Tag Archives: Tolkien

He went further than human tyrants.

Tolkien illustration

“In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.

“In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true God, and held worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.”

“You can make the Ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like: an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power.”

―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

How and why dragons almost exist.

I’m anticipating a drive to the mountains next month, during which I want to hear the whole of this podcast, In Full Fire. This morning I only had time for the first few minutes, and was impressed with how fast I was plunged into the vast history of dragons as symbols, starting with listeners’ questions regarding contemporary books and movies that their children and grandchildren enjoy.

It’s a wide range of topics! Dragons in the East and in the West, strange or friendly, and as some stories suggest, superior to humans; dragons as dreadful enemies or sources of strength and creativity. Can dragons be tamed? De-fanged?

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick hosts the Amon Sûl podcast and three others on ancientfaith.com. In this episode he interviews Jonathan Pageau, who has his own website and podcast, The Symbolic World. Even if you are not a huge Tolkien devotee, you might like to sample a few minutes yourself, because more than ever, dragons are everywhere – almost.

Tolkien’s illustration for Beowulf

From bitter cold to laughter and light.

I know that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ has passed; the Leavetaking of Nativity was yesterday, so that we might enter fully into today’s feasts. So it may seem a bit odd for me to post the poem below, but for many reasons it seems most appropriate. (One practical reason is that I only now rose from my sick bed to look at my blog!) I might be hearkening back to the early church, about which we read:

“During the first centuries of Christianity, the Feast of Theophany was celebrated together with a number of observances as recorded in the Gospels. They are: the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Holy Virgin Mary; the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the glorification of the heavenly hosts, the veneration by the shepherds and the coming of the Magi; the Circumcision; the Naming of our Lord; the Presentation in the Temple; the Flight into Egypt and Return; the Baptism at the River Jordan; the Temptation in the Wilderness and the Testimony (Witness) of St. John the Forerunner.

“This group of feasts was celebrated from the 6th to the 13th of January, called the octave of Theophany; the most prominent being the Birth and Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, with special importance afforded to the Baptism. The church grouped the birth and baptism, together (called Theophany, “the revelation of God,”) on January the 6th because they were the first revelations of His divinity, incarnation, and the beginning of His ministry as Lord and Savior of mankind.”

I first read the poem last summer on Elizabeth’s blog, so she obviously thought it applicable at any time of the year. And for myself, I can’t imagine looking forward to a new calendar year with anything but foreboding, were it not for the fact that “God is with us.”

Do you count this the seventh or eighth day of Christmas? Most Christians count Christmas Day itself as the first day, so New Year’s Day is the Eighth Day. For us Orthodox, it is also the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and St. Basil’s Day. Soon we will arrive at the glorious Feast of Theophany.

So many feasts and commemorations! But they all flow from the astounding fact and reality that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

NOËL

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

-J.R.R. Tolkien

If your Christmas celebrations were lacking in bells, I recommend these videos of bell-ringing from New Jersey to California and abroad. Most of them start out slow and progress to very lively and joyous. Nothing compares to hearing them as you are leaving church after services of a Great Feast, but these are worthwhile substitutes. The bells of Paradise never stop ringing.

Bells of St. Nicholas

Brother Seraphim

St. Alexander Nevsky

Sf. Ioan Teologul

St. Alexander Nevsky (shorter)

When elves and hobbits sing.

tolk-ens-4-cdI feel a bit foolish, having written in my last book review that I had been put off from “all things Danish.” The fact is, I was that very week exulting in what I had forgotten was a Danish phenomenon, the Tolkien Ensemble and their achievement of composing and performing music for all of the songs in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It was a blog discussion of poetry that alerted me to the existence of this group, founded in 1995, and their recordings on four CD’s. I’m surprised that I never heard of them in the last fifteen years. As a mom reading the trilogy aloud to my children 25 years ago, I vaguely remember feeling inadequate when we came to one of the many songs in the novels. Tolkien’s verse has meter, and the poetry is affecting, but they are songs to the hobbits and other characters, and one longs to really sing them. I am not good at composing tunes on the spot; I wonder if Tolkien hummed appropriate melodies as he was writing? [Update: evidently he did!]

A 4-CD set was compiled after all of the recordings had been made over several years. There seem to be slight variations in the different editions and collections, but I have all four CD’s now, totaling 69 tracks, which I bought separately and mostly used. I’ve listened to some of songs many times, and I continue to be amazed at the quality of the music, and how each song is fitted with a composition that seems to me to be just right for it. I admit to being an amateur music critic, but I’m going to plow on ahead. If any of my readers are familiar with these recordings and know more about the field of music, maybe you can further instruct or correct me, or just tell me what are your favorite songs.

tolk-2000
Tolkien Ensemble 2000

Caspar Reiff, one of the composers, founded the Tolkien Ensemble in Copenhagen when he was in his late 20’s and studying guitar at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. His former guitar teacher and “multi-musician” Peter Hall joined as co-composer, along with fellow students from the music academy. They are a convincing advertisement for that school.

The Ensemble manages to create a fitting expression for every mood and activity that was put to verse in these books. The song of “Tinúviel” captures the urgency and enchantment of Beren who falls in love with an Elven maid and chases her through the forest and the seasons, calling achingly, “Tinúviel! Tinúviel!” until she in turn falls under his spell, and in her eyes “The trembling starlight of the skies/He saw there mirrored shimmering.” The drinking song Frodo sings at the Inn of Bree is a lot of fun, with accordion and fiddle, spoons and dishes. There are riddles, laments, and even a bath song. We have a hearty upbeat walking song as the few Hobbits are starting out bravely:

Farewell we call to hearth and hall!
Though wind may blow and rain may fall,
We must away ere break of day
Far over the wood and mountain tall.
To Rivendell, where Elves yet dwell
In glades beneath the misty fell,
Through moor and waste we ride in haste,
And whither then we cannot tell.

With foes ahead, behind us dread,
Beneath the sky shall be our bed,
Until at last our toil be passed,
Our journey done, our errand sped.

We must away! We must away!
We ride before the break of day!

Contrast this with Frodo’s more melancholy mood when he sings alone the song he learned from Bilbo. It seems like the theme song for the entire tale:

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet,
And whither then? I cannot say.

Many of the songs are sad. The whole story is rather bleak, of course, with the growing and unrelenting awareness that the former glory of kings and elves is fading fast and can’t be regained. The unhurried drama enacted in a lumbering musical conversation between the separated Ents and Entwives is heartbreaking, but it is one of my favorites.

They call to one another in their stately Ent voices that convey their tree-like, large physiques and great age. The Ent sings stanzas in a beautiful but heavy tone, with the refrain, “Come back to me,” and she replies, “I’ll linger here,” until the last verses when he says he will come to her, and then they sing in unison of a time when they will converge on a journey to where their hearts may be at rest.

The Elf Legolas sings a “Song of the Sea” that I didn’t like at first, I think because it put me off balance, as though I were on a ship being buffeted by the waves. But after a few times through, I got my sea legs and began to enjoy the feeling of the moist wind in my hair, and the sense of adventure.

The women of The Tolkien Ensemble have lovely voices that one imagines might be heard among those “misty glades” where Elves dwell and sing. They use them to good effect in several tracks about the lands and heroes of these wise and ageless creatures.

What might be called a Thinking Song, “Bilbo’s Song,” is one that he sings meditatively. The guitar accompaniment reminds me very much of the way my own mind can go round and round on a subject, ruminating. The strings are plucked in a quick and repetitive rhythm, perhaps with a drone note coming back frequently.

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

tolk-2007
The group in 2007

gl-rivendell-i-ii

At right is the cover of the set of two disks I first bought, to find out if even liked them. It’s hard to find samples of the music online; you might pull up one or two on YouTube, and then you might find them taken down the next minute. If bought separately, the disks in order of production are:

1 An Evening in Rivendell
2 A Night in Rivendell
3 Dawn in Rivendell
4 Leaving Rivendell

But don’t worrry – not all the action takes place in Rivendell. Those are just the disk titles, and the songs included on each disk are not necessarily in an obvious order, either.

I immediately found so much to love in those first two collections that I shopped sources for the other two disks. And after listening for a day or two, it was clear: I must read the trilogy again to put the newly appreciated songs in their context. That had been my desire after watching Peter Jackson’s film interpretation that was so disappointing, but I hadn’t followed through. So I dropped all my other Currently Reading books to read The Fellowship of the Ring. Now I am on to The Two Towers, still in the Company!

When I am listening to the recordings, and now reading the novel again, I often think about those days when I had my children gathered around me and we were all vicariously traveling across the mountains and wastes of Middle Earth. If it had been only ten years later, we could have paused at each song as it appeared in the story to play the companion track on a CD, and let the music sink into our consciousness and draw us deeper into the story. That kind of enrichment would have raised the quality of our literary immersion a notch, to be sure. The Tolkien Ensemble gave their final concert in 2008, but I’m confident that the fruits of their project will continue to give joy to Tolkien-lovers for a long time.

middleearthlargelargerstill