The Orphans of Middle Earth

by Varda

Regarding the theme of loss of parents in The Lord Of The Rings, you could also say that Middle Earth itself is orphaned by the departure of the Elves. As Boromir says in the film, there is honour and courage among men, but wisdom, beauty, art and that feeling of oneness with nature is sadly lacking. At the end of the book there is a profound sense that the best of the world has passed, and only an echo of wonder and spirituality is now left.

The Elves are not taking it with them, it is dying out in the world, and many of Tolkien's mythical sources have this feeling of a loss of a golden age and the coming of a present age of lead. But it is true that the Elves leaven the world and make it better.

Are the Elves reneging on a duty by leaving? Their departure is tied in to their own spiritual desire for Elvenhome. But the message of the Fellowship is that good will only triumph if everyone works together to bring it about, and the Elves, no less than the Ents, are 'part of this world'

Speaking about the decision to show Elves at Helm's Deep Richard Taylor, who designed their weapons and costumes for the film, said Peter Jackson felt very strongly that they should be seen to stand with men, even at the cost of their lives. So when Jackson came to tell this story on celluloid, he too felt that there had to be a more visible and costly contribution from these foremost beings of Middle earth, or the cause would not seem important.

Tolkien advised against reading any allegorical meaning into his book, but the themes of the fight against evil and violence, the value of friendship and the destruction of the natural environment are imposssible to avoid in this world. Last week I was asked to attend an exhibition of graduate art installations by a friend who was graduating. The themes were familiar from Tolkien; violence, oppression and the destruction of the natural environment. What was depressingly absent was any feeling among the graduates (who are a bright idealistic group of young people) that something could be done about any of this. Bullying, crime, drugs, vandalism and pollution were just things to be accepted, even if they make the world an intolerably ugly place.

In other words, all the evils of The Lord Of The Rings are with us, but what is missing is Elrond telling the various races that something must be done about it, and by all of them united. That friendship and fellowship, even to death, is a kind of solution.

It is said that where there is no vision the people perish. The Elves are the vision of Middle Earth. What lessons, if any, do their departure have for us?

Reply from Doctor Gamgee:

Some interesting and well thought out ideas, Varda. Perhaps THIS is the reason that the Ring came to Frodo of the Shire, and not to Glorfindel. The hobbits were unaware of the outside world in most respects, and their land was beautiful and very 'nature oriented'--they lived in the ground, gardened, and had a "Party Tree" instead of a brick "Moose Lodge."

And when they returned to see all that had been done, they worked with great 'vision' to restore what had been. They couldn't get rid of everything, but did their best to remember how it was before 'Sharky' came to town--and Saruman was the personification of 'Technology gone wrong.'

And through this, perhaps Tolkien was trying to let us know that WE meer mortals (as the halflings were) didn't need greater governance or vision from outside, but rather that we should take care to keep ourselves looking beyond our own concerns, and look to the betterment of the earth and all of its inhabitants. That we can't be xenophobic, but must take into account everyone. Disasters in foreing lands will come to haunt you too if you just bury your head in the sand. You must be proactive in offering aid where you can, building trust so that when you need help, you will have friends. 

Response to reply from Varda:

Thanks, Dr G. and you make a good point that vision is not necessarily something in the clouds, but here and now, as simple and practical as planting a garden the way it was before it was destroyed.

Near my family grave is another very old grave, from the turn of the century, and a few years ago there was a burial in it of an elderly person. When I visited my grave I always noticed little presents on the grave, primroses planted or teddy bears, or at Xmas decorations, all put into the earth, by devoted grandchildren I suppose. Then the parents or someone decided to 'tidy up' the grave and put gravel on it. At once the gravel was scraped away, almost in desperation, and the earth put back and bulbs planted.

The grandchildren wanted the grave back to its little fairyland of grass and teddies and tiny flowers and silver stars. And they hefted a ton of gravel to do it. Sadly they threw the gravel on our grave but I forgave them, they were in pursuit of a dream.

Even if it is only a happy past, we all have a vision, if only we have the courage to pursue it, as Sam did.