Faramir Gazes at the Overwhelming Wave and Thinks of Númenor as He Takes Éowyn in his Arms.

The moment when the Ring goes to the Fire and the reign of Sauron is ended is told in three separate places in The Lord of the Rings and from three different perspectives. The first is at Orodruin itself as Sam carries Frodo from the Cracks of Doom and sees a brief vision of Sauron’s overwhelming power before “all passed… Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down the land”. The second telling is at the Black Gate of Mordor as the embattled host of the West stand at bay against their enemies and Gandalf cries out, “‘The realm of Sauron is ended!.. The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest.’ And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.”

The third and last telling takes place in the gardens of the Houses Houses of Healing as a young man and a woman stand, hand in hand (although they do not know it) as they gaze northward towards the Morannon as all the earth holds its breath and “Time halted”.

“Then presently it seemed to them that above the ridges of the distant mountains another vast mountain of darkness rose, towering up like a wave that should engulf the world, and about it lightnings flickered; and then a tremor ran through the earth, and they felt the walls of the City quiver. A sound like a sigh went up from all the lands about them; and their hearts beat suúddenly again.”

At last Faramir speaks.

“It reminds me of Númenor,” he says, and he tells Éowyn of his dream of the great wave that rises above the fields and the hills to drown it and a “darkness unescapable”. Éowyn draws closer to him. Is the Darkness Unescapable coming? But no, Faramir’s limbs are light and he feels a hope and a joy that no reason can deny. And then he kisses Éowyn upon the brow.

Tolkien too had a recurring dream of an overwhelming wave that he associated with the fall of Atlantis and of Númenor. In his legendarium Tolkien tells of the great hubris of the king of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, who was seduced by Sauron to defy the Valar and make an assault upon the Undying Lands. Because of this attempt to break the  bounds of human mortality Eru, the One, intervenes and destroys Númenor with a great wave, saving only Elendil, the Elf-friend, his family and followers.

Tolkien and his wonderful creation, Faramir, both dream about the catastrophe and Faramir carries the sorrow of the failure of his great ancestors and the gradual decline of Gondor in his heart. He longs for the restoration of his people and yet fears their destruction. The sudden and terrifying appearance of the great wave above him tells him that the end has come and yet his heart says, no! His heart is pierced with hope and joy!

This is the eucatastrophe, a word coined by Tolkien himself and one that runs counter both to the hubris of our own times and to our own fear of catastrophe. Tolkien said that eucatastrophe is “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears”. He said that this was the highest function of a fairy-story, something that he declared The Lord of the Rings to be and which was in no sense meant to be a disparagement of his work. The happy turn for Tolkien was never meant to reduce his readers to the kind of children who cannot bear unhappiness and must forever remain in an enchanted world in which no harm can come. Just as with Julian of Norwich’s great declaration that “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” the eucatastrophe, the sudden and entirely unexpected surprise of joy can only come to those who have stared the darkness straight in the face.

No wonder Faramir kisses Éowyn at this moment; and no wonder Éowyn allows him to do so. But more on that next week.

Faramir and Éowyn Begin to Fall in Love and the Healing That This Brings.

When we fall in love it is good to have a friend to confide in. Faramir has never met Merry before but all his encounters with hobbits have been good ones and so he spends a whole day talking with him about Éowyn. Such a day will not have been a hardship to him but rather a delight. As Merry tells him the story of his ride with Éowyn to the Pelennor Fields the beautiful and mysterious woman that Faramir has just met in the Houses of Healing will take firmer shape in his imagination and when he learns of the moment when she stood between the Lord of the Nazgûl and Théoden’s broken body he will have been awed by her courage but not overawed for he would have done the same thing had he stood there in her place. And let us just mention Merry here also for in telling his story to one as wise and as gentle as Faramir he will have found a wholeness within himself in place of the confusion and sorrow of battle that is a great gift. True listening, as Merry finds in Faramir in this day is something that we rarely meet.

So it is in the days that follow when Éowyn and Faramir meet together and talk long as they walk or sit in the garden that the burden of sorrow that they both carry begins to be lifted from both of them. For Faramir this is his hope; for Éowyn a surprise.

It is the Warden of the house who notices this for being one who takes pleasure in all healing he perceives it when he sees it.

But what kind of healing is this? Is it merely the easing of private pain before the inevitable falling of night? If that is so then there is little difference between the comfort that Éowyn and Faramir give to each other than the stories that we hear of Death Camp guards comforting crying children as they escorted them to their murder in the gas chambers. Of course neither Faramir nor Éowyn wish to do one another harm as the guards did in carrying out their orders but the comfort in both cases would be merely an easing of pain before the same inexorable end.

I would argue that something quite different happens as Faramir and Éowyn talk together. All true encounters with goodness are healing because they connect us with a reality that is deeper than whether we emerge from something in triumph or failure, even than whether we live or die. In encountering true goodness we realise that we have met something that transcends such things and in falling in love we sense that this transcendence is profoundly personal. Goodness, Truth and Beauty are not simply ‘out there’ to be admired but lie within, both within the one who loves and in the beloved, centre to centre, subject to subject. When this happens we may not stop to reflect on it, unless such reflection is our normal practice, but we most certainly feel it. The feeling of wholeness and glorious aliveness that we experience when we fall in love is for most of us the most profound thing that we shall ever know.

Of course many will mistake the experience of falling in love with that to which the experience points, the union that lies beyond all things. Mistaking this they will seek the experience over and over again looking for something that is somehow more true, hoping that the next time they fall in love it will be ‘the real thing’. And some will believe that it is the sexual experience that is so glorious a part of the experience of falling in love that is the best reality that they can know and so will pursue the best of this that they can find. I do not think that this will be Éowyn and Faramir’s experience. Even now in the Houses of Healing they know the healing power of falling in love but I believe that they will continue the difficult yet wonderful journey towards true union that marriage gives us. That is, of course, when they realise that this is what they both really want!

Image by Anke Eismann from anke.edoras-art.de


The Launch of The Inklings and King Arthur

Dear friends,
Here at the beginning of a new year a book has been published of considerable importance. A year in the he court of King Arthur was shaped by the great feasts of the liturgical year, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost among the highest of them. At such times the court would not sit to eat until a sign from heaven had been granted to them that they could do so. In the middle years of the 20th century the Inklings showed us that the miraculous pervades the very nature of things in our day just as it did for Camelot. Could I then encourage you in the midst of the Christmas feast (Twelfth Night is on Friday January 5th and followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on Saturday) to expect the wondrous in this dark time of the year (northern hemisphere!). Read this post from Brenton Dickieson and buy the book. It will deepen the way in which you read The Inklings and it will make the world strange again but more wonderful yet.

A Pilgrim in Narnia

Today is the day that The Inklings and King Arthur is available now on Amazon and other bookseller lists. In 2013, a previously-unpublished work by J.R.R. Tolkien appeared: The Fall of Arthur, his only explicitly Arthurian writing.  The publication of this poem highlighted the many connections between “The Matter of Britain” and not only Tolkien’s legendarium but the work of all the Inklings. While most of Inklings Arthuriana was incomplete, obscure, or unpublished, we have to regard this legend as one of the critical connective tissues of the Oxford Inklings.

Perceiving the link, literary scholar Sørina Higgins invited an examination of the theological, literary, historical, and linguistic implications of the Arthurian writings of all the major Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. The result was The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, & Owen Barfield on the Matter…

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The Meeting of Éowyn and Faramir. Defences Begin to Come Down.

Why would we want to be unhappy, to choose thoughts of darkness, even to seek out death? Why would we choose to build defences against the light, using all our strength to try to keep it out? There are some, like Sauron, who have chosen the dark, believing that the light is some small, temporary and fragile thing that must ultimately fail against the overwhelming power that is darkness. Sauron has made his choice and it is fixed for ever. Happily this is not the path that Éowyn has taken. She has not said the great “Yes!” of her life to the dark.

But her soul is in danger. The years of hopeless misery in the halls of Théoden as he became a shrivelled figure dominated by the whispering of Wormtongue have left their mark upon her. At least in part she regards herself as a woman from “a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among their dogs”. Briefly a door opened into her inner darkness and the glorious light that is Aragorn shone into her heart. She allowed herself to believe that he would take her away from her unhappiness to a place of glory. She would become a queen, adored by the world and untouched by her past.

And then her fragile dream was snatched away. Aragorn chose the Paths of the Dead as he was destined to do and he rejected her love, even refusing to take her with him as the shieldmaiden that she believed herself to be. Since that moment she has sought death in battle believing that this is the only escape for her from dishonour and misery. She will not risk to hope for herself again. The pain of rejection feels too great. She cannot ride with the host to battle with Mordor as she did before and so she is condemned to wait, longing for the safe return of her brother whom she loves but refusing to hope for herself again. The danger for her soul is that the darkness that she believes to be her fate might yet become a choice. She might become embittered, vengeful and cruel or she might take the road of despair just as Denethor did.

And then she meets Faramir in The Houses of Healing and everything begins to be transformed within her. Her first words are proud but “her heart faltered, and for the first time she doubted herself. She guessed that this tall man, both stern and gentle, might think her merely wayward, like a child that has not the firmness of mind to go on with a dull task to the end.”

This sternness and gentleness so wonderfully combined in one man she has met before in Aragorn and as with Aragorn she knows that Faramir is a mighty warrior, tested in battle. Of course she does not wish to appear like a little girl before him but her defences remain firm against hope. Then Faramir does something that Aragorn could never do.

“Éowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now have I seen in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful.”

Éowyn still resists, speaking of herself as a shieldmaiden and ungentle, but her defences are a little weaker. She is not yet ready to take the risk that any who fall in love must take; the risk of hurt and rejection. And she does not yet want to take the risk that lies beyond that fear, that to fall in love means to give yourself away into the hands of another, not just when all seems fair but in times of sorrow and anger too. The old English marriage service speaks of having and holding “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish”. Éowyn is still far from being ready to make that choice but at the very least she has ceased to walk away from its possibility. Faramir has called her back towards the light.

Image by Anke Eissmann anke.edoras-art.de