The most obvious narrative connection between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is, of course, Bilbo's handing his ring to Frodo and Frodo's eventually identifying it as none other than the One Ring of Sauron. Immediately upon discovering this, the reader begins to expect adventures equal to the power that the One Ring has gained, adventures that would make Bilbo's seem no more than peaceful afternoon strolls in the Shire. The adventures that do ensue certainly fulfill the reader's expectations. While Bilbo's task was simply to help the dwarves re-take their home in the Lonely Mountain, Frodo's is to destroy the Ring he has inherited and whose destruction would allow Middle-earth to exist in relative peace for many years to come. The seriousness of his task is reflected in the differences that we find between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with respect to, among other things, the extent to which the myth is present. Though in The Hobbit we find relatively few specific allusions to this myth, in the "sequel" we find that Tolkien has written a book that exhibits almost the whole myth without letting the tale become an inherent part of the myth, but rather a continuation of the history of the hobbits and their relations to the rest of the world, a history whose bases are in the myth that is presented in The Silmarillion.
Gandalf is again the major character who introduces many of the mythical elements that appear in The Lord of the Rings. That he himself is mythical we have already determined, and because we already know this, we are not at all surprised at or skeptical of his introducing any other mythical elements. In "The Fellowship of the Ring" Gandalf reveals to Frodo that Bilbo's ring is in fact a very powerful ring made by Sauron to gain control of all the Elven-rings and also the Elves themselves:
"This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many years ago, to the great weakening of his power. He greatly desires it--but he must not get it." (81)Gandalf tells Frodo further that he, Frodo, has somehow been specifically chosen to receive the Ring:
"The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It has slipped from Isildur's hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Deagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it devoured him. . . . So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire! "Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought." (87-88)In this explanation of how Frodo received the Ring, Gandalf has touched on the three major mythical figures, besides himself, who are present throughout the tale: the Ring, Sauron, and Eru. Determining how they perform as mythical characters throughout the tale will be our first task.
That the Ring is mythical Tolkien himself points out in a letter to Rhona Beare:
You cannot press the One Ring too hard, for it is of course a mythical feature, even though the world of the tales is conceived in more or less historical terms. (Letters 279)Some readers may argue, however, that the Ring is not actually an active participant in the tale, more like a symbol than a character. And, in fact, Tolkien, explaining what he means by "mythical," comes close to describing what may be called a symbol:
If I were to 'philosophize' this myth, or at least the Ring of Sauron, I should say that it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps rather potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or lesser degree, out of one's direct control. (279)But we can also argue that Tolkien makes it clear that the Ring is an active participant throughout the tale and that its own "actions" play a large part in determining outcomes of many of the adventures in the tale, as large a part, that is, as any character can play in a world orchestrated by an omniscient and omnipotent Creator such as Eru.
One of the Ring's abilities is the power to stay on or come off its wearer's finger, apparently, as it wishes. Gandalf tells Frodo about Bilbo's experiences with the Ring:
"Though he found out that the thing needed looking after; it shrank or expanded in an odd way, and might suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight." ("Fellowship" 77)This ability, according to Gandalf, is what allows the Ring to maintain its own independence from its wearer:
"A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. . . . It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring that decided things. The Ring left him." (87)Beyond the ability to stay on or come off at will, the Ring seems also to have some control over the body and will of the wearer. Gandalf explains:
"A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades; he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings." ("Fellowship" 76)In Bilbo's case,
"Bilbo never connected [his long life] with the ring at all. He took all the credit for himself, and he was very proud of it. Though he was getting restless and uneasy. Thin and stretched he said. A sign that the ring was getting control." (77)Frodo eventually begins to feel this control exerted over himself as the Ring tries repeatedly to have him put it on. He is conscious of this outside power trying to force him to do something, and he comes close several times to succumbing to its suggestions, only narrowly escaping thanks to interventions of other characters:
. . . the desire to slip on the Ring came over Frodo; but this time it was stronger than before. So strong that, almost before he realized what he was doing, his hand was groping in his pocket. But at that moment there came a sound like mingled song and laughter. Clear voices rose and fell in the starlit air. The black shadow straightened up and retreated. It climbed onto the shadowy horse and seemed to vanish across the lane into the darkness on the other side. Frodo breathed again. ("Fellowship" 116)In the presence of the Ringwraith, a servant of Sauron, Frodo feels compelled to put on the Ring, and only when the Elves, enemies of Sauron, appear is he able to overcome this compulsion and "breathe again."
At another time, Frodo does succumb to the power of the Ring and almost loses his life as a result. During the trek to Rivendell, the hobbits, led by Aragorn, are attacked by the Ringwraiths at the base of Weathertop:
Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything good or bad: he simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger. . . . He shut his eyes and struggled for a while; but resistance became unbearable, and at last he slowly drew out the chain, and slipped the Ring on the forefinger of his left hand. ("Fellowship" 262-63)It is interesting to note that during this scene neither the Elves nor Gandalf are present; for Frodo to resist the temptation, then, he would have to do it alone. His failure seems to be a sign that he has not yet gained enough personal strength to withstand the temptations of the Ring. That he escapes the skirmish with his life, though, is the result of, again, some other force:
He [the Wraith-king] sprang forward and bore it [his knife] down on Frodo. At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground, and he heard himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy. (263)The narrator's choice of words in describing the last event is notable in that he does not have Frodo consciously crying out the Elven chant. Rather, Frodo "heard himself crying aloud," indicating that something beyond his own consciousness forces him to do so. We have seen before that the Elves enable him to withstand the compulsion of the Ring, and here calling to one of the Valar enables him to attack the Wraith-king and save himself from being either killed or, even worse, captured. In The Silmarillion, we read of Elbereth:
Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love. Elbereth they call her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars. (19)This scene is noteworthy not only because it is one of the few in which a character calls to one of the Valar (inarguably mythical figures) for aid, but also because it is one of the few scenes in which a mythical figure who does not normally take an active part in mortal characters' lives comes to one's aid. Frodo has not consciously called to Elbereth, and one must assume that she has come of her own accord or at the behest of one whom we do not see. The intercession of the mythical figure here is the only thing that foils the Ring's "plans" of being returned to its master by having its bearer reveal himself, which would allow the Wraiths to capture him. (Later we will discuss more fully the presence of the Valar on Middle-earth that seems to be suggested in scenes such as this.)
The fact that only a mythical force can help a mortal withstand the Ring indicates that the Ring itself has some mythical force. This force is also exhibited in the Ring's ability to affect what we accept as natural laws. As we have seen, the Ring has the power to help one live beyond the natural life span for his race. Bilbo takes possession of the Ring when he is fifty years old, and his growth seems somehow to stop then:
At ninety-nine they [other hobbits] began to call him well-preserved; but unchanged would have been nearer the mark. There were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth . . . . ("Fellowship" 43)Further, at the Council of Elrond, Gandalf tells those present that the Ring affected Gollum in a similar way:
"I learned also that he has possessed it long. Many lives of his small kind. The power of the ring had lengthened his years far beyond their span; but that power only the Great Rings wield." ("Fellowship" 333)The Ring's mythical force is emphasized by its power also to transport its wearer to a realm that could not be considered within nature. The most obvious example of this is the Ring's ability to make its wearer invisible. Invisibility is clearly a supernatural condition, and the power to produce it is a supernatural power. The depiction of the world into which the wearer is transferred when he becomes invisible emphasizes this supernatural quality of the Ring. When Frodo puts on the Ring during the Weathertop scene, "Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes [of the Wraiths] became terribly clear" (263). Other characters cannot see the Wraiths but only their cloaks and horses; but when Frodo wears the Ring, he can see them because, presumably, he has entered a world that is similar to theirs and different from others, the world of the Rings. As Gandalf explains to Frodo,
"You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself, and they might have seized you. You could see them, and they could see you!" ("Fellowship" 293)A more telling example of this is the scene in which Frodo, escaping from Boromir's attempt to steal the Ring, places the Ring on his finger while he is at the top of Amon Hen:
At first he could see little. He seemed to be in a world of mist in which there were only shadows: the Ring was upon him. Then here and there the mist gave way and he saw many visions: small and clear as if they were under his eyes upon a table, and yet remote. There was no sound, only bright living images. The world seemed to have shrunk and fallen silent. ("Fellowship" 518)After experiencing images of war and destruction, Frodo begins to feel as though an Eye, "an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep" (519), is searching for him. Then,
He heard himself crying out: Never, never! Or was it: Verily I come, I come to you? He could not tell. Then as a flash from some other point of power there came to his mind another thought: Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!The realm that Frodo is transported to when he wears the Ring is clearly not natural. There is no sunlight, the sky is neither clean nor blue, and there are no birds. It is a world deformed by evil, by the master of the Ring, Sauron, a supernatural figure himself, as we shall see later.
The two powers strove in him. For a moment, perfectly balanced between their piercing points, he writhed, tormented. Suddenly he was aware of himself again. Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant in which to do so. He took the Ring off his finger. He was kneeling in clear sunlight before the high seat. A black shadow seemed to pass like an arm above him; it missed Amon Hen and groped out west, and faded. Then all the sky was clean and blue and birds sang in every tree. (519)
Finally, we see again in this scene that the aid of a mythical force is necessary for Frodo to overcome the temptation of the Ring, for the Voice is that of Gandalf. Later, on the fringes of Fangorn Forest, Gandalf tells Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli what he knows of Frodo's leaving the Company:
"The Ring has now passed beyond my help, or the help of any of the Company that set out from Rivendell. Very nearly it was revealed to the Enemy, but it escaped. I had some part in that: for I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower, and the Shadow passed." ("Towers" 126)Just as earlier only the help of Elbereth allowed Frodo to escape being captured by the enemy, here too only the help of Gandalf allows him to escape detection. In both cases we see two mythical forces battling for the control of one mortal figure. Because the Ring is the immediate catalyst for these confrontations, we can assume that it too contains some mythical force.
The extent to which it has this force can be seen in its ability to exert power even over those who carry the Ring for only a short time. Sam's experience with the Ring shows that one need not be exposed to it for very long before being adversely affected by it:
Then he put it on.An interesting addition to the change Sam experiences in his physical surroundings is an ability to understand the Orc language that he never knew before:
The world changed, and a single moment of time was filled with an hour of thought. At once he was aware that hearing was sharpened while sight was dimmed, but otherwise than in Shelob's lair. All things about him now were not dark but vague; while he himself was there in a grey hazy world, alone, like a small black solid rock, and the Ring was weighing down his left hand, was like an orb of hot gold. He did not feel invisible at all, but horribly and uniquely visible; and he knew that somewhere an Eye was searching for him. ("Towers" 436)
He heard them both clearly, and he understood what they said. Perhaps the ring gave understanding of tongues, or simply understanding, especially of the servants of Sauron its maker, so that if he gave heed, he understood and translated the thought to himself. (437)Finally, the Ring's power over Sam is strong enough to cause within him delusions of grandeur even when he is not wearing it, but simply carrying it. As he approaches Mount Doom, the Ring's power increases so much that only Sam's extreme love for Frodo allows him to overcome the delusions and temptations:
Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dur. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be. In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped him most to hold firm; but also deep down he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden . . . . ("Return" 216)Sam, then, though he holds the Ring for a relatively short period of time, does come under the Ring's power to alter one's physical conditions at least temporarily. However, Sam is able to do what neither of the other hobbits can: he overcomes the temptations of the Ring by his own volition, without the help of any supernatural being. Gandalf has helped Bilbo, and the Elves and Valar help Frodo; but Sam needs only his own heart and emotions for help. This is not to say that Sam's personal strength is equal to that of the supernatural forces or the Elves, but his strength is clearly enough to withstand the temptations of something that is not natural. His strength allows his nature to keep from being perverted by the unnatural powers of the Ring.
This ability of Sam's to withstand the Ring indicates that the Ring itself has no ultimate power over the things of nature; its power is temporary. Not only is Sam able to resist the Ring, but so also is Tom Bombadil. When Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry unexpectedly visit Tom in the Old Forest, Tom asks Frodo to show him the Ring. Tom then puts it on his finger, and "For a moment the hobbits noticed nothing strange about this. Then they gasped. There was no sign of Tom disappearing" ("Fellowship" 185). The Ring's lack of power over Tom extends even to how it affects other wearers. We see, for example, that when Frodo puts on the Ring to see if Tom has altered it in any way, Tom sees him despite his invisibility to others:
"Hey there!" cried Tom, glancing towards him with a most seeing look in his shining eyes. "Hey! Come Frodo, there! Where you be a-going? Old Tom Bombadil's not as blind as that yet. Take off your golden ring! You hand's more fair without it. Come back! Leave your game and sit down beside me." (185)A comment that Tolkien makes in a letter to Peter Hastings explains some of the ability of Tom's:
He is a master in a peculiar way: he has no fear, and no desire of possession or domination at all. He merely knows and understands about such things as concern him in his natural little realm. He hardly even judges . . . . (Letters 192)His lack of desire for "possession or domination at all" apparently allows him to resist all that the Ring offers. Because the Ring's main temptation is power over others, if one has no such desires, then, as Gandalf says of Tom, "'the Ring has no power over him. He is his own master'" ("Fellowship" 348). The Ring, with its supernatural powers, tempts its wearer with natural gains, but he who has no such desires can resist the temptation. Looking again at Sam, we can see that this lack of desire to dominate others is what allows him to resist the Ring:
The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command. ("Return" 216)Contentment with what one has allows him to resist being tempted by power and domination over others, but apparently few can claim to be truly content. Sam and Tom both can, and this is what allows them to resist what the Ring offers.
Their ability to overcome the Ring emphasizes the Ring's powerlessness over things in tune with nature. The Ring's supernatural quality can also be seen in its inability to effect permanent change in anything that is natural. For example, many readers assume that the possession of the Ring bestows upon Bilbo, Frodo, and, ultimately, Sam the right to immortality; their passing to the Grey Havens, some suggest, indicates their becoming immortal. But Tolkien points out quite forcefully that such an assumption is not true. No power has the ability to make a mortal creature immortal. In a letter to Eileen Elgar, Tolkien writes,
Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over the Sea to heal him--if that could be done, before he died. He would eventually have to "pass away": no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within Time. So he went both to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while. (Letters 328)Discussing The Hobbit we noted that Gandalf's ability to work with nature is exhibited in his power over fire; but we also mentioned that he does nothing, indeed can do nothing, to alter the basic form of the natural elements with which he works. Once Eru and the Valar have ordered the natural world, nothing can vary the laws. One of the qualities of any supernatural character is the ability to do with nature what appears to be a temporary alteration, or deformation, of the laws, but nothing more than that. The Ring, then, as a supernatural character, has that ability, but nothing that it does can be said to be a permanent alteration of nature itself.
Finally, using the criteria that Lewis has established demonstrates more strongly that the Ring is a mythical character. First, it is "extra-literary" in the same sense that we determined Gandalf is. That is, in terms of the characters who inhabit Middle-earth, the Ring comes from a world with which they have no relation besides the fact that they find themselves in the same place at one time. The power with which it is invested comes, as does its maker, from a world beyond that found in the "Red Book of Westmarch." Also, the Ring exists on a level beyond that of the natural creatures, on a level that spans more than the temporal existence of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Next, nothing about the Ring seems at all to surprise any of the characters who come into contact with it. It is an object of great power, and all seem to know and respect and fear that power. More importantly, they accept as truth all they hear about it. As mortal and natural beings, they have no reason to question what they learn about a supernatural Ring. Third, because the Ring is an inanimate object, there is no way for the other charac- ters to "sympathize" with it. They do feel its effect upon them, but they cannot ever consider it as something with which they can identify. Fourth, we have seen that it is clearly "fantastic." All its powers are "impossibles and preter-naturals" in terms of the laws of nature as ordered by Eru. Fifth, there is nothing "comic" about it. All that it does is "sad and grave." Sixth, all who come into contact with the Ring are clearly awed by its presence. Even characters as powerful as Gandalf and Galadriel seem to fear its power. Only Bombadil does not fear it, but even he respects the power it has over others. Finally, we see that it is a product of yet another mythical figure, Sauron, the Lord of the Rings.
Looking at The Silmarillion, we see that Sauron is of the same origins as Gandalf; that is, Sauron is a Maia:
Among those of his [Melkor's] servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel. In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aule, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people. In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part, and was only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void. (26)That he is a Maia who turned to evil upon his entry to Middle-earth sets Sauron necessarily against the other Maia, Gandalf, who has come to Middle-earth to work for good. Any discussion of Sauron, then, need not rest merely with determining whether or not he is mythical. Rather, we need to determine just how he, as a mythical figure, differs from his enemy.
Throughout The Silmarillion we see numerous instances of Sauron's battling for or against members of several races, ranging from the Valar to Men, with varying degrees of success. One of his most powerful weapons is his ability to change shapes (an ability that we see in no other characters besides Beorn, whose shape-changing is limited to man-bear transformations, which, we have determined, is a natural aspect of his branch of the race of Men). As a Maia, Sauron is able to take upon himself the form of any creature that exists on Middle-earth, and apparently he does so as often as necessary: "Then Sauron shifted shape, from wolf to serpent, and from monster to his own accustomed form . . ." (212). Another of Sauron's dominant abilities is that he changes not only his own physical body but also tries to change whatever he comes into contact with:
Sauron was now become a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment. (187-88)Using these powers Sauron has been able to win several battles, but he has also been vanquished occasionally in terms of his physical body. It is impossible that the spirit of Sauron, as a Maia, can be destroyed, but his physical manifestations and the physical powers that he wields may be quelled. When the One Ring is taken from him by Isildur, Sauron's power is temporarily negated, but as long as the Ring exists, so does the bulk of Sauron's power. The end of the Second Age came with the loss of the Ring, and Sauron spent a large part of the Third Age regrouping his forces and searching for the Ring (Silmarillion 368-72).
Upon discovery of Sauron's eventual return to power in his stronghold in Mirkwood, there appeared in Middle-earth a new power in the form of old men:
Even as the first shadows were felt in Mirkwood there appeared in the west of Middle-earth the Istari, whom Men called Wizards. None knew at that time whence they were, save Cirdan of the Havens, and only to Elrond and to Galadriel did he reveal that they came over the Sea. But afterwards it was said among the Elves that they were messengers sent by the Lords of the West to contest the power of Sauron, if he should arise again, and to move Elves and Men and all living things of good will to valiant deeds. In the likeness of Men they appeared, old but vigorous, and they changed little with the years, and aged but slowly, though great cares lay on them; great wisdom they had, and many powers of mind and hand. (372)Though it is not stated in The Silmarillion, we can assume safely that as Maia the Istari are at least equal to Sauron in power. However, Tolkien points out in a letter to Robert Murray that on Middle-earth the physical powers with which they are invested are considerably less than Sauron's: At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and hinder their [the Istari's] exhibition of 'power' on the physical plane, and so that they should do what they were primarily sent for:
train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron to a resistance with their own strengths; and not just to do the job for them. They thus appeared as 'old' sage figures. (Letters 202)That we see very few exhibitions of physical strength on the parts of the Istari is consistent with this "purpose," presumably Eru's, while Sauron's power is frequently demonstrated in physical terms, either his own or those of his forces.
Another important difference between the Istari and Sauron is that while the former present themselves most often in human form, nowhere in The Lord of the Rings do we have any picture of Sauron in that form. When characters experience him, most often they feel rather than see him; and if they do see anything of him, all they see is the Eye that he sends over the world. The narrator's use of the singular masculine pronoun when referring to Sauron seems to be merely a convention, while his use of the same pronoun to refer to the Istari signifies their physical manifestations as they appear on Middle-earth. This lack of any recogni- zable form on Sauron's part clearly adds to the fear that most characters feel towards him. For example, when Gandalf first comes to Hobbiton in preparation for Bilbo's birthday party, none of the hobbits are at all afraid of him. To them he is no more than an old man who is somewhat eccentric and mysterious, but not so much so that he causes any to fear him. He is, apparently, just another Man to them. With Sauron, though, the reaction is quite different. Even the mere name of his stronghold frightens them:
. . . some spoke in whispers of the Enemy and of the Land of Mordor.Even to Elves and Men he is such a horror that most prefer not to utter his name. Rather, they give him titles such as "the Nameless Enemy" and "He whom we do not name." The evil that he represents is so abhorrent that the use of the language of Mordor by Gandalf at the Council of Elrond is enough to frighten all those present and to darken the whole atmosphere and even to change Gandalf himself:
That name the hobbits only knew in legends of the dark past, like a shadow in the background of their memories; but it was ominous and disquieting. It seemed that the evil power in Mirkwood had been driven out by the White Council only to reappear in greater strength in the old strongholds of Mordor. ("Fellowship" 72)
The change in the wizard's voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the Elves stopped their ears. ("Fellowship" 333)That Sauron does not at any time present himself in any recognizable shape to the characters in The Lord of the Rings probably causes much of the Free People's almost uncontrollable fear.
This can be seen in the effect Saruman has upon the representatives of the Free People after his treason is uncovered by Gandalf. Though Saruman is a Maia also, his enemies do not seem to fear him as much as they do Sauron. It is inconceivable that the group that convenes at the steps of Orthanc would do so at the gates of Mordor. They go with little fear to Orthanc not to fight but to accept Saruman's surrender. When the much larger and more power- ful, yet more terrified, group assembles at the gate to Mordor, the plan is to engage Sauron's forces in battle though they do not expect to be victorious in battle. All those involved know that any battle would be futile. They go to Mordor merely to take Sauron's attention away from Frodo's and Sam's quest. Because they can see Saruman, the group that meets at Orthanc apparently does not fear him. Only after Gandalf warns them do they take any precautions against the power of Saruman's voice. At no time, however, does Gandalf need to warn anyone of Sauron's powers. It is interesting that no one at the steps of Orthanc besides Gandalf remembers or remarks that only because of Saruman's power and wisdom was Sauron defeated by the White Council. Because they can see him as one of them, they seem to forget his power as a wizard.
Another aspect of Sauron's power in Middle-earth that is different from the other Maiar's is his treatment of the earth itself and those creatures that inhabit it. We discussed earlier Gandalf's ability to alter temporarily the laws of nature as evidenced by his ability to force fire to his will. In The Lord of the Rings, he does so several times, most notably when the Company finds itself trapped on the snowy and stormy side of Caradhras with no flame for warmth. Only after all the other members try to light a fire and fail does Gandalf relent to do so himself ("Fellowship" 380). We see also that though he has the body of a very old man, Gandalf occasionally exhibits physical strength and abilities of a man much younger. But we must remember that whenever Gandalf does anything contrary to the laws of nature, he does so only for the good of those he has come to aid. Nothing he does is for his own profit. Also he does nothing that results in permanent harm to nature itself.
Sauron, on the other hand, seems bent on altering all the laws of nature necessary to his quest to become the ultimate ruler of Middle-earth. For example, most of his allies are members of races that have somehow been trans- formed so as to suit Sauron's needs. According to Tree- beard, the Trolls the Enemy uses "'are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents . . .'" ("Towers" 113). The Orcs, those creatures who make up Sauron's largest force of soldiers, are, according to The Silmarillion, products of the Elves' imprisonment by Melkor, Sauron's master:
. . . the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous races of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes. (50)Sauron's most powerful lieutenants, the Ringwraiths, are former human kings who have became wraiths because of the rings that Sauron has given them to wield. As Gandalf explains to Frodo:
"Nine [rings] he [Sauron] gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants." ("Fellowship" 82)And Sauron's changes rest not only with the people of the world, but with the land itself. After leaving Lothlorien, the Company travels down the Great River, Anduin:
As the third day of their voyage wore on the lands changed slowly: the trees thinned and then failed together. On the eastern bank to their left they saw long formless slopes stretching up and away toward the sky; brown and withered they looked, as if fire had passed over them, leaving no living blade of green: an unfriendly waste without even a broken tree or a bold stone to relieve the emptiness. . . . What pestilence or war or evil deed of the Enemy had so blasted all that region even Aragorn could not tell. ("Fellowship" 592)Further, as Frodo and Sam approach Mordor alone, the land becomes more and more desolate:
Some way down they found a few gnarled and stunted trees, the first they had seen for days: twisted birch for the most part, with here and there a fir-tree. ("Towers" 268)
And as the army that is to face Sauron approaches Mordor, they came at last to the end of the living lands, and began to pass into the desolation that lay before the gates of the Pass of Cirith Gorgor . . . . So desolate were those places and so deep the horror that lay on them that some of the host were unmanned, and they could neither walk nor ride further north. ("Return" 199)The main impression that we get from the descriptions of all the lands under Sauron or his allies is the way the land has been twisted and tortured, like the unfortunate inhabitants of those same lands.
It is not surprising to find that the other Maia who has turned to evil has also treated his and other people's lands in the same way as Sauron has:
A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful . . . . But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived--for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom . . . came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of that vast fortress . . . Barad-dur, the Dark Tower. ("Towers" 204)Saruman also, according to Treebeard, has his forces chop down trees in Fangorn Forest for no good reason:
"It is the orc-work, the wanton hewing--rarum--without even the bad excuse of feeding the fire, that has so angered us; and the treachery of a neighbour, who should have helped us. Wizards ought to know better. ("Towers" 113)Further, Saruman has even bred his own branch of Orcs, the Uruk-hai, again "copying" Mordor. That his Orcs do not get along well with those of Sauron is only to be expected. In Tolkien's narratives, the forces of evil fight against each other almost as much as against their enemies.
In spite of the many differences, there is one characteristic common to all the Maiar, one that emphasizes their mythical origins. While their physical bodies may be destroyed, their basic entities may not. Gandalf mentions, for example, that the end of the Ring does not mean the end of Sauron himself. Rather,
"If it is destroyed, then he will fall; and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of his strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with the power will crumble, and he will become maimed forever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil will be removed." ("Return" 190)Gandalf here emphasizes the fact that what Sauron has built, the physical aspect of his power, will crumble, but Sauron will only "fall," a term indicating not so much final destruction as a lessening of power. After the destruction of the Ring comes just this "crumbling" that Gandalf has predicted:
"The realm of Sauron has ended!" said Gandalf. "The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest." And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape or shadow, impenetrable, lightning- crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell. ("Return" 279)Though Sauron's spirit is "taken" and "blown away," it is not destroyed because, simply, it cannot be.
The same is true of Saruman. When Wormtongue, Saru- man's last slave, finally stabs Saruman, his body becomes a shrivelled mass while the spirit "dissolves":
To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing. ("Return" 370)The phrase "dissolved into nothing" suggests that while the physical aspect of Saruman's power is destroyed, the spirit is not; it is, more precisely, diffused.
Gandalf is also a Maia and, accordingly, cannot die. At one point in The Lord of the Rings, he does "fall" during a battle with a Balrog (who will also be discussed in more detail shortly), but this fall is only temporary. After he is victorious in the battle, he relates, "'darkness overtook me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered on roads that I will not tell'" ("Towers" 135). He adds, "'Naked I was sent back--for a brief time, until my task was done.'" Clearly, there is some indication here of Gandalf's being transported or taken to another world, one that exists "out of thought and time." There is also a suggestion that Gandalf, unburdened by his physical body, is able to return to that place from which he came, the realm of the Valar and Maiar who decided not to come to Middle-earth. Eru, though, determines that Gandalf's work (as one of "the messengers sent by the Lords of the West to contest the power of Sauron" [Silmarillion 372]) is not yet finished and sends Gandalf back to Middle-earth, the world of "thought and time," to complete his task.
It is precisely the phrase "thought and time" that allows one to understand the fact that those who are Maiar cannot die in the normal meaning of the word. A Maia's parting the natural world may seem to the inhabitants of Middle-earth to be death as they understand it, but in terms of the Maiar themselves, passing from Middle-earth entails returning to the world of Eru in which they existed before being allowed or asked to go to Middle-earth. Death is a concept connected necessarily to time. If, however, time is not an element of one's existence, that is, if one is not bound by the constraints of time, then death is not an element of his existence. The Maiar, who exist on a plane above and beyond that of time, do not exist within the constraints of time and, therefore, cannot die. Accord- ingly, Sauron, Saruman, and Gandalf do not die because they cannot die. Upon parting from Middle-earth, their spirits continue to exist, leaving, though, the world of history and returning to the world of myth.
There is another character in The Lord of the Rings who appears to have come from that same world of myth. In The Silmarillion, we find the first references to this character, the Balrog:
For of the Maiar many were drawn to his [Melkor's] splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle- earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror. (26)Though the narrator does not specifically name the Balrogs as Maiar, we can assume that their origins are similar. First, this reference appears in the section of The Silmarillion that discusses the ways in which the different forces of the Valar and the Maiar ally themselves against one another. Second, the use of the word "spirit" to describe the Balrog indicates clearly that they are similar in origin to the Maiar. Next, when we look to The Lord of the Rings, we see also that the Balrog there has powers similar to Gandalf's. As Gandalf tries to shut a door in Moria with a "shutting-spell," he experiences a strength he has not felt before: "'What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible'" ("Fellowship" 425), so terrible that Gandalf "'had to speak a word of Command.'" That any power is able to challenge one such as Gandalf is evidence that its wielder is similar in origin to Gandalf. We have already seen that mythical characters are usually threatened only by other mythical characters, and this seems also be true in this case.
Further, the physical manifestation of this creature shows that it is not at all similar to any other natural creature of Middle-earth:
Something was coming up behind them [the Company]. What it was could not be seen: it was like a dark shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, or man- shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.A Maia, we have seen, has the ability to take upon itself any physical form, and apparently the Balrog has adopted the form of what seems to be a cross between a dragon and a man.
. . . Then with a rush it leaped across the fissure. The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and a black smoke swirled in the air. Its streaming mane kindled, and blazed behind it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; and in its left it held a whip of many thongs. (428)
Finally, Tolkien explains the Balrog in a letter to Naomi Mitchison:
The Balrog is a survivor from the Silmarillion and the legends of the First Age. The Balrogs, of whom the whips were the chief weapons, were primeval spirits of destroying fire, chief servants of the primeval Dark Powers of the First Age. (Letters 180)That the Balrog appears in a tale of the Third Age Tolkien explains as a "hang-over . . . of evil from one age to another" (180). In this letter, then, Tolkien emphasizes the mythic qualities of the Balrog. Not only is it a spirit, but it is also "primeval," indicating that it has existed since the "beginning," before the ordering of Ea and before history comes into effect: before, that is, the beginning of time. Moreover, the Balrog seems to be not much more than a physical manifestation of the concept of evil itself.
In The Lord of the Rings, we have seen now at least four detailed characters who are either Maiar or at least similar to Maiar, yet there are numerous differences among them all. These differences themselves are more proof that their characters are mythical. Not only are the Maiar spiritual, but they are also able to take upon themselves any physical form they want. That most would use the humanoid body is only to be expected since they are in Middle-earth to interact primarily with either Men or Elves. And, as we have seen, those who adopt the human forms, Gandalf and Saruman, fall prey to the weaknesses of that body. Though the spirits are immortal, the bodies are not. Furthermore, while the bodies that Sauron and the Balrog adopt by the Third Age are not humanoid, they are mortal. Finally, the ends of the Maiar have interesting similarities and differences. While the three whom we could consider evil lose their physical bodies and their power, the one whom we consider good is transported, body and spirit, to the place from where he came. We can assume, however, that even Gandalf will eventually discard the physical shell that he has had for so long. All four went to Middle-earth with a purpose; all were given the choice between good and evil. All four finally leave Middle-earth; but only one leaves whole.
The Maiar and the Balrog are not, though, the only mythical characters to appear in Middle-earth. As in the case of The Hobbit, Eru is an active participant in the events of Middle-earth depicted in The Lord of the Rings. Even more beings from the Undying Lands play roles in the outcomes of several events in The Lord of the Rings. These others are the Valar who were sent to Middle-earth before the beginning of the First Age. That they are mythical, it seems, need not be argued, since they have existed before the beginning of time itself. Further, the forms in which they come to the aid of others, which we will soon examine, show that their being natural creatures is impossible. Consequently, my discussion of Eru's and the Valar's presence in The Lord of the Rings will focus primarily on how they manifest themselves in Middle-earth.
Gandalf, while explaining the Ring and its power to Frodo, refers to Eru's presence in the unfolding of the events. After telling Frodo that both the Ring and Sauron were trying to help the Ring return to its master, Gandalf adds,
"Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought." ("Fellowship" 88)Gandalf responds to Frodo's doubts and questions about his having been chosen to carry the Ring by saying,
"Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have." (95)That Gandalf knows precisely to whom he is referring in these answers is clear; he has been sent by the one who has chosen. But he is here trying, apparently unsuccessfully, to find some way to convince Frodo of that being's wisdom in having made the choices and to encourage Frodo with the knowledge of that being's presence. Frodo's reluctance to be either convinced or encouraged is understandable. He is, after all, only a small hobbit who has been "chosen" to do something larger than he can see himself doing. Further, his inability to comprehend or accept his being "chosen" appears to be a result of his lack of belief in or knowledge of the larger mythical environment of Middle-earth. However, despite his apparent lack of belief or knowledge, he, like all who live in Middle-earth, is affected by that environment.
As we saw in The Hobbit, one way of referring to Eru's part in an event is by attributing its outcome to "fate" or "fortune." The same is true in The Lord of the Rings. For example, when Gandalf and Frodo are speaking about the short skirmish with the Black Riders at the Ford of Bruinen, Gandalf says,
"Yes, fortune or fate have helped you, not to mention courage. For your heart was untouched, and only your shoulder was pierced; and that was because you resisted to the last. But it was a terrible shave, so to speak." ("Fellowship" 293)Just as Bilbo in The Hobbit is described as having qualities that make him stand out among other hobbits and that help him escape in seemingly extraordinary ways, so too is Frodo. Undoubtedly, in both cases, the fact that they have been "chosen" to bear the Ring has something to do with this. Or, as some will argue, they have been "chosen" precisely because of this quality. Whatever the case, the fact that they do stand apart from others clearly is not a fluke of nature, but a conscious decision on the part of Eru, who, we have already determined, has begun nothing without at least some indication of how it will ultimately turn out.
Other examples occur in which we recognize that while some characters believe in nothing more than "fate" or "chance," those characters "who are accounted wise" acknow- ledge the role of something else. At the Council of Elrond, it appears to some that "fortune" has brought representatives of all the Free Peoples to this one place at the same time. Explaining that they have come together to determine what is to be done with the Ring, Elrond points out,
"That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called, I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet, it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others must now find counsel for the peril of the world." ("Fellowship" 318)Simply stating that the meeting is predetermined by some other force, Elrond here is acknowledging to all that their actions are not haphazard or coincidental. Rather, he seems to indicate that what they are about to embark upon has already been determined by some other force, one which will do what it can to help them. Such a supposition is enforced by Faramir's comments to Frodo and Sam when he meets them on the borders of Mordor. According to Faramir, "chance" brings Frodo and Sam to the right place: "'At least by good chance we came at the right hour to reward you for your patience'" ("Towers" 358). Further, it is "fate" that determines that Sam will blurt out the secret of the Ring to Faramir:
"And be comforted, Samwise. If you seem to have stumbled, think that it was fated to be so. Your heart is shrewd as well as faithful, and saw clearer than your eyes. For strange though it may seem, it was safe to declare this to me. It may even help the master that you love. It shall turn to good, if it is in my power." (367)Faramir also reinforces an early possibility voiced by Gandalf, that Gollum has been kept alive for reasons that only few can foresee. As Gandalf puts it,
"And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end." ("Fellowship" 93)Faramir says, "'But his life is charmed, or fate spares him for some other end'" ("Towers" 339). Sam's perceptive insight that Faramir "'reminds me of, of--well, Gandalf, of wizards'" ("Towers" 369) suggests that there is more than mere coincidence that Gandalf and Faramir both make what are almost identical comments about Gollum's relation to Frodo in terms of their respective roles in the Ring's final destruction. Frodo himself comments that "fate" seems to have played a strange role in having Gollum end up as Frodo's guide: "I will trust you [Gollum] once more. Indeed it seems that I must do so, and that it is my fate to receive help from you, where I least looked for it, and your fate to help me whom you have long pursued with evil purpose." ("Towers" 339)
Finally, Aragorn also points out that "fate" has determined that Frodo must take the Ring and that "fate" is actually the name for something else:
"He is the Bearer, and the fate of the Burden is on him. I do not think that it is our part to drive him one way or the other. Nor do I think that we should succeed, if we tried. There are other powers at work far stronger." ("Fellowship" 522)In The Hobbit, the term "luck" is used numerous times to describe Bilbo's fortunate escapes. While the term "fate" is associated with Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, it is interesting to note that the word "luck" is used in relation to Sam and his adventures. For example, Sam's "luck" allows him to notice a shadow lurking around Frodo while they are in Mordor. Sam cries out and forces the intruder to flee: "'Well, luck did not let me down, but that was a near thing'" ("Return" 253) is Sam's explanation. Also, when Sam and the others return to Bree, they find that Bill the pony, whom they had left behind at the gate to the Mines of Moria, has returned to the Prancing Pony. Sam exclaims, "'What! My Bill? Well, I was born lucky, whatever my gaffer may say'" ("Return" 338). A comment about Sam in a letter from Tolkien to his son Christopher on the similarities between Sam and Bilbo may shed some light on the fact that while Frodo is "fated" to do certain things, Sam and Bilbo are more prone to being "lucky":
Cert. Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine hobbit. Frodo is not so interesting, because he has to be highminded, and has (as it were) a vocation. The book will prob. end up with Sam. (Letters 105)It is important to remember, though, that regardless of whether one calls it "fate," "chance," or "luck," in all cases the origin of the aid is Eru.
In The Lord of the Rings, we find one source of aid that is not mentioned in The Hobbit: the Valar. The first example of someone's calling out to a Vala is a scene referred to earlier, the confrontation with the Black Riders at the foot of Weathertop. Frodo's call to Elbereth, we have noted, seems to be more a response to her presence than a call for her to appear. He strikes at the Rider immedi- ately after he has "heard himself crying aloud," indicating that upon feeling her presence, he is bolstered enough to strike out at his enemy, the action that presumably saves his life. Further, when Frodo and Sam are attacked by Shelob, Frodo calls upon another force for aid. Sam reminds Frodo of the Phial of Galadriel, and Frodo draws it out:
Frodo gazed in wonder at this marvellous gift that he had so long carried, not guessing its full worth and potency. Seldom had he remembered it on the road, until they had come to Morgul Vale, and never had he used it for fear of its revealing light. Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima! he cried, and he knew not what he had spoken; for it seemed that another voice spoke through his, clear, untroubled by the foul air in the pit. ("Towers" 418)Again we see that though Frodo's voice calls, the narrator points out that the summons is actually made by some other force that is merely using Frodo as an instrument, as if that other presence is doing all it can to aid the hobbits. This point is made even more certain when Sam uses the Phial after Frodo is stabbed by Shelob:
"Galadriel," he said faintly, and then he heard voices far off but clear; the crying of Elves as they walked under the stars in the beloved shadows of the Shire, and the music of the Elves as it came through his sleep in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond.The narrator's use of the passive "his tongue was loosed" necessitates our considering the presence of an agent that clearly comes from outside Sam himself, as further suggested by his becoming "Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast's son, again." As with Frodo earlier, something or someone here uses Sam's voice to protect. That these forces are not Eru himself we can tell by looking at who is summoned in each case. Elbereth is a Vala herself, the Vala whom the Elves call to for help. And Earendil is a Half-elven who, at the decree of the Valar, boarded a ship, Vingilot, that "passed through the Door of Night and was lifted up even into the oceans of heaven" (Silmarillion 309), thus taking upon himself a mythical quality. We have, then, at least two powers (besides Eru and the Maiar) that possess mythical qualities and that apparently play active roles in the outcomes of historical events of Middle-earth.Gilthoniel A Elbereth!And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know:A Elbereth GilthonielAnd with that he staggered to his feet and was Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast's son, again. (430)
a menel palan-diriel,
le nallon si di'nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!
Interestingly, these powers seem to come to the aid only of Frodo and Sam. Throughout the tale we see other characters who are also in dire need, and while they do get help, it comes mostly from characters who can be classified as natural. For example, when Pippin and Merry are captured by the Orcs during a skirmish at Amon Hen, they are saved not by any supernatural forces but rather by the internal bickering among the Orcs. Further, the narrator is very precise in establishing the lack of any apparent coincidence leading to the rescue. First, from the beginning, he brings out repeatedly the lack of trust between the Orcs of Mordor and the Uruk-hai of Saruman. He also mentions several times the personal greed that motivates many of the Orcs. So when Grisknakh takes the hobbits off to the side ("Towers" 73- 75), the reader is not at all surprised. Moreover, the narrator carefully presents the appearance of Eomer and his men in such a way that the reader does not consider it to be too farfetched or "in the nick of time." Rather, Eomer explains to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli that he and his men had been hunting the Orcs for days, and it was only a matter of time before he caught up with them ("Towers" 48). Finally, that the hobbits escape without injury the attack of the Riders is explained by the fact that they are wearing the elven cloaks (75), an element that is emphasized by the fact that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are almost overlooked by the Riders because of their cloaks (40-41). Though this is only one scene among many, it is indicative of the narrator's care in pointing out the lack of direct help of supernatural characters (except perhaps Gandalf) for most characters besides Frodo and Sam. A comment Aragorn makes during the search for Pippin and Merry might explain this fact. Gimli remarks that he would like to have the Phial of Galadriel for the search. Aragorn points out, though, that "'It will be more needed where it is bestowed. With him lies the true Quest'" ("Towers" 33).
Having been chosen and choosing to undertake the Quest, Frodo and Sam seem to have moved closer to the supernatural. They remain in the physical world, but the importance of their task apparently justifies a more active role in their Quest by Eru and the Valar. At no time, though, do the supernaturals ever force the outcome of any event. Only after the natural characters have made conscious decisions about a given task will the supernatural powers help in bringing about the outcome. Even though Eru and the Valar know what is best for Middle-earth and all who live there, at no time do they impose their decisions upon others. The natural characters freely choose what they will do at any given time. But it is also important to remember that, presumably, without the aid of the supernatural powers, the outcome of the Quest might not have been the destruction of the Ring and of Sauron's power.
There are, of course, other characters throughout The Lord of the Rings whose help is greatly beneficial in determining the end of the tale. While many of them are clearly natural, others have qualities that appear to be mythical. However, if we look closely at those characters, specifically the Elves, Tom Bombadil, and the Ents, we will see that they are in fact natural characters who cannot, in terms of the criteria established earlier, be classified as mythical. First, all of these characters come from and remain irrevocably within the confines of the natural world created by Eru. Only after the world is ordered do the Elves appear. One of the titles of the Elves, "The Children of the Earth" (Silmarillion 48), emphasizes the connection that exists between the natural world and the Elves. Many readers inaccurately regard the Elves as immortal; evidence in The Silmarillion points to the fact that there is a time when the Elves will all die:
. . . the Elves remain until the end of days . . . . For the Elves die not till the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief . . .; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return. (38)Though they live for thousands and thousands of years, the Elves will eventually die with the end of the world, the final event of history, but of history all the same. We have seen that such an event does not happen with those characters whom we have classified as mythical or superna- tural. The essential spirits of Gandalf or Sauron, for example, exist even after their physical manifestations are destroyed; they cannot, that is, die. The Elves, though, are created at the beginning of time, and they will die at the end of it. They have temporal boundaries by which they are limited. The same is true for both Tom Bombadil and the Ents. Gandalf defines Bombadil as one who has only a limited existence:
"I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall. Last as he was First; and then Night will come." ("Fellowship" 348)He will be the Last, but he will eventually fall. Gandalf also, explaining their power, places the Ents in time:
"It is not wizardry, but a power far older, a power that walked the earth, ere elf sang or hammer rang.Though no one can determine exactly how long the Ents have existed, Gandalf's discussing them in terms of age gives them natural characteristics. And Treebeard even considers the end of the race of Ents when he discusses the loss of the Entwives with Pippin and Merry. Unless the Ents find the Entwives, the race will no longer be able to procreate, and all Ents will eventually perish ("Towers" 98-102). All these characters, then, can be seen only in terms of the time that they have to live in Middle-earth; all of them do have an ultimate death, the single most important fact that would prevent us from classifying them as mythical.
Ere iron was found or tree was hewn,
When young was mountain under moon;
Ere ring was made, or wrought was woe,
It walked the forests long ago." ("Towers" 189)
Further, we can add that "human sympathy" exists in terms of these characters. A comment that Sam makes in Lothlorien points this out:
"And I reckon there's Elves and Elves. They're all elvish, but they're not all the same. Now these folks aren't wanderers or homeless, and seem a bit nearer to the likes of us: they seem to belong here, more even than the Hobbits do in the Shire." ("Fellowship" 467)And when speaking with the hobbits, Bombadil points out that the only difference between them and him is age. To answer the hobbits' question of who he is, Bombadil says,
"Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless? But you are young and I am old. Eldest, that's what I am." ("Fellowship" 182)As for the Ents, Treebeard points out that the Ents are no more than the third in a long list of beings created to live in Middle-earth:
"Learn now the lore of the Living Creatures!All three of these races, then, are seen by the hobbits and the reader as creatures of natural origins, not mythical beings. The hobbits can, in Lewis's terms, "imaginatively transport" themselves into the others' lives since they are all inhabitants of the same world.
First name the four, the free peoples:
Eldest of all, the elf-children;
Dwarf the delver, dark are his houses;
Ent the earth-born, old as the mountains;
Man the mortal, master of horses." ("Towers" 84)
Another of Lewis's criteria that does not apply to these races is that of being "fantastic" or "preter-natural." In terms of the laws of nature Eru has established for Middle-earth, these characters are not supernatural. The powers which they exhibit are quite the opposite; that is, the powers these characters possess are profoundly more natural than, for example, the powers of Gandalf or Sauron. While the latter transform nature in ways that they deem necessary, the former merely work in perfect conjunction with nature. When the Elves give the Company cloaks as they leave Lothlorien, Pippin asks,
"Are these magic cloaks?"And even though the hobbits feel that Bombadil has some control over natural surroundings, he, as well as the narrator, reminds them that he is only a part of nature: . . . weather in that country was a thing that even Tom could not be sure of for long, and it would change sometimes quicker than he could change his jacket. "I am no weather-master," he said; "nor is aught that goes on two legs." ("Fellowship" 185)
"I don't know what you mean by that," answered the leader of the Elves. "They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make." ("Fellowship" 479)
Finally, the close relationship between the Ents and nature can be seen in their dependence on the waters of Entwash. Treebeard, in his conversations with Pippin and Merry, never mentions eating, only drinking, and the water that he gives to the hobbits seems to be a special, though natural, draught:
Treebeard lifted two great vessels and stood them on the table. They seemed to be filled with water; but he held his hands over them, and immediately they began to glow, one with a golden light and the other with a rich green light.Nothing that these people do is at all preter-natural. Rather, their actions are examples of what one can do if he is in tune with nature. They work with nature and benefit from what it can do for them. As evidenced by their actions, these people seem somehow more natural than many of the other races on Middle-earth, particularly Men. That Men and hobbits seem wary, if not afraid, of them is, therefore, quite understandable.
Drinking the water, the hobbits immediately feel its rejuvenating qualities:
The effect of the draught began at the toes, and rose steadily through every limb, bringing refreshment and vigour as it coursed upwards, right to the tips of the hair. Indeed the hobbits felt that the hair on their heads was actually standing up, waving and curling and growing. ("Towers" 92-93)
These characters, we have seen, are integral parts of the history of Middle-earth, rather than the myth surrounding it. Accordingly, they are, in terms of Middle-earth, natural and historical characters, not mythical. That they might at first seem to exhibit mythical qualities can be explained by the fact that their races differ vastly from the races of Men, Hobbits, and Dwarves, races which we recognize as more similar to our own. But on closer examination, we see that what may seem to be supernatural or mythical qualities about these races are, in fact, natural qualities that we seem to have lost.
The Lord of the Rings is in most part a long tale in which
the narrator relates to us the history of the Third Age of Middle-earth,
a history, however, that includes not only natural characters, but also
characters who appear to come from a world apart from that of Middle-earth,
a world whose existence does not have temporal or spatial limits. Having
determined that history must have such limits, we can assume then that
all that exists apart from history may be classified, in terms of the definition
used here, as myth. Characters appear in the history who have come from
the mythical world, and they ultimately return to that same world. And
though they are mythical, their roles within the historical world are necessary
to effect the desired outcome of the historical events. What we have in
The Lord of the Rings can be seen as a long history in which appear
numerous examples of, for want of better terminology, dei ex machina.
Last revised November 11, 2000