Episode 6: Love Mingled with Grief
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. — The Fellowship of the Ring
One of the threads woven throughout all of Tolkien’s writing is grief… so many of the tales of Middle-earth are steeped in sorrow. And so today, I hope it’s alright, I wanted to talk about love and grief, sorrow and joy, and the way they are at one in Eucatastrophe.
We see this paradox most plainly in the lives of the elves. They are the most beautiful of the children of Iluvatar, their goodness and strength are unmatched.
But because of their immortality, they have lived through many lifetimes of men. They have seen the best and the worst…
Galadriel says to Frodo in Book II, chapter 7, that she has spent many ages fighting the “long defeat” as she calls it.
“the long defeat”, a phrase Tolkien also uses in Letter 195:
“Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ –though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” - Tolkien, Letter 195
Within the lifetime of the Elves, they have seen the world as it grows dim. In both a figurative and literal sense. Arda at first was lit by the two lamps, which were knocked down by Melkor, and then the two trees of Valinor, which were destroyed by Melkor and Ungoliant, and then at last the sun and the moon were made. So even just in this sense, the light within the world has diminished…
And so too within all the battles throughout all the ages, the Elves have seen as evil has slowly seeped into every corner of the earth. The long defeat.
And yet, the Elves sing. They are often merry and joyful. They throw the most amazing parties! They are filled with so much goodness and peace despite their sorrow.
In Book I, Chapter IV, Sam says “They are quite different from what I expected –so old and young, and so gay and sad, as it were.’
This kind of paradox of joy mingled with sorrow, I think, is at the heart of The Lord of the Rings. Especially within the tale’s endings.
Tolkien cared so deeply for this concept that he coined the term Eucatasteophe: “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears…” - Letter 89
Later in the same letter he wrote:
“The resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story –and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. “
Throughout all of The Lord of the Rings we expedience small moments of Eucatastrophe, when all Hope seems lost for Frodo in the Barrow-Downs and Tom Bombadil Busts In to save them, when Merry and Éowyn face the Witch king of Angmar and destroy him, when the battle seems lost but Hope is rekindled… at the Crack of Doom when Frodo betrays his quest and claims the Ring as his own, but Providence provides another way for it to be accomplished.
But there’s one scene in particular that just stays with me.
We see this mingling of joy and grief within a character that feels so much more familiar, someone I see myself in more than the Elves: Samwise Gamgee.
At the end of the War of the Ring, in Return is the King — The Field of Cormallen
When Sam awakens in Ithilien, he and Frodo have survived their quest, he sees Gandalf before them and asks “is everything sad going to come untrue?”
I’ve found so much comfort in that phrase, and often paired it with Revelation 21:5 “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Later in this chapter, they are all gathered together in celebration —
“ And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”
The topic of grief has weighed heavily on my heart over the past few weeks.
January is a difficult month for me, as It marks the anniversary of our miscarriage. I found out I was pregnant on January 9, 2015 only to find out on January 14th that I was losing the baby. Within that span of five days, I experienced so much joy as I fell so hard in love with this little baby, mingled with so much grief as I realized I would never get to hold him or her, to really know them at all.
And even in all of the grief and wondering what things would have been life, even four years later, there is also a sense of peace that I cling to in knowing that our little baby is held so safely in the arms of Jesus.
I found this quote in Letter 45 and I wanted to share it with you all:
There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet...” - Letter 45, from 1941
In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!” - Return of the King, Appendix B