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Friday, December 17, 2010

A QUESTION OF FAITH AND VANITY via The Lord of the Rings

I don't have as many audio books as I'd like; however the books I do have are excellent, and that counts for something.  I'm back to The Lord of the Rings on the rotation, and I heard, or came near understanding, something yesterday afternoon I haven't before.

Context: The fellowship is just ending their stay at Lothlorien, and Galadriel  is speaking to Frodo of the necessary elvish departure of Middle Earth--all elves preparing or already en route.  Their destination is the Gray Havens and they are prepared and intend to never return--at least as far as I understand it (my LoR lore is not quite full-geek).

Galadriel's claim is that the elves must depart Middle Earth, else remain relegated to "caves and dells to be forgotten" (not sure the quotation is exact--sorry), insinuating, in essence, that a departure will be a rescue of sorts, and maintain and even enforce their potency and immortality.  But why do the elves have to leave--and for the "Havens" (Haven = heaven; departure for heaven = death and immortal glory, right)?  Is it because of the ignominy of diminished power, for at the End when the One Ring is destroyed, the other rings of power--Galadriel's Nenya and Elrond's Vilya (I'm pretty sure of those names) --will fade and eventually end (though no one is sure this will happen).  Is their departure a vanity, that they might not fade like their rings, for if they depart--if they quit while they're ahead, as it were--they will yet survive eternally in Middle Earth, if not bodily then in song and lore, where their power will not just linger but grow continually and expand with the hyperbole of time and storytelling?

But if this is indeed it, then it could also be more than this:  Is their departure also an act of faith against the survival of the One Ring--faith that Frodo will succeed, which success, once again, will spell the end of their special gifts of wisdom and power--faith, because if Frodo fails, then there is no precise reason to leave already, if at all, and maybe yet linger in a last ditch attempt to defeat Sauron?  There is, after all, power deliverable by faith, as sure as light travels on waves through the void to Earth (okay, that was pretty cheesy--sorry).  Do they expect--or at least hope--that this demonstration of faith by departure, and even early departure, will act in benefit of the quest?  If so, does the good of this demonstration of enacted faith supersede the vanity of their self-preservation?

I don't know.  This was while driving home from work.


  1. I have not read it nearly as much as you, so take this with a glacier-sized block of salt.

    It seems to me that the elves are leaving because the nature and forest that they love cannot survive whether men win or whether Sauron wins. It's kind of like how the Shire is not completely saved. No matter what happens, the world as the elves knew it is passing away. And I think this is supposed to be sort of a sad thing less than faith in the goodness/success of Frodo and men.

    Anyway, that's what I think, but it's always been troublesome for me, too, so I don't know.

  2. I want to be optimistic about elvish motives, but they all seem so stinking aloof and selfish. Generous and wise to be sure, but is that enough to make them the purportedly celestial beings Tolkein paints them? I feel pretty confident that you're right, and your general statement coincides pretty directly with the vanity portion, but I just want it to be more than that.

    Regardless, the age of elves is over, and now comes the age of man. Tolkein wrote this with the general intent to create a folklore for Britain. Are we to believe that since we are currently in the age of men, and since there are no elves among us (as far as we know...), and bearing in mind that elves are immortal, that they must just be somewhere else, and they left because their time was just up??

    I don't know either.


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