The Ring comes to us all

Yesterday was Bilbo Baggins’ birthday, and to celebrate I watched the first of the Lord of the Rings movies with family. I first read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy when I picked up the books in a gift store when my family was moving from California to Washington. I was 12 years old at the time, and I fell in love. I think I re-read is perhaps every five years after that. When the Fellowship of the Ring was first released, Johnna was still very young and was suffering from a stomach bug the day of release. She chose to go to the movies anyway.

Since the release of the movies I have become a little lazy about reading the books, or even re-watching the movies, but when I started getting tattoos it was Tolkien’s poetry from the Lord of the Rings that I chose for three separate tattoos. If you’ve read my previous blog entries, and if you have noticed the title of this blog, you have seen that I am enthralled with The Road, and I think perhaps this began with Tolkien, and the cycle of Road poems that runs throughout the Lord of the Rings. It begins perhaps with Gandalf’s admonition to Frodo:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

And the Road cycle of poems:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

My most recent tattoo, shown in my profile pic, is from this last stanza: “Still ’round the corner there may wait a new road or a secret gate.” I got this tattoo to remind myself that life was not over, that there were adventures yet to come, secrets yet to be discovered in this world. I got this tattoo with the rest of the stanza in mind, that there were hidden things yet to be made known.

I did not at the time imagine that a journey through cancer would be one of those new, heretofore hidden, roads.

I know there have been many analyses of The Lord of the Rings, and I by and large haven’t cared about them, being content to be wrapped up in the fantasy world Tolkien created, and to find my own heart inspired by the themes and poetry. Never minding more thoughtful analysis still, this time when I watched it, the ideas of mortality and immortality just jumped out at me. The Ring, which made mortals immortal, but only at great cost. I guess this is not a new idea for me, the mortality and immortality themes in the Lord of the Rings. I always felt that Bilbo’s journey to the Grey Havens was symbolic of death. Honestly, I have kind of suspected that the hidden paths in the last stanza of the Road poems referred to dying, to taking that last final journey.

It turns out my take on Lord of the Rings in general is not far from Tolkien’s own vision of it, as quoted from his letters on a Rings fansite. Tolkien states that his primary purpose was to write a great adventure story, and that he did not have any grand allegories in mind when doing so. That is what makes LOTR so majestic, I think, that it can flow as a story without the contrived symbolism. Nevertheless, in the same letter Tolkien states:

But in such a process inevitably one’s own taste, ideas and beliefs get taken up. Though it is only in reading the work myself (with criticisms in mind) that I become aware of the dominance of the theme of Death. (Not that there is any ‘original’ message in that: most of human art & thought is similarly preoccupied.)

But certainly Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the ‘message’ was the hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves call ‘death’ the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different,: towards a faineant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt time.

The Ring, I think, comes to most of us at some time, in some way, or more to the point the Quest to destroy the Ring of Power. War, disaster, illness, loss. And in those times we all say, “I wish the Ring had never come to me.” We have been in possession of the Ring. Whatever we may know, we have felt we are immortal, untouchable, until we are brought face to face with the fact that we are not, and that clinging to the idea that we are has stretched us thin and left us ill prepared to deal with the truth. Once we know the reality of the ring, we are embarked on a perilous journey to destroy it so that we can  truly live.

And perhaps this is the answer to how we are so deeply transformed by loss. In that loss, we stand on the rim of Mount Doom, and the Ring falls from our grasp and is destroyed in the blazing furnace of our grief and fear. From then on, we know. We just know. And everything in life takes on a completely different hue.

It’s not easy, when the Ring comes to us. Gandalf’s simple but difficult answer is true for us all, however. It is not up to us to decide whether to accept the Ring or not. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” If this was a glossy magazine, I would now proceed with a list of things designed to help you live life better. Put a smile on your face, get out of the house, spend time with people you love. But those may not be the answers for all of us. We don’t all have the same lessons, or the same tasks. Some of us may actually need to brood in solitude, to let things take root deeply inside. Some of us  are meant to share, teach, lend a hand to others on the way. Some of us need to learn only for our own soul’s growth. It’s not an easy path, and nobody’s decision on how to walk it is for the rest of us to judge.

I may have stopped re-reading The Lord of the Rings every five years because the movies came out and changed everything, but I haven’t re-watched the movies to any great extent either. Watching it this time, I was enthralled by Rivendell, and by Lothlorien. I was even excited by the initial Call to Frodo, and the beginning of his understanding. Even the attempted journey over the path of Caradhras was intriguing, because it involved the courage of the individual journey. But I just didn’t want to watch the scenes in the Mines of Moria. The enemies, the monsters, the evil — I just don’t want to look at them anymore. What that means I don’t know. It just is. The journey is hard enough without enemies. And it’s alway on foot! No cars, no planes can be used to bypass the path.

How about you? Are you on a journey, and have you learned anything? Leave it in the comments here. I’d like to hear about it.

One thought on “The Ring comes to us all

Add yours

  1. One writer to another (tech writing, taught at three large state universities, sportswriter, political journalism, you name it), and one Christian to another, this is beautifully done, worth every word. And skillful as well. Both this and your previous “The presence of God.” Soon as I get a chance, I’ll read everything else here.

    As the father of five daughters, I can’t even imagine what you’ve gone through. Can’t begin to get my head around it. But I also know a reunion awaits, no matter how long the time is between now and then. Maybe long, but someday it’ll seem like a trifle.

    God give you peace and joy every day. I’ll also pray to get a little bit of the understanding and wisdom you have.

    Liked by 1 person

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