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.
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”.
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.
10 thoughts on “It Seemed to Me to Fit Somehow. Frodo and the Music of the Ainur.”
Thank goodness for the fine print! I wouldn’t enjoy a world where there was no room for artists between Sam’s comic verse and the Music of the Spheres. For anyone who wanted to be a poet, “that would indeed be a burden,” to quote a lady who’s definitely in between.
I was just tapping away happily on my tablet in response to your great comment when I absentmindedly hit something and propelled what you had written into the Spam Abyss. You could never do that in the days of the typewriter. You had to throw something into the bin beside your desk and even then you could rescue it.
I hope I have managed to do a rescue. I really liked what you said. Few of us can stay in the spheres for too long. We need to come back to voices in the middle like Bilbo’s, or even Aragorn’s in the camp below Weathertop. Sam plays his part though. He makes Frodo laugh at a time when he is descending into the abyss, perhaps giving him just long enough to cross the Fords of Bruinen.
Who is the lady to whom you refer? I agree with her.
Ah yes! That comment about mastery. I had forgotten. And, of course, you are right!
Oh now this is very intriguing indeed, Stephen.
Thank you, Jeremiah. I would be intrigued to hear your thoughts!
Slowly reading these words and letting them flow over me, allowed me, too, to take a moment and to bathe in the “music of creation”. And you are so right, Frodo did need that music before his journey and his deep encounter and testing by breathing the anti-music. We need so consciously to find these moments, and indeed to allow ourselves to accept them when they come unaware, almost as this has to Frodo. I appreciate this is a bit – i see scripture in everything – it is just the way I am… but to me, reading your words gave me new insight both into this moment of TLOTR but also into the transfiguration. I know the disciples were far from lulled by that experience, like Frodo was, but… there is something about being caught up in the music that rolls through eternity, and glimpsing it, and being strengthened by it. Thank you, as ever.
I think you are quite right in your identification, of course, and wonder also if all the songs and music which are so liberally gifted to us in TLOTR carry a resounding of that everflowing music… in the same way, perhaps, as all glimpses of beauty and renewal and strength carry resonance of the creating and re-creating of the universe in which we are continually held and re-held
This short scene in the Hall of Fire is one that I have begun to regard as ever more significant. That phrase, “It seemed to me to fit somehow”, contains so much. Frodo’s dream, the music, Bilbo chanting his verses about the Tale of Eärendil, Aragorn’s insistence upon the inclusion of a green stone and the hymn to Elbereth. The scene is a weaving together of a tapestry of many parts and one whole. Frodo is about to join the Council of Elrond at the end of which he will accept the task of taking the Ring to the Fire. He is always being compelled forward and often it will all feel as if he has fallen into chaos but, step by step, he will keep on going onward.
I loved your reference to the Transfiguration. That moment when the veil was lifted and Peter, James and John could see. But they have no idea what it is that they can see. The way in which it fits for Frodo is an intuition. An everything belongs kind of moment.
Have you heard Become Ocean, by the way? That, for me, seems to fit.
I am so behind on reading your new posts that I only just got to this one. I couldn’t agree more that Frodo is experiencing some elven song that tells of the Music, and that the power of elven minstrelsy makes him feel as if he were living it. The profundity of his experience here makes Frodo’s first (conscious) day in Rivendell even more fascinating. From Gandalf’s cautious hopes of what might become of Frodo in the morning, to his cautionary moment of conflict with Bilbo over the Ring, to his present glimpse of beauty forever beyond the Shadow’s reach, we get the whole range of what he will go through.
Great to hear from you, Tom. Thanks for leaving a comment.
Frodo’s, “It seemed to fit somehow”, achieves a comforting banality of sorts. The kind that I suspect that I would say in similar circumstances. What kind of language do we use? Perhaps the best is the kind that does not attempt too much. The weaving together of the music, the story of Eärendil and Bilbo Baggins as story teller (with a little help from the heir of Isildur) is altogether too much for language to convey and so, “It seemed to fit somehow”, does pretty well. And I love the way that you draw attention to the breadth of experience in that one day in Rivendell.