useful again as it ever had been. He found laid ready clean garments of green cloth that fitted him excellently. Looking in a mirror he was startled to see a much thinner reflection of himself than he remembered: it looked remarkably like the young nephew of Bilbo who used to go tramping with his uncle in the Shire; but the eyes looked out at him thoughtfully. 
'Yes, you have seen a thing or two since you last peeped out of a looking-glass,' he said to his reflection. 
(FR 2.i.225) 

In his discussion of this passage in Exploring the Lord of the Rings (episode 104, starting about 1:36:00) Corey Olsen argues that Frodo's address to his reflection in the second person foreshadows the split that develops within him because of the Ring, disconnecting him from this world. I think this is a point well made, but I think we might improve on his argument in one way. Seeing a reflection that looks much like his younger self from two decades earlier is not a sign that Frodo has been physically rejuvenated by his adventure and recovery from his Morgul wound, but a sign that he has been well-preserved by the Ring. While every fifty year old might wish to see his thirty year old self looking out of the mirror at him, that would be unnatural. If Frodo did not see this younger looking self the last time he gazed into a mirror, that is because he was overweight and out of shape. If Frodo now sees that much younger hobbit, and does not realize that his '(apparently) perpetual youth' is an outward sign of the effect the Ring is having on him, he is deceived. His youth is no less a deception of the Ring than his vision of Bilbo as a Gollum-like creature later this same evening. Frodo may find the one illusion more congenial than the other, but neither augurs well. Nor do they argue against the positive signs of growth and recovery to be seen in Frodo here. 

With the Ring, it's often one step up and two steps back.

14 July 2019

Lee's Myth: Susan Pevensie

Lee's Myth: Susan Pevensie: I was recently re-reading That Hideous Strength , and came across several passages that further underscore and buttress my views on Lewis&#3...

12 July 2019

Two Threats from Frodo

First let's take a look at two passages from Book Four

Things would have gone ill with Sam, if he had been alone. But Frodo sprang up, and drew Sting from its sheath. With his left hand he drew back Gollum’s head by his thin lank hair, stretching his long neck, and forcing his pale venomous eyes to stare up at the sky. 
‘Let go! Gollum,’ he said. ‘This is Sting. You have seen it before once upon a time. Let go, or you’ll feel it this time! I’ll cut your throat.’ 
Gollum collapsed and went as loose as wet string. Sam got up, fingering his shoulder. His eyes smouldered with anger, but he could not avenge himself: his miserable enemy lay grovelling on the stones whimpering. 
TT 4.i.614

About an hour after midnight the fear fell on them a third time, but it now seemed more remote, as if it were passing far above the clouds, rushing with terrible speed into the West. Gollum, however, was helpless with terror, and was convinced that they were being hunted, that their approach was known. 
‘Three times!’ he whimpered. ‘Three times is a threat. They feel us here, they feel the Precious. The Precious is their master. We cannot go any further this way, no. It’s no use, no use!’ 
Pleading and kind words were no longer of any avail. It was not until Frodo commanded him angrily and laid a hand on his sword-hilt that Gollum would get up again. Then at last he rose with a snarl, and went before them like a beaten dog. 
TT 4.iii.635

The second of these threats, which took place the night before they reached the Black Gate, is far different than the threat he made in the Emyn Muil. There Sam’s life was clearly in jeopardy, and Frodo’s response justified (TT 4.i.614). Yet had he simply struck Gollum down without warning in defense of Sam, not even Gandalf could have said that he was ‘eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for [his] own safety’ (TT 4.i.615). To use violence, however, or the threat of it merely to compel obedience is an act of terror more suited to an orc chieftain, like Uglúk in Book Three, or to a master of slaves, like Sauron, than it is like the brave hobbit who would not abandon his friends in the barrow a few months earlier, or who held out to Gollum the hope that Sméagol might be found again only a little while after he had threatened him to save Sam’s life. Between that threat and that hope came pity; between that hope and the latter threat came the increasing burden of the Ring, which was made to dominate others. Much is in flux within Frodo as the Ring pulls him one way and his sense of his mission pulls him the other. Within Gollum, too.*


*This paragraph is adapted from a chapter in a much larger work I am writing called (at least for now): To Rule the Fate of Many: Truth, Lies, Pity, and the Ring of Power.

01 July 2019

'When we are enchanted' -- Mortal Men, Arda, and Faërie

The Light of Valinor © Ted Nasmith

In her paper, 'The Perilous Realm: Faërie and the Numinous in Tolkien', presented at Mythmoot VI this weekend, Emily Strand discussed this familiar passage from On Fairy-stories:

Now, though I have only touched (wholly inadequately) on elves and fairies, I must turn back; for I have digressed from my proper theme: fairy-stories. I said the sense “stories about fairies” was too narrow. It is too narrow, even if we reject the diminutive size, for fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faerie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being. Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted

The question arose for me immediately: why do only 'mortal men' require enchantment to be 'contained' in Faërie? While I had written before about the mortal experience of Faërie in Middle-earth, I had never asked myself this question as far as I could recall. What came to mind at once was a passage from The Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth in Morgoth's Ring. There Finrod says to Andreth (MR 315):
'Now we Eldar are your kinsmen, and your friends also (if you will believe it), and we have observed you already through three lives of Men with love and concern and much thought. Of this then we are certain without debate, or else all our wisdom is vain: the fëar of Men, though close akin indeed to the fëar of the Quendi, are yet not the same. For strange as we deem it, we see clearly that the fëar of Men are not, as are ours, confined to Arda, nor is Arda their home.               
'Can you deny it? Now we Eldar do not deny that ye love Arda and all that is therein (in so far as ye are free from the Shadow) maybe even as greatly as do we. Yet otherwise. Each of our kindreds perceives Arda differently, and appraises its beauties in different mode and degree. How shall I say it? To me the difference seems like that between one who visits a strange country, and abides there a while (but need not), and one who has lived in that land always (and must). To the former all things that he sees are new and strange, and in that degree lovable. To the other all things are familiar, the only things that are, his own, and in that degree precious.' 

Fëa (pl. fëar) is the Quenya word for 'soul' or 'spirit'. Arda neither 'confines' the spirits of Men, nor is it their home. Men also seem to be the only creature or thing in Arda not naturally a part of Faërie. We alone require an enchantment to be 'contained' there. When viewed together, these two passages suggest that it is the nature of the fëar of Men which makes an enchantment necessary. They also suggest that Arda and Faërie once completely overlapped each other or were in fact the same place. Why would this no longer be so? The inevitable fading of Faërie with the coming of Men is part of it, especially as quickened by the removal of the Blessed Realm from Arda at the end of the Second Age.

These are just preliminary thoughts that I mean to follow up on, but I wanted to put them out there for now.