Peter Jackson’s film version of Tolkien’s The Return of the King was a huge commercial and critical success, winning all eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated. However, it was not immune from criticism even as it received its bouquets. “Eleven nominations!” declared Billy Crystal in his opening monologue at the 2004 Oscars. “Yes, eleven nominations, – one for each ending!”

The end of the movie appears as if it might have been reached when the screen goes black after the destruction of the Ring and the eruption of Mount Doom. But, of course, there is more to come as Frodo and Sam are rescued by the eagles. The screen then turns white. Perhaps this is the end? No, Frodo awakes to discover that Gandalf is alive; he is then reunited with the other surviving members of the Fellowship. Is this the end? No, for the scene now shifts to Minas Tirith where Aragorn is crowned king. The coronation throng bows to the four hobbits and a map appears on screen signalling their return to the Shire. They go for a drink in the pub. Sam marries Rosie Cotton. Frodo writes an account of his adventures.

And still the movie is not over. “There’s room for a little more,” as Frodo says, handing Sam the book for him to add his own chapters later. At which point we embark on yet another journey, this time to the Grey Havens, where Gandalf oversees Frodo’s painful parting from his three hobbit friends.

And even then there’s one last thing to show: the return of Sam to the bosom of his family in Hobbiton. “Well, I’m back,” he says. Finally, finally, finally, the film finishes.

This essay offers no opinion about Jackson’s movie, except to observe that its multiple endings (if that is the right term for them) are a feature of Tolkien’s book too. Indeed, the book has more end-matter than the movie because it contains a lengthy chapter, “The Scouring of the Shire,” that did not find its way into the film. Of the nine chapters in Book Six of The Lord of the Rings, two-thirds deal with events following the destruction of the Ring. After Gollum and the Precious have plunged into the Crack of Doom, Frodo states, “The Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” So concludes Chapter 3, “Mount Doom,” but all is far from over at that point; we are only fifty-two pages in. A further eighty-five pages must elapse before we reach Sam’s “Well, I’m back.”

I make these observations not to imply any adverse judgement about the structure of Book Six but rather to raise a question about The Lord of the Rings as a whole: where does its rising action end and where does its falling action start? In other words, what is the narrative climax of Tolkien’s epic and what constitutes the aftermath?

We will find an answer if we consult Tolkien’s 1951 letter to Milton Waldman where he explains that “the story reaches its end (as a tale of Hobbits!) in the celebration of victory.”[1] This celebration of victory occurs in a chapter entitled “The Field of Cormallen,” the chapter that immediately follows the destruction of the Ring. It is this chapter that contains the story’s “end,” by the author’s own reckoning. Or at least, it contains its end “as a tale of Hobbits,” which allows for the fact that the story’s end as a tale of Men (Aragorn’s coronation, etc) is yet to come.[2] Still, given that the story as a whole is chiefly about hobbits, and given that a large amount of activity awaits even them, this statement by Tolkien is instructive. He continues:

 

In the scene where all the hosts of the West unite to do honour and praise to the two humble Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, we reach the ‘eucatastrophe’ of the whole romance: that is the sudden joyous ‘turn’ and fulfilment of hope, the opposite of tragedy, that should be the hallmark of a ‘fairy-story’ of higher or lower tone, the resolution and justification of all that has gone before. It brought tears to my eyes to write it, and still moves me, and I cannot help believing that it is a supreme moment of its kind.

But it is not the end of the ‘Sixth Book’ or of The Lord of the Rings as a whole. For various reasons. The chief artistic one that the music cannot be cut off short at its peak. Also the history is left in the air, unfinished. Also I like tying up loose ends, and hate them in other people’s books; I like to wind up the clues, as do not only children, but most folk of hearty appetite. Again, the story began in the simple Shire of the Hobbits, and it must end there, back to common life and earth (the ultimate foundation) again. Finally and cogently, it is the function of the longish coda to show the cost of victory (as always), and to show that no victory, even on a world-shaking scale, is final. The war will go on, taking other modes.”[3]

 

According to Tolkien’s own analysis here, the fulfilment of the whole romance, the “peak” of the story’s music, is the scene where Frodo and Sam are praised at Cormallen. That is the climax of The Lord of the Rings. These “rejoicings at the Victory” mark the rising action’s highest point.[4] Everything that comes after that scene, including even the coronation of Aragorn, comprises the coda – literally, the tail (Latin cauda). With “The Field of Cormallen” – the fifty-seventh of the story’s sixty-two chapters – Tolkien concludes the body of the tale: then comes the tail of the body.

“The Field of Cormallen” is a chapter with many different facets, each of which helps to explain why Tolkien considered it the end of the hobbits’ story. Perhaps its most striking aspect is its emotional tone, for the repeated mingling of laughter and tears bespeaks the eucatastrophic joy “poignant as grief” that Tolkien held to be a chief feature of this kind of story-telling.[5] Another prominent aspect is the rite of praise, for in such a logocentric world as Middle-earth it is not enough for Frodo and Sam heroically to bring about the Ring’s destruction: their heroism must be celebrated by the minstrel of Gondor and general thanksgiving appropriately articulated. For this reason, Verlyn Flieger can say that “in one sense, the most important poem in the book is the Gondorian minstrel’s lay” because it stands, within the fictive world, as the very first telling of the story that becomes The Lord of the Rings.[6] A third aspect we could consider is the presentation of Sam, for the action of the chapter is seen almost entirely from his perspective, indicating that he is assuming more and more the role of chief hero, as indeed Tolkien elsewhere designated him, while Frodo continues his gradual withdrawal from centre-stage, preparatory to his departure for the Grey Havens.[7]

These three aspects are among the reasons why “The Field of Cormallen” qualifies as the high point of the epic, but what this essay will focus on is something else, something less obvious, but something that may be all the more important because of its unobviousness. It is the chapter’s topographical setting, Cormallen itself. As we will see, this Field, in Ithilien, is a place of tremendous significance, which deserves and will repay our closest attention.

 

The Field of Cormallen

 

We are told of the Field of Cormallen that it is “a wide green land and beyond it was a broad river in a silver haze, out of which rose a long wooded isle, and many ships lay by its shores. But on the field where they now stood a great host was drawn up, in ranks and companies glittering in the sun.”[8] Later we learn more specifically that “The Field of Cormallen, where the host was now encamped, was near to Henneth Annûn [the Window on the West], and the stream that flowed from its falls could be heard in the night as it rushed down through its rocky gate, and passed through the flowery meads into the tides of Anduin by the Isle of Cair Andros.” The trees surrounding the Field have “fluttering leaves” and after the celebrations are over and the glad day ends, “Frodo and Sam sat under the whispering trees amid the fragrance of fair Ithilien,” talking deep into the night with their friends.[9]

It is a lovely setting, appropriate for the mood of peace and fulfilment that marks this episode. Still, what Tolkien gives the reader is only a brief sketch. One does not get the sense, either from the length of the description or its details, that a place of especially profound importance is being depicted. It is hardly surprising that the Field does not appear in Peter Jackson’s movie, and whereas his omission of “The Scouring of the Shire” caused a great deal of consternation among admirers of the book, the absence of this scene went almost entirely unremarked.

Yet this is the setting Tolkien selects for the climactic celebrations, the scene that immediately precedes the coda of his epic. This is the place where the minstrel begs leave to sing of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom:

 

And when Sam heard that he laughed aloud for sheer delight, and he stood up and cried: “O great glory and splendour! And all my wishes have come true!” And then he wept.

And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.[10]

 

In his letter to Waldman, as we saw above, Tolkien admitted that writing this passage brought tears to his eyes. In a letter to his aunt, Tolkien was more frank, disclosing that he didn’t just well up, but actually wept: “I remember blotting the pages (which now represent the welcome of Frodo and Sam on the Field of Cormallen) with tears as I wrote.”[11] It is indeed a powerfully moving passage, and of great subsequent significance within the story itself, for, after the hobbits have returned to the Shire and Frodo has been treated with scorn by a ruffian, we are told that Pippin’s thoughts “went back to the Field of Cormallen, and here was a squint-eyed rascal calling the Ring-bearer ‘little cock-a-whoop’.”[12] For Pippin, the public praise at Cormallen has become the touchstone of the respect that is now Frodo’s due. Pippin does not think about Frodo’s bearing of the Ring, nor even about the destruction of the Ring. The ceremony of thanksgiving is what sticks in his memory as the sign and seal of his friend’s heroic achievement.

But why does Tolkien set that scene in this particular Field? Unless he has abandoned the basic canons of narrative art, such a climactic scene ought to be set in a place that resonates with and intensifies the significance of the action that it frames. King Lear rails against the storm while standing on a heath, not his hearth. Elizabeth Bennet awakens to Mr. Darcy’s true worth at Pemberley, not Netherfield. Plot and place comprise an integral whole, each intensifying the other, emotionally, morally, symbolically, thematically. A fundamental principle of fictional narration is that what happens and where it happens are meaningfully related.

Tolkien chooses to set the climax of his whole epic in a previously unvisited location. He has previously taken the reader to Ithilien, as we will discuss further below, but never before has he even mentioned the Field of Cormallen. Why not situate this episode in a place that has some pre-existing significance for the reader, such as Lothlórien or Rivendell? Admittedly, these places are a long way from Mount Doom, but there is no reason why the eagles could not have transported Frodo and Sam that far. The two hobbits have been asleep for about two weeks since they were “brought out of the fire.”[13] The lengthy interval and the sleep indicate that Tolkien could have whisked the hobbits away to almost any destination he liked without needing to invent intermediate adventures that would have disrupted or prolonged the tale. It appears that he had originally expected to set the scene in Minas Tirith, but when he came to write the chapter changed his mind.[14]

Evidently, the Field of Cormallen was not created faute de mieux. Tolkien invented this site for very definite purposes, and we will understand those purposes more fully if we examine the name “Cormallen.”[15]

The philological origins of Middle-earth are well known. Tolkien himself readily acknowledged them, disclosing that his work was “fundamentally linguistic in inspiration” (his emphasis).[16] He goes on to say:

 

The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.[17]

 

If the name comes first, what does the name “Cormallen” mean? Fortunately, there is no doubt about that because Christopher Tolkien explains it in an Appendix to The Silmarillion entitled “Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names.” The definition provided there is highly suggestive, and we will unpack it slowly, taking it in three parts.

 

Trees

 

The Appendix to The Silmarillion reveals that the Field of Cormallen “was named from the culumalda trees that grew there.”[18] This is the first thing to note about the field, that it is not just a large area of grass, but is home to a certain kind of tree, and we will turn our attention to that particular species – culumalda – in the second section of this analysis.

Trees in general are, of course, hugely important to Tolkien, who went so far as to call The Lord of the Rings “my own internal Tree.”[19] As Dinah Hazell remarks in The Plants of Middle-earth: Botany and Sub-creation, “Trees have a central place in his creative imagination as well as in the plot, narrative technique, imagery, and mythology of The Lord of the Rings . . . individually and in forests, trees are essential to the atmosphere and action.”[20] From the Party Tree to the White Tree of Gondor, from the huorns of the Old Forest to the mallorns of Lothlórien, from Old Man Willow to Treebeard and his fellow Ents, the whole sub-created world teems with arboreal characters and descriptions. Deep in the mythological background are the Two Trees of Valinor, Laurelin and Telperion, the great lamps that illumine day and night in Middle-earth.

Tolkien loved trees for their age, their beauty, their complexity. As a Christian, he would have seen in them a reflection of the cross of Christ, often figured in Scripture (and therefore in much sacred art and poetry) as a tree.[21] And as a philologist, he would have known that in Old English treow had several meanings: not only the obvious “tree,” but also “truth” and “trust,” and hence “fidelity” or “loyalty,” as in the wedding vow, “I plight thee my troth.” Hazell points out that the semantic overlap between “tree” and “trust” is a feature of many languages, “based on the dependability and permanence of trees.”[22]

“Cormallen,” signifying a place where trees grow, is a name that reflects some of Tolkien’s central aesthetic, religious, and moral preoccupations. Moreover, given its location in Ithilien, it is not just a field of trees but is located within a land of trees, for Ithilien as a whole is “a fair country of climbing woods.”[23] We are first introduced to the region in The Two Towers, in the chapter entitled “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”:

 

Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age amid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam. The grots and rocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops. Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass: deep green grass beside the pools, where falling streams halted in cool hollows on their journey down to Anduin.[24]

 

Hazell calls Ithilien “Tolkien’s master achievement of woodland creation . . . The beauty of spring in the woods of Ithilien is depicted in a dense, brief space in the style of a medieval or epic catalog, overwhelming the reader and hobbits with a panoply of texture, color, and fragrance.”[25] Gollum finds the fragrance choking, but the hobbits are refreshed and Sam laughs “for heart’s ease not for jest.”[26] As he rinses his gear after the feast of stewed coneys, Sam sees “the sun rise out of the reek, or haze, or dark shadow, or whatever it was, that lay ever to the east, and it sent its golden beams down upon the trees and glades about him.”[27]

The sheer intensity and variety of the arboreal and floral descriptions here in Book Four is undoubtedly intended to establish Ithilien in the reader’s mind as a place of rare beauty, the memory of which will make the return there all the more engaging when we reach it in Chapter 4 of Book Six. Almost all the trees and plants that the hobbits encounter in this earlier episode are, as Hazell observes, “prized as early heralds of the season [i.e., Spring] and for their aroma . . . And for Sam and Frodo, they bring the last bit of respite until they fulfil their Quest and return to Ithilien.”[28] That this moment of respite occurs in Spring, and early Spring at that, is significant, and Tolkien is careful not to allow the story to get ahead of itself. In “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit” he strikes a delicate balance, gesturing towards the approach of a new season without prematurely realising it. “Here Spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness.”[29] The word “already” shows that Spring has only just begun, while the words “desolate” and “dishevelled” restrain the overall mood, making it more promissory than actual. And this tentativeness is key to Tolkien’s structural purposes: he must keep something back in order that the return to Ithilien, following the cataclysm on Mount Doom, will co-ordinate with the full arrival of Spring and all the expectant associations that accompany it. That the return occurs in April (on April 8th to be exact) rather than in Summer is highly significant and is something we will return to below.[30]

The return to Ithilien does not happen all in an instant; Tolkien introduces the new location with an initial note of doubt. When Sam awakes smelling a sweet air that reminds him of Ithilien’s fragrance, he wonders how long he can have been asleep “for the scent had borne him back to the day when he had lit his little fire under the sunny bank; and for the moment all else between was out of waking memory.”[31] Sam supposes that everything which seems to have occurred since he last smelled this air must have been only a dream. But then, when he sees Frodo’s hand with the missing finger resting on the coverlet and realises that the intervening events actually happened, he concludes that he must have left the place. In which case, where is he? A voice assures him that he is truly “in the land of Ithilien.”[32] Its sweet scent is not deceiving him; he has indeed returned to the “fair country of climbing woods.” It is now time for him and Frodo to enter the very heart of this garden land and see that part of it which they had missed on their earlier visit, the place where the culumalda trees grow, the Field of Cormallen itself.

 

Golden Trees

 

The culumalda, according to Tolkien’s unfinished Index to The Lord of the Rings, was “a tree with hanging yellow blossoms . . . growing in Ithilien espec[ially] at Cormallen.”[33] The presence of these yellow-blossomed trees helps explain the etymology of “Cormallen,” for the word mal means “gold” and is found in various terms, sometimes as a prefix, as in Malinalda (“Tree of Gold,” another name for Laurelin) and mallorn (golden tree), and sometimes as an infix, as here in Cormallen.

If Tolkien loved trees in general, he had a special passion for golden trees, and we would do well to consider this fascination before focussing in on the particular kind of tree represented by the culumalda.

Outside of the Field of Cormallen, golden trees appear most notably in the Golden Wood, Lothlórien. Its original name, according to Treebeard, was Laurelindórenan: “That is what the Elves used to call it . . . Land of the Valley of Singing Gold.”[34] Treebeard goes on to hum to himself, “Laurelindórenan lindelorendor malinornélion ornemalin,” which Tolkien translates as follows: “laure, gold, not the metal but the colour, what we should call golden light; ndor, nor, land, country; lin, lind-, a musical sound; malina, yellow; orne, tree; lor, dream; nan, nand-, valley. So that roughly [Treebeard] means: ‘The valley where the trees in a golden light sing musically, a land of music and dreams; there are yellow trees there, it is a tree-yellow land.’”[35]

The yellow or golden trees that chiefly grow in Lothlórien are mallorns. Sam is given a nut from one of these trees, which he plants back home in Hobbiton to replace the felled Party Tree: “a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and . . . burst into golden flowers in April.”[36]

On the hobbits’ return journey to the Shire, they stop off at Rivendell and tell Bilbo of their adventures. He struggles to understand what he has heard: “it is all so confusing . . . Aragorn’s affairs, and the White Council, and Gondor, and the Horsemen, and Southrons, and oliphaunts . . . and caves and towers and golden trees, and goodness knows what besides.”[37] The placement of “golden trees” last in this list of wonders seems significant, a nod, perhaps, to the culmination of the story “as a tale of Hobbits” in the Field of culumalda.

We have already noted how, in “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit,” Sam watched the sun send “its golden beams down upon the trees and glades about him.” When he finally enters Cormallen he discovers that the trees there are golden in reality, not just given an aurified appearance by the setting sun. Moreover, the culumalda are not fictional, without a referent or equivalent in the primary world, as the mallorns seem to be, but represent a particular species known to botanists. In his unfinished Index, Tolkien defines Cormallen as “a region in Ithilien (originally called after the laburnum that grew there).”[38]

Tolkien had had an interest in laburnums since at least his student days. We know this from his admiration for the work of the English Catholic poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907), an admiration that is worth exploring in some detail.

Thompson’s poetry is now largely forgotten (except for “The Hound of Heaven,” a poem about God’s untiring pursuit of a human soul), but Tolkien knew it intimately. He owned the three-volume Works of Francis Thompson and gave a lecture to the Exeter College Essay Club while an undergraduate in which he described him as “among the very greatest of all poets.”[39] The talk showed such knowledge of and sympathy for Thompson’s work that the Club secretary recorded: “One was conscious that [Tolkien] has felt himself to be in perfect harmony with the poet.”[40]

Raymond Edwards observes Thompson’s interest in providing “unusually exact” botanical descriptions, along with an ability to introduce “theological themes and reflexions into quite disparate subjects.”[41] In his talk at Exeter, Tolkien spoke of how Thompson combined things rational and mystical, emphasizing (so the Club secretary minuted) “images drawn from astronomy and geology, and especially those that could be described as Catholic ritual writ large across the universe.”[42] John Garth remarks, “It sounds like a foretaste of Middle-earth.”[43] As Holly Ordway notes: “The attraction was evidently deep and strong.”[44]

One particularly attractive work was the “Proem” from Sister Songs, in which the poet exclaims:

 

Mark yonder, how the long laburnum drips
Its jocund spilth of fire, its honey of wild flame!
Yea, and myself put on swift quickening,
And answer to the presence of a sudden Spring.[45]

 

The word spilth means “that which is spilled; the action or fact of spilling” (OED). It is an apt term, for the blossoms of the laburnum spill forth from its branches in such profusion that a mature healthy specimen appears to be a single large explosion of gold and yellow. The blossoms hang down in delicate pea-like clusters – “pendulous racemes,” to give them their botanical name, – and that is why the tree is also known as Golden Chain or Golden Rain.[46]

Tolkien was so impressed by Thompson’s arboreal depiction that it informed the way he created his own mythological tree, Laurelin (“Song of Gold”), whose fiery fruit was eventually formed into the Sun: “Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a glowing horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree there came forth warmth and a great light.”[47] Tolkien writes of how the “spilth of Laurelin” is collected and kept “in great vats like shining lakes, that were to all the land of the Valar as wells of water and of light.”[48] In a note on the typescript, he reveals that spilth is “meant to indicate that Laurelin is ‘founded’ on the laburnum. [From] ‘jocund spilth of yellow fire’ [by] Francis Thompson.”[49]

This mythological background to Middle-earth, not to mention Thompson’s influence upon it, may strike the average reader of The Lord of the Rings as esoteric and irrelevant, but we should note that Laurelin and her lunar partner, Telperion, are a living presence in the mind of Frodo. In The Two Towers, when torn over which way to go in order to fulfil his quest, Frodo reflects upon his “evil fate,” a fate which he had taken on himself “in his own sitting-room in the far-off spring of another year, so remote now that it was like a chapter in a story of the world’s youth, when the Trees of Silver and Gold were still in bloom.”[50] The Two Trees of Valinor, though pre-historic from the Ring-bearer’s vantage-point in time, have not been forgotten. Their significance lingers. The fact that one of those trees was a kind of laburnum is related to the fact that Frodo will eventually be praised, after the fulfilment of his quest, in a field of laburnums. It is no accident. The arboreal symmetry is integral to the structure of Tolkien’s epic, a sign of its inner meaning, an indication that “a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside,” made the right choice at that crucial moment of decision.[51] He has achieved something of huge spiritual importance, has helped to maintain light amid the darkness. Frodo’s heroism is rooted deep in the origin story of his own world and goes with the grain of Middle-earth.

If all that seems a bit grandiose, note how Tolkien has cleverly put the same tree before the reader in a playful, even comic, register long before Frodo ever set out on his journey, for laburnums have already appeared in Middle-earth in a much less grave context, as a description of Gandalf’s fireworks. In The Hobbit, Bilbo praises his “laburnums of fire” that “hang in the twilight all evening.”[52] Why laburnums and not some other specimen of golden flora, such as forsythia, acacia, or even daffodil or primrose? The fact that Tolkien specifies laburnum is deliberate. It is a little tell-tale sign of that tree’s central place in his imagination. In the full flowering of his imagination, the laburnum will be shown to inform both Laurelin and the trees at Cormallen. We ought to be cognizant of these connections if we are to understand the full import of the climactic scene. Cormallen is a field where trees grow, yes, but not any old trees: golden trees, laburnums, whose arboreal genealogy links them to the light of the world.

 

A Ring of Golden Trees

 

We now come to the pattern that these trees form, their arrangement in the Field of Cormallen. They are not positioned on one side only; they are not banked on opposite sides; they are not dotted around at random. They form a ring. The words “cor” and “corma” mean ring in Sindarin and Quenya respectively. As the Appendix to The Silmarillion reveals, “Cormallen” means golden circle.[53] Other key terms in the story show the same etymological root: Frodo and Sam are “cormacolindor” (Ring bearers); Ringday, the annual festival held to honour the completion of the Quest, is “Cormarë”; the Quenya title “i Túrin i Cormaron” means “the Lord of the Rings.”[54] [55] [56]

The fact that Cormallen is so called for its ring of golden trees immediately suggests all sorts of interesting implications for the scene that takes place there. But before we reflect upon this circle of laburnums and think about possible purposes Tolkien had in mind as he created it, let us briefly survey his interest in rings and in gold more generally. Attention to his iconographical imagination as it bears upon these two things will help position us better to understand his intentions for the Field.

We noted above how, in The Two Towers, Tolkien introduces readers to the “fair country of climbing woods” that will reappear at the climax of his story. We ought now to notice that, in those earlier passages, Ithilien’s flora is shown to have an ability to form itself in a circular fashion so as to cover up bad rings and to produce good rings.

In “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit,” Sam, “smelling and touching the unfamiliar plants and trees,” stumbles upon “a ring still scorched by fire, and in the midst of it he found a pile of charred and broken bones and skulls.”[57] The ring in question is a patch of burnt earth and the fact that it contains scorched skeletons is an omen of the possible fate awaiting Frodo and Sam in Mordor. However, it cannot withstand the fertility of Ithilien: “The swift growth of the wild with briar and eglantine and trailing clematis was already drawing a veil over this place of dreadful feast and slaughter.”[58]

As well as being able to cover up an evil ring, the flora of Ithilien is shown to have the capacity for forming a good ring. At the Cross-roads, Frodo and Sam see a ruined stone figure, about whose “high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.”[59] A “coronal” is a circlet or coronet, and this example, though “of silver and gold,” is not made of metals, but is a natural wreath, formed out of white flowers and yellow stonecrop. It is a floral equivalent of Galadriel’s name, which means “radiant garland,” given because in her youth she had bound up her hair “as a crown,” golden but shot through with silver.[60] [61] [62]

There is a third natural ring to be found in Ithilien. The Cross-roads is situated in the middle of a wooded annulus, a “great ring of trees . . . a great roofless ring, open in the middle to the sombre sky . . . In the very centre four ways met.”[63] Finding himself in the centre of something like a huge Celtic cross, the Ring-bearer must decide which course to take: “Reluctantly, Frodo turned his back on the West and followed as his guide led him, out into the darkness of the East. They left the ring of trees . . .”[64]

Leaving trees behind is never a good thing to do in Tolkien’s world. It is an indication of the bleakness of the journey that awaits the hobbits, as the circularity not of wood but of metal – in the form of the One Ring – comes to dominate their experience more and more intensely.

From circles of trees (and other flora) we turn to circles of gold. There is not space here to discuss the “three rings for the Elven-kings,” the “seven for the Dwarf-lords,” and the “nine for Mortal Men.” However, we must say something about the Ring of Power. As Gandalf explains to Frodo, Sauron made the One Ring himself and “let a great part of his own former power pass into it.”[65] Sauron’s power is thus concentrated into one particular golden object whereas the power of the other great evil figure in Middle-earth, Morgoth, is dispersed throughout gold in general and therefore is found in all things made of that metal. Tolkien explains:

 

Sauron’s power was not . . . in gold as such, but in a particular form or shape made of a particular portion of total gold. Morgoth’s power was disseminated throughout Gold, if nowhere absolute (for he did not create Gold) it was nowhere absent. (It was this Morgoth-element in matter, indeed, which was a prerequisite for such ‘magic’ and other evils as Sauron practised with it and upon it.) It is quite possible, of course, that certain ‘elements’ or conditions of matter had attracted Morgoth’s special attention . . . For example, all gold (in Middle-earth) seems to have had a specially ‘evil’ trend – but not silver.[66]

 

Given that gold in general is nowhere free of Morgoth’s influence and given that rings of gold are particularly expressive of Sauron’s power, we should note how Tolkien scatters various circles or bands of gold throughout the text, as an indication of the pervasiveness of evil, but also how he presents a number of more positive examples to suggest that evil does not have things all its own way.

Round the neck of the fallen Southron warrior is a “golden collar,” suggestive of a slave’s halter, and hence of the lies and threats that, so Sam wonders, may have led him to his death. The plaits of his hair are even “braided with gold” and there are “bands of gold” encircling the tusks of the oliphaunt, reflecting how minutely this controlling force extends among the Haradrim.[67]

Boromir’s “belt of gold” is a more ambiguous example.[68] That it has been given to him by Galadriel implies that it is, in itself, innocent, and possibly therefore merely gold in colour, not made of golden metal (that distinction being important to Tolkien, as we saw above). But it is telling that she gives this gift to Boromir, rather than to any other member of the Fellowship. Is she signalling to Boromir that she perceives his morally compromised character? Or does she intend the gift to serve as a kind of inoculation against temptation, almost as if it were a kind of chastity belt, thus helping save Boromir from being permanently overtaken by the libido dominandi that besets him at the foot of Amon Hen? The way that Faramir takes special note of the belt when recounting his vision of his dead brother suggests the more positive interpretation.[69] Faramir reveals that Boromir was wearing not just a “belt of gold” – which is all we were told about it at the gift-giving scene in Lothlórien, – but bore “a fair belt, as it were of linked golden leaves, about his waist.”

Interestingly, Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife, also wears a belt of gold. Goldberry, unlike Boromir, shows no sign of moral compromise, and this is intimated by the fact that her belt is “shaped like a chain of flag-lilies set with the pale-blue eyes of forget-me-nots.”[70] For Tolkien, with his deeply engrained Catholic sensibility, the lilies and the blueness would immediately connote purity by association with Marian iconography and therefore we should understand that Goldberry is immune from gold’s corrupting power, just as her husband is immune from the Ring’s ability to render its wearer invisible. Goldberry’s very name, indeed, suggests that Sauron and Morgoth have not completely succeeded in colonising and corrupting all things round and gold.

And this reminds us that evil in Middle-earth is not ontologically equivalent with and opposite to goodness; the moral framework of Tolkien’s world is not dualistic. Hence Elrond can say, “Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”[71] Likewise, Frodo can tell Faramir that Gollum is “not altogether wicked.”[72] Tolkien informed a correspondent: “In my story I do not deal with Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil.”[73] The qualification there about “rational being” is important: Tolkien is covering his own back, for the story reveals (through the mouth of Elrond) that Sauron’s Ring is indeed “altogether evil,” which is why it cannot be redeemed and must be destroyed.[74] Stratford Caldecott argues that the circular shape of the Ring “is an image of the will closed in upon itself,” its “empty centre” connoting the void that opens when “unseen by others, we are cut off from human contact, removed from the reach of friendship.”[75] It is akin to the “hollow circle” on the Barrow-Downs: “in the midst of it there stood a single stone, standing tall . . . like a . . . guarding finger, or more like a warning.”[76] The Ring in this sense is a functional equivalent of the evil hand that, in the teaching of Christ, must be amputated: “if your hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.”[77] Frodo can only be liberated from this wholly evil thing when it is literally bitten off his body.

But rings (and hands) in general are not essentially or originally evil, any more than are Sauron and Morgoth. Tolkien, following Plotinus and St. Augustine, subscribes to a privatio boni theory of evil, which holds that evil has no substantial reality in itself, at least not at the rational level, although at the physical level evil may irremediably infect material things, which therefore have to be removed and incinerated. This was Tolkien’s belief as a Christian and, given that The Lord of the Rings is, by his own description, “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work,” we naturally see this ethical structure reflected in Middle-earth.[78] It has been created by the One, Eru Ilúvatar, and is therefore fundamentally good. Evil people and evil things are only corruptions or parodies of what they were originally and still ought to be.

It is therefore worth asking the question: of what is the One Ring a parody or distortion? At the moral level, the answer would be that the Ring parodies the power of Eru, twisting that creative and liberating energy into a destructive and coercive force. At the physical level, the answer is more complex: the Ring is a parody of anything that is innocently gold and circular. Such golden circles might be nothing more significant than a coronal of yellow stonecrop or a belt of linked leaves, – or even the bull’s-eye in an archery target. (“Do I not hit near the mark?” asks Faramir. “Near,” said Frodo, “but not in the gold.”)[79] These various kinds of golden rings reveal that the One Ring has no monopoly on goldenness and circularity. Rather, the Ring is only a grossly, indeed maximally, distorted version of “the circles of the world.”[80]

Which in turn prompts the question: where is the maximally good version of a golden ring in Middle-earth? And the answer to that must surely be, as this essay is attempting to show, the Field of Cormallen’s circle of laburnums, given that it is here that the climax of the entire epic is set. The high point of the story naturally occurs in a place of the highest appropriateness. Here is the good ring, a ring of golden trees, the only such ring – apparently – in Middle-earth, the summit of its beauty. This ring encircles not the finger of a solitary and invisible power-addict, but a whole host of people gathered to praise two hobbits for their heroism in having destroyed the prime tool of coercive force. Plot and place are mutually implicative; there is a meaningful relationship between what happens and where it happens.

Yet only if we know the etymology of “Cormallen” can we grasp this meaning. Why does Tolkien not make things more obvious? Why portray this crucial mise-en-scène in so understated a fashion? This is the final matter we have to consider.

 

All that is gold does not glitter

 

The etymology of “Cormallen” and its connection with laburnums are nowhere revealed in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien makes it hard for his readers to pick up on the implications we have been exploring. And it is not just regular readers who, as a result, have missed the richness and aptness of the setting: scholars, too, have been surprisingly uninterested in what “Cormallen” means and why. Humphrey Carpenter omits the word from the index to his edition of Tolkien’s letters, despite including entries for many much more obscure terms.[81] In The Plants of Middle-earth, Dinah Hazell makes not a single reference to laburnums, even though she rightly notes that “something as seemingly simple as a bloom can point to the inner life of a literary text.”[82] In its entry for “Field of Cormallen,” the Encyclopedia of Arda reports: “Given that Frodo the Ring-bearer was received here, it would be tempting to imagine that the field had been named in his honour: ‘Cormallen the Field of the Golden Ring’. In fact, this connection seems to be entirely coincidental.”[83] The Encyclopedia is correct that the Field has not been named in Frodo’s honour and correct that his reception there is coincidental at the linguistic level, but the lack of further interest in this “coincidence” is remarkable. The Lord of the Rings is a work of artistic intelligence taken to extreme levels of detail, not a product of random irrational processes: there is no such thing in it as sheer coincidence.

It would appear that Tolkien has covered his tracks almost too well. The question then becomes: “Why work in this way? What end is served by burying the implications so deep?” Six answers present themselves for consideration.

First, philology. Tolkien viewed the creation of Middle-earth as continuous with his academic interests in language. Writing The Lord of the Rings was not, he said, “an aberration of an elderly professor of philology,” nor was it “something quite different from one’s work.” Rather, it was “largely an essay in ‘linguistic aesthetic’, as I sometimes say to people who ask me ‘what it is all about?’”[84] One feature of that linguistic aesthetic is linguistic archaeology: it is an essay in the importance of semantic origins. That the significance of the name “Cormallen” cannot be grasped except by careful attention to etymology provides a fictional analogue to (and indirect validation of) Tolkien’s professional scholarship.

Second, freedom. Tolkien viewed The Lord of the Rings not as a work of allegory in which the author’s purposes dominate, but as a work of “applicability,” which “resides in the freedom of the reader.”[85] If he had made the significance of Cormallen clearer, the story might have begun to look like a cipher with one set meaning. By keeping things unspecified, Tolkien leaves room for his readers to investigate connections or not, as they choose. It is an authorial strategy similar to the Socratic method of teaching, in which the mentor asks questions that provoke thought rather than dispensing answers that induce passivity; also to more contemporaneous “Easter eggs” in computer software and DVDs, where the creator deliberately leaves bonus features undocumented so that serendipitous discoveries can be made by their users.

Third, tone. Tolkien once remarked that, as a Christian, he did not expect the history of the primary world to be anything but a “long defeat,” even though it may contain “some samples or glimpses of final victory.”[86] The Third Age of Middle-earth has the same quality of gradual descent and transience, and if the implications of the scene at Cormallen, already a celebratory scene, had been made more plainly positive (“Here is the good Ring!”), the overall atmospheric balance would have been impaired. C.S. Lewis observed that a “profound melancholy” pervades the work and that “anguish” is “almost the prevailing note.”[87] [88] The reticence with which Tolkien sets out his stall here comports with that general tone.

Fourth, Englishness. Holly Ordway has helpfully pointed out that Tolkien had a typically English habit of understating what mattered to him most.[89] Though he could be hyperbolic about those things he rejected or denied, he tended to soft-pedal whatever he affirmed or claimed. Quite apart from the scholarly and artistic reasons he had for downplaying the significance of Cormallen, he had a native temperamental instinct for “covering” his top notes, as musicians say. To have made his meaning any more obvious would have been to risk inviting what to many English people still today, and especially to English men of Tolkien’s generation and class, would have been the most disastrous of all epithets: “earnest.”

Fifth, humility. One of the most admirable moral qualities of hobbits is their lack of self-importance. They are “unobtrusive,” “fond of simple jests,” interested more in food than themselves, and when in the days of Bilbo and Frodo they suddenly become “both important and renowned” it was “by no wish of their own.”[90] Their motto was, in effect, “nolo heroizari,” just as the motto of a priest should be “nolo episcopari.”[91] In resting the Quest on their shoulders, Tolkien enacts his own belief that “we are all equal before the Great Author qui deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.”[92] Frodo, the humblest of the humiles and therefore “the best hobbit in the Shire,” nevertheless fails in the Quest, finding himself unable to yield up the Ring at the last.[93] He only succeeds because of the pity he had earlier shown to Gollum: “He (and the Cause) were saved — by Mercy: by the supreme value and efficacy of Pity and forgiveness of injury.”[94] In other words, the moment of truth that makes Frodo heroic passed him by at the time without his being aware of its significance. His own achievement is effectively invisible to him; he therefore blushes when he is praised at Cormallen. In the same spirit, Tolkien makes effectively invisible to the reader the inner meaning of that climactic scene. The mysteries of Providence are on display, and a mystery, if it is to be depicted accurately, must by definition be unobvious.

Sixth, latency. We here return to the point made above about the Cormallen scene being set in early April, for the timing is foundational to the scene’s unobviousness. Laburnums flower in May, not April.[95] Frodo and Sam are praised amid a circle of trees that are only beginning to bud with golden blooms; their full glory is yet to be revealed. Tolkien paid minute attention to the chronology of his story (ensuring, for instance, that all the phases of the Moon were consistent) and cannot have been unaware of the botanical calendar as it pertained to the laburnums. His decision to date the Cormallen scene to Spring, not Summer, may be explained in part by four of the five reasons already given in this section: freedom, tone, Englishness, and humility. But it is worth specifying latency as a separate, sixth reason, because latency is an essential feature of Middle-earth.

“All that is gold does not glitter,” as Gandalf writes of Aragorn, who, early in the story, has travelled under the name Strider, using “many disguises” so as to “hide his true shape.”[96] [97] Frodo demonstrates perceptiveness when he says to this unknown Ranger, “I think you are not really as you choose to look.”[98] Over time, of course, Aragorn’s identity is revealed, both to himself and to others, as he comes into his own.

The ability to see beyond appearances is crucial in Middle-earth as it was crucial for Tolkien in the primary world. As a Christian, Tolkien’s religious life was centred on the Blessed Sacrament: “Not for me the Hound of Heaven [Francis Thompson again!], but the never-ceasing silent appeal of Tabernacle.”[99] The Tabernacle is the place in a Catholic church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved as a focus for prayer and devotion and in readiness for the next celebration of Mass. While the Sacrament is locked in the Tabernacle it cannot be seen or tasted or touched; nonetheless, it is sacred, so Tolkien believed, and worshippers genuflect before it. At services of Benediction, Tolkien would have sung innumerable times the eucharistic hymn of St Thomas Aquinas: “Adoro te devote, latens Deitas / Quae sub his figuris vere latitas” (“I adore Thee devoutly, hidden God, / Thou who hidest truly in these shapes”). Similarly, albeit not allegorically, within Middle-earth Gandalf is a servant of “the Secret Fire,” the Flame Imperishable that burns “at the heart of the world.”[100] Unless we are attuned to the secret qualities in Tolkien’s sub-created world, we will be missing half the picture; much of its true nature is hidden because hiddenness is in the nature of the deepest realities. The beauty of this golden ring of trees does not mean it must be portrayed in full Summer-time obviousness. Immediate sensory data are not the ultimate factors in perception. Seeing with the mind and heart is more decisive than seeing with the eye. On the Field of Cormallen we are shown “ranks and companies glittering in the sun” but the laburnums are not shown glittering with golden flowers. “All that is gold does not glitter.” The trees will come into their glory in due time, but only after the hobbits have left and once Summer has arrived. The start of Summer is May Day, the date on which Aragorn will be crowned king, and the date which, one year hence, will mark Sam’s wedding to Rosie. Every Summer the circle of trees will show its goldenness. Remembering that fact and acknowledging its significance is immeasurably more important than witnessing it first-hand. To put it in religious terms: “Blessed are those who believe without having seen.”[101]

 

Conclusion

 

We have examined six possible reasons why Tolkien depicted the Field of Cormallen in such an understated fashion despite its importance as the site of the story’s climactic scene. The number six, however, is not a number on which to end; we must say one more thing, following the example of Tolkien himself, who often selected the number seven when he wished to portray completion.[102]

It is symbolically and sinisterly apt that Frodo puts on the ring a total of six times: in Tom Bombadil’s house, at The Prancing Pony, on Weathertop, twice on Amon Hen, and lastly on Mount Doom. In Biblical numerology six symbolizes evil because it falls just short of the perfect seven. 666 is the pre-eminently evil number (“the number of the Beast”) because it falls short of seven three times over; it is a blasphemous parody of the Holy Trinity.[103]

Is it too fanciful to suggest that, when he walks into the circle of laburnums at Cormallen, Frodo “puts on the ring” – so to speak – a seventh time, except that this time it is the good ring, the true ring, of which Sauron’s ring was but a parody? Frodo now has only nine fingers and could not wear the Precious even if he wanted to. The finger on the hand that offended him has been cut off by Gollum’s teeth and cast away to be burnt. But as a result of that loss, Frodo has been freed to have his whole being surrounded by beauty and life and fragrance, by “jocund spilth of yellow fire.”

Be that as it may, Frodo and Sam between them certainly lose one ring and find another. What they helped destroy was inert and hollow, addictive and treacherous. What they enjoy as a result is a ring of golden trees, ready to spill forth light upon a Field in Ithilien at the May-time return of the king.

  • Buy An Unexpected Journal

    Subscribe

    This work is part of The Imaginative Harvest of Holly Ordway Advent 2021). The issue is available in both print and digital format (Kindle, Nook, and epub.)

    You can purchase your own copy of this edition at your favorite online retailer, or subscribe to An Unexpected Journal and save.

 


Citation Information

Michael Ward, “Peak Middle-earth: Why Mount Doom is not the Climax of The Lord of the Rings,” An Unexpected Journal: The Imaginative Harvest of Holly Ordway 4, no. 4. (Advent 2021), 39-86.

Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/peak-middle-earth-why-mount-doom-is-not-the-climax-of-the-lord-of-the-rings/


Endnotes

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman (?Late 1951) in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (London: HarperCollins, 2014), 748.

[2] That the return of the king occurs after the end of the main story-line might seem perverse (given that the book is called The Return of the King) until we recall that the division into three volumes was made for publishing convenience, not because Tolkien had actually written a trilogy. If we keep in mind that The Lord of the Rings is one continuous story, the placement of Aragorn’s coronation as part of the general “wrapping up” process may seem less eccentric.

[3] Hammond and Scull, A Reader’s Companion, 748.

[4] Ibid., 626.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien On Fairy-stories, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson (London: HarperCollins, 2014), 75.

[6] Verlyn Flieger, Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien’s Mythology (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2005), 66.

[7] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981), 161. Hereafter, Letters.

[8] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 231. Hereafter, RK.

[9] Tolkien, RK, 233.

[10] Tolkien, RK, 232.

[11] Tolkien, Letters, 321.

[12] Tolkien, RK, 284.

[13] Ibid., 230.

[14] Christopher Tolkien reports that “There had been many mentions of a great feast to follow the final victory . . . but nothing had ever been said of it beyond the fact that it was to take place in Minas Tirith.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth, Vol. IX: Sauron Defeated, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins, 1992), 44. Hereafter, HOME IX.

[15] The name “Cormallen” (or “Kormallen” as it was originally spelled) appears to have been invented specifically for this chapter, though it did not appear in the very first draft. See HOME IX, 48-49.

[16] Tolkien, Letters, 219.

[17] Ibid.

[18] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins, 2006), 333. Hereafter, Silmarillion.

[19] Tolkien, Letters, 321.

[20] Dinah Hazell, The Plants of Middle-earth: Botany and Sub-creation (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2006), 60-61.

[21] E.g., Acts 5:30; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24.

[22] Hazell, Plants of Middle Earth, 81.

[23] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 258. Hereafter, TT.

[24] Tolkien, TT, 258.

[25] Hazell, Plants of Middle Earth, 49.

[26] Tolkien, TT, 259.

[27] Ibid., 264.

[28] Hazell, Plants of Middle Earth, 50.

[29] Tolkien, TT, 258.

[30] Tolkien, RK, 376. As for reasons why this date might conceivably be significant to Tolkien, one possibility has to do with his school friend Vincent Trought, who was the first member of the TCBS to die, in 1912, after a long illness. Trought was born on 8th April 1893. For more on Trought, see John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (London: HarperCollins, 2003), 5, 6, 18, 19n, 28-9, 55.

[31] Tolkien, RK, 229.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Hammond and Scull, A Reader’s Companion, 626.

[34] Tolkien, TT, 70.

[35] Tolkien, Letters, 308.

[36] Tolkien, RK, 303.

[37] Ibid., 265-266.

[38] Hammond and Scull, A Reader’s Companion, 625.

[39] Quoted in Holly Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (Park Ridge, IL: Word On Fire Academic, 2021), 231.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Raymond Edwards, Tolkien (London: Robert Hale, 2014), 43, 41.

[42] Quoted in Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Reading, 231.

[43] John Garth, Tolkien at Exeter College (Oxford: Exeter College, 2014), 30.

[44] Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Reading, 231.

[45] Francis Thompson, “Proem,” The Works of Francis Thompson. Poems: Volume I (London: Burns & Oates, 1913), 26.

[46] Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd, Flora of Middle-earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 203.

[47] Tolkien, Silmarillion, 26.

[48] Tolkien, Silmarillion, 27.

[49] J.R.R. Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth, Vol. X: Morgoth’s Ring, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins, 1993), 157-158. Hereafter, HOME X. Tolkien slightly misquotes Thompson, inserting the adjective “yellow” into the cited phrase.

[50] Tolkien, TT, 252.

[51] Ibid.

[52] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978), 14.

[53] Tolkien, Silmarillion, 333.

[54] Tolkien, RK, 231, translated in Letters, 308.

[55] Ibid., 390.

[56] J.R.R. Tolkien to Philip Brown (30 May 1973). Quoted in Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology (London: HarperCollins, 2017), 811.

[57] Tolkien, TT, 259.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid., 311.

[60] Tolkien, Silmarillion. 332.

[61] Tolkien, Letters, 428.

[62] The presence of gold and silver in Galadriel’s hair, the coronal at the Cross-roads, the minstrel’s voice, and the mallorn is intriguing and suggestive of the balance of influences descending from Laurelin and Telperion. In this connection we should note that Cormallen’s circle of laburnums is located in Ithilien, a Sindarin name which means “Land of the Moon.” The Field therefore provides yet another pairing of gold and silver, of Solar and Lunar significance. Read in religious terms, this pairing connotes the importance Tolkien attached not only to Christ (“the light of the world,” John 8:12) but also to his mother, for the Blessed Virgin is often represented iconographically in Christian art by means of the Moon, which derives all its light from the Sun (see Revelation 12:1). For more on Tolkien’s beliefs about Mary, see Letters, 172.

[63] Tolkien, TT, 310-311.

[64] Ibid., 312.

[65] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 61. Hereafter, FR.

[66] Tolkien, HOME X, 400.

[67] Tolkien, TT, 269-270.

[68] Tolkien, FR, 391.

[69] Tolkien, TT, 274.

[70] Tolkien, FR, 134.

[71] Ibid., 281.

[72] Tolkien, TT, 301.

[73] Tolkien, Letters, 243.

[74] Tolkien, FR, 281.

[75] Stratford Caldecott, Secret Fire: The Spiritual Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2003), 60-61.

[76] Tolkien, FR, 148.

[77] Mark 9:43.

[78] Tolkien, Letters, 172.

[79] Tolkien, TT, 277.

[80] Tolkien, RK, 343-344.

[81] Later editions of Letters contain an enlarged index compiled by Scull and Hammond in which “Cormallen” does appear.

[82] Hazell, The Plants of Middle Earth, 4.

[83] Mark Fisher, The Encyclopedia of Arda: An Interactive Guide to the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien. https://www.glyphweb.com/arda/c/cormallen.php

[84] Tolkien, Letters, 219-220.

[85] Tolkien, FR, 7.

[86] Tolkien, Letters, 255.

[87] C.S. Lewis, “The gods return to earth” [1954], Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews, ed. Walter Hooper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 102.

[88] C.S. Lewis to J.R.R. Tolkien (27 October 1949), Collected Letters, Volume II, ed. Walter Hooper (London: HarperCollins, 2004), 991.

[89] Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Reading, 284-286.

[90] Tolkien, FR, 10-11.

[91] Tolkien, Letters, 215. “I do not want to be a hero,” “I do not want to be a bishop.”

[92] Ibid. The Great Author is God, “who puts down the mighty from their throne and exalts the humble” (Luke 1:52).

[93] Tolkien, FR, 151.

[94] Tolkien, Letters 251-252.

[95] Laburnums are known in Italian as maggiociondolo (“May-pendant”) and given that the Field of Cormallen is near Cair Andros, about fifty miles north of Minas Tirith, which Tolkien said was on “about a latitude of Ravenna,” this Italian name is not irrelevant. (Quoted in Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Reading, 178.)

[96] Tolkien, FR, 182.

[97] Tolkien, RK, 341.

[98] Tolkien, FR, 178.

[99] Tolkien, Letters, 340.

[100] Tolkien, FR, 344, Tolkien, Silmarillion, 13.

[101] John 20:29.

[102] Sam is elected Mayor of the Shire seven times (RK 378). Aragorn is “nine and forty years of age” (i.e., 7 x 7) when Arwen sees him “under the trees of Caras Galadhon laden with flower of gold” and “her choice was made and her doom appointed” (RK 341). 

[103] Revelation 13:18.

Spread the love