Tag Archive | Middle Earth

The Dilemma of the Ger, Part 3: Dealing with the Kinslaying

This is the third part of a dialogue with Dr. Rivkah Adler of Breaking Israel News on the question of whether the biblical concept of ger, or foreigner, could be considered as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews.  It began with Rivkah’s article, “Are We Witnessing the Restoration of an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews?”, followed by my commentary, “The Dilemma of the Ger, and her observations in “A Jewish Response to the Dilemma of the Ger.

Dealing with the Kinslaying

Albert J. McCarn
April 16,2017

The Kinslaying at Alqualondë, by Ted Nasmith. Used by permission.

A motif running through J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction works is the exile of the Elves from Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, the gods of Tolkien’s world.  Those who read The Lord of the Rings first encounter the exiles as the High Elves who aid Frodo and his companions in their flight from the Shire.  Readers who venture into The Silmarillion learn that the High Elves are the Noldor, one of three Elven clans who answered the Valar’s invitation to leave Middle Earth and live in Valinor.  The Vanyar and Teleri – the other two clans – remained in Valinor, but the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and returned to Middle Earth to fight against Morgoth, Tolkien’s equivalent of Satan.

The Noldor had justification for their actions.  Morgoth had stolen the Silmarils, the matchless jewels fashioned by Fëanor, greatest of the Elven craftsmen, and had killed Finwë, Fëanor’s father and king of the Noldor.  Nevertheless, their rebellion under Fëanor’s leadership incurred a sentence of exile and separation from any help the Valar could offer.  Over the next several centuries the Noldor and their allies among the Elves and Men of Middle Earth proved unable to defeat Morgoth, and they suffered a long defeat.  At the end of their strength, the humbled remnant repented and begged help from the Valar.  When help came, Morgoth was defeated and the Valar granted clemency for the Noldor to return to the Blessed Realm, bringing with them the remaining Elves of Middle Earth who had never seen Valinor.

This is the unseen backdrop for the Elves appearing in Tolkien’s later and more popular works.  Those who pick up the story with The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings meet wise Elrond, stern yet kindly Thranduil, and gentle Galadriel, but they have no understanding of their history.  Galadriel, for example, was Fëanor’s niece, and along with his sons and her brothers led the Noldor in rebellion.  Upon passing the test of refusing the Ring of Power when Frodo offers it to her, she proves that she, the only surviving rebel leader, is indeed ready to return home as a humble penitent.

In Galadriel’s story we see the stunning panorama flowing through the body of Tolkien’s works.  Yet there is one missing detail:  he never tells us what happens when the exiles return.  It is a significant omission.  We can imagine the scenes of reconciliation as the Noldor made amends with the eternal Valar, but we do not know what happens when they encountered the brethren they had wronged.  At the beginning of their flight from Valinor, the Noldor demanded of their kin, the Teleri, use of their ships.  The Teleri refused, resulting in a terrible battle known thereafter as the Kinslaying.  As Tolkien describes it, “Thus at last the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in Alqualondë were wickedly slain.”  If that were not enough, when they arrived on the shores of Middle Earth, Fëanor gave orders to burn the wondrous Telerian ships, craft of great beauty the like of which could never be made again.

What happens when the prodigal Noldor return home is a tale we do not know.  We hope they are reconciled with their brethren, but achieving reconciliation requires conscious effort to overcome the debt of blood between them.  Until that debt is paid or forgiven, the bliss of the Blessed Realm remains unbearably diminished.

Tolkien’s epic thus becomes a parable for us, the returning exiles of the House of Yosef (Joseph).  Like the Noldor, we are guilty not only of rebellion against our God and the king He had anointed, but also of an endless Kinslaying of our brethren of Judah.

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Why Did Tolkien Care About the Jews? | PJ Media

The headstone at the Tolkiens' grave in Oxford, England.

The headstone at the Tolkiens’ grave in Oxford, England.

Somewhere in my boxes full of old photographs there is a picture I took in 1986 while on a pilgrimage to Oxford, England.  The purpose of that trip to England was not to visit Oxford, but to attend a conference with one of my oldest friends (who probably would prefer to remain anonymous).  I was stationed in Germany at the time, and he was in need of a vacation, so we met in England to join other friends at a Christian conference.  When it was over the opportunity arose to see Oxford.  Since we had met two very charming British girls at the conference, and since they shared some of my enthusiasm for Tolkien, they joined us on this journey.

Ah, Tolkien.  He was the attraction to Oxford.  J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have captured my attention since I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at age 11.  Of the handful of authors who shaped my worldview, he and C.S. Lewis share the top position.  It was his grave I particularly wanted to see, after enjoying a pint in his honor at The Eagle and Child, the pub where he, Lewis, and others shared their literary ideas.  The old photograph lost somewhere in the boxes is the one I took of his grave.  One day I will dig it out and put it in an album of good memories.

Tolkien left us far more than good memories, of course.  He has made a lasting impact for good on four generations of English-speaking youth.  That impact shows no sign of slowing – provided youth of the present and future read him, that is.  Watching the cinematic adaptations of his works is not enough.  The depth of Tolkien is not in the action sequences of Elves fighting Orcs and Dwarves hunting dragons, but in the way he weaves the essence of humanity into his stories.  I view this as a gift from the Almighty. 

My guess is that David Goldman would agree.  In this article reposted from PJ Media, he investigates what appears to be a major motivation for Tolkien:  neutralizing the anti-Semitic messages of German composer Richard Wagner.  Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Nazism knows the high place of Wagner in Adolf Hitler’s esteem.  It should be no surprise that Wagner, like Hitler, despised Jews.  Tolkien did not despise Jews; he despised those who twisted our historical and literary inheritance into something evil to justify the eradication of that which is good.  That is what Goldman relates as he presents the back story of a masterful author’s life work.

Why is this important?  The literary-minded understand.  Words, music, and images capture the soul and shape the mind.  Regarding Tolkien and Wagner, Goldman sums up the point this way:

Wagner’s legacy remains baleful.  Fortunately, many more people know Tolkien than know Wagner, and we may pronounce Tolkien’s project a success.  Unfortunately, Wagner’s hold on the cultural elite remains strong, and influences modern culture in ways of which the popular audience is unaware.  

How did he arrive at this conclusion?  Read on and find out.

And thanks very much to my anonymous old friend, who not only accompanied me on that Oxford pilgrimage long ago, but brought this piece to my attention.

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Fox Byte 5775 #35: Nasso (Elevate)

נָשֹׂא

Although visually stunning, Peter Jackson's depiction of the army of the dead oathbreakers in his film version of The Return of the King did not reach the depth of Tolkien's account regarding the sacredness of oaths or vows and the dire consequences of breaking them.  (Photo:  "Army of the dead", via Wikipedia)

Although visually stunning, Peter Jackson’s depiction of the army of the dead oathbreakers in his film version of The Return of the King did not reach the depth of Tolkien’s account regarding the sacredness of oaths or vows and the dire consequences of breaking them. (Photo: “Army of the dead”, via Wikipedia)

This post-modern generation of the industrialized West has lost sight of the power of the Oath.  That is why there is so little understanding of the covenant terminology which establishes the context of humanity’s relationship with our Creator.  An oath sworn in good faith is something far more powerful than a legal procedure.  It is a spiritual transaction which makes an indelible mark on the parties who take part in it.  That is why one’s conscience is troubled when even the least significant promises are broken.  Something as simple as committing to be at a certain place at a specified time is a type of oath or covenant.  Failing to keep that promise fosters disappointment, anger, and bitterness in the heart of the one who is expecting the appointment to be kept.  Hopefully the one who broke the promise will make amends and resolve to keep such commitments in the future.  However, if the promise-breaker develops a habit of showing up late, or not showing up at all, then eventually his or her conscience will no longer serve as a reminder about the transgression.  And then the promise-breaker becomes something worse:  an untrustworthy person.

If this is the case with something as simple as a promise to be on time, what can we say about more serious promises?  There is an illustration which may help.  J.R.R. Tolkien delved deeply into the subject of oaths and covenants in his epic works about Middle Earth.  Perhaps his most memorable account is the oath made by the Men of the Mountains to fight against Sauron, an oath they did not keep.  In The Return of the King, Aragorn explains the circumstances of this broken oath:

But the oath that they broke was to fight against Sauron, and they must fight therefore, if they are to fulfill it.  For at Erech there stands yet a black stone that was brought, it was said, from Nümenor by Isildur; and it was set upon a hill, and upon it the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to him in the beginning of the realm of Gondor.  But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfil their oath, and they would not:  for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years.

Then Isildur said to their king, “Thou shalt be the last king.  And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk:  to rest never until your oath is fulfilled.  For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end.”

In Tolkien’s novel, Aragorn leads his companions to the realm of these dead oathbreakers, and as Isildur’s heir calls them to fulfil their oath by following him into battle against Sauron’s armies.  They answer the call, and upon winning the victory are released at last to depart in the peaceful sleep of death.

In Tolkien’s story the oathbreakers are redeemed by the descendant of the king whom they had betrayed.  Their answer to his call brings an end to the curse and the blessed peace they have sought through the ages.  As is so often the case with Tolkien, he illustrates a profound principle first explained in the Scripture.  Yet what we learn from Moses differs from Tolkien in one critical point:  redemption from the curse of broken oaths, or vows, results not the peace of death, but in the promise of life.

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Fox Byte 5775: Pesach (Passover)

פֶּסַח

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street (from J. R. R. Tolkien. A Biography by H. Carpenter; accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street (from J. R. R. Tolkien. A Biography by H. Carpenter; accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

Professor J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that there was no hidden meaning behind his works on Middle Earth.  Such was his assertion in his Foreword to The Lord of the Rings:

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  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.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings

Yet there are allegorical elements throughout his writings, however unintended.  Tolkien’s Catholic world view infused his work with well-known Christian concepts such as atonement, salvation, redemption, and fulfillment of prophecy.  A consistent story line appears throughout his writing, repeated on several levels.  It is the story of paradise defiled, of blessed people tempted by evil into betrayal of their calling, of their exile and dissolution, and their restoration at last after the struggles of their exile produce the required degree of contrition and of resolve to live up to their destiny.  In The Silmarillion the tale plays out in the long defeat of the Noldor in their forlorn quest to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth the defiler of Middle Earth.  The cycle ends and begins anew in their redemption beyond all hope by the Valar, the powers over the earth who had exiled the Noldor from the blessed realm of Valinor because of their rebellion.  In The Hobbit it is the restoration of the House of Durin as the Dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield set in motion the events that bring the death of the great dragon Smaug and the coronation of a new Dwarf King Under the Mountain.  And in The Lord of the Rings it is the return of Aragorn as King Elessar of Gondor, restoring the long lost (and nearly forgotten) kingdom of the Númenóreans after the defeat of Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.

Among the many things we learn from Tolkien is that things happen in cycles.  Life is cyclical, not linear.  What happens to the fathers happens to the sons, and what has come before will come again.  Whether he realized it or not, that is the Hebraic way of looking at the world.  And it is quite biblical.  As Solomon, the son of David, teaches us:

That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #13: Shemot (Names)

שְׁמוֹת

Map of the realms of Middle Earth.  Tolkien fans are familiar with the kingdom of Gondor, in the south opposite Mordor.  Less familiar, but no less important, is the kingdom of Arnor, which at one time incorporated most of the region of Eriador.  (Source:  The HD Wall)

Map of the realms of Middle Earth. Tolkien fans are familiar with the kingdom of Gondor, in the south opposite Mordor. Less familiar, but no less important, is the kingdom of Arnor, which at one time incorporated most of the region of Eriador. (Source: The HD Wall)

No one remembers the kings of Arnor.  Why should they?  After all, they existed only in the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Yet if they had never existed there, the world would never have become acquainted with Aragorn, or with the Hobbits who helped him reestablish his kingdom.  The great drama of Middle Earth is now etched in popular culture thanks to the cinematic artistry of Peter Jackson.  It is a great credit to Jackson and his team that they drew from the deep wells of Tolkien’s works to portray the indispensable back-story of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but that story probably escaped the notice of most of the audience.

In Tolkien’s world, the noblest people among the Men of Middle Earth were the Númenóreans, a people whose kingdom in the midst of the sea was destroyed by a great flood like that which inundated the legendary Atlantis.  Under the leadership of Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion, the survivors of Númenor established a new kingdom in the western part of Middle Earth.  Elendil divided his realm, placing Anárion on the throne of the Southern Kingdom of Gondor, and retaining for himself the title of High King as he ruled over the Northern Kingdom, Arnor.  When Elendil died, Isildur took his place as High King, ruling from Arnor.  Over time Arnor declined and failed, but the line of Isildur continued through the Dúnedain, or Men of the West, a diminished and scattered people known more popularly as Rangers.  Gondor continued on in great strength, but the line of kings descended from Anárion ceased when the last king, Eärnur, died childless.  Tolkien thus created a great irony in his literary world:  a king with no kingdom, and a kingdom with no king.

This is the setting for The Lord of the Rings.  Those who have seen the movies know that Aragorn the Ranger eventually became king of Gondor, but few realize that his coronation was the culmination of the long-awaited rebirth of the Númenorean realm and reunification of the Northern and Southern kingdoms.  Those events could never have happened if the Dúnedain had ceased to exist.  According to Tolkien’s work, they remained few in number after the destruction of Arnor, but their vigilant watch ensured a measure of peace in the lands of the North.  Although all but forgotten by the people of Gondor, the Dúnedain worked quietly behind the scenes to strengthen the Southern Kingdom’s stand against the growing evil of Sauron.  Then, when all hope seemed lost, the heir of Elendil appeared in the greatest hour of need, bringing new life to long-dead hopes and dreams.

A major component of Tolkien’s works is identity:  as long as the Dúnedain and the people of Gondor remember who they are, no enemy can defeat them.  They may be overwhelmed and diminished, but a remnant will remain and will in time prosper anew.  And whether Professor Tolkien realized it or not, his literary works depict something very real in the works of God:  the identity, redemption, and restoration of all Israel.

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Fox Byte 5775 #5: Chayei Sarah (Life of Sarah)

חַיֵּי שָׂרָה

By remaining faithful to the true king, Faramir son of Denethor completed the centuries-long task of the Stewards of Gondor.  The king rewarded him with the title Prince of Ithilien.  (David Wenham as Faramir in the 2002 New Line Cinema production of The Lord of The Rings:  The Two Towers.  Accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

By remaining faithful to the true king, Faramir son of Denethor completed the centuries-long task of the Stewards of Gondor. The king rewarded him with the title Prince of Ithilien. (David Wenham as Faramir in the 2002 New Line Cinema production of The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s works had secured for him a lasting place among the giants of English literature long before Peter Jackson ever brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen.  Middle Earth, with its Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Wizards, serves as the backdrop for a profound tale about our humanness – what it means, and what we would like it to mean.  We would like to see ourselves, for example, as high and noble, like the Elves or the Men of Gondor.  Tolkien expresses this nobility in many subplots, not the least being the saga of the Stewards of Gondor.  We learn about them from Faramir, son of Denethor, the current Steward:

We of my house are not of the line of [King] Elendil, though the blood of Númenor is in us.  For we reckon back our line to Mardil, the good steward, who ruled in the king’s stead when he went away to war.  And that was King Eärnur, last of the line of Anárion, and childless, and he came never back.  And the stewards have governed the city since that day, though it was many generations of Men ago.  (The Two Towers, Book IV, “The Window On the West”)

Faramir relates how his older brother, Boromir, could not understand why his father had not claimed the throne.  He had asked, “How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?”  To this his father replied, “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty . . . In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.”

It is here that we must question Tolkien’s grasp on reality.  He describes a degree of nobility and selfless honor that transcends generations.  It is remarkable for one person to lay aside his or her own interests to guard a place of higher power, wealth, and prestige for someone else.  How could such selflessness be passed down from one generation to the next, knowing that at some point the supreme authority would have to be handed over to someone else?

And yet that is exactly what our God expects His people to do.

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