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January 14, 2002




Over fifty years ago, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien began working on a sequel to his popular book The Hobbit. It was a project which would take him seventeen years from the first attempt at Chapter 1 in December of 1937 (Letters #20) until the first publication in 1954, but it would become an unstoppable force in the literary world for years to come. It was called The Lord of the Rings.

Both books begin in a rather similar manner – a party. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, it is a birthday party for Bilbo Baggins, his "eleventy-first". Afterwards he leaves the Shire, home of the hobbits, and travels across Middle-earth. He leaves for his heir, Frodo, a plain golden ring. Many years later, Gandalf the Grey, a wizard, tells Frodo that this is the One Ring, created by the Dark Lord Sauron. He is looking for it, and so it is imperative that Frodo take it out of the Shire and to a safer place – Rivendell.

Four hobbits set out from the Shire – Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam – with Sauron’s nine Black Riders, the Nazgûl, chasing after them. With the help of the Ranger Aragorn and the Elf Glorfindel, they arrive safely in Rivendell after a month of travel. There The Fellowship of the Ring is formed to help Frodo take the Ring into Mordor, Sauron’s realm, and destroy it.

The most astonishing thing about Tolkien’s work is his unique style and the strong use of poetry. The pages of The Lord of the Rings are riddled with songs, laments, ballads, hymns, rhymes, and even Elven verses. Though there are over fifty of these poetic pieces in the book, each one has its own purpose. Many are for pure entertainment, but most have a clear and definite story behind them.

When Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings, he really wanted to work more on another passion of his – mythology. Though it started as a sequel to The Hobbit, a book meant for children, The Lord of the Rings gradually grew into something more adult like The Silmarillion. This allowed Tolkien to build more on the mythology of Middle-earth (Humphery Bio 188). While Shakespeare could make allusions to already well known Greek heroes, Tolkien did not have this luxury. Middle-earth was entirely his own invention, and so he had to write not only the stories, but also the histories to motivate them.

Thousands of years of history was needed. The Silmarillion covers some of that history, but much more had to come through in The Lord of the Rings itself. Much of this is done through prose and dialogue, but the songs sung by Tolkien’s characters also tell stories. By creating his own world, Tolkien could also draw on the greatest of all his passions. It was philology, the scientific study of the structure and design of language.

As a child, Tolkien was first introduced to the idea of invented languages when he heard some peers speaking in "Animalic". He quickly picked up some of the simple nonsense language and moved on to more complicated constructions (Fauskanger "Vice"). By 1915, at the age of twenty-three, he had developed one reasonably complex language based on Finnish (Humphrey Bio 75). To his fiancé, he wrote "I have done some touches to my nonsense fairy language c I often long to work at it and don’t let myself ’cause though I love it so it does seem such a bad hobby!" (Letters #4).

Eventually, as Tolkien worked on this language that would eventually become Quenya, he found it increasingly important that it have some history. Indeed, Middle-earth seems to have been created specifically to provide a place where Tolkien’s languages would be used. In a letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien said this:

 

"Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real. But it is true. An enquirer (among many) asked what the L.R. was all about, and whether it was an ‘allegory’. And I said it was an effort to create a situation in which a common greeting would be elen síla lúmenn omentielmo[1], and that the phrase long antedated the book." (Letters #205)

 

This universe of Tolkien’s, that is so rich in language and song, is not only one of the things makes reading The Lord of the Rings so enthralling, but it is also what keeps the fans hooked.

First, there is the matter of songs and poems in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien had quite a talent for poetry which shines through in each of the pieces used in the novel. While many were written outside of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has used each in its place with a specific purpose. It is very important, in some places, to reveal a piece of Middle-earth history, while at other times it was equally as important to simply create a clear atmosphere. Also, Tolkien cleverly uses verses and riddles to provide clues about the course of the plot.

Of course, there could not be a story about hobbits without a little humour. At "The Prancing Pony", a small inn in the town of Bree, Frodo sang a song to entertain the other patrons of the bar. A few
selected verses follow:

 

There is an inn, a merry old inn
   beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
   one night to drink his fill.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
   and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced,
   and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
   and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
   and dawn was in the air.

So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
   a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
   ‘It’s after three!’ he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
   and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in the rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
   and a dish ran up with a spoon.

With a ping and a pong the fiddle-strings broke!
   the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run,
   with the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
   as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
   they all went back to bed!

(I 209-211, Tom 31-33)

 

Though this poem is obviously based on a popular children’s rhyme, Tolkien made it fit into Middle-earth by saying "Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered" (I 209), so that it appears that the version we know today is actually derived from this poem. In his preface to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, in which the poem appears as "No. 5: The Man in the Moon stayed up to late", Tolkien says "In the Red Book, it is said that No. 5 was made by Bilbo". (Tom 7). It should be noted as well that Tolkien states that The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and many other written works, are all taken from "the Red Book", which Bilbo Baggins himself apparently wrote (I 1).

It is clear that this poem is intended purely for entertainment, as it serves no purpose in plot. However, the way in which it is presented reinforces the idea that Middle-earth actually did exist in Earth’s ancient history. It must have, if we are to believe that some of the nursery rhymes we know today had their roots there.

One topic that is open to much debate among Tolkien fans is the character of Tom Bombadil. This character is encountered by the four hobbits in the forest during their journey from the Shire to Bree. He was thought of by the hobbits in Buckland as "mysterious maybe and unpredictable but nonetheless comic" (Tom 9). The first verse of "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" describes him very well:

 

Old Tom Bombadil was a merry fellow;
bright blue his jacket and his boots were yellow,
green were his girdle and his breeches all of leather;
be wore in his tall hat a swan-wing feather.
He lived up under Hill, where the Withywindle
ran from a grassy well down into the dingle.


(Tom 11)

 

The hobbits’ encounter with him is very strange and isolated, as he plays almost no other role in the course of the book. Who or what Bombadil is is always in question. Tolkien says about him "c even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)." (Letters 174). He was, and this we know for certain, a master of song.

Though his time in The Lord of the Rings is very short, his words fill the narrative with poetry and song. Short selections of Tom’s almost continuous singing are given at various points, and his speech, written in prose, often has the same rhythm as his songs. Frodo and Sam first encounter Tom by the shores of the river Withywindle, and can only hear him singing this "nonsense":

 

Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!


(I 157)

 

All of Tom’s songs have the same rhythm. Each line is comprised of four feet, first a trochée, usually followed by two dactyls. The last of each line is always iambic. If you surrender completely to the rhythm of Tom’s singing, you are utterly swept away with it. Another of Tom’s seemingly nonsensical songs went like this:

 

Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! My darling!
Light goes the weather-wind and the feathered starling.
Down along under Hill, shining in the sunlight,
Waiting on the doorstep for the cold starlight,
There my pretty lady is, river-woman’s daughter,
Slender as the willow-wand, clearer than the water.
Old Tom Bombadil water-lilies bringing
Comes hopping home again. Can you hear him singing?
Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! and merry-o
Goldberry, Goldberry, merry yellow berry-o
Poor old Willow-man, you tuck your roots away!
Tom’s in a hurry now. Evening will follow day
Tom’s going home again water-lilies bringing.
Hey! Come merry dol! Can you hear me singing

(I 157)

 

This same pattern of trochaic and dactylic feet, sweeping the reader away in a quick rhythm, is also very evident in Tom’s speech.

 

"’Eh, what? Did I hear you calling? Nay, I did not hear: I was busy singing. Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you. We heard news of you, and learned that you were wandering. We guessed you’d come ere long down to the water: all paths lead that way, down to Withywindle. Old grey Willow-man, he’s a mighty singer; and it’s hard for little folk to escape his cunning mazes. But Tom had an errand there, that he dared not hinder.’"
(I 166)

 

This technique absolutely saturates the narrative with poetry, and in this way Tolkien is really able to show off his talents with poetics.

Unfortunately, The Lord of the Rings is not entirely about the hobbit’s songs and entertaining rhyming. They have been brought into a conflict much larger then they had ever realized. A very prominent example of a historic poem is known as the "Ring Verse", and is easily recalled by many Tolkien fans. We are first formally introduced it when we see this script on the pages of The Lord of the Rings (I 66):

 

 

This is the inscription found on Bilbo’s magic ring, which shine "piercingly bright, and yet remote, as if out of great depth" (I 66). Though Gandalf refuses to speak the lines in the original language of Mordor while in the Shire, he does recite them in the Common Speech:

 

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

(I 66)

 

This inscription, visible only when under the extreme heat of fire, is what proved to Gandalf that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring. Sauron spoke these words, in their original Black Speech[2], when he forged the ring, but now Gandalf says they are part of "a verse long known in Elven-lore" (I 66):

 

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
   Seven
for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
   One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
   One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
   One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

(I 66)

 

This short verse, without going into too much detail, quickly summarizes the history of the Rings of Power. Three important facts are revealed to us within these eight lines. First, the Elves have three Rings of Power, which we later learn is the source of their "immortal" power in Middle-earth. Second, nine rings were given to Men. Those who received them, as Gandalf explains later, become the Nazgûl, demons that serve as the leaders of Sauron’s army.

The last, and most significant, is information is about Sauron himself. He made the One Ring to rule all others in Mordor, where the Ring must go to be destroyed. The fate of these thirteen rings[3] are crucial to the development of the plot.

There are other opportunities where we hear detailed stories of past ages in songs, such as the "Song of Beren and Lúthien". Though Beren was a mortal man and Lúthien an immortal Elf, the love between these two, "the greatest ever known" (Guide "Beren" 44), was so strong that Lúthien chose to "receive his mortality and the anguish of his fate" (Guide "Lúthien" 242).

While Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are camping during their journey to Rivendell, the hobbits wish to hear more about Elves. Aragorn agrees to tell them the "tale of Tinúviel" (I 252). This song of Tinúviel, as Lúthien was often called by Beren (Guide "Lúthien" 242), is described by Aragorn as "a fair tale, though it is sad c and yet it may lift up your hearts" (I 252). Some of the verses he chanted for the hobbits were as follows:

 

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
     The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
     Of stars in shadow shimmering
Tinúviel was dancing there
     To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
     And in her raiment glimmering.

There Beren came from mountains cold,
     And lost we wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled
     He walked along and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
     And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
     And her hair like shadow following.

Again she fled, but swift he came.
     Tinúviel! Tinúviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
     And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
     His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinúviel
     That in his arms lay glistening.

Long was the way that fate them bore,
     O’er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
     And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
     And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
     In the forest singing sorrowless.

(I 252-254)

 

Aragorn says "this is but a rough echo" (I 255) of the original song in it’s original language. After the song, Aragorn goes on to tell a more detailed account of the lives of Beren and Lúthien.

 

"Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was the daughter of Thingol, a King of Elves upon Middle-earth c Beren escaping through great peril came over the Mountains of Terror into the hidden Kingdom of Thingol in the forest of Neldoreth. There he beheld Lúthien c together they passed through great dangers, and cast down even the Great Enemy from his throne c Yet at the last Beren was slain by the Wolf that came from the gates of Angband, and he died in the arms of Tinúviel. But she chose mortality, and to die from the world, so that she might follow him c But from her the lineage of Elf-lords of old descended among Men. There live still those of whom Lúthien was the foremother, and it is said that her line will never fail. Elrond of Rivendell is of that Kin."

(I 255-256)

 

The historical poems, while filling in some of the back-story, often serve as glimpses of what is to come. In Rivendell, we see hints of a connection between Aragorn and Arwen, Elrond’s daughter. "Frodo saw that Aragorn stood beside her; his dark cloak was thrown back, and he seemed to be clad in Elven-mail, and a star shone on his breast." (I 312). It is clear at least there is much we do not know of Aragorn at this point. Until this point he has been a "Ranger", untrustworthy at best. In Rivendell, however, we see that he is definitely of a high class, possibly even royal.

Of Arwen, Frodo gives us this description:

 

"Young she was, and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost, her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of the stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring c So it was that Frodo saw her whom few mortals had yet seen; Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in whom it was said that the likeness of Lúthien had come on earth again"

(I 298)

 

The comparison of Arwen to Lúthien should bring to mind the song that Aragorn chanted for the hobbits on Weathertop.

The idea that these two are in love is brought to mind again at Lothlórien, where we see Aragorn as if "clothed in white, a young lord
tall and fair" (I 461). He says, while deep in thought, "Arwen vanimelda, namarië![4] … Here is the heart of Elvendom on
earth, and here my heart dwells ever" (I 462). There is a very strong presence of the past at this point, thus it seems as though Aragorn is reliving a time from many years ago. No doubt it was a time when he and Arwen were together. It is possible he is saying farewell (namarië) to her now because he fears he will not see her again.

The two relationships of Beren and Lúthien and Aragorn and Arwen are very similar. Arwen is an immortal Elf, descendant of Lúthien herself, while Aragorn is a mortal man. It should be no surprise that Arwen would give up her immortality after the War of the Rings to embrace a mortal life with Aragorn.

 

"Elrond surrendered his sceptre, and laid the hand of his daughter in the hand of the King, and together they went up into the High City, and all the stars flowered in the sky. And Aragorn the King Elessar wedded Arwen Undómiel in the City of the Kings upon the day of Midsummer, and the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfillment." (III 302)

 

After the fall of Sauron, most of the Elves in Middle-earth are to sail over the sea to the west, and return to the immortal lands of their ancestors. At this point, Arwen says to Frodo:

 

"I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Lúthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter." (III 304)

 

Once again, we are reminded of the song of Beren and Lúthien. The story of their love has been repeated in the lives of Aragorn and Arwen.

Riddles are another common technique for revealing a little bit about the future in The Lord of the Rings. One of the most significant
examples of this is a riddle that came to Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor, in a dream. He recites it at the council of Elrond in Rivendell:

 

Seek for the sword that was broken:
     In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
     Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
     That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
     And the Halfling forth shall stand.

(I 322)

 

There is very little in this riddle that reveals the future, but rather it reveals the present. The "counsels taken" in Imladris, another name for Rivendell (Guide "Imladris" 211), is the Council of Elrond. The "token", "Isildur’s Bane", is the One Ring, and "the Halfling" is Frodo, a hobbit half the height of a man. When this riddle is combined with Gandalf’s "Riddle of Aragorn", more of the story is revealed. The Riddle of Aragorn is as follows:

 

All that is gold does not glitter,
     Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
     Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
     A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken:
     The crownless again shall be king.

(I 224, 324)

 

Both of these riddles refer to a sword that was broken. Known in older times as Narsil, it was broken by Sauron at the end of the Second Age. With the remains, Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger (Guide "Narsil" 280). The second riddle, written by Bilbo, foretells that Narsil will be reforged and with it Aragorn, "a light from the shadows", will take his place as the King of Gondor.

Before the Fellowship of the Ring departed from Rivendell, the sword was reforged for Aragorn. "Very bright was that sword when it was made whole again; the light of the sun shone redly in it, and the light of the moon shone cold" (I 363). The rest of the prophecy would come true also, as is suggested by the title of the third volume of The Lord of the Rings – "The Return of the King".

This is not the only account of telling the future. Lady Galadriel was able to show Frodo a glimpse of "things that may yet be" in a mirror of clear water (I 475). Her talent to reveal things yet to come would be used again. When Aragorn and Legolas the Elf were with Gimli in Fangorn Forrest, Gandalf brought messages from Galadriel in Lothlórien. To Aragorn she said:

 

Where
now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.

(II 124)

 

This is a very clear account of what is to come just before the end of the War of the Rings. Galadriel sent word to the north, to Aragorn’s people, that they would be needed. The Dúnedain then rode down from the north to lend their swords in battle. Aragorn, in an effort to gather more allies for the coming battle against Sauron, had to take a path southward through the Paths of the Dead (III 51). Gimli and Legolas would both go with him on this road "that leads to the Sea". That is important to note as we consider Galadriel’s message to Legolas:

 

Legolas Greenleaf long under tree
In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.

(II 124)

 

Despite her warnings, Legolas went with Aragorn and saw the Sea. When he first laid eyes on the sea "the Eldarin yearning for Eldamar was awakened in him" (Guide "Legolas" 231). It is a desire that exists in all Elves of Middle-earth, to return to their immortal home in the west.

He would not be able to forget about the Sea. On the field of Cormallen, after the fall of Sauron, Legolas sang this song:

 

To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling,
The voices of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;
For our days are ending and our years are failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing,
Long are the waves on the Las Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling,
In Eressëa, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not: land of my people for ever!

(III 280)

 

It is a song of leaving Middle-earth and returning to Eldamar, or "Elvenhome". With the fall of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring, the three rings that the Elves possessed would lose all their power. The three rings were what kept the Elven kingdoms of Middle-earth from decaying. Without them, for example, Lothlórien "will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away" (I 479). So it would be that all off the Elves would go west to their immortal homeland.

Galadriel also expressed a yearning to return to return to Eldamar.

 

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew:
Of wind I sang, a wind there came and in the branches blew.
Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon, the foam was on the Sea,
And by the strand of Ilmarin there grew a golden Tree.
Beneath the stars of Ever-eve in Eldamar it shone,
In Eldamar beside the walls of Elven Tirion.
There long the golden leaves have grown upon the branching years,
While here beyond the Sundering Seas now fall the Elven-tears.
O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the River flows away.
O Lórien! Too long have I dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

(I 489-490)

 

Her desire is very evident, and there are also hints as to the future for Lothlórien. Galadriel refers to "the bare and leafless Day", but we know that the power of the Elves in Lórien does not let the leaves fall. This song to Eldamar is very similar to Legolas’s Song of the Sea. Both have allusions to things in Elvish history and lore of which the casual reader knows nothing. This adds depth to both verses, and creates the very effective illusion of a very old culture, with a very deep connection to Eldamar.

The culture of the Elves is one that has drawn much interest from fans. One well-known piece of that culture is the chant "A Elbereth Gilthoniel", which occurs in various forms throughout The Lord of the Rings. In was sung by the Elves in Rivendell, which is where Frodo first heard it. They sang:

 

A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-díriel
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!

(I 311)

 

A full translation was provided in The Road Goes Ever On. It was:

 

A   Elbereth   Gilthoniel,

O   Elbereth    Star-kindler,

silivren                   penna            míriel

(white) glittering     slants-down    sparkling like jewels

o       menel          aglar   elenath!

from  firmament    glory    [of] the star-host!

Na-chaered                 palan-              -díriel

To-remote distance     after-having      gazed

o          galadhremmin   ennorath,

from     tree-tangled      middle-lands

Fanuilos,    le            linnathon

Fanuilos,     to
thee    I will chant

nef                     aear,           sí       nef                     aearon!

on this side of     the ocean     here   on this side of     the Great Ocean

(Road
64)

 

In order to understand references to the Elves such as this one, we must look at the world in which they lived and their religion, which is often overlooked in examining The Lord of the Rings (Road 65).

When Arda, the Earth, was originally created by Ilúvatar, it was made with two large continents. In the east was Middle-earth, where The Lord of the Rings takes place, and in the west was Aman. (Guide "Arda"

20). On Aman was Eldamar (Guide "Aman" 6), home of the Eldar, a race of Elves (Guide "Eldamar" 109"). This land was immortal, and the men of Middle-earth were generally not allowed to go there. At the end of the Second Age, over 3000 years before the War of the Ring, Aman was removed from Arda, and Arda became the spherical world in which we now live (Guide "Change of the World" 68).

On the summit of Taniquetil, on the eastern shores of Aman (Guide "Taniquetil" 371), dwelt Varda. She "made the starsc fashioned
the newer stars and constellationsc established the courses of the Moon and Sun, and set the star Eärendil[5]

in the sky" (Guide "Varda" 411). A Elbereth Gilthoniel is a hymn to her (Road 63), addressed as Elbereth, as she is called in Middle-earth (Guide "Varda" 411).

In The Road Goes Ever On, this description of Varda is given:

 

"She was often thought of, or depicted, as standing on a great height looking towards Middle-earth, with eyes that penetrated the shadows, and listening to the cries for aid of Elves (and Men) in peril or grief. Frodo (Vol. I, p. 208)[6] and Sam both invoke her in moments of extreme peril. The Elves sing hymns to her."

(Road 65)

 

In essence, A Elbereth Gilthoniel is a prayer to Varda.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel is written in one of the two "modern" forms of Elvish, known as Sindarin or Grey-elven (Guide "Sindarin" 359). The fans of The Lord of the Rings love Tolkien’s Elvish languages as much as Tolkien enjoyed developing them. It is because of the depth that Sindarin, and Quenya, go to that make it such an easy thing to become obsessed in.

Of course, it would not be realistic for Tolkien to develop both the languages and the world in which they were spoken and expect those cultures to use a Roman alphabet. Thus, Tolkien made the Fëanorian letters, commonly known today as Tengwar. Tolkien avoided the term alphabet, but he describe them as "a system of consonantal signs, of similar shapes and style, which could be adapted at choice of convenience to represent the consonants of languages". (III 494-495).

As Tolkien said, the letters can be used to represent any language. They are used to write the Black Speech of Mordor in the "Ring Inscription" (I 66), and they can even be adapted to write English words. Throughout the pages of The Road Goes Ever On, Tolkien decorated the margins with this script. Also, he provided a written version of A Elbereth Gilthoniel in it’s original Sindarin form:

 

(Road
back cover)

 

It is a surprisingly common practice among fans to write their own poetry in Sindarin and Quenya. In fact, there are two well known publications for those interested in Sindarin and Quenya, Tyalië Tyelelliéva and Vinyar Tengwar. It is also not unusual to see titles of web pages translated into Elvish and transcribed into Tengwar.

Tolkien poured every bit of his talent and passion into The Lord of the Rings. With the end result he has captivated the imaginations of millions worldwide. It has not been with a trick like an allegory, for indeed there is none (Letters #203), but this book has achieved an amazing popularity. There are aspects of it to which people can relate, like war, friendship, and power, but more then anything else it is merely depth which makes it so captivating.

There are nine thousand years of history in The Lord of the Rings, along with dozens of languages, cultures, and amazing characters. "It may be a large book, but evidently it will be none to long in the reading for those who have the appetite" writes Tolkien to this published in 1947 (Letters #109). Even in his own time, the popularity of the book was astounding.

 

"c a large single order for copies
of The L.R. had just come in. When I did not show quite the gratified surprise expected I was gently told that a single order of 100 copies used to be pleasing (and still is for other books), but this one for The L.R. was for 6,000." (Letters #340)

 

Even now, almost fifty years later, The Lord of the Rings is still on the best seller lists, millions are being spent on a live-action movie adaptation, and out-of-print Tolkien books are selling for hundreds of dollars in auction. His songs and his astounding grasp on language has created a book, and for many an obsession, like no other.


Bibliography:

 

Brinza, Mike. "FAQ-Like Guide To The Letters Of
J.R.R. Tolkien
". Online. Address: http://users.telerama.com/~taliesen/tolkien/lettersfaq.html

Carpenter, Humphrey, ed., with Christopher Tolkien. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1981.

Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien, A Biography. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1977.

Fauskanger, Helge. "Tolkien’s Not-So-Secret Vice". Online. Address: http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/vice.html

Fauskanger, Helge. "Quenya Corpus Wordlist". Online. Address: http://www.uib.no/People/hnoh/qlist.htm. Also available for download in text format from Terrence Donnelly at http://www.geocities.com/teresh_2000/elvish.html

Foster, Robert. The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth. George Allen & Unwin, London, 1978.

Swann, Donald, and J.R.R. Tolkien. The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1967.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1978.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. 3 vols. 1994 ed. HarperCollins Publishers, London.

 

Book title abbreviations used:

 

Bio Tolkien, A Biography
Guide Complete Guide to Middle Earth, referenced by entry, in quotation marks, and page number. Example: (Guide "Sindarin" 359)
Letters The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, references by letter number. Example: (Letters #18). In the case of longer letters, references are made by page. Example: (Letters 331).
LotR The Lord of the Rings
Road The Road Goes Ever On
Tom The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
"Vice" "Tolkien’s Not-So-Secret Vice"

 

References to specific passages in The Lord of the Rings are made by volume and page number, as found in the HarperCollins 1994 edition. Volumes are as follows:

 

I The Fellowship of the Ring
II The Two Towers
III The Return of the King

 

Note on the Elvish text:

The text on the cover reads "Lindë ar tengwestië Eruntalon Námotur Erundil", meaning "[The] songs and
language [of] John Ronald Reuel". Translation done with the assistance of Helge Fauskanger’s "Quenya Corpus Wordlist". Tolkien’s three given names are used in place of his surname because "Tolkien" cannot be translated. Translations of the names John and Ronald by Helge Fauskanger.

Transcriptions of Sindarin (for "A Elbereth Gilthoniel"), Black Speech (for the "Ring Inscription"), and Quenya (for the cover text) into the Tengwar alphabet was done primarily using "The Tengwar Scribe", Version 1.1.0, Copyright 1998-1999 Måns Björkman, with any minor corrections done manually. TengScribe is available online at http://hem.passagen.se/mansb/at/tengscribe.htm

"A Elbereth Gilthoniel" and the cover text were printed with Daniel Smith’s Tengwar Sindarin font, available online at http://www.geocities.com/fontwizard/tengwar/index.html

The "Ring Inscription" was printed with Harri Perälä’s Tengwar Cursive font, version 1.00, available online at http://www.sci.fi/~alboin/tengwar.htm

For help pronouncing these languages, try Helge Fauskanger’s "Quenya Course", downloadable in Rich Text format files (*.rtf) at http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/qcourse.htm


[1] Quenya: "A star shines on the hour of our meeting" (I 107)

[2] In the Black Speech of Mordor, the Ring Inscription reads: "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul." (I 333)

[3] The seven rings given to the Dwarf-lords were lost or destroyed, and thus play no role in the War of the Ring.

[4] Quenya: "Beautiful Arwen, farewell!" (Based on entries in the "Quenya Corpus Wordlist" by Helge Fauskanger)

[5] Venus, the " star most beloved of the Elves". (Guide "Eärendil" 103)

[6] The edition of The Lord of the Rings to which Tolkien refers is not given.

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