Wednesday, November 18, 2015

At the End of All

Why Tolkien chose to produce such a long denouement for the end of The Lord of the Rings in Book VI. Why the long wrap-up?

Carefully scrutinize the reasons Tolkien chooses to spend so many pages wrapping up his story after the narrative climax. Reflect on the details Tolkien chooses to include as well as on his overarching themes. Go deeper than surface-level examinations of plot or character motivation; instead push to imagine what Tolkien expected his readers to get out of his extended ending.

What is it, at the end of this text, “here at the end of all things,” that Tolkien means us to think about and carry with us always?


Aulë said...

To me, the significance of such a long ending lies in going beyond the story of the Ring. Although the Quest to Mount Doom is what The Lord of the Rings is about, I believe Tolkien thought it was important to show that, just as the characters had lives before the Quest, life continued after. The characters didn't cease to be just because they had completed their mission, and they didn't wander around afterwards with no sense of purpose; they went on to still be great people and valued members of their communities. (Sam is elected to the Hobbiton mayorship how many times?!)
We have talked in class before about how Tolkien's war experiences shaped his writings, and I think one way they did is in this extended ending. It is immensely difficult for most veterans to come home; everything has changed for them and readjusting to "home" can be nearly impossible if there has been severe trauma, and I think Tolkien's characters and their lives after the Quest display that. Frodo especially strikes me as a parallel to a soldier who is forever bothered by his war experiences, and this is directly represented by the scar of his Weathertop wound, which we are told continues to pain him for his whole life. Even Sam, who went on to have a whole, happy life with lots of kids and grandkids and an impressive political career, ultimately leaves for the shores of Valinor because he is the last Ringbearer, and this is was a burden which changed him and set him apart from those he came home to. Just as those who are touched by war can never forget, those who have come in direct contact with the Ring are inevitably altered, and Tolkien's continuation of the story beyond the Ring's destruction allows us to see and fully appreciate that.

Lórien said...

For me the extended ending of The Lord of the Rings has two-fold meaning. In one sense it serves to exemplify the meaning of a hero's journey. Often times, we as readers forget that it is the journey that is emphasized in these types of texts. It is tempting to fall into the trap of the exciting climax, where only the result is important. Obviously that is not the case with Tolkien at least, and I would argue as well with most good books. Knowing that the Ring will end up in the fire and that Sauron will be defeated, in no way diminishes the enjoyment that I get from reading the books and watching the films. Keeping this in mind, the conclusion represents life after the journey. Sam's marriage and role in Shire politics, Frodo's decision to join the Elves into the West, and the continued adventures of Legolas and Gimli all have their places in the mythology. In this sense the journey is not ended but merely begun anew. The idea of another chapter, which has not yet written, embodies the essence of the ending of Lord of the Rings. I remember the first time I watch the movies, I went with both ears full of the complaints that the third movie refuses to end. Even with that preconception I couldn't help but feel thrilled every time the black screen faded back into a new scene. I didn't want the film to end and it really did, at least for a moment, feel like "the end of all things" when it was finally over. The books were the same experience. I read to the point where the ring was destroyed and I was completely content knowing that I had so much more to read. Then I discovered the Appendices...

Additionally, I think the ending has significance in terms mythopoeia and sub-creation. For Tolkien the quest for the ring was just a small part his work; just some background information for his Elvish languages. The languages were just a small part of the peoples and cultures to whom they belonged, and the peoples are parts of the universe that make up Tolkien's entire sub-creative effort. He wants his readers to understand that "the end of all things" is never what it seems to be. The end of the quest is not the end of the Lord of the Rings, just as the Lord of the Rings is not the end of Middle-earth. Even at the actual end, the Ragnarok of Arda the end isn't quite what is sounds like, there is always the hope for Arda Unmarred. Sub-creation wasn't a passing hobby for Tolkien, I think he wanted to impart to his readers that it is a life-long pursuit that can never truly be completed. The journey of myth-making is everlasting so to speak.