Many Partings. An Elegy for a World that is Passing.

“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.”

Many readers will recognise these words as coming from the introductory sequence to Peter Jackson’s films of The Lord of the Rings. In the film these words are given to Galadriel and they set the scene for the story that is to be told. Tolkien gives the words to Treebeard and they come near the end of the story when Treebeard meets Galadriel and Celeborn at Isengard. It forms part of a narrative of farewells. The bitter parting of Elrond and Arwen; the parting between Merry and Éowyn and Éomer and now the parting between Treebeard, Celeborn and Galadriel. If Merry’s farewell to Rohan and, in particular, to Éowyn with whom he shared so much and achieved so much, belongs to the poignant but normal shape of human lives, the partings of Elrond and Arwen and of Treebeard, Celeborn and Galadriel belong to the passing away of an age, indeed in Tolkien’s legendarium, a passing away of three ages. The mythological world that Tolkien spent a lifetime in creating is drawing to its close and the historical world that is our normal experience is beginning.

Of course there is no clean break between the two. Aragorn, who is the founding king of this new world, belongs to both. He understands his descent from Eärendil who was father to Elrond of Rivendell and he grew up himself in Elrond’s house. Arwen of Rivendell is his wife and queen and the elves of Thranduil’s realm in the green wood aid Faramir and Éowyn in the resoration of Ithilien while the dwarves of Erebor aid Aragorn and Arwen in the restoration of Minas Tirith and Treebeard and the Ents help to restore the forest around the land that Saruman spoilt, but each of these peoples are passing away until all that is left of Faerie is that sense that one is sometimes given in a woodland glade or a by a stream in a mountain glen of a memory of a presence from long ago, of a memory that is not your own, and a longing for something that you seem to recognise and yet is not a part of your story at least as far as you can tell.

There are moments when I long to try to do as Lucy does in C.S Lewis’s Prince Caspian and to try to reawaken the trees but I am aware that I do not live in Narnia but in the world of That Hideous Strength in which Merlin is forbidden from doing as Lucy was commanded to do in Narnia by Aslan. Just like the community of St Anne’s, of Logres in Britain, my task is to live faithfully in my own time and to await the age that is to come, seeking to keep alive the hope to which Ransom and his companions bear witness.

What is clear in Tolkien’s tale is that his faithful witnesses do not know what lies ahead. Elrond’s parting from Arwen is bittern for it “it should endure beyond the ends of the world”. When Treebeard says “I do not think we shall meet again”, Celeborn replies: “I do not know, Eldest” but Galadriel says: “Not in Middle-earth, nor until the lands that lie under the wave are lifted up again. Then in the willow-meads of Tasarinan we may meet in the Spring.”

Galadriel, of all the major figures of the mythological world, has hope of a restoration at the end of all things that is also a springtime of all things. Beleriand and maybe Númenor also, lands that lie under the floods that ended the First and the Second Ages will rise again. It is Galadriel who perhaps most clearly recognises that her world is passing away and who knows that if a memory of that world, the mythology of England that Tolkien sought to create, is to remain, then it is Aragorn, the King Elessar, who will keep the memory alive. As we have seen it is Galadriel who encourages the growing love between Aragorn and Arwen,  something that breaks Elrond’s heart, and Galadriel who gives Aragorn the Elessar stone to remind him of the hope that he is. She, like Arwen, says her yes in faith and hope and love to the world that is to be.


18 thoughts on “Many Partings. An Elegy for a World that is Passing.

  1. I look forward to each of your posts, and yet now with something of a heavy heart as I know we are nearing the end of this journey. Thank you again for your reflections. To be like Galadriel, to search for faith and hope and love in what can and will be, despite inevitable change that comes with life, is a worthy aim.

    • That sense of a heavy hearted farewell is one that in the past I have always felt at the end of a reading of The Lord of the Rings and I am greatly touched that you should have even a little of that feeling in reading my work. My guess is that it will still be a few more months before I complete this reading and sit down at Sam and Rosie’s table to enjoy a good hobbit meal with a glass or two of beer and a pipe to follow. And as this work has continued I have begun to see it as a first draft of something’s that I hope will eventually be published. My early reflections (2012-13) were published on a website from a package that I bought and they now feel more than ready for revision. In addition to that only a handful of people ever read them. Going to WordPress (October 2013) gradually began to make a big difference and like all writers I am delighted that my audience has grown. I don’t know what you think but as I never published anything on WordPress on The Fellowship of the Ring I am thinking of doing that later on this year. It will be of a much greater quality than what I wrote six years ago. As one who has accompanied the journey and whose work I also appreciate I would value your thoughts.

      • I’m sure Earthoak will agree with me, that you must continue your thoughts here even after the story ends – just start over as you say with Fellowship and we will continue our fellowship too! Life is good! On an unrelated matter, could I please ask for prayers that we are able to sell mom’s house very soon. She and dad moved shortly before he died and we need to get this sold. Le hannon!

      • Hello Stephen, thank you for your reply, and my apologies for such a late response on my part. I am delighted to hear you are hoping to publish your reflections! It will mean even more people will have the opportunity to share your insights, and in turn nurture their own – as has been the case with, I’m sure, all the readers of your blog. I wholeheartedly encourage you to publish your reflections on The Fellowship here too, I would dearly love to read them. It has been an honour to be a part of this journey even in a very small way, and I continue to learn and ponder and take joy from reading your posts.

      • Thank you for encouraging thoughts and for taking the time and trouble to share them. I have been thinking for some time about what I will do when I come to the end of these reflections and it does matter when people like you encourage me to keep going.

    • Thank you, Anne Marie. I am thinking more and more about Tolkien’s stated aim of writing a mythology for England and what he believed as a deeply committed Christian practising as a Roman Catholic that this was meant to achieve. The reflection on Galadriel’s hope was new to me. That often seems to happen when I read a passage from The Lord of the Rings with the intention of reflecting on it. That has made this the richest of my readings of Tolkien’s great work.
      God bless you, Anne Marie 😊

  2. It’s a beautiful write-up, Stephen! All of your posts show these bits of wisdom that are so important in our lives.
    And, please, keep on writing! Your posts are full of light, hope — everything we need to be reminded of every day.

    • Thank you so much for your continued encouragement, Olga. I think that what I am learning about hope from this reading of The Lord of the Rings is that in order to have hope it is necessary to look despair full in the face and then to choose to reject it.

  3. Galadriel is such a fascinating figure… Arriving so late into the legendarium, but somehow having to carry the weight that I think was meant to belong to Lúthien. Interesting that his development of Galadriel places her in Doriath to witness the story of Beren and Lúthien

    • What a fascinating thought! That Galadriel witnessed the story of Beren and Lúthien has never struck me before. It is one of the profound qualities of Tolkien’s work that he offers us characters who learn wisdom over a very long time indeed and those who have to learn it quickly because the time is short.

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