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.

“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.

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.