Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Elen sila lumenn' omentielvo"

Welcome! The posts on this blog were written by the students in Prof. Rachel Fulton Brown's "Tolkien: Medieval and Modern" at the University of Chicago in Spring 2011 and Spring 2014. The posts were assigned as reflections on the discussions that we had over the course of each quarter in class, but the posts themselves regularly took on a depth and rigor far beyond that which we had been able to explore in class. The assigned readings for our discussions are listed in the syllabi on the page tabs for each year; the blog posts themselves are labeled according to the theme of the discussion in response to which they were written. We hope very much that you will enjoy reading our reflections and feel free to comment.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Nature and Function of the Hero-Monster Narrative

Our discussion in class dealt a great deal with attempting to define monsters, and then to define heroes through them.  Our conclusion about the latter was that a hero is someone who fights monsters, often who slays them.  Our thoughts on monsters were much less concrete.  My own thought is that they seem often to be simplifications and magnifications of evil, nasty things, both physical and emotional.  Shelob’s emotions, for example, are all found in human beings, and can in human beings have disastrous effects – rage, delight in one’s own power, the desire to kill.  What makes Shelob a monster emotionally, rather than just an angry person, is that Shelob wants to kill everyone, all the time, and for no reason.  Physically, meanwhile, she is a giant, bad-smelling spider who oozes green slime and produces poison which dribbles out of her when she is harmed (LotR, 724-30).  And while Shelob is the amalgamation of murderousness, Smaug, to take some other examples, is that of cruel intellectual cunning, and Grendel’s mother that of powerful revenge.
Heroes allow us to show what to do when encountered with these negatively-seen forces because we make heroes face them in their most concentrated forms.  Heroes are the shining light of relief to our fear.  What to do when a spider is too big to squish and forget about?  Be like Sam!  With love, fierceness, and courage defend your beloved ones from a nasty force that would do them the utmost harm.
I use the word nasty rather than the word evil here in contrast to Tolkien’s description of Shelob as “an evil thing in spider-form” (LotR, 723), and of monsters as “hostile to all men and to all humane fellowship and joy,” as, implicitly, “pure manifestations of evil will” (Letters, 242), because Shelob isn’t really evil except because the narrator tells us she is.  We assume we can trust the narrator in the Lord of the Rings, but doing so means we take for granted, for example, that there is “evil purpose in [Shelob’s] remorseless eyes” (LotR, 725), that the growth of her hide is “evil” (LotR, 728).  It is possible to read Shelob as a more or less intelligent and highly unpleasant person, as a very gross bug, as someone who hates and wants to eat you, and nothing more, not because one can diminish the unnecessary cruelties she commits (such as eating her mates/offspring (LotR, 723), if we want to put a moral judgment on that behavior), but because she is at such an extreme of immorality, so uncomplex, that she borders on the absurdly simple.  This is not the frighteningly incomprehensible evil of the bureaucrat or the tyrant or the inhumane economic entity, of the pitiless human, or of the human who does good and harm at the same time, or conflates one for the other.  The monster-hero story is one which offers us a simple solution without moral ambiguity.
This reading of a hero as the good and glorious solution to a problem of clear evil makes it disturbing, from a moral viewpoint, that the only way to defeat a monster is to kill it (or in the case of Shelob harm it physically until it slinks away – Sam’s Phial blinds her and gives her a horrific headache (LotR, 730) – it does not make her feel remorse, or any other spiritual/emotional change).  A hero is not being any different in terms of action from the monster s/he is facing – s/he is playing its game.  It worries me that what we are being presented with, when a hero fights a monster, is a situation where violence is the answer, where you can do terrible harm as long as you’re on the side of Good and acting upon a thing that is Evil.  It seems fitting that this view should be included in the Lord of the Rings, because, among other things, the Lord of the Rings is a story about violence.  When is it the right thing to do?  Who is it, and who ought it to be, committed against?  What do you do when confronted with it?  Although one might say that Middle-earth is a world of war, that if you’re a man or Eowyn (or a monster), you commit violence upon others like you eat bread (or people), that violence is simply a necessary part of the story’s milieu, the narrator is always making moral judgments, as can be seen in Sam’s fight against Shelob.  These questions about violence are being asked, and I cannot help wondering whether the story is so desperate to convince us that Shelob is evil in order to save Sam from moral ambiguity, without sacrificing all the courage and agency he reveals in this scene.
The state of monsters as relatively uncomplex manifestations of different kinds of the evil, scary, and unappealing thus has the important effect of making them acceptable targets of (the sort of) violence (that will often prove how awesome, capable, and “heroic” the other character is).  Had Beowulf ripped the arm off of a human being, his glory would have been much diminished, and he might not be considered a hero at all (taking not our specific definition from class but the more broad “awesome person who beats bad guys and is really good” one).  To replace Grendel with a human being would bring focus onto the act committed, rather than to the force defeated, and would much more readily turn it ambiguous, and likely sicken the audience/reader.  In fact, Beowulf does do this sort of thing – he crushes a man called Dayraven the Frank to death in some battle.1  This is troubling if I want to read Beowulf as a good person, and it would be equally troubling if monsters were potentially good for every hero who kills them even without also killing people.  This means that the answer to our question in class – why monsters? – may be, so that the heroes have something to fight, in order to fulfill their role as powerful representatives of the good.  Were monsters replaced with human opponents, heroes would be tyrants, in the case of the very powerful, or common soldiers, and the monster-hero story would not have the comforting moral uprightness that is has with the monsters’ depravity – instead, it would be a story about war and guilt and the moral uncertainty of every course of action.

1 Beowulf: A Verse Translation.  Trans. Seamus Heaney.  Ed. Daniel Donoghue.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.  Lines 2507-2508.


Friday, June 6, 2014

The Wild vs. the Cultivated: Different Perspectives on Nature in Tolkien

We discussed in class at length why trees might be scarier than monsters, a possibility that is highly interesting given the conclusion we came to of an ideal relationship of cultivation between trees and subcreators (elves, men, etc.).  Trees are not very rare.  Given the right climate, you can find them every few feet.  You can’t really get rid of them, because they aren’t solitary.  They can’t run, but if you run, there are always more of them.  They’re taller than people, and they don’t die if you rip leaves off of them, don’t react visibly as though in pain as we would to a physical wound.  It seems significant that Tolkien sets up trees as a kind of neutral-hostile force: as opposed to corporeal monsters, which function as animals rather than plants, and therefore behave in almost a more familiar way than trees do, despite their fantastic qualities, and are at the same time far less pervasive than trees.  Accustomed to see trees more like ornaments to the backdrop of our everyday lives, as readers we are asked to pay new attention to them, as a present and powerful living force in Tolkien’s stories.
The idea that one should need mediators when dealing with trees – elves, ents – suggests something curious about how Tolkien seems to believe we should approach the natural world, as if we should not have direct contact with it, or it takes a certain kind of person to do so.  Like Faerie, woods seems to need an elf friend of sorts.  The idea of a necessary mediator seems to conflict with the ideal of the elves which we discussed in class, of harmony between nature and human art (as both a kind of art, in the context of created Middle-earth), and between humans and nature as both created things.  A mediator being necessary between a pure forest such as the Old Forest and a people such as hobbits for them to get along and for each to exist in a most fulfilled manner seems a bit of a tall order – how does one create something like that?  One cannot import ents and elves when needed.  Cultivation was suggested as a solution to a wild forest, but I have an uneasy feeling that the Old Forest would not appreciate cultivation, and is beyond it in some way.
It also seems troubling to suggest that cultivation by men or elves is necessary for trees and forests.  There is something conflicting between such a human/humanoid-centric universe and the sheer power of the natural world that Tolkien presents us with throughout the Lord of the Rings.  That is to say, how can we say that a forest is not at its fullest and most beautiful without human (or elf or hobbit) cultivation, if we do not demand that humans (and elves and hobbits) be cultivated by forests to reach their fullness as beings/creatures?  One might suggest that the difference is that the humanoids are exclusively subcreators in the world (and therefore have the status of things that make art rather than just existing), but I don’t necessarily buy it – beavers?  Ants?  Trees themselves, as things that reproduce?  (We discussed in class that childbearing was a form of subcreation.)
I wonder if we can say that the humanoids of the Lord of the Rings are cultivated by the natural world.  The elves and hobbits seem like good candidates, as they live close to nature, though of different sorts, and in harmony with it.  Caras Galadhon seems like the best example of harmony between the art of elves and the natural world, but reading its description does not give the impression that the elves have been shaped by the forest.  Celeborn and Galadriel are clad all in white (LotR, 354), all the worse to get covered with twigs and leaf-litter.  The whole place is hung with lamps (354), a great fire-hazard in a wind – if there is wind there?  Does removing aspects of the natural world for the convenience of humanoid inhabitants constitute real harmony, or domination?  Is there a compromise here where the elves give up something of their nature?
Sam, at least, seems to think that the trade-off between the elves of Lórien and Lórien itself may be equal.  “ ‘These folk … seem to belong here, more even than Hobbits do in the Shire.  Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning’ ” (360).  But the hobbits, for all their enmity with the Old Forest, at least look like the earth they inhabit – rolling and sunny, green and brown and yellow.  Perhaps, though, it is fair to say that Lórien is simply an example of one of the many different kinds of forest in the Lord of the Rings, and that it hasn’t become solely an elf-house and lost its character as a forest, but that its character as a forest happens to fit the character of the elves that inhabit it.
Be that as it may, Tolkien’s idea of living with and caring for the natural world, even wild forested parts (and not just fields and gardens), is one of the ideas that affects me most when I read the book.  As a non-religious reader, it was not the fight against Sauron as evil or the problem of possessiveness or the characters’ moralities or (im)mortalities that mattered to me, but the great presence of the natural world, pitted against the destruction of Saruman and Sauron, and the fact that every second person is out to protect it.  That the characters love Middle-earth as a natural world and interact with it constantly is what made the books magical to me when I first encountered them, and continues to do so.  Everything – Athelas, the Falls of Rauros, the Old Forest, the mountains – is participating, every aspect of nature that appears in the books might as well be a character in and of itself.  And perhaps, as a non-Christian, it is particularly easy for me to say this, but for me their doing so does not have much to do with whether they were created or not.  In fact, Caras Galadhon, the best example, as we discussed in class, of harmony and cultivation between subcreative creatures and trees, seems to me rather an inactive and character-less landscape, as compared to the rich, wild, untamed Old Forest – creepy, bushy, bright green and darkly shaded and mysterious.  If the Christian reading of trees as relating to jewels, things of light and craft, is there, a very different reading of trees seems also to be there to oppose it: a wood, and world, in its might and glory precisely when it is powerful and un-walked-in – one which has worth in and of itself, even if it will not tolerate travelers, much less inhabitants.  Tolkien’s description of the Old Forest is full of details of nature that suggest wonder, fascination (113-15) – while his description of Caras Galadhon has more light, speech, and song than it has trees (353-54).  In the presence of the great power and agency of elves, the trees of Lórien, despite what Sam might say about their forming each other and belonging together, have become the background.


Stories Live On After Us

We have spent a quarter immersed in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, populated by hobbits, orcs, dwarves, elves, and wizards, and now our journey has come to an end. In class, we discussed the meaning of an end to something, and the different ways we can think of the end. Some people said there never is an end - the stories have stayed with them and become a part of who they are and the fabric of their everyday lives. Some said something has ended, but the end is an opportunity to a new beginning - a new reading and a new experience. Still others pointed out that if anything ends, it would be us. The stories are immortal, but we are not. As A.S. Byatt said in "Old Tales, New Forms": "At one point my heroine (who has an Alice-in-Wonderland English empirical stubbornness) realizes that both the many-breasted Diana of Ephesus and the Djinn are more real than she herself, in her mortal and fragile body. More people have known and have believed in the goddess than will ever believe in her....I understood that the tales had power because they were alive everywhere. A myth derives force from its endless repeatability." (132) 

This is the end of our class on hobbits and elves, but it is by no means the end of the tales themselves. They have existed long before us and will exist even when we're gone. As Byatt and Professor Fulton-Brown said in class, it is the young who often feel immortal, while the aging become more and more aware of the fact that we are mortal and in human affairs there is always an end. An end is hard to deal with even for a grown-up. In A Whistling Woman, though the adults acted slightly better than the kids at Agatha's end to the story, they still felt shocked and affronted. Frederica withdrew into her defenses when she thought her love affair was nearing an end. When Leo decries that Agatha's ending isn't a "real end," Frederica replies, "What's a real end? It is always the end that is the most unreal bit..." While stories live on in their infinite repeatability, they do end in the sense that stories do not literally go on forever. What do we do when a story has ended? 

Byatt's title "Old Tales, New Forms" is one answer. To tell and retell a story is to make it immortal. Byatt says, “The pleasure of writing was in...a sense that I was myself partaking in the continuity of the tales by retelling them in a new context in a way old and new.” (131) Stories outlive any single person. They are bigger than anyone, even the author. In contrasting modern novels and stories, the Cardinal in Blixen’s “The Cardinal’s First Tale” says, “It [the novel] is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story. The human characters came on the sixth day only and the day of judgment will be the end of the story.” (133) To tell and retell a story is to make it immortal, and it is also to engage in the sub-creation of something bigger than us. Byatt said that storytelling has a lot to do with death and biologic time; perhaps storytelling allows human beings, who are mortal, to be immortal. 

As sub-creators who carry on J.R.R. Tolkien’s work in our own projects, then, we are engaging in something important. The readings assigned for our last class are themselves examples of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work being carried out after his death, and into new contexts and wider horizons. A.S. Byatt in Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman writes a story within a story. Frederica reads The Hobbit to her son Leo, and Agatha tells a story within Byatt’s story. They are stories of storytelling. Similarly, The Lord of the Rings is also a story about storytelling. Tolkien did not create his stories - he transmitted the stories of the hobbits, of the elves, of Middle Earth. His stories are bigger than us because they are not just about humans. Unlike the modern novel, it’s not about psychology, it’s not even about people. Stories have existed before the individual existed. As the Cardinal says, “‘Madame, I have been telling you a story. Stories have been told as long as speech has existed, and sans stories the human race would have perished, as it would have perished sans water. You will see the characters of the true story clearly, as if luminous and on a higher plane, and at the same time they may not look quite human, and you may well be a little afraid of them. That is all in the order of things...” (133) Critics who criticize Tolkien for writing a fairytale, or for not developing the psyche of a character, are not looking at the stories that came before the modern novel and their importance in the world. In the Happening within Babel Tower and in our own Happening as well, we are sub-creators engaging in the creative act through which we have built our world. At the end of our journey we are reminded of the beginning, where we opened up with Tolkien’s Mythopoeia: 

Man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined 
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled 
with elves and goblins, though we dared to build 
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sow the seeds of dragons, ‘twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Don't the Great Tales Never End?

Such is Sam’s query, and like the (relatively) learned hobbit he’s become, he cites the tales of Beren Erchamion and of Eärendil to support his point—the connecting thread that is the light of the Silmaril shines through all three stories, and many in between. Given the statements about sub-creation and the supposedly abandoned Pan-Anglican legendarium which we’ve encountered in this story, it is, I think, safe to say that The Lord of the Rings has no “ending,” that if Leo were satisfied by the mass departure from Middle-Earth and Sam’s homecoming (I wasn’t, at his age; I suspected a death-allegory), he would be mistakenly so. It’s open-ended, then, and in a much realer sense than are many explicitly “ambiguous” conclusions (the celebrated television dramas of our time come to mind) because there is, not only something left to be done, but everything, a whole life-age of the world’s worth of action; the phial of Galadriel goes west, but Eärendil the brightest of stars persists, presumably, and inspires the Cynewulf quote at the top of our syllabus.

 In class yesterday, I postulated that sub-creation constituted a continuation of the story, and the response that I got—that we ourselves are in some sense living in the same story, our lives parts of it—was interesting, to say the least. In what sense is it true? Well, in a religious one, first of all—a Catholic one, even, although my grandfather would shudder to hear me say it. But I won’t summarize the lecture; this post is not primarily interested in Lewis’s musings on faith, but rather in the somewhat related ideas about “endings” that Byatt has, and their relevance to a discussion of Tolkien’s ending(s).

 In “Old Tales, New Forms,” she discusses stories that consist entirely of series of endings, or series of beginnings, and chief among these is the Arabian Nights, which, for obvious reasons, strives in some sense towards endlessness. One aspect of The Lord of the Rings which I feel was overlooked in class is the multiplicity, not just of the endings that you can ascribe to the story (Arwen’s death, Aragorn’s death, Celeborn’s departure, Sam’s return home) but of the endings which the book actually presents and recounts in full. Its narrative “arc” (a misnomer if ever there was one) is bizarre—March 25th is an end, the completed scouring is an end, Frodo’s departure is an end. It almost seems, when four in the morning is fast approaching and your eyes are starting to ache and the appendices are still thirty pages distant and you cannot stop, as if the denouement of LotR is an Arabian Nights writ small. In addition, then, to being one tale among many, the book is in some sense many tales unto itself.

The publication history which Carpenter chronicles in “A Big Risk” reinforces the idea—of course, we were all aware that the novel was published in three volumes, but the fact that people were meant to be and are still confused about the actual size of the book, that they did and do believe it to be a trilogy, proves that Tolkien’s magnum opus seems to contain multitudes. Its extraordinary fertility, greater by far than that of any other best-seller, provides similar evidence: even if we are to disregard movies, board and video games, and the like, as Christopher would no doubt have us do, that same Christopher is intimately familiar with all the work that was left to do after the typescript was submitted, and indeed after the book was published (reasonably enough, as his livelihood seems to depend on publishing at regular intervals volume after volume after volume of substantial and entirely novel Tolkieniana, while still withholding things like that Taliska grammar and lexicon which I needed for my project THANKS CHRIS).

This Byattian endlessness is interesting for its own sake, but also for the sake of what it tells us about the form of the rest of The Lord of the Rings. Byatt’s discussion of endings is framed by a discussion of the nature of tales and stories (as opposed to novels), and even the contemporary, novelistic examples she gives are in some way responding to or appropriating elements of the older narrative mode. LotR, as we’ve established and discussed in previous classes, is not exactly a novel either; I recall one lecture where Professor Fulton Brown said (or quoted someone as saying) that Tolkien wasn’t interested in any English literature from Chaucer onward, and while that’s undoubtedly an exaggeration, it’s evident from what we’ve read of his correspondence (recall the letter in which he discusses the “heroic” rhetorical register that he slips into in scenes involving the Rohirrim) that he is (to make a dramatic understatement) substantially influenced by archaic styles and ideas. We’re familiar as well with how important fairy tales (which also feature prominently in Byatt’s piece) are to the creation of the new genre in which LotR participates. Perhaps, then, the reason that LotR doesn’t have a novelistic plot structure towards the “end” is because it isn’t, in many ways, a novel—because it combines entirely original elements with the various influences we’ve discussed through out the year (epic poems, &c.) to form a part of what Tolkien might have thought of as a story, a chapter in an infinite whole that includes the Quenta Silmarillion and much else besides.

--Charlie Bullock

Looking Along the Beam

So one of our recommended readings (also discussed in class) contained a quote from Terry Pratchett and I am therefore contractually obligated as a rabid Discworld fan to discuss it, as I think it has resonance not only within the context of Tolkien and his works, but how we as readers can best interact with them.
            Lilith (spoiler alert) Weatherwax is the villain of Witches Abroad, the book quoted in discussion and readings: she sees herself as the architect of the stories, orchestrating them without stepping into them herself. She constructs a fairytale kingdom with her citizens under threat of imprisonment (and, in one notable case for her Cinderella-analogue’s erstwhile coachmen, death by transformation into beetle and crushing) if they do not act in accordance with the image: a toymaker who can’t “whistle and sing all the day long” (Witches Abroad, 86) is thrown into the dungeons. In doing this, she sets herself apart from the great unfurling ribbon of Story (capital letter intended), not acknowledging that by attempting to master the course of these tales, she is isolating herself from them, a subcreator outside of her own creation. As said in class, Lilith is almost Sauron-like, forcing the people around her to her will regardless of their wishes for the sake of a greater order. She is also, as we mentioned in class, soundly defeated, imprisoned in a hall of infinite, possibly unreal mirrors, unable to leave until she finds the one that’s real.
            And so “Lily Weatherwax [runs] on through the endless reflections” (340).
            Her sister, on the other hand, has a different fate, one that we did not mention in class but that needs to be addressed. Granny Weatherwax (who has spent most of the tale dismantling the stories her sister has wrought) is imprisoned as well, having taken her sister with her in their final battle. She escapes where her sister fails to and it is the method of her escape that I find to be the most telling thing:
            “Esme turned, and a billion figures turned with her.
            “When can I get out?”
            “Is this a trick question?”
            Granny looked down at herself.
            “This one,” she said.
For Lilith, the ‘one that’s real’ is something outside of herself, a story or a reality that she can somehow reach and step into. But Granny, mistress of headology  that she is, knows differently. She, like Sam, knows that she is in a story. Sam only ever wonders what kind of story he is in, instantly accepting that he is treading one of Pratchett’s “grooves deep enough to follow” (Witches Abroad, 3). She acknowledges herself as part of the story without hesitation and, because of this, is allowed to escape. But, if this is true, we cannot call it a true escape, for she is not leaving behind the story, only the shell of perfection and rigidity that Lilith made for herself and which now acts as her tomb. One sister, having walled herself off from the story, is now cut off from it forever while the other, having accepted it into herself and she into it, is permitted to travel where she will.
And so should we, I think. We cannot, as readers, be Lilith. We cannot set a wall between ourselves and the story, observing it from outside and only looking at it rather than along it, to use C.S. Lewis’ language from Meditation in a Toolshed.
Perhaps ‘should’ is not the best word. I do not mean to say that there is one right way to examine a work. But I think that the most joy can be derived from looking along a story rather than at it. We have a lot to learn from Granny Weatherwax in her calm acceptance that she is inherently within the story and it within her. But the story will not force itself upon us if we are unwilling; the beam of light will not follow you around the toolshed until it finds you. There has to be willingness to step into it, willingness that Lilith does not possess.
            One of the greatest pleasures for me in this class is that there has been, across the board, exceeding willingness on the part of each individual to cast ourselves headlong into the story. We have, as a unit, thrown ourselves straight into the path of the beam of light and looked at it without hesitation.
            Going into this class, I was genuinely afraid. Afraid that something would be taken from me, that a text I had loved so dearly and that had given me so much would die under the microscope. I lost Jane Eyre to an English class in high school, a book that I had held near and dear to me now drained of all its joy. I nearly lost the Iliad in GTL last year (keeping the joy of it only by basically chaining it to my heart) and I entered into this course desperate to cling to my love for Tolkien.
            But I didn’t have to worry.  
            This class has not taken the world I love so much away from me, shoving me out of the path of the beam of light. Rather, it has opened the hole in the toolshed, widening it and making the beam all the strong and all the larger for it. I can see the Shire more clearly and it looks more green and lovely than I thought it could. I can hear horse hooves thundering, horns blowing, words in many tongues, more vividly and with greater clarity than I could before because now I understand why they are there. I know the love, the care that went into this world, the years of thought and the vastness of the vision that bore them.
            And it’s beautiful.
            I thank you for it.

Note: My typeface for Death is off, forgive me. Also, please let this reflection stand as a hearty and only semi-fanatical recommendation that anybody who loves stories needs to check out Terry Pratchett. Seriously. Go. Right now. I’ll wait.

-Emma Pauly

Pratchett, Terry. Witches Abroad. New York: HarperTorch, 2002. Print.

Here, at the end of all things

“Well, I’m back.”

And so are we. We have embarked on a journey through Middle Earth. We have travelled along with our companions the fellowship. We have walked to the cracks of Mount Doom. And now we are back, back in the primary reality and so is our hero, Master Samwise. And as this journey comes to an end it is easy to ask well, what now? How do we feel and what do we do?

Oftentimes, when coming to an end of a book I have been outraged, like Saskia and Leo and the listener’s to Agatha’s story, that the author would be so cruel. That they left so much seemingly unfinished, or in other cases just utterly destroyed. This rage turns to sorrow, because I felt like something that had meant so much to me was just ripped away fast and hard, and now I am left with nothing but my own contemplations. Perhaps this was how Frodo felt. The Ring had been ripped away from him, his strength had been ripped away from him, and his will to continue on in this world had been ripped away from him by this journey. He boarded a ship and sailed to the West to escape his sorrow and himself and this world. Similar to how I have locked myself in my room and refused to talk to or see people until I’ve better processed what had just happened in a book.

But there are times, when we finish a book, and it ends, and we are brought back into this world, because our time in the other world has come to an end. Both worlds must go on as they are. Such as Sam comes back to the Shire and knows that now is his time, “ to be one and whole, for many years.”  He will return to the Shire, his primary reality and see in it all that is beautiful and good more vividly than he did before his journey and he will share that beauty with his children and the community. He is back. And so, we must return to our primary reality, and shed light on the hope and the beauty in the world that we occupy. We must now be better able to experience the world that we live in, not lock ourselves up and cry. We must go forth and live.

“Don’t the great tales never end?” 

“No, they never end as tales,”

“What is a real end?… the end is always the most unreal bit.”

That’s because life never ends, and so stories never truly end either, there is always more to be said, and parts can extend as long as the teller sees fit. But stories must end, as they are told anyway. We cannot live in the stories we read or hear alone. Though I have often longed to live in Middle Earth, to see the land of Rivendell with my own eyes and to see the golden leaves of Lothlorien. I feel that now I understand more than ever, why I must leave. Why like the Smith, I must pass on my star and let someone else go on the journeys to Faerie. My life is in this world, and so in this world I will live.

This class has been a journey for me, and sometimes a journey that I may have wished to turn back on, to return to the happy, comfortable reading of the Lord of the Rings that I held so dear, as Bilbo wished to return to the Shire – not for the last time! – throughout his journey with the dwarves. I feel that I have learned a lot about creation and story, but sometimes I feel that I have been alienated from a story that I have always held dear. I am not a religious person, and shedding this light of religious intent on the story has made me often times wonder, if I am worthy of such a beautiful religious work. Professor Fulton Brown asked in class on Wednesday whether we felt as if we still felt as if we were inside the story or if we felt like we were outside looking in. And I couldn’t think of an answer. Not a clear-cut one, anyway. I am inside the story, I find myself inside the house of Tom Bombadil listening to his stories, I am in Rivendell watching the council of Elrond take place, I am sitting on the stairs of Cirith Ungol wondering if people will tell our tale, I am there at the end of all things, and I am glad that I am with Sam and Frodo. And while I can appreciate the statement that, “Fantasy remains a human right… because we are made, and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker,” for its beauty, I don’t know if I can believe it. And if I do not believe it, how have I really engaged in the action of sub-creation as Tolkien intended us to? I am no longer sure.  I am no longer inside, but I don’t feel like I’m outside. I am standing at a doorway and all that I can think is,

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might get swept off to."