The LotR exhibition opens tomorrow, 1st August, at The Museum of Science in Boston. This article at BostonHerald.com discusses some of the items that will be on display which include Gandalf’s linen-and-leather travel bag and The One Ring. There’s further information on the exhibition at the museum’s website here.
Nienna (pronounced: Nee e’nna) (Approximate meaning: She who Weeps)
Also Qalmë-Tàri. (Mistress of Death)
Nienna is one of the fourteen Valier – the highest of the Valar – who, through song and music created Arda, the Earth, and everything within it. When Melkor started to interweave his own themes into the music, Nienna’s music turned into a lament, introducing mourning into the world.
Because she knew grief and sorrow from before the beginning of the world, Nienna became adept at helping others to cope and deal with their grief. This is what Nienna is known for, her ability to impart hope, turning grief to wisdom, and giving strength to endure whatever comes, even though the future may not be known.
Nienna is the sister to the Fëanturi, (Masters of Spirits – Mandos and Lorien). She lives alone ‘west of West upon the borders of the earth’, her windows looking out over to the walls of the world. She rarely visits the city of Valimar, it being too full of gladness, preferring to wander the Halls of Mandos, where all the people who wait there can receive her teachings of peace, pity, compassion, hope and endurance.
There is not much known of Nienna’s appearance, just a short reference to her as she ‘cast back her grey hood’. Her preference of colour could be why Gandalf became known as Gandalf the Grey, Nienna being his mentor.
Although Nienna is seen to weep, she does not weep for herself but for the suffering and troubles of Arda and feels each wound inflicted on Arda by Melkor. But Nienna’s tears can heal, and compassion is her middle name. This fact shows itself, never more clearly, when she speaks up for Melkor when the Valar are asked to consider his release following his long imprisonment.
While Yavanna was bringing forth the Two Trees, Nienna wept upon the mound of Ezellohar, watering the ground. And later, though her tears were unable to heal the Trees’ mortal wounds, she wept again and cleansed away the filth of Ungoliant, assisting Yavanna in bringing forth the last fruit and flower of the Two Trees so that they could become the Sun and the Moon.
Nienna can heal, strengthen, impart hope, help grief, and teach compassion. Should you feel the need for comfort, who better to turn to than Nienna?
How does one start to describe the strangest Inn in Middle-earth!
It started out so well … A young mortal by the name of Foshpickle Greenleaf opened an Inn in Minas Tirith, aided and abetted both by Legolas and her friend Nienna-of-the-Valar. They acquired some purple ducks, and a legend was born. From that point onwards, all hopes of a quiet life for Fosh were dashed as mayhem, madness, and fun-filled moments quickly became the norm.
Love’s lost and found, parties, and adventures all make up the ambience of this interesting institute. Well if the hat fits! The patrons cover all races – elves, dwarves, mortals, hobbits, and half-elves. There are kings, stewards, elven lords and ladies, horse-lords, ringwraiths, rangers, Istari – and plenty of medical help in the form of several experienced healers!
If you like creatures, there is no shortage in that department either. Ducks, firedrakes, wargs, dogs, cats, a parrot called the Green Berserker, even a not-physically-possible-yet-still-somehow-existent baby ringwraith and a vegetarian giant spider.
The lovely Lady Galadriel is always on call for Elven makeovers for anyone who wants to take the chance. As you sit and enjoy the delicious cuisine, courtesy of none other than the Dark Lord Sauron, now totally reformed (his onion rings are the talk of Mordor and surrounding districts), your needs will be well taken care of by Gríma Wormtongue, delightfully decked out in his favourite frilly flowery pinnies, and his now-elven helpers, George and Henry – both the results of successful makeovers by Galadriel. George was once an orc, and Henry once an uruk-hai – as you can now see, the Lady Elf certainly has a way with cosmetics and clothing!
There have been friendly feuds and intrigues (some still ongoing), kidnappings by various factions – none more surprising than when Nienna was spirited away by Jock Parrot and his Corsairs. Ghostly goings on occurred when The Purple Duck moved to larger premises. There was even a period of an almost successful attempt to civilise and educate orcs, a group of which now reside peaceably outside the walls of Minas Tirith, together with a very friendly Cave Troll. The orc enclosure has, at times, been used as holiday accommodation when patrons of the Pub wish some time away from the hectic life of the city.
Should belly-dancing be your penchant, there have been delightful displays by many of the patrons and that includes the male contingent! And last but not least, a good number of weddings and births.
All in all, a plethora of fun, frolics and fine friends greet you as you step through the doors of Middle-earth’s finest, frenetic hostelry – the Purple Duck Pub.
The transformation of Mordor during the times of the Purple Duck
– (Sauron and Sindae take their holidays there and continue gardening madly!)
“I would that we had … something of the same sort that belonged to the English.” (Tolkien on his envy of the Finns and the ancient myths and ballads of the ‘Kalevala’)
Tolkien and Finnish
Introduced to Latin, French, and German by his mother, JRR Tolkien quickly became very fond of languages, especially the more ancient ones, such as Latin and Greek. His love for literature and mythology continually drove him to learn different ancient languages, especially so he could read the original versions of stories he had loved since his childhood – ‘Sigurd’ in Old Norse, ‘Beowulf’ in Anglo-Saxon, and ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ in Middle-English.
But it was during his time at Oxford University that Tolkien discovered a Finnish grammar in Exeter College Library, and was delighted by it. As he had done with other languages, Tolkien then taught himself Finnish, a language that became the inspiration for Quenya, the tongue of the High Elves. And through his studies, the ‘Kalevala’ in its original Finnish came to his hands.
Kalevala and Finland’s national epic.
Finnish mythology, in the form of songs and tales, was transmitted orally from generation to generation, from parents to children. But because of this strong oral tradition, until relatively recently there wasn’t anything written or published that compiled the whole richness of the country’s history.
It was the Finnish country doctor Elias Lönnrot who decided to travel around Finland in the early 19th century, listening to anyone that had some tale or song to sing about the mythology of Finland, gathering it all together, and putting it down in writing. Those songs and verses, called ‘runots’, ordered by Lönnrot, formed the original version of the ‘Kalevala’ which was first published in 1835 with approximately twelve thousand verses. The collection was an amazing success and Lönnrot, cheered to see his efforts well appreciated, kept investigating and 14 years later, the definitive edition of the ‘Kalevala’ was published, this time with 22,800 runots, double the length of the first one.
Known as the ‘Finnish National Epic’ since its publication, the ‘Kalevala’ gave Finland a feeling of entity and nation. The legends and poems of its culture and religion had finally been compiled, preserving the country’s history and language, both of which eventually could have faded.
The origins of the poetry collected in ‘Kalevala’ date back as far as 2,500 – 3,000 years ago, when a form of song characterised by alliteration and parallelism was common. However, the ‘Kalevala’ songs do not come from just a single period of history, but from several. The people who sang them were known as rune singers.
Kalevala and Tolkien
As Finnish influenced Quenya, some of the myths we find as we read the ‘Kalevala’ influenced Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
-One of the main similarities between the two books is the appearance of Nature as a great force in the story. In ‘Kalevala’, Nature is carefully described, and is always present in the characters’ journeys in the same way that Nature is present in the Fellowship’s journey. So important is Nature in ‘Kalevala’ that we can say it has ‘own life’, and we can see that the Sun, rivers and trees speak clearly to the inhabitants of the country. They give advice and warnings, and have their own strong feelings, as, for example, we can learn from a birch who cries to be alone waiting for its destruction, which will inevitably come from men’s hands. We can’t help but compare this birch not just to the Ents because of the fact that they are talking trees, but to the whole of nature in Middle-earth that is fading because of war and evil.
-The title Kalevala, meaning ‘The Land of the Heroes’, refers to Finland, a country fairly described as a wonderful dwelling, full of Nature and good things, and a place that finds its darker side in Pohjola, described as a dark cold place, ruled by an old witch. We can compare these with some fair and foul places in Middle-earth like The Shire and Mordor.
-The main character is ‘Kalevala’ is Väinämöinen, a wise old hero who above all wants the best for his native land and who will give everything to protect it. He is very learned in lore, poetry and music, and his magic and power are based in his words. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’, we find a parallel figure in Gandalf, the wise wizard who could even defeat an ancient evil with the power of his words, recalling his fight against the Balrog of Morgoth in Moria. Both Väinämöinen and Gandalf are confident leaders and though they can fight when there is need, their strongest power resides in words and lore.
-Another important similarity among these works is the presence of an immensely powerful object. The One Ring in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ finds its double in the Sampo of ‘Kalevala’, an object forged to give prosperity and richness to its master. It is given to the old witch of Pohjola in payment of a debt, but eventually ends up being stolen, smashed and lost in the sea, though only after causing great trouble.
-Finally, these two pieces of literature share a common ‘message’, emphasising loyalty, friendship, sacrifice and the eternal fight of good against evil.
“A thing is about to happen which has not happened since the Elder Days: the Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong.”
The world that J. R. R. Tolkien describes in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a world where Nature has a great power, great enough even to face and fight the Enemy. Environment in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a key to every different adventure and it is as present as any other main character. Landscapes, lakes, mountains and trees all have their own names in the different languages of Middle-earth, and some even revered by nearby peoples.
In the eternal struggle between good and evil, Nature is on the side of good. The different realms of Middle-earth fight against Mordor, a dark deserted place where no green thing grows. One of the strongest and most unexpected enemies Sauron finds is the Shire, a green land whose inhabitants dwell in peace and happiness. There is a great power in the Shire, as Gandalf says in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, though what exactly that power is we do not know. However, it is certain that the Shire’s calmness, and the way its inhabitants respect and work with the environment, is a strength more powerful than bravery or pride.
Nature is not just seen as important to hobbits, for if we look at the Elven Realms we find no less admiration and respect for it. The Elves, one of the highest beings in Middle-earth, have a deep link with their environment. Greenwood the Great, or Mirkwood as was known after Sauron came to Dol Guldur, largest of the woods of Middle-earth; Rivendell, the dwelling of Elrond where houses, bridges and roads were made to fit and blend in with Nature; and Lothlórien, the fairest place in Middle-earth. Indeed in the Golden Wood, the elves’ close relationship with Nature reaches its peak, for the Galadhrim live actually in the trees, huge golden trees called ‘mellyrn’. It is even said that Lothlórien is reminiscent of the garden of the Vala Lórien in Valinor. Valinor, of course, also has a deep connection with Nature, with its two most beloved and revered things having been two trees, Laurelin and Telperion, which shed both golden and silver light that bathed and lit the beauty of the land.
But what about Dwarves and Men? Dwarves are more drawn to stoneworking and smithcraft than the joy of Nature, and not all Men seem too concerned about it either. Stone cities such as Minas Tirith or Osgiliath show us the distance between humans and Nature, yet it is true that the people of Rohan do show somewhat more of a connection, but still in no way as much Elves or Hobbits. But there are indeed fair places among the dwellings of men, such as Ithilien or the plains of Rohan. Indeed, if we look closer, while Minas Tirith is built of stone, the most sacred thing that lies within the city is a tree, the White Tree of Gondor, seed of Nimloth of Númenor, descended from Telperion of Valinor.
Another race of Middle-earth that is deeply related to Nature are the Eldest of beings of Middle-earth, the Ents, the shepherds of the Trees. These are wonderful living things, walking, talking trees who protect the forests of Middle-earth, peaceful and wise, not very drawn to adventures or wars, and as much alike to hobbits than to any other being in that aspect. But as kind and quiet as the Ents may be, if they are roused they can be terrible and they will fight fearlessly to protect the trees and forests. So it was in the War of the Ring, where the least expected stroke that fell on Saruman was given by the Ents who flooded Isengard and revenged their dead kin, trees that Saruman had fallen and thrown into the fires of Isengard.
But not everything could manage to endure the evilness of Mordor, even when its Lord was destroyed. The beauty and the peace of the Shire was damaged by Saruman, and trees fell and rivers polluted, but even here Nature wins again, for what was the gift of Galadriel to Sam? A tiny seed, not very useful it seemed to the hobbit for the long and perilous journey ahead, but it was that seed that gave life again to the Shire. And what was once was green and full of life started to become so once again.
Tolkien disliked allegories and did not want his work compared to any real topic of his time. We won’t now compare Sauron and Saruman with the rise of industry and modern technologies, but we can learn a lesson from Tolkien’s work – respect for Nature and for living things, for they are all older than we are and they have endured more than we will all ever endure.
And to quote Professor Tolkien: “Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. In all my works I take the part of trees against all their enemies”. Now, if only we would all play the part of an advocate for Nature, maybe we would regain a glimpse of the Shire or Lothlórien in our own woods.
As we all know, Tolkien’s works were partly inspired by different mythologies, especially the Norse. He learned languages like Finnish and Icelandic to be able to read the sagas in their original languages, even having an Icelandic maid who helped him learn Icelandic, and he used much of the contents of the Norse sagas in creating his own world of mythology.
One of his main sources was the Icelandic Edda. The Edda consists of two parts, the Song-Edda which is a compilation of ancient songs and poems about heroes and gods, and the Prose-Edda or Snorra Edda which contains stories about the gods.
While the Song-Edda is very hard to read and to understand because it is written in poetry only, the Snorra Edda is much easier. The stories about the Norse gods like Thor, Odin or Tyr are interesting, sometimes even funny, and always easy to understand.
The point of the Prose-Edda was not to save the old stories from being forgotten, but to teach the art of poetry to the “skalds”, the Norse poets. It was written around 1220 A.D. by Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic skald and judge, who collected these stories and used them as an example of “good poetry”. Nowadays, however, it is an important source for everyone interested in the Norse mythology since it contains their most important stories.
Tolkien used motives from the Edda to develop his world. One striking aspect is the resemblance of certain names. When I first read the Edda, I was very surprised to hear of Dwarves that were called Dvalinn, Bifur, Bafur, Bombur, Óri, Nori, Þrór, Þróinn or Glóinn and many other names we know from ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Even the name Gandálfr appears – as a dwarf. Another name which appears in the Edda is Alföður, the Norse god who created the world out of Ginnungagap, the “absolute nothing”. His name means “all-father”, just like Ilúvatar in Tolkien’s world. Like Ilúvatar, Alföður is the highest of the gods who created the earth and everything that dwells on it. Another resemblance is of course the name Middle-earth which is the translation of the word “Midgard”, the world of Men and Elves.
Several creatures in Tolkien’s works are also inspired by Norse myths. An example of this is the Nazgûl, who resemble the original notion of the Valkyries. The Valkyries were not always Odin’s “warrior maids” that chose dead fighters to dwell in Valhall, where they would fight all day and return in the evenings with all their wounds healed to eat and drink all night, but they were orginally cruel and bloodthirsty demons who rode on bat-like dragons or horses, just like the Ringwraiths.
A character who has his equivalents in many mythologies is Gandalf. In Norse mythology, the man that dies but returns from the dead is Baldur, the god of beauty. He was killed by the wicked god Loki and went to Hel, the realm of the dead that do not go to Valhall. After his death, no pure beauty and happiness was left on the earth. After Ragnarök, the last battle against the giants which proved the end of the Norse gods, Baldur returned to the new earth together with the few other gods that had survived. This resurrection image also fits the line of the Kings of Númenor and later of Gondor. When the line was broken, Gondor became weaker and weaker until it was finally close to destruction when Aragorn returned as King in Third Age 3019.
Even the One Ring, the central topic in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, has its roots in Norse mythology. The Edda tells of the Norse god Loki who met a dwarf called Andvari and forced him to give him all his great treasures, among which was a magical ring that was able to produce gold. But in his rage, Andvari put a curse on the ring that should ruin every bearer. Like the One Ring, it caused great trouble and every one of its bearers was killed in some way. It caused the maiden Brynhild to kill herself when her lover Sigurd gave her the ring as a gift, and it also caused Fafnir to slay his own father Hreidmar in greed to protect his treasure. Later Fafnir used the ring’s power to turn himself into a dragon to guard this treasure and was killed by Sigurd.
These are just a few examples of Tolkien’s use of the Icelandic myths and sagas. They show not only his love and interest for these old stories, but also the work he put into developing his world in order to make it seem so thoroughly complete and well thought out.
“Lo! We have heard in old days of the wisdom of the cunning-minded Inklings; how those wise ones sat together in their deliberations, skilfully reciting learning and song-craft, earnestly meditating. That was true joy!”
One of the most prominent themes running through Tolkien’s stories is friendship. While the most famous of these friendships is that between Frodo and Sam, it is still only one of many, with other examples including Maedhros and Fingon, Merry and Pippin, Bilbo and Gandalf, Túrin and Beleg, Beren and Finrod, Barahir and his group of outlaws, and Legolas and Gimli – that last being even more remarkable for the base of enmity from which it started.
One thing that unites all those friendships is that they only involve males, and this can be directly related to the type of relationships Tolkien had through his life. From the formation of the TCBS (Tea Club Barrovian Society) at King Edward’s School in Birmingham to the end of the Inklings, Tolkien was always more comfortable with male companionship. While he did love his wife dearly, it was with his male friends that he would choose to spend long evenings, talking of mythology and religion; it was with his male friends that he would read out new works, expecting and receiving both criticism and praise.
The Four Loves
To begin to understand Tolkien’s view on his friendships, and the friendships of those in his books, it is useful to start with a quick look at the different types of love. Four types of love were recognised by the ancient Greek philosophers, and they have formed the basis for definitions ever since. These are affection (“storge”), erotic love (“eros”), friendship (“philae”), and selfless or divine love (“agape”).
Storge is the natural and mutual affection between parents and children, or between brothers and sisters. It is a kind of love that is often taken for granted, a love that one rarely has to work on, and a love that is normally present in some way during one’s life.
Eros is romantic love, the love that forms an attraction between two people, and it is eros that we usually consider first when thinking of the word “love”. It is, however, not necessarily physical, as it may just be an intense infatuation that never results in a physical relationship.
Philae is brotherly love, free from the romance of eros. CS Lewis exalts this love as “the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue” (Lewis, 1960) since it is entered into with complete freedom and it is created between people with common interests. Friendship has nothing to do with family affection, physical attraction or romantic love, but it can still go to incredible depths, to the extent where a friend can be closer than a brother.
To us today, the idea of intense male friendships is unfortunately almost always bound up with eros. But this is only a recent view, as through the first part of the 20th century and before, male friendship was seen as the ultimate expression of camaraderie, a value which was only emphasised by the two world wars. This ideal can be seen in many texts from times onwards, including the Kalevala, one of Tolkien’s main inspirations.
“Brother dear, little brother
fair one who grew up with me
start off reciting with me
since we have got together
since we have come from two ways!
We seldom get together
and meet each other
on these poor borders
the luckless lands of the North.
Let’s strike hand to hand
fingers into finger-gaps
that we may sing some good things
set some of the best things forth”
(Kalevala, In the Beginning, lines 11-24)
Agape is unconditional love for someone, loving without expecting love in return. It requires sacrifice and selflessness, and is often equated with the love of a god for his people.
Philetic love in Tolkien’s life
Strong philetic friendships were made by Tolkien through his life, even often to the exclusion of his own wife. They started in his schooldays with the TCBS, and culminated in the Inklings, his circle of friends in Oxford.
During his last three years at King Edward’s School, Tolkien became close friends with three other pupils – Christopher Wiseman, Geoffrey Smith and Rob Gilson. And here we get the first view of an image of Tolkien – surrounded by his friends, smoking, talking about anything and everything – that seems to accompany most of the happiest times of his life.
“They spent the weekend chiefly in sitting around the gas fire in the little upstairs room, smoking their pipes and talking. As Wiseman said, they felt “four times the intellectual size” when they were together.” (Carpenter, 2002)
The four remained good friends after school, and they all enlisted in the armed forces during World War I. During the War, both Rob Gilson and Geoffrey Smith were killed, and the remaining members of the TCBS came to understand a little better how rare and special their friendship had been. This realisation is easy to see from letters sent to each other after first Rob Gilson’s, and then Geoffrey Smith’s, deaths.
Tolkien on Gilson’s death: “I do not feel a member of a complete body now.” (Carpenter, 2002)
GB Smith to Tolkien on Gilson’s death: “I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst of news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was.” (Carpenter, 2002)
Letter from GB Smith to Tolkien written shortly before his death: “My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four!” (Carpenter, 2002)
Tolkien’s other close group of friends was the Inklings, a well-known and well-documented group of mainly Oxford academics during the 1930s. Of all the members of the group, Tolkien formed a particularly close friendship with CS Lewis, a relationship that was documented in detail by Lewis in his book “The Four Loves”. Two quotes from that book show first, his relationship with Tolkien [and the other Inklings], and secondly, his belief in the separation of women’s and men’s companionships.
“Those are the golden sessions, when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim or responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hours ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life – natural life – has no better gift to give.”” (The Four Loves, 1960)
“What were the women doing meanwhile? How should I know? I am a man and never spied on the mysteries of the Bona Dea.” (The Four Loves, 1960)
Or as Carpenter put it:
“Friendship of this kind was remarkable, and at the same time entirely natural and inevitable. It was not homosexual (Lewis dismisses that suggestion with deserved ridicule), yet it excluded women. … if we have ever enjoyed a friendship of that sort we shall know exactly what it was about. And even if that fails us, we can find something of it expressed in The Lord of the Rings.” (Carpenter, 2002)
It is easy to believe from these descriptions that, to Tolkien and Lewis, their friendship was the defining point of their lives during those times. While many would prefer to find this great comfort and familiarity in a wife or husband, they preferred to look for it in male friendship – a bonded world where women were not generally even considered, let alone welcome.
“Indeed he perceived that his need of male friendship was not entirely compatible with married life. But he believed that this was one of the sad facts of a fallen world; and on the whole he thought that a man had a right to male pleasures, and should if necessary insist on them.” (Carpenter)
Indeed, the breaking down of Tolkien and Lewis’s relationship was accelerated later by Lewis trying to involve his new wife Joy Gresham into their circle of friends.
Philetic love in Tolkien’s work
With the prevalence of strong male friendships in Tolkien’s life, it is hardly surprising that many of the most memorable companionships within his works are also of this kind. Some examples of these are given below.
•Frodo and Sam
The most famous of Tolkien’s friendships was that of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, a long-standing relationship that was only cemented further by their shared journey to Mount Doom during the War of the Ring. Their relationship is both one of master and servant, and of mutual friendship and dependence. The one quote which, to me, sums their friendship up above all others is:
“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” (RotK, Mount Doom)
In this, Frodo shows that he would prefer to be with Sam than with anyone else in the world at what he presumed would be their death. And this simply because of philetic friendship and shared experiences, without any overtone of romantic love.
Other examples, out of many, of their deep bond include:
“He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured, “I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.”” (Sam, TTT, Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit)
“Frodo, Mr. Frodo!” he called. “Don’t leave me here alone! It’s your Sam calling. Don’t go where I can’t follow! Wake up Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!” … He stooped. Very gently he undid the clasp at the neck and slipped his hand inside Frodo’s tunic; then with his other hand raising the head, he kissed the cold forehead, and softly drew the chain over it. And then the head lay quietly back again in rest.”
Philetic love is shown as the strongest force in Frodo’s life. The question of whether this is also true for Sam is slightly harder, but as Sam chose to leave the Shire with Frodo rather than stay behind and declare his intentions to Rosie. I would say that perhaps at least until the Scouring of the Shire, it would definitely be true,
Frodo’s love for Sam, pure and generous, even shows no problem with sharing Sam with his romantic love Rosie:
“It’s Rosie, Rose Cotton,” said Sam. “It seems she didn’t like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn’t spoken, she couldn’t say so. And I didn’t speak, because I had a job to do first. But now I have spoken … I feel torn in two, as you might say.
“I see,” said Frodo: “you want to get married, and yet you want to live with me in Bag End too? But my dear Sam, how easy! Get married as soon as you can, and then move in [here] with Rosie. (The Return of the King, The Grey Havens)
But Frodo and Sam’s relationship also shows one of the pitfalls of philetic love – when a friendship is affected by mistrust or jealousy. In “The Lord of the Rings”, this happens when Sam sees Gollum near Frodo and immediately challenges him, calling Gollum a sneak and a villain when at that point his feelings actually were true and good. While this does not greatly affect Frodo and Sam’s relationship, it does significantly affect the object of the mistrust.
“Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.” (The Two Towers, p366)
Tolkien later called this the “most tragic moment in the Tale” (Letters, #246), the moment where the possibility of regeneration for Gollum was irredeemably lost through Sam’s jealousy. “The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall.” (The Two Towers)
•Merry and Pippin
Merry and Pippin show us two different levels of friendship – the strong familial bond between cousins, and the bond between the larger group of four hobbits.
At the start of “The Lord of the Rings”, Merry and Pippin quickly realise that something was about to happen to Frodo, and they went ahead, without asking, trying to ease his way – to Crickhollow as they thought at the time. Throughout the rest of the story, they still constantly thought of Frodo, putting his needs before theirs.
Merry: “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.” (The Fellowship of the Ring: “A Conspiracy Unmasked”)
“We must stop him,” said Pippin. “And that is what he is worrying about, I am sure. He knows we shan’t agree to his going east. And he doesn’t like to ask anyone to go with him, poor old fellow. Imagine it: going off to Mordor alone!” Pippin shuddered. “But the dear silly old hobbit, he ought to know that he hasn’t got to ask. He ought to know that if we can’t stop him, we shan’t leave him.” (The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Breaking of the Fellowship”)
Merry and Pippin also provide what I consider to be one of the most pure moments of friendship in the books, an occasion that obviously echoed Tolkien’s own ideals of companionship. This occurs after the Battle of Helm’s Deep, when Merry, Pippin and Gandalf’s party find themselves at Isengard, and while there, they have a quiet, homely interlude away from battle talking of inconsequential things.
Merry: “But first – if you have finished eating – you shall fill your pipes and light up. And then for a little while we can pretend that we are all back safe in Bree again, or in Rivendell.” (The Two Towers, Flotsam and Jetsam)
•Gimli and Legolas
Some friendships in Tolkien’s work encompass more than the two people involved. A case in point is Legolas and Gimli, as is that of Fingon and Maedhros, discussed later.
Through “The Lord of the Rings”, Gimli and Legolas evolve from mistrusting and reluctant allies at the Council of Elrond to become firm friends by the later Battles in Gondor. This change in outlook is seen also as representative of the changes occurring in Middle-earth towards the end of the Third Age, heralding a new era where ancient enemies can become allies and even friends.
Their friendship truly started in Lothlórien, and was cemented during the series of battles leading up to the defence of Gondor.
“Down from the wall leapt Gimli with a fierce cry that echoed in the cliffs. “Khazâd! Khazâd!” He soon had work enough.
“Ai-oi!” he shouted. “The Orcs are behind the wall. Ai-oi! Come, Legolas! There are enough for us both. Khazâd ai-mênu!”” (The Two Towers, Helm’s Deep)
“You have passed my score by one,” answered Legolas. “But I do not grudge you the game, so glad am I to see you on your legs!” (The Two Towers, The Road to Isengard)
The end result of the friendship was that Gimli became the only dwarf to sail West, the Valar allowing him to journey across the Seas with Legolas, because of their friendship.
“We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Gloin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf.” (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A)
•Fingon and Maedhros
Fingon encompassed the ideals of both philetic and agapic love, forming close friendships in which he did not hesitate to sacrifice himself for the other. Agape forms the underlying Christian principle that “greater love has no man than he lays down his life for a friend”, and as a staunch Catholic, we can probably assume that Tolkien held this ideal highly as well.
The most heroic instance of this kind involved Maedhros, the son of Fëanor, whom Fingon rescued from Thangorodrim, both for the sake of friendship and for the sake of friendship between their two houses. He rescued Maedhros even though he thought his old friend had betrayed him, thus showing that he acted entirely selflessly, through his love for the son of Fëanor.
“Fingon had been close in friendship with Maedhros; and though he knew not yet that Maedhros had not forgotten him at the burning of the ships, the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart. Therefore he dared a deed which is justly renowned among the feats of the princes of the Noldor: alone, and without the counsel of any, he set forth in search of Maedhros … Fingon climbed to the foot of the precipice where his kinsman hung, and then could go no further; and he wept when he saw the cruel device of Morgoth. … Fingon cut off his hand above the wrist, and Thorondor bore them back to Mithrim. (The Silmarillion “Of the Return of the Noldor”)
The perils of eros over philae
While Tolkien’s works are full of implicit praise for the joys of philetic friendships, there are also instances where he shows how powerful a force eros is, and how likely its presence is to disrupt any friendships that get in its way. Two examples of this are Gorlim the Unhappy and Maeglin.
Gorlim was a man of Ladros, who, after returning from war to find his house sacked and his wife gone, joined Barahir’s group of outlaws, later betraying them to Sauron when captured.
“Then they promised him that he should be released and restored to Eilinel [his wife], if he would yield; and being at last worn with pain, and yearning for his wife, he faltered. … Then Sauron smiled, saying: “That is a small price for so great a treachery. So shall it surely be. Say on!” Now Gorlim would have drawn back, but daunted by the eyes of Sauron he told at last all that he would know. Then Sauron laughed; and he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had seen only a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel was dead.” (The Silmarillion, “Of Beren and Lúthien”)
Another example of an instance when love overcame friendship – leading to huge betrayal, unhappiness and loss of life – was when Maeglin betrayed Gondolin.
“he purchased his life and freedom by revealing to Morgoth the very place of Gondolin and the ways whereby it might be found and assailed. Great indeed was the joy of Morgoth, and to Maeglin he promised the lordship of Gondolin as his vassal, and the possession of Idril Celebrindal, when the city should be taken; and indeed desire for Idril and hatred for Tuor led Maeglin the easier to his treachery, most infamous in all the histories of the Elder Days.” (The Silmarillion, Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin)
Tolkien’s books are full of examples of close friendships – Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, Maedhros and Fingon. These philetic friendships generally occur between males, with Tolkien’s main female characters often being isolated from the comfort that could be gained from intimate companionship.
When looking at these friendships, the background in which Tolkien wrote the stories must be considered – we simply can’t interpret them from a modern day point of view. The great friendships of Tolkien’s life were male – from the fellow members of the TCBS to CS Lewis and the Inklings. They were mainly philetic and agapic friendships, deep bonds being formed among the men based on common interests – academic and otherwise.
Is it then any wonder that Tolkien wanted to add to his books the comfort and joy he himself found from these relationships? Is it then any wonder that today we can still look at the descriptions of the friendships and instinctively understand how deeply Sam loved Frodo, or how Fingon was willingly to sacrifice himself for his friend? Is it then any wonder that philetic friendship is put forward as the ultimate in comfort and joy?
-Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings. 1968 edn.
-Tolkien, JRR. The Silmarillion. 1977.
-Lewis, CS. The Four Loves. 1960.
-The Kalevala, translated by Keith Bosley. 1989.
-Carpenter, H. JRR Tolkien a Biography. 2002 edn.
Return of the King has been nominated in the Best Movie category in the Disney Channel Kids Awards 2004. You can cast your vote here. The winners will be announced on 19th September.