Throughout literature the device of a deus ex machina has been used to bring about the author's desired ends. However, such use seems to modern audiences to be very artificial. In Tolkien's works the artificiality is not so apparent. While we cannot take any hypothetical statements about what would have happened had he chosen not to use the mythical characters throughout the history, we can assume that the outcome of the tale would not have been as it is. The interaction of mythical characters with the natural characters is necessary for the tale to have ended as it has (if, in fact, it has ended). One of Tolkien's major advantages over other authors who have tried to bring mythical influences into their historical tales is that he has done so without making the combination seem artificial or contrived.
The popular success of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and the subsequent demand by many readers for more information about much of Middle-earth demonstrate that Tolkien's audience recognized the existence of something beyond what they had in the works about Middle-earth. Tolkien apparently knew that such a demand would be voiced. In fact, he wanted to publish The Silmarillion before The Lord of the Rings was even written. (For further information about Tolkien's reluctance to publish The Lord of the Rings first, see selections of Letters, specifically those written to his publisher, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd.) In a letter to Katherine Ferrer, he writes,
I am distressed (for myself) to be unable to find the "Rings of Power", which with the "Fall of Numenor" is the link between the Silmarillion and the Hobbit world. But its essentials are included in Ch. II of The Lord of the Rings. That book would, of course, be easier to write, if the Silmarillion were published first! (Letters 130)Presumably, too, he felt that it would be easier to read. But the way he brought the necessary elements of The Silmarillion into the "Hobbit world" without disappointing his readers is evidence of his success. He has allowed us to read the history without requiring us to read the myth. He has, though, invited us to do the latter by including in the history not only allusions and references to the myth but also characters who appear directly from the mythical world itself.
The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of
the Rings are tied together, finally, by one common thread, the myth
that first appears in the beginning of The Silmarillion and reappears
throughout the history. Though we can read and appreciate the history without
being aware of the complete myth (indeed, the early readers had no choice),
only after we understand the complexity of the mixture of the myth and
the history can we come to realize the full impact of the whole collection
of works. And only then can we realize that Tolkien has not written three
stories. Rather, he has written one long story that first emerged with
his "predilection for inventing languages" (Letters 375) and the
discovery that "a language requires a suitable habitation,
and a history in which it can develop" (375). And the story has continued from there. On the stairs of Cirith Ungol, Sam and Frodo discuss precisely this point. Thinking about the Silmaril and Earendil, Sam realizes that he and Frodo are continuing in the same story:
"Any why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got--you've got some of the light of it [Elendil's Silmaril] in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?"With the end of The Lord of the Rings we come to the end of one part of the history. The Third Age is over, and the Fourth Age begins. And so the history continues, moving from one event to the next. Myth, however, does not end. It merely remains without undergoing any permanent change. While Olorin may become Gandalf for a certain period of time, he will necessarily return to Olorin who exists outside of time. But Tolkien's triumph is that he was able to give us, at least temporarily, Gandalf, the old man who "wore a tall pointed hat" and had "a long white beard and bushy eyebrows that stuck out beyond his hat," as well as Olorin, "wisest of the Maiar." Though Gandalf will pass, Olorin will remain.
"No, they never end as tales," said Frodo. "But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended. Our part will end later--or sooner." ("Towers" 408)
"It is stuffy, sticky, and rainy here at present--but forecasts are
J. R. R. Tolkien
29 August 1973
Last revised November 11, 2000