Our Own Dear John Ronald: Doom

Again she fled, but swift he came.
Tinúviel! Tinúviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.

One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinúviel
That in his arms lay glistening.


Long was the way that fate them bore,
O’er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.

The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings, Book 1, Chapter XI

Tinuviel by Matthew Steward
Tinúviel by Matthew Steward

Neither of these words [‘fate’ and ‘doom’] is used in modern English any more, though phrases like ‘fatal accident’ and ‘doomed to disaster’ survive.  The reason for their unpopularity lies in their etymology.  ‘Fate’ is derived, as the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] says, from Latin fari, ‘to speak’, and means originally ‘that which has been spoken, i.e. spoken by the gods.  It has never been anything but a literary word in English.  ‘Doom’ by contrast is native, the modern pronunciation of dóm, a noun related to the verb déman, ‘to judge’.  It too meant in early times what was spoken, what people said about you (especially once you were dead), but it had also the meaning of a judicial sentence, a law or a decision.  If the king sentenced you to death, that was his ‘doom’, his decision, but of course it was your doom too, your now-determined fate.  Judgment Day, the day at the end of the world when all souls will be tried and sentenced, was accordingly in Old English dómesdæg, ‘Doomsday’, which only strengthend the sense of ‘future disaster’ attached to the word.  However, common to both words,’fate’ and ‘doom’, is the idea of a Power sitting above mortals and ruling their lives by its sentence or by its speech alone.  This sense is completely absent from ‘luck’ or ‘chance’; and with the waning of belief in superior Powers the more neutral words have become the common ones.

In The Silmarillion, though (unlike The Lord of the Rings), the influence of the Valar for good or ill is prominent, so that ‘fate’ and ‘doom’ become once again etymologically appropriate words, to be used frequently and with a complexity which determines the tone of several of its component stories.

Tom Shippey: The Road to Middle Earth, p. 253/254.

Featured: Alan Lee’s watercolor of Tinúviel


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