Michael Tolkien




 Address given to THE TOLKIEN SOCIETY at the A.G.M. dinner.

(Birmingham. April, 1998.)



... Melkor knowing that his devices had been revealed, hid himself and passed from place to place as a cloud in the hills:...then it seemed to the people of Valinor that the Light of the Trees was dimmed and the shadows of all standing things grew longer and darker in that time…



¶1 The poet Keith Douglas who survived El Alamein to be killed in the Normandy landings of 1944 said:  Simplify me when I am dead. Tolkien would have asked for this in vain; though had he done so I believe my topic would in some form or other be regarded as one of the essential themes of his work.

    But first of all to the Here and Now. I would like to thank the Society for its generous hospitality, and I am most grateful to Chris Crawshaw for keeping me informed about the details of this occasion. I know I speak for all the family when I say it is an honour to address an organisation whose contagious enthusiasm promotes diverse and informed interest in T.'s work. But this makes me even more aware that I have no special authority to comment on a momentous academic and literary achievement.


I. Glimpses of Perfection


¶2  In Smith of Wootton Major Nokes says to Prentice over the matter of the Great Cake's theme:' It's my place to have ideas...'(p.8) And in Leaf by Niggle, after N.'s departure Councillor Tompkins declares about art that there is 'scope for bold young men not afraid of new ideas and new methods.'(p.77)

¶3    But it is not in the spirit of Nokes's arrogance that I have chosen to speak to you about ideas in Tolkien's work rather than about the author as a person I knew and loved. As for Tompkins's comment: I am not young or bold, and if I am lucky I'll put some new life into old ideas by using well-tried methods.

¶4    Like Smith, under the influence of a star inherited by chance from a grandfather, I hope I can do some justice to an elvish heritage by considering it in a way I imagine Tolkien would have approved of and as an indirect tribute to his son Christopher's scholarly work in providing us with a coherent and comprehensive history and text of its making.

¶5     Passing through the perplexing and often fearful realms of Faërie, Smith chanced on the Vale of Evermorn, where the senses become so fine-tuned that the intricacies and textures of the natural world are experienced with a new intensity, and the sight and sound of the dancers, their ART, are of a piece with it. Somehow there is a feeling that he has found his heart's desire, and could rest here were he not a mere mortal.(p.23).

¶6     When Niggle moves on from his cooperation with Parish in what we might call the post-purgatorial 'Other Side', Parish sees that they are in the picture that he had despised Niggle for applying himself to.

(pp 74-5) This suggests that our imagination, particularly when channeled into ART, harks back and forward to a kind of perfection or to a stage on the way from or to it. When he protests that the picture in Niggle's shed did not seem 'real', he is told that it was only a glimpse then but 'you might have caught the glimpse, if you had ever thought it worth while to try.'

¶7     It struck me that such moments reflect on how we all glimpse, indistinctly and without warning, our own equivalents of Evermorn and Niggle's Tree and Vista as we journey through a world full of anxiety and confusion, but also that the sense of exile from and yearning for an indefinable wholeness pervades and often gives coherence to T.'s narratives. Though I shall focus mainly on the impact of settings and the natural world, I don't believe such intuitions are confined to these. The intense description of Aragorn's first encounter with Arwen in Theoden's hall is one of many heart-stopping personal encounters in which the emotion is imagised as a recognition of something unimpaired and utterly true to itself.( L/R, p.537)

¶8    In a letter to Christopher Tolkien ( January, 1945. L.pp 109-10) T. says that many Christians, including himself, ' have tucked The Book of Genesis (by which he means the story of creation, earthly paradise and fall) into a lumber room of their mind as not very fashionable furniture...and have forgotten its beauty...even as a story.' But he also says: '...partly as a development of my own thought on my lines and work (technical and literary)...I do not now feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden myth...There was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane is still soaked with the sense of 'exile''.

¶9    He tells Christopher who was training to be a pilot in S.Africa that even his persistent memory of home reflects this thrist for Eden: '...an illusion of the stay of time and decay and a sense of gentle peace.' He contends that however much we long for this we cannot recover it, any more than the town-dweller who loves the countryside more deeply than those who work in it, can become a 'real landsman', though he is paradoxically both more so and less so, less truly earthy. In just the same way the Hobbits hanker for the Shire as it was, and even Gandalf longs for the Elder Days. Neither is recoverable.

¶10   As for The Fall, T. says that ' subject to the permission of God' we are all

' free not to rise again but to go to perdition and carry out the fall to its bitter bottom...And at certain periods...that seems not only ...likely ...but imminent.'  Only those who do not so descend '...have...never finally bowed heart and will to the world or evil spirit.' For T. in 1945 this meant a cocktail of mechanism, scientific materialism, & totalitarianism.


II. Tolkien's religious convictions


¶11  The equivalents, I don't say conscious parallels, of such perversions of order and abuses of power are the dark consequences of various falls from grace in T.'s sagas. And the longings and glimpses that I have mentioned follow the ensuing darkness.  Not surprisingly T. declared that 'there cannot be any story without a fall, at least for human minds as we know them and have them; all stories are ultimately about the fall.'(L. adapted. p.147) And what he says about the Fall is not 1940s political pessimism coloured by religious language. Unlike a fine essay in Mallorn 25 about T.'s concepts of death and immortality, a recent TV documentary made no explicit comment on the Christian convictions or Catholic faith that lie behind such personal and critical utterances. So I feel it would be useful to outline some comments from his letters on matters of Faith since they underlie what I shall say about Eden, Fall and Exile in Tolkien.

¶12   He said (L pp172ff) that because his work is fundamentally religious he has largely avoided detailing cults and practices in his imaginary world. The religion is absorbed into the story and symbolism. The character of Galadriel is one instance. It is inspired partly by Catholic theology about Mary as indeed is the imagery of the Queen of Faërie in SWM( p.27) She is 'a pentitent ( who) in her youth (was) a leader in the rebellion against the Valar ( the angelic guardians). At the end of the First Age she proudly refused forgiveness or permission to return. She was pardoned because of her resistance to the final and overwhelming temptation to take the ring for herself.'(L. p.407) He also wrote ( L.p.255) that his convictions meant that he did not expect 'history' to be anything other than a 'long defeat' though it contains in his own legendary version ' some samples and glimpses of final victory.' The delight he took in the living world, reflected in those moments I refer to in the short tales, he was careful to qualify by saying that those like himself ' who believe in a personal God, a Creator, do not think the Universe is in itself worshipful, though devoted study of it may be one of the ways of honouring HIM...'(L. to Camilla Unwin, p.400) A stance subtly presented through the uncorrupted elves for whom the natural world is the source and inspiration for living art. Perhaps Tolk-inspired 'naturists' and advocates of L/Rs as the epic of the Green Movement should take account of this.

¶13     But T.'s stories also reflect his own perplexed position as one of the faithful in age of scepticism and international upheaval. In a letter to my father (L.p.393) he stressed what it was like to be born in the late 19th century and to live on into the 1960s:'...our senses or imagination of security have been progressively stripped away from us. Now we find ourselves nakedly confronting the will of God as concerns ourselves and our position in Time.' To indicate how he wrestled with the challenge he cites Gandalf's words to Frodo early in the L/Rs and later to those who are dithering with ideas in face of a remorseless enemy (In those chapters entitled 'The Pyre of Denethor' & 'The King of the Golden Hall'):

1.)You have been chosen and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have...2.) it is not our part to master all the tides of the world but to do what is in us for the success of those years wherein we are set. Injunctions that underline the radical, modestly Christian contention at the heart of all T.'s fiction: the power for good of apparently insignificant forces.

¶14   Tolkien's fondness for and serious response to the early chapters of Genesis are only fully comprehensible in the light of this awareness of a divine purpose in Creation, human imperfection in the context of a conflict between Good and Evil, and above all, potential redemption.


III. AINULINDALÉ & Quenta Silmarillion


¶15    T.'s creation and fall legends are not centred on humankind

(L. p147) They narrate elvish concepts of perfection, damnation and tragically heroic pride. But Men and Women(and other races) are subtly involved. Their appearance coincides with the creation of the derived lights of Sun and Moon and their association even with the dark elves (or Moriquendi) refines their response to the riches and resources of Arda. Their first days are described in Eden-like terms:  their joy was the joy of the morning before the dew is dry, when every leaf is green. But the dawn is brief and the day full often belies its promise.( QS Ch.12,p.123)

¶16      In the terrible wars that follow many of their races fall 'under the domination of the Enemy' {Melkor or Morgoth and his network} (L.p148) But later in the Silm.( pp 168-9) we hear of how Felagund of the House of Finarfin (one of the Calaquendi who have dwelt in the Light of Aman) encounters the tribe of Bëor, ancestor of, among other figures, Eärendil, Elrond, and indeed Beren for whom Felagund sacrifices himself in a fatal struggle with Sauron's werewolf.


¶17    This chance encounter is highly significant since his harping and song enchant them with the elvish creation legend. His harmonies reflect the themes of Ilúvatar's music of creation; and at first because they seem to have been journeying west towards a rumour of redemptive light out of a terrible darkness, they think that this elven king is one of the Valar, or guardian creative powers. They call him Nóm (or Wisdom) suggesting that they do not distinguish Art, Thought and its Maker. And at this moment it is perfectly consistent with T.'s beliefs and imagery to bear in mind the profound interreaction between Word, Light and Darkness in the first chapter of John's Gospel. Like the last prophet, John the Baptist, to whom John the Evangelist refers, Felagund was ' not the Light.' But he was ‘to speak for the Light.'(JBPh. transln.) Crucially, though, there is a sense of lost wholeness, which the art of the elves makes coherent to men after they have somehow turned away from an inexplicable corruption. Smith's journey into Faërie and his subsequent 'great weariness and bereavement' (SWM, p.37) as well as Niggle's yearning to interpret creation, are variations on this theme.

¶18   Which cannot be fully understood without reference to the Ainulindalë ( the 'fashioning and forming' music of the Ainur or holy ones, the valar and maiar whose task it is to order the world) As they arrange and adorn it, the analogy with Eden is more than implicit:' the Valar walked the earth...clad in the raiment of the World...the earth was becoming as a garden for their delight, for its turmoils were subdued...' ( S.p.23) The description of the Isle of Almaren, first home of the Valar in Arda, is a joyous unfolding of growth: 'when all things were young and new-made green was yet a marvel in the eyes of the makers; and they were long content...'(S.p.40)


¶19  This joy in devising and making is distinctly elvish: spontaneous but with no notion of the superiority of the untamed wild or unregenerate primitivism. In T.'s creation legends the WORLD is the wonder and gives substance to the music of Ilúvatar's themes:  earthbound creatures are not overawed by unearthly realms or divine visitors (as in Greek legends). The earth's revelations amaze the ruling and fashioning powers. They also know it is a place that will only be complete with the coming of Elves and Men; and it is for this reason that they later desist from ruining it by titanic war with the Enemy.

¶20  As with the subsequent Darkening of Valinor, it is during the innocence of festivity and celebration that Melkor strikes, filled with hate at the beauty of the Earth in its Spring. He destroys the northern and southern lamps, Illuin and Ormal that lit a changeless day (S.p. 40), the only steadfast light ever to bless the world. His northern kingdom spreads pestilence and fear into the unfolding plenty and harmony of Almaren.

¶21  The grotesque mechanism of Melkor's ruinous impact is later felt at close hand when Beren and Lúthien approach Angband: Black chasms opened beside the road, whence forms as of writhing serpents issued. On either hand cliffs stood as embattled walls, and upon them sat carrion fowl crying with fell voices (S.p.215) Names, too, change in meaning and tone to signify how Evil mars the earth. After the Dagor Bragollach, The Battle of Sudden Flame, and the fall of Fingolfin (QS,Ch.18) the plane of Ard-Galen, the Green Region becomes Anfauglith, the Gasping Dust, barren and lifeless. Likewise the river island of Tol Sirion or Minas Tirith, Finrod Felagund's Tower of Watch, is invested with evil by Sauron and renamed Tol-in-Gauroth, Island of Werewolves (S.p.187)

¶22  After their enforced departure from Middle Earth to Aman, the westernmost land, the Valar construct behind the walls of the mountainous Pelóri ('defensive heights') a second but fortified Eden or Paradise in Valinor. And it seems that in all future ages of Elves and Men the remnants of bliss, completeness and order can only survive, and never impregnably, in some kind of fastness, which in itself may delude or fossilise its makers. Many examples spring to mind; and it is clear how this helps to determine the narrative structure of the stories and the glimmers of perfection that occur in those places. Three contrasing instances alone indicate the breadth of T.'s vision.

¶23     1.) Long after the departure of the Noldor from Aman, Turgon the Wise, second son of Fingolfin plans to build in the secret realm of Gondolin a city like Tirion the Fair where elves dwelt in Aman, but he is warned by Ulmo, the Vala who is Lord of the Waters: love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart (S.p.150) And who can forget the tragic voyage of the Gondolindrim to seek pardon and aid from Valinor when Turgon loses his nerve over the encroachments of Angband, yet still will not reveal his secret (S. p.192)? Or the ulitmate fate of Gondolin( S.p.292) decided once more at a moment where vigilance gives way to a celebration of the earth's live-giving properties ? The host of Morgoth came...at night upon a time of festival when all...were upon the walls to await the rising sun, and sing their songs at its uplifting; for the morrow was the great feast that they named The Gates of Summer. But the red light mounted the hills in the north and not in the east...'

¶24     2.) Imladris or Rivendell is in marked contrast. Elrond as T. says (note to L.p.153) stands for 'ancient wisdom...the preservation of all tradition concerning the good, wise and beautiful.' And although it is a place to reflect on these matters, and atmospherically reminiscent of a lost harmony 'it is... visited on the way to...deeds and 'adventures', and 'it may be necessary to go from there in a totally unexpected course. So necessarily in L/R (Frodo) having escaped to Elrond from the imminent pursuit of present evil...departs in a wholly new direction: to go and face it at its source. A sense of what has been lost may therefore generate new resolves rather than retreat into an illusory stay of time.’

¶25     3.) Lothlórien( Blosson Dream Land) is another such haven. But the wise, practical Treebeard (L/R pp488-90) suggests that the diminishing of its name from Laurelindórenan, Gold-Song-Land-Valley, implies that it is now less close than it was to the Ancient Light both in purpose and function. ' They are falling behind the world in there...Neither this country nor anything else outside the Golden Wood is what it was...' His own Song of the Seasons (L/R p.490) harks back to Arda before the upheavals and yet takes us to a shrunken present

' when the years lie thicker than the leaves.' It is a mournfully energetic acceptance.

¶26    But it's revealing to move from the more familiar ground of the Third Age to the second Eden of the Creative Powers. The Quenta Silmarillion( S.p.42) tells us: In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things...saved from the ruin...naught faded or withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived for the very stones and waters were hallowed... In contrast to the descriptions of Almaren, albeit in the best sense, there is a more artificial, wistful ring to this account. Yavanna Kementári ( Giver of fruits and Queen of the Earth) does not entirely forsake the growing things of Middle Earth (S.p.46) but here in Valinor she is more involved in thought and reflection about fruitfulness, and about its likely abuse by those tainted with evil. And as Nienna, Lady of Pity and Mourning waters the mould of the green mound Ezellohar(Corollairë) it feels almost like an emblematic memory of the Isle of Almaren. Yet with song and tears they bring forth on it the Two Trees of Valinor , Telperion ( Silpion/ Ninquelótë) and Laurelin ( Malinala/ Culúrien) We are told that  about their fate all the tales of the Elder Days are woven...Though the description of their unfolding and qualities is enchanting (S.pp.43-4), their elaborate and complementary structure, colourings, and light-shedding further imply the artificiality of this paradise. In a sense it contains both elvish temptations and potentialities, and in that way has something in common with the paradoxes of the biblical Eden.

¶27    There is a sense of measuring and preservation, too: the dews of Telperion and the rain that fell from Laurelin Varda hoarded in great vats like shining lakes, that were to all the land of the Valar as wells of water and of light. Thus began the Days of the Bliss of Valinor; and thus began also the Count of Time...(S.p.44) When involved in the exile from this we read that Turgon placed in the courts of Gondolin  images of the Trees of old, which he himself wrought with elven-craft...(S.p.151)

It reminds me of what the poet, W.B.Yeats says of his own temptation to have recourse to art for art's sake:

           Once out of nature I shall never take

           My bodily form from any natural thing,

           But such a form as Graecian Goldsmiths make

           Of hammered gold and gold enamelling...

                                                          (Sailing to Byzantium)

Meanwhile the region of Nevrast from which Turgon had withdrawn was desolate, and  remained empty of living folk until the ruin of Beleriand. (S. p.151)

¶28  It must be stressed that the Trees of Valinor are not similar to or derived from those of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and of Eternal Life in the Garden of Eden. Whether or not these stand for the Omniscience and Immortality longed for by and therefore tempting to beings confined by Time and Space, the Elvish temptations (partly ours too, of course) are primarily a resistance to change and a desire to combat immortality by a kind of fading into Twilight. A more potent parallel between the biblical Eden and the Elvish one is the notion that God put Man there to 'dress it and keep it', that is to care for and adorn Creation. And the only trees in Tolkien that are really similar in complex implications to those of Valinor are The King's Tree in SWM( p.20) and Niggle's Tree in its glorified mutations.(Passim in L/N)     

¶29  In this respect it is worth drawing attention to a crucial and perhaps  overlooked or even misunderstood footnote to a letter where T. discusses the Trees of Valinor in the context of the Elder Days ( in 1951 L.p.148): their light is, he says ' one derived from light before ANY FALL, (it) is the light of ART undivorced from REASON,(it) sees things both scientifically (or philosophically) AND imaginatively ( or subcreatively) as beautiful. The light of Sun(or Moon) is derived from the Trees only after they were sullied by evil. So then 'light of the Sun', the world under the sun, become terms for a fallen world and a dislocated, imperfect vision.' So this Light, preserved in things that grow and flourish, and yet are artifacts, represents precisely the kind of wholeness of vision which is forever fractured and which T. believed that we all long for. I have already said how men of the tribe of Bëor glimpsed it in the song of Felagund. But for Elves and Mankind it will also become the light of the enlightened stewardship of creation, which includes the exercise of power.

¶30   It follows that once what we might call disinterested creativity disappears, when there is a division between what is useful or practical and what is beautiful, pride and selfish manipulation are the inevitable consequences. This is why when Smith is transformed by the Star he inherits a capacity to unite inventive design with utility. (SWM,pp14-15)

¶31  Craft in his case is not the dubious word it becomes in considering the corrupted artistic pride of Fëanor. At first this elven lord is well-motivated in preserving the Creative Light in the silmarils but as soon as his work becomes a dimension of personal power, an investment in his own standing, due in part to the cunning insinuations of Melkor, the legend significantly hastens towards the destruction of the Trees by the malice of Melkor and Ungoliant.

'... the Darkness that followed' was a kind of negative creativity.'...more than a loss of Light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing with being of its own; for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.'( S.p.89)

Inevitable counterparts of this Darkness are the many instances of the assaults of evil destroying the fruitfulness of the earth, or more surreptitiousy the attempt of Sauron to seduce Elves and Men into making a false earthly paradise that has no reference to the source of the Light in Valinor ( See L.p.152)


IV. Gandalf's Perspectives


¶32  After a long history of the abuse of CRAFT anticipated by this UNLIGHT, Gandalf looks back as if in exile from the unsullied Light. It is during the journey from Isengard ( L/R p.611) that he takes up one of the Palantír (literally:  those which watch from afar) It is the Orthanc Stone corrupted by Sauron into an instrument for controlling the time-serving wizard, Saruman. Gandalf, his uncorrupted colleague, longs to turn time back and see in it the city of Tirion the Fair and  perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Fëanor at work while both The White Tree and The Golden Tree were in flower.

¶33  It was Fëanor(S.p.64) who wrought these crystals...wherein things far away could be seen small but clear and with the eye of the eagles of Manwë... But remember it was also this elven lord who would not give of the light of his silmarils to Yavanna to restore the Trees after their ruin, and it is one of T.'s masterstrokes of narrative irony that at the very moment of his refusal, those jewels in which he has invested too much of his pride are wrested from their iron chest in Formenos, before the gates of which his father Finwë has been felled by Melkor. These jewels have a grim history tied up with Fëanor's oath of vengeance, though one of them (of which we are reminded in Smith Starbrow in SWM) is bound to the brow of Eärendil after his voyage of intercession to Aman, immortalising him as a Star of Hope, which in turn illuminates the phial of Galadriel( Lady of Light). Later, married to the indomitable spirit of Sam it defeats the menace of Shelob, successor of Ungoliant (L/R,pp756-7): ' ...the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob's face before...'  


¶34  From all of which it may be inferred that the redemtive qualities of the Light are inextinguishable despite its abuse.( See L.p.149 & Foster CGME pp356-7)

¶35   Yavanna, though, had been generous, and made for the Vanyar and Noldor of Tirion 'a tree like to a lesser image of Telperion, save that it did not give light of its own being...'( S.p.69) Its descendants have a complex history; a history of what lives and is lovely, as opposed to that of the jewels which are fashioned and fatal.

¶36   One of those trees, Nimloth of Nümenor, stands in the way of Sauron's attempt to subvert the kingship of Ar-Pharazôn and to return it to the allegiance of Darkness (S.(Akallabêth)pp.326ff) for  it was a memorial of the Eldar and of the Light of Valinor. But another descendant is the seedling which Gandalf reveals to Aragorn on the slopes of Mount Mindolluin.  (L/R, [Ret/Kg.] pp.1007 ff.)

¶37   But before he does so, T. expresses the exile's longing for order and completeness not as a fenced paradise but as a wide vista

(reminiscent of what enthralls Niggle in L/N ) In contrast to his longing to see back with the Palantír, Gandalf now looks at the world with its intended and productive beauty, which combines the works of our hands with the wonders of creation:

           they saw the towers of the city far below them like white pencils touched by the sunlight, and all the Vale of Anduin was like a garden, and The Mountains of Shadow were veiled in a golden mist. Upon the one side their sight reached to the grey Emyn Muil, and glint of Rauros was like a star twinkling far off; and upon the other side they saw the River like a ribbon laid down to Pelargir, and beyond that was a light on the hem of the sky that spoke of the Sea...

¶38   Untold ages before, Melkor and Ungoliant had looked down from the summit of Hyarmentir at the Guarded Realm. Below them lay the woods of Oromë, and westward shimmered the fields and pastures of Yavanna, gold beneath the tall wheat of the Gods...Melkor looked north and saw afar the shining plain, and the silver domes of Valmar gleaming in the mingling of the lights of Telperion and Laurelin...(S.pp86-7) A perspective which generates our longing to prevent the forthcoming ruin.

¶39  Above Minas Tirith Gandalf inverts, as it were, the image of Satan tempting Christ by showing the rightful inheritor the kingdoms of the world. This is the realm of a new order handed down by the Eldar kindred who will now fade and depart.

¶40   But Aragorn demands a sign that there will be more than this earthly inheritance when he tells Gandalf that  the Tree in the Court of the Fountain is still withered and barren...

¶41   It is then that he is shown a sapling in an unlikely place, waste and frozen, described in terms that remind us of Telperion of Valinor. Its miraculous survival is a promise of restorative powers that may lie dormant just as the race of Eärendil lay hidden in the wilds of the North. It is both a sign and a living assurance, but it transmits something of that Light which stands for the uncorrupted vision needed by artists and rulers alike. It signifies the renewal of order, and complements the panorama we have seen by reminding us that the works of thinking creatures must cooperate with the living earth, that power is a matter of responsibility. Long before this moment Gandalf could have addressed Tree and King alike with words so tragically misapplied to Macbeth by Duncan:

              I have begun to plant thee and will labour

              To make thee full of growing...


V. Beyond.


¶42   Tolkien's own narrative ironies are more to the point. When those of Fëanor's house and kin whose pride burns less fiercely but nevertheless follow him out of Valmar into Arda, they anticipate a feeling that runs throughout the tales and quests of Middle Earth, an elegiac regret that will be felt by many again and again despite the so-called 'eucatastrophe' represented in the words of Gandalf and Aragorn in the Return of the King. In the Silmarillion these elvish wanderers often...looked behind them to see their fair city, until the lamp of the Mindon Eldaliéva was lost in the night. More than any others of the exiles they carried thence memories of the bliss they had forsaken, and some even of the things they had made there they took with them: a solace and a burden on the road.( S.p.100)

¶43   This is echoed in different circumstances by Smith when the Queen of Faërie lays her hand upon his head:'...he seemed to be both in the World and in Faërie, and also outside them and surveying them, so that he was at once in bereavement, and in ownership, and in peace.' (SWM.p.28)

¶44 There is in the work of T. an unresolved tension between nostalgia and firmness of purpose; and this is one of its appeals, echoing what he believed to be our ineradicable yearning for a lost order, which could and should never be allowed to result in mournful inertia. The road goes ever on for us all as it did gladly for Niggle. In terms of what has been suggested that modest hero's prospects and attitudes, though expressed with deceptive simplicity, distil some crucial thematic material.

 'He was going to learn about sheep and the high pasturages, and look at a wider sky, and walk ever further and further towards the Mountains, always uphill. Beyond that I cannot guess what became of him. Even little Niggle in his old home could glimpse the Mountains far away, and they got into the borders of his picture; but what they are really like, and what lies beyond them only those can say who have climbed them...(L/N.pp.75-6)


                                  (Revised Sept.,1998 & Apr.,2011)



ABBREVIATIONS and sources:-


CGME: The Complete Guide to Middle Earth: Foster (Unwin p/b,1978)

QS: The Quenta Silmarillion in distinction to other narratives that fall under the general title of Silmarillion

L: The Letters of JRRT ed Carpenter with CJR Tolkien.(A&U)

L/N: Leaf by Niggle(Unwin p/b, 1983, incl. SWM)

L/R: The Lord of the Rings.(Page references are to the earlier composite editions. Pagination has recently altered.)

S: The Silmarillion. (Grafton paperback edn. 1992) (Pagination differs from original and reprinted hardback edn.)

SWM: Smith of Wootton Major ( Same edn as L/N above)




1.) I would like to thank The Tolkien Society for its kind invitation and generous hospitality on the occasion of its A.G.M. dinner in April, 1998.

2.) I would also like to thank Anna Mirosławska-Olszewska for her interesting correspondence over several aspects of Tolkien’s work and views, and for inviting me to submit and have published this lecture/essay in the University of Kracow’s Journal of Literary Translation No.6 (1999-2000).

    She kindly introduced my essay at the end of her own, which I have adapted slightly, as follows:

‘ …(concerning) the notion of the ethical foundation of Tolkien’s world, references to Christianity…tend not to be given enough emphasis in some critical works concerning the texts and general response to them. Therefore the essay by Michael Tolkien which follows is certainly a valuable contribution to Tolkien criticism. The author of the article draws on many aspects of the world of Arda and links them up with other works by Tolkien, Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle. In this way he offers new insights into the scope and intricacy of Tolkien’s vision, and helps to explain the phenomenon of the author’s popularity throughout the world.’