Monday, March 8, 2010

Tolkien Study #2: Basic Ideals - Grace and Courage pt.2

The second most prominent ideal is Grace; not the prayer said before a meal or in dancing, but mercy. The LOTR stories are heavily structured around Grace as a very powerful ideal/act; examples therein abound, however the example I'm going to focus on is the Voyage of Earendil the Mariner

Earendil was one of the oldest components of Tolkiens writing, and was a very important character, possibly one of the most important. Earendil is the idea of the power of simple intercession on behalf of a great cause, and a good analogy can be drawn between Earendil and the Christian faith.

During the course of the 450+ year war of the Elves against Morgoth, there was born a man named Earendil. He saw that the cause of Elves and Men was lost against Morgoth, for since Morgoth was a Valar (and the mightiest of these) there was no hope of victory by force. Earendil took the one Silmaril that had been won back by Beren (another tale altogether which I'll go into in another post), bound it to his brow and sailed off into the West to find Valinor. After a long and hard journey he finally reaches the Valar and begs for their help (remember, the Valar had sworn to neither aid nor hinder the Elves, but also doomed them to eternal banishment from Valinor for going to war), admitting the wrongs that had been done in the course of the war and explaining that it was a truly lost cause without divine intervention. The Valar take council and decide to aid the lost cause, and descend on Morgoth with such fury and power that the land of Beleriand is broken and the face of the world is changed forever. Morgoth is thrown down and cast out of the living world for all of eternity and the war of the Jewels is ended. Earendil, however, is not permitted to go back to mortal lands ever again and is judged as one of the Elves; his ship sails into the Void with the Silmaril on its prow, and is known as the Morning and Evening Star in Middle-earth in the later ages.

The ultimate point of the story, in my opinion, is how powerful grace/pity/mercy can be, and that even the smallest acts of such (though the one listed here certainly wasnt small) can often, to quote Gandalf "rule the fates of many." In fact, Gandalf really summed up the idea of grace in the LOTR during a dialogue with Frodo:

"What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!"
"Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."

"He deserves death."

"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, or good or Ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not least."

That's one of the more well-known lines from the book/movie, but in my mind perfectly sums up the ideal of Grace on Tolkiens Legendarium.

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