Tolkien Reading Day 2022

“Love and Friendship” is certainly a theme I can get behind 100%. After all, I am a most hopeless, hopeful romantic. “But that’s a paradox,” you might argue. Of course it is. I am a paradox.

I am going to suggest several passages from Lord of the Rings for you to read. The first is the story of Aragorn and Arwen in Appendix A. Their love story is one that spans many years, and Aragorn must first become King before Arwen’s father is willing to give her to him. If you are at all familiar with the plot of Lord of the Rings, you will realize that this was not by any means an easy thing to accomplish, nor did it even seem possible in many ways. As I was reading this passage tonight, I thought of the story of Jacob and Rachel from the Bible. Jacob had to work 14 years for Rachel. However, from the time that Aragorn first fell in love with Arwen to the time of their wedding was 39 years. Talk about devotion.

Their story is one of hope, yet incredible sadness and ultimately death for them both. Listen to this quote, speaking of Aragorn:

“His face was sad and stern because of the doom that was laid upon him, and yet hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart, from which mirth would arise at times like a spring from the rock.”

Ah, the beauty of this. The undying love and the persistent hope of his heart…. And as for Arwen:

“…as [Aragorn] came walking towards her under the trees of Caras Galadhon laden with flowers of gold, her choice was made and her doom appointed.”

Is this not similar to the entrance of Solomon? (see Song of Solomon 3:6-11) And is this not similar to a woman’s dream of her lover coming toward her in splendid manhood? Love is such a crazy thing, honestly. What would we do without it, and yet, for crying out loud, what do we do with it? And to further confuse matters, what do we do with it when we are without it but still with it in our hearts? If you don’t follow, that’s okay; the takeaway, I suppose, is that it brings both incredible joy and unbelievable heartbreak.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

-C.S. Lewis
My hobbit house cake creation

It’s quite appropriate to have love paired with friendship for a theme. There are of course different kinds of love (romantic versus platonic, for instance), but friendship can come out of any of those relationships. Friendships are an aspect of my life that are vital. Absolutely vital. Some people find their friends within their family; other people’s friends are their family. And some people have a combination of the two.

There are unusual friendships within Lord of the Rings, for sure. And also closer than family friendships. Gimli and Legolas. Frodo and Sam. Gandalf and Aragorn. The bonds of friendship are so very strong.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”

-Tolkien

This is a popular Tolkien quote, and actually one that I used in jest on my friend just the other day. But in context, the meaning could be considered stronger. These words were spoken by Gimli, as the fellowship set out from Rivendell. Elrond had just told them that each of them needed only go as far as he wanted to, save Frodo. This was not a forced journey, but one they chose. Though the fellowship did end up being separated into smaller groups over the course of their route, nevertheless, they remained faithful, with the exception of Boromir. And there did end up being a reunion in chapter 4 of Book 6: “The Field of Cormallen,” which is the second passage I suggest you read.

We see in this chapter the friendship that existed between Gandalf and the eagle Gwaihir as Gandalf requests his assistance in the rescue of Frodo and Sam. Then we see the touching account of Sam and Frodo as they wait for death: “hand in hand upon a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near.” Yet it is still not the end as they suppose, and next we get to see Sam’s delight at waking to find Gandalf alive. This is followed by a reunion with Strider, turned King of Gondor; and at dinner, Legolas and Gimli are at their table. The remaining two members of the fellowship, Merry and Pippin, then appear to serve them, and thus, the fellowship is reunited.

I like the camadarie as they swap stories afterward, and the easy humor. It is not unlike my own experience this past week. I attended a two day mission conference that was organized by the school I attended in January. The sheer number of attendees was rather overwhelming for an introvert like myself, but one of the best things about the conference was getting to see again, however briefly, many of my fellow Winter Term students and the staff members.

Yet, there was sadness for me as well, for as good as it was to see them again, we are scattered now, and who knows when, or even if, I will see them again in this life. I spent five weeks of my life with those people, and in some ways they feel like my people, but we are separate now. This is going to sound cliche, but it’s something that isn’t really normal for me: in this respect, I could almost look forward to heaven. But of course I should always look forward to heaven! A Christian is supposed to, right? Perhaps, but the truth of the matter is that most of the time I don’t. I want to live, to get married, to have children…. I know this is a post about Tolkien Reading Day, but I am going to insert here a quote from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island:

“Heaven must be very beautiful, of course, the Bible says so- but Anne, it won’t be what I’ve been used to.”

-Ruby Gillis

I can relate to Ruby Gillis in this cry. She is young and wants to live. She wants a husband and a family, as well as that which is familiar. The unknownness of heaven doesn’t appeal to me, nor does the thought of death itself. But if heaven means no separation from my people- it looks a little different. If it means sharing inside jokes and swapping stories- victory after a hard fight, like the reunion of Tolkien’s fellowship, I could get excited about that.

Love and friendship. It’s a very real, very human theme. It exists not only in the stories of fantasy, but also in the stories of life. We see so many stages of relationship in the context of Middle Earth that are also true in our world. The longing and sacrifice of Aragorn and Arwen, the simple, steadfast devotion of Sam- both in his brotherly love for Frodo and in his frank romance with Rosie Cotton, the love that Merry had for King Theoden as he watched him die….

I will include a link for the last reading I am suggesting here. It is a poem that Tolkien wrote for Edith, the love of his life. Thus may our Tolkien Reading Day 2022 move from the world of fantasy to the world of reality. And if you are inspired by Tolkien’s words, consider writing your own love poem. It might do your heart good.

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