We would like to thank everyone who participated in our Tolkien Reading Event this year! We really appreciate all the guest posts and comments and enthusiasm! We hope you enjoyed reading and reviewing Tolkien with us over the past two weeks. If you missed any of our fantastic event posts, you can find links to them below! Also feel free to link up any Tolkien-related posts you may have on your own blog by clicking the green Mister Linky graphic after the list.
- Announcement: Tolkien Reading Event
- Tolkien Event Survey
- Guest Review: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Guest Post: From Books to Movies and Back Again: A Fangirl’s Tale
- “On Fairy Stories” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Guest Post: Not Around But Through: The Place of The Children of Húrin in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth Story
- “Smith of Wooton Major” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Feature: If You Like Tolkien, Then Read….
- Guest Review: Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Guest Review: “Leaf by Niggle” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft
- Guest Post: Eucatastrophe: Hope Beyond the Walls of the World
- Guest Post: 3 Things Tolkien Taught Me
- Guest Post: “She Who Weeps”: The Value of Suffering in Tolkien
- Guest Post: Two Moments in “Of the Ruin of Doriath” that Don’t Have Much to Do with the Ruin of Doriath
Guest Post: Two Moments in “Of the Ruin of Doriath” that Don’t Have Much to Do with the Ruin of Doriath
David writes irregularly for his blog The Warden’s Walk, where he reviews stories of a fantastical and science-fictional nature. An unashamed student of Tolkien, Lewis, and George MacDonald, he tries to balance academic analysis with more passionate responses, each having their place. At a very basic level, he’s just extremely grateful that there are people who have stories they are willing to tell.
“Of the Ruin of Doriath” is a complicated story, deeply entangled in the mythical web of The Silmarillion, the elaborate history Tolkien wrote for his invented world. Before this story comes the great romance of Beren and Lúthien, and the tragic tale of Túrin Turambar. After it comes the Fall of Gondolin, the Voyage of Eärendel, and the Fall of Númenor. Every major event in the tale is tied to something that happened before; a common trait of Tolkien’s stories that strengthens the emotional pull and internal reality of his mythology. Of course, it can also make it difficult reading for someone unfamiliar with the history of Middle-Earth.
Which, in turn, puts me in the unenviable position of having to educate the average reader on said fantastical history before I can talk about Tolkien’s story. So let me explain.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up:
“Of the Ruin of Doriath” progresses in roughly three stages.
First Stage, about Húrin: Húrin, father of the now-dead hero Túrin Turambar, is released from his long imprisonment in the fiery mountain stronghold of the devil Morgoth. He finds the amazing Necklace of the Dwarves—the Nauglamír, the greatest craft of jewelry ever forged by the Dwarves—and gives it to Elf King Thingol, who rules a kingdom in the greatforest ofDoriath.
Second Stage, where Doriath falls: King Thingol commissions the Dwarves to set within the Nauglamír the Silmaril he owns—the Silmarils being the greatest, most beautiful jewels made by the Elves, and the objects of a terrible curse. The Dwarves do this, thus creating an even greater piece of jewelry. Then they demand the right to keep the perfected Necklace for themselves. Thingol says no. The Dwarves kill him in his throne room and run for their lives. The Elves pursue them and recover the Nauglamír and Silmaril, but two of the Dwarves escape the slaughter and reach the mountains of the two Dwarven kingdoms. These Dwarven kingdoms then send out an army that succeeds in destroying Doriath and taking again the Nauglamír and Silmaril.
Third Stage, where Dior tries and fails to restore Doriath: Beren and Lúthien hear of the tragedy, and Beren leads an army of Elves that ambushes and destroys the Dwarven army on its way home. He takes the Nauglamír and Silmaril to his home in the south, where Lúthien wears it and becomes such a shining beacon of beauty that even the curse of the Silmaril is held at bay for awhile. Dior, their son, and the rightful heir to the throne of Doriath, returns to the forest kingdom and tries to rule over its nearly empty, ruined halls. Shortly thereafter he learns that his parents have both died, and have given him the Nauglamír and Silmaril. He wears the Necklace, as is his right, but he also grows in pride. The other Elven lords—the ones bound by a terrible Oath to reclaim the Silmarils for the family of Fëanor no matter what—attack Dior in his fledgling kingdom and slay him and the people of Doriath. But a remnant escapes, including Elwing, Dior’s daughter, who carries with her the Silmaril in safety to the shores of the sea.
Got all of that?
This is all just so that I can tell you about two particular moments in the story—the moments that always stand out to me the most when I read it—that don’t (apparently) have much to do with it. Yet they are, tellingly, incredibly important for the characters involved. The first takes place very near the tale’s beginning, and the second very near the end.
1. Húrin finds Morwen, his wife
For twenty-eight years Húrin was tortured in the dungeons of Morgoth, and then released as a shadow of himself, wandering the wilds of Beleriand seeking old friendships in vain. Haggard, weary in body and soul, he comes at last to the deep river chasm where the son and daughter he had never seen had perished. Perhaps Morgoth’s cruelest torment was to allow Húrin to watch the tragic lives of his children, Túrin and Nienor, and their unwittingly incestuous marriage that ended in their despair and deaths. Yet he is too weary with heart-scars to mourn them openly anymore. Because he knows their doom already, he does not read the inscription on their burial stone. But beneath the towering stone sits his wife, Morwen, once among the most beautiful of mortal women, but now gray and fearful.
“You come at last,” she says. “I have waited too long.”
“It was a dark road. I have come as I could,” he replies.
“But you are too late. They are lost,” says Morwen.
“I know it,” he said. “But you are not.”
But Morwen said, “Almost. I am spent. I shall go with the sun.”
(Paraphrased from The Silmarillion, page 283.)
So they sit in silence together until the sun sets, and she passes with it. He buries her, and for a time remains still as a stone, until a cold wind rouses in his breast anger and a thirst for vengeance. He rises, cloaked in black and with a black staff, and goes to Doriath, the forest kingdom of the Elf Thingol, bearing with him the great jewelry Nauglamír.
We know what this husband and wife have gone through, and their last meeting his heartbreaking even as there is a sweetness to it. They have been denied the best years of their lives together. They have known tremendous pain and hardship at the hands of enemies. They have felt rejection from friends. They have watched their whole world come nearer to crumbling around them. And, I think they must feel themselves to be failures as parents, because of the terrible doom that befell their children.
All this is behind this tiny, quiet little scene that Tolkien wrote. They are too old and wearied for outpourings of joy at their reunion. Morwen cannot even contain her disappointment that her husband could not save their family. And yet…and yet…they are together. Though she dies with the setting of the sun, Húrin is with her, a silent companion, but her companion, watching over her at last. Words are superfluous for them. Twenty-eight years apart in sorrow and hardship, but it seems to my mind that the love between them did not break.
2. Dior learns of his parents’ deaths
Another melancholy moment, I’m afraid. And one the comes soon after a victory, however bitter. Though King Thingol and Queen Melian have fallen, and their kingdom nearly dissolved, Dior, the noble son of heroes Beren and Lúthien has returned to Doriath in the hopes of restoring it. Perhaps the great kingdom can rise again! Perhaps joy and peace might reign, after all this darkness. Dior’s parents still live peacefully in the south, surrounded by friends and far from Morgoth’s reach, and with the Necklace and its Silmaril seemingly protected by the saintliness of his beautiful mother Lúthien. Indeed, Beren and Lúthien are still living in relative happiness and safety, and Dior has every reason to be hopeful about the future.
Then “there came an autumn night” (The Silmarillion, 291). A messenger knocks on the doors of the palace at Doriath, and no mean one at that—this messenger is himself an Elven lord, from the south. He enters the throne room, where King Dior sits alone, and silently lays a box at the king’s feet, and leaves. In the box is the Nauglamír, with its inlaid Silmaril, and Dior knows that his parents have died.
“Long did Dior gaze upon the Silmaril, which his father and mother had brought beyond hope out of the terror of Morgoth; and his grief was great that death had come upon them so soon” (292).
We know little of Dior himself, in the histories of Tolkien. There are no stories that deal exclusively with him, nor are many of his deeds known. But his parents we know and love, for they, having suffered as much as any in Middle-Earth, managed what few could—a happy ending, a eucatastrophe, and the triumph of love. Though we do not know Dior himself very well, we know through this scene that he loves his parents as we do.
There is more that can be said about Tolkien’s tale “Of the Ruin of Doriath.” About King Thingol’s enduring pride despite his surprising tenderness towards Húrin; about an angel’s heart breaking in the breast of Queen Melian; about the Dwarves and their petty greed; about Húrin’s brutal, disturbing vengeance against a Dwarf who had betrayed his son; about the terrible mix of honor and foolishness that provokes the sons of Fëanor—the greatest Elven lords—to pursue the Silmaril at the end and destroy Doriath for good, along with Dior, in needless bloodshedding, and losing the jewel anyway! But when I read the story, what remains in my mind and in my heart are the deep loves of Húrin, Morwen, and Dior. It is worth creating an entire fictional world just to write moments like these.
You can find more of David at The Warden’s Walk:
Melopemene, the Ancient Muse of Tragedy, likes to associate with mortals through the mediums of sorrow, tight plot structure, catharsis, and snappy delivery. Occasionally she moonlights as a Graduate Student of Literature. Failing those, she can be found enjoying a cup of tea – or Scotch – at the Egotist’s Club, communing with her sister muses and the occasional visitor.
The Egotist’s Club, a sociable society of brilliant minds, embraces the fact that most blogs – for the most part – exist for the ego of the authors, who beg to be read and acknowledged. We simply do so more honestly, smugly, and eruditely than most. We wax poetic over wurms and firebugs, rhapsodize over the moments of awkward that – for some reason – pervade our lives, and enlighten the world with our reflections on poetry, music, novels, and all other types of art. We have a manifesto. And we only take ourselves seriously enough!
The Elves are heartbroken by the wars and death and plan to leave Middle-earth. Aragorn and Arwen must suffer through the mortal travails of rebuilding a society, and eventually die. And Frodo cannot remain in his beloved Shire.
This continued suffering might be more “true to life” than the promise of “happily ever after”, but Tolkien does not merely seek to add some “reality” to his story by following through on the consequences of such sacrifices.
Rather, Tolkien speaks to the value and beauty of such sorrow and pain.
Justice does not have complete sway over the fates of the characters. The villains, or mediocre-ly evil characters, are – for the most part –disposed of, but rarely in as painful a manner as would seem fitting. And our heroes still carry the scars and burdens of their experiences.
The closing chapter of Lord of the Rings aches with the sorrow of Samwise Gamgee, as he sees the consequences of the war on Frodo: permanently wounded and no longer able to stay in his home. The pain is palpable, and the injustice of Frodo’s suffering hurts the reader.
In The Silmarillion, Tolkien tells of fourteen great powers who shaped Arda and who guard and guide her peoples, the Valar. Most of these are – like the powers in most folk lore – directly linked with the natural world: Manwe, Lord of the Breath of Arda: Varda, Lady of the Stars: Ulmo, Lord of the Waters: Yavanna, Giver of All Fruits. Some of them are keeper of certain skills or places: Aule, the Maker, master of all crafts: Irmo, Master of Visions and Dreams: Namo, Keeper of the Houses of the Dead.
But there is one Vala who does not easily fit into the pattern laid out either by Tolkien himself or by the traditions of folk lore and fairy tale: Nienna, She Who Weeps.
“She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor . . . But she does not weep for herself, and those who harken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope . . . All those who wait [in the Houses of the Dead] cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom. The windows of her house look outward from the walls of the world.” (The Valaquenta, 28.)
Tolkien describes her not as a guardian or protector, but as a teacher and converter.
Nienna is not a figure out of lore or tradition. Rarely do fairy tales have a character associated first with suffering. Yet the very presence of Nienna seems to indicate that there is an intrinsic value to suffering itself; that grief is not something to merely endure, but something can have a refining and annealing affect.
She brings comfort and patience to those who suffer, and brings good consequences out of misery. In this, Tolkien indicates that there is value to be had in such sorrow. Suffering and pain are not useless afflictions upon the world, but a means of attaining something better.
When the Trees of Arda, the splendid Trees that gave Light and beauty to all the land, are destroyed by the malice of the jealous Melkor and his servant Ungoliant, (the mother of Shelob the Spider,) it is Nienna who can reclaim the place by means of her sorrow.
“And Nienna arose and went up onto Ezellahar, and cast back her grey hood, and with her tears washed away the defilements of Ungoliant; and she sang in mourning for the bitterness of the world.” (The Silmarillion, 79.)
It is through her mourning that the land is cleansed; even though trees can never be completely healed, it is in part through her sincere grief that a new good can rise out of the dead. Her sorrow, and its sincere outpouring, is a means of healing and growth.
While sorrow and pain turned inward do fester and even injure, (like in Feanor,) Nienna can use that same suffering to better effect. Just as her dwelling place looks “outward from the walls of the world,” Nienna’s focus is outside of herself, and thus her grief becomes a means of purifying. It is not a necessarily nice world, but Nienna sees beyond the pain and looks to something outside her own existence.
In a way she harkens back to the creation of Arda. When Eru, the One, taught the Ainu, the Holy Ones, to sing, and in their singing they created the world. Even then Melkor was jealous and attempted to weave his own melodies and discord into the music, and so strife was part of the world from the beginning. But when the music ceased, Eru smiled and said:
“Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of thy clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning works of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint,, and hath not dries up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the earth!” (The Ainulindale, 19).
The hardship and pain inflicted upon the earth by the evil of Melkor did not destroy or corrupt, but, by the will of Eru, allowed an even greater beauty to emerge. The conflict that challenged the earth brought it to a higher glory.
Nienna’s suffering does not embitter her. She walks in grief, and feels the sorrows of the world most deeply, but she is not lost in that pain. Instead, that grief allows her to become an instrument of sympathy and a beacon of hope, and the maturation of wisdom.
She is later named as the teacher of Wisdom, and it is said that Mithrandir, the Grey Wanderer who would later be known as Gandalf, was her disciple.
It is perhaps through him that we can best see the fruit of her teaching: it is Gandalf who defends pity as the virtue which protected Bilbo from the hurt of the evil of the Ring, pity for Gollum, teaching Frodo both the imaginative sympathy and the activity of mercy that eventually save Middle Earth.
Frodo’s “reward” for his role is not just. The world is not fair.
But it can be beautiful. And the change in Frodo’s heart and fate, however sad in this world, allow him to set sail for the next world.
And Gandalf, concluding the story of the Lord of the Rings with the wisdom of Nienna, tells both Sam and the reader,
“Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are and evil.”
If you enjoyed this post, you can find more of Melpomene at the Egotist’s Club:
Renae is a teenage reader with eclectic tastes. She posts reviews on YA novels, literary fiction, historical works, etc. at her blog Respiring Thoughts.
Like many people, I first came to Tolkien when I was young. My dad reads The Lord of the Rings every year or two, and, the way my five-year-old self saw it, if it’s good enough for Daddy, it’s good enough for Renae. Since then I’ve taken to reading The Silmarillion every year instead of The Lord of the Rings, but that’s another story altogether.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing takes up a large minority of my reading time. As a reader and as an ocassional writer, he’s taught me a lot. About dedication, about significance, about what matters most in a book. So I thought I’d share a few of those lessons with you.
1. You think you’re finished. But you’re not. Stick with it.
Middle-earth was a lifelong project of Tolkien’s, one he never fully completed. The Silmarillion as we know it is probably not The Silmarillion J.R.R. would have wanted it to be. Any man who can spend decades creating a fictional world and mythology is a man I admire.
So the next time you want to give up (say, if your characters have gone out of control or your plot has more holes than Swiss cheese), don’t. Some things take time. Some things need to be constantly worked at, constantly refined.
2. It’s the worldbuilding, stupid.
The biggest factor I took away from The Lord of the Rings when I was a kid is the importance of building a realistic setting. Tolkien wrote volumes of material on Middle-earth, most of which were published posthumously. The world he created, quite simply, is the best I’ve ever read. I find myself constantly comparing the worldbuilding in books I read with Tolkien’s. I know I’ve set my standards high and I know I’ve set myself up for disappointment.
But then I read some recent YA releases. The worldbuilding in some of those books isn’t even comparable to Tolkien’s. And whether or not you’ve read Tolkien, it’s important. It’s very important.
3. The stories that stay with you.
There are some books that make an impression on you that sticks. You can’t stop thinking about the story. Maybe it’s a book from when you were younger or maybe it’s a fantastic new release. But it’s one of those books that you love, sometimes without even knowing why.
Look for those stories. Make a little dragon stockpile of them. They’re the ones you’ll wish you had more of.
Urania is a student working on her M.A. in English Literature. She loves stories, particularly fantasy and science fiction. In her spare time, she is a gamer and a writer of short stories. Her favorite Tolkien character is Maedhros. If he were more real, or she were less sane, she’d marry him—after he returns from Mandos, of course!
Near the end of The Two Towers, as Sam and Frodo steal a few precious hours’ rest on the stairs to Cirith Ungol, Sam muses about the nature of adventures. He says:
“I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for because they wanted them . . . But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. . . I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”
“I wonder,” said Frodo. “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”
” No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got—you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on! Don’t the great tales never end?” (Two Towers, chapter 8: “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”)
In this passage, the hobbits have identified two key truths: first, that they are in a tale, and second, that as characters within that tale, they cannot see how their story will end. The same is true of our own lives: each of us has a story, but we’re not allowed to know its conclusion. And while Frodo is exactly right that when we read or hear a tale, we wouldn’t want the characters to know the ending, is it not also true that the characters wish for their tale to end happily? In the same way, when we conceive of our lives as stories, we long to know we’ll get a happy ending, even if we can’t know every particular of its joy.
So, just where can we find hope for a happy ending in a world where we may often feel like Frodo and Sam: poised on the brink of a journey into the land of Sauron himself, where all signs seem to point to the certain failure of their quest?
As we see, Sam turns to another story, that of Beren and Lúthien and the Silmaril. Many times throughout this tale, the two lovers find themselves facing hopeless situations, even death itself. And each time, they are saved by the sudden, nigh-miraculous intervention of friends, and even Valar. (If you’ve never read the tale of Beren and Lúthien, I won’t tell you how it ends. Go find a copy of the Silmarillion and read their story for yourself—it’s beautiful and romantic, joyous and heartbreaking in the best kind of way.)
A story like Beren and Lúthien’s offers us hope through the action of what Tolkien, in his wonderful essay “On Fairy Stories,” calls eucatastrophe (literally “good catastrophe”). He writes:
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, [is] the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy tale). . . In its fairy-tale—or otherworldly—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
When Beren and Lúthien are saved from disaster and despair by the sudden intervention of good, we are reminded that a greater Power exists outside the story and orders that story toward a happy ending. Of course, Beren and Lúthien’s story is a fiction, yet it offers us hope in reality, as well. By experiencing the fictional eucatastrophe, we are prepared to see more clearly the eucatastrophes in our own stories. True, we will still experience evil and grief, but the fact that we have seen glimpses of “miraculous grace” gives us hope that our story will ultimately end well. It is this universal final victory that is the evangelium (“good news”) for us.
Lastly, as Sam points out, “We’re in the same tale still! It’s going on! Don’t the great tales never end?” There is hope in this realization, as well. We may not seem to be great heroes, the ones destined to be remembered in ballads, but we are all part of one Great Tale. And as characters in this true Fairy-Story, our lives each have purpose and the final Eucatastrophe is our own.
If you liked this post, you can find more from Urania at the Egotist’s Club:
Baggins, otherwise known as Kim, is a 28-year-old qualified librarian from Australia, currently studying towards a Masters of Children’s Literature…when she’s not distracted by awesome YA books that she simply can’t get enough of and watching way too much TV. She shares her love of YA fiction through her blog, Baggins’s Book Blabber…and yes, she earned her nickname with thanks to the brilliant Tolkien, his portrayal of Hobbits, and her father’s belief that her preferring to stay at home and read means she is secretly a Hobbit. Like her namesakes, however, she has enjoyed many an adventure and looks forward to lots more!
Summary (from Amazon): “Leaf by Niggle” recounts the strange adventures of the painter Niggle who sets out to paint the perfect tree.
Review: A beautiful, poignant and hopeful story, “Leaf by Niggle” is sure to touch all readers.
Niggle is an artist who wants to paint the perfect tree. He starts with just one perfect leaf. As he adds to it and creates a whole tree, through its branches Niggle can see a forest, home to an assortment of wildlife, and beyond the forest, a mountain. As Niggle works on his tree it becomes more and more, and he fears he will not complete it before he must go on his journey. Cutting into his time to complete his tree is his disabled neighbour, Parish, who needs his assistance for an assortment of things. Like many of the townspeople, Parish does not understand Niggle’s work – certainly he can not see beyond the scribbles that make up Niggle’s tree. One day while fixing Parish’s roof in the rain, Niggle gets sick, which further cuts into his time to complete his perfect tree. Before he knows it he must embark on his journey, and despite knowing it was coming, Niggle is unprepared. What follows is an adventure unlike any other.
I’m a little sad to say that before being asked to take part in this event I’d only read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. I’m sure many can relate! Krysta recommended I read “Leaf by Niggle”, and let me tell you, I have been missing out! This is a story everyone should read at least once. It resonates with emotion that every reader will connect with in some way and it’s sure to be one that will stay with you. “Leaf by Niggle” has such a dreamlike quality to it that pulls you in from start to finish. If you’ve enjoyed any of Tolkien’s other works I highly recommend you give “Leaf by Niggle” a go, too…if you haven’t already!
Much has been discussed of “Leaf by Niggle”’s allegorical status. Tolkien himself didn’t always believe his story to be such, but no matter how you look at it, symbolism is rife throughout this wonderful story. Some believe it to be a reflection of Tolkien’s own process creating his works, especially Lord of the Rings, and I must say that the imagery of the forest and the mountain beyond definitely brought to my mind this beloved narrative. Certainly the story can be thought to represent the creation of art as a whole, and its effects and importance. What resonates the most is the allusions to Niggle’s journey and death, purgatory and heaven beyond. I think every person can relate to Niggle’s wanting to complete his work before he embarks on this ‘journey’. To create something or do something that will leave an impact, to leave something behind that will ensure we’re remembered…for me, this made “Leaf by Niggle” truly heartfelt. I especially love the idea that where he didn’t succeed in life, he had the opportunity to do so on his journey before moving on. Maybe what we leave behind isn’t huge or world changing, but it still has its place in the long run. It amazes me how deep and touching, how just so much can be related through one short story.
I also really enjoyed Niggle and Parish’s relationship. How they didn’t quite understand each other until they meet up again on their journey and have the opportunity to work together to create Niggle’s vision into something tangible and much bigger than either could have anticipated. Tolkien has such a way of creating characters that forge everlasting bonds, and “Leaf by Niggle” is no different. No matter how fantastical Tolkien’s stories, they are rooted in a real emotion that ensures a connection between his characters and readers. It’s what makes Tolkien and his works so great and celebrated, I think. Without doubt, “Leaf by Niggle” is one short story not to be missed, so be sure to read and experience it yourself.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Anthology: Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published: 1 November 2009
Thalia is one of the lovely ladies who blogs at the Egotist’s Club. Check out their reflections on literature, beauty, and, of course, Tolkien!
I’ve tried to be erudite and I’ve tried to be deep but to no avail. As I prepare to celebrate J.R.R. Tolkien, all I can do is grin madly and strew flowers about. No, silly, not like Ophelia. Tolkien never murdered my father… Rather, picture the final curtain of Siegfried. I am in a transported audience hollering “Bravo”, stamping my feet, clapping my hands and raining flowers down upon the stage. I’m the person who rushes madly up to my hero with tears in my eyes. Wringing his hand, all I can think of to say is,
“Oh dear. Now she’ll tell me all about how Lord of the Rings is her secret retreat from the world and that she’s got an elven cloak.” So thinks the object of my slobbering admiration.
“When I was a teenager,” I begin.
“Here we go…she’s got an elven name too…” (Which I do… but it’s secret.)
“I read Roverandom, and I just laughed and laughed. It was the best story I had ever read. I still think of it with tenderness. Honestly, I think it is either the pinnacle or else the foundation of all story telling.”
At this point, doubtless my hero is too overwhelmed by other crazed fans to voice his surprise.
But there you have it. I love Lord of the Rings. I ponder Leaf By Niggle. I cried too much to finish The Silmarillion. But really, it is the little story about a little puppy that wins my heart. Tolkien wrote this story to entertain his son after the boy lost a beloved toy dog. It is a simple story, but like every good fairy tale Roverandom is a quest.
It is a quest for home, perhaps the most dangerous quest in the world. For the fears and anguish we face on that road are nearer to ourselves and more perilous than perhaps any other. The quest for home is the one most parallel to our own aching journey toward heaven and so it is the most urgent. But that road is full of darkness and treachery. You really shouldn’t try to face that without a sense of humor. That is what Roverandom provides.
Roverandom sparkles with the wit and whimsy of Tolkien. This isn’t a side of him that you see or notice very often. There are funny moments, of course, in Lord of the Rings. The letter that Gandalf writes to Frodo threatens some hilarious punishments to Butterbur. The hobbits are such simple souls that they cause many hilarious moments. But by and large, the wit and humor of Tolkien are submerged in the vastness of the story. In the short, sweet story of Roverandom, there is an opportunity to experience a lighter touch.
I started to write a dull summary of plot, but it was dull and, unsurprisingly, gave away the story. I can say without fear though, that it is a tale of wild fancies and hilarious predicaments mostly caused by little Roverandom’s naughtiness and solved by the subtle machinations of the Man in the Moon and his friend the wizard Psamathos Psamathides. The long, long way back home takes Roverandom to the Moon and under the Sea. All around there are scary things that Roverandom treats like any small dog would. In ignorant bravado, of course.
Too often, humor is overlooked by young authors trying to say something serious about the world. It takes a masterful hand to use whimsical fancy, but in the end it is one of the powerful weapons against the world that we face. Either in life or in fairy tales, add a sense of humor to your pre-adventure check list.
Summary: Peter Kreeft explores the worldview behind Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by asking 50 philosophical questions and then explaining Tolkien’s answer in a three-part format: a quote from Tolkien’s works on Middle-earth demonstrating the answer, a quote from Tolkien’s other works expanding upon and clarifying his answer, and a quote from C. S. Lewis’s work explaining the answer more directly. Kreeft encourages readers to use the book not only as a guide to Middle-earth but also as an introduction to philosophy; he suggests asking the same questions of other works of literature, especially those with philosophies greatly different from Tolkien’s.
Review: In The Philosophy of Tolkien, Peter Kreeft proposes to explain the enormous and continuing popularity of Tolkien’s books. His claim is daring because it makes much the same point that Tolkien made decades ago when he wrote that fairy tales and fantasy should not be dismissed as mere “escapism.” He argues that readers find themselves drawn to Middle-earth not because they want to escape their own reality, but because they find there a deeper reality. Kreeft’s book serves as a guide to that deeper reality, answering questions about how Tolkien viewed and portrayed the nature of truth, beauty, love, virtue, and God.
Having someone explain to you why you love your favorite author may seem, if not condescending, at least invasive. Tolkien especially touches chords that seem intensely private; the beauty and sorrow that permeate his work are of a depth and quality that many people don’t find easy to share. Kreeft, however, establishes himself immediately as a worthy and trustworthy companion on this new journey through Tolkien’s works. His love for all things Middle-earth is evident from the first page, marking him as a kindred spirit, one of those people who understands. He can speak of the longings stirred by the high beauty of the Elves or of the nostalgia awoken by the sense of Middle-earth’s deep past as one who has experienced it and is not ashamed. He lets his readers know that they are not alone in feeling a deep desire for something in Middle-earth, even if they cannot yet give that desire a name.
Unfortunately, though the spirit of the book is in the right place, the structure could use some more work. At times Kreeft seems to lean too heavily on Lewis to explain Tolkien, taking it as a matter of course that the latter would have agreed with his friend’s statements completely, without establishing a basis for this assumption. Because Lewis speaks so directly on points on faith and philosophy while Tolkien often prefers to let his story speak for itself, Kreeft seems to be pushing his conclusions on Tolkien’s philosophy too far. Other times, Kreeft raises a question but fails to answer it fully. He seems conflicted as to whether he was writing an introduction to philosophy in general or a book on Tolkien’s philosophy.
Despite his structural problems, however, Kreeft ultimately writes a sound guide to Tolkien’s philosophy. He demonstrates clearly and simply how Tolkien’s understanding of the world influenced his vision of Middle-earth, even if most of the philosophy remains under the surface of the narrative. His conclusions make another journey into Middle-earth an even richer and more fulfilling experience.
If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like. This is the fourth week we are running it, and we post it once a month. If you have more suggestions, let us know in the comments!
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J. R. R. Tolkien
During the 1920s and 30s, Tolkien retold the story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer and the fall of the Niflungs in English alliterative verse. His version of these famous Norse tales remained unpublished until 2009, when his son Christopher released them along with commentary on Tolkien’s sources. The high tone and matter will appeal to those readers who enjoyed The Silmarillion while Sigurd’s connection to Túrin Turambar from The Children of Húrin may also interest fans of Middle-earth.
The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer
The author challenges the standard assumption that the Inklings (a group of writers including Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams) had little influence on each other’s works by citing the many ways in which writers interact with and receive input from others, even if they do not work in direct collaboration. Even readers not particularly interested in the Inklings will want to consider Glyer’s refutation of the myth of the isolated artist.
The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien
On the night of his return home from a long estrangement, Stephen Cade becomes implicated in the murder of his father, an Oxford historian and WWII colonel. The evidence seems to point conclusively to his guilt, but five other people were present at the time of the murder and all of them have their secrets. Concerned that Stephen will face an unwarranted hanging, the inspector who arrested him sets out to uncover the truth about the colonel’s past. Part mystery, part historical fiction, and part courtroom drama. Written by Toklien’s grandson.
Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy edited by Douglas A. Anderson
J. R. R. Tolkien receives primary credit for the enormous popularity of fantasy today, but before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings other authors sparked his imagination. This anthology includes 21 short stories and one play selected by Anderson to illustrate the range of writers whom Tolkien would have read. The collection includes “The Golden Key” by George MacDonald, “The Story of Sigurd” by Andrew Lang, “The Dragon Tamers” by E. Nesbit, “The Enchanted Buffalo” by L. Frank Baum, and “Golithos the Ogre” by E. A. Wyke-Smith among other works.
Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien
Between 1920 and 1942, Tolkien wrote his children numerous letters purporting to be from Father Christmas and chronicling his adventures with the North Polar Bear. They were published in 1976 and again in 2004 along with Tolkien’s original illustrations.
Goodreads: Smith of Wooton Major
Summary: A young boy in the town of Wooton Major eats a fay-star in his slice of cake at the Twenty-four Feast. On his tenth birthday, the star falls from his mouth and he claps it to forehead, where it becomes a sort of passport for him in the land of Faery.
Review: “Smith of Wooton Major” is a beautiful short story for anyone who enjoys a good fairytale—one about Faery itself, and not about a pretty princess looking for true love. It opens with a description of the town and traditions of Wooton Major, where the Master Cook is held in high regard and hosts a special feast for twenty-four children every twenty-four years. Tolkien’s hobbit-ish appreciation for food and good cheer really shines through, and readers cannot help but think Wooton Major sounds like rather a pleasant place to live.
The focus, however, is on what it means to open one’s mind, to accept the possibility and the value of magic. Tolkien paints striking images of Faery, which is lovely but also stern and dangerous. He brings the same seriousness and dignity to this land that he brought to the Elves in The Lord of the Rings.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Wooton Major can believe that this world exists. Contrasted with the star-browed Smith is Master Cook Nokes, who makes light of even the mention of fairies. Partially this is dangerous to him, because the King and Queen of Faery are real and powerful, but it is also very sad. Nokes misses opportunities and great beauty through his own stubbornness.
“Smith of Wooton Major” can and has been read as an allegory, but I encourage reading it for its imagery and its message—that the imagination is important and that is not frivolous. Adults, as well as children, can believe in magic and it is essential that they do so.