Posts Tagged ‘Middle-earth’


What does it mean if your honest answers to a quiz’s questions resulted in the answer (or one of the answers) you were hoping for?

My two great heroines in Middle-earth are Eowyn, the White Lady of Rohan, and Arwen, the beautiful Elf whom Aragorn takes as his queen. I don’t know of any Numenorean women…I suppose they had all died by the time the story of The Lord of the Rings began. But I know the blood of Numenor, the blood of Elendil, flowed in Aragorn’s veins. Were I part of the races of Middle-earth, I would be proud to be related by blood to the King.

Our all-too-sensible postmodern society has lost much of the old reverence for noble blood. People are no longer expected to achieve based on their bloodline, but rather on individual merit. This can be both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, people have the chance to make a name for themselves apart from the negative history of a family. Yet a strong and noble heritage can call us to become the best possible version of ourselves – and what a shame it would be to toss that aside in favor of individual achievement alone.

Generally speaking, bloodlines and pedigrees don’t exist in the spiritual world. But on a hill outside of Jerusalem, on a Friday long ago, my King bowed His head and let Himself be crucified for me. Three days later, He took up His sword and defeated an Enemy whose power had grown greater than Sauron’s ever could. And He won. He vanquished death and all its power over us, and made it possible for me to someday enter the White City, not as a foreigner from a distant land, but as a daughter of Numenor. As both the daughter and bride of the King.

I’m probably not related to Jesus’ family by means of natural bloodline. But in the truest and highest sense, I am both humbled and proud to be related, by blood, to my King.


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I’m back from an amazing Spring Break in Spain – we started in Barcelona, then went down south to Granada, Salobrena and Malaga, before heading up to Madrid. Yes, we were on a train to Madrid when the bombs went off in the train stations; we were 400 km out, thank goodness, and wound up arriving later that afternoon by taxi. Yes, we are all okay (though we scared our parents to death), and yes, the rest of the trip until that point was absolutely FABULOUS. So I’m still glad I went. However, I’ve never been more glad to be back in a place in my life! Oxford feels a thousand times more like home than it ever has. I finished Return of the King on a bus in the Spanish countryside this week, so here’s a last blog about it.

After many battles, the casting of the Ring into the fire (by Gollum, incidentally), Aragorn’s coronation and wedding, many partings, and a brave and brilliant “scouring of the Shire” by the four hobbits (Saruman had done more mischief there than they reckoned), life begins to run smooth again. The Fellowship has parted at last; Legolas and Gimli have gone on to their own lands and adventures, and Gandalf has gone for a prolonged visit to Bombadil, while Aragorn remains in Minas Tirith, helping to build the new world out of the ruins of the old. Eowyn and Faramir, now married, are living in Ithilien, and Aragorn has (of course) wedded Arwen at last. Eomer is the new King of Rohan, in place of Theoden who was killed in battle, and Pippin, Merry, Sam and Frodo are settling back down to Shire-life.

When Galadriel gave gifts to the hobbits as they were leaving Lothlorien, she gave Sam a small box of fine grey dust, which he remembers as he and his gardener-helpers are clearing up the mess of dead trees and litter in the Shire. Sam is hurt and upset over the wanton destruction of hundreds of trees and plants, so he uses the dust to help along the new saplings he plants everywhere. By spring, the Shire is as green or greener than it ever has been, doubly blessed because of its brief blackening, and Sam is married to Rosie Cotton, and as happy as he can be.

Frodo, though, is troubled, and soon after Sam’s first daughter (Elanor, named for the flowers in Lothlorien) is born, he gives Sam his keys and the account of their adventures (begun by Bilbo), and asks Sam to come ride with him. In the woods on the way to Rivendell they meet a great company of Elven-folk, including Elrond and Galadriel, and Bilbo is with them. They ride on to the Grey Havens, where Cirdan the Shipwright and Gandalf meet them, and Merry and Pippin come up unexpectedly to join them. Sam realizes that Frodo is leaving for good, and even Gandalf allows that friends may weep when they part, for “not all tears are an evil.”

One of the last paragraphs of the book is one of my very favourites, describing Frodo’s view as they ride away over the horizon:

“…at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

This is as lovely a description of heaven as I’ve ever heard; though Tolkien’s books are not a perfect analogy to the Christ story, this image of heaven makes me long to go there. After all Frodo’s trouble and pain and burden (including the stab wound on Weathertop that has never left him), he is rewarded and given rest. Those who go with him represent the greatest powers of good in Middle-earth, who have also laboured long to keep evil from gaining the upper hand in the world. Their time is ended, but they have passed on their charges to others, like Eomer and Aragorn and the other hobbits, who will keep the charge to fight for what is right and will never forget what they are working for.

So ends a part of one of the greatest stories ever told or written; but one has the feeling, after finishing, that it does not stop there. Sam goes back home, and as he rejoins Rosie and little Elanor, he smiles and says, “Well, I’m back.” One has a feeling that he is back to live many years and work for the good of the Shire. The best stories never stop; they simply go on and on, and in the end all the best stories are a part of our story – the story of the human race and of the God who loves us. I can’t do justice to Tolkien’s genius or his creations in a weblog; but I have truly enjoyed the attempt, and have loved every step of my third long tramp through Middle-earth.

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We also talked about whether a society like Tolkien’s would actually be possible in our world today…since so many of us dream of going back to that time, could we do it? In one sense at least, I think it’s impossible…Middle-earth is an agrarian society, and every race is tied to the land they inhabit. The Elves are creatures of the forest; the Dwarves are shaped by their years in the mines; the hobbits’ identity is drawn from the Shire, and the various races of Men are all defined by where they come from. We who have less of a sense of land and home don’t know what it’s like to stay in one place our whole lives, and to derive so much of our identity from it. The land almost takes on a spirit of its own in that kind of society…it suffers and rejoices with the people, and it almost seems to act against evil at times.

The ideals behind this society – honor, integrity, fellowship, care for the earth, and so on – are not dead by any means, and I think our world would benefit from a return to them. But that’s another discussion for another day…

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I had a fascinating discussion last night about the society in which these books are set…there are many of us, at least in my circle of friends, who would choose Middle-earth over our world. Middle-earth isn’t without its problems, for sure, but we talked about how different it would be to live in a world where the Enemy was a visible entity. Sauron does not take physical human form, but the location of his fortress is known, and his servants are known by the darkness of their bodies and souls. It is so satisfying to actually ride out to battle and fight evil…for the free peoples of Middle-earth this has to be their strategy. As Aragorn tells Theoden, “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.” Sitting at home will only bring death; men must draw swords and go out to face the Enemy, and in doing so they have to be willing to risk everything. The battle we fight is much more subtle, much more wearying, against an enemy we cannot see, and often our work is to pray and wait for God to act…sometimes, it seems as though we spend our lives waiting while war rages around us.

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Wow…if The Two Towers is slow in parts, The Return of the King is action-packed in every page! (By the way, it won eleven Oscars last night…we diehard Ring fans stayed up until 5:15 AM our time to watch it win Best Picture! YEAH for Peter Jackson and his crew!!) Anyway, since I have written, Gondor has been put under siege, Rohan has ridden to battle, Theoden is dead, Eowyn has slain the Witch-King of Angmar, Aragorn has come out of the South with his Dead company on the Corsair ships, and Denethor has attempted to burn himself and his son alive. All that in the space of a day’s reading and about sixty pages…this is powerful stuff.

“We come to it at last – the great battle of our time,” says Gandalf to Pippin in the movie (I think Denethor actually has the quote in the book. The Return of the King is the triumphant conclusion, the time where everything must come together or the battle will fall to the Enemy. Now is the time where the fight truly hangs by a thread. Rohan comes just in the nick of time, for example, and if Eowyn had been less bold or less willing to defy her king’s orders, the Witch-King would have slain Theoden and wreaked more havoc than he did. If Aragorn had been unwilling to take the Paths of the Dead; if Beregond, captain of the guard, had not dared to leave his post to save his lord’s life; if Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth in the south had not ridden to Gondor’s aid…none of the free peoples of the West would have survived the war. Sauron’s shadow would have blanketed the land, never to lift, and the brave standards of swan and horse and White Tree would have gone down into darkness.

All that to say…sometimes doing the right thing truly does require going against the grain. Every one of those I mentioned above acted against their self-preservation instincts, often against their better judgment or in defiance of orders from above. I would guess that no woman in Middle-earth would have done what Eowyn did (see why I want to be like her?!). And listen to the song of Eomer, calling his men to battle though their king is dead and it looks hopeless:

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day’s rising

I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.

To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking:

Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!

Reminds me of the rallying cry of Aragorn, coming up in a few chapters…Stay tuned!

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I’m into The Return of the King and have just come with the Grey Company out of the Paths of the Dead…for those who don’t know, the Grey Company is a band of Rangers, come out of the North to aid Aragorn, and the sons of Elrond are with them. They ride to Edoras together and bid farewell to Eowyn, then take the road to Dunharrow and underground to where the Dead stalk. Eowyn begs to be allowed to ride with the Company, but Aragorn tells her she must stay behind, to fulfill her duty of governing the people in Theoden’s absence. She grows impatient, crying, “Too often have I heard of duty…Shall I always be chosen? Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart?”

I used to idolize Arwen…I’ve always loved Elves, and she is the fairest of them all except possibly for Galadriel. However, the more time I spend in Middle-earth, the more I realize that I would want to be Eowyn, if I could be any character. She aches to make a difference, to fight for the land and the people she loves, and eventually she does wind up going out to fight. She will not let people’s expectations of her or unrequited love or hardship in battle daunt her…she rides out to meet the challenge and ends up making a great difference in the battle. I would not want to be Arwen, stuck at home, never knowing whether the man I loved was alive or dead. I would hope I’d have the courage to take up a sword, clothe myself in mail, and ride out to play my part in “the great battle of our time.”

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I just reached the end of The Two Towers, which leaves Sam out alone in the darkness…Frodo has been stabbed by Shelob, and he is alive, but captured by Orcs and locked in their tower. Sam had been holding the Phial of Galadriel aloft while Frodo cut their way out of Shelob’s lair, and when he thought Frodo has been killed by Shelob, he also took the Ring, intending to finish the Quest since his master could not. This speaks volumes about Sam’s development along the journey from the Shire, and even since Lothlorien. It is true that our trials often have a more strengthening effect upon us than our blessings. Sam’s pleasant, easy life as a gardener in the Shire did not prepare him for anything like Nazgul or the One Ring or creeping through the lands of the Enemy, but the troubles that began as soon as they left Bag End have made him stronger and more resilient. He never would have dreamed of being the original Ring-bearer, had the choice been put upon him; but now, when all hope for the Quest seems lost, he finds strength to take up the Ring and finish the journey himself. Readers of the trilogy know, of course, that he does not have to finish it alone; but this part of the story makes Sam more able to sympathize with Frodo in his struggle.

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Most of the characters in Lord of the Rings are affected by the power of the Ring; Tom Bombadil, as I mentioned a while ago, is an exception. However, Tolkien also throws in several characters who understand the Ring’s power but are not tempted by it: Aragorn, for one, and also Faramir, the Ranger of Ithilien with whom Frodo is currently talking. He has not seen the Ring, nor does he know everything about it, but he knows the old tales about “Isildur’s Bane” and understands that it is a mighty heirloom of great power. He sees why Boromir, his brother, would have desired the Ring and how it might have led to his undoing, yet he himself is not tempted to take the Ring from Frodo. “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway,” he says, and explains why:

“I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light…War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor, and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom.”

Some men of peace survive even in times of great destruction and danger. Faramir and his men, though troubled by the power of Sauron, are a refreshing interlude on Frodo’s dark journey to Mordor, a reminder that good still hangs on even in lands long taken over by evil.

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The Two Towers is probably my least favourite of the three books, since it is sort of the long middle of the story between the exciting beginning and the triumphant conclusion. I was reading along today and came across this sentence:

“For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows.”

I know all great stories must have their black nights before they can have their brightest days – “the darkest hour is just before the dawn, etc.” However, I sometimes forget that the dark times are truly unpleasant to slog through – and they’re supposed to be. If the passage through the Dead Marshes had not been so grueling, Frodo and Sam would not have been so glad to see Ithilien, which reminds them of their own country. In the end, the whole Company is infinitely more grateful for peace and reunion because of their dark times of pain and war and separation. In order for those beautiful times to happen, though, the nightmares have to happen and even we, the readers, have to struggle through them. I appreciate these long, shadowy days of the journey more because I know what is coming at the end. Thus, in a strange sort of way, I’m enjoying this book more than I ever have before. I suppose knowing the end of the story helps one gain a bit of perspective…

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I’m travelling toward Mordor with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum; currently Sam has just stewed his coneys in the glade of Ithilien, and Faramir and his men have happened upon them. I want to take a step back, though, and talk for a moment about Gollum. He irritates me beyond belief, but as my wise friend Seth says, he is “one of the most necessary evils in all literature.” Tolkien traces the hobbits’ journey with Gollum in sometimes tedious detail, but as I read through it again, I begin to understand why. Gollum exemplifies the human struggle, which is also Frodo’s struggle, between darkness and light. His two halves, Smeagol and Gollum (whom Sam calls Slinker and Stinker) are constantly at war, provoking pity in Frodo, frustration in Sam, and both reactions in the reader. Tolkien uses several devices to bring out Gollum’s struggle: for example, a green light flashes in his eyes when his evil side takes over, and he also uses “us” to refer to himself in that mode. When in Smeagol mode his eyes are lighter, and he refers to himself as “I” and even gives the hobbits anecdotes about when he was young.

Throughout the journey, Frodo never gives up the hope that there is yet some good in Gollum; he remembers his conversation with Gandalf in Moria and the wizard’s comment that “the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.” Sam is suspicious of Gollum from the beginning and enmity grows between them, but Frodo treats Smeagol kindly and always tries to help bring out his better side. This is a really fabulous picture of a persistent friend trying to minister to a hurting friend…although at times I want to tell Frodo to give up, that Gollum is hopeless, I admire his strength of spirit, even while the Ring is weighing on him with an ever greater power. Sam, watching the two of them, realizes with amazement that they are “akin and not alien”…Frodo can empathize with Gollum because they are fellow Ring-bearers. Instead of writing Gollum off as hopeless, or loathing him for what he has become, Frodo remembers the toll the Ring has taken on Gollum and is kind to him because of it. He may also be thinking (though the book does not give this much detail) that he could possibly be in Gollum’s place someday. He treats Gollum as he would like to be treated if he were in the same position. Tolkien uses this relationship to make a powerful statement about kindness to, and faith in, people who seem hopeless.

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