For the Anniversary of March 25: Jan's 'The Plea of the Evenstar' , art by Bandwench and Alan Lee.
~ detail from a manip by Bandwench.
It was marked on my kitchen calendar. March 25: "Fall of Sauron". The destruction of the Ring and the Tower of Barad-dûr, the rescue of Frodo and Sam, the 'eucatastrophe' from which the hopes of the Free Peoples rose out of the smoke and ash of the Dark Lord's ruin. Of course I would have to celebrate it. Jan-u-wine agreed. But I'd screencapped every bit of the film scenes. In image and verse we'd pored over the destruction and fall and the rescue by the Eagles and the recovery in Ithilien.
It was another, quieter but no less pivotal event that captured my imagination this year, jan-u-wine's too . Re-reading the draft of a letter Tolkien wrote in 1963 to Mrs. Eileen Elgar (who had questions about whether Frodo failed or not), the matter of Arwen's gift of the jewel and her passage to the Undying Lands caught my attention. I sent it on and it provided the catalyst for a new and beautiful piece of jan-u-wine poetry.
Many of you are familiar with Letter 246. Listen again to this section on Frodo's state, after the completion of his task, and how the new queen would come to his aid. The asterisked paragraph is Tolkien's accompanying footnote.
Frodo appears at first to have had no sense of guilt (III 224-5); he was restored to sanity and peace. But then he thought that he had given his life in sacrifice: he expected to die very soon. But he did not, and one can observe the disquiet growing in him. Arwen was the first to observe the signs, and gave him her jewel for comfort, and thought of a way of healing him.*
*It is not made explicit how she could arrange this. She could not of course just transfer her ticket on the boat like that! For any except those of Elvish race ‘sailing West’ was not permitted, and any exception required ‘authority’, and she was not in direct communication with the Valar, especially not since her choice to become ‘mortal’. What is meant is that it was Arwen who first thought of sending Frodo into the West, and put in a plea for him to Gandalf (direct or through Galadriel, or both), and she used her own renunciation of the right to go West as an argument. Her renunciation and suffering were related to and enmeshed with Frodo’s: both were parts of a plan for the regeneration of the state of Men. Her prayer might therefore be specially effective, and her plan have a certain equity of exchange. No doubt it was Gandalf who was the authority that accepted her plea. The Appendices show clearly that he was an emissary of the Valar, and virtually their plenipotentiary in accomplishing the plan against Sauron. He was also in special accord with Cirdan the Ship-master, who had surrendered to him his ring and so placed himself under Gandalf’s command. Since Gandalf himself went on the Ship there would be so to speak no trouble either at embarking or at the landing.
How sensitively, intelligently and beautifully jan-u-wine opens up this passage through the magic of her poetry.
The primary illustration for this piece is a manip Bandwench made several years ago, which she called "Prince Elijah". Although the source image was a photo of Elijah Wood, to my mind it was an image of Frodo, but Frodo no longer living in the Shire. To me it was Frodo as imagined across the Sea, dressed in foreign clothes (the Gaffer, surely, would not approve), yet clothes appropriate to one whom Gandalf called Bronwe athan Harthad, who was the King's friend, sung by minstrels, and hailed by armies. Bandwench had made the manip in an array of colour effects, but the one she did in 'gray scale' had the most magic for me, with its soft diffuse glow, revealing a bit of the inner light Gandalf had seen in Frodo as he recovered in Rivendell. I showed it to jan-u-wine and she, too, thought it was stunning, worthy of a poem.
For the additional images, jan-u-wine and I searched far and wide to find the images that spoke best to us for this piece. After much browsing, getting it down to a half-dozen possibles, it was jan-u-wine who found the Alan Lee picture that heads the poem. It is not a picture of Arwen, however, but a Welsh goddess or super-heroine named Rhiannon. She is associated with horses. It makes a splendid Arwen illustration, nonetheless. Jan-u-wine found the bottom illustration as well, another painting by Alan Lee. The little image (between the manip and the Lee) was made from a picture of an antique decorative tile.
I was thinking, re-reading this, how Tolkien must have considered self-sacrifice the greatest vehicle and magnifier of grace. Giving of himself, the giver receives. The greater the gift or sacrifice, the greater the redounding grace. Arwen gives Frodo her passage to the Undying Lands -- her inheritance, so to speak -- making Frodo her heir. Her gift is a boon to him, but, in giving it, she is ennobled. Similarly Frodo will give his inheritance to Sam. Receiving Frodo's worldly possessions, as well as a spiritual inheritance in the form of Frodo's story, is certainly a boon to Sam, but, at the same time, the giving ennobles Frodo that much more.
Now. Read, look, enjoy, and let your hearts be lifted to know that the hobbit who lost so much and gave so much also received.
The Plea of the Evenstar
An Entreatment of the Lord Mithrandir (Minas Tirith, Summer, 3019)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Of late, my Lord, I have cause to know
what it might mean to be mortal.
In joy and sorrow
I have come to understand the Gift of Men.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A Prince we have named him,
clothing him in raiment
like to the Elder days.
Pearls of fair ivory adorn his tunic,
gems, blue as Mirrormere,
upon the very hem of his coat.
About his neck, where lately dwelt evil,
pigeon-blood rubies, bound by starr'd mithril,
Is it with such weak finery
we honour him, my Lord?
Is it with such poor stuff we commend
Prince of the West?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Pale, like a grey-clad Sea,
the light which falls
softly about him.
Sorrowfully, it has not the strength you had hoped,
Beneath the burden of bitter-found
beneath the harsh
resonance of remember'd
desire and sharp-toothed regret,
moments of his life
a lonely ending.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And shall he die, thus,
my Lord, this small one
who has given
and borne so much?
Are we shamedly content
to farewell him
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
By your leave, my Lord.
There is but one small portion
of that which I was remaining,
one gift I might yet bestow.
By your leave, my Lord.
the wondrous summer of our hope fulfilled,
in this, my own autumn,
I implore you:
grant that he should
know himself rightly,
cleansed and whole.
Upon a deserving brow bind the signet of life,
Let him depart from grey sorrow
in my place.
All this, with my mortal heart,
I entreat you,
I enjoin you, my Lord:
make of him a Prince,
of the Uttermost West.
'Prince Elijah' by Bandwench. 'Magic Ship', from a decorative antique tile. 'Rhiannon' by Alan Lee. 'The Grey Ship of the Elves' by Alan Lee.