Rest in Peace, Christopher Tolkien

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien died on 16 January 2020, at the age of 95, in Draguignan, Var, France.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s third son Christopher passed on an year ago today.  He was his father’s literary executor and spent countless hours sorting, deciphering, interpreting, editing and publishing his father’s mountains of unpublished literary output.  With him, the person who was most closely connected with and most knowledgeable about his father’s work from an early age on left Middle Earth and sailed into the West.  Don’t even know where to start expressing our gratitude…  Maybe best to keep it simple:

Rest in Peace, Mr. Tolkien.  Thank you for all the work you have done.

In this video, published in 1992, Christopher Tolkien comes alive again.  Among others, you will also meet his father again, two of Christopher’s siblings (one of whom is still alive), and well-known scholars interested in the world of J.R.R.T. such as Tom Shippey.

Short Story: July

And thus they rise.

The local library had a short story contest again this year.  The theme was fairy tale- and fantasy-related:  Imagine Your Story.  As an additional prompt, the stories for the contest were supposed to contain the author (that is, me!) in some way or another.  Length was again limited to 1,000 words.  I like writing prompts and I like fantasy and fairy tales, so here is my entry for this year.  It’s just under 800 words long.  Let me know what you think.


 

July

 

There they are again, rising from the grass in the dusk. Not far, not yet. Little specks of light all along the grape arbor and in the adjacent meadow. Against the backdrop of the ever darkening forest they shine, but never for long. A glow here, a glow there. Over there another, and another just next to it, glimmering for a moment, gone again, then glimmering again a little further. So here I sit and watch, evening after evening, enchanted.

Just last night, the last rays of the sun shone through the July green and created a golden circle right there where the yard ends and the wilderness begins. That’s where they all live, I thought then. It’s their palace, that golden circle in the last spotlight of the setting July sun. And I imagined how from there, they all emanated at that moment, spreading out along the grape arbor and through the yard, unobserved, only to rise and shine as soon as the sun had set and their light would suddenly count. So here I sit and watch, evening after evening, enchanted.

***

There it is again, the day walker. Every night when we get our mounts ready for the dance, there it is, watching. I know it can be much bigger, but when I come out, it is always in that place already, short and still. But the Elders are not fooled. This is a day walker, they say, a moving giant, not of the rooted kind that grants us protection and safety, that whispers to us in its ancient voice. This one is not like that. This one moves in the day, everywhere, this one is noisy and unpredictable like all day walkers, it commands fire and water and four-footed creatures. Sometimes it catches us on our mounts and traps us behind invisible barriers. Then giant faces appear close to us on the other side of the barrier, and terrible voices boom while we shake with fear and our loyal mounts glow bravely, undaunted. Many of us have been thus trapped, but only few do not live to tell the tale, so there are many tales of the day walkers. There it is again, watching.

***

And thus they rise. A foot off the ground now, but not for long. Soon they will fly higher, bobbing and gleaming, out of reach, to the top of the lilac, to the top of the maple, way up into the darkness. Above them, the stars appear. Faint at first, then clearer. The Full Buck Moon to the south. Night is wrapping around me like a familiar blanket. Birdsong has ceased. Wish I could make them my friends, these little ones. Look, there is one flying this way.

***

Tonight, I will dare it! I don’t care what the Elders say, will not listen to their warnings and tales of serfdom and imprisonment. Tonight, I will visit the day walker!

***
Maybe it will land on my finger when I hold it out. I wonder if they think at all, the little ones, and what they think about, and if they know they are creatures that, like us, testify to a creator. It is coming closer, glowing brightly over there a moment ago, and already quite close with the next glow. I can see the little black firefly now and not just its light. Come to me, Little One, come and sit with me for a spell. Here, land on my hand. Shine for me, Little One, my heart is filled with wonder. I love your dance. Your lanterns are like stars come down from heaven.

***

I have never felt this small. Never. I do not belong here. Not at all. I hope the day walker does not see me. What a mistake I have made. The Elders are right. Night fliers and day walkers live in worlds that should not meet. Please, brave mount, take me away. What a fool I have been! From now on, I will listen to the Elders. I will stay away from the day walkers as I should. Hurry now, courageous mount, up, up and away!

***

This moment, not quite day anymore, not quite night yet, is such a wonderful and fitting time to meet, don’t you think, Little One? I still don’t know if you think at all, but I wish you would, and were enjoying this moment like I am. Here we are, on the threshold between two worlds. Can you feel it, too? It’s magic!

There it flies off again, glowing its merry good-byes. Goodbye, Little One, join the dance! Thank you for your visit! My heart flies with you, light as a feather and bright as your little lantern. I will join your dance in my dreams! Goodbye!
794 words

Our Own Dear John Ronald: Niggle’s Parish

The Tree, the Mountains, and beyond.

Niggle and Parish, who shows up in this beautiful landscape just after Niggle realizes that he needs him, set about developing the country around Niggle’s Tree together.

One day Niggle was busy planting a quickset hedge, and Parish was lying on the grass near by, looking attentively at a beautiful and shapely little yellow flower growing in the green turf.  Niggle had put a lot of them among the roots of his Tree long ago.  Suddenly Parish looked up: his face was glistening in the sun, and he was smiling.
‘This is grand!’ he said.  ‘I oughtn’t to be here, really.  Thank you for putting in a word for me,’
‘Nonsense,’ said Niggle.  ‘I don’t remember what I said, but anyway it was not nearly enough.’
‘Oh yes, it was,’ said Parish.  ‘It got me out a lot sooner.  That Second Voice, you know: he had me sent here; he said you had asked to see me.  I owe it to you.’
‘No.  You owe it to the Second Voice,’ said Niggle.  We both do.’

(…)

The time came when the house in the hollow, the garden, the grass, the forest, the lake, and all the country was nearly complete, in its own proper fashion.  The Great Tree was in full blossom.
‘We shall finish this evening,’ said Parish one day.  ‘After that we will go for a really long walk.’
They set out the next day, and they walked until they came right through the distances to the Edge.  (…)  They saw a man, he looked like a shepherd; he was walking towards them, down the grass slopes that led up the Mountains.
(…)  ‘Are you a guide,’ Parish asked.  ‘Could you tell me the name of this country?’
‘Don’t you know?’ said the man.  ‘It is Niggle Country.  It is Niggle’s picture, or most of it: a little of it is now Parish’s Garden.’
‘Niggle’s Picture!’ said Parish in astonishment.  Did YOU think of all this, Niggle?  I never knew you were so clever.’

(…)

‘It is proving very useful indeed,’ said the Second Voice.  ‘As a holiday, and a refreshment.  It is splendid for convalescence; and not only for that, for many it is the best introduction to the Mountains.  It works wonders in some cases.  I am sending more and more there.  They seldom have to come back.’
‘No, that is so,’ said the First Voice.  ‘I think we shall have to give the region a name.  What do you propose?’
‘The Porter settled that some time ago,’ said the Second Voice.  ‘TRAIN FOR NIGGLE’S PARISH IN THE BAY: He has shouted that for a long while now.  Niggle’s Parish.  I sent a message to both of them to tell them.’
‘What did they say?’
‘They both laughed.  Laughed – the Mountains rang with it!’

Happy Easter, one and all.  All’s well that ends well.

leaf tree

 

Illustrations by Alan Lee

 

Our Own Dear John Ronald: It’s a Gift

On to the next stage…

Niggle pushed open the gate, jumped on the bicycle, and went bowling downhill in the spring sunshine.  Before long he found that the path on which he had started had disappeared, and the bicycle was rolling along over a marvellous turf.  It was green and close; and yet he could see every blade distinctly.  He seemed to remember having seen or dreamed of that sweep of grass somewhere or other.  The curves of the land were familiar somehow.  Yes: the ground was becoming level. as it should, and now, of course, it was beginning to rise again.  A great green shadow came between him and the sun.  Niggle looked up, and fell off his bicycle.
Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished.  If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch.  He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.
‘It’s a gift!’ he said.  He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally. (…)
Niggle walked about, but he was not merely pottering.  He was looking round carefully.  The Tree was finished, though not finished with – ‘Just the other way about to what it used to be,’ he thought.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle

leaf tree

Illustrations by Alan Lee

Our Own Dear John Ronald: Voices

How will you measure up?

‘Now the Niggle case,’ said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor’s.
‘What was the matter with him?’ said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft – it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful and sad. ‘What was the matter with Niggle?  His heart was in the right place.’
‘Yes, but it did not function properly,’ said the First Voice.  ‘And his head was no screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all.  Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself!  He never got ready for his journey.  He was moderately well off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers’ wing.  A bad case, I’m afraid.  I think he should stay some time yet.’
‘It would not do him any harm, perhaps,’ said the Second Voice.  ‘But, of course, he is only a little man.  He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong.  Let us look at the Records.  Yes.  There are some favorable points, you know.’
‘Perhaps,’ said the First Voice; ‘but very few that will really bear examination. (…)  It is your task, of course, to put the best interpretation on the facts.  Sometimes they will bear it.  What do you propose?’
‘I think it is a case for a little gentle treatment now,’ said the Second Voice.
Niggle thought that he had never heard anything so generous as that Voice.  It made Gentle Treatment sound like a load of rich gifts, and a summons to a King’s feast.  Then suddenly Niggle felt ashamed.  To hear that he was considered a case for Gentle Treatment overwhelmed him, and made him blush in the dark. (…)  Niggle hid his blushes in the rough blanket.
There was a silence.  (…)
‘Well, I agree,’ Niggle heard the First Voice say in the distance.  ‘Let him go on to the next stage.  Tomorrow, if you like.’

~ J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle

 

leaf tree

Illustrations by Alan Lee

Our Own Dear John Ronald: Undone

‘There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint.’ – ‘My picture!’ exclaimed Niggle.

‘There now!’ said the Inspector.  ‘You’ll have to go; but it’s a bad way to start on your journey, leaving your jobs undone.  Still, we can at least make some use of this canvas now.’

‘Oh dear!’ said poor Niggle, beginning to weep.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien

When you go, how will the jobs be taken care of that you did not finish?  For Niggle, his beloved tree ends up in bits and pieces as shingles for his neighbor’s leaky roof.

Although for Tolkien unfinished jobs were also quite a literal problem, learning from Niggle’s experience is useful for spiritual jobs, if you will, as well.  Focus helps.  There are things to tackle.  It’s a bad way to start on your journey, leaving your jobs undone.

leaf tree

Poesie: Jeffers’ To an Old Square Piano

Tor is a term for a craggy outcrop or lookout.

To an Old Square Piano

(Purchased from the caretaker of an estate in Monterey)

Whose fingers wore your ivory keys
So thin – as tempest and tide flow
some pearly shell, the castaway
of indefatigable seas
on a low shingle far away –
You will not tell, we cannot know.

Only, we know that you are come,
Full of strange ghosts melodious
The old years forget the echoes of,
From the ancient house into our home;
And you will sing of old-world love,
And of ours too, and live with us.

Sweet sounds will feed you here: our woods
are vocal with the seawind’s breath;
Nor want they wing-born choristers,
Nor the ocean’s organ interludes.
– Be true beneath her hands, even hers
Who is more to me than life or death.

~ Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962)

robinson jeffers

Our Own Dear John Ronald: Finished With

Are you all packed and ready?

‘But I can’t…’ Niggle said no more, for at that moment another man came in.  Very much like the Inspector he was, almost his double: tall, dressed all in black.
‘Come along!’ he said.  ‘I am the Driver.’
Niggle stumbled down from the ladder.  His fever seemed to have come on again, and his head was swimming; he felt cold all over.
‘Driver?  Driver?’ he chattered.  ‘Driver of what?’
‘You, and your carriage,’ said the man.  ‘The carriage was ordered long ago.  It has come at last.  It’s waiting.  You start today on your journey, you know.’
(…)
‘Oh dear!’ said poor Niggle, beginning to weep.  ‘And [my tree is] not even finished!’
‘Not finished!’ said the Driver.  ‘Well, it’s finished with, as far as you’re concerned, at any rate.  Come along!’
Niggle went, quite quietly.  The Driver gave him no time to pack, saying that he ought to have done that before, and they would miss the train; so all Niggle could do was grab a little bag in the hall.  He found that it contained only a paint box and a small book of his own sketches; neither food nor clothes.  They caught the train all right.  Niggle was feeling very tired and sleepy; he was hardly aware of what was going on when they bundled him into his compartment.  He did not care much: he had forgotten where he was supposed to be going, or what he was going for.  The train ran almost at once into a dark tunnel.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle.

leaf tree

Death might be a scary thought, or at least uncomfortable, or maybe distasteful for you, like it is for Niggle, but think or feel what you may, there it is:  We all will go one day, sooner or later, and preparation is required.  It is hard to die well if you die unprepared.

In Tolkien’s Silmarillion, he describes death as having been a gift to man, but with time it became ever harder for man to appreciate it.  An everlasting What-We-Know-Already appears preferable to the New-We-Know-Nothing-About.  Maybe a change of attitude towards life and death is in order.  It seems such a pity to reject a gift that offers a way out of the ever-spinning Wheel of Fortune.  But it is not to be had without effort, without preparation.

 

Illustrations by Alan Lee

 

Poesie: Frost’s Birches

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Birches

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

~ Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

birches

Poesie: Roethke’s In a Dark Time

Although thoroughly postmodern, the American poet Theodore Roethke would have been at home with almost any of the lyric poets of the 16th and 17th centuries.

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

~ Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

IMG_2451 - Edited

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