We resume (finally, I know) the Lord of the Rings re-read with chapter VI.6 of The Return of the King, “Many Partings.” Spoilers and comments—and a tentative plan for finishing this re-read—follow after the jump.
Frodo asks Aragorn and Arwen for permission to leave soon. Aragorn says that the remaining Fellowship members will travel together, as they are escorting Théoden’s body back to Rohan. Arwen offers Frodo her place in the Havens and a white gem to aid him against the memory of fear.
Éomer returns; he and Gimli settle their dispute over the beauty of Galadriel when Gimli excuses Éomer for putting Arwen first. Théoden’s escort leaves Gondor, consisting of the Fellowship, the Rohirrim, Arwen, Faramir, Imrahil, and those from Lórien and Rivendell. On the way to Rohan, Aragorn proclaims that the Forest of Drúadan belongs forever to Ghân-buri-Ghân and his folk.
They attend Théoden’s funeral. After, Éomer is proclaimed king and announces Faramir and Éowyn’s engagement. Éowyn gives Merry a horn. Faramir, Imrahil, and Arwen remain at Edoras, Arwen saying a private goodbye to Elrond.
Gimli and Legolas go to the Glittering Caves; Legolas admits that only Gimli can do them justice. At Isengard, they find that Treebeard and the Ents have planted many trees but let Saruman and Wormtongue go, judging them now harmless. Treebeard says farewell and declines Aragorn’s suggestion that the Ents go east and search for the Entwives. Legolas and Gimli depart for Fangorn. Aragorn leaves the company near the Gap of Rohan.
Near the Misty Mountains, they encounter Saruman and Wormtongue. Saruman scorns their help and pity, hinting not-very-subtly at trouble in the Shire. Later, Galadriel and Celeborn take their leave, after lingering to speak mind-to-mind with Gandalf and Elrond.
They arrive at Rivendell in time for Bilbo’s birthday and tell him of their journey. Bilbo asks Frodo to finish his book. The four hobbits and Gandalf leave, Frodo and Sam feeling an urge to be home. When Elrond says farewell, he tells Frodo that next year at this time, he and Bilbo will be coming through the Shire.
So I have a confession to make. Not anything about why I’ve been gone so long—that’s really boring, just an absurd amount of work. Though I will say that I’m committing to a big push to get this entire thing done in the next couple of months. I’ve been tentatively scheduled to appear on a panel at Arisia, a Boston con, on the LotR movies; that’s in the middle of January, so it would be good if I were done actually re-reading and re-watching by then. I’m making this my free-time priority, and I think we can get pretty close, at least (these posts take more time than you might guess).
Anyway, my confession. I have a terrible weakness for book endings where we go around and spend time with all the characters and see how they’re doing and just hang out for a while. To the point where I once used to cope with really bad insomnia by re-reading the great hunks of pages at the close (and start) of David Eddings’ Malloreon series devoted to just that.
Right, now that I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself, the point of that confession: I can’t help but love this chapter. While I complained about the slow pace of the beginning, and I remarked previously about how it’s weird that they defeat Sauron in Chapter Three of this book, I cannot tell whether this chapter wrecks the pace of the ending, because it is my mental equivalent of a down comforter and a cup of hot chocolate. I will say that I was vaguely surprised that they got as far as leaving Rivendell by the end, for what that’s worth. But what did you all think?
* * *
This chapter has a lot of foreshadowing of the two big things that are left, the Scouring and the Ringbearers’ eventual departure. I’d love to hear how people took these the first time through. On this re-read, I found them a little obvious, but of course I’m not a good judge of that.
Of the specific statements, I wanted to quote Arwen’s to Frodo: “If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed.” We’d previously talked about whether Frodo gained immortality from going to the West, and I don’t read this statement as conclusive either way. (I say no, he didn’t, because that was Sauron’s lie to the Númenóreans and death is Iluvatar’s gift to mortals.)
* * *
Arwen’s conversation with Frodo are her very first on-screen words, all the way here in the last half of the sixth and last book of the volume. They tell me that she’s kind and able to perceive Frodo’s trauma, and that’s it.
These are also her very last on-screen words in the main volume. My initial reaction was that it was a good choice to not show her goodbye conversation with Elrond, because that would be ridiculously difficult to do well. On the other hand, it’s all part and parcel of the really weird decision to put the most emotionally-intense portions of that story in the Appendices, which I have disliked more and more as we go. And, while typing, the thought popped into my mind, “Guy Kay could have done it.” So I don’t know.
I also wonder why Arwen chose to stay at Rohan rather than travel as far as she could with her family. I’d like to think that she and Éowyn struck up a friendship and had lots of conversations not involving men off-screen, but in my crankier moments I suspect that nothing in Middle-earth passes the Bechdel test, whether or not we see it. Probably it was just that they didn’t want to prolong the goodbye and had, after all, literally thousands of years to spend with each other before.
Finally, the choice of Lúthien. I never really thought about this until now. And I feel awkward saying this as a very happily married person who intended, and still intends, her marriage to be for life, but I don’t find it an obvious or an easy choice. I think it’s a difference in fundamental worldviews: I don’t believe in love at first sight, soulmates, destined true loves, or anything like that. I believe that the world is a big place and that, in theory, there are other people than Chad out there that I could be happy with. (The likelihood of finding one of them, however, I truly don’t care to contemplate.)
So the idea of giving up my family, my entire society, and oh yeah, immortality, for one person—that’s a seriously difficult decision from where I’m sitting. I find Lúthien’s choice easier to understand than Arwen’s, as Beren needed Lúthien in a way that Aragorn never needed Arwen. And once she escaped from her family because she was the only one who could save his life and worked with him to recover a Silmaril and all the rest, it would be a lot more difficult to contemplate leaving him. Also, of course, Beren was dead, so her options were limited.
Which brings me to an ambiguity in Arwen’s choice, which is actually from the Appendices (I am going to do posts about those, but it seems more useful to discuss this bit here). Appendix A, section I, subsection (i) says, “But to the children of Elrond a choice was also appointed: to pass with him from the circles of the world; or if they remained to become mortal and die in Middle-earth.” In other words, one-time offer, no second chances. However, subsection (v), the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, reports this conversation between the two:
“I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.”
“Nay, dear lord,” she said, “that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Númenóreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.”
In that version, Arwen’s choice may be irrevocable only out of practical considerations, not decree of the Valar. Which makes their ending sadder, I think, but further points at something I’d wondered, why Arwen couldn’t marry Aragorn without giving up her immortality—after all, Idril did just that in The Silmarillion. So it looks like the text gives us two potential answers to that: either the Valar have made a rule specifically about Elrond’s children, or the way is shut (to borrow a phrase). Of course, the second is reported in dialogue and thus is probably inherently less reliable than the text’s flat-out assertion. I’m not sure I have a preference between them.
Wow, that’s a lot of talk about approximately ten paragraphs in the chapter proper. I’ll try to be more concise about the rest.
* * *
The bits wrapping up old business. I had rolled my eyes at Éomer and Gimli making plans to fight over Galadriel, but I admit to a fondness for the way it’s resolved. I mean, I still think it’s a dumb thing to talk about, but it is so sweet and sad when Gimli says, “You have chosen the Evening; but my love is given to the Morning. And my heart forebodes that soon it will pass away for ever.”
I also really liked that Legolas acknowledged that Gimli was right about the beauty of the Glittering Caves, because I’d loved that section before. And that Ghân-buri-Ghân’s people are given full sovereignty over their land—they don’t even have to swear aid to Gondor like Rohan.
* * *
The Rohan scenes. First, we’re told that Merry wept at the close of the section describing Théoden’s funeral, and then the next section opens with, “When the burial was over and the weeping of women was stilled.” On one hand, I like the continued use of the hobbits to cross societal lines in Middle-earth, this time by showing a male hobbit behaving as females do. On the other, rigidly restrictive gender roles are stupid.
(When Éomer announces Faramir and Éowyn’s engagement, he does phrase it as Éowyn giving her consent, which was better than I expected. Aragorn comments to Éomer about giving her to Gondor, but it’s meant to be a joke.)
We also get a very short history of Rohan via the lists of kings, which I found effectively conveyed how young a land it is compared to Gondor.
Word looked up: “Holdwine,” which appears to have been coined just for Merry and probably means something like “faithful friend.”
* * *
This chapter is called “Many Partings,” which almost requires a comparison to the chapter “Many Meetings” (Fellowship II.1). The mirrored portions that I saw were being joyfully reunited with Bilbo at Rivendell (who asks after the Ring), and seeing Arwen for the first or last time. Otherwise “Many Meetings” is much smaller in time and space, and I don’t see a lot of resonances.
* * *
Miscellaneous short comments. I was briefly amused when Aragorn told Frodo that “whatever you desire you shall take with you”; if this were a different genre, that would have been a very dangerous statement indeed, and the start of the story, not the end.
Tolkien twice ignores trees! He says that the characters saw “no living thing” when they came to the Forest of Drúadan and to Isengard, but there are trees there and Tolkien is not the author I’d expect to exclude them from the category of “living things.”
Treebeard mentions Orcs attacking Lórien, which is the first time we hear about battles outside of Mordor during the lead-up to the Ring being destroyed.
Treebeard also says that it’s too much trouble to look for the Entwives (“It is far to go. And there are too many Men there in these days.”).
Why does Celeborn know that Galadriel will leave him? Why does she leave him? Or, rather, why doesn’t he go with her?
The scene with Saruman and Wormtongue. I know that you can’t necessarily tell which scenes were fun to write, but Saruman’s dialogue here is so deliciously, perfectly nasty that I do like to imagine Tolkien chortling to himself. And I bet it’s particularly fun to read out loud, too.
Finally, I believe this is the last variant of “The Road goes ever on,” where Bilbo talks about going to the lighted inn to sleep.
And hey—we’re going to an inn next time. See you all then.
Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.