Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Shadow and the Ring

Dean Jorge Bocobo's nephew asks about the apparent lack of a decent love story within the Lord of the Rings. The great romance at the heart of the novel is of course, that between Aragorn and Arwen, echoed an octave lower by Faramir and Eowyn. It is a reprise of the epic liaison between Beren and Luthien, all variations on the same archetype, lovers within the context of a greater love. Each, in accordance with Hemingway's adage, ends in death, but not in despair. When Aragorn lays him down to die, as mortal man, Arwen bids him wait a while. He reminds her gently that it is the last chapter of the romance itself.

"Lady Undomiel," said Aragorn, "the hour is hard indeed, yet it was made even in that day when we met under the white birches in the garden of Elrond where none now walk. And on the hill of Cerin Amroth when we forsook both the Shadow and the Twilight this doom we accepted ... But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring."

Even as he took her hand and kissed it, he fell into sleep. Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, the valor of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the splendor of the Kings of Men in glory undiminished before the breaking of the world.

The last chapter but not the final one. Tolkien began sketching out Middle Earth while on convalescent leave from the Western Front, after active service with the Lancashire Fusiliers in the Great War. "By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead". They had gone down the road that goes ever on, and anyone could follow, if he loved enough. And in the end he did, but by another way. He married, taught and wrote to the enrichment of the world, and is buried with his wife of 55 years in Oxford. There, under a leafed maple and acacia planted by friends is a gravestone with this inscription:

Edith Mary Tolkien
1889 - 1971

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
1892 - 1973

"Here ends this tale, as it has come to us from the South; and with the passing of Evenstar no more is said in this book of the days of old"