Tolkien, Friendship and the Four Loves

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Elegaer
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Tolkien, Friendship and the Four Loves

Postby Elegaer » Mon Oct 06, 2008 5:03 pm

"Lo! We have heard in old days of the wisdom of the cunning-minded Inklings; how those wise ones sat together in their deliberations, skilfully reciting learning and song-craft, earnestly meditating. That was true joy!"


One of the most prominent themes running through Tolkien's stories is friendship. While the most famous of these friendships is that between Frodo and Sam, it is still only one of many, with other examples including Maedhros and Fingon, Merry and Pippin, Bilbo and Gandalf, Túrin and Beleg, Beren and Finrod, Barahir and his group of outlaws, and Legolas and Gimli - that last being even more remarkable for the base of enmity from which it started.

One thing that unites all those friendships is that they only involve males, and this can be directly related to the type of relationships Tolkien had through his life. From the formation of the TCBS (Tea Club Barrovian Society) at King Edward's School in Birmingham to the end of the Inklings, Tolkien was always more comfortable with male companionship. While he did love his wife dearly, it was with his male friends that he would choose to spend long evenings, talking of mythology and religion; it was with his male friends that he would read out new works, expecting and receiving both criticism and praise.

The Four Loves

To begin to understand Tolkien's view on his friendships, and the friendships of those in his books, it is useful to start with a quick look at the different types of love. Four types of love were recognised by the ancient Greek philosophers, and they have formed the basis for definitions ever since. These are affection ("storge"), erotic love ("eros"), friendship ("philae"), and selfless or divine love ("agape").

Storge is the natural and mutual affection between parents and children, or between brothers and sisters. It is a kind of love that is often taken for granted, a love that one rarely has to work on, and a love that is normally present in some way during one's life.

Eros is romantic love, the love that forms an attraction between two people, and it is eros that we usually consider first when thinking of the word "love". It is, however, not necessarily physical, as it may just be an intense infatuation that never results in a physical relationship.

Philae is brotherly love, free from the romance of eros. CS Lewis exalts this love as "the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue" (Lewis, 1960) since it is entered into with complete freedom and it is created between people with common interests. Friendship has nothing to do with family affection, physical attraction or romantic love, but it can still go to incredible depths, to the extent where a friend can be closer than a brother.

To us today, the idea of intense male friendships is unfortunately almost always bound up with eros. But this is only a recent view, as through the first part of the 20th century and before, male friendship was seen as the ultimate expression of camaraderie, a value which was only emphasised by the two world wars. This ideal can be seen in many texts from times onwards, including the Kalevala, one of Tolkien's main inspirations.

"Brother dear, little brother
fair one who grew up with me
start off reciting with me
since we have got together
since we have come from two ways!
We seldom get together
and meet each other
on these poor borders
the luckless lands of the North.
Let's strike hand to hand
fingers into finger-gaps
that we may sing some good things
set some of the best things forth"
(Kalevala, In the Beginning, lines 11-24)


Agape is unconditional love for someone, loving without expecting love in return. It requires sacrifice and selflessness, and is often equated with the love of a god for his people.

Philetic love in Tolkien's life

Strong philetic friendships were made by Tolkien through his life, even often to the exclusion of his own wife. They started in his schooldays with the TCBS, and culminated in the Inklings, his circle of friends in Oxford.

• TCBS

During his last three years at King Edward's School, Tolkien became close friends with three other pupils – Christopher Wiseman, Geoffrey Smith and Rob Gilson. And here we get the first view of an image of Tolkien - surrounded by his friends, smoking, talking about anything and everything - that seems to accompany most of the happiest times of his life.

"They spent the weekend chiefly in sitting around the gas fire in the little upstairs room, smoking their pipes and talking. As Wiseman said, they felt "four times the intellectual size" when they were together." (Carpenter, 2002)


The four remained good friends after school, and they all enlisted in the armed forces during World War I. During the War, both Rob Gilson and Geoffrey Smith were killed, and the remaining members of the TCBS came to understand a little better how rare and special their friendship had been. This realisation is easy to see from letters sent to each other after first Rob Gilson's, and then Geoffrey Smith's, deaths.

Tolkien on Gilson's death: "I do not feel a member of a complete body now." (Carpenter, 2002)

GB Smith to Tolkien on Gilson's death: "I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst of news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was." (Carpenter, 2002)

Letter from GB Smith to Tolkien written shortly before his death: "My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four!" (Carpenter, 2002)


• The Inklings

Tolkien's other close group of friends was the Inklings, a well-known and well-documented group of mainly Oxford academics during the 1930s. Of all the members of the group, Tolkien formed a particularly close friendship with CS Lewis, a relationship that was documented in detail by Lewis in his book "The Four Loves". Two quotes from that book show first, his relationship with Tolkien [and the other Inklings], and secondly, his belief in the separation of women's and men's companionships.

"Those are the golden sessions, when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim or responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hours ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life – natural life – has no better gift to give."" (The Four Loves, 1960)

"What were the women doing meanwhile? How should I know? I am a man and never spied on the mysteries of the Bona Dea." (The Four Loves, 1960)


Or as Carpenter put it:

"Friendship of this kind was remarkable, and at the same time entirely natural and inevitable. It was not homosexual (Lewis dismisses that suggestion with deserved ridicule), yet it excluded women. ... if we have ever enjoyed a friendship of that sort we shall know exactly what it was about. And even if that fails us, we can find something of it expressed in The Lord of the Rings." (Carpenter, 2002)


It is easy to believe from these descriptions that, to Tolkien and Lewis, their friendship was the defining point of their lives during those times. While many would prefer to find this great comfort and familiarity in a wife or husband, they preferred to look for it in male friendship – a bonded world where women were not generally even considered, let alone welcome.

"Indeed he perceived that his need of male friendship was not entirely compatible with married life. But he believed that this was one of the sad facts of a fallen world; and on the whole he thought that a man had a right to male pleasures, and should if necessary insist on them." (Carpenter)


Indeed, the breaking down of Tolkien and Lewis's relationship was accelerated later by Lewis trying to involve his new wife Joy Gresham into their circle of friends.

Philetic love in Tolkien's work


With the prevalence of strong male friendships in Tolkien's life, it is hardly surprising that many of the most memorable companionships within his works are also of this kind. Some examples of these are given below.

• Frodo and Sam

The most famous of Tolkien's friendships was that of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, a long-standing relationship that was only cemented further by their shared journey to Mount Doom during the War of the Ring. Their relationship is both one of master and servant, and of mutual friendship and dependence. The one quote which, to me, sums their friendship up above all others is:

"I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam." (RotK, Mount Doom)

In this, Frodo shows that he would prefer to be with Sam than with anyone else in the world at what he presumed would be their death. And this simply because of philetic friendship and shared experiences, without any overtone of romantic love.

Other examples, out of many, of their deep bond include:

"He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured, "I love him. He's like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no."" (Sam, TTT, Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit)

"Frodo, Mr. Frodo!" he called. "Don't leave me here alone! It's your Sam calling. Don't go where I can't follow! Wake up Mr. Frodo! O wake up, Frodo, me dear, me dear. Wake up!" … He stooped. Very gently he undid the clasp at the neck and slipped his hand inside Frodo's tunic; then with his other hand raising the head, he kissed the cold forehead, and softly drew the chain over it. And then the head lay quietly back again in rest."


Philetic love is shown as the strongest force in Frodo's life. The question of whether this is also true for Sam is slightly harder, but as Sam chose to leave the Shire with Frodo rather than stay behind and declare his intentions to Rosie. I would say that perhaps at least until the Scouring of the Shire, it would definitely be true.

Frodo's love for Sam, pure and generous, even shows no problem with sharing Sam with his romantic love Rosie:

"It's Rosie, Rose Cotton," said Sam. "It seems she didn't like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn't spoken, she couldn't say so. And I didn't speak, because I had a job to do first. But now I have spoken … I feel torn in two, as you might say.
"I see," said Frodo: "you want to get married, and yet you want to live with me in Bag End too? But my dear Sam, how easy! Get married as soon as you can, and then move in [here] with Rosie. (The Return of the King, The Grey Havens)


But Frodo and Sam's relationship also shows one of the pitfalls of philetic love – when a friendship is affected by mistrust or jealousy. In "The Lord of the Rings", this happens when Sam sees Gollum near Frodo and immediately challenges him, calling Gollum a sneak and a villain when at that point his feelings actually were true and good. While this does not greatly affect Frodo and Sam's relationship, it does significantly affect the object of the mistrust.

"Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo's knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing." (The Two Towers, p366)


Tolkien later called this the "most tragic moment in the Tale" (Letters, #246), the moment where the possibility of regeneration for Gollum was irredeemably lost through Sam's jealousy. "The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall." (The Two Towers)

• Merry and Pippin

Merry and Pippin show us two different levels of friendship – the strong familial bond between cousins, and the bond between the larger group of four hobbits.

At the start of "The Lord of the Rings", Merry and Pippin quickly realise that something was about to happen to Frodo, and they went ahead, without asking, trying to ease his way - to Crickhollow as they thought at the time. Throughout the rest of the story, they still constantly thought of Frodo, putting his needs before theirs.

Merry: "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin - to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours - closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo." (The Fellowship of the Ring: "A Conspiracy Unmasked")

"We must stop him," said Pippin. "And that is what he is worrying about, I am sure. He knows we shan't agree to his going east. And he doesn't like to ask anyone to go with him, poor old fellow. Imagine it: going off to Mordor alone!" Pippin shuddered. "But the dear silly old hobbit, he ought to know that he hasn't got to ask. He ought to know that if we can't stop him, we shan't leave him." (The Fellowship of the Ring: "The Breaking of the Fellowship")


Merry and Pippin also provide what I consider to be one of the most pure moments of friendship in the books, an occasion that obviously echoed Tolkien's own ideals of companionship. This occurs after the Battle of Helm's Deep, when Merry, Pippin and Gandalf's party find themselves at Isengard, and while there, they have a quiet, homely interlude away from battle talking of inconsequential things.

Merry: "But first – if you have finished eating – you shall fill your pipes and light up. And then for a little while we can pretend that we are all back safe in Bree again, or in Rivendell." (The Two Towers, Flotsam and Jetsam)


• Gimli and Legolas

Some friendships in Tolkien's work encompass more than the two people involved. A case in point is Legolas and Gimli, as is that of Fingon and Maedhros, discussed later.

Through "The Lord of the Rings", Gimli and Legolas evolve from mistrusting and reluctant allies at the Council of Elrond to become firm friends by the later Battles in Gondor. This change in outlook is seen also as representative of the changes occurring in Middle-earth towards the end of the Third Age, heralding a new era where ancient enemies can become allies and even friends.

Their friendship truly started in Lothlórien, and was cemented during the series of battles leading up to the defence of Gondor.

"Down from the wall leapt Gimli with a fierce cry that echoed in the cliffs. "Khazâd! Khazâd!" He soon had work enough.
"Ai-oi!" he shouted. "The Orcs are behind the wall. Ai-oi! Come, Legolas! There are enough for us both. Khazâd ai-mênu!"" (The Two Towers, Helm's Deep)

"You have passed my score by one," answered Legolas. "But I do not grudge you the game, so glad am I to see you on your legs!" (The Two Towers, The Road to Isengard)


The end result of the friendship was that Gimli became the only dwarf to sail West, the Valar allowing him to journey across the Seas with Legolas, because of their friendship.

"We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Gloin's son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf." (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A)


• Fingon and Maedhros

Fingon encompassed the ideals of both philetic and agapic love, forming close friendships in which he did not hesitate to sacrifice himself for the other. Agape forms the underlying Christian principle that "greater love has no man than he lays down his life for a friend", and as a staunch Catholic, we can probably assume that Tolkien held this ideal highly as well.


The most heroic instance of this kind involved Maedhros, the son of Fëanor, whom Fingon rescued from Thangorodrim, both for the sake of friendship and for the sake of friendship between their two houses. He rescued Maedhros even though he thought his old friend had betrayed him, thus showing that he acted entirely selflessly, through his love for the son of Fëanor.

"Fingon had been close in friendship with Maedhros; and though he knew not yet that Maedhros had not forgotten him at the burning of the ships, the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart. Therefore he dared a deed which is justly renowned among the feats of the princes of the Noldor: alone, and without the counsel of any, he set forth in search of Maedhros … Fingon climbed to the foot of the precipice where his kinsman hung, and then could go no further; and he wept when he saw the cruel device of Morgoth. … Fingon cut off his hand above the wrist, and Thorondor bore them back to Mithrim. (The Silmarillion "Of the Return of the Noldor")



The perils of eros over philae


While Tolkien's works are full of implicit praise for the joys of philetic friendships, there are also instances where he shows how powerful a force eros is, and how likely its presence is to disrupt any friendships that get in its way. Two examples of this are Gorlim the Unhappy and Maeglin.

• Gorlim

Gorlim was a man of Ladros, who, after returning from war to find his house sacked and his wife gone, joined Barahir's group of outlaws, later betraying them to Sauron when captured.

"Then they promised him that he should be released and restored to Eilinel [his wife], if he would yield; and being at last worn with pain, and yearning for his wife, he faltered. … Then Sauron smiled, saying: "That is a small price for so great a treachery. So shall it surely be. Say on!" Now Gorlim would have drawn back, but daunted by the eyes of Sauron he told at last all that he would know. Then Sauron laughed; and he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had seen only a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel was dead." (The Silmarillion, "Of Beren and Lúthien")


• Maeglin

Another example of an instance when love overcame friendship – leading to huge betrayal, unhappiness and loss of life - was when Maeglin betrayed Gondolin.

"he purchased his life and freedom by revealing to Morgoth the very place of Gondolin and the ways whereby it might be found and assailed. Great indeed was the joy of Morgoth, and to Maeglin he promised the lordship of Gondolin as his vassal, and the possession of Idril Celebrindal, when the city should be taken; and indeed desire for Idril and hatred for Tuor led Maeglin the easier to his treachery, most infamous in all the histories of the Elder Days." (The Silmarillion, Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin)


Conclusions

Tolkien's books are full of examples of close friendships – Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, Maedhros and Fingon. These philetic friendships generally occur between males, with Tolkien's main female characters often being isolated from the comfort that could be gained from intimate companionship.

When looking at these friendships, the background in which Tolkien wrote the stories must be considered – we simply can't interpret them from a modern day point of view. The great friendships of Tolkien's life were male – from the fellow members of the TCBS to CS Lewis and the Inklings. They were mainly philetic and agapic friendships, deep bonds being formed among the men based on common interests – academic and otherwise.

Is it then any wonder that Tolkien wanted to add to his books the comfort and joy he himself found from these relationships? Is it then any wonder that today we can still look at the descriptions of the friendships and instinctively understand how deeply Sam loved Frodo, or how Fingon was willingly to sacrifice himself for his friend? Is it then any wonder that philetic friendship is put forward as the ultimate in comfort and joy?


References


-Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings. 1968 edn.
-Tolkien, JRR. The Silmarillion. 1977.

-Lewis, CS. The Four Loves. 1960.

-The Kalevala, translated by Keith Bosley. 1989.
-Carpenter, H. JRR Tolkien a Biography. 2002 edn.
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Postby Merry » Wed Oct 08, 2008 5:15 pm

Elegaer, what a great idea for a paper! I'm looking forward to reading this and your other essays when I have some time, probably this weekend.
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Postby Iolanthe » Wed Oct 08, 2008 7:01 pm

That's my plan too - I've printed them out so I can sit and read them properly. There are so many interesting subjects here. Thanks for posting them all, Elegaer! Discussions to come :D .
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Postby Iolanthe » Thu Oct 09, 2008 2:13 pm

I've really enjoyed this essay, Elegaer! Tolkien's experience of friendship is so central to LotR it's good to have a focus on it, and also good to look at the many friendships he depicted in his other writings.

Another deep friendship in LotR would be the long friendship between Aragorn and Gandalf, forged through years of hopes, anxieties and long travels on difficult roads.

It's interesting to see, in the friendship between Legolas and Gimli, that the old disagreements between Elves and Dwarves become transformed and, I think, 'cut down to size' by their friendly rivalry and banter over their Orc kills.

Going on to Wiseman's wonderful comment that when the TCBS were together they felt "four times the intellectual size", this is plainly a major key to the Inklings too and the great pleasure they had together - feeding each other ideas and visions.

Great friendships - intellectual, companionable and those forged in times of great stress - aren't only a male preserve, but Edith probably never had anything like the support of friendship that Tolkien had. A large family and house to look after was only part of it, another would be the fact that she felt like an outsider in Oxford and not part of the circle of the wives of the other professors and dons. I don't recall reading anything about her friendships, though I might be missing something.
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Postby Elegaer » Fri Oct 10, 2008 4:38 pm

Thank you :) I've spent the last 4 years on and off writing random Tolkien essays for www.councilofelrond.com - these ones are the ones that I consider the most interesting!

Edith did have friends. One of her closest was a lady called Mabel Sheaf whom she met at school at the Dresden House School in Evesham. Another of her friends was Molly Field, from Cheltenham, but I don't know how long that friendship continued.

I think one of the big differences between her and Tolkien was her enjoyment of simple, non-intellectual conversation and life. She did contribute to groups and clubs, before her marriage, being part of the Boys Club at her local church in Cheltenham, and she also went to Conservative Party meetings.

But even before she was married, we know she found herself with time on her hands, and only few friends of her own age. Can't remember whether this is a quote from Tolkien or someone else, but:

"Edith said she would often work out her frustrations on the piano, playing something powerful and stirring, such as a Schubert Impromptu or a Beethoven sonata. She also spent hours copying music meticulously."

She continued to have few friends when she moved to Warwick, living with her cousin Jennie Grove.

In Leeds, however, after the war, she seemed to enjoy a more active social life - the wives of the other academics were refreshingly informal and more the sort of people she enjoyed. They also had university dances that she frequented.

When they moved back to Oxford, Edith's life was one of routine, of caring for her husband and her children. She prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for all of them, and kept the house, aided by Phoebe Coles, her daily help. She and Tolkien slept in separate bedrooms, for she found his snoring tiresome, and she found that his habit of staying up to late hours didn't fit in with her daily routine.

After leaving school, she had had little chance to continue her education or improve her mind. Marriage lost her a great deal of independence, as in those times it was accepted that women would not take employment after their wedding. Her piano playing was reduced to a hobby.

She was inclined to be shy, mainly because she had led a very limited social life through her childhood and adolescence, and she was unnerved by the formality of Oxford society. It must not have helped that Tolkien did not encourage her to pursue any intellectual activity. She would not return calls that the dons' wives made to her, and came to believe that the University was, for her, a closed community. One of the few people she did come to like was Charles Wrenn's wife Agnes.

She also become friends with Joy Davidman (interesting!)

By the time of Tolkien's retirement, he and she had been taking separate holidays for many years, and she had many friends down in Bournemouth from her times spent down there. After accompanying her on several of these holidays, Tolkien came to realise that she was happiest there, on the south coast by the sea. When they moved down there, they spent a lot of time at the Miramar – the hotel where Edith had previously stayed. It was expensive, but comfortable, and patronised by people similar to the Tolkiens. The social setting of the Miramir was much as Edith had been used to in Cheltenham, being full of upper middle class clients, affluent, unintellectual and possessed of an easy friendliness.

Um ... I didn't really quite mean to write an essay about Edith's friends there, but hey :D
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Postby marbretherese » Fri Oct 10, 2008 7:45 pm

Elegaer wrote:Um ... I didn't really quite mean to write an essay about Edith's friends there, but hey :D


Well, I'm glad you did. Most interesting!!! :)
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Postby Iolanthe » Sat Oct 11, 2008 9:36 am

Thanks - yes, that is interesting! I've been pondering Edith ever since I commented on her. She must have felt like a fish out of water at Oxford and I knew the trek to Bournemouth was mainly brought on by Tolkien feeling he owed her some time in a place where she felt at home.

It's good to know there are some recorded friendships through her life and the fact she bonded with Joy Davidman is very interesting.
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Postby Merry » Sat Oct 11, 2008 3:35 pm

Yes, that is interesting, considering that that bond must have been forming when the friendship between CSL and JRRT was dissolving. It's hard to believe that the two women had much in common in terms of interest or temperament. My I ask, Elegaer, what your sources are for your information about Edith? It's not that I don't trust the information; rather, it's just that I didn't know much of it and wondered what sources I had missed.

Aristotle wrote two chapters on friendship in his ethics book and he makes the same claim as CSL: that a man and a woman can't have philia. I have long pondered this and made it a topic of discussion with my students, because it does seem to me that I have had non-erotic friendships with men. But I suppose a man might make the argument that philia is a male preserve and that I can't know what it is. I wonder!

It's a shame that Tolkien thought that male friendships are incompatible, to some degree, with marriage. I'm not sure that everyone finds this the case. I know many women who rejoice in their husbands' male friendships because they make them whole. The Tolkiens may have been the exception rather than the rule, for reasons that you have explained, Elegaer. I'm also not sure that I agree with your conclusion that modern people can't understand the historical emphasis on male friendships. While it is true that more openness about homosexuality adds another thought to the phenomenon, I see strong male friendships commonly. I've also read that male homosexual relationships were rather open in English schools when CSL and JRRT were students, although probably not as much at the time of the Inklings. I think CSL wrote something about this in his memoirs. I've read that Dorothy L. Sayers desperately wanted to be able to join the Inklings, but nobody else wanted this!

Merry and Pippin's relationship seems to begin in storge--it is effortless--but it, too, grows and matures, doesn't it?

Anyway, I've gone on too long. Wonderful thoughts, Elegaer--many thanks for sharing them.
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Postby hope » Sat Oct 11, 2008 4:25 pm

:clapping: Elegaer for athought provoking essay .......here at MEJ there is always more and more depth to be found within Tolkien's works and the discussions that follow are fascinating
Well done :D :clapping:
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