A Elbereth Gilthoniel. Pray for the Wanderer. Pray for Me. The Hymn to Elbereth in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.231,32

As Frodo and Bilbo depart the Hall of Fire in order to enjoy some quiet talk together they hear “a single clear voice” rise in song. It is a hymn to Elbereth, the Lady Varda of the Valar, Queen of the Blessed Realm of Valinor, Elentári, Queen of Stars, and it is a song of praise and an expression of longing.

O Elbereth Starkindler
White glittering, slanting down sparkling like a jewel, 
The glory of the starry host!
Having gazed far away 
From the tree-woven lands of Middle-earth, 
To thee, everwhite, I will sing,
On this side of the Sea,
Here on this side of the Ocean. 

O Elbereth Starkindler, 
From heaven gazing afar, 
To thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death! 
O look towards me, Everwhite!

And so the mood in the hall moves from merriment to longing. And if merriment is an expression of contentment, of being happy just where we are then this hymn tells us that those who sing it long to be somewhere else entirely. The gaze of the elven singer looks out from this place of peace to the stars above, the same stars to which the Elves first looked as they awoke in Middle-earth. The name that the Valar gave them was, Eldar, the people of the stars, for at their beginning, Elbereth/Varda “began a great labour, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and therewith she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the Firstborn; wherefore she whose name out of the deeps was time and the labours of Eà was Tintalle, the Kindler… Queen of the Stars”.

It was for fear of Melkor/Morgoth, dweller in the dark of Middle-earth, that Elbereth kindled the stars in the sky, fear that awakening in darkness the Elves would meet first its lord and worship him, bowing down before his great might, part in fear and part in admiration. And her labour was not in vain for as they awoke from sleep they gazed first upon those stars “and have revered Varda Elentári above all the Valar”.

An Imagining of The Evening Star

Throughout their long history the Elves have looked upwards towards the starlight and westward to the Queen of Heaven. As in all the stories of the children of Ilúvatar, of both Elves and Humankind, immortal and mortal, the simplicity of this gaze is soon lost. The Valar, led by Oromë, the hunter, set out to find the firstborn and to lead them to safety in the Blessed Realm, but some never complete the journey, lingering among the beauty of what they know while others, the Noldor, followers of Fëanor, tire of a life of absolute safety and obedience in the realm their angelic lords and return to Middle-earth to freedom, glory and ultimately, for most of them, destruction. But the feeling expressed in this hymn to Elbereth is of a longing, a cry “beneath the shadow of death” that has been woven in the very fabric of their being from the moment of that first gaze upwards, a gaze both from eye and heart.

The Awakening of the Elves by Ted Nasmith

The language of this hymn is Sindarin, the language of the Grey-elves, the Elves who never came to Valinor and yet the longing is as deep as it is among those of the Noldor who survive the terrible wars in Beleriand in the First Age, the exiles from the Blessed Realm like Galadriel and at the very end of The Lord of the Rings all these stories will be brought together when Frodo sings the old walking song, the song of the road one last time, and almost in response the hymn to Elbereth will be taken up once more by Gildor Inglorien, by Elrond and by Galadriel as they make their last journey into the West across the Sea.

Gildor Inglorien and the High Elves at the beginning of the story and its end

This is my last of a series of meditations meditation upon Frodo’s words, “It seemed to me to fit somehow”. On the next day, which we will take up from next week, Elrond will gather together a great council whose task it will be to decide what to do with the Ring of Power that Bilbo found beneath the Misty Mountains and which Frodo has brought into Rivendell. As we have seen in these last weeks none of the events that have led to this moment are in any way random and disconnected but all are a part of the great story that flows onward to the “one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar” at the end of all things. This is how everything fits somehow. Frodo has caught a glimpse of this story to which he belongs but which he can never explain.

And a final note upon my title. Some of you will have recognised the words there as from the great hymn, “Ave Maris Stella”, Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star, a hymn that Tolkien knew very well indeed. In the echo of this hymn in the song of the Elves we pray for Frodo the wanderer and ourselves also.

On Deadly Wounds and Their Healing. Aragorn Tries to Offer Frodo Some Relief After the Nazgûl Attack.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 190-94)

There are times in a reading of The Lord of the Rings in which it is necessary to know that we are reading is not the kind of history that is a listing of events but a mythology. Doubtless it would do all students of history good to recognise the quasi-mythological nature of every historical narrative but Tolkien was not attempting a historical narrative that we must then seek to demythologise. He consciously sought to create a mythology, a sub-creation that honoured God. And so it is here in this description of the attack upon the camp below Weathertop by the Nazgûl. Could they have seized the Ring, even slaying the hobbits and Aragorn too? We must assume that they could. That they expected that Frodo would gradually fall under the malign influence of the Morgul-blade, a fragment of which was left in his shoulder, is without doubt, but the very nature of Frodo’s resistance to their attack shows that what happened that night was a spiritual battle as much as a clash between two forces of warriors. If it had merely been the latter I fear that the brave adventure of the hobbits would have ended that night and the Ring taken to be restored to its maker.

I know that the Morgul-king’s sword bears no resemblance to the description of the knife in The Lord of the Rings but this painting is a fine expression of the overwhelming power of the Nazgûl

As we saw last week Aragorn’s singing of The Lay of Leithian, the Tale of Beren and Lúthien, took the company into the spiritual milieu of the Elder Days and the songs of Lúthien that overcame Sauron and even Morgoth long ago. Aragorn invokes the same powers as did his ancestors and so the fragile circle of light that the Nazgûl invade is a different place to the simple camp that the travellers had earlier created.

So it is that even though, to his shame, Frodo is unable to resist the command of his foes to put on the Ring, he is able, even while wearing it, to invoke the name of Elbereth, the Queen of the Valar, the angelic beings charged by God to watch over the earth.

This was the name invoked by the company of Gildor Inglorien that drove away the Black Rider on that first encounter in the woods of the Shire .

“Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady dear! O Queen beyond the Western Seas! O light to us who wander here amid the world of woven trees!”

Elves in the Woody End, by Ted Nasmith

Gildor named Frodo, elf-friend, that night, and such names are not a trivial thing in Tolkien’s world but convey a reality. “More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth,” says Aragorn, speaking of Frodo’s resistance to the Morgul-king’s attack. And just as there is all the difference in the world between the casual naming of Jesus in everyday chatter and a cry to him in desperate need so too the naming of Elbereth by an elf-friend in need has great power, far more power than that of Frodo’s will to resist.

And so the Nazgûl withdraw for a season, ringless for the present but confident that soon Frodo will be a wraith like them and powerless to resist them any longer. But there is another power at work. Aragorn goes off in search of athelas. He knows this land and where he might find what he seeks. “It is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth… It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small.”

Later in the story Aragorn will be revealed to his people through the acts of healing that he will accomplish through the use of this herb but for now he has not yet come into his own, his kingdom, and he can do little more than stay the effects of the Morgul-blade. But perhaps all that he can do as a healer is to assist the healing that another desires. Later Éowyn will be healed, not by Aragorn’s power, but by her willingness to embrace the future and to let the past be at rest. For his part Frodo will be healed by the “Gentle Purgatory” (as Tolkien put it in a letter on the subject) that he will eventually accept and undergo in the Undying Lands. For now Frodo must endure his wound while his foes wait for the opportunity to seize the Ring and so to triumph.