The first thing that struck me as odd in the selected readings for today’s class was the very different effects the phrase“ A Eleberth Gilthoniel” seems to have. Facing a ravenous spider preparing to make Frodo into a feast, Sam utters the words and imbued with strength and courage that rivals Turin. (Lord Of The Rings 729) This would suggest that the words are source of internal comfort and bravery, despite Sam lack of knowledge about their origin. In other instances, the words seem have supernatural properties. (Or at least as supernatural as LOTR gets) Frodo invokes the words at the ford while being chased by the Black Riders. Not only do they seem physically harmed by the phrase but the river suddenly rises in response and sweeps the horsemen away. (Lord Of The Rings 214)
We decided to understand the invocation of these elven words as prayer. Silent prayer is undoubtedly allowed and encouraged in the Catholic religion. However, there is not an instance in Tolkien’s story where the characters engage in silent prayer or speak the Elven name of Varda in their minds. It seems that if they expect a response they must voice the words. We’ve talked in class about how prayer and praise in Tolkien’s eyes is the highest form of sub-creation in response to God’s creation. Spoken prayer is a connection to God through mimicking his creation and proudly declaring faith. God spoke the world into existence and Illuvatar weaved together Arda out of music. The most proper sub-creation in response is then both speech and song, which also happens to be the only way Eleberth is ever mentioned in the story. In an unrelated class, while reading Genesis, a central question was the significance God’s method of creation. Stepping into God’s remarkably snug shoes for a moment, I think that the method of speech was chosen because it reflects conviction and intent. Once God declared the world’s existence, there was no taking it back. Speech reflects commitment to the subject. Frodo and Sam’s invocation of the words is an outward declaration of their faith, which is important to Tolkien. In Letter 250, Tolkien implores his son to outwardly declare his faith through prayer and praise and renew his commitment to God every day. The fact that it takes praises spoken to convey no lack of conviction to elicit inward and supernatural responses from above is Tolkien’s way of reminding us that we should wear our faith on our sleeves.
Tolkien speaks about how he understands our relationship to God in Letter 89 through the analogy of a dust mote bathed in a ray of light. He mentions “And the ray was the Guardian Angel of the mote: not a thing interposed between God and the creature, but God's very attention itself, personalized.”(Letters 89) This imagery interestingly shows up in The Lord of The Rings when describing the place where Faramir and his men, at the time the most at risk men in Middle-Earth, take refuge. “The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light as broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour…”(Lord of The Rings 674) However, the light the most evidently serves as our guardian angel is language, most specifically Elvish. In Tolkien’s story, language so often connects us with God. As aforementioned, it engages us in the same method of creation that God himself used, which has some spiritual significance. It is also true that the chanting of Elvish literally draws the attention of God or supernatural beings. It is curious that the prayers are always mentioned in Elvish, with no mention of Varda or a common speech translation of Elbereth. We tried to explain this by relating Elvish to the way Latin is used in Elvish tradition. I think the history of the Elves more accurately describes the power of Elvish in function of the story. The Elves are the only creatures to have come in constant and prolonged contact with the Valar. Much is made of how the Valar taught the Elves who came to Valinor. In some sense, one can infer that they created with each other, communicating in Elvish which gives some spiritual meaning to the language. However, it is curious that Sam, who has no training in Elvish, is able to utter the words in times of peril. It implies that despite the language gap the Valar help all of Eru’s children. Using prayer to create in the fashion of God seems to put us in his presence.