The Long View: The Gray Havens

The Gray Havens

John Reilly's 1969 paperback edition of   The Fellowship of the Ring

John Reilly's 1969 paperback
edition of
The Fellowship of the Ring

An Explanation

The Lord of the Rings is not history, and as readers of that great work are aware, the title of its last chapter is "The Grey Havens," not the "Gray Havens." Nonetheless, the world of Middle Earth that J.R.R. Tolkien imagined for us is so detailed that it is difficult to think of it as pure fiction. Because the events of the War of the Ring have something of the density of factual history, they invite the sort of stretching and speculation that factual history invites. A major genre has grown up in fiction that treats historical scenarios that did not happen. That is what I have done in this novella with the climax of The Lord of the Rings.

John J. Reilly
March 15, 2006

A Disclaimer

The work to which this page links, The Gray Havens, as contained on the pages with URLs tg1.html through tgh10.html, is not a part of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; neither does it purport to be a part of that work or a sequel to it. The Gray Havens does not include copyrighted or trademarked material from The Lord of the Rings or from any other work. The Gray Havens is a new work that alludes to a small set of the ideas and characters that the genius of Professor Tolkien has made the common possession of mankind in a very real and legally binding sense.

(1) The Downfall of Rivendell

“The end of the world is one thing, but missing lunch is serious.”

It was March 25, in the 3019th year of the Third Age, and Arwen was not taking the lack of news from the South well. She needed to get out of her rooms. As for me, being a Hobbit, I would have gone to lunch even if I were on fire.

“Bilbo, you are incorrigible,” she sighed, perhaps genuinely glad of the interruption. “Let us go down to the Lesser Refectory, then.”

She stood up, and I took my accustomed distance. I had long since stopped being uncomfortable around Big People, but a conversation at close quarters was a strain on the necks of both parties.

We passed through the double oak-doors of her suite and headed towards the first stairway, walking down a corridor whose waxed floor gleamed under the long skylight. Like most of the younger members of Elrond’s household, it was in one of the new wings of the Great House of Rivendell, built of wood rather than the immemorial stone of the central villa. We went quite a distance before we met anyone else. Arwen was not the only person in Rivendell who had things on her mind at the moment other than the next meal.

“Lady Arwen,” said Gelmir as we entered the Refectory. He came forward when he spied us at the doorway. He was one of Elrond’s senior advisors; the oily one, I had always thought. Now he was the one who said “I told you so.” The Lesser Refectory was a fine room, used much more these days then the vast and gloomy Great Hall. Today, though, the thin sunlight that shone through the tall, narrow windows cast no shadows; it was the kind of light that seemed to cool rather than warm. The scattered diners were more interested in whispered conversation than in eating. “It is good to see you about again,” Gelmir said. Turning lightly to me, he offered: “And you too, Master Baggins. I hope that even in these stressful times that you find nothing lacking in the table of this House?”

“Even in the best of times, Councilor,” I said bowing low, “the splendid hospitality of Rivendell can be eclipsed by the quality of the company.” I carefully did not look in his eye, but I was fairly sure I heard Arwen choke back a snort. She tactfully took up the conversation.

“I saw a rider enter the eastern courtyard an hour ago, Councilor. Am I correct in thinking that was a messenger from Lorien?”

“Indeed, Lady,” he replied as we took our seats. “As you have no doubt surmised, we have no new intelligence, or we have sent to you immediately. The Ring has passed beyond our knowledge into the Shadow. So have Elessar, and the hosts of Gondor and Rohan. And the Rangers. And the sons of Elrond. It would be comical if it were no so tragic. The flower of the West has offered battle to Mordor. It will be cut down unless the One intervenes.”

“And what would you have done differently, Councilor?” I asked as the servants placed dishes of bread and melted cheese before us. As a matter of fact, the quality of the food on Elrond’s table had declined in these distressful times; the villages of the network that traded with Rivendell were being attacked, or abandoned, or just had no spare produce to sell. I had alluded once to Elrond himself about the decline in quality. He was having a bad day and took the remark with less than his accustomed good humor. Gelmir seemed determined to never let me forget it.

“Perhaps I would have done nothing differently, Master Baggins,” he said as he munched his cheese sandwich philosophically. “We all had a hand in what has been decided, after all. Perhaps all will be well. Perhaps the Enemy will flee from the host of the West, and the Lord Elessar will be greatest King of Men since Ar-Pharazon the Golden. Perhaps, contrary to all appearances, the advent of the Hobbits into the affairs of the world has not been a sign of its downfall.”

Arwen put her hand on my arm. I thought she was cautioning me against making a sharp retort; then I realized she was listening. I heard it too. Far away, someone was screaming.

“It’s coming from the Keep,” she said. That was where her father’s private quarters were.

Without a glance at her companions, she rose from table and walked, and then ran, to the doorway that led to the Keep. Hobbits have long ears, and the elvish aristocracy were, well, sensitive to their blood relatives. Gelmir, who was neither, could not hear the cry. “What is happening, Master Baggins?” he asked.

“Trouble in the Keep, looks like. Perhaps I should see whether I can assist the Lady Arwen,” I said as I rose to follow.

“Yes, that would kind of you.” He said politely. He himself did not move. Several centuries as a courtier had taught Gelmir that it was often better to be available to discuss a mishap later than to be there to stop it from happening.

By the time I had caught up with Arwen, it was becoming clear that something was very wrong. People were not running to the cries for help, which were now audible to even ordinary elvish ears; they were standing stock still. I was not quite sure that I felt a tremor through the stones of the floor.

The noise became louder and louder as we approached Elrond’s private study. We burst open the door. There was Elrond, mighty among elves and men, writhing on the floor. His right hand was bloodied and mangled. It was smoking.

Some of Elrond’s household shook themselves from their bewilderment and ran into the study; doubtless the smell of burning flesh got their attention. On the ring finger of Elrond’s right hand, or what was left of it, there was a ring that glowed white hot. I knew about what it was, though few others did: it was Vilya, the Ring of Air.

Elrond had seemed to be trying to say something like, “Get it off me!” Then, however, he opened his eyes and looked at his would-be rescuers.

It was like being hit with a blast of air from a furnace. Several of us fell. I stood, but for a moment I did not see Elrond, or the room in Rivendell. I saw a space of infinite darkness, and in it I a burning eye, an eye with a slit pupil. I head a voice like thunder say:

“Air is mine; Adamant is Mine; Fire is mine. The One is mine. You are mine.”

The vision passed, and once again Elrond was just screaming and mouthing words. I heard a rabble of advisors, knights, and servants behind me, trying to decide what to do and who should do it. At my side Arwen wept and cried, “Father what is happening!”

Suddenly, none of this was important to me. Without anyone noticing, I slipped to the window that looked to the southeast. The view was the same as it had always been, of rocky pineland that fell away to the hazy feet of the Misty Mountains. Nothing seemed to have changed, but I knew that the view was a fraud. I felt, with a certainty that I could never have achieved with mere vision, that everything had changed. And what I felt was envy and fury. He had it. It was mine, my Precious, but He had it now. I would never get it back.

* * *

The Council was held a week later, in a pavilion in the north of Rivendell. It might have been held earlier, but the Keep and the oldest parts of the complex began to shift off their foundations on the day of Doom. Everyone was evacuated from the oldest structures before they collapsed, but getting everyone billeted and accounted for was challenge enough for the government of the High Elves. Besides, Elrond was not recovering quickly from the amputation.

“My Lords, Lady Arwen, distinguished guests, this is a day that we have long dreaded,” said Erestor, another of Elrond’s advisors. He was a windbag of the first water but not a bad fellow; what he had to say was usually worth hearing, once he got around to saying it. “We have dreaded this chance so much that we could never bring ourselves to plan for it. Now there is no time to plan. The Enemy has triumphed in the field and in the Other World. Our own resources have fallen to nothing more than our lives. As I have said, there is no time to plan. We have only…”

“Yes, yes, you have only to flee to the Gray Havens, if you can reach so far, and if any ships remain to carry you.” So said Gloin the Dwarf, the father of one of the members of the ill-starred Fellowship of the Ring. He had returned to Rivendell as an ambassador from the Lonely Mountain to bring news of the defense there and seek Elrond’s advice about securing increasingly dangerous Forest Road through Mirkwood. Now it seemed he would not be going home anytime soon. Now it seemed there might be no home to return to.

“The Elves have always had the option to flee, and Men, Men seem as happy in the service of the Dark Lord as out of it. But what of the Dwarves, I ask the Council? We have nothing but this Middle Earth. Now it is lost, lost, and where shall we go? Do the Elves know any refuge for my people, for any remnant of the people, before the Shadow covers the whole world?”

“Peace, Gloin,” said Elrond with difficulty. The remains of the right arm were well-bandaged but swollen. The evil was beginning to affect his chest. “The elves do not know just what form the sorrows of these days will take. Also, the elves of my kindred have not yet determined whether to stay or to flee. That is among the things we must decide.”

“But surely there can be no doubt?” said Hador, the Councilor who performed the necessary function of stating the obvious at every meeting. “We have few men at arms, and our powers have waned almost to nothing, or passed to the Dark Lord’s control. We saw this just a week ago when the Keep collapsed. It had been built with the aid of the Ring of Air. When the Great Rings passed to his control, everything ever done with them crumbled. We cannot resist the Dark Lord, even in the near term. We have no choice but to go west. The only question is whether we can still reach the Havens.”

“And whether the Havens still stand,” Gelmir interjected mildly. “Cirdan also wielded a Great Ring, remember. And we see that Lorien is burning, where Galadriel had worn the Ring of Water.”

Actually, all we could see was a darkening of the sky on the southern horizon. When we first saw that darkness, we feared the Shadow of Mordor was spreading over the whole world. Within a few days, though, the last of our scouts reported. They were no longer able to cross the mountains, but they said that the darkness was an immense billow of smoke, almost too big to see, that an east wind blew over the mountains. There was only one explanation. Lorien was burning.

“My Lords, these are craven counsels,” said Glorfindel, the chief of Elrond’s warriors in the absence of the Elrond’s sons. He was a fine Elf, but he was also evidence for the proposition that immortality need not sharpen the wits. “We do not yet know what is happening in the wide world. Are we to flee on the mere rumor of defeat? May we altogether abandon our allies, as the worthy Gloin has hinted that we might? And if the worst has happened, a flight to the Havens would have as little chance of success as a last defense of Rivendell, and far less honor.”

“Master Elrond, may I make suggestion?” I asked.

“I think perhaps that we have heard enough suggestions from Hobbits for many an age,” Gelmir said.

“Gelmir, this is my Council,” said Elrond as sharply as he could. “What is it, Bilbo?”

“Might I suggest that an age has ended, and not the world? We cannot live as we have lived, but we need not assume that no life is possible. We do not know enough to despair, and that means we should avoid a final stand, if we can do so with honor,” I said, nodding to Glorfindel. He might be wrong, but no one had ever called him malicious. Unfortunately, was not true of Gelmir, who interjected again.

“The aged Halfling speaks unexpected good sense,” he said. “Indeed, I think that we have underestimated our remaining resources. The name of Elrond carries great weight in the North and West of Middle Earth. In this time of fear, it might be possible to turn that reputation into power. Also, the power of the Dark Lord remains limited, even now. Only in Gondor and the borderlands of Mordor can he rule like a king. His power in these parts is terror and treason. And he knows this well. He also knows that we have things to trade. We might yet secure from him leave to rule ourselves.”

“What sort of things, Councilor?” asked Arwen in a carefully noncommittal tone.

“Vilya, the Ring of Air, for one. Yes, he now controls it, but he does not have it. He might be persuaded to forgo a raid in force on these lands if he could receive it as tribute.”

“And what other things?” she asked again.

“Rivendell has ever been a center of opposition to his ambitions, and rightly so, for many lives of Men. However, we must now consider whether we can continue to support all the enemies of the Dark Lord, or any of them. The families of the Rangers who disappeared into the Shadow have some call on our charity, perhaps, but we must acknowledge that the people of Isildur have failed. We can no longer aid them in war, even if we would. There may even be some individuals who have the misfortune to be the special enemies of the Dark Lord. We may pity them, but we can no longer shelter them.” He carefully did not look at me.

“Councilor Gelmir has persuaded me to seek the Havens at all hazards,” Arwen said, “if Middle Earth is to be ruled in the way he proposes.”

“Erestor,” said Elrond, “you were about to propose a course when you were interrupted. May we hear it?”

“Lord Elrond, my first advice is that we do not deceive ourselves. We have no power in this world any longer. Our old policies have wholly failed. We have nothing with which to make new ones. The Dark Lord has no need of our bargains. Perhaps he would not trouble to send an army from Mordor to this thinly peopled country, or maybe he would. In any case, he has creatures nearer to hand. And I can only repeat that we have nothing: neither provision, nor magic, or even a decent fort. We can only run. The Gray Havens is the obvious destination, but we should not count on the ability to leave Middle Earth. As we travel, must be alert along the way to the possibility of refuge. And we must leave now. The longer we stay, the worse our case will be.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, Elrond spoke.

“I have no ambition to be the viceroy of Mordor. Neither do I wish to leave Rivendell. For the moment, in fact, I cannot. We are not strong enough to fight. We do not know enough to flee. We will remain where we are, and gather news. That is all for now.”

* * *

And so we did nothing for two months. Actually, we did even less than Elrond had proposed, since news got scarcer and scarcer. We learned that Orthanc had been briefly abandoned and then occupied by a lieutenant of the Dark Tower; then all news from that quarter ceased. The wizard Rhadagast joined us from southern Mirkwood, which was becoming a lawless jungle. He came through a northern pass that, remarkably, the Beornings had managed to keep open. He said that Lake Town had been sacked. However, the Lonely Mountain had come through relatively unscathed. The siege was lifted after King Dain paid a heavy tribute to the Dark Tower and pledged fealty to Sauron. Gloin did not like this news any better than Elrond did, but on the strength of it he risked the journey home. Rhadagast himself, seeing Rivendell had slender hospitality to offer, continued West. From that direction scouts brought sporadic reports of Trolls, Wargs, and even the occasional Orc raid, but worst of all were the Men. Most of the recent immigrants from the South had been simply displaced persons looking for a home. Rumors of the great change in the world, and the influence of the Enemy’s agents, had here and there turned the newcomers into marauding hordes.

Our own situation deteriorated, first slowly and then quickly. Ordinary supplies that had been hard to import in January were unobtainable by the middle of April. Rivendell was self-sufficient in some commodities, notably dairy products, but there was not nearly enough to feed a population of 500. Hunting and fishing supplemented the dwindling stores, but hunting became harder and more dangerous, and fishing at Rivendell could never be more than a sport. Soon we were eating the cattle, and then the horses. Just as bad, the place was literally falling apart. The pavilions and outbuildings had never been meant to be lived in, as a late snowfall proved. There were no materials or enthusiasm for repairs. The softwood ornament beloved by the Elves was designed to be ephemeral; it almost melted in the wet, cold spring. Meanwhile, the new wings of the Great House that had connected to the Keep suffered several major fires, and another major collapse. By May, Rivendell had decayed to a network of encampments, cut off from the outside world and bickering with each other. I myself wound up in a tunnel with straw for a floor, like my remotest hobbit ancestors. I was better off than many.

The end came on half-a-day’s notice. A scouting and hunting party that had ventured as far south as the border of Hollin returned in a panic. “A host is coming this way! Hundreds of them, thousands of them! They are attended by Wargs and evil birds!”

“Hundreds or thousand of what?” asked Arwen. She and Elrond had taken up residence at one of the few decent lodges remaining in Rivendell. I happened to be present when the scouts made their report. Arwen said I cheered up her failing father, and maybe she was right. “We are not sure what kind they are, Lady,” continued the scouts, “but we saw from afar, in the dusk of the morning. We think they were Orcs at the end of a night’s march.”

“Or maybe they Men at the beginning of a day’s march,” I suggested, to no one’s satisfaction, including my own.

“Men or Orcs or wraiths, they are coming this way, and they can be here in a day’s march. They could even arrive tonight!”

“Or they could miss us,” I observed. “You know hard the entrance to this valley is to find, Master Elrond.”

“That obscurity was partly a glamour created by my will, Master Baggins, with the aid of my Ring. We no longer enjoy that protection. If anything, we must reckon that the Ring draws our enemies and guides them. No doubt the Dark Tower has dispatched this force to collect it. And me, I suppose. The simplest course might be to give them both. Then, perhaps, they would overlook the lives of my people.”

“Father, you are talking nonsense,” Arwen said. “The Enemy would not forbear to destroy Imladris and everyone in it once he has it in his power. And if you think to make a quick end, consider that Gelmir was right in this: your name really is known through all these northern lands. If we are to find a new refuge, or fight our way to the Havens, we will need the authority of your House.”

A hurried meeting of the Council was called. No one even suggested that we not flee. Glorfindel might have done had he been present, but he was away south toward Tharbad. We trusted that he would notice our absence when he returned. Nonetheless, the Council still managed to argue for several hours about what to do. Elrond was almost unconscious, and Arwen lost control of the meeting. In the end, with the sun already about to set behind the mountains, the order went out: “Take everything. Go West. Now.”

* * *

There was never a moment when the flight from Rivendell was not a catastrophe. The lack of clear instructions began the evil. “Everything” was interpreted to mean the books and chief treasures that had escaped the destruction of the libraries. The valuables were taken from storage places, where they had been safe from the weather and well hidden against theft, to assembly areas, where they were supposed to be loaded on carts. Arguments and then fights broke out between people trying to load the valuables and those trying to load the foodstuffs. Nothing was properly packed. It started to rain. Books and much grain were spoiled. Maybe it was just as well. There were not enough carts for either, much less for both.

Since there were only a few draught animals, most of the carts were pulled by soggy Elves and the few adult Dunedain whom Elrond still had under his protection (most of the Rangers’ families had drifted off into the wilderness since March 25). We reached the Ford of Bruinen with difficulty, and some injuries. Elrond was one of the few to be riding in a cart; certainly he was too weak stay astride one of the few remaining horses. (I rode in a cart, too: not because I was held in such high honor, but because no one noticed me among the barrels. It was like old times.) Elrond tried to exert his power over the ford, which was submerged in swift-flowing water because of the recent rains. The other Elves of power tried also. It started to rain harder. Arwen, finally, signaled that the train would have to make what headway it could against the flood.

It was not our good luck that the first carts had almost reached the other side before the lead cart overturned, spilling its contents into the water and sending its handlers downstream. Nearly the whole train was stranded in the current. The carts were not linked together (maybe they should have been) but the stream did not seem to grow especially stronger. For whatever reason, three quarters of the carts overturned within a few moments. Mine was among them, but as I said, it was like old times: I latched onto a barrel (of glue, as I later discovered) and quickly washed up on the nether shore. Many of us were not so lucky. An unknown number disappeared into the darkness then. So did most of our goods.

The survivors assembled at the western side of the ford. In the nearly total darkness, there was no way to count noses, but I was sure that Elrond was there, soaking wet and carried on a litter. Arwen was nearby, just as wet. We abandoned the few carts that had reached this side of the ford, and made up backpacks of the remaining goods (we later found out we had left quite a lot of preserved meat and accidentally took several packages of bunting and other festive decorations).

We were on the Great East Road, and many of us knew the lands about it well. This land was almost empty, but to the south of the Road were a few villages that helped provision Rivendell. One of Elrond’s stewards led us west into the dark to what he assured us was a secure refuge perhaps 10 miles distant. Then the really bad part began.

There was movement in the night that was not our own. The enemy did not come from behind: if that army ever reached Rivendell, assuming that’s what it was, it would not have followed us over the ford in this weather. Rather, it was clear that things were moving in the dark to either side of us, both in the forest on the north and the high grass to the south. Some of those things sounded as if they were quite large.

Elves had always had sharp eyes, and did so still in this dark new Fourth Age. Archers and spearmen moved off from the main body of our group, and sometimes found a mark, as some of the gurgling death cries attested every few minutes. What the Elves no longer had was luck; some of those cries had elvish words in them. Our stragglers soon began to be snatched. Later, an intrusion of shadowy shapes from the trees cut our column in half. Elrond was in the rear section, so that was where his guard rallied. Possibly all the Household of Elrond, along with its guests and dependents, would have disappeared into the shadows that night, if Glorfindel had not come up from behind just then.

He was mounted on that magnificent white horse he had refused to let us eat. Accompany him was a small squadron of guards on foot. It was like the old days; like this time last year, in fact. The intruders were beaten off or killed, but the forward group of our column was much smaller when the rear made contact again. I knew this because I was in the forward group. I actually was picked up by something that was very strong and very foul smelling, but it had caught hold of my backpack. The pack came loose and the thing slouched off with it, apparently not noticing I was missing. Or maybe it really was interested only in the backpack.

The march went on so long, or so it seemed, that I had actually forgotten about the refuge; I had been accustoming myself to the assumption that we would always be walking. I felt as if I could have done so. Since the day of the great disaster, I had seen no further visions of the Lidless Eye. The Ring was affecting me, though. I felt, if not younger, then at least of no definite age. I felt quite up to walking forever in the dark, but I did not have to.

We were led down a trail to the south of the road to a sturdy stone doorway. It was set into the end of a low ridge that made two levels of the forest floor. The heavy wooden door itself had been split in half. The doorway led to a burrow that served as a warehouse and a refuge for a nearby village that had sold produce to Rivendell for time out of mind. The burrow had been dug, however, as a shelter for the Rangers and others of Elrond’s household who had need of it. When we lit some torches, we found that the villagers were here, too, along with their butchery tools. The bones had been stripped and cleaned and some had been broken open for that marrow. Any food that had been stored there had been looted. We set a guard outside in the dark. At least the bunting we draped across the entrance allowed us to make a fire without being seen.

Just 200 of us remained. Erestor was with us; and so, for better or worse, was Gelmir. Arwen was with her father. Glorfindel was there, with all his personal guard. It was apparently safer to hunt the nightwalkers than to be hunted by them. Hador was never seen again.

(2) Weathertop

Even Elves needed some sleep after a night like that. In the morning, Glorfindel remonstrated with the remnants of Elrond’s Council. The exchange was actually part of a general meeting, however; elvish culture at its dissolution was retuning to democratic forms of its origins. Glorfindel spoke for almost an hour about the folly of taking off in the night like that, and especially about not taking him. When he had run out of expletives, he answered some questions.

No, he did not know whether Rivendell had been occupied. He had come north on the western side of the Loudwater and found at the ford the wreckage from our passage. He guessed what must have happened. No, very few people were passing through Tharbad now, or heading northwest on the Greenway. He did meet bands of folk fleeing across the countryside, many of them people of Gondor and Rohan, and even Belfalas. Tharbad, the long-ruined city, had briefly been choked with refugees, but they were massacred a month ago by an army of the Great Eye. The army came through the Gap of Rohan, most of the refugees thought.

Yes, they told many tales. Some said that Sauron had moved his capital to Minas Tirith. Some said the city had been besieged twice but still stood. Others still said it had been abandoned without a fight. No one he spoke to, he was sure, had been in a position to know. It was certain, though, that the Host of the West that had gone eastward had disappeared. The only survivors were a small group that had been assigned to guard some islands in the Anduin. They fled after March 25. Many people throughout the South fled then, long before the Enemy appeared.

Elrond could barely speak, but he whispered to Arwen, who finally asked something relevant:

“Glorfindel, is it safe for us to travel on the Road?”

He considered the question with evident care. “No,” he answered. “Of course not: but at least we can know a little about what is happening on the Road. That is not true a hundred yards to either side. If we send scouts before us and behind us, and we don’t do anything suicidally foolish, such as traveling at night, we may hope to arrive at our destination.”

“And what might that be?” asked Gelmir.

The members of the Council groaned. Some of the ordinary Elves gasped: this was the first they learned their leaders still had not decided what to do. Erestor responded almost through clenched teeth.

“Councilor Gelmir, I thought we had decided to head toward the Gray Havens, but also to look for alternatives along the way.”

“That is certainly what we discussed,” Gelmir replied. “I do not recall that we ever decided. We followed that course in any case, and lost more than half our number in less than a day’s march. Perhaps at this point we should reconsider.”

“Do you propose to return to Rivendell, Councilor?”

“I think that we should at least determine the state of things there before we proceed. If the valley of Imladris has not been taken, we should consider reestablishing our position there and maintaining our contacts with the outside world.”

“We were slowly starving in the cold at Rivendell,” Arwen noted. “No one was offering us aid, or asking for it. The only people who were coming to visit were probably Orcs. We might as well ‘reestablish our position’ in any hollow to the side of the Road, if it comes to that.”

“The point, Lady, is not so much where we are, as what we are doing there. We should be seeking an accommodation with the powers of the age. As I noted, we do have things the Dark Tower greatly desires. In any case, I insist that we ascertain the state of our ancient home before we go much farther west.”

“My Lord Gelmir may do so if he insists,” said Erestor dryly, “but I fear he may have to go on foot. I doubt that Lord Glorfindel would consent to lend him his horse.”

The strange thing was Glorfindel almost did lend Gelmir his horse, or ride off himself on the same errand. Glorfindel had not wanted to leave Rivendell, either. In part, that was because he really was willing to make a brave stand, but also because, after living there for so many centuries, he could not easily imagine being anywhere else. Elves often got like that. It was a wonder that so many ever managed to reach the Gray Havens.

In the end, we decided to split the difference. We would go west to Weathertop, Gelmir included, and there set up a camp where we could gather information. Meanwhile, we sent a small party back to Rivendell to see how matters stood there. Glorfindel finally decided not to risk his horse on that trip after all.

That was good, because the Last Bridge, which crosses the Hoarwell, was held by the Enemy. There they were, three Men on the bridge in some dark livery. They had two horses between them. They were not really a guard on the bridge, perhaps, but relay riders. Certainly they fled when they saw us. The much diminished Host of Elrond would have been adequate to deal with this unit even without Glorfindel, but he was able to make sure that none of the Men escaped alive.

We crossed the Hoarwell without further incident. After walking for a few more hours, we camped a short distance to the north of the Road. The land on that side was rising and not heavily wooded. We did not dare risk a fire. In the morning, we continued west, and by noon we were approaching Weathertop. Glorfindel went scouting a mile ahead of the column. The bulk of our party had just left the Road for the trail that led to the peak; then we heard a single horse behind us.

Through the bushes I saw a large black figure on a large black horse. He face was covered, and he was riding the horse hard. One of the elvish archers saw him, too. He launched a single arrow that felled the horse. The rider, who was limping after his fall, tried to run back east, but two spearmen quickly broke from the foliage and killed him. Erestor came out to examine the body. I came with him.

“A messenger, clearly,” Erestor concluded, “and from some force in Mordor, but not from the Dark Tower. Look,” he said, indicating a badge on the man’s shoulder strap that showed the Eye and some elvish characters rendered in an unlovely script. “The Morannon,” I said. Erestor continued searching until he found a round leather case. “The message. We will look at it when we reach safety.” Erestor gave orders to hide the corpse and to butcher the horse.

Horsemeat would not have rendered the evening merry, even if there had been more it, but at least we had some fires. I suspect we were in the same dell where Frodo and friends had been attacked a few months ago. The Elves had rediscovered their skill at scavenging. Arwen and, surprisingly, Gelmir proved particularly adept at finding folk-salad. The result tasted like the hash of weeds it was, but at least it was not poisonous. After supper, a small group gathered around Erestor to examine the message borne by the dark rider. Erestor opened the leather carrying case and extracted a sealed scroll.

The seal, predictably, was impressed with image of an eye. When Erestor broke it, the paper around it began to ignite. He was not the person to whom the message was addressed, evidently. We did manage to put the fire out without losing any text, but the paper was smoking and quickly decaying. “The script is elvish,” Gilmer observed, “but the language is not Elvish or Westron.”

“It’s the Black Speech,” Arwen. “My father can read that tongue, but not now.” We glanced at Elrond, who was flat on his litter a few yards away. His eyes were half open. He was breathing with evident difficulty. He was shivering. “What do you make of this, Bilbo?”

“Here, move aside; let me see,” I said as I bowed over the document.

“You know the Black Speech, Master Baggins?” asked Erestor with evident surprise.

“Some. I made quite a study of it when I first arrived at Rivendell.”

“May I ask why?

“Because it is the language of the One Ring, Councilor. Now give me a moment.”

In Elrond’s libraries, there had been only two kinds of texts in the Black Speech. One consisted of spells and curses, often inscribed in stone to protect hiding places. The document before me fell into the other category: a message of administration. The latter were rare, outside the Black Tower and Dol Guldur, since only the elite of Sauron’s government used the language regularly. The mere presence in the West of the intended reader of such a document was a very bad sign.

“As nearly as I can make out, it says:

“To the Prefect of Ecstasy, now succoring the Ratland, the Second Secretary of the Office of Persuasion of the Ministry of Peace reflects a glint of the Great Eye, and sends this instruction:

“The Prefect is to double and redouble his efforts to find the principal traitor. The Rat People whom the Prefect has dispatched to our Office have proved unsatisfactory patients. They know nothing. Our Office is surprised and displeased that the Prefect supposed they would know anything. Our Office judges that the Prefect has sufficient means at his disposal to induce ecstasy without further taxing the resources of the Ministry.

“The Prefect’s request to remove his seat of operations to Tharbad is denied. The Prefect is to persevere.”

“That sounds as if they are in the Shire,” said Arwen. “Sorry, Bilbo.”

“It also sounds as if there is someone in this land with the authority to treat with us,” said Gelmir.

“Treat with us about what, Counselor?” asked Erestor. “We have nothing they want but our lives.”

“As I have had occasion to remark before,” Gelmir replied, “we have two things they want: a traitor and one of the Three Great Rings.” This time he did not trouble to avoid indicating me.

“Do you have a Great Ring, Counselor?” Arwen asked innocently. “You really should have told us.”

“But your father’s Ring…!” he spluttered.

“…Is still in the lodge at Rivendell. It’s well hidden. I put it under the rug in the study.”

I don’t think I had ever seen Man, Elf, Orc, Hobbit, or Troll so surprised. Gelmir’s mouth made a perfect circle.

“Are you mad!?!?” Gelmir shouted.

“No, and I am the daughter of Elrond, which you should keep in mind when you address me, Gelmir. Look, we could no longer use the Ring. We cannot even pick it up without being burned. We suspect it may draw the Enemy. Also, I suspected that its presence might have been what was keeping my father sick.”

“The ring must be recovered.” he said, a bit more politely.

“You are welcome to try, Councilor, provided you don’t return to us with it. As for Bilbo, he is a thief; no, excuse me: a burglar, not a traitor. The Dark Tower seems uninterested in Hobbits at this time.” And so we went to a night’s uncomfortable sleep. Well, sleep for some of them: I was having increasing trouble telling day from night.

* * *

The next morning, we found that Elrond was dead. There were plenty of shaped stones on Weathertop, so we were able to make a decent burial chamber. We used the last of the bunting as a winding sheet. Still, it was a barbaric end for such a cultured being.

When we returned to the Road, we met the scouts who had gone to Rivendell. No, they said, Rivendell was not occupied. It had been disturbed, probably by no more than a band of robbers, or maybe just refugees foraging for food. Some of the remaining structures had been damaged, though.

“Was Master Elrond’s lodge destroyed?” Gelmir asked.

“There had been a small fire, and part of the roof collapsed, Councilor,” one of the scouts replied. “Most of the house still stood when we left.”

“Lady Arwen, I will take you at your word,” Gelmir said. “I am returning to Rivendell for the Ring.”

“Councilor, why?” she asked.

“Because anyone who follows the road you are on will die in the woods like a sick dog. The Three Rings set us apart from all the other Speaking Peoples. The Ring of Air may have passed out of our power, but only a fool would let it out of our possession without getting something of value in return. The Enemy knows he has defeated us. That means he has nothing to fear from a bargain. I at least propose to try to make one. Will any come with me?”

Ten people did; that was ten more than would have gone if Elrond had still been alive. The small party left the main group after dispirited farewells. We continued westward.

(3) Bree

As we marched, we came upon more signs of habitation, and of former habitation. Columns of smoke rose above the trees to the north, presumably from burning homesteads. On the other hand, sometimes we found farms immediately to the south of the road that had not been touched. Occasionally we found bodies of men and animals. We even saw a few living farmers, but they ran off as soon as they saw us. Obviously, someone had been pillaging the country, but not very systematically.

We met no sign of the Enemy until that evening, when we were bivouacked to the north of the road. It was fortunate that we had put our fire out. Suddenly in the dark, we could hear the clanging tread of iron-soled Orc shoes on the road, and see the glitter of torches through the trees. They were heading east, apparently in a hurry, and did not seem to be looking for victims. Could it be that the Enemy had finally found the leisure to dispatch a force to Rivendell?

The next morning, we arrived at the gates of Bree, or rather the place where the East Gate used to be. Today it was gone, and the hedge that had surrounded the town was smoldering. The fires have gone out in most of the buildings of the town itself. We passed gingerly through the main street, since that was the fastest way to pass from east to west. Then, to our surprise, a hail of arrows came from ruins to either side of the road and struck three of our number dead.

“Take cover!” shouted Glorfindel in Sindarin, so we did. The arrows stopped. Before we could get off any of our own, a voice speaking the same language came from the north of the Road:

“Ahoy! Who are you? What sort of folk are you?”

“Who are you, who murder strangers unawares?” asked Glorfindel.

The rhetoric became heated, but it was immediately clear that neither side was Orcs or allied to the Enemy. By and by, the chief Elves, plus me, were standing in a town square and talking to a young Man and a few companions. They were dressed in the ragged remnants of what must originally have been some fine uniforms.

“I am Faramir, the Steward of Gondor,” the young Man explained after our party had introduced themselves. “I ask what pardon you can give for our ambush. In the past fortnight, an army has passed twice through this town. However, it is the smaller units of the Enemy, no bigger than yours, that do us most damage now. They raid the hamlets and the homesteads to which the people of this land have retreated. I have, of course, heard of all of you, particularly of Lady Arwen and the Halfling.” He bowed to Arwen. He looked as if he were about to pat me on the head, but thought better of it.

“And I have heard of Gondor, Master Faramir, and that its Stewart is named Denethor,” said Arwen. “If you are the Steward, you are far from office. Tells us, does that city still stand?”

“The buildings may still stand, but only as a mirror to Minas Morgul. The people are scattered.”

Then he told a remarkable story: a siege of the city, the lifting of the siege, and the coming of a pretender to the long-vacant throne.

“I might have followed such a one, had he achieved victory over the Enemy, or even restored our defenses, no matter the strength of his claim. Now whether his claim be true or false is no matter. He and the principal lords of Gondor went into the Shadow, and were swallowed up on the Day of Doom.”

“The ‘pretender’ of whom you speak was Aragorn son of Arathorn, Man of Gondor, and his title was more firmly established than yours!” Arwen said with unaccustomed ferocity. “Also he was my betrothed, and I will not hear his memory dishonored!”

“Lady, I meant no disrespect,” he said in the polite tone used by one who plainly believes he has been given every reason for discourtesy. “He fought well and he meant well, but he played a central part in the downfall of my country.”

“The downfall of your county?!” she nearly shouted. “The downfall of your country, Man of Gondor, was the fault of….”

“Arwen,” I suggested, “maybe we should hear the story before we cast the blame.”

Faramir told the story. On That Day, despair flowed from Mordor like a wave. The darkness did not return, but spirits fell lower than they had been during even the worst of the siege. There had been plans to evacuate the Minas Tirith again if the Enemy again crossed the Anduin. Faramir never received a report of such a crossing, but rumors of one spread as quickly as the despair. A trickle of citizens had begun to leave the city by sundown on the day the pretender fell. By morning, there was panic flight, and no order from Faramir could control it.

Perhaps 400 men at arms could be persuaded to remain in the city. Chiefly they were men of Gondor, but also some of the people of Rohan, commanded by Queen Eowyn. She had ascended to that unlucky dignity on the death of her uncle, who had been king for many years, and of her brother, whose kingship ended with the pretensions of the pretender. There was also an intrepid Halfling who had helped to slay the Enemy’s most fearsome commander and lived to tell about it, but not, alas, for long.

The guard and the Rohirrim could not give their whole attention to the defense. A degraded rabble had remained in the city to loot and dishonor it. By the time the Enemy did come, the lowest three levels were already burning. Some of the guard remained occupied, even at the end, with preventing the rabble from pillaging the treasures of the citadel.

The force that Mordor sent was an insult, but more than sufficient. A few thousand Orcs, and some Easterlings who could bear the daylight, entrenched only about the gate. The assault was made with a single siege engine of no great size. The Great Gate fell in a day. Thereafter, the defenders removed to the higher levels as the Enemy took over the city ring by ring. The Halfling fell in the brief defense of the Second Gate; he had never really recovered the wound he took when he attacked the commander of the Dark Tower.

Sometimes the Orcs and Easterlings captured and slew the rabble; sometimes they recruited it. They had no great need of recruits, however, since a leisurely column of the Enemy poured into the city night after night. Finally, the guard realized that the host of Mordor did not distinguish between them and the looters. The city was considered abandoned; it was being repopulated, not conquered. A remnant of the guard and the Rohirrim, no more that 100 fighters in all, quietly abandoned the city by taking secret paths that led into the White Mountains.

“Useless human weasels…” muttered Arwen with no attempt at inaudibility. The tactful Erestor cleared his throat. Faramir continued:

Descending again to the plain of Anorien, Faramir and Queen Eowyn headed northwest. As they moved, they acquired horses at the widely scattered homesteads. Often they found horses riderless in the fields, still saddled with the gear of their luckless owners. In four days they reached Edoras.

In Edoras there ruled Grima, who had taken the title of Protector. He had escaped from his detention at Isengard and returned to Rohan to rally those of the folk who believed that the alliance with Gondor had been folly. That number had never been small, and the return of deserters and survivors from Gondor and Anorien had only swelled their number. Grima, in fact, commanded no fewer than 1000 lances. He immediately took Faramir’s little band prisoner when they arrived at his door, though their capture and imprisonment were framed in the most polite terms. The very next day, he acknowledged Eowyn’s title. He also announced that he would rule with her as her advisor and wedded consort. Grima then sent heralds to the Orkish army in Anorien to seek terms from Mordor, and to offer them Faramir as a token of good faith.

The queen did not survive her murder of Grima on their wedding night, but Faramir and 15 of his men did contrive to escape in the confusion that followed. They stole horses, but no one pursued them. The next noon, when they were well away from Edoras and nearing the gap of Rohan, they looked back and saw smoke rising from the direction from where the town lay. Grima’s heralds, Faramir surmised, had found that the Dark Tower no longer needed to parlay.

The rest of Faramir’s tale was soon told. He and his little band continued to the northwest toward Tharbad. Their first thought was to seek refuge in Imladris, but when they realized that none could tell them where it lay, they continued up the Greenway with the other refugees. Some of these were men of Gondor who held Faramir for their lord; others were simply folk of goodwill who sought any legitimate authority in the chaos. Soon Faramir and his caravan of a few dozen followers reached Bree, which had not yet been sacked and whose townsmen refused to admit any strangers. However, Faramir drove off the outliers of an army of the Enemy, maybe part of the host that had burned Edoras that was coming up the Greenway a few days behind him. Some of the cannier folk of Bree Village surmised that the main force could be not be far behind, so they left with Faramir for the remote and more easily defended village of Archet. Faramir informally assumed command of the defense of Breeland after Bree Village, Combe, and Staddle were destroyed.

When Arwen and her people arrived, he and a few scouts had been in the ruins of the village to reconnoiter the movements of the enemy. When it came to the point, Faramir was not much happier than the Breelanders had been about taking in our contingent of strangers, particularly that aggravating Elf woman. Nonetheless, he agreed to admit us to Archet for a few days. He sent a few of his men with us to show the way.

We did not take the old track to the village. When the army of the Eye left for the West, the Breelanders set about erasing the track as much as possible, so that no one without local knowledge could find Archet by accident. What should have two hours’ walk became an afternoon’s scramble along twisted paths among bushes and ravines. The village turned out to be both heavily fortified and very well camouflaged. We entered through a nearly invisible gate hidden among fir trees. The center of the village was dense with temporary structures to house the new refugees. We were escorted to a long, low shed, evidently used as a sort of barracks. There we were given water and promised food.

Breeland had traditionally been governed by an annual meeting of the householders of all four villages, but now it was ruled by an Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, with six Men and six Hobbits. The Senior Councilor was a Man named Barliman, who had once owned an inn in Bree Village. He owed his position in part to his ability to organize relief for the many displaced Breelanders. Besides, as the keeper of the largest public house in Breeland, he knew everybody.

“Baggins: now there’s a name I remember. Didn’t your nephew stay in my house one night last year, Master Bilbo? He caused quite stir, I can tell you, or at least what we used to call a stir in those days. No time to worry about that sort of thing anymore, of course.”

I was wondering whether to try to explain what Frodo’s visit had meant, but Arwen interrupted me.

“Master Barliman, my people and I are trying to go west, to the Gray Havens, or possibly north, if the Havens no longer exist. Do you get news here from those quarters?”

“Aye, Lady, lots of news; none of it good, but maybe none of it true, either. Many of the Fair Folk have passed through Breeland since the Bad Day, and most don’t come back. A few do, though. They say the Shire is too dangerous to pass through. It’s not just the Enemy, though there’s a proper army of Orcs and Men there, by all accounts, burning or killing whatever they see. The greater danger is the Shirefolk. They now shoot at everyone they see who isn’t a Hobbit, no questions asked. Anyway, the ones who come back say they will head back East over the Mountains until things calm down, or they try to go around north to Fornost and Lake Evendim.”

“Isn’t that the way to the Blue Mountains?” I asked. “Do the Dwarves still have works in the Blue Mountains?”

“Seemingly, Master,” he answered, “some of their traffic even finds its way through Archet these days; but not much, as you can imagine. Some Men and even a few Elves are seeking the Blue Mountains, too. That looks as if it might become the safest place in this part of the world. I’ve been thinking of heading there myself. It’s a dangerous way, though, and a slow one.”

Erestor addressed our party:

“It is not far from the Blue Mountains to the Gray Havens. The wiser course may be to seek shelter there, until we find how things stand at the Havens. We might, perhaps, even make a haven for ourselves there. That part of the world is too remote to be of much interest to the Enemy.”

Arwen thought otherwise. “Councilor, I suspect that time may be of the essence with regard to the Havens. They can be defended longer than almost anyplace in Middle Earth: certainly longer than Imladris could have been, even had we had the fighters to make the attempt. However, if there is an army of the Enemy in the Shire, then can we doubt that the Dark Tower will move against the Havens before the summer is out? We must go now. The Havens may be besieged in a few weeks, if they are not already.”

“And if they are already closed to us?” he asked.

“Then we will know; and as you say, the Blue Mountains are only a few days further north.”

Barliman watched the argument with placid interest. Finally he interrupted to suggest that we need not settle the matter now. We were welcome to stay until tomorrow, and then our further journey would be provisioned through the generosity of the People and the Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, though of course neither the People nor the Council would take it amiss if we cared to contribute trinkets or other valuables to the general fund. Additionally, our leaders were invited to dine with him and the rest of the Council that evening at the inn of Archet, which these days served the small republic as a sort of capitol. The Steward Faramir would also be there, and could advise us further. Arwen did not actually spit.

“Yes, there is room for you in Breeland,” Barliman answered Erestor after a surprisingly sumptuous dinner. One of the few advantages to rapid depopulation is that, briefly, there is more than enough for all the survivors. “There are only about a thousand of us here now. But think: if you stay, you would have to become farmers or gardeners, or maybe hunters. And we might not stay. We are hidden here, but Breeland is right on the Road, and the Road is where the Enemy moves. My thinking is that we will all have to move north. If the Dwarves won’t have us, then maybe we would be left alone at Fornost, or the Hills of Evendim.”

These possibilities interested Erestor, but not me. Pioneering did not appeal to me at my age. I had my reasons seeking the Gray Havens, but it seemed less and less likely that I would ever get there. Still, I had hopes of seeing the Shire before I died. I did not care if I were shot for a Mordor Orc as soon as I crossed the Brandywine; which is what might happen, seemingly.

These possibilities did not much interest Arwen at the moment, either, not when she had Faramir to hand to berate for the fall of Gondor.

“And you say these Nazgul never appeared again after the siege of Minas Tirith was lifted?” she asked him. “I could understand your terror of them, you being a mortal, but it seems to me that your people fled at the mere rumor of the Enemy.”

“Lady Arwen, by your grace, the people had had enough. And speaking of having had enough…”

“I think the Lady has made an important point,” Glorfindel broke in. “If these winged nightmares can fly like the wind and cannot be resisted, then why have they not come here?”

“Perhaps we are not important enough for them,” Barliman suggested.

“The Enemy thought these parts were important enough to send an army here, to look for ‘traitors,’” I interjected. “Why not send a Nazgul? And besides, Gelmir was surely right that the Enemy desires to collect the Three Rings. Perhaps he does not want them urgently, but is it not strange that many weeks passed after the Enemy’s victory before he reached out his hand to Imladris?”

“Would that Aragorn and his kinsmen had escaped,” Arwen said. “The true Men of the West would have found a way even in this dark time.”

Faramir actually slammed the table. “Lady, I am the rightful Steward of Gondor. I am as much of the race of Numenor as the pretender; no, I withdraw that; as the late King Elessar ever was!”

Something clicked in my mind them. I had been trying to place who Faramir reminded me of. It was Strider, obviously. Arwen had made the same connection; her problem was that she didn’t realize it.

Erestor re-imposed decorum in a very loud voice. “Lady, my Lords, Extraordinary Councilors, there is only thing we must decide this evening, and that is what we are to do in the morning. For my part, I think the wisest course would be to follow Councilor Barliman’s wisdom and go north. In that way, we could remove ourselves from the greatest danger, ascertain the possibility of making a new settlement and, with due prudence, determine whether the Havens…”

“Summer would be fading by the time we reached the Havens, if we took such a course,” Glorfindel said.

“Yet if we go directly West, we will lose much or all of our party,” Erestor countered. “So large a company could not hope to pass through the western end of Eriador in these days without serious fighting.”

Arwen said quietly, “If the remnants of the House of Elrond are as cowardly as the Men of Gondor, then I will seek the Havens alone.”

“Look,” I said, “let’s do both. A small party can go through the Shire, avoiding trouble, and determine the lay of the land at the Havens. The larger group should take the northern route. The small party can send word about what they find, either through Bree or the Blue Mountains.”

“As I said, Master Bilbo, the Shire has become dangerous, even for Hobbits,” Barliman warned. “Who would you send on such a mission?”

“Myself, for one, obviously,” I answered. “Like Arwen, in fact, I will say that if no one goes with me, then I will go alone.”

“I will go with the Lady Arwen and the Halfling,” Glorfindel said. “Perhaps no one else should come.”

Arwen decided to make the parting easy:

“Erestor, as the heir of Elrond, I charge you to take lead the remnant of his people north. Seek the possibility of refuge wherever you can, but look for word from me to come from the West. Indeed, if I find the path over the ocean is closed, I will come to you.”

Erestor nodded. “I think this is the best we can do, Lady.”

“I need to scout the region to which Elrond’s people are going in any case,” said Faramir. “With Erestor’s permission, I will accompany them.”

As the meeting broke up, Arwen remained seated with Faramir.

“Lord Steward, please forgive me for what I said in the heat of the moment. In these terrible days…”

“My Lady, you said nothing to me that I have not said to myself. You must see…”

No one saw either of them again until the morning, so apparently they did get a room.

(4) The Old Forest

The Breelanders were actually better than their word. The next morning, they gave backpacks with clothes and food for the westward-bound trio, and the loan of a small pony for as long as we remained on the Road. That would not be long; the Road was not safe, and in any case, to attempt to enter the Shire through the Brandywine Gate would evidently be suicidal. We hoped to travel in reverse more or less the course that Frodo had taken: across the Downs, through as little of the Old Forest as possible, and then into Buckland through the Brandybuck Gate. I knew the Gate, and poor Meriodoc Brandybuck had left some of his small effects with me, for safekeeping, so I also had the key. Faramir would accompany us to retrieve the pony.

As for the rest of our party, they would remain several days in Archet. The Breelanders were outfitting them as pioneers for their own move north. If the members of Elrond’s Household were not torn apart by unnamed horrors in the dark of night, then the Breelanders would follow them. Fair enough.

We four, plus the pony, returned to the Road after taking an even more circuitous route that bypassed Bree Village entirely. There was no one on it, neither armies nor travelers. On the other hand, there was a trail of discarded wrappings, some bones, occasional bits of papers, lots of spit, and fecal matter of various origins. The hardened earth of the Road had been turned to powder by marching feet. Many were prints of iron shoes, but there were as many tracks were of ordinary boots. We noted that more of the Orc tracks were headed east than west.

It was fine morning in late spring, and we made good time. I walked with Glorfindel, who explained that he was still of two minds about making a stand somewhere in Middle Earth or taking ship. He thought those Elves who had turned back east over the Misty Mountains might have made the best choice. The Sylvan Elves of Mirkwood had been as much masters of their domain as any Elves on Middle Earth, including the Elves of Lorien. Now their position was unique, since their magic was close to the ground and little affected by the changes in the great world, unlike the high magic of Galadriel and Celeborn.

“And what do you think happened in Lorien, Glorfindel?” I had never been there, but I had met Elves from there, and I had long been curious about that land.

“I think the Dream Flower burst into flame like a dry leaf. It is a loss beyond tears, Bilbo. Rivendell was a sapling compared to the Golden Wood.”

As we talked in this vein, Arwen and Faramir, and the pony, were walking a little ahead of us. They were taking great care not to look at each other. The lack of shouting between them was deafening.

By midmorning, we came to a place where the plain to the south seemed to flow toward the forest and yet offered us a little cover from enemy eyes on the Road. The pony’s burden was unpacked and divided into bundles according to our capacities. I protested that mine was enormous in comparison to my size. Yes, said Glorfindel and Arwen, but you are also by far the youngest of us three. There’s Elf humor for you.

We said rapid but not wholly despairing goodbyes. I wondered what I would do if Arwen gave Faramir another one of those elf-broaches that seemed to have jinxed so many fine people, but the occasion did not arise. They clasped hands and he bowed lightly. Then he turned east, taking the much-relieved pony with him.

The walk south was a golden reminiscence of my own youth; which, despite the mockery of the Elves, really had been a very long time ago. The land sloped at just the correct angle to help us move swiftly over the short turf. The sunlight seemed to fill me, a feeling that received appalling confirmation when I trotted a little ahead to hop on ruined wall to see the lay of the land.

“Bilbo,” Arwen said tactfully, “you are not casting a shadow.”

This was an exaggeration. A definite darkening of the grass could plainly be seen to the north of me. When I stood in front of a white standing stone, I thought I cast a fairly clear outline, all things considered.

“Bilbo, you’re fading,” Glorfindel said.

A stout fellow, I thought: always so quick on the uptake.

I explained as we continued south.

I was not sure it had not begun to happen even before the Day of Doom. I had given up the Ring, which seemed to slow whatever had been happening to be, but still I was not ageing quite normally. No one ever noticed me fading. I saw no signs of it myself. What I did see, sometimes, was that other people faded for a while. I also needed less and less sleep. After the Day of Doom, the symptoms accelerated. The bad days still came and went, but I was surprised it took so long for someone else to notice. Elves might not be impressed by mortal longevity, but I was the oldest Hobbit alive; soon I will be the oldest Hobbit who ever lived. Did anyone think I could have gone on this journey if my condition had been altogether natural?

I was trying to explain my puzzlement about the indifference of the Eye when we came in sight of a house and garden, with a small stable attached. There was nothing alive or dead in the stable. The straw was clean but old. We knocked politely on the door of the house several times. When there was no answer, we less politely pushed it open. The house was a neat as a pin, but dusty; clearly no one had been here for several weeks. There was a bag of beans in the kitchen, along with some other non-perishable items, but otherwise nothing to eat.

We were farther west than we wanted to be, but the Elves assured me that the land was not trying to mislead us. It did not occur to them not to follow the path down the banks of the Withywindle. It was summer here already, to judge by the warmth, but there was almost no foliage. There was plenty of grass and the bushes were flourishing, but the only leaves to be seen were on this season’s saplings. It was a scene from the dead of winter on a day more than warm enough to take your coat off.

With every step we took, a sense of chill deepened that had nothing to do with the temperature. I began to be surprised that I could not see my breath smoke. Glorfindel and Arwen felt it too, I suppose, but they seemed more puzzled than uncomfortable. As the afternoon began to decline, we came to a wide place in the river where a huge oak stood on the bank. It had not been damaged; its wood seemed to be perfectly sound. However, there was not so much as a green twig in all its canopy of branches.

“Could it all have been poisoned somehow?” I asked as I put a hand gingerly on a root. I drew it back immediately.

Arwen nodded. “See, it is not dead; it is terrified.”

The root had been trembling.

“Are you saying the forest is too frightened to grow?”

“Too frightened to grow; too frighten to move; too frightened even to face the sun with a leaf.”

“Can it stay like this?”

“No,” Arwen answered again, “not for very long; no more than a Man could live if he could never wake up. This is not an enchantment. The forest is insane.”

What insane thing could a vegetable do? I thought. It could deliberately ignore the spring. Of course, considering the sort of things that one might encounter this spring, I was not sure the forest did not have the right idea.

“What about that wood sprite Frodo was talking about? Tom, Tom Bombadil was his name. He had a consort, too.”

“Wood sprites are imaginary, Bilbo. Anyway, Tom is probably hiding in a cave, as terrified as the trees. He and the forest have grown together. When the forest dies, he will die. No doubt his consort has left him.”

We saw a trail that headed west; we began walking again under the blind and barren trees. The path led us to a ridge, which we followed until we could find a way down into a ravine, which brought us a little south. We repeated the process many times in the course of the waning afternoon. I could see how Hobbits alone might have been trapped in this sort of landscape. As it was, Glorfindel set me on his shoulders during the rough parts. We made good time.

The sun was almost setting when we reached the bare top of a tall hill. We could look around us at the forest, from the coldly glinting water of the Withywindle, clearly visible in the crystal-clear air, to the ranks of bare branches that bordered the green downs. I had been in the Old Forest twice before during visits to Buckland, one time at night. I was disturbed by the new silence and light far more than I had been by the groaning of trees invisible in the dark.

“I had thought that the spirit of the Old Forest was akin to the spirit of Mordor,” I said. “Before today, I would have said that the trees would delight in the victory of the Shadow. Now I see otherwise.”

Arwen replied, “So it is. The ancient dark before the Sun rose was innocent; the dark of Mordor is mere nothing. The victory of the Dark Tower was a disaster for everything that lives, but most of all for the dumb things close to the earth. With the return of the Ring, the Great Eye had only to blink to wither the forests”.

The sun just touched the horizon as we completed this sad exchange.

“You know, “I said, “if we don’t start to run right now, I am quite sure I am going to go insane myself.”

So run we did, faster and faster, as the light of the setting sun made the trunks of each of the mad trees into a harlequin pillar of gold and velvet. Overhead, nothing shielded us from the reddening twilight sky that cruelly refused to become dark. I would have given anything for a bit of cover.

We had a bad moment when we reached the hedge. As I said, I had been there twice before, but never alone, and never at this time of day. We almost became lost as we searched for the entrance to the tunnel that led to the gate. The Elves were beginning to panic, something I had never seen an Elf do in the face of the supernatural.

Finally, we did find the gate, and we descended into the blessed dark. I had the key to hand. We passed through the gate without difficulty and closed it carefully. I walked a little ahead of Arwen and Glorfindel to the western end of the tunnel and turned to address them.

“Now you two better wait here for a few hours until I can spy out the lay of the land. Hobbits have always been leery of Big People in the Shire, even Elves, I am afraid, so let….”

An arrow thwanged firmly into the rear of my backpack. I reflected that I had not even reached the Brandywine yet.

(5) Buckland

“I can see plainly enough who you are, Master Baggins,” said Rorimac Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland, “but that does not mean I like what I see.”

The interview was held in what had been the largest parlor in Brandybuck Hall. Now, aside from the Master’s chair at one end of the room, it held racks on which weapons were stored. Maps covered much of the walls. There were also 20 Hobbits in arms. My friends were being held in the Hall’s newly improvised dungeon.

“But Rory, I am so glad to see you after all these years! And I had so many fine times here in Brandybuck Hall!”

Both those statements were true, more or less, but I did not mention how shocked I was when I saw that the Hall had been turned into a network of trenches and gated tunnels. Moreover, those defenses had obviously been tried in the recent past. By and by, I was sure, Rory would tell me what had happened, assuming he did not hang me and my friends first.

“If you liked it the Shire so much, Bilbo, then why did you run off into the blue like that? And now you come back, not much the worse for wear, and at an age when decent folk are long dead.” I was stunned to see how much Rory had aged since he attended my last birthday party in the Shire; evidently he was stunned to see how much I hadn’t. “But that’s not the worst of it: you took poor Frodo to Bag End and made him as cracked as yourself. He ran off too, you know. Now he’s the one I’d like to get news of. Strange folk were asking about him before those devils came from the South, and I’d like to know why.”

I was reasonably sure that Frodo had died horribly, and I knew for a fact why strange folk had been asking about him. Explaining all that would require explaining about the Ring. The Ring was no longer a secret, but I was disinclined to tell the Master of Buckland about it. The tale might raise the suspicion in his mind that the invasion of the Shire had been ultimately my fault; because, after all, it had been.

“What’s done is done, Rory, and I don’t know the half of it, not even about Frodo. Look, I am not even asking for hospitality. All I ask is that I and my two friends be allowed to make our way west. They are Elves on their way to the Gray Havens, Rory. No master of this Hall since the founding of Buckland would have interfered with such a journey.”

“In my time, Bilbo, in these past few years, I have had to things that no earlier Master of Buckland had ever had to do; or I hope will ever have to do in the days to come, if there are any more Masters after me. The Elves have failed, Bilbo, and we no longer think of them as friends. A great crowd of them came up the Greenway just a few days before that army of monsters. They came through Sarn Ford, broad as daylight, and hadn’t a word for anyone. They sure enough did not warn us of what was right behind them.”

“It’s possible they did not know,” I said. “Elves don’t really know everything. You can trust me on this.”

“They also don’t pay for everything they take,” Rory countered, “not anymore, if they ever did. Some of our folk west of the Brandywine have been robbed blind at night. In a few cases, not just the food and gear are gone: the Hobbits are, too. Anyway, we don’t want any more strangers of any sort in the Shire. If you don’t know why yet, you will soon enough.”

That was encouraging. He meant to keep me alive long enough to tell me all the bad news. These days, that could take a month. He considered a moment and then spoke again.

“For old times’ sake, Bilbo, I will make an exception for, and your friends. I would think better of you if you gave a better account of your movement, though, because I can see there are things you are hiding. Anyway, maybe you know that your nephew Frodo bought a house at Crickhollow before he left? Well, that neighborhood is safe again, or as safe as anyplace in the Shire is these day. You and your two Elves can stay there for a few days. And then you can go.”

I thanked him effusively. The guards showed me to the door.

The stay at Crickhollow was the most painful time for me since March 25. It was not just the Shire; it was Bag End, or close enough. It was still filled with the things that Frodo had brought from home. I wanted to stay forever, and I wanted to leave immediately. Glorfindel and Arwen favored the latter option, since grown Elves don’t really fit into a Hobbit house. They spent most of the time in a tent outside that the guard Rory set on us helped to improvise.

At Rivendell, I had heard fragmentary reports from the Rangers about what had been happening in the Shire, but the rumors had had not prepared me for the full story. Apparently, that nitwit Lotho Sackville-Baggins had made himself Tyrant of the Shire, or some such nonsense. At any rate, he tried to: his petty empire did not extend to Buckland, or away in the Tookland around Great Smials. In a way, Lotho’s presumptions had been a blessing in disguise, at least for Buckland. Rory had armed and fortified the country to keep out Lotho’s thieving men and weasely sheriffs. So, when the army of the Eye arrived, not all the Shire was unprepared. Great Smials had been sacked and burned, but it held out for several days. Thereafter the army razed the center of the Shire, and particularly the neighborhood of Hobbiton. No Hobbits had escaped from that farthing, as far as anyone knew. In contrast, the Enemy was not much interested in Buckland. They raided once east across the Brandywine and once south from Bridge, but soon turned back. Lately, most of the Enemy force had dispersed east and west. There was still an Enemy fort of some kind near the center of the Shire, though. There was no peace in the Shire; it was no longer the Hobbits’ country.

After several days, Arwen, Glorfindel, and I consulted at a picnic in the garden of the house. There was actually room for them in the parlor of the house, but it seemed polite to invite Rory’s guards, too.

“We know that some of the army of the Eye went west,” Glorfindel said as we started on the last of the tarts. “That can mean only that they were headed for the Havens. I want to see the Havens as much as the next Elf, but there would be little purpose in pursuing our journey if at the end we find Orcs sitting on the wharf.”

“I don’t think you would find Orcs there, Master,” said one of the guards. “There are still some Orcs at Michel Delving and Bag End, not that we see much of them anymore, even at night. Most went east, though, just a few days before you arrived. There would be Men at the Elf harbor. They are just as bad Orcs, if you ask me.”

“It is not news that the Enemy uses Orcs and Men for different things,” Arwen observed. “But just because the Men went west does not mean that they took the Havens. There has been word of the return of that part of the army of the Eye, has there?”

The guards shook their heads no. The Hobbits might not control what happened in the Shire any longer, but they still knew exactly what was happening in it.

Arwen continued, “That could mean that the Havens are besieged, or even that the Enemy was destroyed. The Havens are far easier to defend than Imladris, remember.”

“It could also mean that the Enemy is simply holding the Havens until they can be relieved,” Glorfindel countered. “And the Havens may have been strong, but they were built and preserved with the aid of Narya, the Ring of Fire. How do we know that what happened to Imladris did not also happen to the Havens?”

“Maybe because Narya has not been at the Havens for centuries,” I interjected. “Poor Gandalf has been wearing it all these years, you know. He did not seem to know that I knew, but of course I had worn the Great Ring, so I could see all the others.”

My skin crawled with rage as I again thought I would never see my precious again: never, never.

Arwen said, “We must find out what happened at the Havens, and the sooner we do the better. The Enemy might not have taken the Havens yet, but he will surely do so soon. We must find out now whether the Elves can still escape.”

None of us had really thought otherwise. The problem now was how to cross the Enemy’s Shire.

(6) The Conquered Shire

Two days later, we stood on the west bank of the Brandywine with new provisions and a plan, if not quite a solution. The provisions came from the Master of Buckland, who did not like his new role as warlord; he had actually offered us as much Hobbit hospitality as he judged the safety of his people would allow. The plan was mostly of our own devising, but with lots of advice from the Master’s scouts and spies about the lay of the land. The fastest way to the Havens was, of course, the Great Road, but to take the Road was out of the question when the Men of the Eye used it every day. Instead, we would take the country road that led through the Woody End to Tuckborough. We would not rejoin the Road until we were well into the West March. The Shire was not such a wilderness that we could not make good time away from the major thoroughfares.

The Buckleberry Ferry was no longer in service, obviously, but we had gotten a lift across the river in the small, swift boats that the Bucklanders still used for trade with the Marish. We waved goodbye to boatman and took a route that would take us around the town of Stock, which had been damaged by the same force that entered Buckland from east. Even more than the Bucklanders, the people of Stock would be inclined to shoot on sight anyone who was not a Hobbit. We set off west.

The walk through the Marish was unreal to me because it was ordinary. Many homesteads along the road had been pillaged, but the neighborhood was still intact, with its tidy Hobbit farm buildings and small fields like the squares of a quilt. (Why was it that people who positively disliked organization would marshal every landscape they farmed like an army camp of the Big People?) I very much wanted to walk up one of the paths to the door of a farmhouse and introduce myself. I knew some of these Hobbits, or at least I had known their fathers and mothers. I was sure they would offer me lunch. As it was, though, my friends and I had to skulk along behind hedges and across the edges of fields, as if we were Gollums of various sizes.

Eventually, we did stop for lunch at a farm house, though it had no roof. It had been overgrown by the neighboring wood, except for a stone path to the door, and seemed to have been abandoned for years. A fire was out of the question, but we were quite secure from prying eyes.

“Bilbo, you’re casting a good, solid shadow today,” Arwen complimented me.

“Fank umb bury mulk,” I say around a bite of one of Rory’s sandwiches. “As I said, it comes and goes. My spirits affect the fading; so do my surroundings. Few surrounding are as solid as the Shire. Please forgive me if I say now that Rivendell may have been a bit too ethereal for my good.”

“Or maybe for its own good, too,” she allowed.

The Shire seemed only to sadden Glorfindel. “The little people do not know what the age has in store for them. They think a storm or a plague has passed over them, but that they will be able to rebuild the lives they knew. They will be hunted like prey at the Enemy’s whim, so that first one and them another polite custom will fall from them. If they survive at all, they will be like badgers in their burrows. Alas.”

I was about to suggest to Glorfindel that it might be better to live like a badger in a burrow than to disappear in a puff of smoke, which seemed to have happened lately to some Elves I could mention, but instead we just finished lunch. When it was time to go, I said:

“Again, I better do any talking that needs to be done. I will walk a little ahead. If you two hear anything on the road, get undercover until I can sort things out. I won’t reveal your presence unless I absolutely have to.”

So we left the ruin, and walked up the short path that led to the road. It was exactly the way we had come a half-hour ago. I was gingerly looking up and down the road from the head of the path when I heard something large behind me fall.

Glorfindel and Arwen were struggling in a net that looked very much like the natural foliage. They were being held down by a dozen Hobbits in hunting clothes with quivers of arrows on their backs. Everyone knew that Hobbits were better in a wood than an Elf. Since these Hobbits had managed to approach the ruined farmhouse and set a trap without being noticed, they must have been very good indeed. Even I was impressed.

“Did these sneaking Elves hurt you, master?” asked a Hobbit. He was betrayed by a feather in his cap as the leader. “We could have just shot them, but we need something to trade to the Prefect. They’ve got another six of our folk at Bag End. The devils are particularly in the market Elves, I hear.”

“Well done, captain,” I said. “May I go along for the exchange? I think that one of those six could be one of my cousins.”

* * *

I was 129 years old, and I had once outsmarted a dragon, but I never lied so frequently, or so well, as I did over the next day and a half. I explained that I was a refugee from the West Farthing (which was true, after a fashion) and that these Elves had kidnapped me and forced me to show them the way across the Shire. I said they were particularly interested in knowing which farmsteads would be worth robbing. Indeed, I painted such a picture of Elvish turpitude that Glorfindel and Arwen would have been hanged if they were not about to be turned over to the Enemy to be tortured to death. The only plan I could make was to stay with the prisoners as they were moved from camp to camp of Hobbit irregulars. Twice I was left alone with them and almost succeeded in cutting their bonds; both times I was discovered. After the second time, the Hobbits would not let me alone with the prisoners again. The Hobbits thought I had been poking them with my penknife (which was also true, but it was an accident).

The upshot was, early one bright and warm day, I found myself peering from the cover of hedges at a flat stone in the midst of a field near Bag End. Arwen and Glorfindel were tied up on the stone. This was one of the locations where the Hobbits sometimes traded with the Enemy’s Men. The commanders of the army of the Eye had not condescended to treat with any of the Hobbits. Once the Enemy was established, however, his forces became notably less aggressive. Here and there, the Men began trading with the natives. They found they could also make a nice little pile for themselves for themselves by collecting ransom for Hobbits who had been enslaved, or sometimes simply taken hostage so they could be ransomed. The kidnappers were paid in food and trinkets. Enough Hobbits were saved this way that it was in no one’s interest to break off the contacts. Very recently, however, the Prefect had discovered the arrangement, and had begun to use it himself to police the Shire for travelers. At any rate, that seemed to be what was happening.

“Here they come,” said the local Hobbit captain, feather and all.

They were six Men, each dressed in a badly maintained version of the livery that had been worn by the Men whom Glorfindel had killed on the Last Bridge. Each led a Hobbit. The Hobbits were in even worse condition than the Men. One, whose head was bandaged to cover the eyes, was barely able to stand. The Men determined that the prisoners on the rock were alive, and apparently were Elves. Then some of our party, including me, stepped out into the clearing.

“This is a fine catch, little folk,” said one of the men, kicking Glorfindel lightly with his boot, “thank you kindly. And here are your kittens in return.” He signaled to the Men to release their prisoners.

The freed Hobbits stumbled into the arms of the Hobbits from the bush, some of whom were obviously kinsmen. “Griffo, Pearl, Saradoc, you’re alive, you’re alive!” they said amidst many hugs. I was glad to see the Hobbits released, too, but I was no closer to saving the Elves. It looked as if I would have to sneak into Enemy headquarters somehow: hard to do, without a magic ring. In the meanwhile, I had picked out one of the released Hobbits whom I could comfort without saying anything too specific about our relationship. Then one of the other prisoners said, “Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins: how dare you show your face here!” I could barely recognize the Hobbit, who of course was much older than the last time I saw him. Finally I placed him. It was Olo, Olo Proudfoot: my cousin.

The Hobbits all looked at me. So did several of the Men. “Why, Olo,” I began, “how delighted…”

“It’s Mad Baggins!” cried one of the Hobbits I had come with.

“Yes,” said Olo, “the one with all the stolen treasure! The one who started the trouble all those years ago. And the one…”

“Baggins!?! Stolen treasure!?!” aid the leader of the Men. My fame had preceded me, evidently. “Take this one, too, boys, and don’t take an argument from the rest!”

It was not actually much of a fight. Some of the Hobbits drew their knives, but only to make sure that the released prisoners got away. All the Hobbits soon scurried into the bushes. They did not stage an ambush on my behalf. Perhaps they thought I could disappear if I needed to.

(7) The Prefect of Bag End

Bag End looked much less like Bag End than the house at Crick Hollow had looked like Bag End. The diggings had been extended and the roof raised to allow for larger occupants. The old hole had become Mordor’s capital in the Shire because Lotho had used it for that purpose, and Lotho had been the first thing in the Shire that the Enemy sought. I never found out exactly what had happened to Lotho, but his family and most of his hired Men had met grisly ends, some of them in public, usually while protesting that they did not have information that the Great Eye urgently wished to have.

In any case, Bag End had become a clerical office, and a prison, and a torture chamber, but most of all it was now a hospital. The new tunnels were occupied by moaning Orcs who looked as if they had been burned. This puzzled me mightily. I had had more to do with Orcs in my time than I care to say, and I knew they did not like the sunlight, but I had never seen anything like this.

The guards and the workers were Men. There were surprisingly few. Four of then led us, with our hands tied, to the Audience Chamber of the Prefect of Ecstasy.

The Audience Chamber was in fact my three best bedrooms, with the walls knocked down and the walls painted sable. Skillfully wrought scenes of mayhem and misery were worked into the darkly stained glass of the windows. The culture of Mordor was irredeemably depraved, but it was also helplessly exquisite; that was one of its insistences, like the tidiness of the Shire.

At Man height, at the narrow north end of the room, a strangely glinting mural of the Great Eye floated in the blackness of the wall. Large iron stands stood at intervals about the room, burning huge candles that had been made from the fat of some fell beast. They produced considerably more smoke than light. It took my eyes a moment to take in the room.

The Prefect himself was unmistakable. All in black, with a high black headdress, he had the look of perpetual, dismayed surprise that characterized all the Men who had knowingly submitted to Sauron. He sat on a low-backed chair (not one of mine, I could see) on a circular dais under the Eye. Before his feet, there seemed to be a little cup in which an ember glowed redly. To his left another figure, dressed in dark brown, sat on the edge of the dais.

The figure in brown was Gelmir.

“Where is he?” the Prefect demanded. He had a surprisingly fine tenor voice, but it rasped with impatience. In fact, he sounded very close to desperate.

“This is the traitor of whom I spoke, Prefect, the Hobbit who stole the Great Ring of the Eye many years ago.”

The Prefect scarcely glanced at me; he glared at Gelmir.

“You know perfectly well, elven fool, that the Eye seeks just one thing in this land of imps. I don’t need another imp, no matter what he has done. I don’t need any more Elves, either, or to hear what they say, unless they know where the traitor is. Do you, Elf Bitch?”

I was shocked to hear Arwen Elvenstar addressed in this fashion. Glorfindel was struck dumb, or perhaps dumber. Arwen herself, however, had not lived to be upwards of 3000 years old without learning a measure of composure.

“I see that victory has not made Mordor forget its accustomed courtesy,” she said. “I normally do not address persons who have not introduced themselves to me, but in this case I will say that I do not know what the Servant of the Eye is talking about. I will further suggest that the Servant does not know, either.”

The Prefect took no further notice of them and turned his attention back to Gelmir:

“We need to find him now, today. I have already had to send most of our Orcs to the Misty Mountains to preserve them from sun poisoning. My Men I have sent west. Then, at your counsel, I sent more west to find what became of the army. The imps will realize our position any day now. Do you not know how cruel they are? But I hear nothing from the Ministry of Peace about relief. The Dark Throne is silent, or its messengers are waylaid by bandits.”

Gelmir said in a reasonable tone, “Perhaps, Prefect, it was a mistake to advise the Throne to send its messages through the eastern route rather than the southern. The imps were not that great a peril to communication.”

“Do not forget, Gelmir, that the span of you life is no longer than the span of your usefulness. If we cannot complete our mission here…”

“But Prefect, have I not brought a great gift?” Gelmir indicated the ember in the cup.

“Gelmir, you flatter yourself, and most of all you flatter your wit. You have brought a useless bauble that the Eye could have whenever it desired.” The Prefect kicked the cup away. “The Eye is sick of rings.”

The cup clattered off the dais, sending the ember skittering across the slate floor. It did not actually come to a stop very close to my feet, but no one was paying much attention to me as the exchange between Gelmir and the Prefect continued. I bent down and picked it up. It was very hot, I knew. I could even feel some of the heat. However, in the unreal darkness of this outpost of the kingdom of nothingness, I was as faded as I had ever been. One of the advantages to that was a degree of immunity to physical forces: such as heat, for instance. I picked up Vilya (Gelmir really had retrieved it; had he been fool enough to bring it here voluntarily, or had he been picked up by one of the Prefect’s sunburned Orcs?) and applied it to the cords on my wrists. No one noticed the small amount of smoke. Then no one noticed that I was free.

Well, my hands were no longer tied: I was still being kept under guard by four large men while the slithery Gelmir seemed to be losing an argument with the viceroy of darkness about whether to just kill the lot of us.

“First, Gelmir,” the Prefect was saying, “I will personally induce the ecstasy of the Eye in all three of them, to see whether they do know anything. And then, Gelmir, before we leave this place, the time will come for you; so much for your ‘offer of negotiation.’”

I took a certain degree of satisfaction in that last bit, but not so much that I did not run from the Chamber.

One of the guards did follow, but no one seemed terribly put out about my escape attempt. After all, where could I go?

Where I did go was into the largest Orc ward (made from my kitchen and my principal larder, the devils!) and tore down the curtains over the south-facing windows. Beautiful bright sunlight streamed into the room, a fair amount of it straight through me. No matter. The Orcs erupted like disturbed bees and ran screaming into the hall. Then I exited a window and walked on my lawn for the first time since my eleventy-first birthday party. When I came to the deliciously horrible stained glass of the Chamber of Audience, I used a rock to clear away the glass before jumping through. I was never a hero.

Inside, I found the situation better than I had hoped. The guards had gone to attend to the riot in the hall, and Gelmir was wrestling with the Prefect. I did to Arwen and Glorfindel’s bonds much what I had done with mine, which hurt the prisoners but not as much as the Ecstasy of Mordor would have. We were hopping through the window when Gelmir yelled, “Wait, take me!” This gave the Elves pause, but I responded immediately with the only weapon we had. The Prefect, whom Gelmir did not quite have in neck hold, could scarcely see me, what with the sudden access of sunlight and the fact I was half invisible anyway. So, he was not prepared to stop me from popping the Ring into his mouth and making him swallow it. Then he ran into the hall, too, but not to call the guards after us.

(8) North & West

Outside on the lawn of Bag End, there was nothing to do but run. There were some Men about, but none had horses, and the Men seemed disinclined to challenge us on foot: three High Elves, even unarmed, are pretty formidable. In any case, the guard concentrated on the chaos in Bag End, which seemed to taking on the aspect of an Orkish uprising. When it was just a matter of speed, Glorfindel carried me. The landscape was one of gently rolling hills, with occasional patches of trees: it lent itself to flight. Long before sunset, we were many miles away.

We had run all the way to the North Farthing. Indeed, we were not far from Bindbale Wood. I had visited here in my younger days, and I knew the people for hospitable folk. Still, the whole Shire had been brutalized, so I did not know how much the rules of hospitality still applied. In any case, I suspected that a little harmless dissimulation about my identity would be prudent.

“We might just spend the evening in the woods,” Arwen suggested.

“And we might miss lunch and dinner and breakfast and cast ourselves into the Encircling Ocean,” I said crossly. “Whatever may suit the Elves, however, I am a Hobbit. I will knock on the first door we see.”

The first door actually took a little finding, but finally we came across a farm just outside the border of the wood, a farm that looked as prosperous as any Hobbit farm ever had. Leaving the Elves at a discreet distance, I knocked on the door just as the sun was about to set.

“Good evening, madam,” I said to the farmer’s wife who answered the door. “My name is Boffo Feathertoes. Would it be possible for you to put up my friends and me for the night?”

“You’re not Boffo Feathertoes.” She answered evenly. “You’re Mad Baggins.”

“Why do you say that, madam?”

“I can see the sun setting through your stomach.”

They put us up anyway, but we had to stay in the barn. Gelmir, who had picked up a few other things besides the Ring Vilya during his expedition to Rivendell, paid quite a lot of coin for our lodging. The story that circulated afterward was that I had appeared at the door with a bang and a sack of gold. I had joined the immortals.

Gelmir was penitent. He had lost his little band of followers to Orkish stragglers or to desertion. Possibly that was just as well: if a band of Elves had approached the garrison of Men at the Brandywine Bridge, they would probably have just been shot with arrows from a distance. As it was, he had no trouble gaining an audience with the Prefect. The Prefect had no interest in Gelmir’s offer of surrender on terms, but he did seem really desperate for information about the outside world.

Mordor was not paying attention to his mission. In fact, Mordor did not seem to be paying attention to anything. The Eye had not been surprised by victory. Mordor had been planning for centuries about the course it would take when Gondor fell. Those plans had not included the recovery of the Ring; that had been pure luck. Something about the recovery of the Ring, however, had deranged even the most straightforward schemes over which the Eye had gloated for so long. Mordor could and did still overawe its near neighbors, but more and more, when the claw of Mordor reached out afar, it closed on nothing. No one at the Ministry of Peace was sure what was happening, except that anything that miscarried in Eriador was certainly the Prefect’s fault. At any rate, that was their attitude the last time he had heard from them.

Gelmir also learned what had happened at Mount Doom on March 25. Two palantiri were found at Minas Tirith, and one came into the possession of the Prefect’s Ministry. They can see through time as well as space, and stories about what they revealed spread like lightening among the Dark Lord’s principal servants.

The Ring-bearer had almost fallen to the temptation of the Ring, but in the end he rallied. He had been about to destroy the Ring when he heard a struggle behind him between his servant and the Gollum-creature. He left the Sammath Naur to help his friend, who was rolling down the path with Gollum at his throat. As the Ring-bearer stood at the entrance to the cave, however, he became aware of the approach of the Nazgul. He raised to rebuke them the hand that wore the Ring; they fell from the sky like sparks from a fire. He followed the wrestling figures down the path. When he reached them, before he speak a word of command, Gollum sprang up and ripped his throat out. The Ring-bearer’s servant eventually slew Gollum, but not before he had himself been mortally wounded. He died clutching the Ring a few yards from the entrance to the Sammath Naur. The Ring was on the Dark Lord’s hand within a few hours.

“Perhaps if he had claimed the Ring for his own, matters would have turned out differently,” Gelmir concluded.

“That is exactly the kind of thing I would expect someone like you to say,” Glorfindel sneered.

I said nothing, but I was not sure I disagreed with Gelmir. Poor, honest, doomed Frodo: if he had understood that he could not possibly achieve the Quest by his own virtue, then maybe, just maybe, a way would have been found that no one could have predicted.

* * *

The last stage of our journey to the West was not without incident. We went northwest to Needlehole, thinking to travel through Little Delving rather than through Michel Delving, which for all we knew was still in the hands of the Prefect’s Men. We discovered, though, that the Hobbits of the northern border of the Shire were no happier to see strangers than the Bucklanders had been. The northerners had not been troubled by Men or Orcs, however: their problem was the Things that Live in the Woods. Wags and trolls and nightwalkers had long haunted Hobbit mythology, for the excellent reason that they also haunted the wastelands to the north of the Shire. All that had kept them from haunting the Shire, too, were the Rangers, and to a lesser extent the sheriffs. Now both were gone. We heard a lot of sentiment that things were better when Lotho was in charge: he at least had kept up the border patrol.

We met some of the Things, on the one night when we unwisely attempted to make camp. After that, we took lodging where we could get it, sometimes without informing the owners of the barns and sheds where we took refuge. Quite often, we also made off with their goods and smaller livestock. (Yes, Elves do steal: I know this because I helped them do it. They don’t kidnap Hobbits, though: Rory had been listening to rumors.) We barely escaped from the neighborhood of Little Delving with our lives. In contrast, we were well enough received in Michel Delving to use the inn. Yes, the Prefect’s Men had been there, but had done no damage beyond some ordinary thievery. Nothing more was heard from them; no one and nothing had come from the West.

While we were at Michel Delving, however, we did hear that the remnants of the army of the Eye had left the Shire through the southward roads. It had not been defeated. When Hobbits cautiously entered Bag End and the other headquarters, they found that most of the army had died.

We stayed on the Road thereafter. We passed through the lightly people White Downs, and the Far Downs, of which I had so often heard but which I had never visited. The Elves told me that the tang in the air and the high haze in the sky were signs of the proximity of the sea. I could just detect these things, but in truth my senses were failing me, or at least my senses for natural things. It was getting so that I had to concentrate to see the ordinary world. I was beginning to be able to see another world all about me, even in the daytime. Some of it was quite alarming. I mentioned it to the Elves. They said yes, they could see that world, if they needed to do so. Usually they preferred to ignore it. I could understand why, but I was having less and less choice about seeing it.

(9) The Tower Hills

I had seen a fair amount of Middle Earth, but the White Tower was by far the most striking building I have ever seen. It rose up like a chalk continuation of the highest of the rolling green hills. It almost glowed against the sky behind it, a sky so blue it was almost black. And the Tower was perfect; no harm had come to this place.

Arwen said, “Bilbo, as you know, we three Elves have been here before. Now come up with us, and you will what you have never seen before.”

The great oaken doors of the Tower were open. No one was inside at ground level. Around the walls of the great tower was a wide stairway, punctuated by small glassed windows. The stairs wound to an aperture in the roof far above us. We climbed.

We were able to see the sea long before we reached the top. It was not the sea’s apparent infinity that astonished me. I was astonished because the sea was the one thing that looked the same in both worlds.

The top of the tower was large. A central chamber took up most of it; doors led off that circular space to other rooms. In the middle of the chamber there was stone pedestal. On the pedestal was a softly glowing white sphere.

“Look, Bilbo,” said Arwen, “here is the great palantir that looks to the uttermost West. The Elves come here in pilgrimage, so that we do not forget our true home. You are worthy to see this vision, too. Come.”

I stood up on the shallow step on which the pedestal stood and gazed into the sphere. The milky glow became clouds. The clouds thinned. And then opaque glow returned.

“I am sorry,” I said, “perhaps I am not worthy enough.”

“I see nothing but clouds and light,” said Gelmir.

“That, too, is all I see,” Glorfindel said.

We were silent for several confused moments. Then we heard a door opening behind us.

The Elves stepped back and drew their knives, but there was no need. Two young Men in gray uniforms stood politely by the head of the stairs. On their right breasts they bore a white emblem with which I was not familiar.

“Lady Arwen, my Elf Lords, Master Halfling, we greet you in the name of Warden Cirdan and his allies. With your permission, we have been sent to escort you to the Gray Havens.”

“Well met, fair-spoken strangers, for the havens are indeed our destination,” said Gelmir. “But can you tell us why the stone no longer looks beyond the sea?”

“I can merely confirm that the stone is as you say for all who try to use it. Why this should be I do not know. However, my master may know. In any case, he desires urgently to speak to you. Will you come down and take some refreshment? We have mounts for you all. We can be at the Havens by sundown tomorrow.”

We looked at each other. There nothing else we could have asked for. The two Men in gray preceded us down the stairs. I kept hopping up to the westward-facing windows to get one more look at the reassuringly solid sea.

(10) The End of the World

In the fine weather, we made better time even than we had hoped. On the journey, our hosts answered direct questions but volunteered no information. We arrived at the Havens by mid-afternoon. The Havens were a small and ancient town of square towers and substantial houses, all built entirely of basalt. The town was almost an island. It was located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula that defined the inner harbor. The Havens were easily defended and impossible to truly besiege without a formidable armada to flank its seaward side. No ships but the town’s own were in evidence when we arrived, however. The town was a perfect as the White Tower had been. Its folk were busy and undisturbed.

In former days, I would have complained that I was not offered a meal after such a long journey, but food was becoming one of those earthly things that meant less and less to me. My horror at this development grew daily, but it did allow me to be as eager as the rest to be led to the quarters of Cirdan the Shipwright, the Warden of the Havens. We came to a long room with windows of leaded glass that overlooked both the inner and the seaward harbors. Long tables along the sides of the room held maps, scrolls, and instrument of observation, as well some products of elvish ingenuity whose function eluded me.

“Arwen, Glorfindel, welcome, welcome!” he said. He gave me a wry look and said, “And welcome to you, Master Baggins, the little fellow who started this big war.” I made a similarly ambiguous expression and bowed low, wishing that I were not just faded but completely invisible already. Then Cirdan addressed the last member of our party.

“Oh, Gelmir, it’s you. You survived, I see.”

Gelmir made much the same sort of bow I had.

Arwen said, “It is good to see again, Cirdan, my friend, and good beyond hope to see your city safe and whole. Many terrible things have happened, and we must discuss them soon enough. But tell me first, if you will, why the palantir of the Hills no longer has the Straight Sight.”

“All in good time, Arwen. Indeed, may mysteries will be made clear before the sun sets. I had asked several other persons with an interest in these matters to be here, but you are a little earlier than we planned, so it will take a few moments to alert them. Ah, here are two now!”

Erestor and Faramir had entered the room. Warm greetings were exchanged. Faramir and Arwen actually embraced; they did not entirely disentangle from each other when they were finished. Erestor seemed a little concerned that there was less to me than when we last met. Gelmir smiled and nodded and overlooked the fact nobody met his eye.

“There were monsters to fight in the Hills of Evendim,” Faramir was explaining, “but no Men, fortunately. The Breelanders think they can make a go of it there. Some of us then continued west and met the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. They are eager to help us. They were beginning to wonder how they would support themselves in a world without farmers to trade with.

“After that, I came south with Erestor and most of the other Elves. When I arrived here and learned the state of things in the Eriador, I was about to head east into the Shire to search for you. Then we heard you were on your way.”

“Yes, better monsters than Men. Would that I had taken that advice earlier.”

Someone unknown to me had joined us, a tall bearded figure in a gray uniform. Like the uniform of the men who had brought us, his bore the symbol of a white hand.

“Saruman!” said Arwen and Glorfindel in dismay. Gelmir said nothing. Perhaps he was struck dumb with happiness at there being someone in the room who was even less popular than he was.

“At your service,” he said with a small bow. “And yours, Master Halfling,” he said, turning to me. “The famous Bilbo Baggins, Esquire, if I am not mistaken?”

I bowed back. “The very same; and my service to you.” I knew enough about Saruman not to like him one bit, but I also knew enough about villains to be polite to them until the last possible moment.

“Cirdan, you know well that Saruman was cast from the White Council,” said Arwen, “and that he was long in secret league with the Enemy. How comes he here, your ally and apparent friend?”

“Lady Arwen, I have done many foolish and wicked things,” Saruman said to Arwen before Cirdan could reply, “yet now I have learned a little wisdom, at an immense price. Cirdan has heard my tale, and has become reconciled with me. I ask that you, too, hear me out.”

It was quite a story. We had heard that Gandalf had imprisoned Saruman with Grima at Orthanc, and set the Ents to guard them. On the Day of Doom, however, the Ents were terrified quite as much as the trees of the Old Forest had been. Unlike those trees, the Ents were mobile. They ran away. Saruman and Grima simply walked out of Orthanc and parted company, with slight expressions of mutual esteem.

I had not heard that Saruman had had dealings with the Shire. Now that he mentioned the matter, I began to understand how someone as clueless as Lotho Sackville-Baggins could cow the country into submission. In any case, Saruman fled to the Shire. He believed he had done so in secret, but the secret was apparently not as tightly kept as he had hoped.

Then something clicked in my head.

“The traitor: you are the traitor that Sauron was seeking in the Shire!” I said. “You were the reason for the invasion!”

“Yes Master Baggins, I was the proximate cause, and I deeply regret the great harm that was done to your beautiful country in the search for me. May I remind you, however, that the Dark Tower had business with the Shire that had nothing to do with me? There were more remote causes for the invasion. How regrettable that your own noble self was among them.”

He was better at innuendo than Gelmir was, I thought. Much better.

In any case, Saruman did not remain long in the Shire, but fled westward when he realized that the hand of Mordor was reaching out for him. Before many days had passed, he was at the Gray Havens. He had an awkward interview with Cirdan, who detained him at first. However, Cirdan was growing desperate. He knew that an army of Mordor was on its way to Havens. He could not defend the Havens indefinitely. He did not have the ships to evacuate its people, either to the West or to some remote place on the shores of Middle Earth. Saruman reminded him of his power of the Voice, and asked Cirdan to let him meet the army marching from the Shire.

“It was the best display of the great Art in my very long career,” Saruman said in a voice that failed to convey modesty. “With an hour’s talk, I stopped their advance. Within a day, I had turned their allegiance. In a week, most of them were reformed characters. Many now choose to continue to serve with me here, though of course now I have little extraordinary power of persuasion: other than reason, of course.”

“And how can that be,” asked Gelmir, “if that is a power that is native to you?”

“This can be, Councilor Gelmir, because what mortals call ‘magic’ is ending.”

This was food for thought for everyone. I thought of an objection.

I stood up on a chair in front of a window that looked out on golden afternoon light falling on the inner harbor. “If that is the case, wizard, than how is it you can see the white sails through my body, and in a week you will be able to see the masts?”

“Bilbo, let us consider your strange case. May we take it as proved that you are indeed fading, as the Nazgul did of old?”

“Just follow my voice if you can’t see me when I climb off the chair. Yes, Saruman, I am fading.”

“But when the Nazgul faded, the disappearance of their bodies was the least grievous matter. Their wills faded, too, Bilbo, until their minds became only puppets of the mind of Sauron. Has anything like that happened to you?”

I considered a moment, but I had already given the matter much thought. “I saw the Eye just once, on the Day of Doom. I am aware of it, like a stove across a room, but no, it does oppress me. The Eye is silent. I had, frankly, been hoping to leave Middle Earth before it began to speak.”

“It will not speak to you, Bilbo. Indeed, even in his bodily form the Dark Lord no longer speaks to his own servants. You may have noticed some of the effects of this silence on the government of his kingdom.”

“Is he then dead?” asked Gelmir.

“By no means. Sauron cannot die. He observes all that passes in Middle Earth. No doubt he sees us here now. He shouts and struggles and tries to affect the course of events, but he is like a man at the bottom of a waterfall who cannot make himself heard. The power of Sauron was Nothing, or rather the control of the flow of power and substance from this world to the absolute void that is not Arda. That is why every exercise of Sauron’s will was always a loss of some kind. His towers rose to the sky, but at the cost of realms that had held much greater substance. The Rings were only valves to give Sauron greater access to the void. When he acquired the Great Ring, the hole he had drilled through the world of substance became too great, a chasm not even he could control. All the magic in the world is flowing through it, and at an ever faster pace.

“I tried once to warn him that this could happen. He would not listen.”

Glorfindel became alarmed. “But what about the Elves?” he asked. “Is even the West safe, and can we still go there? Was the palantir clouded because the West is no more?”

Cirdan reassured him. “The palantir is clouded because Those Beyond the Sea obscured it when they realized the magnitude of Sauron’s victory. They do not wish their secrets spied out, and they know Sauron might well acquire the stone. Perhaps they did wisely, though now they have no way to see what is happening here. In any case, the very fact the palantir is still obscure is proof that the West still exists. The magic will not flow out of all creation, Glorfindel: only Middle Earth.”

“The Elves can still leave Middle Earth,” Erestor said, “but the time is short. The Straight Road to the West is a special grace between two worlds, but it cannot long endure now. As Cirdan can tell you, his ships have ever more trouble traversing the Gulf. I judge that no ship will be able to reach the West after the end of this year.”

“But what will happen to Middle Earth? What will happen to the race of Men?” asked Faramir.

“Some part of the effect you have already seen, Steward of Gondor,” answered Saruman gravely. “The creatures of this Middle Earth that belonged to the elder days are passing away. That would have happened anyway, but what would otherwise have taken centuries will now require only a few months. All of them: Trolls, Orcs, Ents, the good creatures and the bad, all will simply fall apart under the inflexible laws that will order nature in this Fourth Age.”

“So you are saying that Men will have the world to themselves?”

“For the most part. I tried very hard to tell Gandalf this. I tried too hard, and in the wrong way, and maybe I did not deserve to be listened to. In any case, I thought to use my knowledge of the new age for my own benefit. I started as a fool, and I became a tyrant.”

“Yes, you did,” said Arwen.

“O wise persons,” I broke in, “a mere Hobbit is unworthy to learn such great secrets as I have heard in this room. But may I point out that I am still disappearing?”

“You are no longer disappearing for quite for the reasons the Nazgul did, Bilbo,” Saruman said. Gently. “You are disappearing because, in your long and remarkable life, you have become magical. You are one of the immortals, my friend.”

“In that case,” I said, “this is no longer the world for me.”

* * *

Arwen chose to remain with Faramir: no surprise there. He was still calling himself the Steward of Gondor when our ship left, and talking about reconstituting the kingdom. I suspect that is wishful thinking. By and by, Arwen will persuade him to declare himself king of someplace new. Is he is as good a Man as Strider was? Maybe not, but he is willing to try.

Saruman had the option to stay, but chose to submit himself to the judgment that awaited him in the West. Perhaps, in light of what happened to Sauron, he considers that the worst the Valar would do to him is better than the best he would have devised for himself. I still don’t trust him, but he is quite a conversationalist.

Erestor will be coming in one of the last ships, if he comes at all. He was taking about staying in Middle Earth. He would be satisfied with mortality, he says. The fact is that none of the Wise know whether the Elves can long endure in the Fourth Age. The Wisest Wise are not taking any chances.

Gelmir was supposed to come on this ship. I got Cirdan to change the passenger list.

The sea journey itself has been one continuous storm. I really thought we would capsize in the first few days. The winds have quieted a little, but since then there has been rain and more rain.

And as for me, I keep to my small cabin and do what I have done for many years: write an account of my adventures. My first diary is still at Rivendell, probably, unless someone has used it to start a fire already. So much happened between the end of that book and the beginning of this one. Whole lifetimes passed: Merry, Pippin, Sam, Strider, and of course Frodo. They are all gone now, fallen in a crack that opened between one world and the next.

Only I am left to tell the tale, but who will care to hear it? Do they even have memoirs in the uttermost West? We’ll find out. At least, as I write this, I have the satisfaction of seeing that my fist once again casts a shadow.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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Linkfest 2017-06-09

I love the movie Cars, and I am very excited about Cars 3, which looks less like a cashing-in on the initial success of the first movie sequel [you gotta pay for studios somehow] and more like a real Pixar-worthy sequel with better animation technology.

This post is nearly ten years old now, and I think still pertinent. 

I didn't learn anything new here, but I've got a better memory and a deeper interest in history than the average American. The thing that gets me is no historical figure can stand this kind of scrutiny. For example, here is Lincoln debating with Stephen Douglas. This is the argument of the Progressive Left, that no one before the present is redeemable in any way, but it surprises me when less radical people advocate for ideas that destroy their own position.

Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska act at Peoria, Illinois

Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska act at Peoria, Illinois

It has been a while since I posted something about statistical software and graphs, so here you go!

An article attempting to link the Younger Dryas with Göbekli Tepe. I lack subject matter knowledge, but this is an interesting idea. Greg Cochran thinks the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis is bunk.

David Warren argues for the return of unsafe spaces at universities [with tobacco!]. 

I think I started reading David Warren about the same time I started reading John. J. Reilly, shortly after 9/11. He wrote a column for the Ottowa Citizen at the time, and his beat was terrorism.

Warren was better suited than most. He had been to Afghanistan in his salad days. He ended up a big supporter of George W. Bush and of the War in Iraq as a clash of civilizations. Warren spent quite a bit of time in the wilderness repenting of his sins following 9/11, and I still occasionally read his essays.

Answer: somewhat.

I've never felt like the Hobbit was a kid's book, but I have friends who feel otherwise.

The Long View 2003-12-26: Boxing Day

The 10,000 Year Explosion

The 10,000 Year Explosion

Contra John here, I think the neo-Darwinian synthesis can predict. It is just that many of its practitioners are too vested in ignoring its implications. Or perhaps just don't know they are talking about. Unfortunately, the latter is depressingly common.

It is also really depressing to reflect that Gaddafi submitted to us back in 2003, and was then foolishly deposed on the advice of Hillary Clinton. I think President Obama deserves some credit for being initially unwilling to pursue that war, if only he had resisted a little harder.

The Nones

The Nones

John was an early noticer of The Nones.  He even guessed the correct magnitude of the movement. In 2003, no one else was really paying attention to the unchurching of America, or how strongly that movement was tied in with the Democratic party, but John did.

Boxing Day


Readers in need of a little bile this holiday season may enjoy this list of 50 Reasons Why the Lord of the Rings Sucks. Some of these reasons have merit, sadly: the editing in the theatrical versions of all the films is a little sloppy. Some of the reasons are a little beside the point, such as the observation that the biology of the inhabitants of Middle Earth is contrary to Darwinian theory. (That's not really true, you know: one of the objections to Darwinism is that it does not predict; it merely explains.) There are a few, however, that are easily disposed of by reading the text. For instance:

17 Invisible Implausibility.

Every time Frodo or Bilbo went invisible with the ring they should have also gone BLIND. Your eyes cannot function unless light is reflected off the cornea. If light passes through it (as must be the case with invisibility) sight is no longer possible. Also, rings do not turn you invisible.

Actually, ringbearers do go blind, to some degree. The physical world becomes shadowy to them. Also, the ringbearers do not become completely transparent. They cast shadows in daylight. It is true that it is hard to see how a ring could make you invisible. However, certain experimental camouflage coverings very nearly can. So, we see once again, Science and Scripture are in perfect accord. Almost.

* * *

Speaking of the word from on high, one of the most interesting aspects of the recent agreement by Libya to dismantle it's WMD program was the immediate campaign by the prestige media to diminish the significance of the development. Within, I think, four hours of the announcements in London and Washington on December 19, the "working reporters" on PBS's Washington Week in Review were explaining that the White House was "already trying to spin" the agreement as an outcome of the Iraq War, with the implication that the two events were merely coincidental. Indeed, there was one poor soul from one of the foreign policy foundations (I will not embarrass him by recalling his name) who was explaining the next morning that the Iraq War had actually made the troublesome states of the region "more comfortable," because now they knew the US was tied up in Iraq.

This casuistry was obvious nonsense. Still, nonsense from the mouths of certified experts can still give one pause, even though the Middle Eastern policy establishment has not been right about anything for 15 years. It was therefore a relief to find that one of the few scholars worth trusting about these things, David Pryce-Jones, is willing to state the obvious. Pryce-Jones is the author of The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, which is almost all you need to know about the dysfunction of modern Arab politics. Here is what he has to say (somewhat edited) about the state of the Terror War in general:

Uncle Sam Has Dictators Reeling (December 24)

The knock-on effects of the US response to September 11 have been quickening. Turkey has an Islamist government, but it nonetheless condemned the attack and has subsequently been the target of al-Qa'ida bombs. Pakistan also condemned it. Most astonishingly, here comes Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan President, offering to voluntarily surrender his weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear bomb still in development. Gaddafi seized power in a coup in 1969, and has treated Libya as his fiefdom ever since. His heir apparent is his son Seif, a chip off the old block. Gaddafi has sponsored terrorism internationally, as a result of which sanctions were imposed on Libya. Internally, he has made sure that any opponents, including a popular Shia cleric, disappear without trace.

When the campaign in Iraq opened in March, Gaddafi tellingly admitted he felt afraid. No doubt he would like sanctions to be lifted, but he also wants to make quite sure his weapons of mass destruction will not lead him to end up in a hole in the ground, like his fellow dictator Hussein.

Hemmed in by US forces across their frontiers with Iraq and Afghanistan, the ayatollahs of Iran similarly seem to be deciding to permit international supervision of their nuclear program, generally suspected to have military purposes that threaten not just the Middle East but also Russia and Europe. Syria, Iran's ally, is also under pressure on account of its chemical and biological weapons. A classic Arab dictatorship, Syria has a President, Bashar Assad, who inherited absolute power without the least legitimacy from his father. He, too, sponsors terrorism on a wide scale and eliminates all critics.

George W. Bush's recent move to legislate against Syria is causing panic there. Baghdad and Damascus are historic rivals, and the freedom of the former is already humiliatingly exposing the backwardness of the latter.

It's the same in Cairo, where popular opinion is turning against President Husni Mubarak, who has ruled by emergency decree for more than two decades and hopes to put his son in as his successor. In Saudi Arabia, the huge royal family exercises the most complicated and complete of dictatorships, and even there civil rights groups are springing up and the first tentative protests have hit the streets. Municipal elections are to be held in that country for the first time


I quote this upbeat assessment with a lively sense that Uncle Sam himself may be sent reeling in a few days, if some of those security threats we have been hearing about for the last week materialize. Nonetheless, the effect would not be to deflect the Bush Administration from the current strategy. Quite the opposite, I think.

* * *

Howard Dean, whatever else he may represent, certainly represents the new anti-religious minority that has found a home in the Democratic Party. These militant secularists are not a trivial group: I suspect they make up between 15% to 20% of the electorate. Membership in this group is not inconsistent with membership in the old Mainline Protestant denominations. It is also not inconsistent with membership in the Catholic Church, whatever the episcopacy may say.

Altogether, these people are the antithesis of the evangelical conservatives in the Republican camp. After a late start, they are growing faster than their Republican counterparts. However, though both groups are necessary parts of the base for their respective parties, neither is enough to win a national election. That seems to be why Dean has begun to morph into Elmer Gantry for audiences that might be interested. The Boston Globe reports the gruesome details:

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Presidential contender Howard B. Dean, who has said little about religion while campaigning except to emphasize the separation of church and state, described himself in an interview with the Globe as a committed believer in Jesus Christ and said he expects to increasingly include references to Jesus and God in his speeches as he stumps in the South....

''Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised, people who were left behind,'' Dean said. ''He fought against self-righteousness of people who had everything . . . He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it.''

[An appearance at an African-American church in Columbia, S.C., is an example of what voters might hear in the future]:

There, before nearly 100 parishioners, Dean said in a rhythmic tone notably different from his usual stampede through policy points, ''In this house of the Lord, we know that the power rests in God's hands and in Jesus's hands for helping us. But the power also is on this, God's earth -- Remember Jesus said, 'Render unto God those things that are God's but unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's,' '' a reference to Jesus's admonition that the secular and religious remain separate.

Speaking in a "rhythmic tone notably different from his usual"? Remember when Al Gore started to honk, like Jesse Jackson with a cold? This bodes ill.

* * *

On the topic of rendering unto Caesar, some people have been wondering when the Vatican was going to get the memo explaining that the US is far more hospitable to the orthodox Catholic view of things than is the nascent EU. Certainly Fr. Richard John Neuhaus expressed thoughts along these lines in the January 2004 issue of First Things:

European anti-Americanism has come in for a great deal of deserved attention this past year. It must be admitted that also some of the statements issuing from the Vatican in the period leading to regime change in Iraq, and since, smack of vulgar anti-Americanism.

Nonetheless, he assures us, we should not believe everything we read:

That does not include the statements of the Pope. I say that not only because I do not wish to criticize the Pope, which is also true, but because his purpose is so manifestly clear: to avoid war, to be sure, but also to avoid any suggestion that the papacy is the leader of those whom Osama bin Laden calls "the Crusaders"...In fact, not since Columbus set sail has a pope had such a hopeful view of America as does John Paul II...

Fr. Neuhaus fleshes out this hopeful view with sentiments he attributes to Fr. Luigi Giussani of Communion and Liberation, the youth movement that is the apple of the Vatican's eye: "America [is] 'providentially chosen for a time such as this. World predominance and Christian vitality combine to make America the heir to Europe as Europe was once heir to Jerusalem and Athens. The vision is not unlike that proposed in historian Christopher Dawson's schema of 'ages of the Church,' And it is not unlike the view of many evangelical Protestants that America is the base for the relaunching of world evangelization.."

Well, that is a future for which I am on record as expressing sympathy. Still, if it were up to me, I would be very reluctant to push the button that would turn it on. The Islamists may yet do that for us. There's Providence for you.  

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2003-12-22: Some Readings from Revelation

Doré Bible

Doré Bible

The DHS scrapped the color code warning system in 2011. Which is a good thing, I never really gave it much heed.

Some Readings from Revelation

Here is one way to look at the uptick of the security level to Orange:

Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.

---Revelation 12:12

Yes. Rejoice. Whoopee. I have great respect for Tom Ridge, but his press conferences remind me of the scene in Airplane! when the stewardess says: "Ladies and gentlemen, everything is under control. By the way, does anyone here know how to fly a plane?" Nonetheless, it is possible to distill a drop of comfort out of the latest miasma of all-enveloping dread. The Belmont Club of Sunday, December 21, does this very well:

Stepping back, is reasonable to suppose that with the capture of Saddam, the gathering collapse of the Ba'athist insurgency and the Libyan capitulation the AQ leadership feels it must risk all in a counterattack. If it does not stem the American tide now its funding sources will dry up, it supporters may defect and the resulting weaknesses will be exploited ruthlessly.

The Coalition command in Iraq seems to be of much the same mind: it speaks of "last ditch" strikes against Coalition forces in the next few days. Any terrorist actions in the US or Britain must have been in the pipeline for some time, but one suspects another round of major assaults in Iraq at this time would have to be hurriedly improvised. The Ramadan Offensive did manage to replicate the Tet Offensive of 1968 in that it was an operational defeat for the insurgents; unlike Tet, it was also seen to be a defeat. If the Ba'athists don't do something, they are in danger of becoming just a police problem.

There is more than a little danger of wishful thinking in this kind of analysis. When the prospect of burning buildings and dead bodies becomes good news, you could be on your way to a state of mind in which no event in the objective world can puncture your optimism. Nonetheless, though the Terror War will continue for several years, I cannot stop my attention from straying to what the world and America will be like when it is over.

* * *

The current security warnings are too broad to provide much information: bridges, tunnels, nuclear power plants, chemical factories; and don't forget hijacking passenger planes and using them as cruise missiles again. This is misdirection by inclusion, and I suppose it is the correct thing to do now. We should recall that there are just three terrorists tactics that don't depend on luck or exotic technology: shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles, truck bombs, and suicide bombers. We should also recall that Al Qaeda favors simultaneity. So.

* * *

By the way, far stranger things can fall out of a clear blue sky than are known to Al Qaeda's philosophy. You can find some of them in Rev. 16:21.

* * *

Here are some figures on the box-office success of The Return of the King, which opened everywhere in the world last Wednesday, except for Australia and Japan. US domestic receipts have reached to $125.1 million, with $73.6 million coming in over the weekend. Believe or not, that's not a record, but the film did set a record worldwide: $246.1 million in total. According to The New York Times today, you pretty much have to do global premiers for a film like this, since pirated versions will appear around the world within a day or two in any case.

The Fellowship of the Ring grossed $861 million; The Two Towers $921 million. The Return of the King should reach a billion. Still, the record of $1.8 billion for Titanic seems safe for a while.

In any case, since I saw the Return, I have been boring everyone I know with a prediction of "every rec-room a Bayreuth Festival." Once the DVDs are available, watching them back-to-back will become an annual ritual for groups of true believers. I know this because I have every intention of doing so myself.

* * *

Speaking of liturgies, here's a poster [no longer online] for Christmas Eve. It's for a Tridentine Mass, but the organizers asked me to remove the word "Latin" from the text. Some things you just don't argue about.      

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The Long View 2003-12-17: The Return of the King

John didn't do movie reviews often, so this is a treat.

  The Return of the King


"Wake up, Mr. Frodo!"

"Oh, what time is it, Sam?"

"It's time to finish the last of these here Peter Jackson movies, begging your pardon."

"No, no. Sam, I can't stand it anymore! All I see before me is a huge cycle of product endorsements!"

"You know, Mr. Frodo, for a character who eats all the food and never has to carry the heavy bundles you seem to expect a lot of sympathy."

"Give me a break, Sam; I'm a Christ figure."

"That you're not, Mr. Frodo. Aragorn is a Christ figure: savior of the world; makes the Night Journey to free the unworthy Dead; presides at an apocalyptic battle: two of them, in this flick. The title of the book is The Return of the King. It's his Second Coming, not yours."

"Thanks, Sam. Every character loves to hear himself belittled when he wakes up on cold granite under a pre-eruption volcanic canopy. Is this film going to be as long as the other ones, Sam?"

"It's just as long, Mr. Frodo, but this is the only one of the three where the audience won't notice their ass going to sleep."

"It better be, if they want to sell any DVDs. The first two films were worthy efforts, but they were like sitting through three-hour operas to hear a few minutes of memorable music. The Fellowship of the Ring made hash of the exposition. The Two Towers tinkered with the book's plot without making the story much clearer. They even managed to leave out one of the Towers of the title."

"Ah, but this film is the payoff, Mr. Frodo. All the heavy lifting has been done. This film focuses on the Battle of Minas Tirith (the Pelennor was lost by the screenwriters, seemingly), and you've never seen such a thing. They have oilephaunts as big as those walker-carriers in Star Wars, and the trolls are as ornery as The Incredible Hulk, except they are interesting to watch because they don't jump around so much. The catapults on both sides throw small hills. It's a wonder, sir, if you don't mind my saying so."

"The wonder of our relationship, Sam, is that I can try to kill you in a homicidal rage, but I can't shut you up."

"Ain't it marvelous, Mr. Frodo? Anyway, this film doesn't do just the obvious things right. In the book, if you recall, the way that Mr. Aragorn recruits the army of the Dead is a great little story in itself, but it is not developed much. In this film, the producer plays it for all it's worth."

"Well, that's a comfort, Sam, but something is always lost, isn't it?

"Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Frodo. For instance, there's neither hide nor hair of Saruman in this film."

"Really, Sam? But that's wonderful news! That means, when we go home, we don't have to clear out a gang of ruffianly socialists!"

"Yes, Mr. Frodo, but it also means that they have to stick in Saruman's Palantir like a nose on Mr. Potato Head. But they don't mention Denethor's Palantir at all!"

"I'm sorry to hear that. Denethor is my favorite contemporary statesman."

"Then I'm afraid you'll have cause to be sorrier yet, sir. They make Denethor nothing more than a repulsive obstacle. Gandalf does not debate with him; he beats him up: twice. The film does the worst thing you can do to a character: it shows him eating while other people are suffering."

"We live in dark times, Sam, dark times. The sooner we're through the scenario, the sooner we'll be done with them. And just what are we supposed to do for the rest of the film?"

"Oh, pretty much what you'd expect, sir. You're still the suffering Everyman doing his duty in a historical context that seems to exclude hope. I'm still the world's most faithful sidekick, who won't desert even in the face of the worst abuse; which you'll give me in a few minutes, if I recollect properly."

"And speaking of abuse, Sam, where is Smeagol, our obviously untrustworthy guide?"

"Here I am, nice masters. Smeagol always comes when called."

"You seem very cheerful for a ruined creature of the darkness in an existential crisis, Stinker."

"Smeagol is surprised that the cross rude fat hobbit knows the word 'existential.' But Smeagol does not mind. In this film, Smeagol gets to appear as he was before he found the Ring. Just for a little, for a little bit of the old days. Gollum."

"Really? What do you do, Smeagol?"

"I strangle my best friend, dear sweet kind master."

(Softly to Sam) "Did we keep the giant lava pit?"

(Sam softly back) "Righto, Mr. Frodo."

"So, let's get on with it, Smeagol."

"Wise master: yes, let's get on with it....hobbits don't have cans of insect repellent in their nasty pocketses, do they?"   

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LinkFest 2016-01-01

Posting has been suspended while I'm on vacation, but here are a few quick takes on The Force Awakens. If you haven't seen the movie, you should consider all of these spoilers.


I think there is something to this psychological analysis, but it probably shouldn't be pushed too far.

The new "Star Wars" movie

Steve Sailer helpfully points out that Episode 7 is crucial in making the Chinese as crazy about Star Wars as the West currently is.


A really interesting comparison between two of the most popular works of fiction in the twentieth century. I'm just a Tolkien fan, rather than a scholar, but I think the eschatology of this piece misses the point a bit. Still worth a read.

On a final note, I'm moving domain registrars, so if any of the many possible delays occur, the site may not show correctly for a bit.

The Long View 2003-07-14: All Uranium, All the Time

One of the things I appreciate John for to this day is explaining exactly why children's literature like J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series really are pretty harmless, in comparison to actual ritual magic. John also had enough empathy to understand why well-meaning parents might be anxious.

All Uranium, All the Time

If you believe the prestige media in the US, the public has been talking about little else for the last ten days except the line in the president's State of the Union Speech alleging Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa. The media consensus is that this claim has been resoundingly discredited, and to such effect that the Bush Administration's credibility has become the issue for next year's presidential election. The New York Times covered the matter at length inside the paper this morning, but limited itself to a few telling paragrpahs on the frontpage:

Democratic presidential candidates offered a near-unified assault on President Bush's credibility in the Iraq war, aggressively invoking arguments that most had shunned since the fall of Baghdad

In interviews, town-hall meetings and television appearances, several Democrats -- who had been sharply divided over whether to go to war -- declared that Mr. Bush's credibility had been harmed because of his use of unsubstantiated evidence in supporting the invasion of Iraq.

"When the president's own statements are called into question," Senator John Edwards said, "it's a very serious matter."

No doubt that's true, but the question is: serious for whom? It's possible that I misunderstand the situation, but the Democrat's use of the missing-WMDs as a political issue conjures up an image of a June bug about to have a decisive encounter with a car's windshield.

We know there was early intelligence that some of the evidence about African uranium was forged. However, the British secret services are sticking to the substance of the story. They know about the forgeries, too, as well as about the desultory efforts by the State Department to investigate the question. They are audibly unimpressed.

On the general issue of WMDs, reports began to appear two weeks ago, like this comment from Senator Pat Roberts, to the effect that, yes, hard evidence of weapons programs had indeed been discovered. The Administration is just being cautious about verifying it. Even then, could the Administration be cynical enough to sit on the information until publication will have the maximum political effect? Perish the thought.

Perhaps the credibility issue could be revived with the narrow argument that George Bush and Tony Blair gave their publics the impression that Iraq had large, existing stocks of WMDs, not just the ability to produce them. However, this would lead to awkward interviews, in which presidential candidates would have to explain why a secret, illegal weapons-industry is less threatening than the weapons themselves.

We can expect more discussion of a Medicare drug-benefit, I suspect.

* * *

As a great fan of G. K. Chesterton on several counts, I am quite capable of taking what he has written as a reproach. Consider these words about the Boer War from his Autobiography (1936), and contrast them to my own writings about the place of the Iraq War in macrohistory:

What I hated about it was what a good many people liked about it. It was such a very cheerful war. I hated its confidence, its congratulatory anticipations, its optimism of the Stock Exchange. I hated its vile assurance of victory. It was regarded by many as an automatic process like the operation of a natural law; and I have always hated that sort of heathen notion of natural law.

I think I can say that I never assumed that victory in Iraq was inevitable, but I am reasonably sure that the larger historical process is inevitable. In fact, I have spent the last year or two trying to get clear in my mind why that process need not be a tragedy. (Let me thank those who have been buying The Perfection of the West, by the way.) The fact is that the kind of "natural law" which Chesterton hated rather appeals to me. Does that make me a bad guy in the Chestertonian universe?

Perhaps not. Chesterton's aversion to historical determinism seems to have been linked to his intuitive appreciation of the necessity of free will. Later in his Autobiography he put it this way:

It was the secularists who drove me to theological ethics, by themselves destroying any sane or rational possibility of secular ethics. I might have been a secularist, so long as it meant that I could be merely responsible to secular society. It was the Determinist who told me, at the top of his lungs, that I could not be responsible at all.

History is not completely determined; neither are the lives of individuals. However, we must remember that history conditions the choices we have to make. We don't get to choose the crises we are going to have to deal with, much less the options we will have for dealing with them. And when we do choose, even the most fateful choice will have limited effect. As Gandalf put it in the Last Debate:

Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of these years wherein we are set, uprooting evil in the fields we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

Now that's a foreign policy for you.

* * *

The New York Times Book Review has given better few notices than the long, adulatory piece it ran yesterday for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Frankly, the Potter series is not among those I make a point of keeping up with, but that review by John Leonard made me want to rush out and pry this installment from the hands of a small, protesting child; but I restrained myself.

There is a problem: the review simply dismissed the objection that the book promotes witchcraft. A reasoned defense of the Potter books is not hard to make in this regard. Leonard himself notes the essentially literary nature of:

Rowling's specialized, somehow domesticated magic, like the whereabouts clock, or the mail-delivering owls, or subjects who abandon their own painted portraits to visit or hide in other people's picture frames, or wizard wands with unicorn hairs and phoenix feathers and dragon heartstrings, or staircases that decide to go up to somewhere else on different days of the week, or getting around by portkey and Floo Powder, or a ''pensieve'' into which to deposit those thoughts and feelings and memories we'd rather not carry around in our heads right now, or the whole idea of Quidditch.

This isn't magic, though maybe it is magic realism. Real magic, to the extent there is such a thing, looks like this. The Potter books do not promote witchcraft, but that is no reason to characterize anxious parents as "Leviticus-reading fruitcakes."

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-12-21: The Two Towers

I find it refreshing to look back to 2002 and remember Peter Jackson's accomplishment in the Two Towers. That movie was just about right, long, but the source material was long and beloved. The temptation of Boromir is masterfully done, and Helm's Deep was even better than I imagined it. Unfortunately, this massive success at turning at 1,000 page book into three long movies has meant that Jackson has moved on to turning a 300 page book into three long movies. Like George Lucas, Tom Clancy, and George R. R. Martin, Jackson has gotten big enough to have it exactly the way he wants it, which isn't necessarily good for his art.

If you want to see how it can be done differently, look at the career of Jerry Pournelle. Pournelle has had multiple New York Times best-sellers, but he still takes seriously the advice he got from Robert Heinlein on his first best-seller: be your own harshest editor. This usually means cutting and cutting and cutting. To be fair, Clancy [100 million] and Martin [60 million] have sold approximately an order of magnitude more books than Pournelle [10 million]. On the other hand, Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down, sold 50 million copies, and his books aren't doorstops.

The Two Towers
I saw the second Tolkien movie this afternoon. Feeling is just beginning to return to the lower part of my body. Here are a few impressions:
The movie begins very abruptly, so much so that it took a while before I came out of the stupor induced by the half hour of coming attractions. The Two Towers makes just one concession to recapping the story, by having Frodo dream about Gandalf's fall into the crevasse in Moria. Unfortunately, one of the coming attractions was for a film that is apparently yet another remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth. I was briefly bewildered. I expected Frodo to say: “It was terrible, Sam. I saw Gandalf fall into a summer movie.”
The scriptwriters for all three Lord of the Rings films had an impossible task. Their principal audience consists of people who have already thought about the plot too much. Like me, they can recite dialogue from the books from memory. The screenplay therefore dare not depart arbitrarily from the books. On the other hand, the writers really do have to nip and tuck the story to make the films short enough to watch. And let's face it: key parts of the books are as chatty and actionless as a play by George Bernard Shaw.
Some of their compromises are better than others. For instance, Gandalf says, “The courtesy of your hall has lessened of late, Theoden King,” as soon as he enters the Golden Hall. That's a good line, but no one has yet had an opportunity to be rude to him. It no longer fits into the scene, which has become an exorcism. On the other hand, the writers spared us the trial of Smeagol before Faramir. Instead, they created an entirely new episode involving Faramir and Frodo, one that provides real suspense. It also gives the film a far edgier conclusion than the book has, despite the lack of a cliffhanger ending. (There is a total lack of giant spiders in this movie.) The film version of The Two Towers persuades us that Frodo is desperate, not just because of the external dangers he faces, but because he knows that he himself is unreliable. To the extent The Lord of the Rings is the memoir of a very junior officer of the First World War, that is what the story is all about.
The special effects are so good that you don't notice them. This film's battle sequences are wonders on two counts: they are visually interesting for reasons in addition to gore, and they make it possible to tell what is going on. As for other animations, there are super elephants that are as persuasive as any of the behemoths from Jurassic Park. I found the ents particularly interesting, because they are the only Tolkien creatures I could never visualize. Even the makers of The Two Towers could not make them biologically plausible. Nonetheless, they function excellently as characters, which is all you can expect.
And then there is Smeagol. As other reviews have noted, it's hard to call him “Gollum” after seeing this film. He is more animated in every sense of the word than any of the human actors. The film makers hit on precisely the right way to show which side of his dual personality is on top at any given time.
There are elements of the films which will no doubt endear them to Tolkien buffs for all time to come, but which may grate on the unconverted. Gimli the Dwarf is the designated comic relief, for instance, and it's a heavy burden to bear. Despite all the work that went into the sets for Edoras and Helms Deep, the computer-generated architecture remains the most believable. Also, although that New Zealand landscape remains spectacular even after six hours of film, it's starting to look, well, generic. Except for one green patch in the Shire, all Middle Earth seems to be covered with scrub grass and surrounded by alps.
None of this is a criticism, however. We can have every confidence that the War of the Ring will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion in 2003.
* * *
Here is my review of The Fellowship of the Ring. Here is my review of The Return of the King.

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The Long View: The Fellowship of the Ring

I cannot remember the first time I read the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. I know I was very young, and I remember getting worn paperback copies from the local library's children's section. In that library, I remember a mural on the wall of Frodo and Sam's descent into Mordor from the tower of Cirith Ungol. I also remember my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher, Dale Shewalter, would read to his class from the Lord of the Rings during our after-lunch storytime, although by this time I was already familiar with the story. I was of course immediately engrossed from the very first, and I have been ever since. The impact of these books on me is similar to the effect they had on John Reilly, but at a younger age.

I still maintain that Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings is the best book of the twentieth century. Even accounting for the many who found their way to Wicca instead of Tolkien's beloved Catholicism. These books are gifts that keep on giving, and will repay the reader no matter how many times you return to them.

Peter Jackson's Film of J.R.R. Tolkien's
The Lord of the Rings
Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Reviewed by John J. Reilly
Full Disclosure: Regular visitors to this site will know that I rarely review films, and in fact I rarely go to the cinema. This film, though, had to be an exception. "The Lord of the Rings" is one of the two books that influenced me most profoundly. I first read it thirty years ago in high school, entirely by accident and with no idea what I was letting myself in for. The trilogy dissolved my positivist intolerance for fantasy, but it also had the paradoxical effect of opening history and languages to me. I have memorized the details of the book. I often cite it like scripture. People like me want to see the trilogy set out fair and square, with no contradictions. Nonetheless, I can be reasonable on the subject. Really I can.
Now for the review.
I saw "The Fellowship of the Rings" on the Saturday afternoon after it premiered here in New Jersey. That meant the whole afternoon: three hours worth. It's one of those movies that you walk out of wondering who is president now.
In a way, the film is like David Lynch's adaptation of "Dune." Neither film is so much a freestanding story as an illustration of a book. The difference is that Jackson succeeded where Lynch failed. The "Fellowship" sets are perfect. That is exactly what Hobbiton looked like. Jackson got Isengard down to the last bitter spire. I had always known that elvish civilization favored Bavarian Art Nouveau. Now the Platonic ideal has been put on film.
The casting is fine, too. Elijah Wood perhaps looks a bit too much like an anime figure even without makeup, but his Frodo makes the movie. I don't know how they did it, but they made the hobbits look believably 3'6" in the same frames as the normal-sized characters. Special mention much be made of how they turned that great Welsh windbag, John Rhys-Davies, into a plausible five-foot-nothing Gimli the Dwarf. When Boromir (Sean Bean) offers to help Gimli cross a chasm by tossing him, Gimli fixes him with a ferocious stare and says: "Nobody tosses a dwarf!" Except for the occasional remarks about the effects of the hobbits' pipeweed, that is one of the few deliberately funny lines. This is probably just as well: a lesser director could have turned the film into "Time Bandits."
The morning of the day I saw the film, I heard Ian McKellen on National Public Radio express the earnest hope that he will not become "Gandalf" for the rest of his career. Be that as it may, he did Gandalf as I had always thought of the character, down to the accent. Christopher Lee, who plays the turncoat wizard Saruman, is 79, and might reasonably be expected not to have many more parts remaining to him. However, if he is remembered for his turn as Saruman, he will have little to complain of. He could become a bedtime children's boogey to rival Mad Baggins himself.
The burden the film bears is the vast amount of exposition the story requires. The film starts with a brief history of the Ring. "Brief" here means that it is no longer than an episode of the "Simpsons" without the commercials. Episodes from the book are necessarily excised. I, for one, particularly missed the adventure in the Old Forest. Further exposition is inserted at odd points in the story. To this end, Elrond gets one of Saruman's speeches. (Hugo Weaving's Elrond, incidentally, is almost as scary as Saruman. All elves look like they take cosmetic belladonna.) Some characters are missing, too, even when the incidents in which they appeared remain. Frankly, I do not regret the substitution of Arwen Elvenstar, played by Liv Tyler, for Glorfindel in the incident at the Rivendell Ford.
Still it is not enough. There is a discernible plot once the Hobbits get to Rivendell, but anyone who has not read the books is going to be confused about who these people are and why they are doing these alarming things. There is conversation in Elvish (Sindarin, presumably) interpreted by subtitles, but the film does nothing to excite the interest in history and language that Tolkien is famous for. The film has no way to convey the scale of Middle Earth. For all we can tell, Minas Tirith and Isengard are a few days' ride from Hobbiton. Still, we should remember that the work of establishing the context of the trilogy has been completed. The next two films can be almost pure action and still be perfectly faithful to the trilogy.
There is one essential way in which the movie fails the trilogy. People unfamiliar with the books have been asking, "What does a fantasy written fifty years ago have to say to the 21st century?" To that there are two answers.
The first is that, despite Tolkien's attempts to distance himself from an autobiographical interpretation of the trilogy, the fact is that the books are clearly informed by the experience of the world wars, particularly that of a British junior officer in the First World War. Like Tolkien as a young man, Frodo takes part in a nightmare crisis that he cannot escape and that neither he nor his world seems likely to survive. The first half of the 20th century will not be the last time people face such a crisis. The film captures Frodo's desperation constrained by duty very well.
The second answer is the trilogy's implicit model of history. In every age, evil takes another form. It can be defeated, and history allows some generations a holiday. However, we should not be surprised when the Shadow grows menacing again. It is hard to imagine a message more relevant to 2001. Nevertheless, I do not think that Jackson quite delivers it. The books make plain that the Quest of the Ring is just one chapter in the long struggle against the Shadow. That sense of historical depth may be beyond the ability of any film to communicate.
The flipside to this criticism is that the movie does things the books can't. You may not have given much thought to the ways that orcs can enter a dwarvish hall, but Jackson has. The cinematography of the green New Zealand landscape looks like the Celtic collective unconscious. (There is dreamy Celtic music throughout.) Most of the monsters may be derivative from other films, but if so, the selection is commendable. The balrog seems to be related to the amplified Id in "Forbidden Planet," to take one example. The ordinary orcs look rather like Evil's dimwitted legions in "Time Bandits," for another. The extraordinary orcs, the Uruk Hai, look to me like the deeply intimidating alien hunter in, I believe, "Predator." There are original horrors, of course, not least of which is Sauron's Eye.
"The Fellowship of the Ring" is not "Harry Potter." The fight scenes are not cartoonish. Rather the opposite: they seem to have been set up by someone who had paid close attention to "Saving Private Ryan." Parents with very small children should think twice about taking them to a film with so many realistic decapitations and dismemberments. Everyone else, though, should go to see this film instantly. It will make you a better person.
And what was the other book I mentioned at the beginning of this review that influenced me so profoundly? That book was "The Decline of the West," by Oswald Spengler, which I also read in high school. I have not heard that anyone is thinking about turning it into a movie. If you are, please contact me. I have some ideas about the exposition.
Here is a review of The Two Towers.
Here is a review of The Return of the King.
For an explanation of why "The Lord of the Rings" has a lot in common with the "Left Behind" novels, click here.

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

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The Long View: Eclipse of the Sun

John felt the number of Catholic apocalyptic novels in English was fewer than 10, if you counted Lord of the Rings. This is likely due to the dim view of St. Augustine towards millennial expectations, an idea repeated in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church. John felt this one was a little uncanny, perhaps because the characters and settings are so proasic.

Eclipse of the Sun: A Novel
by Michael O'Brien
Ignatius Press, San Francisco
856 Pages, $27.95 (US)
ISBN: 0-89870-687-4(HB)

Disallegiance before Doomsday

"Ed, have you ever toyed with the idea that the lunatic fringe just might have got a few things right?"

So asks an alcoholic foreign correspondent in this third of the five projected books of the "Children of the Last Days" series by Michael O'Brien. In many ways, this is a very disturbing book. For one thing, the author is a Canadian and the book is set in British Columbia; it was unwelcome news to me that apocalyptic novels in which sinister federal agencies play a large role are not confined to excitable southern countries. Even more disturbing is the fact the author writes as a Catholic, and the series is published by no less a citadel of orthodoxy than Ignatius Press of San Francisco. Though evangelical apocalyptic fiction has become a major publishing category, the treatment of this subject by Catholic popular writers has heretofore tended to wither under the antimillennial eye of St. Augustine. The most important issue raised by the book, however, is why so many otherwise extremely ordinary people (to either side of the border) are asking the question asked by the alcoholic reporter.

Catholic novels with pronounced apocalyptic themes are rare enough that I can think of just five: Hugh Benson's "The Lord of the World" (1907), Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Liebowitz" (1960), R. A. Lafferty's "Past Master" (1968), Morris West's "The Clowns of God" (1981) and Walker Percy's "The Thanatos Syndrome" (1987). (This dearth of titles may be mitigated by the perennial popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" (1954) which in my opinion is also a Catholic apocalyptic novel.) The difficulty with writing Catholic apocalyptic fiction, as we have noted, is that the traditional Augustinian eschatology of the Church has long discountenanced identifying particular historical events as the unique fulfillment of scriptural prophecy. For that matter, millenarianism has even been defined as a heresy (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 676). This will put a kink in anyone's creativity.

In the Afterword to "Eclipse of the Sun," the author suggests a formula which may be the only orthodox approach possible: "It is important to remember that . . .a truly Catholic `end-times' novel does not so much predict the future as it strives to raise the essential questions that must be asked by every generation. Thus, it is not my intention to leave the reader with a neat package; it is rather my hope that the reader will take away from this book a heightened sense of awareness and a number of urgent questions. . . " The author follows his own advice, and the book is largely a set of tableaux depicting the cultural crisis of late modernity as it affects the family, the Church and the state. The result is not overwhelmingly didactic, and even the number of pages is in part attributable to Ignatius Press's dedication to readable layout. Still, the book does suffer from a degree of bloat reminiscent of some Stephen King novels, particularly in the numerous private revelations the characters experience.

The vignettes that make up the bulk of the book are held together by a story about the attempts of an agency of the Canadian federal government to capture a little boy. Yes, there are black helicopters, and in O'Brien's Canada they are the creatures of an extraordinarily secret organization known as the Office of Internal Security (OIS). At the beginning of the story, they destroy the commune in rural British Columbia to which Arrow Delaney's mother had fled after her publisher-husband was killed. (His newspaper had been suppressed on the grounds that its opposition to abortion was a hate-crime.) Little Arrow is rescued from the assault by Fr. Andrei, an old immigrant priest with some experience of totalitarianism. When he flees with Arrow to the nearby convent where he serves as chaplain, however, he finds that the black helicopters are just leaving after having killed all the nuns.

The point of all these atrocities was to provide incidents that could be blamed on criminals and religious fanatics, thus justifying yet more stringent restrictions on civil liberties. Since the priest and the boy saw who was really responsible, they cannot be permitted to live. They are chased about the province as the priest tries to get Arrow to a refuge in the far north. In the course of their travels, they are sheltered by various ordinary people, some of whom get in trouble as the OIS closes in. (One of the most interesting parts of the book, at least to an American, is the description of how a question is asked in the federal parliament, in this case about an evangelical woman who disappeared after letting Arrow use the national health card of one of her children.) The upshot is that Arrow does eventually reach "The Camp of the Saints," as the final chapter is entitled. Fr. Andrei, however, dies a martyr's death at the hands of a globalist bureaucrat, who beats him to death with a video-camera when he refuses to apostasize.

We learn what the OIS is up to primarily from the journalist with whose question this review began. It seems that there is a long-running conspiracy to accomplish three things in sequence: to create a global economy, then to create a global government, then to create a world church. The number of primary conspirators is not enormous. The whole effort rests on the coordinated efforts of about 300 financiers and public officials. The conspiracy has an inner and an outer dimension.

The inner members view the conspiracy as a religious enterprise. In the first novel in the series, "Father Elijah," we meet the Antichrist, or at least a candidate for the job. (We also meet the eschatological Elijah in the person of an Israeli general turned Carmelite monk.) The conspiracy's leaders are in contact with demons, whom they take to be "ascended masters." Indeed, they salve their consciences with the thought that the people they are killing will be happier on another plane of existence. The particular targets of their ire are Christians, and especially conservative Catholics. The conspiracy actually fosters liberal Catholic bishops and theologians hostile to Rome.

On a more prosaic level, which is sometimes permitted to appear in public, the agenda of the conspiracy is largely ecological. Such is the strain that the human race places on the living system of the planet, say the shadowy elite, that world population must be reduced by at least 25%, and apparently not simply through attrition. The sinister term "culling" occurs on several occasions. In contrast, the good people in the book tend to be pro-natalist. In "Eclipse of the Sun," a family of six or seven kids is infallible evidence of sanctity, particularly if the kids are being home-schooled.

The explanation of the non-occult element of the conspiracy slides out of the fictional world of the novel entirely. We get a list of people, mostly American legislators, who have sounded the alarm since the 1920s with regard to the power of the Federal Reserve or of the Foundations, only to be ignored or to die mysteriously. There is a brief introduction to the new science of Clintonology. There are also numerous examples of the media's ability to distort or bury stories that might give the general population a clue about what is really going on.

One of the odd features of the book is the unexamined conviction that mass communication is becoming more and more monolithic with the passage of time. The Internet is mentioned only twice, though one of the sympathetic characters is actually a software entrepreneur who retired young. The pious remnant in "Eclipse of the Sun" seem to be the last conspiracy enthusiasts in the English-speaking world to depend on hardcopy publications for the real news.

Even odder than how the cast of characters keep track of the conspiracy is the fact they would want to. They aren't gun-buffs or people looking for adventures; they are for the most part obscure parish priests and middle-aged folk with (large) families. (The least obscure character is the archbishop of Vancouver, who reads the modernists in his archdiocese the Riot Act in a fashion reminiscent of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Omaha, who did something similar in 1996.) They are busy people who really don't need extra worries. Though we should take everything we read in a novel with a grain of salt, and two grains with apocalyptic fiction, nevertheless we cannot doubt that the "remnant" in this book have real-world analogues. They may well be misconstruing what they read in the papers, but if they say there is something wrong with the way they are governed, they are most unlikely to be imagining it.

The key to what has these good people agitated, as well as why the current fin de siecle has a nastier edge to it than the last time around, may perhaps be found be in Stephen L. Carter's Massey lectures of 1995, recently published in book form as "The Dissent of the Governed" (1998). The lectures were given in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. It is the best attempt I have seen to understand the cultural disorders that occasioned that terrible act, without in any way condoning what happened. Canadian patriots may go ballistic when they see how American is the model I am about to apply to a book set in British Columbia. They may have a point, but I would suggest that US and Canadian legal culture are increasingly convergent, particularly under the new constitution, and that the elite attitudes Carter discusses are no less common in Toronto than they are in the neighborhood of Boston.

The starting point for Carter's analysis is a novel reading of the Declaration of Independence. What drove the colonists over the line from dissent to revolt was not the new imperial taxes or the high-handedness of unelected officials. Rather, in the words of the Declaration, it was that "Our repeated Petitions have been met only with repeated injuries." The King (and his ministers) not only gave his subjects no hearing, but responded to their complaints with outrages. This behavior, according to Carter, drove a critical mass of American colonials from protest about perceived injustices to "disallegiance" from a political structure that systematically excluded them and their concerns.

Carter suggests that American constitutional law has been acting more and more like King George's government since at least the 1950s. Part of the problem was that the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. the Board of Education was not only right, it also made the Court wildly popular among the nation's elites, a somewhat novel situation. The judiciary began to believe that, quite literally, it could do no wrong. Having set itself to altering the nation's ingrained cultural patterns as they pertained to race, the Court became open to reforming other aspects of American culture. What later came to be called the "culture wars" may have been inevitable, but the mischief was greatly exacerbated by the fact that, from quite early on, the courts were pretty clearly on one side.

Stephen Carter has discussed the hostility to religious arguments in the public square in his book, "The Culture of Disbelief." The question of the level of piety among the nation's elites, or indeed what an elite might be, is too large a subject to take on here. Still, he does have a point when he says that modern constitutional practice has succeeded in making a "forbidden ontology" of what is the most important thing in the world to a very large fraction of the people. The problem is no so much that religiously motivated persons do not get their way on issues like abortion, or prayer in public schools, or on the control of pornography. The problem is that, as religious people, their arguments cannot even be heard.

Somewhat alarmingly, Carter goes so far as to suggest that the linkage of reformist liberalism with the extraordinary level of deference demanded by the modern judiciary is quite literally totalitarian. It criminalizes forms of dissent that in other contexts would enjoy a large degree of toleration. Indeed, it speaks to the people in a rhetoric of tolerance that in practice usually means legally mandated homogenization. Of course, even the most uppity federal judge does not have a fleet of black helicopters at his command. Still, if Carter is right, then in the fictional apocalypse of "Eclipse of the Sun," we see a popular intuition that is not without foundation.

This review first appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of "Millennial Stew," the newsletter of the Center for Millennial Studies. For more information, please click here:
Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Soft Landings

John was an unaffiliated, but not wholly unrespectable scholar, of millennialism and millennial movements. Here is one of his conference papers on millennialism, tying together his interests in millennialism, cyclical models of history, and books.

Table of Contents:







Presented at the Fifth Annual Conference

of the

Center For Millennial Studies

Boston University

October 28 -- October 31


Soft Landings: "Generations," Tolkien & Preterism


Three things often go without saying when we examine an apocalyptic interpretation of history, particularly somebody else's apocalyptic interpretation of history. The first is that the ideas in question are always chiefly concerned with expectations for the future. The second is that these expectations are always disappointed or deferred. The third assumption, often implicit, is that the system we are dealing with is naive in some way, so that serious people need not consider it on the merits. What I would like to do here is briefly sketch three models of history, models that have some popular currency and that have a strong eschatological element, about which none of these assumptions is true. All of the models, I would argue, are examples of the millennial imagination at its constructive best.

As a preliminary matter, there are a few theoretical points that have to be addressed, the chief of which is how can we talk about people's eschatological expectations being fulfilled if the world has not ended yet. We do this, as you might expect, by expanding the definitions. When we talk about familiar apocalyptic notions, such as the Tribulation or the Battle of Armageddon or the Millennium, we are talking about instances of the structural features of a kind of story. I will spare you a full structural description. As we all know, this is the kind of story that has a golden age in the past, a buildup to a dramatic climax, and often an anticlimactic postscript followed by a final resolution.(1) Some models of history with this structure take up all the time there is, so that when you reach the eschaton, there is nothing more to be said. On the other hand, with a cyclical model, it is obviously possible to have an eschaton both in the past and the future. A linear model can also do something like this, as St. Augustine did when he identified the whole era of the Church with the Millennium of Revelation 20.(2)


The point to keep in mind is that the age after the culmination of history, which we may call the Millennium for convenience, can be a habitable place. That is, it can be continuous with profane history, even if you have to pass through a great Tribulation to get there. However, the expectation even of a habitable Millennium can still generate familiar forms of millenarianism.


Consider the generational model of history developed and marketed by Neil Howe and William Strauss over the past decade or so.(3) Howe has degrees in history and economics, and Strauss has both an advanced degree in political science and a track record as a political humorist, but what they are most famous for is the minor cult that began with the publication in 1991 of their first book, "Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069." It is hard to say how well-known their ideas are, but their promotional skills are undeniable. Their 1993 book, "13th Gen," which dealt with Generation X, apparently earned them a following among this group. This was partly because of their genuine compassion for the no-hope slackers of the world, and partly because they described a vital role for them in the coming crisis of the first three decades of the 21st century. They now run two online discussion groups.(4) Their greatest coup yet, however, maybe their book published just this fall, "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation." If Hegel had written a baby-care book to promote his philosophy of history, it would have been something like this. Before we get to the up-and-coming Millennials, however, let me just briefly outline Strauss and Howe's system.

Models of history based on the idea that successive generations have character-types that repeat themselves are not new. Probably the best-known examples are the theories of fluctuating political styles developed by the Arthur Schlesingers, junior and senior.(5) (Recent books such as "Bobos in Paradise" and "The Greatest Generation"(6) suggest that a generational approach to history is becoming fashionable.) Few such models, however, are quite as comprehensive as Strauss and Howe's. Their graphs and charts are as complicated as anything you will find in astrology. There is even a personality classification system that is as much fun as sun signs.

According to Strauss and Howe, a generation is a 20-year block of demographic cohorts who might be expected to have comparable experiences at each stage of life. The key to the system is the hypothesis that a society-wide crisis tends to fix the character of the generation then in young adulthood. If the crisis is successfully overcome, they are heroes: they get special deference for the rest of their lives. The formation of a Hero generation begins a predictable sequence of four generational types that appear over a period of 80 to 100 years, during which social mores relax and then tighten again.

I could describe in detail what these four generational types are like, and I could describe the four ages within the 90-year cycle in which each matures in turn. But I won't.(7) Here is all you really have to know. The baby-boom generation, called the "Boomers" for short, are like the generations of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Generation X is like the Lost Generation of the 1920s. The generation of Jefferson and Hamilton is like the GI generation of the Depression and World War II era. The Millennial Generation, the oldest of whom turned 18 just this year, should be a Hero generation, like the GIs. Strauss and Howe have sketched their probable lifecourse to the very end of the 21st century.

Objections can be raised to every point of their model. For one thing, the very existence of the First Awakening has been questioned. (8) For another, even social scientists who share many of Strauss and Howe's ideas about the American prospect manage to do without the generational mechanism. (9) Nonetheless, whatever its ability to predict the future, the model does give us a very workable framework for the past. Grammar school history teachers, I am told, love it for that reason. The model plausibly identifies the great crises of American history as the Depression and World War II era, the buildup to the Civil War, the American Revolution and constitution-forming period, and earliest of all, King Philip's War and the Glorious Revolution. These crises really are all about 90 years apart. It is not hard to think of them in terms of the premillennial tribulation, because that is how many people did who lived through them did.

As for forecasting the future, Strauss and Howe have not done badly so far. In the early 1990s, when it seemed that kids were getting stupider every year and criminologists were predicting an impending generation of super-predators, the "Generations" model predicted better scholastic performance and lower crime rates. Strauss and Howe predicted (and advocated) the spread of school uniforms. On the whole, in fact, they anticipated the current cultural and political environment, in which you can get away with anything, provided you do it "for the children."

These Millennial children Strauss and Howe talk about are members of the generation that supposedly started to be born about 1982. They still have a few years more to appear. If all goes well, the Millennials will build a society that is safer, more orderly, and in some ways blander. `N Sync will soon prevail over Limp Bizkit. Millennials are more interested in team work than in self-expression, they value unity more than diversity. They will tend to elaborate rather than collapse gender roles. Like the GI Generation, Millennials will favor mass organizations, such as labor unions and churches, even though they will be less spiritual than Boomers.

The Millennials will gel, however, only if society as a whole passes through the next Crisis. Strauss and Howe have no idea of the content of that Crisis, so they give us numbers. They suggest that, sometime in the second half of this decade, an event comparable to the financial collapse of 1929 will mark the beginning of 20 years of menace and danger. This degree of vagueness is a little unusual in date setters. Also unusual is that they don't advise their readers to prepare by buying bottled water or shotguns, but by supporting measures for ordinary good government. (10) A theme that runs throughout all their books is to urge moderation on the Boomers. They say this generation, which will occupy the senior leadership role during the Crisis, is fundamentally fanatical and will need watching. By Generation X.

If the next three decades are negotiated successfully, the Millennials will dominate the rest of the century. Should they come into their kingdom after the Crisis, the period of their greatest power will be a time analogous in many ways to the Eisenhower era, with similar virtues and faults. Strauss and Howe identify several such periods in the past. On the whole, they tend to be characterized by prosperity, consensus, and a high level of moral obtuseness. In other words, they may be the Millennium, but they are not paradise. So here we have a model of history whose working parts resemble ordinary premillennialism. It does have lower stakes, however. All Strauss and Howe's books are profoundly patriotic, but they do make clear that the purposes of God and all his angels do not turn on the historical development of the United States. They also make historical salvation a matter of free will. They point to the Civil War era as a Crisis that America failed, because of the inflexible fanaticism of the Boomer-like generation of the Second Great Awakening. Another difference, of course, is that the model is as much about the past as the future. These are all characteristics that it shares with another model of history that, perhaps not coincidentally, also seems to hold strong appeal for young people.


J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings," was first published in 1954 and apparently cannot go out of print. Tolkien, we all know, was an Oxford philologist who was best known professionally for his studies of "Beowulf" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Beyond that, he has a lot to answer for. "The Lord of the Rings" is the book that saddled us with sword-and-sorcery pulp-fiction and videogames. The trilogy itself is written in a pseudo early-modern prose that is widely imitated and often cringe-making. Still, the trilogy is on the short list for the most popular work of the 20th century. (11)

There is in fact a fair amount of serious Tolkien scholarship, but, fortunately, not enough to spoil the fun. (12) Critics tend to treat the trilogy as a conventional novel, though Tolkien himself insisted it was a romance. Be this as it may, several mysteries about the trilogy are cleared up if we think of it as an apocalyptic novel, written from a Roman Catholic perspective.

There is an asymmetry in the religious publishing industry. Premillennial Protestant apocalyptic novels have been with us since the 1930s, and there have been enough of them in recent years to create their own fiction category. (13) The number of Catholic novels of this type, at least by my count, does not reach ten, even if you include doubtful candidates, such as Walker Percy's "Thanatos Syndrome." (14) Now maybe Catholics just lack the apocalypse gene, or maybe this sort of fiction withers under the anti-millenarian eye of St. Augustine. Or maybe Tolkien's trilogy satisfies the apocalyptic impulse in people who don't know they have it.

"The Lord of the Rings" is 600,000 words long, which is a bit much to describe in detail here. There are just a few points we need to highlight. The trilogy is essentially a story about the experiences of ordinary people in a world war. The chief enemy in this war is a demonic eastern figure who relies as much on deceit as on force. Resistance to him is centered in a crumbly old empire whose capital simultaneously resembles Constantinople and Rome and Vienna. The core kingdom has been without a king for many centuries. It is ruled by a steward in the king's name, and the monarchy has become just a constitutional myth. The setting for the story is the historical crisis in which this myth comes true. The third part of the trilogy is called "The Return of the King," a title that might reasonably be said to have a millenarian overtone.

Bits and pieces of traditional Christian apocalyptic are scattered throughout the trilogy. The Enemy looks more than a little like Antichrist. The Dwarves (not "Dwarfs"; "Dwarves") are by Tolkien's own admission supposed to be like the Jews, even down to having a species of Zionism. (15) The future king descends to the land of the dead and returns. Some of these elements are familiar from any work on comparative mythology. This is true of Christian eschatology in general, but there is a difference with the trilogy.

In modern apocalyptic fiction, such as the "Left Behind" series, you will, of course, get to have lunch with the Antichrist, and you will be taught the premillennial model of history in great detail, but these stories are often really about how the everyman characters handle themselves in a morally charged situation. (16) "The Lord of the Rings" is just the same: the hero-myth is in it, but it's not about the hero who becomes king. The chief subplot concerns the exhausting journey of an everyman named Frodo to destroy a talisman on which the power of the demon ruler depends. At the moment of climax, he caves, and he loses the will to throw the magic ring into the volcano. The essential act is performed for him, by a kind of miracle. As in traditional eschatology, in fact, the whole world is saved providentially. The characters never had the power to save themselves. The moral is that some duties can be binding even in a situation that is hopeless by any rational standard .

Tolkien had a donnish sense of humor, and maybe the greatest practical joke of his career was his insistence in the Foreword to the Second Edition to "The Lord of the Rings" that the work is not an allegory, and particularly that it is not an allegory of the Second World War. (17) While this is a question of degree, we don't have to take altogether seriously his injunction to separate "The Lord of the Rings" entirely from history, especially in the light of the connections Tolkien himself drew between his service in the First World War and his first attempts at writing fantasy. (18) Certainly one of the ways that Tolkien's fans entertain themselves is by finding parallels between the world of the "Lord of the Rings" and that of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. For instance, the steward who nominally rules in the place of the king looks an awful lot like a pope, and not just any pope, but like Pope Pius X. (Actually, Pope Saint Pius X.) Both the steward and Pius were given to visions of impending crisis, and both might be characterized as successful reactionaries who were criticized later for going overboard. (19) The greatest parallel, however, is the sense throughout "The Lord of the Rings" of "here we go again."

The imaginary history of Tolkien's imaginary world is characterized by a series of epochal struggles against evil, stretching all the way back into mythological time. These apocalyptic episodes are not cyclical. What they share is a certain "type." John Cardinal Newman, another English Catholic, summed up this way of looking at history in a sermon given about a century before the trilogy was published:

"In truth, every event in this world is a type of those that follow, history proceeding forward as a circle ever enlarging. The days of the Apostles typified the last days...In like manner every age presents its own picture of those future events, which alone are the real fulfillment of the prophecy which stands at the head of all of them." (20)

This is probably the smartest thing that anybody ever said about the Book of Revelation.

"The Lord of the Rings" is in the same tradition, and not least in the final chapters, when the ancient kingdom is restored. Many of the features of traditional millennialism are there. There is a great feast after a battle like that of Armageddon. The restored king hands out judgments. Want disappears. Major warfare ceases. The world is set to rights, but it's still the same world. When the protagonists get back home to their Shire, they find that it has fallen into the hands of socialists, so they have to organize a liberation movement. Frodo the veteran gets little honor in his own country, and his adventure leaves him chronically ill. Mortality is not repealed, and neither is the prospect that the Shadow could take another form in the future.

"The Lord of the Rings" is not simply an allegory of the life and times of its author, but clearly its point of reference is the first half of the 20th century. For my money, in fact, when people in the future teach courses on the 20th century, the only items the syllabus will really need is "The Lord of the Rings" and that Terry Gilliam movie, "Brazil." (21)


Tolkien, like Cardinal Newman, was using a method of interpretation that comes to us from St. Augustine, and which is the dominant way that the West has thought about the Last Things. Even if Tolkien's eschaton can be said to lie in the past, still the overlap of history and eschatology is typical rather than absolute. Is it possible to have a model of history that identifies some past event absolutely and uniquely with the eschaton? Sure: that is pretty much what Francis Fukuyama's did in "The End of History and the Last Man," and actually, when you see how narrowly he defined history, his thesis is still defensible. (22) Another such model, one that may have better hope of a mass audience, starts with the proposition that all biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the first century AD.

This idea is not new. (23) Its most recent incarnations are called Realized Eschatology, or Covenant Eschatology, or preterism, or Transmillennialism (TM). (24) Preterism is the generic term I use. In any case, I gather that most of the credit for reviving this class of eschatology goes to the Reverend Max King of the Parkham Road Church of Christ in Warren, Ohio. (25) He became vocal on the subject in the early 1970s, in opposition to the premillennialism that was then getting wide distribution thanks to Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth." (26) Preterism has its share of schisms and schools, but one thing that all preterists seem to have in common is deep embarrassment at the game of "pin the tail on the Antichrist" that many pretribulationists have been playing with secular history these last thirty years. Something else they all have in common is keen interest in any millennial disappointment that may attend the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They believe, not unreasonably, that this state of mind could get their ideas a wider hearing.

Preterism can be viewed as an attempt to deal with the so-called "Olivet Discourse" found in the Synoptic Gospels, where Jesus explains about the Last Things. In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of future false Christs. He speaks of coming persecutions and tribulation and says, "[t]herefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place -- let him who reads understand -- then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." A little later Jesus says, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty." The verses that C.S. Lewis called "the most embarrassing in the Bible" (27) are 33 and 34: "Even so, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened."

Now, something is not computing here, but it is not entirely clear what. The higher criticism has said for more than a century that this chapter is an oblique reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, recast ten or twenty years later as a prophecy. However, many people have had trouble understanding why the evangelists writing at the late dates favored by the higher critics would create what was already a stale prophecy. (28) A more traditional approach, like that of Cardinal Newman, has it that the people of Jesus's generation did live to see a type of the end of the age in the destruction of the Temple. (Preterists call this position "partial-preterism.") What the preterists say is that the end of the Temple was not just a type of the end of the age, it was the end of the age, and that AD 70 was the date of the final Parousia.

The details of the argument are ingenious. A popular work, "Beyond the End Time" by John Noe (29) shows how the prophecy of "70 Weeks of Years" in Daniel 9 can be used to date the fall of Jerusalem quite precisely, assuming you start the prophecy running from the right point in the fifth century BC. This use of Daniel in Christian apologetics is hardly new. In this version, the life of Jesus and the forty years before AD 70 become the last week. Noe expands on Max King's suggestion that those last 40 years were actually the Millennium of Revelation 20, which makes perfect sense if you think of the Millennium as the pause between the climax and the final resolution of a story. (30) Noe also explains how the imagery of the Son of Man coming on a cloud fits well enough with the imagery the Old Testament conventionally uses to describe the chastisement of a city. What Noe and other full-preterists wish to emphasize is that the prophecies and the types of the Old Testament were wholly fulfilled in the New Testament period, and there is nothing more to be done.

Preterism can have some striking implications. For one thing, preterism requires that the whole New Testament canon, including the Book of Revelation, must have been completed by AD 70. This is a hard proposition to defend. (31) Preterism also discounts features of the popular religious landscape. There is no Rapture or Second Coming to look forward to. The creation of Israel in the 20th century becomes just another political event. Extreme forms of preterism are almost antinomian. The New Testament Church, from a preterist perspective, was the creature of a transitional period that ended in AD 70, and so did its charismatic gifts. These include, for instance, speaking in tongues and the office of apostle. The end of the latter is not an uncommon idea among Protestants. However, the people to whom Jesus is represented as giving these powers are also the ones to whom he gave the Great Commission, and whom he told to perform the Lord's Supper. While most preterists are at pains to distance themselves from what they call "hyper-preterism," the fact remains that preterism can make it hard to argue that Christians are required by Scripture to do anything at all. (32)

On the other hand, preterists also believe that now is still the early church, so there is lots of time to address these issues. In fact, there will still be lots of time in 1,000 or 10,000 years, since the duration of the New Covenant is infinite. Though preterism itself does not logically require any particular political or social orientation, its modern incarnation was founded by people who were alarmed by the tendency to disengagement traditionally associated with premillennialists like Hal Lindsey. Many of its adherents are in fact simply rather extreme Reformed Presbyterian post-millennialists.

While preterism is therefore not so different from more familiar forms of amillennialism, it goes St. Augustine's eschatology one better. Augustine suggested that the age of the Church was the Millennium, but there was still a futurist element in his interpretation of prophecy, one that was to some extent still linked to the geography and history of the Middle East. In contrast, Preterism, to use a $10 term from complexity theory, is "non-scalar." Without breaking the link to history, it can at least contemplate a future that is not parochial. This might not be a bad idea.


There are many reasons why people become interested in millennial studies. For one thing, there is all that cinematic violence. Jonestown, the Tai Ping Rebellion, the Muenster Commune; all are great, gory history. And of course, revolutionary millenarianism is a key feature of history whose importance is often still not fully appreciated. However, if destructive and pathological behavior were all the apocalypse were about, it would be hard to see why the idea persists. You might think that even the human race would have learned something by now.

It is much more likely that we keep pursuing the millennium because that is, on the whole, a sane way to deal with history. The world has yet to come crashing down universally, but it has often done so locally, and people have to deal with that. When they try to make the world a better place, they need a model that offers both hope and caution. The three models of history we have examined can provide those things, and in that I think they are typical of the way the Millennium really works.

Thank You.


(1) "The Sense of an Ending" by Frank Kermode (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967) gives a manageable treatment of the apocalypse as a feature of story structure. See also "The Perennial Apocalypse," John J. Reilly (London: Online Originals, 1998)

(2) "History of the Idea of Progress," Robert Nisbet (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 68.

(3) William Strauss and Neil Howe:

______"Generations: History of America's Future, 1584--2029" (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991)

______"13th Gen : abort, retry, ignore, fail?" (New York : Vintage Books, 1993)

______"The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy" (New York: Broadway Books, 1997

______"Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation" (New York: Vintage Books, 2000)

(4) (September 15, 2000):

(5) "The Cycles of American History," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin: 1986) "New Viewpoints in American History," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1922, 1977)

(6) "Bobos in Paradise : The New Upper Class and How They Got There," David Brooks (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2000)

"The Greatest Generation Speaks : Letters and Reflections," Tom Brokaw (New York : Random House, 1999)

(7) The "Fourth Turning" (op. cit.) gives the mature form of Strauss and Howe's system. See the review of the book in "Apocalypse & Future: Notes on the Cultural History of the 21st Century," John J. Reilly (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2000), p. 222; also online at

(8) "Inventing the Great Awakening," Frank Lambert (Princeton University Press, 2000). The standard work on the importance of the Awakenings is William McLoughlin's "Revivals, Awakenings and Reform: An essay on religion and social change in America" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

(9) E.g., "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism," Robert William Fogel (University of Chicago Press, 2000) Despite the many similarities, Strauss and Howe's works are not cited.

(10) "The Fourth Turning," op. cit., pp. 305 et seq.

(11) This according to surveys by UK Channel 4 and Waterstones Booksellers.

(12) "Tolkien: Man and Myth," Joseph Pearce (London: HarperCollins, 1998) The Tolkien Society (

(13) "When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture," Paul Boyer (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press, 1992), p. 106

(14) David van Meter listed the following Catholic apocalyptic novels on his "Marian Apparitions" site ( as of September 15, 2000:

MacFarlane, Bud Jr. Pierced by a Sword : A Chronicle of the Coming Tribulations. Fairview Park, OH: St. Jude Media, 1995.

McInerny, Ralph M. The Red Hat. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.

O'Brien, Michael D. Eclipse of the Sun. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998.

________. Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996.

________. Strangers and Sojourners : A Novel. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.

West, Morris. The Clowns of God. New York: William Morrow, 1981.

To these I would add:

Benson, Robert Hugh, "The Lord of the World," Long Prairie, Minn.: The Neumann Press, 1907

Walker, Percy, "Thanatos Syndrome," New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987

(15) "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), p. 78

(16) The Left Behind Series is written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Wheaton, IL.: Tyndale House). The first book in the series, "Left Behind," appeared in 1996. As of this writing, six more have been published. Five further books are planned to April 15, 2003. (There is also a children's series, "Left Behind: The Kids.") For a review of the second book, "Tribulation Force," see Reilly, op. sit., p. 20; also available at

(17) "The Lord of the Rings," John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954, 1965), p. 5: "I think that many confuse `applicability' with `allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

(18) "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," op. sit., p. 229

(19) Cf. the description of Pius X given from "A History of Christianity," Paul Johnson (New York: Athenuem, 1983), p. 469 with that of Denethor in "The Lord of the Rings," op. sit., ("The Return of the King"), p. 31.

(20) "Tracts for the Times," Vol. V, 1838-1840 (London: J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1840), Advent Sermons on the Antichrist, pp. 1-54

(21) "Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century," Norman F. Cantor (New York : W. Morrow, 1991), p. 207

(22) "The End of History and the Last Man," Francis Fukuyama (New York: The Free Press, 1992)

(23) "The Parousia," James Stuart Russell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1878, 1999). The Oxford English Dictionary dates the word "preterist," though not the doctrine, to 1843.

(24) The homepage for the International Preterist Association is The homepage for Living Presence Ministries, the exponent of Transmillennialism (TM), is

(25) "The Cross and the Parousia of Christ: The Two Dimensions of One Age-Changing Eschaton," Max R. King (Warren, Ohio, The Parkham Road Church of Christ, 1987)

(26) "The Late Great Planet Earth," Hal Lindsey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970, 1977)

(27) "The World's Last Night, and Other Essays," C.S. Lewis (New York: Harcourt, Brace,1959), p. 98

(28) "Redating the New Testament," J.A.T. Robinson (SCM, London, 1976)

(29) "Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told," John Noe (Bradford, Pa.: International Preterist Resources, 1999). For a review, go to

(30) King, op. sit., p. 212

(31) E.g., "Before Jerusalem Fell," Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. (Amer Vision Pub, 1999)

(32) A response to hyperpreterism can be found on the International Preterist Association website at Hibbard Responds to Misunderstandings about the Preterist View.html

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