The Longing

For what? For those far lands? People are able to read Tolkien and feel no longing, I suppose. I guess that’s what happens when they read and either don’t make it to the end or don’t return. It doesn’t seem to call them.

But I can’t. It calls me whenever he mentions a tree, or speaks of the seasons, or has someone use the seasons as an ominous metaphor. To mention blades of grass, or birds, with him, is like hearing again the hunting horn of Orome in the ancient forests: it calls me away. And with it there is always the subtle sadness, the sense of something good dwindling, and then the growing of an ominous sense of some awful shadow looming at the threshold of consciousness.

Good is always great and splendid and never without a threat somewhere in Numenor and Middle Earth, the dwelling places of men. You always get a sadness of conflicting will, which I take to describe the human condition. The worst thing about the world after a decisive battle in which a high tide of evil was turned is the subsequent neglect–the ominous neglect in which only one voice urges vigilance in vain. A failure of memory ensues, defeating triumph.

It is a pagan element. A grand, vast, prodigal and prodigious sense not only of joy but of evil teeming under the earth and gathering to emerge rampant. It is as pagan as tragedy, and that calls to us more than any anemic secular calculation. What does it have to do with the longing? It is longing that disturbs ages of peace; longing that makes the wanderer wander wayward; longing which upsets the careful balance; longing in a peaceful blessed existence that will not be satisfied; that upsets the joy of the human condition and yet what attracts us as readers.

What did Tolkien believe about rest? That it could never come unearned? Isn’t it in some way disquieting to face and feel that longing without which there would be no shadow and without which shadow there would be no story? Is it a longing for story? Or the longing of looking into a mirror, and seeing ourselves in our world but not in our world, attracted somehow to the suggestion of something greater, better?

It is a longing for more, quite undefined and at the same time all intense. Have I examined it right? I don’t know, but I do think part of it is the long night of romanticism which strains through deeper darkness for an unimagined day. The map of Arda always comes alive, because in some way it is a map of the mysteries suggested by the vast uncharted regions of the human soul.


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