“Aragorn Insisted on My Putting in a Green Stone.” The Importance of Hope in The Lord of the Rings.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.227-231

Bilbo’s verses, chanted in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, the house of Elrond have gone remarkably well. Remarkably well because Elrond is the son of Eärendi, the hero about whom Bilbo has sung. A number of commentators have remarked upon the ambiguous reception that the Elves give to Bilbo’s efforts and the way in which they seem to dismiss mortals comparing them to sheep. They ignore the fact that Eärendil was himself a mortal, a mortal who married an elven princess, Elwing the daughter of Dior and grandchild of Beren and Lúthien, and great-grandchild of Thingol and Melian of Doriath. They ignore the fact that the history of mortals and elves are so closely woven together and that Aragorn, like Elrond, is a descendant of Eärendil and Elwing.

Aragorn himself clearly feels this tension, chiding Bilbo for treading upon a subject that is well above his head but he makes one suggestion concerning Bilbo’s verses and that is that he should put in “a green stone”, seeming “to think it important”.

And it is important. For this stone is the Elessar, the Elfstone. In the history of Galadriel and Celeborn, recorded in the Unfinished Tales we read this:

“There was in Gondolin a jewel smith named Enerdhil, the greatest of that craft among the Noldor after the death of Fëanor. Enerdhil loved all green things that grew, and his greatest joy was to see the sunlight through the leaves of trees. And it came into his heart to make a jewel within which the clear light of the sun should be imprisoned, but the jewel should be green as leaves.”

The Elfstone, the Elessar, by John Howe

This stone was given by Enerdhil to Idril, the daughter of Turgon, king of Gondolin and she in her turn gave it to her son, Eärendil. And even in these few words we discern a lineage for the Elessar that is entirely different to that of the Silmarils of Fëanor or, for that matter of the Ring of Power. For from the moment of its making the story of the Elessar is one of gift. Enerdhil gives it to Idril and gives it without condition. He does not seek to possess the one who receives his gift. By contrast the story of the Silmarils is one of theft and power. Morgoth steals the jewels from Fëanor and when Beren and Lúthien take one of the jewels from Morgoth’s crown the heirs of Fëanor never cease from their efforts to regain it no matter what the cost, either to themselves or others.

Thus the Elessar is always a sign of hope. “It is said,” so we read in Unfinished Tales, “that those who looked through this stone saw things that were withered or burned healed again or as they were in the grace of their youth, and that the hands of all who held it brought to all that they touched healing from hurt.” And so it passes from Idril to Eärendil, her son, who takes it with him into the west in his quest to seek aid for Middle-earth from the Valar. At last, and Tolkien spoke of two ways in which this might have happened, it passes to Galadriel, either through Gandalf who brought the stone with him from Valinor or through Celebrimbor, the maker of rings who was deceived by Sauron into giving him the means by which the Ring of Power was forged at the Cracks of Doom. Whichever tale you choose the Elfstone remains a gift and so at last Aragorn comes to Lothlórien with the Fellowship fleeing from Moria and Galadriel gives the stone to him as they part.

“She lifted from her lap a great stone of a clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through the leaves of spring.”

Galadriel Gives Aragorn the Elfstone by Gred and Tim Hildebrand

We do not read of the influence of the stone upon Aragorn in the rest of the story. We know that Galadriel had given the stone to Celebrian, her daughter and that through her it passed to Arwen. Did Aragorn know that Arwen had possessed the stone, the very stone that Eärendil had once worn? Was it this connection that caused him to insist that Bilbo included the Elfstone in his verses? Was Aragorn, in his own way, reminding the son of Eärendil that he too was intimately linked to this story? Aragorn will be crowned the King Elessar and he will bring healing to Middle-earth just as the prayer of Eärendil did so at the end of the First Age. At this point of the story on the eve of the Council of Elrond all there is is hope but it is enough.

The Voyage of Eärendil. Hope against Hope.

Eärendil Was a Mariner. The Story That Seems to Fit Somehow.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 227-30

Frodo gradually emerges from “a dream of music that turned into running water, and then suddenly into a voice”. And the voice is that of Bilbo chanting verses.

Eärendil was a mariner 
that tarried in Arvernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan, 
and light upon her banners laid. 



Eärendil The Mariner by Ted Nasmith

And so begins the longest poem in The Lord of the Rings. A poem that links the story both to The Silmarillion and to the moment in 1914 when first Tolkien began to conceive his legendarium, the moment in which his heart was captured by the beauty of some lines from an Anglo-Saxon poem.

” Eala earendel, engla beorhtast, ofer middangeard monnum sended…”

“O, Earendel, brightest of angels, sent to men above Middle-earth…”

Eala Earendel

The poem was entitled, Christ ,or The Advent Lyrics and as soon as we read the word, Advent, we know that these words are an expression of profound longing, a cry from the darkness of our prison, a longing for freedom and for peace.

The poem continues, “You come yourself to illuminate those who for the longest time, shrouded in shadow and in darkness here, reside in the everlasting night- enfolded in our sins, they have had to endure the dark shadows of death.”

It all fits because the tale that Bilbo tells in his poem is one of deliverance from darkness. Eärendil journeys from Middle-earth to Valinor to plead for aid against Morgoth who has conquered all. Gondolin has fallen. Nargothrond has fallen. Doriath has fallen. All that was most beautiful has been lost for ever.

But that is not all. The darkness does not belong to Morgoth alone. The sons of Fëanor, bound by the oath that they swore to their father in their grief and fury, attack Arvernien seeking for the Silmaril, seized from the very crown of Morgoth by Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel. Even the reverence in which the memory of Beren and Lúthien is held is not enough to restrain the revenge required by this oath. But Eärendil still goes to Valinor seeking mercy for all and Manwë, Chief of the Valar, of the Ainur, the makers of the Music, allows this one emissary to enter the Undying Lands. Eärendil, the great intercessor, brings aid to Middle-earth in its darkest hour. “The looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope.”

And Eärendil will come once more in The Lord of the Rings in Shelob’s Lair, when in his darkest moment, in darkness visible as death bears down upon him, Frodo holds high the star-glass of Galadriel in which the light of the Silmaril is held and cries out, “Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!” Hail Eärendil, Brightest of Stars! The very same Advent cry that Tolkien read in 1914 and which captured his heart.

Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima

“It all seemed to me to fit somehow.”

The sense in which the story fits, both in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell and in Shelob’s Lair in Mordor is that Frodo has been drawn into the age-old longing of the Children of Ilúvatar for a light that will never go out, that darkness can never overcome.

“O Morning Star! Come and Enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death”.

“O Oriens…Veni et inlumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis”.

Those who sit at ease are not in need of deliverance. The story that seems to fit somehow is the age long story of the prisoner in darkness. Bilbo and then Frodo are drawn into this story. Bilbo becomes a member of Thorin Oakenshield’s party. Frodo sets off into the wild with his three companions. Both are linked together by the finding of the Ring of Power. Both are linked together too by a desire for adventure. Soon all who have been drawn into this story, all who have been brought to Rivendell at this moment, at the coming of the Ring and the Ringbearer, will gather together to take counsel for the deliverance of Middle-earth. And once again the prayer of Eärendil will be made by those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

It Seemed to Me to Fit Somehow. Frodo and the Music of the Ainur.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 226-231

There, I’ve said it. I have named the music to which Frodo becomes a part in the Hall of Fire as the Music of the Ainur, when Ilúvatar declared a mighty theme and bade the Ainur to “make in harmony together a Great Music”, and thus is Arda created, sustained and completed. I have no authority to make this statement; nowhere (as far as I know) does Tolkien refer to the music that Frodo hears in these terms, and yet when I read these words it is the sense that there is a river that flows through history, a river that is made of music itself and that the river “fits somehow” with Bilbo’s poem about Eärendil the Mariner, that I find no other way to speak of Frodo’s experience than to say that for one brief moment he touches the divine word that makes all things even as it speaks in music.

The Music of the Ainur

Please listen to these words.

“At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him: and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.”

Yes, I can see that the music begins with the Elves in the Hall of Fire. Yes, I know that Frodo is still tired after his perilous journey in the wild and that he has enjoyed his first good meal, served with copious drafts of the very best wine, since he left Bree. But I ask you to note how the experience in the hall becomes something quite other, how the hall becomes sea and then “an endless river of swelling gold and silver” in which Frodo drowns and then how it becomes Bilbo chanting the words, “Eärendil was a mariner that tarried in Arvenien”.

Hobbits in the Hall of Fire

The recognisable is transformed, transfigured and then becomes recognisable once more but somehow different. By the time Bilbo finishes the recitation of his poem he is once more an elderly hobbit and yet it seems to Frodo “to fit somehow”. Wisely he does not try to describe what he has experienced at this point. He needs to ponder what he has experienced in his heart until it takes the form of words that he writes in The Red Book of Westmarch.

Frodo does not hear the whole music. He will have enough experience of Melkor’s anti-music in the days that lie ahead. He does not need to hear this strain now. He hears the strain of which he and Bilbo are a part, the weaving together of the destinies of mortals, of the elven firstborn and of the Valar, the Ainur whose music this is. Next week we will think about the tale of Eärendil; now we note that Frodo and Bilbo will be the first mortals to be permitted to set foot in the Undying Lands since Eärendil himself.

There will be times when Frodo will be conscious of divine beauty, of the slow rhythm of time that flows towards the moment when Ilúvatar raised his hands “and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased”. There will be times when the darkness within and without will be all that he can see. But the Music of the Ainur will never cease to flow to its conclusion, carrying him and all things living to the moment of the last chord.

A Note to My Readers: I believe that for those who stay awake, who look for them, signs of the Music of the Ainur are all about us. They are to be found in great music, poetry, wise discourse, great science and all the best of human endeavour, in the surprising beauty of the faces of those with whom we dwell and in the world in which we dwell. When I wrote this piece I listened to a modern masterpiece by John Luther Adams entitled, Become Ocean. Not because it is the Divine Music in and of itself but because it conveys a wonderfully imaginative sense of what that music might be. I have put a link to it on a separate post.

Watch “Become Ocean” on YouTube

Like Frodo in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell I usually fall into sleep while listening to this mesmerising music. While writing “It Seemed to Fit Somehow” I listened to the whole thing, maybe for the very first time. And it does seem to fit. John Luther Adams captures the way in which water flows in a way that is wonderfully musical.

The Music of the Ainur

Apparently those two fine composers, John Luther Adams and John Adams, who like each other very much, have a lovely time redirecting mail to one another. This must be fun for the postal service because Luther Adams lives in Alaska while his namesake lives in California.

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=dGva1NVWRXk&feature=share

“Don’t Adventures Ever Have an End?” Frodo, Bilbo and the Ring in the Hall of Fire.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 223-26

After the feast concludes Frodo and the whole company make their way, following Elrond and Arwen, to the Hall of Fire, a place which, except on high days “usually stands empty and quiet” and where people come “who wish for peace, and thought”; and it is there that Elrond brings Frodo and Bilbo together, much to their mutual delight.

The Hall of Fire

Frodo discovers that Bilbo had sat with Sam at his bedside through much of the days in which he had lain, close to death, as the sliver of the Morgul blade, wielded by the Witch-king of Angmar, worked its way slowly towards his heart. And Frodo also learns that Bilbo has not been at the feast. Indeed that Bilbo is now old and is content to be alone with his own thoughts in this quiet place, composing a poem that he will perform before the assembled company before all retire to their rooms and dwelling places.

Bilbo and Frodo in the Hall of Fire

Little has the capacity to stir Bilbo now; except for one thing.

“Have you got it here?” he asked in a whisper. “I can’t help feeling curious, you know, after all I’ve heard. I should very much like just to peep at it again.”

Bilbo, of course, is speaking of the Ring, and there follows a brief period which, for Frodo, and then for Bilbo as well, is one of the most distressing that he has known. Frodo finds himself looking at “a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands”. The parallel with Gollum is all too clear for those who know the story. This is what the Ring does to those who have possessed it. This is what they are reduced to. Hungry and groping. They become spiritually ravenous and never satisfied. And except in degrees of power there is no distinction between Sauron, Gollum and, for a moment at least, Bilbo too. Each is reduced to the desire to consume all and everyone, “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

In Bilbo’s case the triumph of his desire for the Ring is but momentary. Perhaps his distance from the Ring over many years and perhaps even the fact that he gave it up freely, albeit with a little help from Gandalf, enables Bilbo to master his craving; but for that moment the absolutely evil potential of the Ring mars the great love that Bilbo and Frodo have for one another and it even reduces the serene gathering of the company in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, a place where at one moment Frodo wondered if people were ever ill, to an unhappy silence.

That moment passes as Frodo puts the Ring away but the distress that Bilbo feels as he realises, maybe for the very first time, the power that the Ring has over him and the burden that his beloved Frodo has to bear is heartbreaking.

“Don’t adventures ever come to an end?”

How does one portray Bilbo as hungry and groping?

And with this thought the whole entirety of Tolkien’s legendarium is brought together. And so too is the entirety of human history of the mythical world of which each one of us is a part. By myth we speak here of the age long need to find meaning in the age long sequence of events that have constituted the history of the cosmos ever since the Big Bang (as far as we know) and, in particular, the need to find meaning in the story of ourselves ever since we first emerged into consciousness in Africa long ago. Or not so long in comparison with the whole. This is the story told in the Music of the Ainur, and we will return to this next week. The story told in Tolkien’s creation myth, a story that the wise know is not about the manufacture of a clock that is then more or less left to its own devices, but one to which the divine is intimately connected at all times and in all places. Bilbo and Frodo are both a part of the one great adventure as are we. Does this adventure ever end? The Music of the Ainur reaches a sublime conclusion, but there is a beyond. There is always a beyond. But what that is is known only to the One.