Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tolkienian Hope: A Christmas and Easter Gift from the Professors Tolkien

"Finrod and Andreth" by murraddin

"Born to life everlasting, without any shadow."

That quotation from The  History of Middle-earth, volume 10: Morgoth’s Ring  is so important, Christopher Tolkien chose to put his father's words in italics. It comes from "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth," a debate J.R.R. Tolkien wrote but did not publish between the elven lord Finrod and the mortal lady Andreth—a debate in the best sense of the word, a sense almost lost to modern times. This is an intense but civil and courteous intellectual discussion about supremely important matters. Both parties clearly benefit from the exchange throughout their discussion, as do we who listen in, so to speak, as we read.

~~~~~ 1. "Not Made for Death"~~~~~

Lady Andreth is a middle-aged woman renowned for her wisdom, beloved by Men and Elves, and in fact specially loved in her youth by Finrod’s brother Aegnor, who instead of pursuing marriage lived up to his prophetic name Aikanár/"Sharp-flame" by dying young in battle. Andreth and Finrod nonetheless remained true friends characterized by honesty and depth of insight.

Early in their conversation here Andreth frankly remarks that all the  Elves deem that Men "are brittle and brief," and Elves "strong and lasting. We may be 'Children of Eru [God],' as [you] say in your lore; but we are children to you also: to be loved a little maybe, and yet creatures of less worth."

"Alas, you speak near the truth," says Finrod, "At least of many of my people; but not of all, and certainly not of me."

Andreth decides to reveal to her honest, kindhearted friend a hidden truth about her people: "From Wise unto Wise out of the darkness comes the voice saying that Men are not now as they were, nor as their true nature was in their beginning…. They say plainly that Men are not [all italics here are Christoper Tolkien's] by nature short-lived, but have become so through the malice of the Lord of the Darkness whom they do not name…. We were not made for death, nor born ever to die. Death was imposed upon us."

~~~~~~2. "Born to Life Everlasting"~~~~~

Finrod, we are told, "was silent; but after a while he said: 'These words are strange and terrible…. Who did you this hurt? Who imposed death upon you?... What did [you Men do] long ago in the dark? How did you anger Eru?'"

Andreth answers, "In our beginning we had been born never to die. And by that, my lord, we meant: Born to life everlasting, without any shadow of any end." Andreth has an exalted view of the human body and spirit, explaining that "death, which divides them, is a disaster to both."

"Ever more you amaze my thought, Andreth," replies an astonished Finrod. "For if your claim is true, then … mighty indeed under Eru were Men made in their beginning; and dreadful beyond all other calamities was the change in their state. Is it, then, a vision of what was designed to be when Arda [will be made] complete—of living things and even of the very lands and seas ... made eternal and indestructible, forever beautiful and new…?"

~~~~~ 3. "The Mists of Arda Marred"~~~~~

"It resides in the mind of Eru, I deem," says Andreth, "to … find the answers here in the mists of Arda Marred."

Finrod, however, responds enthusiastically, explaining that his heart "leaps up as at the hearing of good news. This then, I propound was the errand of Men … the heirs and fulfillers of all: to heal the Marring of Arda, already foreshadowed before their devising, and to do more, as agents of the magnificence of Eru: to enlarge the Music and surpass the Vision of the World.... Arda Healed shall not be Arda Unmarred, but a third thing and a greater."

"What then," asks Andreth, "would you say is the supreme moment that Eru has reserved?"

Finrod answers by describing a vision that flashes before his mind: "Arda Remade; and there the Eldar completed but not ended could abide in the present forever, and there walk, maybe, with the Children of Men, their deliverers, and sing to them such songs as, even in the Bliss beyond bliss, should make the green valleys ring and the everlasting mountain-tops to throb like harps." Finrod pauses when he notices Andreth silently weeping.

"Alas, lord!" she says, "What then is to be done now? For we speak as if these things are, or as if they will assuredly be. But Men have been diminished and their power is taken away."

"Have you then no hope?" asks Finrod.

~~~~~ 4. "What Is Hope?"~~~~~

"What is hope?" she replies. "An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none."
Estel or "hope" as written in the Elvish Tengwar script by Morelen

"That is one thing that Men call 'hope,' says Finrod. "Amdir we call it, 'looking up.' But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is 'trust.' It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed … the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?"

~~~~~5. "The One Will Himself Enter into Arda"~~~~~

"Maybe," she answers, but her faith is weak. Others of her kind speak of what is called the Old Hope, which immediately intrigues Finrod, who asks Andreth to tell him more. She replies it is the belief "that the One will Himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end." When Finrod asks if she believes that, she replies, "How could Eru enter into the thing that He has made, and that which He is beyond measure greater? Can the singer enter into his tale or the designer into his picture?"

"He is already in it, as well as outside," says Finrod, "but indeed the 'in-dwelling' and the 'out-living' are not in the same mode."

"Truly," says Andreth. "But they speak of Eru Himself entering into Arda, and that is a thing wholly different. How could He the greater do this? Would it not shatter Arda, or indeed all ?"

~~~~~6. "He Will Not Relinquish His Work to Melkor"~~~~~

Humble Finrod is unsure how to answer, but he does say this: "When you say 'greater' you think of the dimensions of Arda, in which the greater vessel may not be contained in the less. But such words may not be used of the Measureless. If Eru wished to do this, I do not doubt that He would find a way, though I cannot foresee it…. There is no power conceivable greater than Melkor save Eru only. Therefore Eru, if He will not relinquish His work to Melkor, who must else proceed to mastery, then Eru must come in to conquer him. More: even if Melkor (or the Morgoth that he has become) could in any way be thrown down or thrust from Arda, still his Shadow would remain, and the evil that he has wrought and sown as a seed would wax and multiply. And if any remedy for this is to be found ... it must, I deem, come from without."

"Then, lord," gasps Andreth, looking up in wonder, "you believe in this Hope?"

~~~~~7. "We Should Learn of the Hope"~~~~~

Finrod answers, "It is still to me but strange news that comes from afar. No such hope was ever spoken to the Quendi ... yet through you we may hear it and lift up our hearts." Pausing and looking gravely at Andreth, he adds, "Yes, Wise-woman, maybe it was ordained that we ... should meet and bring news one to another, and so we should learn of the Hope from you ... so that while the Shadow still broods in the North we should not be wholly afraid.”

Consider this passage a Christmas and Easter gift to all from the Professors Tolkien. May each of us have hope and not be afraid in these perilous times.

A last observation about those holidays comes from Tom Shippey, who was Tolkien's successor at Oxford University. In his book J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century Shippey discusses Easter and then Christmas calendar dates in his chapter on the mythic dimension of The Lord of the Rings: Gandalf tells Sam, "The New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March, when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King." Shippey states that J.R.R. Tolkien used March 25 "as a kind of signature, a personal mark of piety.... In old English tradition, 25th March is the date of the Crucifixion, of the first Good Friday.... It is the date of the Annunciation and the conception of Christ—naturally, nine months exactly before Christmas, 25th December. It is also the date of the Fall of Adam and Eve, the felix culpa whose disastrous effects the Annunciation and the Crucifixion were to annul or repair.... In Appendix B, December 25th is the day on which the Fellowship sets out from Rivendell. The main action of The Lord of the Rings takes place ... between Christmas, Christ's birth, and the Crucifixion, Christ's death."

This Christ-like Aragorn in glory is titled “Estel” by rajado.

The conclusion to Tolkien's famous lecture "On Fairy-stories," where he coined the word Eucatastrophe.
Christmas-like hope from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

If you liked this post, you will probably like reading this one: J.R.R. Tolkien on Númenor’s Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven

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