Something magical can end in love

I often say that there is a special kind of magic that is generated in Tolkien groups. The way their discussions and other creative activities transcend how those things are normally done and into areas hard to describe and hard to find elsewhere. I do think that such magic perhaps can be found in other fields where people discuss a lot and bend their minds into side-stepping common thought processes, in groups where I want to claim that geeks are extra geeky and nerds are being extra nerdy, not just passively liking, but actively examining and even locking horns on all the hows and what-ifs.

That is how Charles and Elisha added their magic to the Grey Havens group, and then some sort of non-magical magic fusion happened, which ended in a Hobbit book shaped wedding cake being cut and laughter and merriment mingling on a magic evening in October last year.

book weeding decorations

But it all started with Charles, wanting to get Elisha’s attention, one evening two years or so before that fusion, by asking while discussing a chapter in The Return of the King called “The Steward and the King”, if Lady Eowyn was fickle, and if perhaps that was how women work in general. A lengthy and very interesting discussion ensued, as often happens in the Grey Havens and the matter was thoroughly resolved. I thought Charles looked unsurprised by the resolution, as if he already knew the answer, but just wanted to know how certain other people approached the subject.

The magic of groups like The Grey Havens is often subtle, just like Tolkien’s own magic in the books. It’s a gentle force, working its way through cracks in the surface of the mundane or even hurtful, shining gleams of something else into areas where marvelous things can grow. It well reflects how you may feel after an evening with the Grey Havens, even if the day previously was bad, or how you grow new friendships there, and as it turns out, even new love.

Charles’ and Elisha’s wedding last fall was a lovely book-themed event attended by several Grey Haveners. The wedding officiant was Roger Echo Hawk, a long time Grey Havener and close friend of the couple. During his touching ceremony, I read a poem which very much reflects the couple and also the subtle magic that happens in such groups as the Grey Havens.

Tolkien book wedding cake

The Wedding Poem for Charles and Elisha

When a boy loves a girl,
Like Tom Sawyer, he will let her share his chewing gum
and willingly take the blame for her
when the teacher discovers a ripped page
in the school’s anatomy book.

In Longmont, Tom Sawyer sat around a table
at the Barbed Wire Bookstore
looking at Becky Thatcher during a book discussion,
waiting for her to have the last word even when she was silent.
He admitted that her carrot cake was better than any bakery’s
and he took in her stranded relatives during a crisis,
even when he just wanted his basement back.
Tom loved his Becky so much more than his basement.

When a girl loves a boy,
just like princess Luthien, she will travel to the evil land of Angband
and sing a lullaby for the dark lord,
so that they can collect the treasure for their wedding dowry,
and she will forsake her elven immortality to become a normal woman
and age with him.

In Colorado, Luthien, the elven princess,
moved from her childhood Boulder into Longmont
and started eating animal protein for the first time in more than 25 years,
to be with Beren the mortal man.
She cooks him bacon every morning and watches him catch fish,
even though she would rather release it.
Luthien loves her Beren so much more than she loves fish.

Charles and Elisha, Beren and Luthien,
Heathcliff and Catherine, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher,
Diana Troy and Will Riker;
– never forget all that is unique and all that is similar in undying love.
Read poems under the balcony, even when it rains
Share each other’s chewing gum and put the dark lord to sleep with a lullaby,
and always, always, remember to kiss in the last chapter.
May your journey across the Western Sea be long and prosperous.

Charles and Elisha

The Man Who Wanted to Escape the Gift – A Funeral Legend from the Riddermark

It is said by the wise that there really are only a handful of stories told in the world. There is the story about the blood, the story about the hunt, the story about the heart, the story about the gift, and a few other ones.

But wherever you travel, these stories all tell of the same things. We make them worth hearing through the uncountable ways that we tell them.

This story is about the gift, and it is told in the way of the people of the Riddermark, sometimes called “The Middle Men” or the Rohirrim.
Riddermark

In the land between the White Mountains and the river Isen and the far shores of Anduin, in the great vale which the men of Gondor called Calenardhon, there once lived a man who stopped plowing his fields.
One day he put down his plough and left it in the moist earth, his cropping abandoned and unfinished.

The man’s wife was dead and his children grown, but he still had much strength in his arms and his beard was barely touched by gray. His sword Grimklinga, which he had used in the battle of the crossings of Poros, he hung on the wall to gather dust, and his hand grew stiff from not practicing with it in the mornings.
Empty handed, the man started closing himself up in his hut, muttering to himself in his loneliness. “I must be careful. What if I cut my own leg, swinging Grimklinga at the wind? No point in doing that…”
So the blade rusted on the wall while the man started selling off everything which had once given him joy, to bring in more gold, which he spent buying provisions. He filled his cellar with dried foods and salted meat and in this way he could lock his door and not go out at all.

“I have what I need here,” he thought, as he sat brooding.
A wanderer who had roamed throughout Middle-earth had once told the brooding man that there were elves, who unlike men, lived forever. These elves called the aging of men and what came after, a “gift,” and this became the main dark song running through the man’s thoughts.

There came a day when a courier riding from the south, arrived to the Riddermark with a red arrow in his hand, signaling war and the need for soldiers. But Grimklinga was unfit for battle and the man’s hut was dark and closed shut with cobwebs in the windows. The Westfold Marshal and his troops passed it by, thinking the man was gone.
In the gloom of a single candle, the man was thinking, when he heard the hoof beats in the distance. “If it really is a gift, it is also a mockery, I shall not have it!”
Many autumns went by, and the war against the Balchoth was won, granting glory to men and women of the Mark. The man who refused the gift knew little of this. His days were carefully laid out between frugal meals, simple tasks, and brooding. There was nothing that he wanted.
When one day, his daughter came knocking on his door, with his first grandson on her arm, the man didn’t care. “What’s the point?” He thought. “I shall probably not see the babe’s face grow up anyway. There is nothing that I want.”
TheodorKittelsen-Sorgen

One winter, when the man who wanted nothing had lost count of years, a strange wind blew down from the mountains, thrashing his door wide open. As he went to close it, something glistening in the moonlight caught his eye. It was the shape of a great white horse, more magnificent than any steed he had ever seen. With shaking hands, the man grabbed a piece of rope and ran out with neither coat nor boots. Following hoof prints in the snow, he glimpsed the great animal now and again until he came to the edge of Fangorn Forest. There he froze.

The horse was standing in a glen watching. Ancient eyes black as tarns regarded him, he saw winter stars reflected in them, and he saw a ragged creature holding a rope, stretching out a trembling arm, his mouth forming husky words. The man who held that rope had touched neither song nor verse for many years, and yet now a lament suddenly forced itself from behind his teeth:

Mighty steed will not be bridled
by fool’s hand
feeble steps were not walked but sidled
dragon’s bed has lost its glow
In barren lands,
where you go
I must follow
I must follow

Far away there was a horn ringing out through the trees, it raised a hollow wind in his heart. He thought of wasted fields, the face of a babe, a rusty sword and many other things, and he wept because he understood.
The horse turned its head one more time, regarding him and then it started trotting toward the echo of the horn. Following the horse, the man started walking west.
water horse

Each year around the new year, on moonlit nights, when the trees raise their arms to the sky like ragged orphans, the horn of the great hunter can sometimes still be heard over the hills of the Riddermark. And if you are lucky, you may glimpse his white horse, Nahar in the shadows.
But if you hear the wistful song, or the weeping of the man who had his wish granted, you should turn your head away, because no good can come from following that lonely sound.

[Art by Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen]

Originally posted on The Forbidden Pool:

Last week the Tolkien group I am in,  the Grey Haven’s group, read the chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring about the Barrow Downs. Shortly before this meeting, Bill, a fellow member had asked what a “Barrow” was, and I told him about all those mounds in many countries, including Sweden, where men raised mounds over their famous dead, sometimes calling them “barrows”. The Old Mounds of Uppsala, is in fact one of my favorite places in the world because of its ancient, rich and multifaceted history around this place of cult, faith, cruelty and hope.

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But during that meeting I started thinking about why, in Tolkien’s text, the Witch King of Angmar chose to send evil spirits (called “barrow wights”) to possess the old bones of once good and brave kings and chieftains who had fought against him and his forces in the wars. I realize that…

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