Monday 14 February 2011

Death in Tolkien


In LotR and its appendices, Tolkien makes clear how Men must (in this 'fallen' world) accept the inevitability of death, and the severance of soul from body - with the soul leaving this world and uncertainty over what happens next.

Thus the necessity for hope - for Men to believe in the reality and trust in the power and benign nature of The One.


For elves, by contrast, death is not inevitable, and they know that the One is real and powerful and benign; they know too what happens after their death - and that soul and body may be reunited by reincarnation.

Yet elves do not know what happens after the end of the world, which the elves know they will be there to experience - and elves, too, can rest only on hope that The One will - in ways unknown - make this right.


So, Men will suffer severance of soul from body and do not know what will then happen while Elves may suffer severance of soul from body but may have this 'healed' during the life of the world.

And Men go to another place where they may hope for something greater than this world has to offer, while elves will suffer annihilation in this world and may hope for something greater than this world has to offer, after the destruction of the world.

For both Men and elves alike hope is therefore prescribed - although for elves there is no need for faith since they know.

(This may be a point in favor of Men, a chance for them to exercise a higher virtue than that of which elves are capable.)


But in The Marring of Men and the associated material, Tolkien injects what seems like a personal note - the wisdom of a life time of reflection on death, when he acknowledges that Men's dread of death is rational: it is rational for Men to fear the severance of body and soul (even though, in this world, they must accept it, and must not try to avoid it: must not cling to life).

His proposed solution is that before The Fall the body and soul were taken, together, into the next world (in the same way and presumably by the same means as happened with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Tolkien states): that the original plan of The One was that Men's soul never-was severed from their bodies.


So we get a situation in the Silmarillion and LotR which resembles the pre-Christian times when a virtuous and courageous pagan had hope but no real reason for hope beyond death; other than a content-less faith that (somehow) things would (eventually) be made right.


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