“Aragorn Insisted on My Putting in a Green Stone.” The Importance of Hope in The Lord of the Rings.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.227-231

Bilbo’s verses, chanted in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, the house of Elrond have gone remarkably well. Remarkably well because Elrond is the son of Eärendi, the hero about whom Bilbo has sung. A number of commentators have remarked upon the ambiguous reception that the Elves give to Bilbo’s efforts and the way in which they seem to dismiss mortals comparing them to sheep. They ignore the fact that Eärendil was himself a mortal, a mortal who married an elven princess, Elwing the daughter of Dior and grandchild of Beren and Lúthien, and great-grandchild of Thingol and Melian of Doriath. They ignore the fact that the history of mortals and elves are so closely woven together and that Aragorn, like Elrond, is a descendant of Eärendil and Elwing.

Aragorn himself clearly feels this tension, chiding Bilbo for treading upon a subject that is well above his head but he makes one suggestion concerning Bilbo’s verses and that is that he should put in “a green stone”, seeming “to think it important”.

And it is important. For this stone is the Elessar, the Elfstone. In the history of Galadriel and Celeborn, recorded in the Unfinished Tales we read this:

“There was in Gondolin a jewel smith named Enerdhil, the greatest of that craft among the Noldor after the death of Fëanor. Enerdhil loved all green things that grew, and his greatest joy was to see the sunlight through the leaves of trees. And it came into his heart to make a jewel within which the clear light of the sun should be imprisoned, but the jewel should be green as leaves.”

The Elfstone, the Elessar, by John Howe

This stone was given by Enerdhil to Idril, the daughter of Turgon, king of Gondolin and she in her turn gave it to her son, Eärendil. And even in these few words we discern a lineage for the Elessar that is entirely different to that of the Silmarils of Fëanor or, for that matter of the Ring of Power. For from the moment of its making the story of the Elessar is one of gift. Enerdhil gives it to Idril and gives it without condition. He does not seek to possess the one who receives his gift. By contrast the story of the Silmarils is one of theft and power. Morgoth steals the jewels from Fëanor and when Beren and Lúthien take one of the jewels from Morgoth’s crown the heirs of Fëanor never cease from their efforts to regain it no matter what the cost, either to themselves or others.

Thus the Elessar is always a sign of hope. “It is said,” so we read in Unfinished Tales, “that those who looked through this stone saw things that were withered or burned healed again or as they were in the grace of their youth, and that the hands of all who held it brought to all that they touched healing from hurt.” And so it passes from Idril to Eärendil, her son, who takes it with him into the west in his quest to seek aid for Middle-earth from the Valar. At last, and Tolkien spoke of two ways in which this might have happened, it passes to Galadriel, either through Gandalf who brought the stone with him from Valinor or through Celebrimbor, the maker of rings who was deceived by Sauron into giving him the means by which the Ring of Power was forged at the Cracks of Doom. Whichever tale you choose the Elfstone remains a gift and so at last Aragorn comes to Lothlórien with the Fellowship fleeing from Moria and Galadriel gives the stone to him as they part.

“She lifted from her lap a great stone of a clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through the leaves of spring.”

Galadriel Gives Aragorn the Elfstone by Gred and Tim Hildebrand

We do not read of the influence of the stone upon Aragorn in the rest of the story. We know that Galadriel had given the stone to Celebrian, her daughter and that through her it passed to Arwen. Did Aragorn know that Arwen had possessed the stone, the very stone that Eärendil had once worn? Was it this connection that caused him to insist that Bilbo included the Elfstone in his verses? Was Aragorn, in his own way, reminding the son of Eärendil that he too was intimately linked to this story? Aragorn will be crowned the King Elessar and he will bring healing to Middle-earth just as the prayer of Eärendil did so at the end of the First Age. At this point of the story on the eve of the Council of Elrond all there is is hope but it is enough.

The Voyage of Eärendil. Hope against Hope.

Eärendil Was a Mariner. The Story That Seems to Fit Somehow.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 227-30

Frodo gradually emerges from “a dream of music that turned into running water, and then suddenly into a voice”. And the voice is that of Bilbo chanting verses.

Eärendil was a mariner 
that tarried in Arvernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan, 
and light upon her banners laid. 



Eärendil The Mariner by Ted Nasmith

And so begins the longest poem in The Lord of the Rings. A poem that links the story both to The Silmarillion and to the moment in 1914 when first Tolkien began to conceive his legendarium, the moment in which his heart was captured by the beauty of some lines from an Anglo-Saxon poem.

” Eala earendel, engla beorhtast, ofer middangeard monnum sended…”

“O, Earendel, brightest of angels, sent to men above Middle-earth…”

Eala Earendel

The poem was entitled, Christ ,or The Advent Lyrics and as soon as we read the word, Advent, we know that these words are an expression of profound longing, a cry from the darkness of our prison, a longing for freedom and for peace.

The poem continues, “You come yourself to illuminate those who for the longest time, shrouded in shadow and in darkness here, reside in the everlasting night- enfolded in our sins, they have had to endure the dark shadows of death.”

It all fits because the tale that Bilbo tells in his poem is one of deliverance from darkness. Eärendil journeys from Middle-earth to Valinor to plead for aid against Morgoth who has conquered all. Gondolin has fallen. Nargothrond has fallen. Doriath has fallen. All that was most beautiful has been lost for ever.

But that is not all. The darkness does not belong to Morgoth alone. The sons of Fëanor, bound by the oath that they swore to their father in their grief and fury, attack Arvernien seeking for the Silmaril, seized from the very crown of Morgoth by Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel. Even the reverence in which the memory of Beren and Lúthien is held is not enough to restrain the revenge required by this oath. But Eärendil still goes to Valinor seeking mercy for all and Manwë, Chief of the Valar, of the Ainur, the makers of the Music, allows this one emissary to enter the Undying Lands. Eärendil, the great intercessor, brings aid to Middle-earth in its darkest hour. “The looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope.”

And Eärendil will come once more in The Lord of the Rings in Shelob’s Lair, when in his darkest moment, in darkness visible as death bears down upon him, Frodo holds high the star-glass of Galadriel in which the light of the Silmaril is held and cries out, “Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!” Hail Eärendil, Brightest of Stars! The very same Advent cry that Tolkien read in 1914 and which captured his heart.

Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima

“It all seemed to me to fit somehow.”

The sense in which the story fits, both in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell and in Shelob’s Lair in Mordor is that Frodo has been drawn into the age-old longing of the Children of Ilúvatar for a light that will never go out, that darkness can never overcome.

“O Morning Star! Come and Enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death”.

“O Oriens…Veni et inlumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis”.

Those who sit at ease are not in need of deliverance. The story that seems to fit somehow is the age long story of the prisoner in darkness. Bilbo and then Frodo are drawn into this story. Bilbo becomes a member of Thorin Oakenshield’s party. Frodo sets off into the wild with his three companions. Both are linked together by the finding of the Ring of Power. Both are linked together too by a desire for adventure. Soon all who have been drawn into this story, all who have been brought to Rivendell at this moment, at the coming of the Ring and the Ringbearer, will gather together to take counsel for the deliverance of Middle-earth. And once again the prayer of Eärendil will be made by those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

It Seemed to Me to Fit Somehow. Frodo and the Music of the Ainur.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 226-231

There, I’ve said it. I have named the music to which Frodo becomes a part in the Hall of Fire as the Music of the Ainur, when Ilúvatar declared a mighty theme and bade the Ainur to “make in harmony together a Great Music”, and thus is Arda created, sustained and completed. I have no authority to make this statement; nowhere (as far as I know) does Tolkien refer to the music that Frodo hears in these terms, and yet when I read these words it is the sense that there is a river that flows through history, a river that is made of music itself and that the river “fits somehow” with Bilbo’s poem about Eärendil the Mariner, that I find no other way to speak of Frodo’s experience than to say that for one brief moment he touches the divine word that makes all things even as it speaks in music.

The Music of the Ainur

Please listen to these words.

“At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him: and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.”

Yes, I can see that the music begins with the Elves in the Hall of Fire. Yes, I know that Frodo is still tired after his perilous journey in the wild and that he has enjoyed his first good meal, served with copious drafts of the very best wine, since he left Bree. But I ask you to note how the experience in the hall becomes something quite other, how the hall becomes sea and then “an endless river of swelling gold and silver” in which Frodo drowns and then how it becomes Bilbo chanting the words, “Eärendil was a mariner that tarried in Arvenien”.

Hobbits in the Hall of Fire

The recognisable is transformed, transfigured and then becomes recognisable once more but somehow different. By the time Bilbo finishes the recitation of his poem he is once more an elderly hobbit and yet it seems to Frodo “to fit somehow”. Wisely he does not try to describe what he has experienced at this point. He needs to ponder what he has experienced in his heart until it takes the form of words that he writes in The Red Book of Westmarch.

Frodo does not hear the whole music. He will have enough experience of Melkor’s anti-music in the days that lie ahead. He does not need to hear this strain now. He hears the strain of which he and Bilbo are a part, the weaving together of the destinies of mortals, of the elven firstborn and of the Valar, the Ainur whose music this is. Next week we will think about the tale of Eärendil; now we note that Frodo and Bilbo will be the first mortals to be permitted to set foot in the Undying Lands since Eärendil himself.

There will be times when Frodo will be conscious of divine beauty, of the slow rhythm of time that flows towards the moment when Ilúvatar raised his hands “and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased”. There will be times when the darkness within and without will be all that he can see. But the Music of the Ainur will never cease to flow to its conclusion, carrying him and all things living to the moment of the last chord.

A Note to My Readers: I believe that for those who stay awake, who look for them, signs of the Music of the Ainur are all about us. They are to be found in great music, poetry, wise discourse, great science and all the best of human endeavour, in the surprising beauty of the faces of those with whom we dwell and in the world in which we dwell. When I wrote this piece I listened to a modern masterpiece by John Luther Adams entitled, Become Ocean. Not because it is the Divine Music in and of itself but because it conveys a wonderfully imaginative sense of what that music might be. I have put a link to it on a separate post.

Watch “Become Ocean” on YouTube

Like Frodo in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell I usually fall into sleep while listening to this mesmerising music. While writing “It Seemed to Fit Somehow” I listened to the whole thing, maybe for the very first time. And it does seem to fit. John Luther Adams captures the way in which water flows in a way that is wonderfully musical.

The Music of the Ainur

Apparently those two fine composers, John Luther Adams and John Adams, who like each other very much, have a lovely time redirecting mail to one another. This must be fun for the postal service because Luther Adams lives in Alaska while his namesake lives in California.

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=dGva1NVWRXk&feature=share

“Don’t Adventures Ever Have an End?” Frodo, Bilbo and the Ring in the Hall of Fire.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 223-26

After the feast concludes Frodo and the whole company make their way, following Elrond and Arwen, to the Hall of Fire, a place which, except on high days “usually stands empty and quiet” and where people come “who wish for peace, and thought”; and it is there that Elrond brings Frodo and Bilbo together, much to their mutual delight.

The Hall of Fire

Frodo discovers that Bilbo had sat with Sam at his bedside through much of the days in which he had lain, close to death, as the sliver of the Morgul blade, wielded by the Witch-king of Angmar, worked its way slowly towards his heart. And Frodo also learns that Bilbo has not been at the feast. Indeed that Bilbo is now old and is content to be alone with his own thoughts in this quiet place, composing a poem that he will perform before the assembled company before all retire to their rooms and dwelling places.

Bilbo and Frodo in the Hall of Fire

Little has the capacity to stir Bilbo now; except for one thing.

“Have you got it here?” he asked in a whisper. “I can’t help feeling curious, you know, after all I’ve heard. I should very much like just to peep at it again.”

Bilbo, of course, is speaking of the Ring, and there follows a brief period which, for Frodo, and then for Bilbo as well, is one of the most distressing that he has known. Frodo finds himself looking at “a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands”. The parallel with Gollum is all too clear for those who know the story. This is what the Ring does to those who have possessed it. This is what they are reduced to. Hungry and groping. They become spiritually ravenous and never satisfied. And except in degrees of power there is no distinction between Sauron, Gollum and, for a moment at least, Bilbo too. Each is reduced to the desire to consume all and everyone, “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

In Bilbo’s case the triumph of his desire for the Ring is but momentary. Perhaps his distance from the Ring over many years and perhaps even the fact that he gave it up freely, albeit with a little help from Gandalf, enables Bilbo to master his craving; but for that moment the absolutely evil potential of the Ring mars the great love that Bilbo and Frodo have for one another and it even reduces the serene gathering of the company in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, a place where at one moment Frodo wondered if people were ever ill, to an unhappy silence.

That moment passes as Frodo puts the Ring away but the distress that Bilbo feels as he realises, maybe for the very first time, the power that the Ring has over him and the burden that his beloved Frodo has to bear is heartbreaking.

“Don’t adventures ever come to an end?”

How does one portray Bilbo as hungry and groping?

And with this thought the whole entirety of Tolkien’s legendarium is brought together. And so too is the entirety of human history of the mythical world of which each one of us is a part. By myth we speak here of the age long need to find meaning in the age long sequence of events that have constituted the history of the cosmos ever since the Big Bang (as far as we know) and, in particular, the need to find meaning in the story of ourselves ever since we first emerged into consciousness in Africa long ago. Or not so long in comparison with the whole. This is the story told in the Music of the Ainur, and we will return to this next week. The story told in Tolkien’s creation myth, a story that the wise know is not about the manufacture of a clock that is then more or less left to its own devices, but one to which the divine is intimately connected at all times and in all places. Bilbo and Frodo are both a part of the one great adventure as are we. Does this adventure ever end? The Music of the Ainur reaches a sublime conclusion, but there is a beyond. There is always a beyond. But what that is is known only to the One.

Frodo Learns of the Doings of the Dwarves. Glóin of The Lonely Mountain At The Feast in Rivendell.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 221-223

The history of Dwarves and Elves in Middle-earth has been a long journey that has often taken dark turnings. The memories of both peoples are long and so these things are not forgotten and can rise dangerously to the surface at any moment. Later in the tale Celeborn of Lothlórien will speak bitterly of Dwarves and will seek to repent of the welcome given to Gimli, son of Glóin, but here in Rivendell this same Glóin sits in a place of honour at the table of Elrond next to the Ringbearer. Thus, in the scenes before the great Council of Elrond takes place, Tolkien draws together many essential threads of the great story.

“Am I right in guessing that you are the Glóin, one of the twelve companions of the great Thorin Oakenshield?” asks Frodo of his fellow guest at Elrond’s table.

Glóin of the Lonely Mountain

“I have already been told that you are the kinsman and adopted heir of our friend Bilbo the renowned,” replies Glóin.

And in an age that is more formal than our own not one word spoken by either is wasted or without content. Each word conveys the honour that each feels appropriate to the other and which each wishes to give. And in their greetings to one another both place the other and also themselves within the great story of how Gandalf the Grey brought together Thorin Oakenshield and his twelve companions with a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, in order to regain Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, from the grip of Smaug the Dragon.

Anyone who has read The Hobbit will know that much of that tale is told as a child’s fairy story and much is even comic in style befitting the character of the hobbit who plays so essential a part within it. For it was only a hunch upon Gandalf’s part that led him to recommend Bilbo to Thorin, persuading him that he had found an excellent burglar who would be useful as a stealer of treasure from a dragon’s hoard. Bilbo’s complete lack of any of the qualities thought necessary for a hero makes Thorin wonder if Gandalf is merely playing some unpleasant trick upon him but, perhaps by a carnivalesque invasion of Tolkien’s heroic legendarium, it is this figure who Thorin regards as being little more than a clown who finds the Ring of Power by pure chance.

A wonderful joke. Bilbo Baggins finds the Ring.

It was the great Russian cultural theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin who developed the idea of carnival within life and literature, a situation in which the world is turned upside down and the first become last while the last become first. I have written before of how I believe that hobbits took Tolkien completely by surprise and how that surprise simply would not let him go. There is nothing in The Silmarillion that prepares us for the moment when hobbits enter the tale and after the success of The Hobbit Tolkien tried to persuade his publisher that there was nothing more to be said about them. It is my belief that the whole world owes an incalculable debt to a publisher who in seeking another commercial success made hobbits essential to the creation of a mythology that is subversively enriching the world of our day.

Of all the retellings of Tolkien’s tale of Bilbo Baggins I have an especial affection for a Russian film of The Hobbit from the Soviet era that, to me, captures the spirit of the story perfectly, telling it as the kind of folk tale that the mighty always feel that they can ignore safely. Self important literary critics from the great universities and even heads of government or state feel that they can laugh at such nonsense until the moment comes when they get the terrible sense that they might be the butt of the joke as Smaug does when Bilbo steals the Arkenstone from his treasure or Saruman is driven from his mighty fortress by creatures who he has treated with contempt.

Bilbo and the Arkenstone . Another Joke.

Where do we end with this reflection? Of course we end as Frodo and Glóin do in acknowledging the greatness of the other. Both carnival and heroic epic come together here bowing respectfully to one another, taking pleasure in one another’s company, sharing news and wisely waiting for the right time in which to speak of weightier matters such as the destiny of the whole world. That can wait for the next day.

Watch “Хоббит / The Hobbit (СССР / USSR, 1985 г.)” on YouTube

On Friday I posted a reflection on my blog about the encounter between Frodo and Glóin as they sat together at the feast in Rivendell and how this reconnected the stories of the Shire and the kingdom under the mountain, stories that were so remarkably woven together when Gandalf persuaded Thorin Oakenshield to allow Bilbo Baggins to become a part of his quest to regain the mountain kingdom from Smaug the dragon.

As I pondered the story that Tolkien told in The Hobbit I was led by my daughter, Bethan, a doctoral student at Oxford University, to the great Soviet cultural critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, and his concept of the carnivalesque. Bakhtin’s work was on the 19th century Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky and the 16th century French writer, Rabelais. In both of them he finds a world that is turned upside down. As Bethan and I spoke together I became increasingly convinced that we can add another work to Bakhtin’s list, The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien.

As I pondered this I recalled once watching a film adaptation of The Hobbit that was made in Russian during the Soviet era that charmed me at the time I watched it. Instinctively I felt that its retelling of Tolkien’s story as a folk tale had an authenticity to it that I found sadly lacking in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Many have commented on the difficulty in reconciling the fairytale aspect of The Hobbit with the mighty epic that was both The Silmarillion and also The Lord of the Rings. My feeling is that Jackson kept trying to make the story heroic and epic in nature, even trying to turn Bilbo into a character who might belong in such a story. My belief is that this delightful Russian retelling of the tale is much closer to its true essence.

And while I am expressing appreciation for people who have helped develop my own understanding of Tolkien’s work I would like to thank a blogger who writes under the name, The Catholic Knight, for reminding me of the wonderful section of Tolkien’s, Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth that deals with the quest for Erebor. If you have a copy then read these pages for yourself. You can almost feel yourself to be with Tolkien, perhaps at a gathering of the Inklings, as he wrestles with the question, why did he recommend Bilbo to Thorin? Each one of the answers is profound and, in my view, leaves the subversive carnivalesque nature of The Hobbit intact.

A final thought. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Russian. Any lover of The Hobbit will have little difficulty in following the story and you might find a version somewhere with English subtitles.

Arwen Undómiel at the Feast in Rivendell. A Woman in Whom it Was Said That The Likeness of Lúthien Had Come Again on Earth.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 220-21

There is one more person to whom Frodo pays attention at the table at which he sits in a place of honour and Tolkien devotes more space to her than he does to Elrond, Gandalf and Glorfindel put together. This is the first time that we meet the daughter of Elrond, the Lady Arwen of Rivendell, Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar of her people, “in whom it was said that the likeness of Lúthien had come on earth again.”

Arwen, as she creates the royal standard of the King of Gondor and Arnor, by Anna Kulisz

Frodo’s attention to his fellow diners is more akin to a visitor to one of the great art galleries of the world than to a guest enjoying the company that he finds himself in. Even Gandalf, who he knows well, is presented to him, and to us, in his symbolic guise. The excellence of the food upon his plate provides him ample excuse for not worrying about his situation. When was the last time that Frodo enjoyed a good meal? Was it at the Prancing Pony almost four weeks before? He need not worry overmuch about other matters, not just yet at any rate.

Frodo has seen great beauty before in the house of Tom Bombadil in the person of Goldberry but there “less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to human heart; marvellous and yet not strange.”

Arwen has an altogether different effect. “Such loveliness in living thing Frodo had never seen before nor imagined in his mind”. Goldberry’s beauty was of an order in which Frodo might feel that he could be close to even as Tom Bombadil was close. Tom might be eldest but he is close to the same soil that nurtures hobbits, the soil that he speaks of approvingly when he speaks of Farmer Maggot. Goldberry belongs to the “little rivers” in which Frodo delights, whose loveliness has nurtured his heart all his life. Arwen is of another order altogether. Frodo may, on reflection, use the word, loveliness in thinking of her, but in gazing upon Arwen he knows that he will never use that word in quite the same way again, or that he will never quite feel that the word could possibly do justice to the one he has tried to describe in this manner. Either he will have to find new words, (and what words might they be?) or he will be reduced to wordless admiration, to silence. He will have to learn how to gaze upon such beauty for a long time in order to be able to appreciate it as it should be. One day, in the Undying Lands, he will have such opportunity.

“Deeper and Nearer to Human Heart”. The Loveliness of Goldberry.

Perhaps there will come a time when he can look upon beauty such as Arwen possesses and not have to gaze, to admire, to delight in, at a distance. For Arwen Undómiel is not only a symbol but a living being with a beating heart. She is a woman in love and the man she loves is not at the feast. It is almost, it would appear, as an afterthought that Tolkien tells us that Frodo “could see no sign of Strider”. I was going to say a few weeks ago when I wrote about Gandalf putting Frodo right about Rangers that we will never refer to Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, as Strider again but here at the feast when we meet Arwen for the first time Tolkien uses the name by which Aragorn first introduced himself to Frodo and his companions in Bree. Of course, this is the name by which Frodo knows him and it is a name that brings a man who himself could be a symbol of greatness and of potency, close to a hobbit of the Shire. It has even allowed Frodo to refer to this man as “only a Ranger”. What is the place where Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar of her people, and Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, Estel, the hope of his people, can meet and fall in love? Surely it is a place where they are man and woman in total simplicity. And yet maybe none of us are quite permitted to live lives of total simplicity. Elrond has already made it clear to this young man that his daughter “shall not be the bride of any Man less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor”. Our roles will be probably not be quite so exalted but we all have roles to play in which the people that we are are symbols appropriate to those roles as well as being mere flesh and blood.

Where can these two symbols of their people meet and fall in love?

The Feast at Rivendell. Frodo is Seated at Elrond’s Table Amongst the Great.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 220-223

If we are to understand the true significance of the feast that takes place on the evening after Frodo first awakes in Rivendell then we need to understand it as if it is a great state occasion. Elrond does not preside in his great chair at the end of a long table upon a dais every day. This is an occasion of real significance.

Peter Xavier Price imagines Gandalf, Elrond and Glorfindel at the Feast

There are many reasons why they should hold such a feast, says Gandalf to Frodo. “I am one good reason. The Ring is another: you are the Ring-bearer. And you are the heir of Bilbo, the Ring-finder.”

So we learn much in just a few words about the reasons why, in the world of Elrond and of the wise, honour is granted. There will be royal halls later in the story where Gandalf will be received with no honour at all. And Frodo, and to some degree, Bilbo too, regard themselves as those to whom all these events have simply happened. Frodo knows that he never sought the Ring. The Ring sought him out. But the court of Elrond in Rivendell is no meritocracy. As Gandalf said to Frodo at Bag End when Frodo asked why he had been chosen to bear the Ring, “Such questions cannot be answered… You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate.”

Frodo is not honoured because he is one of the great. He is honoured because he has been chosen and it is the choice that must be honoured. But there will soon come a time when Elrond will declare that Frodo is among the great and that will be because he will accept the burden that has been laid upon him. That we will think about in a few weeks time.

As Frodo sits nervously among the great at table he sees Gandalf, Elrond and Glorfindel close by, revealed in their glory. Tolkien draws upon all his wordcraft to convey think to us and so doing achieves far more than any picture. And so he says of Elrond that his face was “ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful.” As we read those words it is not a picture that we see. Tolkien tells us nothing about the shape of Elrond’s nose or mouth, for example. What we see, we see by means of the thoughts of our hearts, and those who know the prayer to which I allude will also know that those thoughts must be cleansed before they can enable us to see clearly.

Peter Jackson imagines Elrond, Lord of Rivendell

So it is that Tolkien shows us that Frodo is learning to see. Later Galadriel will make reference to the keenness of Frodo’s sight. Gandalf, Elrond and Glorfindel are among the immortals and unlike ourselves whose appearance is shaped by factors both inward and outward over which we only have some control, they are able to convey the truth of who they are. Glorfindel is “fair and young and fearless and full of joy. Gandalf has an aged face with eyes “like coals that could leap suddenly into fire”. And Elrond, neither young nor old seems venerable “as a king crowns with many winters, and yet hale as a tried warrior in the fullness of his strength.” Later when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli encounter Gandalf they are not sure if it is he that they see or Saruman.

As a maia, an order of angelic being to which both Sauron and Saruman also belong, Gandalf has power over how he is able to appear; but this power can also be lost. In seducing Celebrimbor into teaching him the craft required to make the Ruling Ring Sauron was able to appear fair. After he seduced Númenor into its catastrophic act of rebellion he lost that power and could only be the Dark Lord thereafter. And when Saruman dies “the long years of death” are revealed in his hideous face. Gandalf remains faithful to his order’s obedience to Ilúvatar and so conveys both wisdom and strength in the face that others can see.

All this Frodo is able to see because his sight grows keen and his eye is innocent. He does not yet know that he is able to see what others cannot.

Kappriss imagines Sauron the Seducer before the Fall of Númenor

A Cure for Weariness, Fear and Sadness. Frodo in The Last Homely House, East of the Sea.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 219-220

I have been enjoying my imaginary rest in one of the wonderful beds in The Last Homely House as, I hope, have you as you have read the last pages of Tolkien’s great tale and my reflections upon them. Now it is time to get up and, with Frodo and Sam, who “has been getting to know some of the ways of the place”, it is time for us to get to know it a little better too. I don’t know about you but I could use a “cure for weariness, fear and sadness” right now. I know that beyond the hidden valley of Rivendell there will be many dangers to face but just for a while let us rest here to regather our strength and so make ready to face those dangers once more.

At rest in Rivendell

The journey eastward through Eriador in Middle-earth is always a journey towards hardship and danger; always away from the quiet lands of Bree, the Shire; and away from the Elven lands of Forlindon and Harlindon that lie hard against the great sea and the hidden lands beyond. When Bilbo Baggins made his journey to the lonely mountain of Erebor as recounted in The Hobbit this was the last time of rest before the passage through the Misty Mountains was to be attempted and all the adventures that were to befall him there and in the lands at their far side. Hence, in Bilbo’s mind it was always The Last Homely House.

Rivendell had always been a refuge from enemies right from its founding by Elrond in the middle of the Second Age when he had led an elven host against Sauron in the wars in Eregion after the making of the great Rings of Power by Celebrimbor, deceived as Celebrimbor had been by Sauron who desired only to learn ringcraft and to use all that he could learn to forge the One Ring, and through its power to subdue all lands and all peoples under his rule.

Elrond the Warrior by Ysydora

Sauron never achieved this end but also never gave up his age old desire to rule either. That this desire lies at the heart of The Lord of the Rings is made all too clear by Gandalf when he reminds the hobbits after Pippin’s ill judged words that “The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the Master of the Dark Tower of Mordor, whose power is again stretching out over the world! We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark.”

It was during the conflict with Sauron in Eriador that Elrond first founded the “refuge of Imladris” in 1697 of the Second Age, the same year in which Celebrimbor was killed. Eventually Sauron was driven from Eriador but not by Elrond but by the Dúnedain, the men of Númenor, who arrived in a mighty fleet and established dominions on the coasts of Middle-earth. Even his possession of the Ring was not enough for Sauron to withstand the power of Númenor but something else enabled him to overthrow that mighty land. The appendices at the end of The Return of the King put it in the most chilling way when they say, ” The shadow falls on Númenor”. No military defeat ever took place but an inner moral collapse most certainly did. Again, in the appendices, Tolkien uses a few words to terrible effect.

2251: Tar-Atanamir takes the sceptre. Rebellion and division of the Númenoreans begins. About this time the Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, slaves of the Nine Rings, first appear.

Surely, Tolkien has no need to spell out what happened in any explicit manner. Sauron did not seduce just anyone with his gifts. As we come to learn about Sméagol later in the story, a small and miserable creature is capable only of small and miserable evils. Only the great can do the greatest harms. Surely it was men of Númenor that Sauron seduced and made slaves to his will through the insidious gift of Rings of Power. And this is where the contrast between them and those who find refuge in Rivendell lies. There are those who will give everything, even their souls, for power. And there are those who seek “a cure for weariness, fear and sadness”.

And so throughout the long years, years that Elrond terms “the long defeat”, Rivendell remains a secret refuge, a Last Homely House for all weary travellers, a home in need for the remnant of the Dúnedain of the North and now, for a little while at least, a refuge for the Ringbearer and his companions, a place, as Pippin who recognises true joy when he sees it, where it is “impossible, somehow to feel gloomy or depressed”.

A Cure for Weariness, Fear and Sadness. Tolkien’s own imagining of Rivendell.