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: Father and Son

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892 – 1973) and Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (1924 – 2020)

 

christopher

Christopher Tolkien passed on last week, almost 47 years after his father J.R.R Tolkien.  The two appear to have had much in common.

family1
left to right: Priscilla Anne, Michael Hilary, John Francis, John Ronald, and Christopher John Tolkien

By the late nineteen-thirties all this work on THE SILMARILLION had resulted in a large body of manuscript, much of it in an exquisite hand.  (…)  Within the family the most frequent listener to the stories was Tolkien’s third son, Christopher.  The boy, wrote Tolkien in his diary, had grown into ‘a nervy, irritable, cross-grained, self-tormenting, cheeky person.  Yet there is something intensely lovable about him, to me at any rate, from the very similarity between us.’  On many evenings in the early nineteen-thirties Christopher, huddled for warmth by the study stove, would listen motionless while his father told him (in impromptu fashion, rather than reading aloud) about the elvish wars against the black power, and of how Beren and Lúthien made their perilous journey to the very heart of Morgoth’s iron stronghold.  These were not mere stories: they were legends that came alive as his father spoke, vivid accounts of a grim world where foul orcs and a sinister Necromancer guarded the way, and a dreadful red-eyed wolf tore the elvish companions of Beren to pieces one by one; but a world also where the three great elvish jewels, the Silmarilli, shone with a strange and powerful light, a world where against all odds the quest could be victorious.

Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

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left to right: Christopher, Priscilla, Michael, Edith, and John Ronald Tolkien

I believe that we need good tale-tellers now, as much as we did when the oral tradition was the only way that they were passed on; that the active transmission of stories plays a vital role in the development of the brain. (…)  The most beautiful aspect of this shared story-telling (…) is that the collaboration and engagement between teller and audience means that they are embarking on a journey together, which can lead to the most unexpected and wondrous of places.

Alan Lee: Afterword in Tales From the Perilous Realm

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left to right: Edith, Christopher, Priscilla, John and John Ronald Tolkien

I will say no more now.  But I should like ere long to have a long talk with YOU.  For if as seem probable I shall never write any ordered biography – it is against my nature, which expresses itself about things deepest felt in tales and myths – someone close in heart to me should know something of things that records do not record.”

J.R.R. Tolkien to Christopher Tolkien in a letter dated 11 July 1972

Apparently Christopher Tolkien went about editing and publishing his father’s autobiography all these years, and what a special autobiography it is.  But now what?

He sat down under a very beautiful distant tree – a variation of the Great Tree, but quite individual, or it would be with a little more attention – and he considered where to begin work, and where to end it, and how much time was required.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle

I have a good idea where father and son are now sitting, together again after almost half a century.  Surely they have much to talk about.

Leaf-by-Niggle-graphic

 

 

Poesie: Tolkien’s Shadow Bride

‘Tis a perilous realm, indeed, the Realm of Faerie.

Shadow Bride

There was a man who dwelt alone,
as day and night went past
he sat as still as carven stone,
and yet no shadow cast.
The white owls perched upon his head
beneath the winter moon;
they wiped their beaks and thought him dead
under the stars of June.

There came a lady clad in grey
in the twilight shining:
one moment she would stand and stay,
her hair with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
and broke the spell that bound him;
he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone,
and wrapped her shadow round him.

There nevermore she walks her ways
by sun or moon or star;
she dwells below where neither days
nor any nights there are.
But once a year when caverns yawn
and hidden things awake,
they dance together then till dawn
and a single shadow make.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien had a thing about “shadow”, and this poem (here in its newer version from 1962) gives a good example.  Shadow beings are wraiths, identified more by their shape than by their substance.  They are both present and absent, or rather, they tend to be an absence that can become a presence.  In this poem, a man without a shadow who appears to be dead (and hence absent) becomes a presence, to steal both girl and shadow.  Now they both are elsewhere, in a realm on the edge of human experience.

Got to wonder which night it is when the caverns yawn.  All Hallow’s Eve?

J.R.R._Tolkien_-_The_Shores_of_Faery
The Shores of Faerie – J.R.R Tolkien

Poesie: Tolkien’s The Last Ship

‘I cannot come!’ they heard her cry. / ‘I was born Earth’s daughter!’

The Last Ship is a poem of the lore of the Shire, originating in the Fourth Age.  It speaks about Fíriel, a woman who was so beautiful that the Elves offered to carry her over the Straight Road to Valinor, but she, not being of elvenkind, decided not to accompany them.  It is a sad poem in a way, and then again it isn’t, for the young woman knows where she belongs, and death is a boon granted, after all.  Besides, it has my favorite bird in it!

The Last Ship

Fíriel looked out at three o’clock:
the gray night was going;
far away a golden cock
clear and shrill was crowing.
The trees were dark, and the dawn pale,
waking birds were cheeping,
a wind moved cool and frail
through dim leaves creeping.

She watched the gleam at window grow,
till the long light was shimmering
on land and leaf; on grass below
grey dew was glimmering.
Over the floor her white feet crept,
down the stair they twinkled,
through the grass they dancing stepped
all with dew besprinkled.

Her gown had jewels upon its hem,
as she ran down to the river,
and leaned upon a willow-stem,
and watched the water quiver.
A kingfisher plunged down like a stone
in a blue flash falling,
bending reeds were softly blown,
lily-leaves were sprawling.

A sudden music to her came,
as she stood there gleaming
with free hair in the morning’s flame
on her shoulders streaming.
Flutes there were, and harps were wrung,
and there was sound of singing,
like wind-voices, keen and young
and far bells ringing.

A ship with golden beak and oar
and timbers white came gliding;
swans went sailing on before,
her tall prow guiding.
Fair folk out of Elvenland
in silver-grey were rowing,
and three with crowns she saw there stand
with bright hair flowing.

With harp in hand they sang their song
to the slow oars swinging;
‘Green is the land, the leaves are long,
and the birds are singing.
Many a day with dawn of gold
this earth will lighten,
many a flower will yet unfold,
ere the cornfields whiten.

‘Then whither go ye, boatmen fair,
down the river gliding?
To twilight and to secret lair
in the great forest hiding?
To Northern isles and shores of stone
on strong swans flying,
by cold waves to dwell alone
with the white gulls crying?’

‘Nay!’ they answered. ‘Far away
on the last road faring,
leaving western havens grey,
the sea of shadow daring,
we go back to Elvenhome,
where the White Tree is growing,
and the Star shines upon the foam
on the last shore flowing.

‘To mortal fields say farewell,
Middle-earth forsaking!
In Elvenhome a clear bell
in the high tower is shaking.
Here grass fades and leaves fall,
and sun and moon whither,
and we have heard the far call
that bids us journey thither’.

The oars were stayed.  They turned aside:
‘Do you hear the call, Earth-maiden?
Fíriel! Fíriel!’ they cried.
‘Our ship is not full-laden.
One more only may we bear.
Come! For your days are speeding.
Come! Earth-maiden elven-fair,
our last call heeding.’

Fíriel looked from the river bank,
one step daring;
then deep in clay her feet sank,
and she halted, staring.
Slowly the elven-ship went by
whispering through the water:
‘I cannot come!’ they heard her cry.
‘I was born Earth’s daughter!’

No jewels white her gown bore,
as she walked back from the meadow
under roof and dark door,
under the house-shadow.
She donned her smock of russet-brown,
her long hair braided,
and to her work came stepping down.
Soon the sunlight faded.

Year still after year flows
down the Seven Rivers;
cloud passes, sunlight glows,
reed and willow quivers
as morn and eve, but never more
westward ships have waded
in mortal waters as before,
and their song has faded.

J.R.R. Tolkien

reeds

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