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.
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 Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 55-59
The story of Gollum that Gandalf tells comes to a great climax in two separate passages in which Gandalf speaks of Pity. The first comes after Frodo’s desperate cry, “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”
And Gandalf replies, “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.”
The second climax comes as Frodo cries out, “He deserves death”.
And Gandalf replies, “My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many- yours not least.”
Readers of The Lord of the Rings know that Gandalf’s words are prophetic. The fate of all the Free Peoples is indeed ruled by Bilbo’s Pity because it is Gollum who takes the Ring to the Fire in which it had been forged when, in the violence of his attack upon Frodo and his uncontrollable excitement in regaining possession of the Ring, he overbalances and so falls into the Cracks of Doom. And Frodo is delivered from the overwhelming power of the Ring that has overthrown his mind at last by that same Pity. If it had not been for Bilbo under the Misty Mountains and then Frodo himself when he captures Gollum beneath the Emyn Muil there can have been no triumph.
And yet… after Gandalf has told the tale of Déagol’s murder and Gollum’s dreadful deeds in Mirkwood (did he really sneak through windows to steal and eat small children?) and how he had betrayed the existence of the One Ring and the name of Baggins and the Shire to the Dark Lord himself so that the search was now on for its whereabouts, how can we blame Frodo for what he says?
And when he says that Gollum “deserves death” surely he is right. He deserves death for the crimes he has already committed and also to prevent the appalling consequence of the Ring falling into the hands of the Dark Lord.
Yet when Gandalf responds to Frodo’s cry he is not persuaded in the slightest. He ends his argument with the appeal to Pity which is appropriate in one who sat in the school of the Lady Nienna, the Lady of Pity, of Mercy and of Mourning, the one who taught the importance of lamentation, of tears, in the life of Arda. It is Pity that eventually leads to the destruction of the Ring and the downfall of Sauron but Pity cannot guarantee any outcome. What Gandalf appeals to before he speaks of Pity is something quite remarkable.
“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
The remarkable thing that Gandalf appeals to is the ability to take away and to give life. It is a great sadness that we are all capable of taking away life and so we give much thought to this power. Who has the right? Under what circumstances can this right, if right it is, be exercised? And so we think about murder, manslaughter,judicial execution and warfare, just or otherwise. Much of our judicial attention is given to preventing death or to punishing those who cause it illegally.
But what about the giving of life? This ability plays such an important role in Tolkien’s work. And it is made clear from the beginning that this right belongs only to God, to Eru, the One, Illuvatar. Morgoth seeks to create life, but fails, and at the last is able only to mar the creation in mockery of Illuvatar so forming the twisted shapes of the orcs and trolls and other fell creatures. And Aule does give life to the dwarves but has to make them sleep until the permissive word is given by the source of all life.
So, Gandalf argues, if you do not have the right to give life what right do you have to take it? Both the giving and taking of life is a denial of Providence the hand of grace that orders all our affairs whether we are small or great. And in many ways the whole of The Lord of the Rings is an extended meditation upon Providence, upon those who are willing to trust it and those who try to resist it.
I wrote this piece in August 2016 and during the past week it received its 1,000 view. It has always been a popular piece ever since I wrote it. In fact it received its highest monthly total in November of last year.
Among all our human experience it is rejection that is among the hardest to deal with. It is as if someone has looked hard at what we truly are and then cast us aside. But for Éowyn Aragorn’s rejection marks a key moment in her journey of self-discovery and without it she could never have made it and never achieved the happiness that she will find.
As always I would love to hear from you and so do leave a comment if you can.
In the last two weeks Jennifer Leonard ( loveroflembas.blogspot.com) and David Rowe (@TolkienProverbs and @mrdavidrowe) have offered their reflections on the story of Éowyn of Rohan. Both have had a substantial number of readers and I want to thank them both for what they have offered. This week I would like to offer my own contribution that was prompted by “Middle Hyrule’s” comment on David Rowe’s post entitled “Why Did Éowyn Want to Die?” in which she says,”I thought she wanted to die because Aragorn didn’t love her.” As always I love responding to your comments so please let me know what you think about what I have written.
When Aragorn leads his company away from Edoras towards the Dwimorberg, the haunted mountain, and the Paths of the Dead, he leaves Éowyn behind him, his last words to her nothing more than, “Nay, lady”. And so he leaves her, “stood still as…