Legolas and the Sea. A Longing for a Land Where Nothing Fades Away.

Legolas has long dwelt content in the green land of his people in the north of Mirkwood in rhythm with the trees of the wood as they breathe in and out in winter and summer, winter and summer, year upon year, year upon year as the ages pass.

It was Galadriel who first warned him of the call of the sea, words that came to him through Gandalf when they met in the depths of Fangorn Forest. “Legolas Greenleaf long under tree in joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea! If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore, thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.”

It was in the great ride with the Grey Company to the assault of the ships of the Corsairs of Umbar at Pelargir that Legolas first heard the sound of the sea. Gimli paid no heed to it but Legolas was stricken in his heart and as the companions of the Fellowship speak together of their adventures Legolas sings of a heart that is no longer at rest.

“To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying, the wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying. West, west away, the round sun is falling. Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling, the voices of my people that have gone before me? I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me; for our days are ending and our years falling.”

The deepest longing of the Elves is for a world in which nothing fades away. They themselves are immortal, age cannot touch them, but the world in which they live is always changing and in this lies their sadness. The lands in which they have lived in Middle-earth have been islands of relative changelessness. Rivendell, Lothlórien, the Grey Havens and the Woodland Realm in the north of Mirkwood, all have been places in which the memory of ancient beauty has been preserved but at the end of the Third Age with the passing of the Ring the change that they have long resisted has come at last.

It is one of the most profound ideas within The Lord of the Rings that so much that has been beautiful must pass away with the destruction of a thing that was entirely evil. The forging of the three elven rings, Nenya, Varya and Vilya accomplished so much that was good in the Second and Third Ages but none of this could have been achieved without the ringlore of Sauron in his disguise of Annatar in the court of Celebrimbor the lord of Eregion. Sauron played no part in the forging of the Elven Rings and yet their making was still linked to the forging of the Rings of Power and to the One Ring itself. The great temptation of the Elves lay in their very desire to preserve and it is this that Sauron exploited.

The one who chooses to be an enemy learns how to  perceive weakness in others and then exploits it. Indeed it seems to be this quality that marks out an enemy above all others. But when we choose to lay down that which we desire then the enemy has nothing more to exploit. It is the decision to destroy the Ring that enables Sauron’s foes to defeat him even as it was the decision to preserve beauty and to forge the Rings that linked the destiny of the Elves to that of their greatest enemy.

All things pass away and the one who learns this and who does not try to hold on to them can enjoy them without becoming prey to a melancholy that robs us of all joy. “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy. He who kisses the life as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.” Kissing the life as it inevitably and inexorably flies is one of the greatest wisdoms that we can learn. At this moment in the story Legolas is overcome with the sadness of loss. Let us hope that when the time comes for him to leave Middle-earth he will do so with thanksgiving and with joyful hope.

Artwork this week by Lorraine Brevig


18 thoughts on “Legolas and the Sea. A Longing for a Land Where Nothing Fades Away.

  1. Embracing loss is one of the hardest things one can do. But without it, how else can those things that never fade be truly appreciated. Not an easy lesson to learn, but necessary. Thanks for this post – it also took me to your earlier post, ‘Legolas and Gimli in Minas Tirith’, a joy to read, including the rich comments underneath.

    • Thank you so much! It seems to be the most important task in life, to find out what does not fade. To give oneself to anything else, as an ultimate endeavour, is to end in disappointment. But there is much to be grateful for in that which we must lose because it has given us so much that is good. That is why I hope that Legolas will finally leave Middle-earth with gratitude and that when my time comes that I will leave this life in the same way 🙂

      • Very much appreciate your thoughts, and wholeheartedly agree. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to fear, sorrow and key to endurance. And perhaps most closely associated to wisdom and one’s ability to reason? Indeed, I hope the same as you do! It is a worthy thing to strive for.

  2. Pingback: Origami with Quotes – Idiosophy

    • It may be impossible to lose at swordsmanship if I do not have a sword but then I cannot participate in it either. My blog post next week is going to be about the unhappy Éowyn in the Houses of Healing whose response to the Warden’s complaint about the deeds of the makers of war is that you don’t need to have a sword in your hand in order to die at the point of one. As always you give me food for thought!

  3. Part of Frodo’s tragedy is that he cannot accept the loss of the Ring:

    He appears at first to have had no sense of guilt (III 224-5)**;1 he was restored to sanity and peace. But then he thought that he had given his life in sacrifice: he expected to die very soon. But he did not, and one can observe the disquiet growing in him. Arwen was the first to observe the signs, and gave him her jewel for comfort, and thought of a way of healing him.* Slowly he fades ‘out of the picture’, saying and doing less and less. I think it is clear on reflection to an attentive reader that when his dark times came upon him and he was conscious of being ‘wounded by knife sting and tooth and a long burden’ (III 268) it was not only nightmare memories of past horrors that afflicted him, but also unreasoning self-reproach: he saw himself and all that he done as a broken failure. ‘Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same, for I shall not be the same.’ That
    was actually a temptation out of the Dark, a last flicker of pride: desire to have returned as a ‘hero’, not content with being a mere instrument of good. And it was mixed with another temptation, blacker and yet (in a sense) more merited, for however that may be explained, he had not in fact cast away the Ring by a voluntary act: he was tempted to regret its destruction, and still to desire it.
    ‘It is gone for ever, and now all is dark and empty’, he said as he wakened from his sickness in 1420.

    (Tolkien, Letters, no 246)

    But isn’t this so true of so much of the losses we must accept? Whether it is the death of a beloved, a career disappointment, the way friends just grow apart sometimes, or even letting go of illness that destroy us, we just can’t let them go as easily as we may wish to, or to the extent that we need to. It’s hard. It’s our nature. It’s why we have so hard a time accepting the Gift of Iluvatar to Men.

    We would rather be ruined than changed
    We would rather die in our dread
    Than climb the cross of the moment
    And let our illusions die.

    (Auden, The Age of Anxiety)

    Now saying this is one thing, knowing this is one thing. Doing it is another.

    ** He refers to brief time between the destruction of the Ring and Sam and Frodo’s rescue by the eagles.

    • Tom, I am so grateful to you for this thoughtful reflection and I agree with you about Frodo and about myself/ourselves. I read Tolkien’s letter when I was preparing my blog posts regarding the destruction of the Ring. He displays such compassion for Frodo and for those, like him, whose minds are broken by the sheer weight of darkness they are forced to endure. My own sense is that Frodo returns to the Shire with a mixture of feelings about himself and his experience. There is a sense in which he is reconciled to being merely an instrument of good. Saruman’s bitter recognition of Frodo’s wisdom, even greatness, is a response to Frodo’s moral growth. But Frodo’s “it is gone for ever and now all is dark and empty” is a statement with which every addict can identify.
      I read a little while ago about learning to become content even with being discontented. I think that this displays a profound insight into the nature of healing. The cause of our brokenness is not magically removed as if it had never existed. Perhaps what happens is that we learn to live at peace with our brokenness. It is OK not be OK. I have moments, even seasons, when I know that kind of peace. More often I long for it. As Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The “you” is the one who is infinitely bigger than whether I am OK or not OK.

  4. Quite apart from the good post, a lovely evocative title. My wife and I found ourselves once in prairies for 4 or 5 years. It’s hard from people who haven’t lived on the great North American plains to imagine, but the gigantic sky and scrubland monotony oppressed us. Even though we had never grown up with mountains, just going a few miles to the west and we could see those comforting, terrifying Rockies.
    The key, though, was water. In Japan we lived near rivers and rice fields and lakes–and only a couple of hours from the sea. We were on an island, never far away from the sea, our home. In Vancouver we lived well, nestled as it is between rainforest and ocean. and now we live in the tiniest province, a million acre garden in the North Atlantic.
    It is the sea that I long for. Even when I can’t see it, I know it is there. But it is not, for me, being on the sea like some of my neighbours. For me, it is feet on island that makes the difference.

    • I think that all islanders know what you mean, Brenton. After a few years working in Zambia I missed the sound of the sea so much that I would sometimes sit in my chair in the evening simply imagining the breakers crashing against the shore. When Iris Murdoch published her novel, “The Sea, The Sea” I ordered a copy just because of the evocative title.
      When it comes to Legolas I find myself asking about the relationship between the Sea, the land to which it will take him and the home that he has to leave.

  5. “But when we choose to lay down that which we desire then the enemy has nothing more to exploit.” – I love this! How profound for the journeys of many in MIddle-earth. Gandalf at the Bridge in Moria, Aragorn and all those lonely years in the wild, Frodo and Sam on the way to Mordor. They all are so sacrificial the Enemy cannot touch them, no matter what it tries to do. Great art too!

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

    • You are entirely right. And Aragorn turning away from Minas Tirith in order to follow two young hobbits across the plains of Rohan even though there seems to be no point to it. No one of the character of Sauron could ever understand any of it.
      God bless you, Anne Marie 😊

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