Monday, March 15, 2004

I'm back from an amazing Spring Break in Spain - we started in Barcelona, then went down south to Granada, Salobrena and Malaga, before heading up to Madrid. Yes, we were on a train to Madrid when the bombs went off in the train stations; we were 400 km out, thank goodness, and wound up arriving later that afternoon by taxi. Yes, we are all okay (though we scared our parents to death), and yes, the rest of the trip until that point was absolutely FABULOUS. So I'm still glad I went. However, I've never been more glad to be back in a place in my life! Oxford feels a thousand times more like home than it ever has. I finished Return of the King on a bus in the Spanish countryside this week, so here's a last blog about it.

After many battles, the casting of the Ring into the fire (by Gollum, incidentally), Aragorn's coronation and wedding, many partings, and a brave and brilliant "scouring of the Shire" by the four hobbits (Saruman had done more mischief there than they reckoned), life begins to run smooth again. The Fellowship has parted at last; Legolas and Gimli have gone on to their own lands and adventures, and Gandalf has gone for a prolonged visit to Bombadil, while Aragorn remains in Minas Tirith, helping to build the new world out of the ruins of the old. Eowyn and Faramir, now married, are living in Ithilien, and Aragorn has (of course) wedded Arwen at last. Eomer is the new King of Rohan, in place of Theoden who was killed in battle, and Pippin, Merry, Sam and Frodo are settling back down to Shire-life.

When Galadriel gave gifts to the hobbits as they were leaving Lothlorien, she gave Sam a small box of fine grey dust, which he remembers as he and his gardener-helpers are clearing up the mess of dead trees and litter in the Shire. Sam is hurt and upset over the wanton destruction of hundreds of trees and plants, so he uses the dust to help along the new saplings he plants everywhere. By spring, the Shire is as green or greener than it ever has been, doubly blessed because of its brief blackening, and Sam is married to Rosie Cotton, and as happy as he can be.

Frodo, though, is troubled, and soon after Sam's first daughter (Elanor, named for the flowers in Lothlorien) is born, he gives Sam his keys and the account of their adventures (begun by Bilbo), and asks Sam to come ride with him. In the woods on the way to Rivendell they meet a great company of Elven-folk, including Elrond and Galadriel, and Bilbo is with them. They ride on to the Grey Havens, where Cirdan the Shipwright and Gandalf meet them, and Merry and Pippin come up unexpectedly to join them. Sam realizes that Frodo is leaving for good, and even Gandalf allows that friends may weep when they part, for "not all tears are an evil."

One of the last paragraphs of the book is one of my very favourites, describing Frodo's view as they ride away over the horizon:

" last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."

This is as lovely a description of heaven as I've ever heard; though Tolkien's books are not a perfect analogy to the Christ story, this image of heaven makes me long to go there. After all Frodo's trouble and pain and burden (including the stab wound on Weathertop that has never left him), he is rewarded and given rest. Those who go with him represent the greatest powers of good in Middle-earth, who have also laboured long to keep evil from gaining the upper hand in the world. Their time is ended, but they have passed on their charges to others, like Eomer and Aragorn and the other hobbits, who will keep the charge to fight for what is right and will never forget what they are working for.

So ends a part of one of the greatest stories ever told or written; but one has the feeling, after finishing, that it does not stop there. Sam goes back home, and as he rejoins Rosie and little Elanor, he smiles and says, "Well, I'm back." One has a feeling that he is back to live many years and work for the good of the Shire. The best stories never stop; they simply go on and on, and in the end all the best stories are a part of our story - the story of the human race and of the God who loves us. I can't do justice to Tolkien's genius or his creations in a weblog; but I have truly enjoyed the attempt, and have loved every step of my third long tramp through Middle-earth.


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