Gandalf Shows Aragorn a Sapling of the White Tree of Gondor

Recently I have been thinking a lot about a line from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things…” When I say, think, I mean to say that it often comes to mind and then I repeat it as a prayer. The line comes from his poem, “God’s Grandeur” which laments the destructive behaviour of humankind upon the earth but affirms something deeper, the grandeur and glory of God.

Victory has been achieved over the Dark Lord and Aragorn has been crowned King of Gondor. But he fears for the future. He has no heir and as Gandalf says, “Though much has been saved, much must now pass away; and the power of the Three Rings also is ended”. These Rings represented what remained of the power of the Elder Days and the Elves in Middle-earth and although not controlled by the One Ring were, nonetheless, linked to its forging. These Rings were held by Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel and it was these three who energised resistance to Sauron throughout the last centuries of the Third Age  as he began to build his forces for a renewed assault upon the West.

With the passing of the Three Rings so too must their bearers depart but that leaves Aragorn alone to govern the Western Lands. “I shall grow old,” he says to Gandalf. “And who then shall govern Gondor and those who look to this city as to their queen, if my desire be not granted? The Tree in the Court of the Fountain is still withered and barren. When shall I see a sign that it will ever be otherwise?”

Gandalf’s response is not just a reply to Aragorn’s question but is a spiritual principle based upon wisdom learned from years of long struggle.

“Turn your face from the green world, and look where all seems barren and cold!”

Gandalf reminds Aragorn that the hope of the West long lay hidden in the wastelands of the North. So unlikely did it seem that any hope could lie there that Denethor described the House of Isildur that Aragorn represented as “a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity”. We should learn that an answer that is cultivated in prosperous times and places leaves our pride and independence intact. Denethor desired such an answer, one that would come ideally from his own house. The danger with answers of this kind is that pride intact simply continues to grow until at the end it overreaches itself and ends in catastrophe just as it did with the Fall of Númenor. But an answer that is found in the barren place, the unexpected place, must be received as a gift. Aragorn has come from the ragged house of Isildur and the White Tree is found in the waste of the mountains high above Minas Tirith.

It is a sapling no more than three feet high, grown from a fruit planted long before by the kings of Gondor. This planting was a secret that not even the Stewards knew so that when the White Tree in the Court of the Fountain died in 2852, some 150 years before this time they had no knowledge of the fruit’s existence.

Aragorn describes the sapling as being no more than seven years old. At the time when it first began to grow Gandalf and Aragorn were fruitlessly searching for Gollum in the wild while the Ring lay hidden in the Shire, its true identity suspected but still unknown. Sauron’s power continued to grow as he put his energy into regaining the Ring. In the world outside darkness seemed to grow unchecked but the White Tree lived according to a different rhythm at its own pace and in its own time growing neither faster nor slower as events unfolded in the world around.

Hopkins reminds us of this deeper rhythm in his poem.

“And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink Eastward springs- because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings!”

I think it is because I see so much that is being trodden down about me that I seek the wisdom of the deeper rhythm that I learn in Hopkins and in Tolkien. Like Gandalf and Aragorn I may have to pay close attention to the events that happen about me but if I contemplate “the dearest freshness deep down things” then I will be held by that freshness and not defeated.

This week’s artwork is by Darrell K. Sweet



Inklings and Arthur: An Artist’s Perspective by Emily Metcalf

I recently co-authored a piece published in a magazine and was enormously impressed by the artwork created by the house artist. I respond to what other people write by writing. He responded by creating artwork and did two things. He displayed his understanding of our work and he communicated it to others so as to deepen their understanding too. I was deeply impressed. As I say in my response to Earthoak’s comment on Emily Austin’s piece I think she uncovers real depth through her choice of images and the masterstroke of using pipesmoke to weave them together.

A Pilgrim in Narnia

As guest editor I can freely say, one of the many delights of this blog is Brenton’s brilliance in finding and selecting examples of book covers of works under discussion, post after post. But today we have the exceptional delight of reading the inside story of how a contemporary artist and designer, Emily Austin, went to work and became the maker of the cover of The Inklings & King Arthur. However discerning your enjoyment of it is already, I warrant it will be deepened and increased, as mine was, by reading this.

David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor

I had about 36 hours to come up with a cover proposal for The Inklings and King Arthur.

When I found out about the contest (via editor Sørina Higgin’s posts on Twitter), my husband Ryan and I were away from our Indiana home, en route to watch the total solar eclipse in…

View original post 1,278 more words

The Mercy and the Justice of the King of Gondor

It is the task of kings to be the chief among the judges of the people. All law is administered in the king’s name from the most trivial of cases in the most remote of villages to the weightiest of matters in the greatest city of the land. And most important of all the people must know that the king will always act according to the ancient customs of the land and will be not partial to any and most certainly not to himself and his own interests. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England prays that the council of the monarch may “indifferently minister justice”. C.S Lewis once asked an uneducated member of the Headington congregation of which they were both part what he thought was meant by indifferent justice. The context of the question was that the proposal that indifferent should be replaced by impartial as people would understand it better. The man thought for a moment about Lewis’s question and then replied, “It means making no difference between one and another.” Lewis was satisfied that no revision was required and whenever I have prayed the general intercession in the service of Holy Communion I have always used the version written for the 1662 Prayerbook.

So it is that one of the first tasks that Aragorn has to undertake as king is the minister justice to all in the time between the end of Denethor and his own crowning. In part this means the treatment of the peoples who had been allies of Mordor. Among them are the Easterlings and the peoples of Harad. Aragorn chooses not to punish them and he gives the slaves of Sauron, who readers will remember that Gandalf pitied, land that they can call their own.

At last he has one particularly difficult case to judge. Beregond of the Guard of the Citadel in Minas Tirith had defied the orders of Denethor to aid him in his suicide and in the slaying of Faramir. If Gandalf had not arrived in time Beregond would have been faced with the choice of whether or not he should strike his lord in order to save Faramir but thankfully he was spared that. Nevertheless he slew two fellow members of the Guard and justice has to be done.

“Beregond, by your sword blood was spilled in the Hallows, where that is forbidden. Also you left your post without leave of Lord or of Captain. For these things, of old, death was the penalty.”

Aragorn remits the penalty “for your valour in battle, and still more because all that you did was for love of the  Lord Faramir.”

Note that Aragorn does not forgive Beregond. He remains guilty of the crime that he committed. Remission is not forgiveness but the decision of the judge not to carry out the penalty for a crime. But even though the reasons for the crime have mitigated it a crime has been committed. The king must declare the punishment.

“You must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith… You are appointed to the White Company, the Guard of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain and dwell in Emyn Arnen in honour and peace, and in the service of him for whom you risked all, to save him from death.”

Tolkien tells us that Beregond perceived the “mercy and justice of the King”. Mercy alone could not suffice. Beregond could only hold his head high by atoning for his deeds. All are satisfied that the law has been respected and all are satisfied that Beregond’s brave deeds have been respected. Perhaps too all may begin to come to terms with the sad and tragic death of Denethor knowing that a man had to commit a crime in order to save Faramir from his despair.

Aragorn begins his reign with an act of wisdom, and soon all the land will hear of this and their faith in the King and of the new life of their land will deepen. They have a king once most and he is a man of justice and of mercy.

The Inklings & King Arthur Roundtable

This is one of the most exciting and important broadcasts that you will hear. Read my comment on Sorina Higgins’ site to see why I think so and listen to the discussion by clicking this link.

The Oddest Inkling

This past Monday, Signum University hosted a Signum Symposium roundtable discussion celebrating the release of The Inklings and King Arthur. You can watch the recording of the event here:

Promo for the Book: 

Will King Arthur ever return to England? He already has.

In the midst of war-torn Britain, King Arthur returned in the writings of the Oxford Inklings. Learn how J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield brought hope to their times and our own in their Arthurian literature. Although studies of the “Oxford Inklings” abound, astonishingly enough, none has yet examined their great body of Arthurian work. Yet each of these major writers tackled serious and relevant questions about government, gender, violence, imperialism, secularism, and spirituality through their stories of the Quest for the Holy Grail.

This rigorous and sophisticated volume of studies does so for the first time. It is edited by…

View original post 681 more words

The Return of the King

Last week we read about the failure of Númenor and the line of Stewards in Gondor that at its best kept the memory of Númenor and the faithfulness of the House of Elendil alive but eventually came to believe more in the memory than the reality. Memories are safer than realities. You can make of them what you will and your remembering can allow you to keep things as they are and not to change. So it is that we are reminded of Denethor’s words to Gandalf, “I would have things as they were”.

What capacity we all have for self deception! “Things as they were” in Gondor meant a dying land even without the invasion of Mordor. Legolas saw it and said, “The houses are dead, and there is too little here that grows and is glad”. When Denethor wished for things as they were all he really meant was that he would remain in power. What he really mourned was his own loss of control or prestige.

Faramir believes in the reality and so welcomes the king when he returns. At the moment when Gandalf crowns Aragorn, thus fulfilling the mission given to him by the Valar, Faramir cries out, “Behold the King!” He tells his people that the true king stands before them in flesh and blood with wisdom upon his brow, strength and healing in his hands, and a light about him. If any still long for the past then they are commanded to change. This is the kind of change that is meant in the word metanoia in the bible, the word that is usually translated as repentance. A new reality has come and we must change.

Tolkien goes on to tell us how everything does change.

“In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory… and all was healed and made good”.

You would think that everyone would be glad to see this change, and I believe that thanks to Faramir’s leadership most people did, but I suspect that some longed for “the good old days” of the ruling Stewards.

When the true king rules everything is healed and becomes fruitful. This is a fundamental principle. In Gondor this means that gardens grew again and children were born and flourished. When King Energy is at work within us then our lives become ordered without being rigid, fruitful without being overgrown and we live and work in a kind of flow, of blessing, both for ourselves and for others.

Moore and Gillette put it this way in their seminal study of the masculine archetypes and psyche, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover.

This is the energy that expresses itself through a man when he takes the necessary financial and psychological steps to ensure that his wife and children prosper. This is the energy that encourages his wife when she decides to go back to school to become a lawyer… This is the energy that expresses itself through you when you are able to keep your cool when everyone else in the meeting is losing theirs… This is the energy that seeks peace and stability, orderly growth and nurturing for all people- and not only for all people but for the environment, the natural world. The King cares for the whole realm and is the steward of nature as well as of human society.”

This is what Aragorn is. It is what Faramir is too. You don’t have to be the boss in order to display King Energy. You can display it in service of another. I have a favourite movie, The Intern, in which a character played by Robert de Niro displays King Energy in lavish quantity as an enabler of others in a very humble role. Try and watch it and you will see what I mean. Actually the one in true authority is always aware of being a servant. In the prayers for the Queen in the Church of England we say this, “that she, knowing whose minister she is, may seek thy honour and glory”. It is only those who know that they are a servant who are able to be trusted with authority over others who can bring life-giving order, fruitfulness and blessing to them.

This week’s image was drawn by Anna Lee


Dale Nelson on an “Easy to Read” Modern Arthurian Epic

As regular readers of my blog will know I am reblogging posts from Brenton Dickieson’s excellent blog on C.S Lewis and matters related to the Inklings, A Pilgrim in Narnia. These posts have been requested to help promote the recent publication of The Inklings and King Arthur, a book that I am currently reading and know will be a resource for years to come.
This week’s post is by Dale Nelson and is about Martin Skinner’s long poem, The Return of Arthur. As you will see it is a trenchant critique of contemporary society that remains fascinatingly contemporary despite being written in the 1950s.

A Pilgrim in Narnia

Two years after his Arthurian novel, That Hideous Strength, was published, and a year before he was discussing Arthur’s multiple “disqualifications” to be a “hero” with Dorothy L. Sayers, Lewis did not allow the complexities of his thoughts about King Arthur to prevent him heartily recommending to a young poet friend that he put Arthur at the heart of a new epic. Dale Nelson, whose acquaintance I happily made thanks to this blog, tells us about it in a way that will probably send the second-hand sales of this work I had never heard of before sky-rocketing.

David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor

Did you ever daydream about taking time to live away from modern light, traffic, and noise, like a medieval monk?

Martyn Skinner (1906-1993) was, with Alan Griffiths and Hugh Waterman, one of three young Englishmen who, in 1930, undertook the fascinating experiment in quasi-medieval living in a…

View original post 1,699 more words

Aragorn Commands The Steward of Gondor, “Do now thy office!”

It was in the year 2050 of the Third Age that Eärnur, the last king of Gondor, rode to Minas Morgul in answer to the challenge of the Witch-King, the Lord of the Nazgûl. No tale was ever told of a battle between them but Eärnur was never seen again. He had no heir but the people of Gondor chose not to make a member of another family their king but to wait for the king’s return. They chose a Steward to govern them “to hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return”.

A thousand years passed before the War of the Ring and the downfall of Sauron during which the Stewards of the line of Mardil did their office. In all but name they were kings of Gondor but they never sat upon the throne or wore the crown. Tolkien remarks that although “some remembered the ancient line of the north”, the descendants of Elendil and Isildur of the kingdom of Arnor, the Ruling Stewards “hardened their hearts” against a true return of the king. Denethor may have told Boromir that only in places of “less royalty” could a steward have claimed the throne but as we saw in his last days he regarded Aragorn as an upstart. At the end of his life he cried out to Gandalf, “I will not bow down to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity”.

Faramir saw things differently. It was one of the many ways in which he was divided from his father. Faramir may have been tutored by Gandalf, just as Aragorn was, but Gandalf could only teach him because he was already captured by the story of Númenor. There were effectively two stories of Númenor. Perhaps there are always these stories in every human enterprise. One was the story of the desire for power and a growing bitterness about everything that constrained them. At last all the bitterness about these constraints was concentrated upon anger about mortality and about the divinities, the Valar, who seemed to hold life unjustly as a private possession. The Valar, the governors or stewards of Earth on behalf of Illuvatar, the One, became through this belief as no more in the eyes of the kings of Númenor than rivals for power. Sadly this was the story that Denethor nourished in his heart and why he ended his life in despair and denial.

The other story, the story to which both Faramir and Aragorn gave their loyalty, was to Númenor as a gift. The first families of Men who wandered across the mountains into Beleriand in the First Age were befriended by and allied themselves to the Elves in the wars against Morgoth and the darkness. It was because of their faithfulness in those wars that they were given Númenor as a gift. So friendship and faithfulness lay at the heart of this other story and a submission also to the mystery of mortality. While the later kings of Númenor became embittered by this mystery, Elendil the Elf-friend and his followers chose to accept the mystery of mortality as a gift just as Númenor’s separation from the Undying Lands was also a gift.

We live in times in which the limitation of mortality is resented even as it was by Ar-Pharazôn, the last king of Númenor. Recently Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, argued that humans can only remain “economically viable” as cyborgs while Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, argues for human immortality by digital means believing that it will be a possibility by the 2030s. The philosopher, John Gray, describes these immortalizers as “the God-builders”.

Who is faithful to the true story of Númenor, the mystery of mortality, as a gift, as Aragorn and Faramir are? Who awaits the coming of the true king? It is because Faramir nourished his longing for the return of the king in his heart that on the great day when Aragorn comes to Minas Tirith to claim the crown that he is willing to be a true steward and to lay his ruling authority down. It is because of his faithfulness that renewal comes to Gondor.

“Do now thy office!”