Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lothlórien: Heaven on (Middle) Earth

Tolkien purposefully invokes connections between Revelation and Lothlórien with not only his descriptions of Lothlórien but also with the symbolic and contextual evidence he provides about the haven of elves in Middle Earth.

“And the building of the wall of it was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. the first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth; sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. “
Revelation 21:18-21

When describing Lothlórien Tolkien repeatedly describes it as golden, “That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. there are no trees like the threes of that land. For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. not till the spring and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey.”--Legolas. This description of Lothlórien has many jewel images which are illusions to Revelation. The floor of the wood being golden in particular echos, “and the street of the city was pure gold” from Revelation 21:21. The leaves of the trees when not are golden they are green, much like emeralds and/or chrysolytes that are mentioned in Revelation 21 and the yellow flowers could potentially share the color of a topaz stone. And you could even go as far as saying that the silver grey tree bark could be almost pearly in nature (this is a bit of a stretch though). Many rivers run through Lothlórien including Nimrodel, Anduin, and Silverlode which invokes the imagery of the sapphire and even topaz, if in it’s blue form, from Revelation 21.

Not only is there said physical connections between jewels, Lothlórien, and the concept of it being heaven there are bigger connections. One of the biggest being that there are two places in Arda known as Lórien (shortened version of Lothlórien even though as Treebeard reveals in book III Lothlórien is shortened from an even longer name). Other than the Lothlórien that the fellowship encounters and where Galadriel and Celeborn rule there is a Lórien in Valinor. The Lórien in Valinor is not only by the same name it has similar characteristics being that the Lórien in Valinor is the Garden of Imo the Valar. Gardens and Forests share innate distinctions as being places of natural beauty and havens from the outer world.

In Medieval thought Jewels had a special power, they were thought to be bits of life contained within the stone and with the second coming of Christ those lives would be resurrected. This further demonstrates the power of Lothlórien. For if the forest is more than just a forest, if it’s actually little bits of a soul contained within the trees and the gold it would increase the power of not only the forest but of Galadriel herself. Lothlórien itself isn’t immune to change, what has protected it from the shadow of evil that has been inflicting the whole of Middle Earth has been Galadriel’s ring of power. Galadriel’s ring of power is “Nenya”, and has a “white stone” perhaps a diamond. The fact that Lothlórien not only seemingly contains jewels it’s physical description but is also protected by a ring with a jewel further speaks to the power of the jewels in the Lord of the Rings legendarium.

Like Jewels, Lothlórien, seem to withstand the test of time and is naturally occurring. Jewels are from the ground, from the inner core of the earth. A piece of carbon that is polished and made into a beautiful thing. Lothlórien is a forest just like any other in Middle Earth that has been groomed and maintained to be something beautiful. Jewels can withstand quite a bit, they are used on crowns and shields and diamonds are one of strongest materials available. Not only do they last, are multi-purpose, but they also remain beautiful through the test of time. Jewelry that was made in the Medieval era, while it may not fit our aesthetic tastes, the jewels still shine brightly. This is much like Lothlórien, from a different era, a different world but yet it’s beauty and magnificence has lasted the test of time. Withstanding change and evil, remaining a beautiful and mysterious haven.

It is said that Lothlórien is the fairest part of Middle Earth. That combined with its connection to the location to the gardens on Valinor, its ethereal quality, it’s eerie and almost unnatural ability to withstand time, and jewel imagery that illudes to Revelation 21 Tolkien uses points to this being a supernatural location within the very natural world of Arda. It’s almost as though Lothlórien is a portal to Valinor, to the world that was inhabited by the Valar. Tolkien views Lothlórien as a ‘heaven on earth’ concept, or even like a cathedral of Middle Earth. It’s the connection between the inhabitants of Middle Earth and not only the Valar, but to Eru himself.

--JuPe

8 comments:

  1. In addition to commenting about the spiritual and thematic connections between the Lothlorien in Middle Earth and the gardens of Valinor, there is also a physical connection as well.

    Galadriel and Celeborn were both great figures during the times of old, and are the longest-lived figures in the Lord of the Rings story, both of them having lived since the First Age of the world and having witnessed the rise and fall of Morgoth. So I think physically as well as spiritually Lothlorien is, like you have said, part of the "Old World".

    -James T.

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  2. Very nice use of Revelation to help us understand the details of the description of Lorien. I would have liked to hear more about how the description from Pearl, which also depends upon Revelation, may have influenced Tolkien's imagining of Lorien's forest, likewise more about the trees in Heaven as described in Pearl.

    FYI, I may have made things a little confusing in class: it is not that the gemstones themselves were considered to be alive, but that the relics of the saints enclosed in the gemstones were. When the saints rose again in body, their bodies would become gemlike, like the Pearl herself in the poet's dream.

    RLFB

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  3. Something else that I find interesting about Lóthlorien is that time does not, or seems not, to pass there. The Fellowship is said to be unable to "count the days and nights that had passed there." (370)

    I think this is pertinent to our discussion in class about the permanence of gems. Like a gemstone, Lórien is untarnished by time, until Galadriel leaves after the destruction of the Ring. It remains wholly untouched by decay until that point.

    E. Minehart

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  4. I think this is a darn good explication of the nature of Lothlorien. I think the crucial factor is the liveliness of the place - the notion that there's a beauty here that never fades. I guess that's the significance of the gemstone - it's a city of gemstones, of beauty which endures and of liveliness.

    "the forest is more than just a forest... it’s actually little bits of a soul contained within the trees and the gold" - this is the crucial point as I see it - the forest is not simply a forest in our understanding of the term, but its jewel-like quality gives it endurance and gives it liveliness. I don't know if it's necessarily 'heaven on earth' because that notion is rather strong, I think - the existence of heaven on earth would be too significant perhaps. I would want to place it squarely in the mortal world, I think. But it's definitely a place where the beauty of the world takes on a different character, frail but enduring, and there's certainly a stronger connection between mortal Middle-Earth and the divine element in Lothlorien.

    I'm reminded of a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins: "And for all this, nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights of the black West went / Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs - Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings." There's something glorious in the world which is eternally recurrent despite the frailty and morality of the world in which we're placed, and Lothlorien is a strong symbol of that, I think.

    D Ryan

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  5. I think this is a darn good explication of the nature of Lothlorien. I think the crucial factor is the liveliness of the place - the notion that there's a beauty here that never fades. I guess that's the significance of the gemstone - it's a city of gemstones, of beauty which endures and of liveliness.

    "the forest is more than just a forest... it’s actually little bits of a soul contained within the trees and the gold" - this is the crucial point as I see it - the forest is not simply a forest in our understanding of the term, but its jewel-like quality gives it endurance and gives it liveliness. I don't know if it's necessarily 'heaven on earth' because that notion is rather strong, I think - the existence of heaven on earth would be too significant perhaps. I would want to place it squarely in the mortal world, I think. But it's definitely a place where the beauty of the world takes on a different character, frail but enduring, and there's certainly a stronger connection between mortal Middle-Earth and the divine element in Lothlorien.

    I'm reminded of a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins: "And for all this, nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights of the black West went / Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs - Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings." There's something glorious in the world which is eternally recurrent despite the frailty and morality of the world in which we're placed, and Lothlorien is a strong symbol of that, I think.

    D Ryan

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  6. It's especially interesting to consider Lothlorien's geography given what we've said about gemstones and their assumed medieval provenances in class. In our discussion, it emerged that gemstones were carried by rivers out of the East-- rivers that supposedly ran from Paradise. It's entirely possible that Tolkien's placement of Lothlorien upstream on a long river was no accident, but another aspect of emphasizing its heavenly qualities and connections.

    ~CJH

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  7. The possible analogies may extend even further. Not only are the rivers of Lothlorien evocative of the stones of the New Jerusalem, by virtue of color, but the New Jerusalem also has rivers, the four from Eden, flowing into a fountain of life. Indeed, jewels show links across time and space: they recall the past and are durable; they recall too the garden at Valinor, as you point out. Your comparison of Lothlorien to a cathedral brings me to other themes we talked about. In this case, Lothlorien is a kind of spiritualized nature. In fact, this is how I’ve often conceived of the medieval cathedral. As Prof. Fulton Brown explained, we tend to separate nature and culture. If a modern person wants to see nature, they typically leave civilization and go outside to nature. If this is not literally the case, it is often the case conceptually. Nature may be around us, but it is still other. I tend to see the Middle Ages as building a culture that would contain nature, that would tell nature in fact what nature means. A cathedral realizes nature in a cultural form. This seems to me to be linked in an important way to Tolkien’s idea of craft. Craft is thus used to perfect a nature which is known to exist, and which is revealed to exist under phenomenal nature.
    JCT

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  8. While I do think it is important to note that Lothlórien is certainly an imitation of Lórien in Valinor, a manifestation of heaven, it is also important to remember that it is a tainted imitation. It is not actually heaven. The question of what Galadriel was attempting to do when ruling over Lothlórien I feel gives great insight to her character and the character of Lothlórien. Galadriel left Valinor with the other members of the Noldor, though she swore no oath, but because she was desirous of a place of land to rule as her own. She also did not return to Valinor when given the chance after the defeat of Morgoth because she was too proud and wished to rule. While she most likely did not have the desire to usurp the Valar, she evidently desired their dominion. She sets herself up as a queen in a realm made in imitation of Lórien, a shadow of heaven.
    Is Lothlórien then a version of heaven? I would argue that it is indeed a glimpse of the blessed lands, the clearest seen in Middle Earth. However unlike Lórien, which lies beyond the sea, Lothlórien is tainted by the shadow that only Valinor escapes from, and so it is lesser.
    -Elliott Snyder

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