“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”
As Faramir leads his men in an act of remembrance before they eat his mind turns to “Elvenhome that is” that lies forever beyond Númenor and can no longer be reached by any save those to whom grace is given by the Valar, the angelic rulers of the earth. For after the faithless kings of Númenor sought to invade the deathless lands and so achieve immortality for themselves the world was changed, “bent” as Tolkien put it, so that those who dwelt within it could only sail endlessly and wearily within it, returning once again to the point where they began.
So it is that for Faramir, as for his ancestors, Elvenhome is a place to which they cannot go even as the fate of the Eldest is one that he cannot gain. For it is the fate of the Eldest, the Elven folk, not to die just as it is the fate of humankind to become weary of life and then to leave it. In the Akallabêth, the tale of the downfall of Númenor, messengers from the Valar try to explain this to the King of Númenor. The Eldar “cannot escape, and are bound to this world,never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs.” Wherever they dwell upon the earth, either in the Blessed Lands or within Middle-earth they draw from each place its deepest beauty and they teach all other peoples to do the same according to their kind and their deepest longings. So it is that the lands of Rivendell and of Lothlórien represent within Middle-earth a living memory of blessedness as long as they endure and yet those who dwell within them must watch the decay of all things living about them and to hold an ever growing sorrow within the heart as they remember that which was and is no longer.
The sorrow of the Eldest is not the fate of humankind for whom even the longest life is so achingly brief. And yet for humankind is the sorrow of the discovery of delight that must then be left behind, first in weariness and then in death. The messengers of the Valar spoke of this fate, not as a punishment, for, “Thus you escape,” they said, “and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness… This we hold to be true, that your home is not here, neither in the land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World.”
So Faramir looks toward “Elvenhome that is” and knows he can never go there nor know the deathlessness that its people know. Even if he wished it the temptation to go its shores is no longer a possibility for him. He must remain within the circles of the world and its fate. He may choose, even as we may, to regard this fate either as punishment or as possibility. We live in a time in which the most powerful among us desire an immortality within the world and cry out against all that confines them whether death or the smallness of the world or the limits of its resources. They and all who wish to be like them regard all that is good in the world as something to be stolen either by guile, by wit or by force. That which is praiseworthy is only themselves and the measure of these qualities that they believe they possess. Nothing is gift to be delighted in for its sake alone and most certainly the thought of One who gives gifts freely never crosses their mind. For a gift can be enjoyed when received with gratitude but it can never be possessed as if it were never given and they wish only to possess.
Faramir has already told us that he rejects the desire of his ancestors to be a master of slaves even “of willing slaves” and so he is prepared to receive life and all good within it as a gift. And the gift of mortality? Is Faramir prepared to receive that as good? That we shall consider next week as we think with him of “that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”