Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Epilogue to Lord of the Rings - what difference does it make?


The Epilogue to Lord of the Rings, and a polished preliminary draft, were published alongside The Notion Club Papers in the ninth volume of The History of Middle Earth (1992) edited by Christopher Tolkien.


Considering that this was intended to be the final words of the LotR - and the end preferred by the author until an advanced stage of publication (perhaps early 1954) - the Epilogue has attracted surprisingly little interest and attention.

I think it makes a wonderful end to the story, and puts the book in a different and richer frame; but on the other hand the as-published LotR is perfection, so this is a minor quibble, really.


There are two kinds of reader of LotR: the one for whom 'Well, I'm back', he said are the final words - and those who, like myself, pause and take a deep breath (and wipe away a tear), then turn to the Appendices.

For the latter type of reader, the Epilogue is likely to be an even more satisfying end.


What are the advantages? In a nutshell the Epilogue emphasizes how the world has changed since the end of the Third Age and the departure of Elrond and Galadriel.

1. It brings the wheel full circle - the book began among the mundane affairs of the hobbits, and so it ends.

Very mundane in the sense of commencing with a rather stolid and unimaginative list of Questions and Answers about 'what happened next' to various major characters; as an example of the writing style of Samwise in The Red Book of Westmarch.


2. A scene between Sam and his eldest (and elven-fair) daughter Elanor follows - which includes one of the most beautiful, poignant and personal passages Tolkien ever (nearly) published:

“Don't write any more tonight. Talk to me Sam-dad!” said Elanor, and drew him to a seat by the fire.

“Tell me,” she said, as they sat close together with the soft golden light on their faces, “tell me about L√≥rien. Does my flower grow there still, Sam-dad?”

“Well dear, Celeborn still lives there among his trees and his Elves, and there I don't doubt your flower grows still. Though now I have got you to look at, I don't hanker after it so much.”

“But I don't want to look at myself, Sam-dad. I want to look at other things. I want to see the hill of Amroth where the King met Arwen, and the silver trees, and the little white niphredil, and the golden Elanor in the grass that is always green. And I want to hear Elves singing.”

“Then, maybe, you will one day, Elanor I said the same when I was your age and long after it, and there didn't seem to be no hope. And yet I saw them, and I heard them.”

“I was afraid they were all sailing away, Sam-dad. Then soon there would be none here; and then everywhere would be just places and…”

“And what, Elanor?”

“And the light would have faded.”

“I know,” said Sam. “The light is fading, Elanor. But it won't go out yet. It won't ever go quite out, I think now, since I have had you to talk to. For it seems to me now that people can remember it who have never seen it. And yet,” he sighed, “even that is not the same as really seeing it, like I did.”

“Like really being in a story?” said Elanor. “A story is quite different, even when it is about what happened. I wish I could go back to old days!”

“Folk of our sort often wish that,” said Sam. “You came at the end of a great age, Elanor; but though it's over, as we say, things don't really end sharp like that. It's more like a winter sunset. The High Elves have nearly all gone now with Elrond. But not quite all; and those that didn't go will wait now for a while. And the others, the ones that belong here, will last even longer. There are still things for you to see, and maybe you'll see them sooner than you hope.”

Elanor was silent for some time before she spoke again. “I did not understand at first what Celeborn meant when he said goodbye to the King,” she said. “But I think I do now. He knew that Lady Arwen would stay, but that Galadriel would leave him. I think it was very sad for him. And for you dear Sam-dad.” Her hand felt for his, and his brown hand clasped her slender fingers. “For your treasure went too. I am glad Frodo of the Ring saw me, but I wish I could remember seeing him.” 

“It was sad, Elanor,” said Sam, kissing her hair. “It was, but it isn't now. For why? Well, for one thing, Mr. Frodo has gone where the elven light isn't fading; and he deserved his reward. But I have had mine too. I have had lots of treasures. I am a very rich hobbit. And there is one other reason, which I shall whisper to you, a secret I have never told before to no one, nor put in the Book yet. Before he went Mr. Frodo said that my time maybe would come. I can wait. I think maybe we haven't said farewell for good. But I can wait. I have learned that much from the Elves at any rate. They are not so troubled about time. And so I think Celeborn is still happy among his trees, in an Elvish way. His time hasn't come, and he isn't tired of his land yet. When he is tired he can go.” 

“And when you're tired, you will go Sam-dad. You will go to the Havens with the Elves. Then I shall go with you. I shall not part with you, like Arwen did with Elrond.”

“Maybe, maybe,” said Sam kissing her gently. “And maybe not. The choice of Luthien and Arwen comes to many Elanor, or something like it; and it isn't wise to choose before the time.” 


3. And it ends with Tolkien's major symbol of the distance and difference between myth and history - the Western shore of (Middle) Earth/ The British Isles - as it were, looking out across to the abode of the elves and the gods; now inaccessible...

...Sam shut the door. But even as he did so, he heard suddenly, deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmer of the Sea upon the shores of Middle Earth.  



Unknown said...

Huh. The epilogue I read was a more communal thing, with Sam reading his Q&A stuff to all his children. Not as intimate as this, but still very heartwarming.

Adam G. said...

That last line would make the story even sadder, if possible. What a tale!