Monday, September 26, 2016

These Are Not The Elves You're Looking For. (I)

Cover Image © John Howe


Last year several friends asked me to join them in writing an article for a festschrift to honor the scholarly achievements of Verlyn Flieger. What emerged from our collaboration builds upon Professor Flieger's work, further exploring dreams and enchantment and how they expand the perception of time and the world in The Lord of the Rings. Like every other study, this one suggested new lines of inquiry. For one of us that meant investigating more deeply the relationship between forests and Faërie; for another a continuing effort to understand how On Fairy-stories relates to the legendarium as it unfolded.[1]  As for me, I turned to the study of the Elves themselves, who, as Tolkien said, 'have their being' in Faërie (OFS para. 10).[2]  Through scrutiny of 'their being' I hope to grope my way to a better understanding of Faërie itself.  The question is where to begin.

For we all know that Tolkien came to scorn the cowslip fairies of his Victorian youth. Nevertheless, they left their mark on him, a mark clearly visible not only in early poems like Goblin Feet (1915),[3]  but also in his more mature works.  It is, for example, quite prominent in Errantry (1933) and in the 'tra-la-la-lally' Elves of The Hobbit (1937).[4]  We may even catch the vanishing echo of their song in the laughter of Gildor's troop in the woods of the Shire (FR 1.iii.78-85).  But by the time Tolkien was writing the first chapters of his 'new Hobbit' and preparing his essay On Fairy-stories,[5] he had also seen that the 'business [of rationalization and literary fashion that led to the debasement of the fairies] began ... long before the nineteenth century, and long ago achieved tiresomeness, certainly the tiresomeness of trying to be funny and failing' (OFS para. 8-9).[6]  Much of the blame for this he laid at the feet of Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream and of Michael Drayton (especially) in Nymphidia.

The matter is of course by no means pat, with a clear division between works in which we find fairies in the Victorian mold and works in which we do not.  For even in an early poem like You and Me and the Cottage of Lost Play (1915), which is contemporary with Goblin Feet, there abides a more sober sense of loss and a longing which we find even more strongly in Kortirion among the Trees (1915).[7]  And if in The Book of Lost Tales Tinúviel can be a bit silly and hide under flowers like a proper Victorian fairy, Turgon and Fëanor are made of more dangerous and tragic stuff.[8]  But it is also clear from the narrative perspective of The Book of Lost Tales that a breach we cannot mend has opened between us and fairies, and between what the fairies were and what they have become. The fairies who tell Eriol the tales have diminished and gone into the West, but whether they have remained who they were before is not as certain.

This breach has two inseparable aspects, the one literary, the other mythological. The English literary tradition turned away from what Tolkien called the 'true tradition' of  Faërie that we find still alive in The Faërie Queene of Edmund Spenser, in which fairies were powerful and perilous and fair.[9] A contemporary of Shakespeare like Drayton, Spenser shares in a mythology of Faërie descended from named poets like Gower, Chaucer, and Thomas the Rhymer, as well as from the unnamed poets of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and of Sir Orfeo. Much farther back, though unremembered in Spenser's day, was Beowulf, which for centuries lay lost in the streams of time, like the One Ring beneath the waters of Anduin, forgotten yet waiting only for the right hand to wield it.[10] 

But it's a long road from the ylfe of Beowulf to the elves of Spenser.  The Beowulf poet traces the lineage of his elves to Cain himself (111-114),
Þanon untydras ealle onwocon,
eotenas 7 ylfe 7 orcneas,
swylce gi|[ga](ntas), þa wið Gode wunnon
lange þrag(e).(He) him ðæs lean forgeald!
From whom all monstrous creatures descend,
the ettens and elves and hellish undead,
the giants, too, who fought against God
for a long season; for that he repaid them.
By contrast Redcrosse, the first of Spenser's 'Faerie Knights' (FQ 1 proem 14), is called 'a valiant Elfe' (FQ 1.i.xvii.1 = Book 1, Canto 1, Stanza xvii, Line 1, for example) and described as very much a Christian:
And on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead as living ever him ador'd.

(FQ 1.i.ii.1-4)
And though not an elf by blood, but a child stolen in infancy, Redcrosse was raised to believe he was of fairy race (FQ 1.i.lx.1-lxvi.9). Learning that he is a human changes nothing for him or his role. He still stands allegorically for Holiness, and still slays the dragon that laid Eden waste. The sort of divide we see between humans and elves in Beowulf does not exist in The Faerie Queene. They are not part of that monstrous race of Cain.  It's as if we begin with the Beowulf poet, who straddled the worlds of Northern and Christian myth, and confronted a question like that posed by Alcuin: 'What does Ingeld have to do with Christ?'; and then end with Spenser, who lived in a day when Reason and the Reformation were displacing Medieval views of the world and enchantment,[11] and reducing fairies to 'a rustic folk of dell and cave' (FR 2.vii.365).  Yet Spenser's reply to Alcuin's question would seem to be 'everything.'

So, just as Tolkien's own presentation of fairies and elves over time admits of no pat distinctions, neither does the tradition on which he draws. As James Wade has recently argued in his Fairies in Medieval Romance, the fairies -- or perhaps we might say the 'being' of the fairies -- vary from work to work depending on the subcreative goals of the author. There was no canonical portrayal of fairies to which the writers of Romance had to adhere, no 'straightforward chronological process' in which the fairies evolved.[12]  Even Morgan le Fay, who between the 12th and 16th centuries tended to grow increasingly human, never shakes the dust of Faërie off herself once and for all: she remains forever 'le Fay'; she must take Arthur to Avalon even when healing no longer awaits him there; and in some 16th century Romances like Huon de Bordeaux and Mervine son of Ogier, she fully reverts to her otherworldly state.[13] Indeed, as Tolkien already knew, this indeterminacy is part of the essence of Faërie (OFS, para 12):
The definition of a fairy-story—what it is, or what it should be—does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible. It has many ingredients, but analysis will not necessarily discover the secret of the whole.
As a philologist and a writer of fairy stories, Tolkien was in a rare position that few before him could have justly claimed, both to survey the entirety of the English literary tradition of the Otherworld, from Beowulf to Peter Pan, and in consequence to seek out the lost road to a truer and more perilous Faërie, where the Green Knight might take the head you came with quicker than Robin Goodfellow could give you another. Mending the literary aspect of the breach -- or at least stitching it up in the hope that it might heal -- would also repair the mythological, and reconnect England and its literary tradition to a lost mythology. That Tolkien said he had once hoped to do precisely this scarcely needs repeating,[14] and we should not forget that directly before he began The Lord of the Rings and On Fairy-stories Tolkien had been working on The Lost Road and the Beowulfian King Sheave with their explicit connection of England, Men, and Elves. So a desire to mend that breach in the literary and mythological tradition is very much in evidence precisely as he begins to compose his great work and to articulate his notion of fairy stories.[15] 

Now Tom Shippey has called Sir Orfeo ' "the master-text" for Tolkien's portrayal of the elves.'[16]  Consider for just a moment how appropriate this is if true. The 'master-text' of Tolkien's own mythic figures draws on another tale with the deepest of roots, a remote and ancient myth that Tolkien found compelling (Letters, no. 153).[17] Not only that but Sir Orfeo is a text that transforms important aspects of what it finds in Orpheus and Eurydice. Orfeo succeeds where Orpheus fails, and Faërie stands in for Hades. Otherworld replaces Underworld. To mend the literary-mythological breach, Tolkien draws on both Sir Orfeo and Orpheus and Eurydice to construct the Tale of Beren and Lúthien, which is so fundamental to his own legendarium and which has transformations of his own. Here a female elf sings to win back her dead mortal love. Since the Halls of Mandos are in the Undying Lands, moreover, we find the Underworld and Otherworld also combined. Most importantly Lúthien's success comes with a price. In reclaiming Beren from death she willingly sacrifices her own immortality, a choice whose effects will ripple through the entire history of Middle-earth. Thus, Tolkien uses myth to repair and refashion myth.  On this showing, Sir Orfeo would seem a very good place to start.

The first thing we see is that the 'being' of the fairies is different with respect to the world than the 'being' of men is. The world which they inhabit is larger. It spans the border between what we mortals see as the waking and dreaming worlds.  They come to Heroudis as she sleeps beneath the ympe-tree, first the two fairy knights, then the fairy king himself who abducts her, shows her his realm, and returns her, promising that he will take her away for good the next day and woe betide any attempt at resistance.  The following day, despite all Orfeo's preparations to fight for his wife, she vanishes without a trace from the midst of the troops surrounding her (57-194).[18]

Now no one, not the two maids of Heroudis who watched while she slept, nor Orfeo her husband ever questions her experience or suggests that 'it was just a dream.' Not even the narrator calls it a dream (sweven). Everyone (including the reader) simply accepts that the world contains both seen and unseen, both ordinary mortals and fairies, of whom Heroudis can say 'I saw not ever anywhere / a folk so peerless and so fair' (147-48).  And though Orfeo marshals his troops to defend his wife, it is all for nothing:
And yet from the midst of that array
the queen was sudden snatched away;
by magic was she from them caught,
and none knew whither she was brought.

(191-94)
Even considering so little of Sir Orfeo as this, we can already see points of contact with Tolkien. The fairies' peerless beauty, a given, is merely the easiest to spot. For Ilúvatar made the Elves to be 'the fairest of all earthly creatures' (Silm. 41). That the Elves perceive and dwell in a larger world is clear in the ability of Gildor and Glorfindel to sense and recognize others concealed and at a distance (FR 1.iii.80; xii.209); in the power of Galadriel and Elrond to communicate directly and silently with the minds of others (FR 2.vii.356-58; RK 6.vi.985); and in the truth that Gandalf tells Frodo, that 'those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live in both worlds at once, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power' (FR 2.i.222-23). We may also detect something of that larger world in Frodo's ability to see both the Black Riders themselves and the Elf lord 'as he is on the other side' only after the sorcery of the Morgul-blade has begun to alienate him from his own (FR 1.xii.222). Orfeo, too, cannot see the fairies until he has lost his own world and become a wildman in the forest, playing his harp and singing for the beasts who disregard him once his song is over (195-280).

But, as the studies of both Wade and Tolkien caution, we should not expect a direct and simple correspondence between the fairies of Sir Orfeo and the Elves of  Middle-earth. Tolkien borrows, chooses, and transforms what he finds. In Tolkien, for example, it is the Elves who have the power to stir up visions through song (Silm. 140-41, 170-71; FR 2.ii.233; RK A 1058); in Sir Orfeo, however, it is to a mortal man, Orfeo himself, that this power belongs:
no man hath in this world been born
who would not, hearing him, have sworn
that as before him Orfeo played
to joy of Paradise he had strayed
and sound of harpers heavenly,
such joy there was and melody. 
(41-46)
Moreover, the arbitrary and cruel exercise of the Fairy King's power in abducting Heroudis has no true parallel in Tolkien, only the very limited similarity found in Eöl's capture of Aredhel (Silm. 132-33), both of whom are Elves. The Elves of Tolkien are Good People, after all (Hobbit 60, 179). Yet, while they do not arbitrarily carry mortals off against their will, and while they may know some of them from afar -- Gildor recognizes Frodo, and two of the Elves at Rivendell seem to know Bilbo (Hobbit 59) -- they themselves remain mysterious, elusive, and inscrutable, just like the Fairy King in Sir Orfeo.

This has been only the briefest beginning on this project of mine, to examine closely the primary sources which Tolkien drew on to sub-create his Elves. The point is not source-hunting per se, but the far more important goal of seeing how Tolkien uses those sources to compose the 'heroic legends and high romance' that he so desired (Letters no. 163), and to create Elves of his own whose keen eyes never lose sight of the ‘starlight on the western seas’ (FR 1.iii.79), just as the feet of the hobbits never lose touch with the soil of the Shire.[19] That he appears to do so as eclectically as his models did should surprise no one.


I presented a version of this post on 25 September 2016 at the 3rd Mythgard Midatlantic Speculative Fiction Symposium in College Park, MD.  A more complete analysis of the entirety of Sir Orfeo and the relationship of its fairies to Tolkien's Elves is in the works.


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[1] See Simon John Cook, How to Do Things with Words: Tolkien’s Theory of Fantasy in Practice, Journal of Tolkien Research: Vol. 3: Iss. 1, Article 6. Now available for download from: http://scholar.valpo.edu/journaloftolkienresearch/vol3/iss1/6


[2] Nor of course does it just contain Elves: 'Faërie 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'(OFS para. 10).


[3] Compare the impact which attending a performance of Peter Pan in April 1910 had on him: 'Indescribable but shall never forget it as long as I live. Wish E[dith] had been with me.' Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography (1977) 47-48, quoting from Tolkien's (unpublished) diary.

[4] Though published in 1937 of course, The Hobbit had been completed by the beginning of 1933, and so therefore dates to about the same period as Errantry.  On the chronology of composition, see Rateliff, History (2011) xiii-xxii.

[5]  See Cook, above n. 1.

[6] OFS para. 7:
The diminutive being, elf or fairy, is (I guess) in England largely a sophisticated product of literary fancy. It is perhaps not unnatural that in England, the land where the love of the delicate and fine has often reappeared in art, fancy should in this matter turn towards the dainty and diminutive, as in France it went to court and put on powder and diamonds. Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of “rationalization,” which transformed the glamour of Elfland into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass. It seems to become fashionable soon after the great voyages had begun to make the world seem too narrow to hold both men and elves; when the magic land of Hy Breasail in the West had become the mere Brazils, the land of red-dye-wood. In any case it was largely a literary business in which William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton played a part. Drayton's Nymphidia is one ancestor of that long line of flower-fairies and fluttering sprites with antennae that I so disliked as a child, and which my children in their turn detested. 
The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries in England experienced a decline in the belief in magic, ghosts, and fairies. See Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth Century England, Penguin (1991) 724-34 on fairies in particular.

[7]  On Tolkien and Warwick, Lynn Forest-Hill, 'Elves on the Avon,' TLS 8.7.05, is good, though she might give too much weight to the influence of biographical details.

[8] As Rateliff, 119-21, notes, Tolkien at times 'blends two different traditions' and the sillier fairies are more often found in his poetry than his prose. On Lúthien, see The Book of Lost Tales 2.11-13;  on Turgon 2.160-62; on Fëanor 1.149-51, 162-68.

[9] But are in most cases visually and, it would seem, physically indistinguishable from humans, like Spenser's Redcrosse.

[10] On the loss and rediscovery of Old English, see John D. Niles, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England 1066-1901: Remembering, Forgetting, Deciphering, and Renewing the Past, Wiley Blackwell (2015), especially 49-108 on the 16th and 17th centuries. A visual clue to how thoroughly Beowulf was forgotten may be gleaned from the Google Ngram I have embedded at the end of this post.

[11] See Thomas, above n. 6.

[12] The phrase, which strictly refers to the transformation of Morgan le Fay only, is from James Wade, Fairies in Medieval Romance Palgrave MacMillan (2011) 18.

[13] See the excellent discussion of these matters in Wade (2011) 1-21.

[14] In late 1951 Tolkien wrote:
 'Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story-the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country'
(Letters, no. 131)

[14] For recent discussion of Tolkien’s writing of the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings and On Fairy-stories, and of the effect these had on each other, see Cook, above n. 1.

[16] Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth (2003) 62. To be fair, Shippey focuses his claim more precisely on 'the description of the hunting king in Sir Orfeo', lines 281-302.

[17] As did Lewis. See An Experiment in Criticism, chapter 5, 'Myth'; and Barfield, who wrote Orpheus: a Poetic Drama (1983), a pdf of which is available from Barfield's literary estate.

[18] The translation and line numbers of Sir Orfeo offered throughout are Tolkien's, since it is his perspective on and understanding of this poem that is at issue. Tolkien himself prepared an edition of the poem, upon which he based his translation, but it was not published until 2004. See Carl Hostetter, Sir Orfeo: A Middle English Version by J. R. R. Tolkien, Tolkien Studies 1 (2004) 85-123. http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/laskaya-and-salisbury-middle-english-breton-lays-sir-orfeo offers an easily accessible version of the standard text with notes and introduction.

[19] Both the ‘being’ of the Elves and the ‘being’ of the hobbits are essential to The Lord of the Rings, as Tolkien suggests in his letter to Auden (no. 163):
Since The Hobbit was a success, a sequel was called for; and the remote Elvish Legends were turned down. A publisher's reader said they were too full of the kind of Celtic beauty that maddened Anglo-Saxons in a large dose. Very likely quite right. Anyway I myself saw the value of Hobbits, in putting earth under the feet of 'romance', and in providing subjects for 'ennoblement' and heroes more praiseworthy than the professionals: nolo heroizari is of course as good a start for a hero, as nolo episcopari for a bishop.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In Dwimordene, In Lórien (TT 3.vi.514)



'Then it is true, as Éomer reported, that you are in league with the Sorceress of the Golden Wood?' said Wormtongue. 'It is not to be wondered at: webs of deceit were ever woven in Dwimordene.' 
Gimli strode a pace forward, but felt suddenly the hand of Gandalf clutch him by the shoulder, and he halted, standing stiff as stone. 
     In Dwimordene, in Lórien
     Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
     Few mortal eyes have seen the light
     That lies there ever, long and bright.
     Galadriel! Galadriel!
     Clear is the water of your well;
     White is the star in your white hand;
     Unmarred, unstained is leaf and land
     In Dwimordene, in Lórien
     More fair than thoughts of Mortal Men.
Thus Gandalf softly sang....
(TT 3.vi.514)
This post had its start in a conversation with some friends, one of whom, +simon cook, wondered if Gandalf's use of the word 'Dwimordene' indicated that these verses might be of Rohirric origin. It is an excellent question, since Dwimordene is clearly what the Rohirrim call Lothlórien. The context suggests it, since it is Wormtongue who first uses the word, and Wormtongue's suspicions of Dwimordene echo Éomer's (TT 3.ii.432). (We take it as axiomatic, that if Wormtongue and Éomer agree on something, it must be a true reflection of Rohan.) The Old English etymology of the word indicates it. Dwimordene is the 'valley' (dene) of  'illusion, delusion, apparition; phantom; error, fallācia, phantasms' (dwimor), or, 'phantom vale' as glossed in the index of Unfinished Tales. And, as +Benita Prins rightly pointed out, Eorl himself used this very word to describe Lothlórien (UT 298, 307). That Eorl did so five hundred years earlier not only tells us that he and his people had this view of the Golden Wood even from afar, but it also suggests that perhaps the name Dwimordene had been handed down from their ancestors who dwelt much closer to Lothlórien before migrating into the North (RK App A 1063-64).

The poem itself, however, argues against an origin in Rohan, except in the sense that, as I think, Gandalf is composing it there ex tempore in answer to Wormtongue's sneering hostility. In the first place the poem is in iambic tetrameter and rhymes (AA BB CC DD EE AA), whereas every other example of Rohirric verse is alliterative (TT 3.vi.508; RK 5.iii.803; v.838; vi.843-44, 847, 849; 6.vi.976).  The structure and substance of the poem also emphasize not only that few men have ever been there, not only that few have ever seen the light of Galadriel, who is the center of the poem, but also that Mortal Men could not even imagine the beauty of Lórien and its Lady. It is quite simply beyond them.

To call Lothlórien Dwimordene is, therefore, a mark of ignorance, and Gandalf weaves in other mysterious details that underscore such ignorance. The 'star' refers to Galadriel's ring, but it is a reference detectable by only a few, just as Sam could only see 'a star through [her] fingers' (FR 2.vii.366).  '[U]nmarred, unstained' both recall an older age of the world, a time that Galadriel preserves in Lothlórien (FR 2.vi.347, 350-51, 352; vii.365; viii.377; ix.388-89). Finally Gandalf's apostrophe to Galadriel evokes Beren's 'Tinúviel! Tinúviel!' in The Lay of Leithian (FR 1.xi.192), creating a whole metrically complete line from the repetition of a single name used in the same way syntactically; and the last line also alludes to Lúthien and the lay with its echo of 'more fair than mortal tongue can tell' (Silm. 178).  Gandalf's response to Wormtongue, therefore, is, quite literally, a poetry slam, in which he uses Wormtongue's insult to point out how little he knows, how little he can imagine, and, as if that weren't enough, he conjures the beauty, power, and poetry of Galadriel through allusions that none of the Rohirrim could possibly understand.

Nor is Dwimordene the only word in which the Rohirrim use the root 'dwimor'. We encounter it again in 'the black Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain, in which was the Door of the Dead' (RK 5.ii.785)'. Every reader will recall also Éowyn's defiance of the Witch-king, 'Begone, foul dwimmerlaik' (RK 5.vi.841), a word Tolkien himself glosses (RK 1151) as meaning: 'work of necromancy, spectre', and which derives from the Middle English dweomerlac, that is, 'magic art, witchcraft'. Éomer, finally, calls Saruman 'a wizard both cunning and dwimmer-crafty, having many guises' (TT 3.ii.437), which comes from Middle English dweomercræft, 'witchcraft' or 'sorcery'. Tolkien's orthography here is curious. The latter two of these words clearly descend from Middle English, and first two from Old English. This makes me wonder if dwimmerlaik and dwimmer-crafty are meant to reflect 'modern' coinages, while Dwimordene and Dwimorberg come from an older form of the language of the Rohirrim. No one would have been more aware than Tolkien that in five hundred years the tongue must have changed and developed new words with altered spellings.

So twice now we have seen the suggestion that 'Dwimordene' expresses an attitude towards the uncanny nature of Lothlórien that has existed over quite a long time, for at least the five hundred years since Eorl the Young led the Éothéod out of the North to the Field of Celebrant. The relevant passage in Unfinished Tales is also revealing:
For when at last the host drew near to Dol Guldur, Eorl turned away westward for fear of the dark shadow and cloud that flowed out from it, and then he rode on within sight of the Anduin. Many of the riders turned their eyes thither, half in fear and half in hope to glimpse from afar the shimmer of the Dwimordene, the perilous land that in legends of their people was said to shine like gold in the springtime.
(UT 298)
While Dol Guldur and the Dwimordene each stir up fear in the riders, they turn away from the darkness of the one and towards the shimmer of the other in hope. Their hope is equal to their fear. This suggests, that like Sam Gamgee centuries later, these mortals see both similarities and differences in 'elf magic' and 'the devices of the enemy' (FR 2.vii.362).  Dwimmerlaik and dwimmer-crafty exist along the same continuum of meaning. Yet by the end of the Third Age the eyes of Rohan had ceased to look towards Lórien with hope, and, as it seems, dwimor/dwimmer no longer admitted any positive connotations. The Rohirrim of these years are more like most of Sam Gamgee's fellow hobbits, who through ignorance and insularity had grown suspicious and fearful of the Elves. Just as the riders of Eorl had turned their eyes towards the Elves in hope against the darkness, the hobbits -- and the Eorlingas -- of Sam's day had turned theirs away:
And as the days of the Shire lengthened they spoke less and less with the Elves, and grew afraid of them, and distrustful of those that had dealings with them; and the Sea became a word of fear among them, and a token of death, and they turned their faces away from the hills in the west.
(FR Pr. 7)
Finally, note also that it was the Dwimordene, not a Dwimordene. That is, it was a definite and famous place, as its establishment in 'the legends of their people' indicates. And being 'perilous' is a defining attribute of Faërie throughout Tolkien. Unlike the peril of Dol Guldur, however, it is a peril that visitors bring with them.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Last Temptation of Galadriel -- Catechism, Gospel, and Fairy-story in 'The Mirror of Galadriel'




In discussing Death as the Gift of Ilúvatar to Men, Tolkien once wrote that a "divine 'punishment' is also a divine 'gift' " (Letters, no. 210). While this subject and this statement are both of prime importance for understanding Tolkien, it is to an easily unnoticed aspect of his words here that I would draw attention.  For Tolkien reveals an encompassing and unexpected vision of two sides of a critical subject. We may see him doing the same elsewhere, in obvious places, as when he shows both the beauty of courage on the Pelennor Fields and the horror of war in the Dead Marshes; or, more subtly, in Gandalf's hearty concession that Gollum deserves death, while nonetheless insisting that mercy be shown him because life and death are not equally in our power. I would argue that another subject of which Tolkien sees both sides is temptation. 

Say 'temptation' of course, and all our thoughts fly to the One Ring, and its gravitational drag on the character, good or bad, of the sentient beings of Middle-earth. We think of the times that Frodo offers the Ring to another, whether implicitly or explicitly. 'Do not tempt me!' Gandalf cries twice, alert with passion and the fear of his own pity (FR 1.ii.61). We think of Galadriel's bemused 'I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer' (FR 2.vii. 365). We think of Strider's gentle 'It does not belong to either of us' when Frodo makes the connection between him, the Ring, and Isildur (FR 2.ii.247). And we smile at the fantasies of Gollum the Great and Samwise the Strong, no less grim for being more foolish (TT 4.ii.633; RK 6.i.901). With Faramir we sigh 'Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!' (TT 4.v.681). And with Sam our hearts break when at the end of the quest Frodo fails. To hear him say 'The Ring is mine' (RK 6.iii.945) is both horrifying and inevitable.

So we should find it no surprise that of the eight times a form of 'tempt' or 'temptation' appears in the text of The Lord of the Rings six are clearly and closely connected to the Ring. Besides the two emphatic uses we've already seen, Frodo is twice tempted to put on the Ring because of what he perceives to be a suggestion (Bree) or a compulsion (Weathertop) from outside himself (FR 1.ix.157; xi.195). When Gandalf the White learns that Frodo and Sam have crossed the river alone, he says that the 'deadly peril' of being 'tempted to use the Ring' 'is removed' (TT 3.v.500). In Mordor, though Sam only briefly bears the Ring, he, too, feels its ineluctable pull (RK 6.i.901):
Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
Of the two remaining instances, in one a sleepy Frodo is on watch beside the Great River, struggling against 'the temptation to lie down again', and just about to give in when Gollum appears (FR 2.ix.383-84). It's hard to resist the idea that Frodo's temptation here is similar to those he experienced at Bree and Weathertop, in that yielding to it will expose him to greater danger from someone who is looking for the Ring and watching him. However that may be, Gollum at any rate is being tempted into danger by his desire for the Ring. For, as we are about to discover, Strider knows that Gollum is on their trail and has been trying to capture him (FR 2.ix.384)

Now before considering the last of the uses of 'tempt' within The Lord of the Rings, it will be useful to note the two that are in the book, but not inside the tale proper. The first is in the Prologue, which of course purports to be written by someone within the same world but of a later time and who regards the events of the legendarium as historical. That writer tells us that Bilbo had been 'tempted to slay Gollum with his sword' in order to get away with the Ring and his life (FR Pr.12), but Bilbo's sudden pity for Gollum enables him to resist this temptation that would have made Bilbo no less a murderer than Gollum. And in the synopsis to The Return of the King we find the statement -- 'Faramir ... resisted the temptation to which Boromir had succumbed' -- and so again we see the usage clearly linked to the Ring.

Now, returning to the last of the uses within the tale, we come to the one which is most revealing about the subject of temptation. After the Company's meeting with Celeborn and Galadriel, during which she probed each of their minds, the members talk about their experience with her. Boromir, who only reluctantly and suspiciously entered 'that perilous land' (FR 2.vi.338), speaks of his own:
'To me it seemed exceedingly strange,' said Boromir. 'Maybe it was only a test, and she thought to read our thoughts for her own good purpose; but almost I should have said that she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give. It need not be said that I refused to listen. The Men of Minas Tirith are true to their word.' But what he thought that the Lady had offered him Boromir did not tell. 
(FR 2.vii.358)
We can see here how, at least in Boromir's mind, testing and tempting are two faces of the same coin, differentiated by the good purpose of the one and the ill purpose of the other. Other evidence shows us that Tolkien himself saw testing and tempting as synonymous. Later in this same chapter, when Frodo freely offers Galadriel the Ring, she refuses it and all that accepting it would have entailed. Having done so, she famously comments: 'I pass the test' (FR 2.vii.365-66). In three separate letters, moreover, the only three which mention this moment, Tolkien refers to it each time as the 'temptation' of Galadriel (nos. 210, 246, and 297n.). We may also see in another letter in which Tolkien discussed the 'tests' that 'angelic' beings in the material world were liable to face experiences that he might have equally well have called 'temptations' (Letter no. 156).[1] So the temptation to claim, or take, or use such power as the Ring offered is not itself the whole of temptation. There is more to it than that.

We can also see a quite similar understanding of temptation/testing in a text that Tolkien, as a devout Catholic who lived long under the guardianship of a priest, would certainly have known, The Catechism of Trent, which communicated the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church for over four centuries. Its most prominent statement on temptation comes in its discussion of the Sixth Petition of the Lord's Prayer, i.e., 'Lead us not into temptation':
Question IX - The meaning of the word "Temptation" and how we are tempted by God. 
But to understand the force of this petition, it is necessary to say what "temptation" means here, and also, what it is "to be led into temptation". "To tempt" is to sound him who is tempted, that, eliciting from him what we desire, we may extract the truth. This mode of tempting does not apply to God; for what is there that God does not know? "All things are naked and open to his eyes." (Heb. 4.13) Another kind of tempting is when, by pushing scrutiny rather far, some further object is wont to be sought for either a good or a bad purpose; for a good purpose, as when someone's worth is thus tried, in order that having been ascertained and known, he may be rewarded and honoured (Job xlii.10ff.), and his example proposed to others for imitation (James v.11); and that, in fine, all may be excited thereby to the praises of God.... 
Question X -- How the Devil Tempts Man  
Men are tempted to a bad purpose, when they are impelled to sin or destruction, which is the peculiar province of the devil; for he tempts with a view to deceive and precipitate them into ruin, and is therefore called in scripture "the tempter" (Matt. iv.3
(490-91)*
As we can see here, the distinction in motivation that Boromir draws between 'testing' and 'tempting' resonates with the distinction drawn in the catechism between 'tempting' to 'learn the truth' or to try 'someone's worth', and  'tempting' 'to deceive and precipitate them into ruin'. Being suspicious of Galadriel to begin with because of ignorance, Boromir can hardly be blamed for being uncertain of her motives, even though Aragorn presently rebukes him when he openly suggests that she may be up to no good (FR 2.vi.359). The other members of the Company also felt that they had been tested whether by being offered something or by being asked a hypothetical question. This is true even though no one else seems to have doubted Galadriel's intentions.
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 that 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.538)
In only two cases do we obtain a reasonably clear indication of the choices Galadriel seemed to be suggesting they could make. Both Merry and Sam felt they had been offered, more or less, the same thing, but Sam's explanation, the only detailed one we get, is remarkable, almost iconic, in its implications:
'If you want to know, I felt as if I hadn't got nothing on, and I didn't like it. She seemed to be looking inside me and asking me what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with – with a bit of garden of my own.' 
(FR 2.vii.538)
Sam's feeling naked before Galadriel because she knows his innermost desires bears a striking resemblance to the statement in the Catechism that 'all things are naked and open to [God's] eyes', words which are themselves a quote from Hebrews 4.13. And, very interestingly, the temptation of the garden returns when Sam is bearing the Ring. Only then it has swollen to such godlike proportions that, although I have already quoted it above, it bears revisiting in full:
Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
Now the most direct comparison we can make here is to Boromir's rant to Frodo upon Amon Hen
Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly; almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo,while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; and he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise.
(FR 2.x.398).
Two things distinguish Sam's fantasy and Boromir's here. The first is quite obvious. Boromir's temptation fantasy stops with him defeating Mordor and becoming a great king. Sam's goes far beyond the mortal heroism of overthrowing Barad-dûr to embrace a perspective and powers that border on the divine. The second is that, the Ring already being in his possession,  Sam just had to do 'claim it for his own, and all this could be' (emphasis mine). The scope of this vision, and the turn of phrase in that last sentence, should remind us of Satan's temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
(8) Again the Devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, (9) and he said to him: all these I will give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. 
(Matthew 4:8-9, emphasis mine)** 
(5) And the Devil led him into a high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; (6) And he said to him: To thee I will give all this power, and the glory of them; for they are delivered to me, and to whom I will, I give them. (7) If therefore thou wilt adore before me, all shall be thine.
(Luke 4:5-7, emphasis mine)**
Now the texts of Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are quite similar throughout the entire 'temptation in the wilderness', but, more importantly, the word they both repeatedly use here, the word we traditionally render as 'tempt', is the Greek verb πειράζω. The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek English Lexicon defines this verb as 'to try', 'to tempt', 'to put to the test' in senses both good and bad.[2]  This is the same word, for example, used to describe the attempts of the pharisees and others to test Jesus with questions about the law and other matters (Matt. 16:1, 22:35; cf. Luke 10:25). Greek expresses these two meanings, which English treats as overlapping, with a single word. Were we to consult the Latin New Testament, there we would also find a single verb, tempto, also defined as 'to try', 'to tempt', and 'to put to the test'.

The close semantic kinship between 'test' and 'tempt' that we see here brings us back to Boromir's uncertainty in the scene in which, as Galadriel herself later admits (FR 2.vii.365), she was 'testing the heart[s]' of the Company. Yet we can now see this moment in a different light. For her role here is that of ὁ πειράζων (as Matt. 4:3 puts it), 'the one who tests' or 'tempts'.[3]  To meet an elf or fairy, especially a female, and find oneself tested is no strange thing for those who enter the woods of Faërie, which, like the biblical wilderness, is a place of tests and otherworldly encounters.  Unlike the devil in the wilderness, however, Galadriel is not tempting the companions 'with a view to deceiv[ing] and precipitat[ing] them into ruin' -- to borrow the words of the Catechism quoted above -- but testing them 'for a good purpose, as when someone's worth is thus tried.' (Compare Boromir's 'for her own good purpose.'). Nor, despite the evocation of the Catechism and Hebrews 4:13 in Sam's feeling of nakedness, is she God who knows everything. As she herself concedes, she knows what will be only 'in part' (FR 2.vii.357). 

Galadriel thus plays in her own world -- that is to say, within the legendarium -- a role in between those played by God and the Devil in ours. This middle position is consistent with Tolkien's remarks in On Fairy-stories that the Road to Faërie is not the road to Heaven or to Hell (OFS para. 6), an idea with roots that go back beyond the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, which he quotes, to The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune. We may also see a kindred notion in the portrayal of the elves in The South English Legendary, as angels who fell to earth -- but not to Hell -- because they sought to remain neutral in Lucifer's rebellion. Exiles perhaps, like Galadriel and Gildor, but not the damned.

On the other hand, Galadriel's role as 'tester' here is of far greater import than is common in medieval Romances, where the consequences of failing the test are serious, but personal.  Sir Launfal, for example, temporarily loses the favor of his elven lady and is put on trial at Arthur's court, and Sir Gawain comes very close to losing his head to the Green Knight's axe. Galadriel's testing of the hearts of the Company, however, is intimately tied to the quest to destroy the Ring, the most dire matter in all of Middle-earth. We need only recall the famous lines with which she introduces her test: '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). In its significance, therefore, her test is far more like the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, even if she and Satan had opposite purposes.

What of the purpose of her test then? If she was not tempting them to their ruin as well as to 'the ruin of all', as Satan tempted Christ, then she was trying their worth. Again we may ask, to what end? If we expand our focus on her words about 'the edge of a knife', we will begin, I think, to get a better idea. These are her words immediately before her testing of them begins:
But even now there is hope left. I will not give you counsel, saying do this, or do that. For not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be. But this I will say to you: 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)
What matters most, is whether the members of the Company are true. Hers is a test of their character, or as Sam later puts it to Faramir, of their quality (TT 4.v.682).  What she seems to offer them can be attained (if at all) only by proving themselves untrue. Thus, Boromir was not far wrong, grasping her means, but mistaking her ends.[4] The way in which she frames her statement here, moreover, links its terms of hope, peril, help ('avail'), and knowledge intimately together and points directly ahead to her testing of their characters, the most important aspect of which seems to be what it told each of them about themselves. Sam's blushing, Merry's skittish reticence, Frodo and Gimli's blunt refusals to say anything, all suggest that they have seen something significant, while Boromir's boast of trustworthiness and his aspersions on Galadriel are the remarks of a man trying to defend himself from a thought he didn't like having.

We must be careful in treating Boromir's testing here. There are two main dangers. The first is to read the text backwards from Boromir's attempt on the Ring, and, therefore, to oversimplify and obscure what is going on here. The second is to keep our understanding of the portrayal in the book separate from the very different portrayal in Peter Jackson's film.  There, in keeping with Jackson's view of men as weak, we see a Boromir much more troubled from the beginning. He wrestles with the temptation of the Ring well before this moment.  Frodo is aware of this, as is Galadriel who telepathically warns Frodo that Boromir will try to take the Ring.

Jackson has clearly chosen to read Boromir's actions backwards in adapting the books to the screen. In his view of Boromir he has excellent company. For Sam Gamgee sees him in precisely the same way, as he tells Faramir:
Now I watched Boromir and listened to him, from Rivendell all down the road – looking after my master, as you'll understand, and not meaning any harm to Boromir – and it's my opinion that in Lórien he first saw clearly what I guessed sooner: what he wanted. From the moment he first saw it he wanted the Enemy's Ring!
(TT 4.v.680)
But while Sam is excellent at guessing Frodo's mind (FR 2.x.403, 405-06; TT 3.i.419), he is no oracle when it comes to others', especially when he is 'looking after his master' as he admits he was doing with Boromir. He is not always entirely right (or wrong), and when speaking to Faramir he does not know his brother's whole story. To take two outstanding examples, Sam long entertained doubts about Strider, even beyond Weathertop, so much so that Frodo is able to say -- not without some humor -- that Sam 'never quite trusted' Strider until Glorfindel came along (FR 2.i.220). It is also in his zeal to protect his master that he spoils Gollum's best and perhaps only chance at repentance (TT 4.viii.714-16). In the case of Aragorn, he is flat out wrong; in the case of Gollum he mistakes him, critically, in what one could argue was the moment he most needed to get him right.[5] 

By contrast Galadriel, whatever precisely passed between her and Boromir, did not think it worth mentioning to anyone in the Company as far as we can tell; and when she later speaks to the returned Gandalf she, evidently, expresses her concern in such a way that she seems at least as anxious for him as she may be about him. And Gandalf sees it the same way: 'Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir's sake' (TT  3.v.496). It would be hard to see what Galadriel meant by 'avail', if, as a result of her testing him, she knew that Boromir would try to take the Ring and said nothing.

This concern that he was in peril is thus quite revealing. It indicates that her testing of their hearts had to do with the members of the Company being the right people in the right place at the right time. As long as they are all true, hope remains. That she says nothing to any of them about what she learned shows that she tested them for their own sake, so that they would know what they needed to know about themselves in order to go on. When Frodo later inadvertently turns the tables on Galadriel and tests her heart by freely offering her the Ring, he allows her to face the test of character she had set them, but in a far more real and dangerous way. For Frodo has the power to grant her desire. But Galadriel is true even when she is in peril. She passes the test. And so hope remains.

Torn between his fear for Gondor and the power the Ring seems to offer, Boromir falls, but not beyond redemption.[6] He 'escapes', as Gandalf says. 'Few have gained such a victory', declares Aragorn (TT 3.i.414), who seems unlikely to lie to a dying comrade: they are not speaking of his battle with the Orcs, who defeated him, but of his struggle with the Ring.[7] But how does he escape his peril? To be sure his failure to seize the Ring is essential, but not decisive on its own. Losing the Ring to Bilbo did not save Gollum. Yet it made his redemption possible.

Ironically -- and here I believe Tolkien is dealing in some very sly irony as he realizes the idea of the 'fortunate fall' -- it is Boromir's physical fall that precipitates his recovery of spirit.  When Frodo slipped on the Ring and vanished, Boromir
gasped, stared for a moment amazed, and then ran wildly about, seeking here and there among the rocks and trees. 
'Miserable trickster!' he shouted. 'Let me get my hands on you! Now I see your mind. You will take the Ring to Sauron and sell us all. You have only waited your chance to leave us in the lurch. Curse you and all halflings to death and darkness!' Then, catching his foot on a stone, he fell sprawling and lay upon his face. For a while he was as still as if his own curse had struck him down; then suddenly he wept. 
He rose and passed his hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears. 'What have I said?' he cried. 'What have I done? Frodo, Frodo!' he called. 'Come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!'
(FR 2.x.399-400)
Note the hint at something more than random 'chance' in the narrator's suggestion that it was 'as if his own curse had struck him down'. Note, too, the parallel to Bilbo's behavior at Rivendell, where Bilbo, having asked Frodo if he might 'see [the Ring] for just a moment', 'to peep at it again', then reaches for it instead. Seeing Frodo's strong, almost violent reaction, Bilbo 'passed his hand across his eyes. "I understand now", he said.  "Put it away" ' (FR 2.i.232).[8] Boromir, too, understands now.  Like Galadriel (FR 2.vii.366), and like Gandalf before her (FR 1.ii.61), he has seen the possibilities the Ring offers him, and the consequences. How far the knowledge he gains from Galadriel's test has brought him, aided now by his 'fortunate fall', is summed up in the transition he makes from imagining himself transformed by the Ring into 'a mighty king, benevolent and wise' (FR 2.x.398) to seeing the madness of this vision for what it is (2.x.400), confessing his error, and begging the true king to save his homeland (TT 3.i.414). 

If the visit to the Faërie of Bombadil prepared the hobbits to encounter a world that is larger -- in more than one sense of the word -- than the world to which they are accustomed, the visit to the Faërie of Galadriel[9] turns the attention of the Company momentarily inward, to the field where the inner battle against the evil of the Ring must be fought even as the outer quest enters its decisive phase. That it does so finds another interesting parallel in the gospel, since it is after Jesus faced his tests in the Wilderness that he began his ministry in earnest. And just as the temptations of Christ range from the mundane (bread) to the grandiose (power), so, too, do the tests of the Company, from Sam and Merry's hole with a bit of garden to Boromir's visions of using the Ring to defeat Sauron, tests which are recapitulated on a grander and darker scale with Sam, Frodo, and Galadriel in the latter half of the chapter.

What Tolkien has done in The Mirror of Galadriel is to re-frame the testing that visitors to Faërie often encounter in a far more serious way. Galadriel does not test the Company merely for the sake of testing them, but neither does she seek to seduce and ruin them. Her testing of them stands upon the same knife edge as the Quest does, and as she herself does. In the understanding of testing and temptation found in the Catechism and the Gospel, and in the parallel between forests in fairy-stories and the wilderness in the Bible, Tolkien discovers a means and a stage that suit the high tone of his tale. And if we recall that he regards the story of Christ as the fairy story that came true (OFS para. 104-05), it only makes sense that he would find that it suits his 'own good purpose'.



____________________________________________



*The biblical citations presented as footnotes in the Catechism I have converted into inline citations for the sake of ease and clarity.

**The translation is the Douay-Rheims of 1899, a Catholic version, which Tolkien would have been familiar with.

____________________________________________

[1] Thus:
Why [the Istari] should take [a human] form is bound up with the 'mythology' of the 'angelic' Powers of the world of this fable. At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and hinder their exhibition of 'power' on the physical plane, and so that they should do what they were primarily sent for: train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron to a resistance with their own strengths; and not just to do the job for them. They thus appeared as 'old' sage figures. But in this 'mythology' all the 'angelic' powers concerned with this world were capable of many degrees of error and failing between the absolute Satanic rebellion and evil of Morgoth and his satellite Sauron, and the fainéance of some of the other higher powers or 'gods'. The 'wizards' were not exempt, indeed being incarnate were more likely to stray, or err. Gandalf alone fully passes the tests, on a moral plane anyway (he makes mistakes of judgement). For in his condition it was for him a sacrifice to perish on the Bridge in defence of his companions, less perhaps than for a mortal Man or Hobbit, since he had a far greater inner power than they; but also more, since it was a humbling and abnegation of himself in conformity to 'the Rules': for all he could know at that moment he was the only person who could direct the resistance to Sauron successfully, and all his mission was vain. He was handing over to the Authority that ordained the Rules, and giving up personal hope of success.


[2] πειράζω occurs in various forms in each text.  We also find the noun πειρασμός and ἐκπειράζω, an intensive form of the verb.  Matthew: πειρασθῆναι -- 'to be tempted' (4:1); πειράζων -- 'one who tempts', (4:3); (Οὐκ) ἐκπειράσεις -- 'thou shalt (not) tempt' (4:7). Luke: πειραζόμενος -- 'being tempted' (4:2); (Οὐκ) ἐκπειράσεις -- 'thou shalt (not) tempt' (4.:12); πειρασμὸν -- 'temptation' (4:13). 'Try' in the definition of course means 'test' -- as in 'you're trying my patience'. 'Try' as in 'try to' is a related, but separate verb.

[3] My pedantry gene requires me to concede that, since Galadriel is female, we should have ἡ πειράζουσα instead of ὁ πειράζων.

[4] It may be that the thought of other, similar encounters with Galadriel lies at the back of the suspicions of her 'nets' and 'deceptions' we discover among the Rohirrim: TT 3.ii.432; vi.514.

[5] TT 4.viii.714-15. See Tolkien, Letters, no. 246. At the moment in question Sam has ample reason to mistrust Gollum and to believe him dangerous. As is often the case in The Lord of the Rings, however, the course that reason dictates is not the correct one.

[6] Gandalf, for one, believed that both Saruman and Gollum, whose deeds were far worse than Boromir's, could be redeemed (FR 1.ii.59; TT  3.x.577, 583-84). According to Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age even Sauron was once not beyond redemption, if he had sincerely repented (Silmarillion, 285). In The Hunt for the Ring Christopher Tolkien writes of a version in which Saruman considers repentance (UT 346).

[7] This interpretation of Aragorn's words to Boromir I owe to Corey Olsen.

[8] Compare also the powerful scene in The Tower of Cirith Ungol (RK6.i.911-12), where passing visions of the Ring cause Frodo to see Sam as an orc.

[9] By this turn of phrase I am not suggesting that there is more than one Faërie, only that Faërie has different aspects in different places.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Defense of the Homburg -- Wait, What?


That would be a Homburg on Churchill's head.

In a pdf of Tolkien's letter to Forrest J. Ackerman (of Famous Monsters of Filmland fame) about a possible film of The Lord of the Rings, we find a rather strange proof of just how important it is to proofread the documents one scans:
I am afraid that I do not find the glimpse of the 'defence of the Homburg' – this would be a better title, since Helm's Deep, the ravine behind, is not shown – entirely satisfactory. It would, I guess, be a fairly meaningless scene in a picture, stuck in in this way. Actually I myself should be inclined to cut it right out, if it cannot be made more coherent and a more significant part of the story. .... If both the Ents and the Hornburg cannot be treated at sufficient length to make sense, then one should go. It should be the Hornburg, which is incidental to the main story; and there would be this additional gain that we are going to have a big battle (of which as much should be made as possible), but battles tend to be too similar: the big one would gain by having no competitor.*
(Letters, no. 210) 
While this conjures many an image of Churchill as Théoden King, a role he would have truly relished playing, I shall leave the inevitable re-imagining of the king's dialogue into Churchillian cadences to my reader.**

__________________________________________


*In an aside I find it interesting to note that Tolkien would have chosen to discard the Battle of Helm's Deep as incidental, rather than scant the Ents. Peter Jackson of course made precisely the opposite choice, and has met much criticism in some circles for it.


**Presumably Churchill would have found something to say about the fact that his mother, Jenny Jerome, was no more a native of England than Théoden's mother, Morwen of Lossarnach, was of Rohan. It could be adduced as proof that he was born to play the part. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Guest Post: Jeremiah Burns on Haldir the Troll (FR 2.vi.348-49)




From time to time I have remarked on passages in which I think Tolkien may be having a bit of fun with his readers. This morning my friend, +Jeremiah Burns, drew another one of these to my attention over on G+. As is often the case, we found ourselves wondering how we had missed this one before. Here is Jerry's post in full:


Haldir: trolling before the Internet was a thing.
'Happy folk are Hobbits to dwell near the shores of the sea!' said Haldir. 'It is long indeed since any of my folk have looked on it, yet still we remember it in song. Tell me of these havens as we walk.' 
'I cannot,' said Merry. 'I have never seen them. I have never been out of my own land before. And if I had known what the world outside was like, I don't think I should have had the heart to leave it.' 
'Not even to see fair Lothlórien?' said Haldir.
[Said with a certain irony, as Merry is currently being led through Lothlórien blindfolded, and has not truly been given a chance to see Lothlórien or form an opinion of its fairness.]

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Haldir, I would add, is one of the Elves who said that Sam breathed so loud they could shoot him in the dark (FR 2.vi.342). So clearly he has a certain wry humor.