Sunday, September 27, 2020

Inklings & LOTR Read-Along


Hey y'all!

I hope you're having a lovely Sunday... This morning was gorgeous (all early light and shadows and dappled sunshine with fresh air). The afternoon's heated up a bit, but all in all I'm enjoying the blue I can still see in the sky after weeks of smoke. 

And... (you can pretty much tell everything from the title, but I figured I'd better put in some pictures and give you at least a couple paragraphs for a proper post ;)), this is just a quick reminder that this month's Inklings link-up is still open through Wednesday.


Also, we'll officially be starting our LOTR read-along HERE tomorrow (very exciting), so make sure to follow over there if you'd like to join us (or even just pop in now and then, which would also be fine and dandy).

That's all, folks. Have a lovely evening!

Friday, September 25, 2020

Beregond // A Character Sketch (+ a short rant)

So! *clearing throat and trying to properly marshal the facts* This will be both short(er), (sweetly) to the point, and also more rambly than my usual sketches. All to say, I make no apologies. 

First for my rant. (And remember, this is all in good fun. Well, mostly. xD) 

I’ve mentioned it a couple times recently, but the plan is (very shortly, like, probably before Christmas) to get together with a couple friends and work our way through the full length, extended version of LOTR (hopefully also while sipping warm and cheering fall drinks and nibbling on pasties and seed cakes), all of which will be utterly splendid and I’m really getting very very excited and champing at the bit. I mean, seriously, this is going to be epic! ;D 

Also, I’ll have you know that, in general, I’ve become much more forgiving and broadminded than I used to be in days gone by of artistic license happening when translating a book to film -- and I’m bracing myself for the changes that I know were made with certain characters (not promising to like or even accept these particular changes, but there’s not much sense in my discussing those till I’ve at least seen it). 

But, there is still one major thing that’s been bugging me exceedingly this week (and nothing to do with Hamlette's utterly and entirely splendiferous Tolkien Party -- my delving into the books preparing posts and getting ready for the read along is just what brought it to mind). 

And note: this is an entirely personal matter and I won’t be critical if you love the movie version. Also I don’t mean to cast any aspersions on the casting or acting (cause again, not qualified to judge on that yet), but I am finally ready to admit publicly that part of the reason I haven’t seen them for so long is the way they chose to portray the men of Gondor -- part and parcel, the whole lot of ‘em. (It’s really rather deeply disturbing to me. ;D) Again, I’m not talking about how well they did or didn’t handle their roles, or the choices of the director and scriptwriters. I’m talking solely about the fact that the warrior men of Gondor are always supposed to be dark-haired and grey-eyed

For many years, I actually always pictured Faramir much like this: 

Now before there's any general outcry, I will say I’ve realized my mental image has shifted slightly. Now it’s something more like… 


…this, I guess? Maybe? 

Anyway. 

I haven't seen all the sources for these so purely going off the visuals (and of course allowing for the fact that all of them wouldn’t be wearing crowns, of course). Also, yes, to prove my argument, some of the pictures should be even darker, but hey. I’m doing my best here with certain limited resources to translate what’s in my (crazy but IMHO also very sensible) brain. 

We’ll start with Boromir -- the first man of Gondor we meet, and I feel like the one who sets our whole level of expectation, in many ways archetypal. From The Fellowship of the Ring: “…seated a little apart was a tall man with a fair and noble face, dark-haired and grey-eyed, proud and stern of glance. 

"He was cloaked and booted as if for a journey on horseback; and indeed though his garments were rich, and his cloak was lined with fur, they were stained with long travel. He had a collar of silver in which a single white stone was set; his locks were shorn about his shoulders. On a baldric he wore a great horn tipped with silver that now was laid upon his knees. He gazed at Frodo and Bilbo with sudden wonder.”

And Denethor. Denethor is not -- very much not -- supposed to look like a Dickens character in a barrister's wig. (Sorry, I know that was strong. Biting even. But I told you, I find this all unsettling. And I will grant that some pictures of Denethor are better than others.) 

“…the old man looked up. Pippin saw his carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes; and he was reminded not so much of Boromir as of Aragorn.” (So that’s interesting.) And later: “Denethor looked indeed much more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly, beautiful, and powerful; and older.” The Return of the King

The descriptions of Faramir are more scattered and tied in with dialogue, but we know he looked much like Boromir. And there are these two snippets from The Two Towers: “Doubt was in the grey eyes that gazed steadily at Frodo.” And “(Faramir) stood up, very tall and stern, his grey eyes glinting.”

(Annnnd… just flipping through this section I have to hold myself back from lapsing into long rabbit trails, especially The Window on the West chapter <333.) *Ok, sternly collecting myself and saving it all for the read along* 

BUT, I am going to afflict you with the following, just cause I like it so much, and because I can, and as a reward for my not giving any spoilers from TWotW above: “Presently Pippin saw torches, and followed by a press of people two horsemen riding slowly: one was in white but shining no longer, pale in the twilight as if his fire was spent or veiled; the other was dark and his head was bowed. They dismounted, and as grooms took Shadowfax and the other horse, they walked forward to the sentinel at the gate: Gandalf steadily, his grey cloak flung back, and a fire still smouldering in his eyes; the other, clad all in green, slowly, swaying a little as a weary or a wounded man. 

“Pippin pressed forward as they passed under the lamp beneath the gate-arch, and when he saw the pale face of Faramir he caught his breath. It was the face of one who has been assailed by a great fear or anguish, but has mastered it and now is quiet. Proud and grave he stood for a moment as he spoke to the guard, and Pippin gazing at him saw how closely he resembled his brother Boromir—whom Pippin had liked from the first, admiring the great man’s lordly but kindly manner. Yet suddenly for Faramir his heart was strangely moved with a feeling that he had not known before. Here was one with an air of high nobility such as Aragorn at times revealed, less high perhaps, yet also less incalculable and remote: one of the Kings of Men born into a later time, but touched with the wisdom and sadness of the Elder Race. He knew now why Beregond spoke his name with love. He was a captain that men would follow, that he would follow, even under the shadow of the black wings.” The Return of the King 

So now we come to Beregond, who’s one of my favorite minor characters in the entire LOTR. He actually doesn’t occupy a terribly large amount of page space (though a large-ish amount for a minor character), but the role he does have is crucial and the tidbits we learn about him are fascinating. 

He has family roots and heritage running right back to the old glory days of Ithilien. It’s obvious that he’s a good father and he seems to have strong family feeling as he looks out over those leaving the city, lamenting all those being separated, possibly never to be reunited. 

I don’t have any deep symbolism on him for you at the moment and, honestly, I can see film-wise why he was considered extraneous, but it’s still a pity. For me he makes the whole conflict even more relatable. He’s the Everyman (kind of). 


Valiant and courageous, his character shows very clearly the shifting tides that come with war and the dangers of blind devotion to an old order. Honor is always honor, but in times of war things can get very messy. 

For starters, abandoning your post at all, but especially during war, is a huge thing. And his ongoing story is all wrapped up with the dilemma of whether or not you’re responsible if you’re just following orders. At what point do you have to conscientiously refuse? It’s the sticky spot when leaders fail and fall to the Enemy. 

He highlights the whole of the Stewardship-Being-Handed-Over-To-The-Rightful-King business. You have Denethor and Faramir’s polar opposite responses in this regard (more of which at another time) and then there’s the humble guard, Beregond, caught in the middle, showing how the whole problem isn’t black and white. Well, it is, because it’s not really a problem except Denethor made it so. HIS actions force the men under him into horrible decisions -- decisions which, if they are truehearted, means they have to take up sword against their brothers-in-arms and then rightfully deserve the death penalty for their actions. 

Denethor loved his son, too, but gave himself over to despair. In Beregond we have valiant hope -- sanity in the midst of madness. Even when things are darkest, you don’t go round reverting to killing yourself like a heathen king. And even if you don’t understand all the deep complexities of the fight and what’s happening round you, you stand by what you believe in the darkest hour -- or what you say you believe isn’t worth a penny weight. 

I don’t know. There’s just something about the picture of Beregond -- knowing whichever way things went, his own life would (so far as he knew) definitely be forfeit, still going to hold off the servants sternly following Denethor’s commands. It’s akin to the center of Gaskell’s North and South, where a lie is told to protect another, which lie incidentally proves verity of heart, but is nonetheless a sorrow.

So yeah, it’s all definitely an awful situation, not what we want as normal modus operandi. Though again, it comes back to what I was saying about how this all highlights the madness of Denethor and his entire betrayal to every last person (large and small) in forcing them into horrible corners. 

But the upshot is: Faramir is saved.

And Beregond doesn’t rest on his laurels or go into hiding, but into the front ranks facing the enemy outside the gates of Mordor. And of course, in the end Aragorn mercifully pardons him and sends him off as Captain of the White Company, in the guard of Faramir, for whom he risked life and limb. 

All of which, thinking of Beregond and his family, not just looking forward to a future of hope and joy, but actually commissioned to go to their ancestral homeland and take dominion and rebuild the ruins -- also probably visiting with the kingdom of Rohan in the service of Faramir and the White Lady and under the new King -- makes me very happy. <3 

(Ok, now that I’ve gotten a bunch of that stuff out of my system hopefully I can sit and watch the movie soon-ish without being hypercritical of this aspect. Or, well, to be more realistic, hopefully enjoy it without at least making any appalling, distractingly weird faces or comments. Thanks for bearing with me, y’all! ;D)

Oh! And of course I’d love to hear what you think of the post in general. xD If you've seen the movies, did you have any preconceptions that held you back in the beginning? And do you like Beregond too?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Queenly Dignity, Honor, Strength & Beauty // Galadriel, Éowyn & Arwen in Lord of the Rings


J.R.R. Tolkien was not fond of allegory. To put it mildly. He went on record on the subject multiple times, but this is a pretty clear quote from his introduction to the second edition of LOTR: “As for any inner meaning or ‘message,’ it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. ...I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence." 

At the same time, his Christian faith was the core of his being and he said: “(The Lord of the Rings) is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out practically all references to anything like 'religion,' to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and symbolism.” 

God made the world a certain way, His fingerprints are all over it. He’s weaving the magnificent tapestry of redemption and if an author is being honest and writing what is true -- writing the way things are -- certain themes and patterns are also going to emerge (cue my fascination with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but that’s a discussion for another day). And this is all especially true when we get down to deep myth. Which of course is Tolkien’s specialty.

Ok, with that understanding, the Christological imagery in LOTR of Prophet, Priest, and King (which generally pair most prominently with Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn respectively) is well established. And Tolkien’s devotion to the Roman Catholic Mariology doctrines and how it might relate to the lady figures of LOTR (with apparently some debate as to how exactly it would all parcel out) is fairly well known in certain circles. But when I was looking into this (while finding lots of quotes from Tolkien on Mary and lots of writing from other people linking it with LOTR), I couldn’t find anything (online anyway) from Tolkien himself directly tying the two together. (Which, y’know, we wouldn’t expect anyway given what he said above.) 


It has also been posited that Tolkien tied in the Greek (and indeed widespread ancient) understanding of the elements (fire, earth, air/wind, and water, and which were often closely tied with various gods) in the personas of (from what I can piece together) Arwen (fire), Galadriel (earth), Éowyn (air/wind), and Goldberry (water). Deep myth and imagery-wise + with Tolkien’s background in ancient and medieval history, there might be something to this, but here I’ll be focusing more on the first theory (or rather, because I’m Protestant, tendering my own thoughts on it). 

A lot of people have also put forth a lot of details on character pairing. If you look it up at all, there are differing levels of far-fetchedness, illumination, and/or simplicity to them (i.e. Galadriel v. Shelob etc., which I ran across while researching this). Part of the trouble (or rather the wonder of it) is that Tolkien did such a masterful job embodying the themes in each and every character -- exploring different facets and angles (and EVERYTHING ties back, without being redundant, but adding further depth and complexity) -- so that you can contrast pretty much any character with another character.

Thinking about the prophet, priest, and king roles, though, I’ve been pondering a lot about the possible pairing reflections of Gandalf / Galadriel, Aragorn / Arwen, and Frodo / Éowyn. 


Ok, so here’s where we get into a little choppy water, but it seems necessary. As a Protestant, I deeply respect and look up to Mary as a faithful saint who was the recipient of great and incredible blessing and honor, but I do take serious issue with Tolkien in this regard. That said... I'm actually not going there today. We'll stay in Middle Earth. (I only mention it at all in hopes of showing I've been carefully studying what Tolkien himself says on the subject in order the better to respect his thought process and avoid jumping to conclusions willy nilly.) 

But for the sake of this post and brevity, I will just say we would put the emphasis on Mother Kirk, the church, who -- saved and washed down through the ages by the blood of Christ -- will one day stand beside Him, crowned in all glory and honor, and in dazzling white for all the world to see. 

Following all of which, if we believe certain Biblical themes and truths run through creation and if the Bible has much to say (also in types and shadows by times) on the labor and rejoicing of queenly women, then there’s a vast depth here to think about. 

Which brings us AT LAST, to the grace, strength, and beauty of Galadriel, Arwen, and Éowyn. <3

“She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. … her lamp does not go out by night. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come.” Proverbs 31


~ Galadriel ~ 

“…Sam was now standing beside him, looking round with a puzzled expression, and rubbing his eyes as if he was not sure that he was awake. 'It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,’ he said. 'I thought that Elves were all for moon and stars: but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.’ Haldir looked at them, and he seemed indeed to take the meaning of both thought and word. He smiled. ‘You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim,’ he said.” The Fellowship of the Ring

Galadriel // striving against the Enemy and holding back the darkness // dispensing good and precious gifts for the road ahead

A glorious golden light beyond the ken of mere mortals. Fierce and mysterious yet a refuge, a city set on a hill. A lofty lady of long ages. 
On her tongue wise words, dripping like aged wine. 

“Who is she who looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?” The Song of Solomon

“Do not be afraid! But do not think that only by singing amid the trees, nor even by the slender arrows of elven-bows, is this land of Lothlórien maintained and defended against its Enemy. …even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind… And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But still the door is closed!” She lifted up her white arms, and spread out her hands towards the East in a gesture of rejection and denial.”

“…from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.” The Fellowship of the Ring

~ Arwen ~ 

“Young she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost… and the light of 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. Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver. 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; and she was called Undómiel, for she was the Evenstar of her people.” The Fellowship of the Ring

Arwen // Evenstar 
// lady of white gems and starlight 
// the reward to be won

Patient and enduring, looking for things not yet seen. 

Regal and gracious, standing finally beside her triumphant Lord and King.


Crowned Queen and following him through sacrifice, and the still enduring death that is in the mortal world. 

And trusting through long years in the promised one to whom she has pledged herself, while fashioning the standard which will be a banner to the peoples. 

“…lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them. And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke …There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.” The Return of the King

~ Éowyn ~ 

“Grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood.” The Two Towers

Éowyn // the White Lady 
// loyal, valorous, and true hearted 
// crushing the head of the serpent 

“Most blessed among women is Jael… She stretched her hand to the tent peg, her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; she pounded Sisera, she pierced his head… At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead.” Judges


Like Frodo, dearly loving her guardian figure, willing to dare all and die in his stead; battling the King’s enemies even when the darkness seems greatest and the gates of hell bar the way; going through the deep shadows, bearing much pain and sorrow and growing despair, yet -- healed by the hand of the King -- emerging at last, triumphant, into the light.

“For you are a lady high and valiant and have your­self won renown that shall not be for­got­ten; and you are a lady beau­ti­ful, I deem, be­yond even the words of the El­ven-tongue to tell.”

“Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she un­der­stood it. And sud­denly her win­ter passed, and the sun shone on her. 

‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ she said; ‘and be­hold the Shadow has de­parted! I will be a shield­maiden no longer, nor vie with the great Rid­ers, nor take joy only in the songs of slay­ing. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not bar­ren.” The Return of the King

Galadriel, Éowyn, and Arwen each fighting the serpent in their particular corner of the battlefield, laboring in travail, fighting even when hope is dim, and coming out in the end to great victory. 

To hearken back to the beginning, we don’t view any of Tolkien’s characters as cardboard figures (each with a tidy allegorical lesson and homework for us to apply). No, for deep truth and beauty is far deeper -- wilder -- uncontained. Dangerous. For in deep story -- true myth -- as we catch flashes and glimpses and reflections of deep truth and beauty -- that beauty itself can shape and point us to our one and only Savior, the Fountainhead of all breathtaking glory and goodness and beauty and heart-stopping joy. 


This was written for Hamlette's Tolkien Week. I hope you enjoyed and I'd love to hear your thoughts! <3

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