The Lord of the Rings carries themes of Death and Immortality, Memory and Longing, Grace and Nature, and of course, Time and Eternity. But first let us look at Tolkien's personal view.
Tolkien had a profound attachment to the mystery of the Fall of Man. He had known great grief and sorrow in his life from being orphaned. He had seen horrific atrocities in WWI and many of his friends die. He had seen the aftermath of war, then witnessed it happen all over again with the outbreak of WWII [though he didn't fight in WWII, his son did].
This of course had an enormous effect on him. The death of his parents at a young age and seeing death all around him in the war fields of France certainly altered him. [If one reads his letters it is clearly seen how he contemplated this aspect of our human existence.]
But through this he held firm and constant in his faith and believed even more strongly in it. It became a refuge for him and a source of great consolation and strength. He held a deep conviction in the quality and virtues of Mercy and Charity.
Why did Tolkien turn out so well?
From having received a good Catholic formation Tolkien knew that all suffering and death was a consequence of sin and evil in the world. Without Faith and Prayer & the Sacraments mans heart is divided and confused and restless; and open to attack from the devil. Tolkien came to realize that while there remains sin in the world, there will always be wars and murder, sickness and pain, hatred and selfishness.
This is reflected in his comment,
"I am a Roman Catholic so I do not see history as anything other than a long defeat."
[Letters p.255]. Tolkien is talking of history on Earth.
But his hope was founded on the Rock. The victory he doesn't mention in his comment will be found in the next world, when Christ will 'wipe away every tear, and there will be no more pain, death or suffering.' [Rev 21:4]. It is precisely through this defeat, Death, that we will find true Victory. We will know Immortal Life with he who is Love.
This is demonstrated in his comment regarding praying before the Blessed Sacrament, something Tolkien did regularly,
"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament there you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life and demands surrender of all, and yet by the taste [or foretaste] of which alone of what you seek in your earthly relationships [love, faithfulness, joy] can be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every mans heart desires." [Letters p.53]
The Blessed Sacrament is a common name used for the Great Presence of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine, consecrated and consumed at Mass. This Heavenly Bread [unleavened wafer or way-bread] is put on display in a gold monstrance on an alter in a Catholic or Orthodox Church and believers can come and adore and worship Jesus, truly present under the appearance of bread. Many of the paradoxes and symbolism that Gods often uses are tied up in Jesus, the Kings of Kings, choosing to reside and be with His people in such a humble and simple manner.
This life, for Tolkien was very much a participation in the Passion of Christ, and he saw Heaven as the time when he would fully participate in the Resurrection, even though we receive "glimpses of the evangelium "and joy in this life. [cf. Truth and Myth].
But as shown in the Cross of Christ, God can use anything for good and turn any punishment or suffering into Divine Grace for us. Tolkien mentions this himself when he talks of the death that the Race of Men face in the Lord of the Rings;
"A divine 'punishment' is also a supreme 'gift', if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make 'punishments' [that is changes of design] to produce a good not otherwise to be obtained: a 'mortal' Man has probably [an Elf would say] a higher if un-revealed destiny than a longeval one."
This philosophy in the Lord of the Rings comes not only from a basic Christian belief of God working good through all things for those who love Him, but also from his Catholicism, which believes that we can make up in our bodies, 'that which is lacking in the Passion of Christ' [Col 1:24]. This is not to say that Jesus didn't suffer enough to pay the price for our sins, but that he left it open for us to offer our suffering in union with His to the Father, like a prayer [e.g. fasting] for any intention. In the Resurrection Jesus has raised Life to a Divine Level, but in suffering on the Cross, he has also raised suffering to a Divine Level that gives meaning to all our pains and grief's.
There is a deep mystery and peace found in accepted and offered suffering that many saints have written about and lived. [see here, here, here and here for Saints who have borne the stigmata].
Tolkien mentions finding Death in prayer. This is the fundamental Truth of Christian Life. It is in dying to oneself, laying down one's life that one is saved. Death during this life is about renouncement in love, charity for others and then at the end, it is just a door into eternity and life, True Life with God. But the strength to do this is found in prayer and the Sacraments; i.e. true relationship with Jesus. Just look at Mother Teresa who prayed for 3-4 hours each morning before continuing her works of mercy. It is also something that Tolkien tried to live.
Death & Immortality: Grace and Nature: Memory and Longing: Time and Eternity:
The sense of mortality vs. immortality is found at the very beginning of the novel in the Ring verse;
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal-Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them In the Land of Mordor where Shadows lie.
Nine Rings for mortal men doomed to die; men are mortal and they will die. At the beginning of the story this apparent doom is spelled out.
The Elves seem to be the more elevated creatures;
"...they represent the artistic, aesthetic, and purely scientific aspects of our Humane nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in men... " [Letters p.236]; but their immortality is not that of Eternal Life, but rather Serial Longevity - they continue in Middle-earth and never die.
Men have received death, the Gift of the One [the One being God], and their fate outside the circles of the world is not explained. Tolkien has left open the possibility of Eternal Life and further reunion for men in the mythology. Their life beyond the world is still to be explained in the mythology [from the second music of the Ainur: the Silmarillion].
But as mentioned above, Tolkien considered Men the more blessed who would inherit,
"...a higher if un-revealed destiny." [p.286]
"...the story is about serial longevity and hoarded memory..." [Letters p.284] which is particularly apt for the Elves, but for men the words of Aragorn are much more true;
"In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!" [LotR Appendix A p.1038]
He has written into the story a type of Fallen Nature theme and from this, the desire for Immortality. This Fallen Nature of men is hinted at in the Silmarillion when they are called from the East after their birth into the world. This theme of East and West seems to coincide with orthodox Catholic doctrine that believes that Adam and Eve passed out from the Garden of Eden through the Eastern Gate [this is biblical symbolic language, not necessarily to be taken literally] though the Garden of Eden was itself in the East. In Tolkien's world, men come from the East but speak of a darkness that was upon them.
Tolkien writes of this period;
"Men have fallen - any legends put in the form of supposed ancient history of this actual world of ours must accept that - but the peoples of the West, the good side are Re-formed. That is they are the descendants of Men who tried to repent and fled Westward from the domination of the Prime Dark Lord, and his false worship, and by contrast with the Elves, renewed their knowledge of the Truth and the nature of the world. Thus they escaped 'religion' in a pagan sense, into a pure monotheist world." [Letters p.204]
[Monotheist = belief in One God].
Tolkien has woven the possibility of a fall of sorts, into the history of Men in Middle-earth before they answered the call to come Westward. Tolkien himself spoke of this to an American friend. In a brief article, christianitytoday.com quotes his American friend,
"He described his problem in depicting the fall of mankind near the beginning of the story. "How far we have fallen!" he exclaimed - so far, he felt, that it would seem impossible even to find an adequate prototype or to imagine the contrast between Eden and the disaster which followed..." [read the article here]
The Elves have suffered their own sort of fall when they went East into exile from the Blessed Realm pursuing Morgoth who stole the Silmarils and destroyed the Two Trees;
"The High Elves were exiles from the Blessed Realm of the gods [after their own particular Elvish fall] and they had no 'religion' [or religious practices], for those had been in the hands of the gods, praising and adoring Eru, 'the One', Iluvatar the Father of All on the Mount of Aman." [Letters p.204]
[the gods are like the arch-angels of the Blessed Realm].
This semi-Elven fall in a small way, also coincides with the West versus East theme when passing into exile from the Blessed Realm.
There is no direct cross over and exact time reflection between the Christian story of the Fall and Tolkien's own invented one, but the essence of it and effects are there.
In some way Tolkien tried to fit his story into contemporary Christian understanding:
"...the fall of man is off in the past and off stage, and the Redemption of man is far in the future." [Letters no.387]
Another fall of sorts happens [many thousands of years later] when the Numenoreans, after being poisoned by the words and influence of Sauron on their island of Numenor, become jealous of the Elves and lust for immortal life. Tolkien confirms this theme; it is about,
"...about Death and a desire for deathlessness." [Letters p.262] And from this desire for deathlessness Tolkien mentions;
"...to attempt by device to recover longevity is thus a supreme folly and wickedness of mortals." [Letters 286]
They launch an assault upon the Blessed Realm from Numenor. After this fails and Numenor is destroyed by a great tidal wave, the Blessed Realm is removed from the physical circles of the world, and the Kingdoms of the Numenoreans founded later in Middle-earth are known as the,
"Realms in Exile."[LotR p.1059 - Tales of Years]
These 'Realms in Exile' are Gondor and Arnor founded by the "Faithful" [Elendil and his people]. Very much like the Church. [LotR p.1059 - Tales of Years]
"...so ended Numenor [Atlantis in all its glory. but in a kind of Noachian situation, the small party of Faithful, who had refused to take part in the rebellion... " escape and are saved. [Letters p.206]
He compares Elendil's Faithful to that of Noah in the Old Testament.
This assault upon the Blessed Realm is very reminiscent of the Tower of Babel story from the Old Testament, and the removal of the Blessed Realm from the physical world is very reflective of the removal of the Garden of Eden from the world.
"According to it [the mythology] there was first an actual Earthly Paradise, home and realm of the Valar, as a physical part of the Earth." [Letters p.237]
In Numenor, Sauron convinces the King to attack Valinor. This is a recurring theme that Sauron feigns to offer, much like Satan 'You will be like God'. It is a challenge against the natural order when they sail a great Armada against the Blessed Realm.
From this fallen nature he has woven in the fact that men needed ennoblement, they needed to have their nature raised to a higher level. This is achieved by the intermingling of the Elvish race with that of Men. Tolkien says;
"The entering into Men of the Elven-strain is indeed represented as part of the Divine Plan for the ennoblement of the Human Race, from the beginning destined to replace the Elves." [Letters p.194]
Even though Tolkien had said that,
"...the Redemption of man is far in the future, "this ennoblement from the Elven strain is indicative of his mythology following Christian theology.
This happens with the Three Unions of the Eldar and the Edain [Elves and Men]. This is where the Race of the Numenoreans comes from [Aragorn's fore-fathers].
They were part of the Divine Plan for men.
After the First Age, the Three Houses of Men were rewarded for their help in the wars against Morgoth.
From this, the Numenoreans were,
"Blessed with the island of Numenor, death was a gift of God; a good Numenorean died when he felt it was the right time to do so." [Letters p.205, footnote at bottom of page].
Once again this seems to reflect in a small way, the status of life we originally had in the Garden.
Tolkien's story, including the Silmarillion, is embedded with an eternal truth regarding Death and Immortality.
"The real theme for me is about something that is much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality..." [Letters p.246];
and, "I am only concerned with Death as part of nature, physical and spiritual of man, and of Hope without guarantees." [Letters p.237]
Tolkien explains that mortality and immortality were gifts:
"...immortality and mortality being the special gift of God... " [Letters p.194]
Men complain; "of us is required and blind trust and a hope without assurance." [Sil p.265] [Celebration p.98]
The Numenoreans, corrupted by Sauron, begin to reject the free gift of Eru.
The rejection of the natural order is what brings about the whole critical situation in the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth.
Tolkien mentioned once;
"Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the 'message' was the hideous peril of confusing true immortality with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time and clinging to Time.
The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves call 'death' the Gift of God [to Men]. Their temptation is different: towards a fainéant melancholy, burdened with memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time." [Letters p.267]
"The 'Elves' are 'immortal', at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death." [J.R.R. Tolkien in a Letter from late 1951]
This attempt to halt time leads to the creation of the Rings of Power where the Elves can preserve, slow, heal and even halt the effects of Time. It is in forging the Rings, driven by this desire, that they are ensnared by Sauron [who at the time could still show himself as an angel of light - like the devil].
This is not to say that what the Elves bring about in Middle-earth [i.e. Rivendell and Lothlorien] isn't beautiful and magnificent, but that the desire to resist the natural order has helped in the creation of the One Ring. The Elves played a part and must take responsibility in this way, just as Isildur carries the fault of Men for not destroying it when he had the chance.
And in the end, the One Ring, if held by a mortal, would in fact bring about the total imbalance of the natural order for the wearer: Gollum and Bilbo living longer than usual, invisibility, increased perception and of course complete loss of identity and individuality. But all of this is false and leads to complete enslavement for the individual. In fact all the Rings of Power change the natural order for those of mortal origins.
The One Ring and the Nine sullied by Sauron, feign to offer immortality, glory and wealth.
The Nine Numenorean Kings who fell to the Power of the Rings in fact did not die after accepting the Rings but continued in a half existence, living and dead, slaves to the will of Sauron. The One Ring falsely offers immortality, but only offers eternal enslavement.
Even though the Elves lived forever in Middle-earth, there is still a danger in any rejection of the natural gift of Eru. This is the same for Men desiring what the Elves have received.
From the Death and Immortality theme rises a longing and nostalgia in the story to be released from Three Ages of struggle and war against evil. There is a reminiscence of a passed nobility, strength and wisdom. A memory of what was high and blessed. This is communicated through the Elves and Gondorians and is expressed by Tolkien himself;
"...one that moves me supremely and I find small difficulty in evoking: the heart-racking sense of the vanished past [best expressed by Gandalf's words about the Palantir]." [Letters p.110]
Tolkien understood this vanished past extremely well as is shown in a quote from one of his letters;
"...but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile'." [Letters p.110]
That lost paradise that we long for is present in the story. Faramir mentions his yearning for the restoration of the Numenorean Kingdom of Gondor and the end of struggle and War,
"For myself I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the Kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves. War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise." [LotR p.656]
Notice how Tolkien compares the Restored Kingdom of Gondor with the Dignity of Man; almost as if the Restored Kingdom would be equal the unfallen nature of Man. This is not surprising as the Numenorean Kingdom is very reflective of the Church. [as is discussed in Trees of Life]
Union with God and freedom from sin and evil. Every one of us desires to see the Face of God again [even though we may not recognize it] and participate in the New Garden of Eden, the New Creation; we have a memory of that lost union and long for the restoration that has been granted to us in Jesus Christ.
And Tolkien has translated this into his wider story.
There is a sense of deep longing, exile and memory in Tolkien's writing which is naturally inherent from the mythology and story, but is reflective of Christian tradition and truth. So these facts from the mythology and story have flowed from his faith and relationship with God.
"We shall never recover it, for that is not the way of repentance, which works spirally and not in a closed circle; we may recover something like it, but on a higher plane."
[Letters p.110], i.e. the new Tree of Life, the Cross, gives us greater gifts. Salvation delivers us to a greater state.
It has also flowed from his love of the Church. Catholic Liturgy has this sense of longing and exile in it.
What is Liturgy? From the Catholic Encyclopedia;
"Liturgy [leitourgia] is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are leitos [from leos = laos, people] meaning public, and ergo [obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.], to do. From this we have leitourgos, "a man who performs a public duty", "a public servant", often used as equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, "to do such a duty", leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgia, the public duty itself." [explanation here and here]
So in Christian use, liturgy meant the public official service of the Church that corresponded to the official service of the Temple in the Old Law. It is the official structured prayer life of the Church which includes the Mass, Sacraments, Blessings, Offices of the Hours and any other rite or ceremony that is an official service or expression of worship of God by the Church.
There is a an intense desire to see the Kingdom of God restored, and in its prayer life and expression, the Church reflects this. The Liturgy expresses the desire of the Body of Christ to be fully united with Jesus, and is, in an imperfect way, a reflection of the Eternal worship that occurs in Heaven [M&M p.152] - [Celebration p.65]. The night prayer of Matins is a classic example of this as the Universal Church prays, 'Maranatha, come Lord Jesus' to hasten the coming of Christ, bring an end to all suffering and deliver us from evil.
He has also translated the bitter-sweet life that we all must lead while separated like we are from God. Even the great joys God can give us here on earth and the victories he can work in our lives through the Resurrection and Sacraments are still tinged with a sense of exile and separation from Him. We hope and long for salvation and final glorification.
This mixture of joy and sorrow is summed up by Tolkien with the words,
"Christian joy produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love." [Letters p.100]
As mentioned earlier above, the Elves created the Rings of Power with an expressed desire to change the natural order. They had become weary of the long battle against evil and continued sense of struggle and loss which was amplified by their immortality.
Lothlorien and Rivendell, held in power by the Elven Rings, cause a temporal shift in the passing of time, and create for those mortals who pass through, a foretaste and sense of eternity.
The chapters in the book that are spent in Lothlorien exude an ethereal quality that is beautifully conveyed by Tolkien.
Lothlorien is misunderstood at the time of the War of the Ring as is shown by the comments of Boromir, Faramir and Eomer [LotR p.329, p.422, p.652]. Aragorn warns Boromir that anyone who enters Lothlorien will not remain the same.
"Say not unscathed but if you say unchanged then maybe you will speak the truth."
And again Aragorn forewarns Boromir that Lothlorien is "...fair and perilous; but only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them..." [LotR p.329, p.329]
In this, Aragorn spells out the pure nature of the land and the unstained quality embedded in it. But it is the Ring of Adamant the Galadriel keeps that holds the land in sway. Frodo's first look on Lothlorien is worth recounting:
"It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language has no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes; and ancient as if they had endured for ever.
He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lorien there was no stain." [LotR p.343]
This vision of Lothlorien is as if Tolkien himself had stepped back into the Garden of Eden, and was experiencing for the first time the created world around him. It is described through the eyes of Frodo [the principle character], but like he is the everyman, we see it too.
While Lothlorien rises from an Elven desire to halt time, Tolkien pours into it his vision of what we lost when we fell from Grace.
There is a timelessness and beginning-ness that is experienced by the Fellowship as if they were the first beings to see the created world - a new creation. This is evident with the description of the tree that Frodo touches:
"... he laid his hand upon the tree beside the ladder: never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree's skin and of the life in it. He felt a delight in wood and the touch of it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself." [LotR p.342]
Obviously this description of the tree is also caught up in Tolkien's love of trees and plants.
Following the small dust-box gift of Galadriel to Sam, she says to him regarding its use;
"...then you may remember Galadriel, and catch a glimpse far off of Lorien, that you have seen only in our winter. For our spring and our summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory." [LotR p.366]
This far off glimpse and memory has been mentioned by Tolkien before [see Truth and Myth]. Tolkien explains his belief that in myth "we see a brief vision, a far-off gleam or echo of 'evangelium' in the real world." and it "offers a glimpse of the greater Truth."
As the Fellowship leave Lothlorien Tolkien describes the scene as if they are slipping back into time and a fallen world:
"For it seemed to them: Lorien was slipping backwards, like a bright ship masted with enchanted trees, sailing on to forgotten shores, while they sat helpless upon the margin of the grey and leafless world." [LotR p.367]
All these quotes further entrench the theme of Grace and Nature, Time and Eternity that flows from the quality of the Lord of the Rings.
Rivendell is also held by the power of an Elven-Ring and the descriptions throughout the book promote this sense of a lieu of beauty and peace. There is a spiritual haven as is shown by Frodo's experience of the Hall of Fire:
"At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in Elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the fire lit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched him and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep." [LotR p.227]
Also worthy of note is Pippin and Merrys' first description of Treebeard's eyes:
"One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long; slow steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present... "
Two of Tolkien's most poignant pieces of verse and poetry are found in the chapter Farewell to Lorien. Galadriel's two songs encapsulate all the themes discussed in this section. The deep sense of passing time, exile, nostalgia for things lost, immortality and fallen nature. It is extremely mythic and full of Truth.
It is especially symbolic that she sings these verses as the Fellowship leave Lorien, a type of Garden of Eden; [this is discussed further in Women of Middle-earth].
I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew: Of wind I sang, a wind there came and in the branches blew. Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon, the foam was on the Sea, And by the strand of Ilmarin there grew a golden Tree. Beneath the stars of Ever-eve in Eldamar it shone, In Eldamar beside the walls of Elven Tirion. There long the golden leaves have grown upon the branching years, While here beyond the Sundering Seas now fall the Elven-tears. O Lorien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the river flows away. O Lorien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore And in a fading crown have dwelt twined the golden Elanor. But if of ships I now should song, what ship would come to me, What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a sundering Sea?
like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! The years have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the song of her voice, holy and queenly. Who now shall refill the cup for me? For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds and all the paths are drowned deep in shadow; and out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us, and mist covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever. Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!
Varda is the name of that Lady whom the Elves in these lands of exile name Elbereth
Moving stuff, especially if one knows the whole history of Middle-earth; and even more moving in-light of our Fallen Nature.
One could be quite easily drawn to think that Tolkien was a depressing pessimist! But from reading the man's letters it is quite clear that his hope was in God, not things of this earth. And in such a pathological age, which Pope John Paul II calls the 'Culture of Death', it is not surprising this theme of death is often misunderstood as one of despair or pessimism.
These explicit excerpts and overall themes express the vision and philosophy of Tolkien himself. All these themes [death, immortality, fallenness, grace, longing, memory, time and eternity] are enveloped in hope and faith.
Screen writer Phillipa Boyens, from the Lord of the Rings movies has expressed this understanding in Starlog Magazine,
"if you go into the book even more, is that [the theme of ] death is about faith. Death and faith is the same thing, which is an extraordinary concept. And I discovered that concept in the book through my involvement with this project." [October edition 2003, www.starlog.com]
The Lord of the Rings shows that "true happiness is found not in time but in eternity." [M&M p. 123]
Tolkien had faith and hope in life beyond Death. The only main character in the text whose death is recounted is that of Aragorn [and Boromir]. Aragorn is of the race of men, like Tolkien, and he expresses Tolkien's hope;
"But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!" [LotR Appendix A p.1038]
At the end of the text, the departure of Frodo is sad but not without hope:
"...and among them, filled with a sadness that was yet blessed and without bitterness, rode Sam, and Frodo and Bilbo and the Elves delighted to honour them." [LotR p.1006]
In the context of Tolkien's mythology, Frodo himself epitomizes the nature of the themes expressed above: "Alas there are some wounds that cannot wholly be cured," says Gandalf regarding Frodo; then Tolkien adds in one of his letters, "not in Middle-earth..." as if Frodo could be healed in Valinor, the Blessed Realm, a quasi Garden of Eden, removed from the physical realms of the world. [Letters p.328]
Frodo says "where shall I find rest" on the road back from Rivendell. [LotR p.967] Tolkien then continues,
"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: a period of reflection and peace, and a gaining of a truer understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent still in Time amid the natural beauty of 'Arda Unmarred', the Earth unspoiled by evil." [Letters p.328]
Frodo is allowed to return to the Garden of Eden of Middle-earth, to enjoy a time of unfallen-ness' in the beauty of an Unspoiled/Unfallen Arda [the created world]; an Arda before evil and corruption. He then would pass on into eternity. Frodo receives his reward at the very end.
This theme of final perseverance, with both Aragorn and Frodo teaches that there may be suffering, doubts and problems in life, but Frodo and Aragorn remained faithful to goodness and both received their rewards at the end. As did Gandalf.
It also teaches the Truth of "...the finality and inescapability and desirability of death."
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