The White Tree of Gondor Teaches us about Death and Resurrection

Gandalf and Pippin enter the Citadel in Minas Tirith and the white-paved Court of the Fountain where, in the midst, “drooping over the pool, stood a dead tree, and the falling drops dripped sadly from its barren and broken branches back into the clear water. ”

Pippin does not understand why, in such a beautifully tended place, something dead is at the centre. Then some words that Gandalf had spoken come to mind:

Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree.

These are the emblems of Elendil whose ships carried the faithful to Middle-earth from the wreck of Númenor after Sauron had seduced their king into rebellion against the Valar. The white tree was a symbol of renewal descended, as it was, from Nimloth the Fair the tree of Númenor and before that from Galathilion of Telperion in the Deathless Lands. Thus there remains a link between the peoples of Gondor and the Valar and High Elves but it is a link  contained in something that is dead.

Sauron has always had a particular hatred for the tree, knowing what it represents. To Sauron it means that only through submission to the Valar and their judgement could there ever be a reconciliation and forgiveness.  He clings to the belief that he can achieve mastery over all life, that he can resist the Valar and the Ring is the entire focus of that belief. When he was a prisoner in Númenor he persuaded Ar Pharazôn to cut down Nimloth the Fair. Númenor’s king had become convinced that the Valar held the gift of immortality and kept it deliberately from him. Through Sauron’s persuasion Ar Pharazôn had come to see all links to the Valar as a part of their denial of life to him. Nimloth the Fair was a key symbol of that link. But to the Elf Friends, the house of Elendil, it was not a symbol of denial but of hope and renewal. Isildur, at great risk to himself,  took a sapling of Nimloth before it could be cut down. He was wounded almost to his death in the attempt but in the first spring after he had taken the sapling the young tree flowered and Isildur was healed.

It was only after the failing of the line of kings in Gondor that the tree finally died and no sapling could be found but the tree was never cut down. Always it stood in the Court of the Fountain in Minas Tirith as a sign of hope that one day the king would return but now the dead tree has stood there for over three hundred years and is there any hope left?

The hope lies, not in some form of resuscitation, the continuing of some kind of existence in a body that must inevitably die, but in an ending that must lead to a renewing. The Gondor of the Stewards that has so bravely resisted the darkness is about to come to an end but the king will return.

I write this at the beginning of the week that Christians call, Holy. It is a week when we are called to think most especially about the ending of things as we follow Jesus on his journey towards the cross and towards death and burial. If we understand these things aright then we will come to know that our lives are not about an effort to continue existence, to hold the day of ending at bay for as long as a we can. We will come to know that we can face all our endings without fear, whether they are the loss of a job, of a career, of reputation, of wealth or health or even the loss of someone we love or the loss of our own life. We will come to know that our all our endings are beginnings that point to the day of resurrection and a transformation that can have nothing to do with death but only life. About what that means we can can catch only glimpses now but even the glimpses tell us that what lies before us is entirely wonderful, it is bliss, it is delight.



10 thoughts on “The White Tree of Gondor Teaches us about Death and Resurrection

  1. A hard and difficult thing to attempt. Impossible, even, but for the Grace of God. But so much to be desired. Trust has always been hard for me. I trust very few people and very few things. And unfortunately, that mistrust translates into my spiritual life as well. Into a constant battle with my own will for control (even though I know, in my head, that my control over my own life is an illusion, even in a worldly sense!).

  2. Thank you for being the first person to leave a comment on this blog post. When I read it again in order to put your thoughts into context my first reaction was that I had been too bold. At least bolder than I had a right to be. But when Gandalf speaks of the end of the Gondor that they have known it is in fact a message of hope. The king is coming back. I know that in his introduction to his Advent poems Malcolm Guite speaks of Christ as “our true Strider” putting it into the context of Christian hope.
    I don’t think that I have achieved the kind of disinterest in my own continuing of which I spoke in this post. I wonder if the apostle Paul did either? He speaks of his desire to “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3.11). Was he still struggling? Well, I am still struggling anyway!

    • “I don’t think that I have achieved the kind of disinterest in my own continuing of which I spoke in this post” If we were limited to speaking only about what we’ve achieved, we wouldn’t be able to say much, would we.

      Lewis mentions, a few times, I think (but I am specifically thinking about lines at the end of The Great Divorce) that we have to speak of perceived truths that we see and aim for, even though we have not achieved them. We speak of “general truths” that people have become afraid to talk about for fear of giving offense.

      I’m not saying, of course, that we needn’t be careful (because we must be) but sometimes we have to speak out about what we see, aye? I do not think this post was too bold.

  3. Reblogged this on Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings and commented:

    Dear Readers,
    In the last couple of months I have been reblogging posts that have received more than 1,000 views. I suspect that this will be the last of these for a few months but I hope that you will enjoy reading this.
    Occasionally I get accused of being “preachy” on this blog and in this post I guess I have to plead guilty. But sometimes Tolkien’s Christian imagery is too strong to be ignored. Tolkien tried to avoid allegory and in The Lord of the Rings I think he succeeds but often an image such as Strider as the King disguised or, in this case, with the White Tree as an image of resurrection, clearly points us to something beyond itself. Tolkien said himself that he could not have written this great work without his Catholic faith and this is one of the strongest examples.
    As always, do let me know what you think.

  4. This reminds me of Aragorn’s great faith as he lays down his life and prepares to take it up again in what follows after. He is less ‘in the know’ as a Christian would be or should be but I think that makes his faith and trust all the more impressive, because he’s seen glimpses too.

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • There is something about not being “in the know” as you put it that I find so admirable. And even though the believer might know in terms of the big picture I am absolutely certain that what we finally see will both make us say, “This is just how I always knew it would be!” and also make us say, “I had no idea!”
      God bless you, Anne Marie 😊

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