Outline for a 4-part TV series biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien including a visualisation of the writing of The Silmarillion
I would love to see Tolkien’s Silmarillion filmed, by Peter Jackson or anyone else, but it may not be possible to do it as a conventional movie or even series of movies. It would be like filming the Bible. In fact they did make a film of the Bible, but have you seen it? You never make a lasting connection with any character, there’s just too much story and too many people in The Bible for it to be a film that gets you.
A film of The Silmarillion would be even worse, because unlike the Bible the general public have no cultural connection to it, so no-one would know what to expect or where to put it in their hearts. You can’t even film it in fragments. Stories like the tale of Beren and Lúthien, wonderful in themselves, are meaningless out of the context of the whole epic, which is a terrible catch-22 for a film-maker when the epic itself is too big for the individual stories.
Then while reading Carpenter’s biography I realised I was seeing The Silmarillion emerging from Tolkien’s early life, the roots and genesis of the epic in his early experiences, which are borne out quite clearly in his later writings about those early inspirations. I began to think that perhaps you could capture that genesis by looking into Tolkien’s imagination. Tolkien obviously has one of the most celebrated imaginations in 20th C literature. What might he have seen in his imagination as a child?
So I went back and re-wrote Tolkien’s biography in an abbreviated cinematic form, throwing in fragments of what must have been in his imagination, against the backdrop of his life. Then when it reached the climax of the war and the trench fever that nearly does him in, his writing of the early drafts of the epic in that feverish state became a licence to go into an extended imaginative sequence, to tell the epic in a more complete form, with all the violence and magnificence of the story explained by his recent experience of terrible war, his love for Edith, his lost friendships and Mother and the vivid imaginings of his childhood. It all comes together and the intensity of his crisis allows you to see it with him.
The epic sequence has to be just a sketch of the original epic, a vivid outline connected by narration, really just a sequence of moving vignettes. I say has to be because this is about as much as you can achieve without leaving the biographical part of the story behind and getting stuck again with catch-22. But such a sketch could not sustain the episode by itself, so again it’s told against the backdrop of Tolkien’s life – his convalescence, return to academia, his early career and appointment at only thirty-two as a Professor of Oxford – by which time he is editing the final drafts of what will someday become The Silmarillion, realising it is virtually unpublishable in that form (for very similar reasons to why it cannot be filmed) and going on to tell the much more commercially possible stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which is where we leave him. In the end, the constraints of time cut it short well before then, and in fact the entire epic sequence is only a few chapters of Tolkien’s epic The Silmarillion.
So what I’ve done essentially is tell the story of the making of a piece of great cosmogenic literature, to try to explain why or at least depict how the author created his world in that way. It’s the genesis of a Genesis, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
I’m a bit skeptical of my own writing here and assert no right whatsoever for myself, as large sections are just lifted from either Carpenter’s biography or the Silmarillion itself. Towards the end, recognising that the filmic style of my writing has broken down in the exposition of Beren and Lúthien I abandon all original effort and unreservedly copy whole extracts from the text. It seems to work, if somewhat weakly, and highlights the difficulty of scripting a work smoothly from cosmogenic epic down to the scenes of a single story or fragment of story.
As an outline I think I’m about finished with it, but there’s an entirely new beginning needed to script it as a screenplay so I will just stop here. I believe it is Tolkien’s express wish that other hands might work with his tale, building the legendarium or mythology. I therefore offer this brief outline of a filmed serial form of Tolkien’s biography linked to the genesis of his original epic, free to the world and let’s see where it goes from here.
Acknowledgement and immense gratitude to Humphrey Carpenter, whose “J.R.R. Tolkien: a Biography” (Houghton Mifflin 2000; Allen and Unwin 1977) inspired me to pursue this slightly fictionalised cinematic idea of Tolkien’s life and work.
PDF Version: Tolkien Screenplay 2013
Green English countryside, willows on a stream, a mill. Two boys, Ronald Tolkien and his brother Hilary aged seven and five are roving the woods, sword-fighting and playing make-believe. The mill-race is narrow and dangerous. In their imaginative game they are in a remote and wild country, fighting mishapen goblins and giant wolves. Sir Ronald climbs high in a tower, fights and slays a great wolf-chieftain, which then becomes his little brother running away from the tree laughing.
By the mill they find a great willow cut down, young Ronald is stricken with something like grief. The miller, an old man with craggy brows, emerges with his oafish-looking son in tow, yells “clear off” at the two boys. They run. Below the millpond swans move gracefully, Ronald and Hilary hurl themselves down in the sedges, Ronald spits “Stupid old ogre”.
Home is a semi-detached brick cottage at the end of a row, (#5 Gracewell, Sarehole), the boys stomp in sloughing off boots and caps and talking in a northern dialect, “miskin” for dustbin, “chawl” a cheek of pork for breakfast, “gamgee” for the cotton wool used to dab a cut knee.
Their mother Mabel Tolkien a warm and loving figure, intelligent, tall and willowy, serving them dinner, scolding their gaelic, putting them to bed with stories from Andrew Lang’s “Red Fairy Book”, Ronald’s favourite is Sigurd and the Dragon Fafnir. Before she can begin to read Ronald asks her of Father, as he clearly often does. Mother tells them the story of Father’s Journeys in Africa, how he died and and gave them their adventurous name Tollkühn that means “brave but foolhardy” in Old German. Mother kisses them and they sleep blissfully.
Mrs Tolkien teaching her children at home, English, French and Latin, her script beautiful on the blackboard. Children’s pictures on the walls, snow scenes and Santa Claus. She’s teaching them grammar, eg “not green great dragon, but great green dragon”. Tolkien’s own script developing, his bowed head poring over strange words. He loves the sound of words. His mother picks up his writing, reads:
‘“Cellar door”, a dusty hatch, is more beautiful than “beautiful”’. She seems surprised, but pleased.
Near their house is an old sand quarry lined with autumn trees, the two boys scramble up talking in their own invented language, a childish mix of animal sounds, fart noises and tittering, with subtitles: let’s get some mushrooms…watch out for the troll… Above the quarry there are farmlands with woody edges rich in mushrooms, the old farmer a “troll” whom they stealthily stalk. Tolkien walks home with a paper bag of mushrooms as though entranced by the trees, his brother Hilary quizzical at him but leaving him alone.
Winter scenes. Santa Claus, children with their fathers, Ronald and Hilary looking on sadly, Mabel too busy to let herself notice. Mrs Tolkien is in conflict with her church and family, for her own reasons she is converting to Catholicism. She looks unwell and tired. Outside the church with her children she throws down some things that the pastor will not accept and storms off, Ronald and Hilary in tow.
At home the house is cold. Mrs Tolkien receives a letter from King Edward’s School in Birmingham, wonderful news for Ronald, but they will have to move to a house in town so that he can go to school. Putting them to bed Ronald clings to her, and she comforts him. Falling asleep he dreams, as he often does now, of a great wave rising and engulfing the land. He wakes up, gasping frantically.
The family move to Birmingham, a train journey through northern countryside. Ronald looks sadly out of the window as the countryside of his childhood slides away, the grime and smoke of town comes into view. Home is a small house in Mosely, a view through Ronald’s window to goods yards and train carriages. He sits sadly at the window, but grows interested in the trains, the strange signs in Welsh of unheard-of places: Nantyglo, Senghenydd, Blaen-Rhonda, Penrhiwceiber, Tredegar – His eight year old face puzzles over the words.
Visiting Catholic churches in Birmingham, they meet Father Francis Morgan (Bob Hoskins?), a small beetle-shaped man with tiny spectacles, loud and affectionate with the boys, his family is in the sherry trade. He helps Mrs Tolkien financially, welcomes her to his church.
She takes Ronald to his first day at King Edward’s school, a heavy dark Victorian gothic building. Tolkien’s teacher in English Literature is George Brewerton (John Cleese?), a famous stickler for plain English. One of his pupils, reciting an essay on ‘bucolic’ uses the word ‘manure’. Old Brewerton roars out ‘Muck, not manure. Say it three times now, muck, muck, muck’. The class laughs.
Tolkien learns Latin and Greek, loves the sound of the words, loves to write them in his now fluent script. Brewerton reads them the Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English, a revelation to the young Tolkien. He begins to play with his own invented languages more formally, working on the words.
Tolkien makes friends easily and holds his own in the rough and tumble at school, plays rugby well, being already lean and wiry at ten. He is on the field when Father Francis comes for him.
His mother is ill, she says she is just worn out and in need of a good rest, but in hospital she is diagnosed with diabetes. Father Francis finds a house for them in the country near Rednal, with help from the Postman’s wife. Ronald and Hilary are excited at the thought of countryside despite their concern for Mother.
Father Francis sits smoking a large cherrywood pipe in the sunshine while Mabel rests and sews a little. The boys run wild in the countryside again, running up Lickey hill with its crown of woodland, Ronald gasping “Great Birnam Wood to High Dunsinane Hill” from Shakepeare, and yearning to make the trees come to life and march into battle! He seems ecstatic, watching the trees sway in the wind. Hilary laughs as ever at the imaginative play his brother creates.
They have to walk to the station to go to school now, often returning home in twilight. One evening Hilary comes out to meet him with a lamp. Mother has collapsed in some kind of fit. Father Francis comes quickly, but a few days later she dies.
At the funeral in Rednal cemetery, Father Francis places a stone cross, and at the reading of their Mother’s will he is appointed their guardian. Ronald looks confused, but Hilary sits close to Father Francis for comfort. They are twelve and ten.
Ronald, Hilary and Father Francis arrive with suitcases at a house in Stirling Road, Edgbaston. The boys are to stay with their Aunt Beatrice Suffield, a stern Protestant woman who disapproves of Father Francis and his connection with the boys. She greets them coldly at the door, lets a room to the boys with many conditions, frowns on Father Francis’ timetable of visits to his young wards. Hilary leaning out the window throwing stones at cats. Ronald staring out the window at the bleak Birmingham skyline, green countryside unreachable in the distance.
Ronald becomes gloomy in private, but more mature and active in public. He becomes a devout Catholic (his Mother’s church), commits himself to the study of languages (She was his first teacher). At school he is active in class but keeps his Mother’s picture in a locket. He gets very physical in games of rugby, talking and laughing with friends at school, walking home sadly alone. [how to show the two sides of his personality without scenes seeming contradictory? Is he happy or sad?]
Reading the Arthurian legends, we see in his imagination joyful fairy kingdoms, his Mother personified as a Queen, himself as a Prince, when the terrifying cry of some unseen monster throws them to the ground and Ronald lurches awake over his book.
Aunt Beatrice has no compassion for the boys’ grief. One day Ronald comes into the kitchen to find her burning all his Mother’s letters. She had not considered he might want to keep them. He stands shocked, speechless.
Ronald and Hilary take to stealing out to the oratory early in the morning, serving mass for Father Francis, then eating breakfast in the plain refectory, playing with the kitchen cat in a revolving food hatch before setting off for school. They take the horse bus from the clock at Five Ways.
Ronald’s friends at school, including Christopher (Wiseman), engaged in hilarious discussions, often in their own invented languages. Tolkien recites a limerick in his own language of Nevbosh:
Dar fys ma vel gom co palt ‘Hoc
Pys go iskili far maino woc?
Pro si go fys do roc de
Do cat ym maino bocte
De volt fact soc ma taimful gyroc!’
This is translated on the fly by Christopher, to much laughter:
(There was an old man who said ‘How/Can I possibly carry my cow?/For if I should ask it/To get in my basket/It would make such a terrible row!’)
Ronald at sixteen in First Senior class, involved in languages and rugby, debating and poetry. His teacher is headmaster Robert Cary Gilson, inventor, scientist and skilled teacher of classics. Glimpses of this man’s mad inventiveness (steam powered equipment in the lab), his sports interest (coaching Tolkien at rugby), his teaching of the principles of language or Philology (‘You have to look for the bones of a language, the old words that support the frame.’).
Old George Brewerton lends Tolkien an Anglo-Saxon or Old English primer, along with a bound copy of Beowulf. Immediately Tolkien opens this book we are drawn into the tale, the young Tolkien imagining himself as Beowulf, various Norse warriors imagined as his teachers Brewerton and Gilson and Tolkien’s good friend Christopher Wiseman, the mists of ancient time clearing to reveal a star which brings us back to Tolkiens’s face dreamily gazing out the window.
Tolkien works deeper and deeper into his invented languages, now called Naffarin, the shape of the words in his hands are beautiful. He is painting also, winter scenes, water-colours of tree and hill. He works the painting and languages together, the words traced like leaves clinging in the bare branches of trees.
Still unhappy at home, Ronald and Hilary go with Father Francis on a holiday to Lyme Regis. Walking in the country, they find a dinosaur fossil in a recent landslip – the area is renowned for them. Ronald talks excitedly but whistfully about dragons. Father Francis notices the solitary unhappiness behind Ronald’s fantasies. Returning to Aunt Bee’s house, he notices the drab, unpromising surroundings and begins to look for somewhere else for them.
The two boys, now sixteen and fourteen, move to Mrs Faulkner’s house in Duchess Road behind the oratory. Sudden burst of colour and music with her personality: she gives musical evenings, “my little soirees” and lets rooms out. Her mildly alcoholic husband Louis makes lame quips with his hair falling in his eyes.
Their daughter Helen has a beautiful singing voice, accompanied by a girl on a piano. The girl stands and turns. Ronald is very nervous as he is introduced. She is another lodger, Edith Bratt. She sits down again to practice her scales but Mrs Faulkner bustles in saying ‘That’s enough now, Edith dear’, Edith looks a little frustrated but demurely closes the piano.
Stuck in the sitting room, Edith and Ronald chat shyly, and they like each other immediately. She is nineteen, small, slim, with short dark hair and grey eyes, serious but with a sharp sense of humour. He is sixteen, but old for his years. They become allies against “the old lady”.
Edith provides late night teas for the ‘growing boys’, who are always hungry on the very small income of their Mother’s estate, despite help from Father Francis. Edith tells her story to them: she too is an orphan, has moved from home to home, and has a secret which she cannot tell even them.
Ronald and Edith go to a Birmingham tea shop, and sit on the balcony. Ronald trying to explain his interest in languages, her not understanding and betraying a limited education. The two of them start throwing sugar cubes into the hats of passersby in the street below, even moving to the next table when the bowl is empty. Running home in the rain, they kiss, surprising themselves.
At home, Father Francis warning Ronald that he should be studying for an Oxford scholarship. Ronald looking dreamy-eyed at home but active in debate at school “…that this house deplores the occurrence of the Norman Conquest (laughter)… with its influx of polysyllabic barbarities which ousted the more honest if humbler native words…(jeers)” Tolkien playing football, working on his languages, seeing in his mind the words being spoken, an Elven princess and a vagabond warrior speaking Quenya and exchanging a kiss, returning to his face in rapture, eyes and mouth closed.
Ronald and Edith arrange a bicycle ride in the countryside, leaving at different times and reasons to avoid detection. They meet up in Lickey forest and go to Rednal for tea. He teaches her a few words of a simple new language and after a moment she replies adeptly – their secret language.
They ride home along sunny paths and arrive, again at different times. But they are seen by the cook, who is off out shopping, and happens to bump into the Tea Lady from Rednal. She puts two and two together and tells the landlady. Mrs Faulkner tells Father Francis, who is furious.
Father Francis summons Ronald to the oratory, tells him he is deeply shaken, and demands that the affair must stop. He announces he is making arrangements for he and Hilary to move to new lodgings. Ronald miserable in new surroundings, 15-year old Hilary frankly delighted.
Tolkien goes to Oxford for his scholarship exam. Father Francis sees him off at the station, but his smile shows little confidence and some concern in the boy.
Lovely views of Oxford from the train, Tolkien betraying a real feeling for the place, a belonging or wanting to.
He sits the exam, waits with other young gentlemen, smiling and chatting. The bursar gives them their results individually, in his office. Tolkien is crestfallen. He walks sadly away down Merton St and Oriel Square to the train station.
Back in Birmingham, Father Francis comforts him, saying he cannot afford to pay commoner’s fees but that of course, Ronald can try again next year.
Ronald, having glimpsed a home at Oxford, shows new determination, throws himself into his schoolwork, puts aside his languages, even drops rugby.
But again he and Edith meet, taking a train into the countryside and discussing their plans. She wants to find a nice place where she can be independent, and practice her piano, and she hopes that some new friends she has made, an older family, can take her in as a sort of step-daughter. He obviously wants to go to Oxford, but also obviously wants to say something else. They go to a jeweller where she buys him a pen for his eighteenth birthday, and he buys a watch for her twenty-first, keeps it to give her another time.
Tolkien at school, literally self-actualises and does very well with his studies, cycling madly home, sleeping like a young god and rising with the sun. He sneaks out of school one lunch to meet her in a tea-shop. It’s her birthday, and he gives her the watch. She is very happy, she has been invited to stay with her friends, on her Aunt’s suggestion. Ronald is relieved, sure it is for the best. They kiss once again.
But again they are seen. Father Francis thunders that he must not meet or even write to Edith. He will see her only once more, on her departure for Cheltenham. After that they must not communicate until he is twenty-one. Ronald must obey, or lose his benefactor’s support and cut short his university career. Ronald secretly writes to Edith, the note delivered by Hilary “A wait of three years is awful”. Edith writes back “Our hardest time has come…”. The letter is intercepted by Father Francis, who throttles his rage to tell Ronald he cannot now see Edith at all, not even when she is leaving. Edith leaves without seeing Ronald again, although he steals a glimpse of her on the way to the train, he a dripping wet figure in a mac and tweed hat in the rain.
Tolkien morbid and depressed. He gets permission to write to Edith, who in contrast is happy as a lark in her new surroundings, at last able to practice the piano.
Ronald throws himself into school, working hard but also debating, inventing language, running the library with a group of senior boys including Christopher Wiseman, Rob Gilson (old R.C. Gilson’s son) and young Geoffrey Bache Smith, the four of them forming a tea-club in a back room of the library. Tolkien speaks a piece of his poetry to them over tea.
Come sing ye light fairy things tripping so gay
Like visions, like glinting relections of joy
All fashion’d of radiance, careless of grief,
O’er this green and brown carpet; nor hasten away.
O! come to me! Dance for me! Sprites of the wood,
O! come to me! Sing to me once ere ye fade!
They are suitably impressed, amused, derisive and hilarious.
Tolkien playing rugby, breaking his nose, working with his nose bandaged, seeing Peter Pan, working, writing in script, playing rugby again and triumphing. A glimpse of his seminar “The modern languages of Europe – Derivations and Capabilities” – cut to two professors discussing the ‘remarkable’ young Tolkien.
Tolkien and his friends move their Tea Club to the nearby Barrow’s store in Corporation Street, in the tea room there is a compartment with table for six and numerous comfortable lounges arranged around the table, quite secluded, which they rename the Railway Carriage and themselves the ‘Tea Club Barrovian Society or T.C., B.S etc…’ Fascinating creative talk in many languages, about renaissance art, natural science, music, mathematics, philology, Greek, Latin, Germanic lanuages, Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, etc. Tolkien in a daydream glimpses his friends as a fellowship of adventurers, quickly snaps himself out of it.
Tolkien goes for scholarship exam in Oxford again, Father Francis seeing him off again in the same scene as before except for Father Francis’ more pleased and confident smile. Flash through the same scenes again… and this time he is successful! Father Francis is delighted, and with a little of his help Ronald will room in Exeter college, ‘not the most fashionable, but then at least you don’t have to put up with those upper class twits over in Kings!’
Ronald enters a period of celebration in his life. He is a widely respected, indeed beloved senior pupil of his school, a prefect, and captain of both the debating society and football club. But privately he longs for Edith, and still looks at the old locket of his Mother.
Preparing for a paper on the norse sagas he discovers the Finnish Kalevala, or Land of Heroes, in a city library. Opening this book, he enters an extended mythic vision of the morally complex stories therein, centring on a ring of power…and Tolkien’s eye is filled with the ring.
Tolkien graduates from King Edward’s school and is met at the gate by Father Francis and Hilary. He feels “like a sparrow kicked out of a nest”
The two brothers go on holiday in Switzerland with Father Francis and a large party of his Mother’s family and Francis’ friends. On foot carrying great packs from Interlaken into the morains, sleeping rough, firelit nights, the Eiger, Munch and Silberhorn mountains, the Matterhorn. Walking into Brig on foot, a cacophony of noise, trains screeching on rails, then up into the quiet glacier country. For once Tolkien does not have to imagine a fantasy world, the mountain scenery is enough, he tells Father Francis who smiles happily. On one walk, along a single file track below snowfields, boulders start to roll, dislodged by the warming season. Ronald laughs in spite of his fear.
Returning to Brig, Ronald and Hilary buying postcards, Ronald finds one entitled Der Berggeist (the mountain-spirit) by J Madelener, showing an old man with long white beard, broad-brimmed blue hat and long cloak, talking to a white fawn that is nuzzling his hands, a warm and compassionate expression on his ruddy face. Tolkien looks long at this image, and there is an equally long hand-held close-up. He buys it and puts it in his pocket.
Moving aerial shot of green English countryside, swooping down to a road bordered with fields of yellow mustard, a motor-car, Tolkien in the passenger seat beside Dickie Reynolds, his old schoolmaster and teacher. They chat animatedly with the top down, but we catch nothing of it as the shot rises again to a view of Oxford in the near distance.
Exeter college is not the prettiest, as Father Francis warned, but the Fellow’s garden is lovely and Tolkien is very happy, he tells Reynolds he feels he is ‘coming home for the first time since mother died’. Tolkien’s rooms austere but palatial compared to his old bedsit with Hilary. He meets the college dean and secretary, who introduce him to his scout. This is unexpected. Tolkien is a ‘poor scholar’, but ‘we must keep up standards after all’.
Next morning Tolkien is surprised to have his scout bring him breakfast. Brief glimpses of dusty classrooms, Tolkien looking skeptical if not actually disinterested. ‘I’ve read all this, is this really curriculum?’ Lunch is a ‘commons’ of bread, cheese and beer, dinner a formal affair in Hall. Costs mount up.
Tolkien playing football again, writing his languages, the same distractions that saw him fail his first entrance exam. He starts a club, the Apolausticks (those devoted to self-indulgence), where they read papers, have discussions and debates, large and extravagant dinners. They share a curious slang, another of Tolkien’s silly languages: Breakfast=Brekker, Lecture=Lekker, Sing-Song=Sigger-Sogger, Practical Joke=Pragger-Jogger.
Geoffrey Smith and Ronald smoking in rooms when they hear a hue and cry. Mad town-vs-gown rag happening in the lane, hordes of students good-naturedly charging into town, causing disruption if no actual damage (or not much), a good laugh. They steal a bus and drive it up Cornmarket followed by a mad crowd of mingled townese and varsity. Busload arrives at the Carfax, where Tolkien addresses the crowd in Pragger, then ‘on to Magger’s Memugger!!’ (Martyr’s Memorial) to drink, talk and laugh with friends. Massive stein mugs, cigars, serving girls sitting in laps but Tolkien deftly laughing his way out of it. The scene blurs…
Tolkien wakes in his rooms, bleary and rueful, a knocking on his door. He eyes the door as a notice is slipped under it, his glance takes in piles of disordered books, he puts his head under the covers again.
The seasons pass. Tolkien is bored with Latin and Greek, Cicero and Demosthenes, but revels in Germanic literature, living in intense daydreams of Asgard, the sagas, snapping out of it at the sound of Wagner on a friend’s gramophone and unleashing a torrent of abuse on Wagner and his ‘contemptible’ interpretation of the myths.
Tolkien continues working on his languages, attending lectures in philology, his tutor the brilliant Yorkshireman Joseph Wright, fluent in many languages especially the Yorkshire dialect. He knows the exact variant of Tolkien’s childhood gaelic and speaks it to him laughing through his dense snowy goatee. Tolkien is enraptured.
Sitting at Wright’s huge dining table, his home recognisably a hobbit-hole with round windows, eating gargantuan slices of heavyweight plum cake, Wright’s aberdeen terrier slobbering at them, as much at the language as at the food. Wright clatters around, a huge enthusiast, encouraging Tolkien in languages – ‘Go in for Celtic, lad, there’s money in it’.
Tolkien copying from a book, the strange words of Welsh floating up out of the page, the sounds of the language musical in passages, recited from ancient texts, Tolkien’s script fluently capturing the words in their rustic beauty.
Tolkien on holiday at Christmas, coming home to Birmingham and visiting King Edward’s School. Great reunion of Tolkien, Wiseman, Smith and Gilson, some of whom are still at school. T.C.B.S. are preparing an end of term rendering of Sheridan’s The Rivals. Tolkien joins in in the part of Mrs Malaprop, Wiseman, Smith and Gilson and others in full costume for dress rehearsal, afterwards going for a pre-show snifter at Barrows. Hilarious scene as they remove their coats in the “Railway Carriage”, Tolkien in a dress!
Wiseman lends Tolkien a Finnish language primer. ‘Give it back when you’re Finnish’, grin, groan. Tolkien quickly grasps Finnish and reads the Kalevala in the original, He writes to Christopher ‘It’s like a wine cellar filled with the most exotic bottles, it quite intoxicates me’. In his mind, we see rings again. He looks at the page, considering something. He takes a new page and begins to write whole words of a new language, frowning with concentration as he sounds the words. Quenya, or high-elven, will be recognisable to the devotees of Tolkien and his languages, or to big fans of the three movies. He daydreams of fairy princes and princesses, with a light that seems to shine from them, they speak…and great forests arise, dense undergrowth, wilderness and glimpses of mountain…then a window looking out onto tamed countryside, fields and hedgerows. Tolkien’s face is intensely thoughtful, almost putting two and two together.
Ronald spends Christmas with Father Francis and the same large gathering of family and friends from his alpine holiday. He is introduced to his Aunt Jane from Bag End in Worcestershire. They prepare a little family pageant, with Ronald dashing off scripts. His character is a detective searching for an heiress, Gwendoline Goodchild (his cousin Marjorie), who is in love with a penniless student (Hilary) who she cannot marry until he is twenty-one. They are hiding from her father (Father Francis). Marjorie is so delighted by his candour she can barely contain the laughter and admiration in her part, she switches the script by falling in love with him, throws the whole thing into laughter and chaos. After the performance Father Francis laughs, but asks Ronald seriously of his feelings for Edith, ‘now that you are so nearly twenty-one yourself’. Ronald looks embarrassed, as if only just realising the significance of his story. He confesses he still thinks of her often, and wants to be reunited. Father Francis’ face changes, becomes sober.
Edith is sitting at a little table in a very nice croquet garden in early spring, looking uncertainly at two men talking loudly about the thrilling prospect of war, then looking up at a third man who smiles down at her. She smiles shyly, or uncertainly, raises her hand. He hands her up, and they stroll off. They are clearly engaged. Across the garden Ronald stands at a stone arch, hat in hand, watching them walk towards him. Edith stops, surprised, then confusedly excuses herself and goes to him. They talk earnestly, then she nervously ushers him indoors, glancing back only a moment. The fiancé watches with more resignation than suspicion, puts his hands in pockets, then turns back to his friends.
Ronald and Edith are sitting in the countryside, under a railway viaduct. ‘I began to doubt you Ronald, and to think you would cease to care for me.’ He shakes his head very slowly. Almost in tears, she kisses him.
Tolkien blissfully happy, writes to Father Francis to tell him of their intention to marry. Father Francis calm and resigned if far from enthusiastic. Tolkien immensely relieved. He still needs his guardian’s support.
Tolkien’s relaxed academic life turns serious as honour moderations exams approach. He crams. The work is a strain. Dinner parties dwindle early, candles burn low. Tolkien rubs his eyes, visions float before him of the Kalevala, with Edith as his princess, he rescues her from ogres, carries her away by ship into the sunset, falls asleep over his papers as the sun rises.
In exams. Traditions as heavy as a fog, Tolkien writing furiously. Weeks pass, in which they are all slowly shattered. Exams end, Tolkien lies with clock ticking, looking regretful, still exhausted by the effort. All his fellows in Exeter receive mail. He’s disappointed to receive a second class degree, but puts on a brave face to congratulate and celebrate with his fellows, some better, some worse off than him.
Glimpses of Oxford bureaucracy, bespectacled paper shufflers, Tolkien nervous in interviews. ‘Apparently, er… you have achieved a ‘pure alpha’, in your philology paper… er… ahem… would you consider it as a research career? Abandon Classics for Old English, and so on?’ (wincing, as if it’s a worst option – great cameo role for John Hurt, or Bill Nighy if he cools it a bit). Tolkien is straight-faced in ecstasy. Immense congratulations from his old tutor Joe Wright, much of it in Yorkshire dialects.
Edith joins him in Oxford, they celebrate genteelly, Edith clearly unsure of herself in the masculine world of Oxford, Ronald also not sure how to bring their worlds together. But strolling in the woods they rediscover their love of secret languages, and so of each other. In the woods she dances for him in a shaft of sunlight. For only the second time in his life the reality is as lovely as the daydream.
Scenes from Oxford school of languages, polemical battles between crusty old academics, Tolkien watching with tea cup, amused. ‘…any literature later than Chaucer is not sufficiently challenging to form the basis of a degree-course syllabus!’ – ‘Philology and Olde English, bah! Word-mongering and pedantry’. Tolkien’s tutor is Kenneth Sisam, a New Zealander only a few years older than him, they sit in vast armchairs almost hiding behind their cups of tea in the midst this stormy old-man’s debate. Sisam, sotto voce: ‘It may have been a mistake to squeeze both factions of opinion into the one honours school.’ They become good friends. Again, Tolkien has read so much in this field already that he wonders ‘how it will provide me with honest labour for the next two and a half years!’ Kenneth laughs and shakes his head in amazement.
Nevertheless Tolkien hurls himself into his work, surrounded by books, buried in papers, his daydreams reminiscent of a monk’s pursuit of obscure passages in an ancient library of white stone, finally as though lit by brilliant sunlight he hears rather than sees the words
Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middengeard monnum sended
Coming out of that light he sees the words on the page before him, a torn fragment in an old book (the Crist of Cynewulf) and speaks his translation:
‘Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
Over Middle-earth sent to men’
He sees a star rising, glimpses the outlines of a ship behind its light, a figure of brilliant white flying powerfully from the ship, the distant outlines of a golden shore lying beyond her. Fade to brilliant white, and again to his thoughtful face that now appears to know somehow where all this fits. Fade back to the golden shore, which now dims to natural greens, a landscape of rivers, hills and then mountains, snow capped and craggy, then black volcanic ranges, and an immense dark figure with raging, terrible eyes that rises above the landscape. Tolkien stands abruptly up, frightened out of his reverie, shakes his head to clear it, then grabs his hat and plunges out into the street. He strides along the leafy avenues of Oxford, then goes hesitantly into a Church. He kneels at the alter and prays.
Edith, like Ronald’s Mother, is converting to the Catholic church, in her case to marry him, and is thrown out of her lodgings by her adopted ‘family’. She moves in with her cousin Jenny Groves, a “tiny determined woman with a deformed back”. She doesn’t want to move to Oxford to be near Ronald, because as she admits, she wants to enjoy the last freedom of her independence.
Tolkien finally tells his friends Wiseman, Smith and Gilson of his impending engagement. Mighty celebration, talk of romantic love leading almost immediately to the more familiar territory of epic poetry, the great future, their own true friendship…followed by studiously remembering to make a gentlemanly toast to Edith. Ronald’s life at Oxford is distinctly stylish, he has decorated with fine furniture, Japanese prints, tailor-made suits. Writing to Edith, he tells her he has started a new club which only meets to have dinner. Edith reading, laughs.
Tolkien is telling Christopher about a book he is reading, The House of the Wolfings; set in a land invaded by the Romans, it centres on a House or family tribe who live by a great river in a clearing of a forest whose name translates as Mirkwood. Christopher suggests he draw a map. Later, unsure of how to start, Tolkien begins with the river and the forest. The map grows…and grows…in cut scenes as days pass, Tolkien drinking tea, drawing and re-drawing this very large map.
Ronald, Edith and Father Francis go on holiday in Cornwall. Staying in a little hotel on the coast Father Francis finally congratulates them on their engagement. Their champagne toast is surprised by thunder, as outside a storm begins to rage.
Long walks on the Lizard peninsula, moorlands atop the cliffs of Kynance cove, the wild sea bursting on Merlin’s Cave. Ronald and Edith play-act old King Uther Pendragon and his lady Igraine, the parents of King Arthur. Father Francis steps in as Merlin with wise words of prophecy. We rise out of the play and swoop like a bird along the coast to the castle of Tintagel, hearing
Earendel sprang up from the ocean’s cup
In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim
From the door of night as a ray of light
Leapt over the twilight Brim
From the castle’s top, we see an eagle flying.
Back in their hotel Father Francis is listening to the radio for news of the declaration of war. Ronald looks nonplussed, Edith worried.
Tolkien comes back to Oxford to find the place all but deserted, with the bulk of the student population and many teachers joining up. He is delighted to find his friend G.B. Smith still up, awaiting a commission in the Lancashire Fusiliers. Tolkien resolves to try for a commission in the same regiment. He begins to drill with the officers training corps in the university grounds, still studying, writing his languages.
Christmas 1914, reunion of the T.C., B.S. Tolkien, Wiseman, Gilson and Smith spend a weekend sitting around a gas fire, smoking and talking. They talk again of epics, more soberly this time, planning a great tale that combines all their minds. ‘I feel four times the intellectual size when we are all together.’ Gilson toasts their ‘pre-Raphaelite brotherhood of poets’, the great world not only without, but within them.
Tolkien passes his “schools”, a final examination in English language and literature. He makes first class honours, which assures him of an academic job. He can marry, and he can go to war.
His officer training comes to a peak, moving from place to place around the countryside, miserable weather and trench drill, machine gun and barbed wire practice in the silly underestimated safe conditions that preceded the Somme. Officer’s mess, chaps playing bridge and snooker, ragtime music, Tolkien reading, smoking, absorbed. His training takes him into signals, a natural specialisation for a linguist. Morse code, flag and disk signalling, heliograph lamp, signal rockets and field telephones, even carrier pigeons. Finally he is commissioned as a signals officer.
Christopher Wiseman visits briefly, in naval uniform, complete with kit bag. He too has joined up, and is off to Greenwich to learn navigation ‘and the meaning of those mysterious words, port and starboard”. Edith and Ronald see him off like proud family.
Ronald and Edith decide to marry before he leaves for France. They do not talk of the death toll in the trenches, but it is there.
They are married on 22 March 1916, by Father Murphy of Warwick. Father Francis Morgan sits sadly in a pew (he was not asked to perform the mass, because of his earlier opposition to their union). Ronald signs the marriage certificate, then Edith, but she is surprised at having to write her Father’s name, writes something quickly then looks away in confusion.
Ronald and Edith on honeymoon in Clevedon in Somerset. Lovely scenery and days. Edith hesitantly asks if Ronald remembers that she had a secret once, as a girl, that she couldn’t tell him. She tells him now: she has no father, or rather she doesn’t know who he is. When her mother died it was easier to hide as an orphan, who has lost not only both parents but her Father’s papers as well. Ronald assures her he loves her all the more… ‘as for your secret, we must entrust it to God’
On their return to his lodgings in Great Haywood he receives his embarkation orders. The “big push” has come.
Tearful farewell to Edith. Train pulls out of Victoria station, Edith following, waving.
6 June 1916, France
Tolkien arrives by ferry at Calais, camps at Etáples base camp. Nothing happens. He is not regarded highly by the career soldiers of his battalion, or much liked by the men in his own signals detachment, but he develops a friendship with his scouse batman, Sam, a model for Sam Gamgee.
Train journey to the front, darkening thunderclouds, the sound of heavy gunfire. They disembark at Amiens, march out of town heavily loaded with kit. Horse drawn wagons and huge guns pass them. Fields of scarlet poppies and yellow mustard. It begins to rain, and the road turns to chalky white mud. The battalion billets in Bouzencourt, in straw bunks and barns, sheds and the floors of farmhouses. Ancient solid buildings. Tolkien explores the surroundings, sees ruined buildings, shattered trees, the sounds of the allied bombardment, writes to Edith, sits smoking his pipe.
At 7.30 am July 1 the attack begins. Rob Gilson and Geoffrey Smith are in the Suffolk Regiment and go over the top, carrying 65lb of equipment each as the machine guns open fire. Tolkien’s battalion is in reserve, running signals and listening to the distant chatter of machine guns, faint yells. None of the day’s objectives are reached. Casualties are enormous. A flood of injured men begins to pour in, stretchers born out through the reserve earthworks to overwhelmed field hospitals. Days pass, Tolkien assisting with stretcher bearers, looking for his friends. Reserves near their camp are mobilised down to the front. Finally Tolkien is immensely relieved to find Geoffrey Smith alive and unhurt, but exhausted and shocked. He has been relieved after three days, three days without sleep, the constant shelling, attack and counter-attack, and oh, the dead… Tolkien helps him to a bunk.
Tolkien wakes in the gloom, looks up to see Smith sitting awake. They get up and make a fire, an early breakfast. Ronald talks cheerfully about the future, of biffing the bosch and getting back to work. Smith becomes uneasy. As day rises they walk in a field of poppies with the roar of battle in the distance. Suddenly, fiercely, they embrace.
Tolkien’s company finally goes into action. The soldiers march into the trenches at night, stumbling through communication alleys, the roar and crack of war somewhere ahead. Confusion and darkness in the trench line at the front, howling terror of shellfire overhead. Tolkien finds the signals equipment is tangled and spattered in mud and blood, often out of order, winding in looping and broken lines along trenches. They are forced to use flags, flares, runners and pigeons. Everywhere there are dead bodies, often with horrible injuries, and there is a putrid stench of decay from no man’s land.
Tolkien’s battalion attacks exactly as the first attacks had gone, over the top in broad daylight and heavily laden to walk into the machine guns. Tolkien is leading a signals detachment unrolling great coils of heavy wire, watches in horror his fellows in the horrible dance of machine gun death, torn and plucked by zipping bullets. The fields are a sea of torn and scattered vegetation among cratered mud, lines of men cut down by waves of bullets, trees stripped of leaf and branch, mutilated and blackened trunks. The attack dies out and Tolkien leads his men back behind cover of the cable drum, which is shot to pieces. Several of his men are killed in the retreat, and he cannot help them.
Night falls and the attack-counter-attack roars with fire. Sleep is not possible. Days pass, attack after attack fails, Tolkien’s face is drawn, streaked with mud. Night again and in his exhaustion Tolkien sees a terrible figure of flame and darkness, in its hand a whip of fire. Blinking in horror he makes out a flame thrower detachment that has crept up in the dark, working now above their trenches. Men on fire run and fall. Guns crack in panic but flame spits again with a sound like “Sauron” and the guns die. Tolkien desperately signals the next machine gun nest, places a rocket flare over the advancing fire. The machine gun picks up the flame thrower, he is cut down and explodes, his two-man team on fire screaming and falling, crawling and dying. Tolkien collapses face down in horror.
Tolkien’s company is relieved, and they return exhausted to the huts at Bouzincourt. He finds a letter from Geoffrey Smith. Rob Gilson was killed on the first day of the Somme.
Oh my dear John Ronald, whatever are we going to do?
The Somme, August 1916
Months pass, Tolkien’s battalion constantly in the cycle of warfare and rest. Tolkien sees his fellows dying, writes letters to Edith, becomes grey with weariness. He talks to a captured German officer, who corrects his pronunciation and seems a thoroughly decent chap.
Ronald and Geoffrey meet again behind lines, they share a meal of bully beef, coming under mortar fire but laughing it off, old hands now and feeling strong in each other’s company. Still they find they have nothing to say, or can’t say it. Soon after they both return to battle. The slaughter continues. Tolkien has flash hallucinations again and again: in an attack by German infantry armed with shovels rather than the unreliable bayonets he sees goblins with crooked weapons; in a roar of dragon-terror overhead a biplane is dropping bombs on them.
Finally Tolkien collapses, is stretchered off. At the field hospital an orderly writes slowly on his board, pyrexia of unkown orrigin, sniffs ‘another one with trench fever’. He is moved by sick-train to the coast, a large French hospital, and finally by ship for England. He is reunited with Edith but remains in hospital. His doctor is one Leonard Gamgee, Tolkien looks at him alertly when he is introduced. Tolkien sits shakily with an old friend from school in another bed, Tea-Cake Barnsley, one of the outer TCBS circle, who is recovering strangely from shell-shock.
Finally Tolkien is well enough to leave hospital for Christmas in Great Haywood with Edith. There they receive a letter from Christopher Wiseman, that Geoffrey Smith too is dead. Christopher encloses a letter for Ronald that was found on Geoffrey’s body. Tolkien reads
‘God bless you my John Ronald, and may you say the things I have tried to say long after I am not here to say them, if such be my lot.’
Tolkien suffers a relapse, his fever returning him to hospital. He thrashes in delerious nightmares. He sleeps, exhausted. Eating weakly, somewhat recovered, he receives a note from his commanding officer, to hand to military authorities immediate on his discharge from hospital. He’s shocked to think of returning to the front.
Christopher Wiseman visits, brings him a notebook for a gift. They talk sadly of Geoffrey and Rob, of the old club, of the great things they said they would do, Christopher cursing bitterly the ‘bloody adventure, bloody lark’ of the war. As he rises to go, he says, ‘You ought to start the epic. But mind you get on your high horse, not your high horse on you.’
Later Tolkien sits by his bed with the notebook. He gives a long slow consideration to the book, as the camera pans up and around to look down on the book from Tolkien’s view. He opens it, and picks up pen, carefully writes in the flyleaf ‘The Book of Lost Tales’. He turns a page and begins to write, and as he does so the book fades into vast blackness.
[The following sequences told through CGI, with human actors and narration by Richard Roxburgh. Visualisations must be very tight, a few seconds max for each paragraph]
Key to Text Formats: ‘Narration’ from Silmarillion Text. Quotes from original Silmarillion text. Visualisations of Silmarillion story. Scenes from real world.
‘Eru, the one, who is called Ilúvatar, made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before ought else was made, and they sang before him, and he was glad.’
A light merges from the blackness, revealing Ilúvatar as a being of pure light casting an impenetrable radiance over a form that might be human. Around him bright galaxies swirl, trailing light in shimmering effervescence: these droplets seem to grow, and the Ainur emerge as angels, brilliantly lit from within, beautiful and noble.
‘The places and the dwellings of Iluvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the void, and it was not void’
The Ainur sing and dance together, their faces and forms indistinguishable as male or female, magnificent, sublime music, like unto harps and lutes and countless choirs singing with words and the scene of heaven receding again into a blackness that is clearly infinite, eternal, filled with bright young galaxies.
The wise, superhuman face of Iluvatar emerges from the light, and speaks in a rich, ethereal voice:
“Behold your music”
The light fades shimmering downwards and from the darkness emerges a world, blue-green and icy white, globed amid the void. We descend into the scene as this world begins to unfold itself, to live and grow. From barren rock and black oceans, forests and rivers spread and mould the land, the stars emerge and wheel overhead.
The scene fades to Tolkien in hospital, in a fever again, Edith in terror at his side. Nights and days pass. Tolkien sits weakly. He eats something. Edith leaves, kissing him. He takes his pencil in shaking hand, and writes as the scene fades again.
‘Then those of the Ainur who desired it arose and entered into the world at the beginning of Time; and it was their task to achieve it, and by their labours fulfil the vision which they had seen. Therefore they are named the Valar, the powers of the world.’
Melkor emerges from the fade, a vast black shape as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire. His eyes are like flame. He moulds the rock into mountains and volcanoes, creates icy wilderness with sweeping arms. Manwë approaches, a man-mountain clad in rich green, red-brown and white, the dark blue heaven swirling potently around him. The mountains lighten from black and red to green, but still the sky is dark.
Varda (Elbereth) a female figure of wondrous luminosity and beauty sweeps down behind to kindle the stars, and sweeps the light of Iluvatar down from the heavens, while Yavannah in the form of a woman robed in green like a tree under heaven. She plants seeds and raises living forests complete with Ents and spreads wilderness across the world under stars.
The landscape reveals the sea, steel grey against cliffs, and Ulmo is seen as a mounting wave that strides to the land, with dark helm foam-crested and raiment of mail shimmering from silver down into shadows of green. All the Vala are surrounded and escorted by lesser Angels, the Maia, who fly like pixie-dust sparks of the Vala elements of earth or air, fire or water.
Ulmo’s great arms throw up pillars of water and ice, which freeze in vast towers above the world, at the top of which Aule the blacksmith of the Vala builds great lamps and Varda kindles their light. Aule pauses in the light, then bends and lifts handfuls of soil, which form as short, stout figures, the Dwarves born naked except for their beards. A great wave suddenly rises behind the scene and all turn to stare in horror.
Tolkien awakes, gasping from his old nightmare of a wave. Edith is there, and his book lies between them. They talk, he weakly, she forcing cheerfulness. He seems to slip into sleep. The scene fades again.
‘Melkor too was there from the start, and he meddled in all that was done, turning it if he might to his own desires and purposes.’
Melkor emerges from the darkness a vast black shape in the colours of a range of erupting volcanoes at night, revelling in his flows of molten rock and blasts of lightning amid the icy wastes of the north, far from the light of the lamps. He is surrounded by what seem to be tiny, glowing figures, in close-up they are swarms of balrogs, demons of fire and darkness, minor angels of Melkor’s elements.
Bending down to the sheer black rock, Melkor takes wild stones and raises trolls, great stony figures that seem tiny under his glance and lumber stupidly around the guidance of his iron hands. Raising his head he looks greedily southward to the distant lamps, rises like an earthquake above the mountains and clouds and strides away, and the trolls follow him like slow children, herded by the balrogs.
‘Thus began the first battle of the Valar with Melkor for the dominance of Arda. They built lands and he destroyed them; mountains they carved and Melkor threw them down; and nought might have peace or come to lasting growth.’
Scenes of the Valar under attack by Melkor, the trolls and balrogs: The Valar eventually cannot defend themselves, and flee across the sea. Melkor, a vast figure of mighty effort and explosive violence as though the earth’s belly erupts, throws the lamps down in destruction, plunging the world into a darkness relieved only by the red fire and molten vomit of the disaster, while far above the light of galaxies glimmers down once more.
Sad, almost banal scenes of Tolkien’s recovery and return home, his gratitude to Edith, his frailty. Sitting at his desk, writing, shivering, smoking a pipe, coughing, Edith coming in and taking his pipe, scolding him. Ronald collapsing in exhaustion, but feverishly beginning to write once again…
‘And yet their labour was not all in vain; slowly nonetheless the Earth was fashioned and made firm in the deeps of time and amidst the innumerable stars.’
The mist clears to a wild, beautiful land, lit with the same inner light as the Valar themselves. As yet there is no sun, only bright stars.
‘The Valar fortified their dwelling, and upon the shores of the sea they raised the Pelori, the mountains of Aman, highest upon Earth. Behind the walls of the Pelori they established their domain in that region which is called Valinor.’
Mountain peaks and lush valleys of peace filled with birdsong. One great mountain that peaks far above the clouds, in the midst of stars. The music lifts and calms, with the voice of Yavannah singing indecipherable words.
‘In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew.’
The Valar gather together around their holy mountain, great mountain shapes themselves, the light rises and falls. Yavannah dances upon a green mound, singing her song of power, while Nienna water the earth with tears of joy.
‘Thus there awoke in the world the two trees…’
The music stills and two saplings, golden and silver, Emerge from the mound and grow quickly into great trees that tower over the world, filling the land with golden and silver light. They reach up to heaven, the stars shining brilliantly in their leaves. The scene lingers on this spectacular beauty, fading reluctantly.
Tolkien staring out of the window at moving sunlit branches, a clock hollowly ticking, ticking, as it had after his exams. His papers lie scattered around him. His face, although still exhausted, is enraptured by the vision of the trees.
‘It is told that even as the Valar ended their labours, in that hour the children of the earth awoke, the firstborn of Iluvatar. By the starlit mere of Cuiviénen, Water of Awakening, they awoke from sleep, and their eyes beheld first of all things the stars of heaven.’
The Valar turn to gaze into the east, the scene draws back until the two trees are seen at a great distance, and still further back, over the oceans and landscapes of the world under the stars. A placid lake reflecting the starlight is revealed. On the shores of the lake the Elves, naked and lit from within by the same golden and silver light of the trees and the stars, arise as though awakening from sleep. They call and laugh to each other with the sweet voices of wise and beautiful children.
Tolkien asleep, the clock still ticking. Edith comes in, puts a blanket on him, begins to pick up his papers but stops, helpless at the profusion. She looks at it faintly, unsure what this means. He groans in a nightmare, she gazes into his face and we fall down into a blurring darkness.
‘Melkor, ever watchful, was first aware of the firstborn, and sent shadows and evil spirits to spy upon them and waylay them.’
Melkor’s terrifying face glares down from a dark sky over the Elves. Melkor’s face is iron, not flesh. And his eyes are a raging agony of jealousy and despair, not the simple-minded “evil” of the Christian vision of devil. He withdraws into the lightning-lit sky, but dark shapes begin to appear in the Elve’s paradise.
“Those unhappy ones who came into the hands of Melkor were put in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor bred the hideous race of the orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves.’
Some Elves are captured and dragged down to dungeons far underground where Melkor corrupts them with his terrible eyes. They are hideously transformed; their bodies shrink, their skin darkens, their eyes gleam red like gimlets, their faces twist in animal rictus, and their fair voices turn to cries of rage and despair.
Edith leaving Ronald with a nurse, putting on her hat and a brave face to go out. But in the street she is undecided, turns and walks another way, finally comes to a church and goes in. We see her praying. Tolkien meanwile gets up, refusing the help of the nurse, sitting down at his desk, going loosely through his papers, seeming stumped or exhausted, but soon beginning to write again.
‘The Valar came forth in strength of war, resolving to assault the forces of Melkor and make an end.’
The Valar, roused to anger at last, rise up an return across the sea to Middle-earth. They are led by Oromë on his great white horse, like an avalanche of snow across the sky, Tulkas the strong following him like a bursting flood of stones.
‘Never did Melkor forget that this war was fought for the sake of the Elves.’
Mighty scenes of the riding of the Valar and Maiar to Middle-earth, the war of Melkor and the Valar reminiscent of some great tectonic upheaval. The world is shaken, shattered and remade. Long and grievous was the siege of Utumno, and many battles were fought before its gates. In that time the shape of Middle-earth was changed, and the great sea that sundered it from Aman grew wide and deep, and into it the mighty river Sirion flowed down from the newly raised highlands northwards: Dorthonion, and the mountains about Hithlum.
Melkor retreats to his dungeons, but the mountains are broken down and he is drawn out like a dark snake from its hole, where Tulkas throws him down and the Valar break his power.
Tolkien is in his study, rubbing his face incessantly, obviously exhausted. The light in the window is dawn. Edith comes in in her night-gown, looks at him and the scattered profusion of papers, enters uncertainly, comes to him and tries to soothe his poor tortured head with her arms and her kisses. The scene wavers, spins as though dizzy and confused, blurs.
In Valinor the Valar gather to judge Melkor under the light of the trees. His darkness cannot be so dark in this place, and he seems starved of air. Manwe points a long finger of justice, and Melkor’s steel-grey face is drawn down into deeper darkness, as if pulled into the stones.
‘There was Melkor doomed to abide for three ages long, before his cause should be tried anew.’
Melkor hangs in space, racked, fading into darkness.
‘The Valar were divided in debate. Some held that the Elves should be left free to walk in Middle-earth, to order all the lands and heal their hurts. But the most part feared for the Elves in the dangerous world amid the starlit dusk.’
The Valar, like a ring of mountains with storm clouds all around, are seen in debate.
‘At last, therefore, the Valar summoned the Elves to Valinor, there to be gathered at the knees of the Powers in the light of the Trees forever.’
Out of the sky the great hunter Oromë emerges on a white horse-god, looking down upon the Elves with a profound and earthly love. He approaches them and reaches down a great hand. Some of the Elves are afraid, fearing another trap of Melkor and creep away. The remaining Elves follow him as he turns his horse away. As Oromë rides away, a vast shadow looms around the remaining Elves.
A great migration begins over the vast wilderness of a young Middle-earth, the rivers, mountains and forests of Beleriand. The Elves are seen walking in starlight and lamplight, many are left behind, lost or lingering by forest or river out of love for the land. They come to the sea stretching starlit across their path.
Ulmo, Vala of the world’s rivers, seas and oceans, rises from the sea and looks down upon the Elves. He uproots an island from the mainland, the Elves go aboard and are drawn across the sea by Ulmo and his Mer-people.
Tokien wakes in his study, shakes his head as if to clear it, gets up and discovers his writing, but begins to tear up pages and throw them around him. In disgust he goes to his many bookshelves, pulls out one book, leafs through it, then another, “It’s all here, it’s all in here” he mutters, returns to his desk and sits down with the book open. He begins working from the book, jotting notes and rubbing his forehead.
‘Now the Eldar were gathered at last in Valinor, and Melkor was in chains.’
The Elves gather with the Valar in a circle in the light of the two Trees and sing, swaying. The stars shine like jewels over a white city of concentric circles and towers in the distance. Melkor hangs in a space of pure darkness, his mind looking out to the void.
‘In those days the Elves became full grown in stature of body and of mind, and advanced ever in skill and knowledge, and the long years were filled with their joyful labours.’
The Elves grow tall, are ennobled, in bright gowns they walk the palatial halls of their city, at peace with each other.
‘In that time was born in the house of the King, the eldest of the sons of Finwë. Curufinwë was his name, but by his mother he was called Fëanor, Spirit of Fire, and thus he is remembered.’
Fëanor is born in a terrible labour, his mother dies of it. He grows quickly, becomes a great lord lit by inner radiance, taller than his father. All too soon he leaves home and wanders the land, something of Aragorn in his stride, the joy of adventure in his gleaming eyes.
‘He became of all the Elves, then or after, the most subtle in mind and skilled in hand. He it was who discovered how gems greater and brighter than those of the Earth might be made with skill.’
Fëanor is seen in a master’s workshop, a great circular fireplace with areas of intense multi-coloured heat, long benches of carved stone, bright metal tools, weapons and jewels. He works with wide sweeps of his tools on shining crystalline shapes, flying sparks of diamond light in great heat from his forge.
‘Fëanor began a long and secret labour, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all he made the Silmarils.’
Fëanor opens his window to the light of the trees, the scene whites out, and he holds up a great Jewel, which shines brilliantly of many colours in the starlight. It seems to live with radiance. He places the Jewel reverently down next to two others, identical under the starlit window, the distant Trees now soft in radiance.
‘Now the noontide of Valinor was drawing to its close. Melkor, as the Valar had decreed, had dwelt for three ages in the duress of Mandos, alone.’
Melkor is brought before the Valar, now steel grey rather than black, and he prostrates himself before them. They show their hands in forgiveness, and Manwë raises him up with a hand on his shoulder. Melkor’s grey turns to icy white, and he bows his head. The Valar, standing in a circle with Melkor, tower over a wider circle of Elves, tiny figures of light.
‘Melkor lusted after the Silmarils, and the very memory of their radiance was a gnawing fire in his heart.’
Under his closed eyes Melkor sees Fëanor standing with the elders, the Silmarils framing his brow in a prince’s crown. He looks long at the Silmarils as Feanor appears to slowly become aware of him. Then Melkor rises like a snowy hill and turns away. The Valar turn with him, and watch him go.
Tolkien suffers another relapse, is taken to the military hospital at Hull. A medical assessor comes to his bedside with papers, seems impatient with Tolkien’s continual unwellness, is forced to downgrade him again and refers him to probable Home Guard service, leaves in a huff.
After Edith’s visit Tolkien’s face is wracked with mental agony, his body with fever, the roar of battle fills his head, the fire of exploding shells, the scream of a terrifying enemy in his trench with a crooked weapon and the muddy, hideous face of orcs, the horror of the flame-thrower now transformed again into Balrogs. The scene darkens, a dream thickening.
‘Melkor fled through the Calacirya, and from the hill of Tüna the Elves saw him pass as a thundercloud.’
Melkor, his form darkening from white through steel grey to black, climbs among high mountains, the green and shining land of Valinor behind him. He is as tall as a tower, dull black. His garments harden into iron plates, his head becomes a heavy black crown of fear, great dark eye-holes gleaming with dull despair, an iron spear in his hand. He stands on a peak, looking down into a dark canyon. The rocks loom behind him into the darkness. Something darker than darkness looms in the crack of the rock.
‘In the beginning she was one of those that Melkor corrupted to his service. But she had disowned her master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness. She hungered for light, and hated it.’
The darkness is revealed as a monumentally huge black spider crawls slowly out, that no natural spider could model: she rises up out of the canyon, horn and tentacle and thorny leg, venom dripping from her joints, and creeps to the great ridge of rock where Melkor waits. She is his match, or more, for sheer size, blackness and evil power. Shelob of LOTR is a mere hatchling to Ungoliant, the great mother of evil spiders. They both dwarf the rocky gashes of the landscape.
Tolkien moaning and twisting in delerium.
Melkor’s deep, terrifying voice, like grinding stone: Do as I bid, and if thou hunger still when all is done, then I will give thee whatsoever thy lust may demand. Yea, with both hands.
Ungoliant fearful, yet lustful. Melkor in great mirth, leaps down the mountainside, and after a moment she follows, leaving a trail of darkness. She catches up to him, envelopes him in the darkness, and they seem to flow downhill like a black poison cloud from the mountain. In the distance the beauty of Valinor, lit by the shining gold and silver trees, seems to flicker under this darkness. A silence descends.
The silence continues as the scene rises again and drifts to a view of the two trees, falling towards them, then rounding on a line of darkness approaching. Melkor emerges with his spear as Ungoliant rears her hideous legs, her fangs dripping darkness. Melkor spears the Trees repeatedly, as though violent murder is being done, and their light flows out onto the ground. Ungoliant lurches forward clumsily, drinking in the light, belching and vomiting darkness.
Sudden cut to a peaceful scene of ceremony in Valinor, the Elves, Vala and Maia in concentric rings, but rocked by a sudden darkening, and all turn their gaze to the open pillared halls as darkness seems to rise. Gasps of horror, the mountain seems to groan in pain.
Melkor is laughing inaudibly under the shrieking groan of the earth, Ungoliant drinking and swelling to great, literally mountainous size. Melkor stops laughing. The light of the trees dies at last and all is plunged into darkness with Melkor’s stumbling shape suddenly overwhelmed by Ungoliant’s darkness. In a creaking of hideous limbs she snatches him, but he lets out a great cry and thrusts himself loose, then backs away, turns and vanishes into the darkness. She pursues him into the dark, shaking the earth with a terrible squealing roar of pure venom.
‘Then many voices were lifted in lamentation, and it seemed to those that mourned that they had drained to the dregs the cup of woe that Melkor had poured for them. But it was not so.’
The black mist clears slowly to reveal the blackened mound and lifeless trees under stars. Yavanna lays her hands upon the Trees, but they are black and dead and crumble under her hands. The Valar and all the Elves are gathered.
Yavanna turns to Fëanor, pleads with him to bring the Silmarils, whose light alone can restore the light of the Trees, since it was from this that the great jewels were made. Fëanor seems horrified, as though she asks for the sacrifice of a life. He shakes his head, backs away from all of them, but before any others can speak another Elf of Fëanor’s household comes in, wounded and scorched. He falls to his knees at Fëanor’s feet, gasping “Melkor…came to the house of Fëanor…your Father alone had not fled the horror of the dark…Melkor slew Finwë King…broke the stronghold…he has taken all the jewels…and fled Aman for Middle-earth they say…Lord, the Silmarils are gone…”
Feanor’s stricken face is filled with rage. Melkor’s dark face, also enraged, hides furtively against ice cliffs as the great spider searches for him above a howling blizzard. He looks down into his shaking hand, where a brilliant light shines.
The light switches to gaslight, a lamp in a darkened city street. Tolkien returning home again with much support from Edith. His love for and dependence on her are almost painful to see. He retreats at once to his study, where he lights his pipe and opens his papers once again. He stares at the pages with incredible intensity, as though conjuring up something irrevocable. He picks up a pen and writes.
‘Fëanor now claimed the Kingship of the Elves, since Finwë was dead, and he scorned the decrees of the Valar.’
Fëanor rises slowly to his feet, and lifts up his hand before Manwë: “I curse Melkor, and name him Morgoth, the Black Foe of the world; and by that name alone will he be known to the Eldar ever after.” He turns before his people, suddenly lifts up his great voice in rage, his inner light blazing; “Vengeance calls me hence, but even were it otherwise I would not dwell longer in the same land as the kin of my Father’s slayer and of the thief of my treasure.” He glares at the Valar, and then turns again to his people, his eyes filled with a dreadful oath, the same intense expression conjured by Tolkien. He cries:
“Follow me, and we will pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World: Vala, Demon, Elf or Man yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from our possession”
The great crowd roars, swords are raised, but many are dumb with horror at this terrible, binding oath that they are now sworn to as a people. The Valar are seen in grief, shaking their great craggy heads, even now hoping to avert the catastrophe.
Tolkien is still writing when Father Francis comes to visit. Tolkien brightens considerably but Edith seems to shrink. Edith leaves them alone, kissing them both. After an hour Father Francis also leaves to let Tolkien sleep. Tolkien waits only a moment, then picks up a pencil and a notepad, writes in a shaking hand as the scene fades to white.
‘Little foresight could there be for those who dared to take so dark a road. Yet all was done in over-haste; for Fëanor drove them on, fearing lest in the cooling of their hearts his words would wane and other counsels yet prevail; and for all his proud words he did not forget the power of the Valar.’
Scenes of the Elves gathering in their thousands and departing, going to the harbour in the bay, arguing with the mariners, moving to take the ships by force, fighting and killing for possession of the ships, boarding the ships bloody and enraged, sailing out to sea under the dimmed stars. But as they pull out of the bay they see a great dark figure standing high on the cliffs. It is Mandos, jailer of Morgoth and lord of the dead. He raises his hand, intones in a great sad whisper:
“Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. And those that endure in Middle-earth shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that comes after.”
The ships have now pulled far out to sea, and the sad voice is distant:
“The Valar have spoken…”
Fëanor, blood-stained at the helm of the lead ship, turns grimly back to his command. The ships vanish into the gloom.
Tolkien looks up, realises it is dawn, stretches tiredly and looks out the window at the rising sun. The scene looks out through green leaves and slowly closes on the brilliance of the sun.
‘For a long time Yavanna sang alone in the shadows…’
Yavanna sits singing wearily, her companions weeping over the fallen trees. But even as Yavanna gives way to her grief, a glow of warm and cool light falls on her and she slowly looks up. Upon leafless boughs the trees bear two fruit, the one warm and sunlit, the other cool and silver.
Varda, her hooded cloak shimmering with stars, takes the fruit of the two trees, silver and gold. The Valar gather around, and the fruits rise as two great globes of light, the moon going first. Maia rise with them, bearing them into the sky.
Across the world the light now breaks, the moon and sun rising, brightening the colours that until now have remained starlit blues. Across the sea, the sun rises on the ships and the Elves look back in amazement, awed but empowered by the sun, they keep going.
Middle-earth is lit for the first time, a vast wilderness of untamed forest and mountain. Stupid startled trolls turn instantly to stone. Lesser creatures of darkness scurry under cover and peer savagely out at the bright world. Ents and Dwarves pause in their warring, axes and immense limbs raised. Deer and birds move in natural grace in daylight.
Morgoth is fleeing across a mountain range, still pursued by the gigantic Ungoliant but as the sun rises they both stop and turn. She quails at the light and abandons him to escape into a dark crack. Morgoth himself stands revealed in the full light for the first time: gigantic but rusted iron armour, battered and weary. He looks again at his clenched, shaking fist, slowly opens it to reveal the brilliance of the Silmarils like droplets of bright water in his hand. The light seems to burn him, and he recoils from the sunlight with the damned horror of a godlike vampire, and turns to climb higher into the mountains.
The Elves of Middle-earth look up in wonder from their hiding places by river and forest, and far to the east dark men and women, naked or clad in skin and fur, rise on stony hillsides to greet the dawn in dance and drum revelry. The tribes of men, the second-born, are awoken by the sun.
Tolkien asleep in his chair again, surrounded by his papers in a patch of full sunlight, when Edith comes in. She smiles, draws the blinds, and again begins picking up the pages, but with more confidence now. She takes them into an adjacent room and sorts them out next to a typewriter. As she sits to begin typing the scene pans down onto a loose page, a watercolour image of a heavenly mountain, the image darkens to black.
Approaching in an aerial shot flying in from the sea, the cliffs of the English Channel, we find Tolkien on home guard duty, officering at a telephone post on a windy stretch of rocky Humber coastline. He is a weary and stiff young man among older men and “malingerers” of other kinds. He answers the phone with evident resignation, glances at the men under his command without any sense of trust or connection to them.
Arriving home on a motorbike, his uniform rumpled, seeming no more than an honest workman home from the mill, Edith comes out to greet him happily. His grimness lifts for a moment as she kisses him. He jokes “I return, one of sixty officers and nearly fifteen hundred men in laborious days of work and leisure. Although which of the two is calculated to bore more would be hard to say”.
Edith’s cheerfulness is quite unforced, she is genuinely happy to have her husband home and knows that his continuing unwellness is at least keeping him from returning to France; “Every day in bed is another day in England”.
Tolkien’s best hope, in contrast, is that he might be able to secure a commission in the Royal Engineers, Tea-Cake’s father’s battalion. He tries to assure her it will be safer than a normal combat unit, but she pleads with him only to stay home, don’t go. He is troubled by the thought of malingering, climbs the stairs to his study wearily.
Edith calls up the stairs that there is a letter from Christopher. Tolkien hurriedly opens it. The scene moves to Chris writing the letter in an officers’ wardroom on board the dreadnought HMS Superb. He is “unreservedly glad” that Tolkien is still stuck at home, unwell. “Malinger to your utmost, meanwhile let all the pushes go merrily on in France and finish before you get out again. I rely on Mrs T.” he says.
Tolkien is struck by conflicting emotions, his face momentarily a rictus of grief. He sits down at his desk, helpless. After some moments he seems to recover, a desperate look on his face as he draws his papers towards him. He seems to struggle to find his train of thought. The scene crossfades in stages as he collects the story in his mind.
A few scenes from the previous episode recap the killing of the trees, the exile of the Elves and their sailing across the sea.
‘Fëanor and his sons came first of the exiles to Middle-earth, and landed in the waste of Lammoth, the Great Echo. And even as the Noldor set foot upon the strand their cries were taken up into the hills and multiplied, and the noise of the burning of the ships went down the winds of the sea as a tumult of great wrath.’
The Elven ships burn on the shore of Middle-earth, and Fëanor leads his people inland, bright swords shining. As the first sun sets and night falls for the first time in wonder, they camp with many fires under bright stars. But orcs in great dark hordes like writhing locusts descend on them in the darkness, and the slaughter on both sides is horrific. Yet the Noldor were yet swiftly victorious, for the light of Aman was not yet dimmed in their eyes, and they were strong and swift, and deadly in anger, and their swords were long and terrible. The orc armies are broken in retreat, and the Elves follow them.
‘Fëanor, in his wrath against the enemy, would not halt, but pressed on behind the remnant of the Orcs, thinking so to come at Morgoth himself. Nothing did he know of Angband or the great strength of defence that Morgoth had so swiftly prepared.’
Seeing this the servants of Morgoth turned to bay, and there issued from Angband Balrogs to aid them. There upon the confines of Dor Daedeloth, the land of Morgoth, Fëanor was surrounded, with few friends about him. Long he fought on, and undismayed, though he was wrapped in fire and wounded with many wounds; but at the last he was smitten to the ground by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs. Then Fëanor’s sons beat back the assault, raised up their father and bore him back.
‘Fëanor cursed the name of Morgoth thrice, and laid it upon his sons to hold to their oath, and avenge their father.’
Fëanor dies, his body consumed by light and crumbling to ash, his spirit departing as a great smoke. As it rises we begin to see through it scenes of horror in the Elves’ losing war against Morgoth, overlain by a narration:
‘Then the sons of Fëanor drew back, and fortified a great camp in Hithlum; but Morgoth held Maedhros as hostage.’ The Elven host in the lands below the waste before Thangorodrim; their embassy to Morgoth betrayed, Maedhros chained by one wrist to the mountain side;
‘Once more, with little warning, his might was stirred’ The eruption of Thangorodrim and march of a great army of orcs, again defeated by the Elves;
‘A victory it was, and yet a warning, and the Princes took heed, setting the siege of Angband, which lasted wellnigh four hundred years.’ The siege of Thangorodrim, Elven hosts ringing the wastelands and black mountains of Morgoth’s domain, Elvish cities being built, men and dwarves coming into the lands and being welcomed by the Elves, contrasts of high culture and beautiful peoples living in peace against the backdrop of armies guarding the desolation before Angband, until Thangorodrim erupts again.
‘In front of that fire came Glaurung the golden, father of dragons, in his full might, and in his train were Balrogs.’ The child-dragon Glaurung, father of dragons, emerges and leads an army of Morgoth’s offspring in a flood of fire from Thangorodrim;
‘War ceased not wholly ever again.’ the burning of Middle-earth, the destruction of cities by dragons, the deaths of many Elves, dwarves and men united; A great massing of armies against the ashen lands before Thangorodrim; hideous battle against orcs, trolls, balrogs and dragons, lava flows driven by Morgoth himself; the Elves in alliance with noble men and uneasy-looking wild men, who panic or go mad in the clinch of battle.
‘Many of the easterlings turned and fled, their hearts being filled with lies and fear, but the sons of Ulfang went over suddenly to Morgoth and drove in on the rear.’ The treachery of wild easterling men against the Elvish Kingdoms and the houses of men loyal to them;
Yet fate saved the sons of Fëanor, who hewed a way out of the battle and escaped.’ The escape of Fëanor’s sons, abandoning their armies and driven towards their own evil; the rescue of Finrod Felagund by Barahir and his son Beren (played by the same actor as Tolkien) and their escape from the ruin. Felagund (played by the same actor as Christopher Wiseman) gives Barahir a green-golden ring, his son Beren watching from one side.
‘Then Fingolfin beheld the utter ruin and defeat beyond redress of all their houses.’ The fatal rage of Fingolfin, heir-King of Fëanor, his single-handed assault on Thangorodrim and his challenge to Morgoth; The duel of Fingolfin and Morgoth, Fingolfin with a white flaming sword, Morgoth as tall as a tower and armed with a great mace; the death of Fingolfin and the scarred triumph of Morgoth over a slain, burning world, his armies spreading in a black tide across the land.
‘Great was the triumph of Morgoth, for men took the lives of men, and betrayed the Eldar, and fear and hatred were aroused among those who should have been united against him. The realm of Fingon was no more, and the sons of Fëanor wandered as leaves before the wind. Their arms were scattered, and their league broken.’
The destruction of Middle-earth is smoke and darkness, fading to a very bleak wintery street scene, Christopher Wiseman visiting the Tolkiens at Harrogate in April 1917. Times are tough, and Edith is embarrassed at the poor fare she must place before them at dinner. Christopher feigns delight at the improvement over his naval hard tack, Tolkien joins in the joke at how much weight Wiseman has lost, we must fatten him up. After dinner, with the Tolkiens’ hoarded port wine and Christopher’s naval tobacco in Ronald’s pipe, Edith fusses over them both, making motherly fun of their convalescence and masculine habits.
Later Tolkien and Wiseman talk of the Somme, the battlefield that had taken two of their friends, maimed and crazed others, “and all for a few acres of mud”. Wiseman struggles to accept that their friendships, with all their potential, are gone forever. “The whole thing is so ineffably mysterious. To have seen two of God’s giants pass before our eyes, to have lived and laughed with them, to have found them something like ourselves, and to see them go back again into the mist…” he trails off, shaking his head as if he cannot believe it.
Edith farewells Christopher at the door, Ronald walks him to the station. The contrast between them seems suddenly too great, Tolkien in rumpled civilian dress, Chris in uniform, they are of different height, colouring and temperament, and now for the first time neither can think of anything to say in farewell. Christopher, looking as though he must risk what he now wants to say, grips Ronald’s shoulders and urges him to “look after Edith, make her happy, keep her safe. As for us friends… us old and only friends…” He cannot finish it, and Ronald’s eyes beg him not to try. They part, looking sad and desperate.
Tolkien, alone later and staring out of the window, lost in thought, in memory. He has framed photographs of Edith and Christopher on his desk, looking at his wife’s photo he sees in his mind a profoundly beautiful vision of Edith, her dark hair flowing around her as she dances in Tolkien’s memory from long ago, before the war.
The vision of Edith transforms into Lúthien, a dark-haired Elven Princess, dancing in the glade of a forest that is green and alive, magical, full of a wondrous light. The same actress who plays Edith is now Lúthien.
‘Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures.’
The scene fades to darkness lit by lightning and storms, a figure of a man, a lost warrior stumbling amongst threatening trees, his sword drawn.
‘Beren came stumbling into Doriath grey and bowed as with many years of woe, so great had been the torment of the road.’
He staggers against a tree and we see it is the young warrior, played by the same actor as Tolkien, seen previously with his father rescuing the Elven King Finrod Felagund in battle. He is care-worn and now wears the green-golden ring.
‘But wandering in the summer in the woods of Neldoreth he came upon Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian, as she danced upon the unfading grass. Then all memory of his pain departed from him, and he fell into an enchantment.’
Beren wanders under living trees, slender and unthreatening, is held frozen as Lúthien dances in a magical slow-motion into the picture under the trees, singing a song of great ethereal power. The forest seems almost to dance with her.
Beren breaks from enchantment and steps towards her, but she becomes casually aware of him and easily vanishes, diving into a pool of light on the forest floor. He comes closer, reaches down into the light, but it fades to a patch of bracken overgrown with wild flowers. He looks up, searching wildly among the trees.
The scene changes to fog, Beren hunting crazily in the woods, slashing with his bare hands at creepers, clambering over rocks. He calls in desperation “Tinúviel … Nightingale!”
Darkness falls, but Beren searches into the dark.
The scene returns in snows of winter, and still Beren searches, cloaked, his expression blank, determined.
Spring, dawn comes, and Beren is sleeping rough wrapped in his cloak. He wakes to music, a sweet voice singing. He looks up, and there is Lúthien dancing and singing in the morning sunlight. He whispers “Tinúviel…” and she stops, becomes aware of him again, but more seriously this time, turns towards him. “Nightingale…” he says, rising. For all his wild hair and ragged clothing he is strong and young. His eyes are wild with enchantment, and there is the power of a great love in them. Lúthien herself seems enchanted. She stares at him in shock, recognising her life and fate, but shakes her head, turns, and again vanishes.
Beren’s expression is pure grief. He sits alone in the forest. Deer move around him warily. Darkness comes, and still he sits. A glimmer of light falls on him, and a slender hand, lit as though with starlight, reaches out to him. He looks up in wonder. Her face in profile is radiant, in a veil of light. He takes the hand, and she raises him up, steps back so that he must follow her. She turns, still holding his hand and leads him, turning to look at him again, through the moonlit forest.
They come to a river, a wild and massive stone bridge, and on the other side in the flanks of a great hill there is the mouth of a cave carved with powerful Elvish designs. She leads him in, her expression suddenly mischievous but happy, his tangled face wary but serious with love for her.
The cave is an entrance to a magnificent underground palace, filled with space and light, serene music, figures lit from within in serene harmony in houses built high in the space. Beren is awed, and the Elves turn, curious to see him.
Lúthien leads Beren up an ornate stairway, like a flow of water stepped down a green hill, to a vast brightly-lit hall filled with Elven figures, music, sweet singing and gentle laughter. Lúthien leads Beren through the crowd, who turn and move apart to reveal a magnificent throne with King and Queen seated, Thingol and his beloved Melian the most radiant figure of all, her beauty scarcely seen behind a veil of light. They turn to greet their daughter, but are surprised, even alarmed to see Beren standing there. The King stands.
‘Who are you’, said the King, ‘that come hither as a thief, and unbidden dare to approach my throne?’
But Beren being filled with dread, for the splendour of Menegroth and majesty of Thingol were very great, answered nothing.
Therefore Lúthien spoke, and said ‘He is Beren son of Barahir, the tale of whose deeds is become a song even among the Elves.’
‘Let him speak!’ said Thingol. ‘What would you here, unhappy mortal, and for what cause have you left your own land to enter this, which is forbidden to you?’
Then Beren looking up beheld the eyes of Melian. Fear left him, and he said ‘My fate, O King, led me, and here I have found what I sought not, but finding I would possess forever. For above all gold and silver, and beyond all jewels, Lúthien your daughter is the fairest of all the Children of the World.’
Then silence fell upon the hall, for those that stood there were astounded and afraid, and they thought that Beren would be slain. But Thingol spoke slowly, saying ‘Death you have earned with these words, and death you should find suddenly, had I not sworn an oath, baseborn mortal. Who are you, spy or thrall that has learnt to creep in secret in the realm of Morgoth?’
Then Beren answered, ‘Death you can give me, earned or unearned; but the names I will not take from you of baseborn, nor spy, nor thrall. By the ring of Barahir my father, slain on the battlefield of the north, my house has not earned such names from any Elf, be he king or no.’
Thingol’s face fills with outrage, but Melian reaches a hand and touches him lightly, turns towards him silently. Thingol stops as though hearing her words, and though puzzled and aggrieved he sits down again. With an effort he speaks more calmly.
‘I see the ring, son of Barahir. But a father’s deeds, even had his services been rendered to me, avail not to win the daughter of Thingol and Melian. See now! I too desire a treasure that is witheld. Go your way therefore! Bring to me in your hand a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown; and then, if she will, Lúthien may set her hand in yours. And though the fate of Arda lie within the Silmarils, yet you shall hold me generous.’
The crowd stirs in awe at this impossible quest, or in fear at the doom that is on the Silmarils. Lúthien seems betrayed by her own father, shaking her head in disbelief.
But Beren laughed. ‘For little price do Elven Kings sell their daughters: for gems, and things made by craft. But if this be your will, Thingol, when we meet again my hand shall hold a Silmaril from the Iron Crown.’
Then he looked in the eyes of Melian, who spoke not; and he bade farewell to Lúthien Tinúviel, and bowing before Thingol and Melian he put aside the guards about him, and departed alone.
Lúthien’s grief-stricken face turns accusingly to her father, she turns and runs lightly out, her blue raiment flowing behind her. Thingol, disgruntled, signs his guard to follow her.
Beren emerges on the eves of the forest, his face rueful resignation. He searches the landscape around him, seeking a way to start his quest, shakes his head and turns away among the trees, striding downhill, his sheathed sword gripped in one hand.
Lúthien in an ornate bedroom, gazing with luminous intensity out of the window. Finding some new resolve, she calls her handmaidens to her, they bring great wooden bowls and bathe her hair, singing.
Beren striding through mist and darkness, the landscape changing, a great river flowing. He stops again to look around him, becomes alert, raises his ring-hand high and cries ‘I am Beren son of Barahir, friend of Felagund. Take me to the King!’ His voice echoes through the trees. Further back in the darkness, Elven archers, their bows trained on him, glance at each other and lower their weapons.
Lúthien drawing her washed hair from the basin, long and dark as though a mist, tearing off a sheaf of hair like a dark cloak, turning and casting it in a billow over her handmaidens. They sway, close their eyes and fall asleep.
Beren entering the halls of Felagund, the Elvish designs less rich and gaudy than in the hall of Thingol. The King, played by the same actor as Christopher Wiseman, rises and embraces Beren as a lost nephew. Beren bows his head in sadness, takes off the ring and offers it to Felagund, who understands immediately what this means. He takes the ring, smiles in fond memory and gives it back to Beren.
Lúthien in the forest, dressed in the dark cloak of her own hair, running from the bridge where the guards are slumped asleep.
Beren and Felagund in a room of dark wood, surrounded by books and strange instruments. Felagund is speaking, ‘It is plain that Thingol desires your death; but it seems that this doom goes beyond his purpose, and that the oath of Fëanor is again at work’ He looks at Beren as if to be sure that he is listening. ‘The Silmarils are cursed with an oath of hatred, and he that even names them in desire moves a great power from slumber.’
Beren shakes his head. ‘Lord, I ask not your help, though I hear your warning’
Felagund gazes at him for a long moment, then steps towards him.‘The sons of Fëanor will show neither love nor mercy to you, if your quest be told. Yet my own oath holds; and thus we are all ensnared.’ He stops, looks hard again at Beren, then offers his hand. Beren grips it, bows his head low.
Lúthien in the wild lands, following the river, exhausted and bedraggled. In the hills above her there is a party of hunters with very large dogs, the lead dog easily as big as a horse. They are led by two brothers, sons of Fëanor, their dark faces pinched with bitterness. They spy Lúthien and set the dogs to capture her. The great dog leads them to surround Lúthien in a ring of snarling teeth, but he is moved at the sight of her, and she stares in fearful wonder into his intelligent, interested eyes. The two brothers ride up and call him off “Huan, you great mutt, sit now!” which the dog obeys though he seems to look upon them with dislike. These brothers regard their captive with amazement and then triumph. The eldest leans forward in his saddle and gloats ‘Well, sister Lúthien, daughter of our great friend Thingol!’ they laugh cruelly at her.
Beren, Thingol and a party of ten Elven warriors emerge on horseback from the halls of Nargothrond by the river, and ride violently away. A small passage of time is allowed in which their hooves recede, the scene pans around on the magnificent mountain landscape, finds the road again and looks along it, finds Lúthien, bound upon the eldest brother’s horse, borne along the forest path. They come to the halls of Nargothrond, by the same river road that Beren and Felagund just took in the other direction, and Lúthien seems aware of Beren’s near presence, looks around her in desperation. She screams in several directions, ‘Beren! Beren my love!’ but they drag her inside the doors. One of them carries her dark cloak across his shoulders.
Beren, Felagund and the party of Elves ride along the river, mist, rain and night showing passing time. Leading their horses through trees, they spy a party of orcs on the road, quickly set an ambush and slay them all. Felagund takes an orc hide, picking up the body like a cloak off the ground, and casts it in a disguise over Beren, then does the same with all of their men. They stand there, grinning, in the guise of orcs.
The horses are alarmed, until Felagund whispers to the great horse, his own, at their lead. The horse nods intelligently, turns and trots away, the horses following him back down the road. The band of orcs watch them leave with resignation, then shoulder their weapons and continue down the road. The scene rises to reveal a great dark tower on an island in the river, the road passing over it in a flying bridge.
Lúthien in a dungeon, in despair, her dark hair shorn around her shoulders and her blue raiment in tatters. She hears a scraping at the door, gets up uncertainly and goes to the barred hatch. The eye of a great dog peers through. She whispers “Huan…”
From outside the great dog rises partly on its rear haunches, pushes on the door and breaks it open. Lúthien stands there in the swirling dust, amazed. Huan pushes something along the floor to her with his nose. Lúthien picks up her dark cloak.
The party disguised as orcs runs heavily along the road, approaching the island and its tower. It is a place of obvious evil, circled with dark flying shapes. Felagund and Beren speak in grunts. ‘Sauron, servant of Morgoth, lives here. We cannot chance an encounter. Once we win past to Gorgoroth, the road to Thangorodrim and the Hells of Iron will be plain.’
They continue along the road, and reaching the bridge they join the traffic of beasts and monsters going over to the tower. It is a vast structure built over the road, forming an ornate tunnel through which they can see the far side of the bridge as they jog along the approaches.
Lúthien leading Huan invisibly through the halls of Menegroth, walking in magical slow motion under the very eyes of the guards on the bridge, eying them coolly as she mounts Huan like a horse. He looks like he’s enjoying the joke, and trots off with her.
Tolkien sees himself in the Swiss Alps with Father Francis, glimpses again the old postcard of Madelener’s Der Berggeist, the shot closes in on the old man’s wise and smiling face. Olorin is seen young and beautiful in the light of Valinor, but briefly glimpsed in the guise of Gandalf, old and white-bearded with a tall, pointed blue hat and staff. The scene returns briefly to Tolkien, trying to find a place for this image in his present story, laying it hesitantly and reverently to one side, picks up another drawing, of a wild cat with fierce eyes. His thoughtful face knows where to put this piece, and turns back to his pencil and the script of his writing.
‘Among those of Melkor’s servants that have names, the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron.¹’
Sauron is seen in Morgoth’s demonic revelry as a great being of disturbing but self-conscious beauty, like the statue of Narcissus in Dali’s painting. This vision transforms into many shapes, as though this beautiful being cannot find a form lovely or powerful enough – a great cat, a wolf, then a werewolf, a vast black vampire, a tower of smoking ashes and burnt flesh, a great armoured warrior, a single demonic cat-like fiery eye. The eye looks out of a tower window, sees the approaching band of orcs, narrows in suspicion.
Beren and his band jogging head down like weary footsoldiers round a rocky bend to find a patrol of werewolves standing in wait for them, armed with long spears. The orcs shamble to a halt. Felagund steps forward, declares in a guttural voice “We come to report to Lord Sauron. Who bars our way?”. The werewolf leader declares in a voice of fire “Lord Sauron has no word of your party. Indeed He will hear your report. You come with us.”
There is a moment’s hesitation, but Beren cries “Take them, now!”, and sweeps out his bright sword. The fight is fast and furious, when out of the sky in a flash of lightning Sauron himself comes in the form of a vampire, chills them all with his venomous cry. Felagund alone stands against him, but his voice is not enough. He crumbles, and darkness falls.
When the scene clears we see Tolkien being discharged from the army, the in-and-out rigmarole of demob and return to civvies showing the return of most of his strength if not his pleasure in life. He and Edith walk in London by the Thames, he talking haltingly of yearning to return to work, but his manner not showing it. She is cheerful, if a little forced with his gloom, but she succeeds in not revealing her own sadness to him. The scene blurs again as they walk towards us.
[the following has large parts of text copied directly from The Silmarillion – please accept my copyright disclaimer, less than one chapter copied]
“Then Sauron stripped from them their disguise, and they stood before him naked and afraid. But though their kinds were revealed, Sauron could not discover their names or their purposes.”
He cast them therefore into a deep pit, dark and silent, and threatened to slay them cruelly, unless one would betray the truth to him. From time to time they saw two eyes kindled in the dark, and a werewolf devoured one of the companions; but none betrayed their lord.
In the pits of Sauron Beren and Felagund lay, and all their companions were now dead; but Sauron purposed to keep Felagund to the last, for he perceived that he was a Noldo of great might and wisdom, and he deemed that in him lay the secret of their errand. But when the wolf came for Beren, Felagund put forth all his power, and burst his bonds; and he wrestled with the werewolf, and slew it with his hands and teeth; yet he himself was wounded to the death. Then he spoke to Beren, saying: ‘I go now to my long rest in the timeless halls beyond the seas and the Mountains of Aman. It will be long ere I am seen among the Noldor again; and it may be that we shall not meet a second time in death or life, for the fates of our kindreds are apart. Farewell!’ He died then in the dark, in Tol-in-Gaurhoth, whose great tower he himself had built. Thus King Finrod Felagund, fairest and most beloved of the house of Finwe, redeemed his oath; but Beren mourned beside him in despair.
In that hour Lúthien came, and standing upon the bridge that led to Sauron’s isle she sang a song that no walls of stone could hinder. Beren heard, and he thought that he dreamed; for the stars shone above him, and in the trees nightingales were singing. And in answer he sang a song of challenge that he had made in praise of the Seven Stars, the Sickle of the Valar that Varda hung above the North as a sign for the fall of Morgoth. Then all strength left him and he fell down into darkness.
But Lúthien heard his answering voice, and she sang then a song of greater power. The wolves howled, and the isle trembled. Sauron stood in the high tower, wrapped in his black thought ; but he smiled hearing her voice, for he knew that it was the daughter of Melian. The fame of the beauty of Lúthien and the wonder of her song had long gone forth from Doriath; and he thought to make her captive and hand her over to the power of Morgoth, for his reward would be great. Therefore he sent a wolf to the bridge. But Huan slew it silently. Still Sauron sent others one by one; and one by one Huan took them by the throat and slew them. Then Sauron sent Draugluin, a dread beast, old in evil lord and sire of the werewolves of Angband. His might was great; and the battle of Huan and Draugluin was long and fierce. Yet at length Draugluin escaped, and fleeing back into the tower he died before Sauron’s feet; and as he died he told his master: ‘Huan is there!’ Now Sauron knew well, as did all in that land, the fate that was decreed for the hound of Valinor, and it came into his thought that he himself would accomplish it. Therefore he took upon himself the form of a werewolf, and made himself the mightiest that had yet walked the world; and he came forth to win the passage of the bridge.
So great was the horror of his approach that Huan leaped aside. Then Sauron sprang upon Lúthien; and she swooned before the menace of the fell spirit in his eyes and the foul vapour of his breath. But even as he came, falling she cast a fold of her dark cloak before his eyes; and he stumbled, for a fleeting drowsiness came upon him. Then Huan sprang. There befell the battle of Huan and Wolf-Sauron, and howls and baying echoed in the hills, and the watchers on the walls of Ered Wethrin across the valley heard it afar and were dismayed.
But no wizardry nor spell, neither fang nor venom, nor devil’s art nor beast-strength, could overthrow Huan without forsaking his body utterly. Ere his foul spirit left its dark house, ghost be sent quaking back to Morgoth, Lúthien came to him, and she said: ‘There everlastingly thy naked self shall endure the torment of his scorn, pierced by his eyes, unless thou yield to me the mastery of thy tower.’
Then Sauron yielded himself, and Lúthien took the mastery of the isle and all that was there; and Huan released him. And immediately he took the form of a vampire, great as a dark cloud across the moon, and he fled, dripping blood from his throat upon the trees, and came to Tar-nu-Fuin, and dwelt there, filling it with horror.
Then Lúthien stood upon the bridge, and declared her power: and the spell was loosed that bound stone to stone, and the gates were thrown down, and the walls opened, and the pits laid bare; and many thralls and captives came forth in wonder and dismay, shielding their eyes against the pale moon light, for they had lain long in the darkness of Sauron. But Beren came not. Therefore Huan and Lúthien sought him in the isle; and Lúthien found him mourning by Felagund. So deep was his anguish that he lay still, and did not hear her feet. Then thinking him already dead she put her arms about him and fell into a dark forgetfulness. But Beren coming back to the light out of the pits of despair lifted her up, and they looked again upon one another; and the day rising over the dark hills shone upon them.
They buried the body of Felagund upon the hill-top of his own isle, and it was clean again; and the green grave of Finrod Finarfin’s son, fairest of all the princes of the Elves, remained inviolate, until the land was changed and broken, and foundered under destroying seas. But Finrod walks with Finarfin his father beneath the trees in Eldamar.
Now it is told that Beren and Lúthien came in their wandering into the Forests of Brethil, and drew near at last to the borders of Doriath. Then Beren took thought of his vow; and against his heart he resolved, when Lúthien was come again within the safety of her own land, to set forth once more. But she was not willing to be parted form him again, saying: ‘You must choose, Beren, between these two: to relinquish the quest and your oath and seek a life of wandering upon the face of the earth; or to hold to your word and challenge the power of darkness upon its throne. But on either road I shall go with you, and our doom shall be alike.’
Beren, being torn between his oath and his love, and knowing Lúthien to be now safe, arose one morning before the sun, and committed her to the care of Huan; then in great anguish he departed while she yet slept upon the grass.
He rode northward again with all speed to the Pass of Sirion, and coming to the skirts of Taur-nu-Fuin he looked out across the waste of Anfauglith and saw afar the peaks of Thangorodrim. And he sang aloud, caring not what ear should overhear him, for he was desperate and looked for no escape.
But Lúthien heard his song, and she sang in answer, as she came through the woods unlooked for. For Huan, consenting once more to be her steed, had borne her swiftly hard upon Beren’s trail. Long he had pondered in his heart what counsel he could devise for the lightning of the peril of these two whom he loved. He turned aside therefore at Sauron’s isle, as they ran northward again, and he took thence the ghastly wolf-hame of Draugluin, and the bat-fell of Thuringwethil. She was the messenger of Sauron, and was wont to fly in vampire’s form to Angband; and her great fingered wings were barbed at each joint’s end with and iron claw. Clad in these dreadful garments Huan and Lúthien ran through Taur-nu-Fuin, and all things fled before them.
Beren seeing their approach was dismayed; and he wondered, for he had heard the voice of Tinuviel, and he thought it now a phantom for his ensnaring. But they halted and cast aside their disguise, and Lúthien ran towards him. Thus Beren and Lúthien met again between the desert and the wood. For a while he was silent and was glad; but after a space he strove once more to dissuade Lúthien from her journey. ‘Thrice now I curse my oath to Thingol,’ he said, ‘and I would that he had slain me in Menegroth, rather than I should bring you under the shadow of Morgoth.’
Then for the second time Huan spoke with words; and he counselled Beren, saying: ‘From the shadow of death you can no longer save Lúthien, for by her love she is now subject to it. You can turn from your fate and lead her into exile, seeking peace in vain while your life lasts. But if you will not deny your doom, then either Lúthien, being forsaken, must assuredly die alone, or she must with you challenge the fate that lies before you–hopeless, yet not certain. Further counsel I cannot give, nor may I go further on your road. But my heart forebodes that what you find at the Gate I shall myself see. All else is dark to me; yet it may be that our three paths lead back to Doriath, and we may meet before the end.’
Then Beren perceived that Lúthien could not be divided from the doom that lay upon them both, and he sought no longer to dissuade her. By the counsel of Huan and the arts of Lúthien he was arrayed now in the hame of Draugluin, and she in the winged fell of Thuringwethil. Beren became in all things like a werewolf to look upon, save that in his eyes there shone a spirit grim indeed but clean; and horror was in his glance as he saw upon his flank a bat-like creature clinging with creased wings. Then howling under the moon he leaped down the hill, and the bat wheeled and flittered above him.
They passed through all perils, until they came with the dust of their long and weary road upon them to the drear dale that lay before the Gate of Angband. Black chasms opened beside the road, whence forms as of writhing serpents issued. On either hand the cliffs stood as embattled walls, and upon them sat carrion fowl crying with fell voices. Before them was the impregnable Gate, an arch wide and dark at the foot of the mountain; above it reared a thousand feet of precipice.
There dismay took them, for at the gate was a guard of whom no tidings had yet gone forth. Rumour of he knew not what designs abroad among the princes of the Elves had come to Morgoth, and ever down the aisles of the forest was heard the baying of Huan, the great hound of war, whom long ago the Valar unleashed. Then Morgoth recalled the doom of Huan, and he chose one from among the whelps of the race of Draugluin; and he fed him with his own hand upon living flesh, and put his power upon him. Swiftly the wolf grew, until he could creep into no den, but lay huge and hungry before the feet of Morgoth. There the fire and anguish of hell entered into him, and he became filled with a devouring spirit, tormented, terrible, and strong. Carcharoth, the Red Maw, he is named in the tales of those days, and Anfauglir, the Jaws of Thirst. And Morgoth set him to lie unsleeping before the doors of Angband, lest Huan come.
Now Carcharoth espied them from afar, and he was filled with doubt; for news had long been brought to Angband that Draugluin was dead. Therefore when they approached he denied them entry, and bade them stand; and he drew near with menace, scenting something strange in the air about them. But suddenly some power, descended from of old from divine race, possessed Lúthien, and casting back her foul raiment she stood forth, small before the might of Carcharoth, but radiant and terrible. Lifting up her hand she commanded him to sleep, saying: ‘O woe-begotten spirit, fall now into dark oblivion, and forget for a while the dreadful doom of life.’ And Carcharoth was felled, as though lightning had smitten him.
Then Beren and Lúthien went through the Gate, and down the labyrinthine stairs; and together wrought the greatest deed that has been dared by Elves or Men. For they came to the seat of Morgoth in his nethermost hall that was upheld by horror, lit by fire, and filled with weapons of death and torment. There Beren slunk in wolf’s form beneath his throne; but Lúthien was stripped of her disguise by the will of Morgoth, and he bent his gaze upon her. She was not daunted by his eyes; and she named her own name, and offered her service to sing before him, after the manner of a minstrel. Then Morgoth looking upon her beauty conceived in his thought an evil lust, and a design more dark than any that had yet come into his heart since he fled from Valinor. Thus he was beguiled by his own malice, for he watched her, leaving her free for a while, and taking secret pleasure in his thought. Then suddenly she eluded his sight, and out of the shadows began a song of such surpassing loveliness, and of such blinding power, that he listened perforce; and a blindness came upon him, as his eyes roamed to and fro, seeking her.
All his court were cast down in slumber, and all the fires faded and were quenched; but the Silmarils in the crown on Morgoth’s head blazed forth suddenly with a radiance of white flame; and the burden of that crown and of the jewels bowed down his head, as though the world were set upon it, laden with a weight of care, of fear, and of desire, that even the will of Morgoth could not support. Then Lúthien catching up her winged robe sprang into the air, and her voice came dropping down like rain into pools, profound and dark. She cast her cloak before his eyes, and set upon him a dream, dark as the outer Void where once he walked alone.
Suddenly he fell, as a hill sliding in avalanche, and hurled like thunder from his throne lay prone upon the floors of hell. The iron crown rolled echoing from his head. All things were still.
As a dead beast Beren lay upon the ground; but Lúthien touching him with her hand aroused him, and he cast aside the wolf-hame. Then he drew forth the knife Angrist; and from the iron claws that held it he cut a Silmaril.
As he closed it in his hand, the radiance welled through his living flesh, and his hand became as a shining lamp; but the jewel suffered his touch and hurt him not. It came then into Beren’s mind that he would go beyond his vow, and bear out of Angband all three of the Jewels of Feanor; but such was not the doom of the Silmarils. The knife Angrist snapped, and a shard of the blade flying smote the cheek of Morgoth. He groaned and stirred, and all the host of Angband moved in sleep.
Then terror fell upon Beren and Lúthien, and they fled, heedless and without disguise, desiring only to see the light once more. They were neither hindered nor pursued, but the Gate was held against their going out; for Carcharoth had arisen from sleep, and stood now in wrath upon the threshold of Angband. Before they were aware of him, he saw them, and sprang upon them as they ran.
Lúthien was spent, and she had not time nor strength to quell the wolf. But Beren strode forth before her, and in his right hand he held aloft the Silmaril. Carcharoth halted, and for a moment was afraid. ‘Get you gone, and fly!’ cried Beren; ‘for here is a fire that shall consume you, and all evil things.’ And he thrust the Silmaril before the eyes of the wolf.
But Carcharoth looked upon that holy jewel and was not daunted, and the devouring spirit within him awoke to sudden fire; and gaping he took suddenly the hand within his jaws, and he bit it off at the wrist. Then swiftly all his inwards were filled with a flame of anguish, and the Silmaril seared his accursed flesh. Howling he led before them, and the walls of the valley of the Gate echoes with the clamour of his torment. So terrible did he become in his madness that all the creatures of Morgoth that abode in that valley, or were upon any of the roads that led thither, fled far away for he slew all living things that stood in his path, and burst from the North with ruin upon the world. Of all the terrors that came ever into Beleriand ere Angband’s fall the madness of Carcharoth was the most dreadful; for the power of the Silmaril was hidden within him.
Now Beren lay in a swoon within the perilous Gate, and death drew nigh him for there was venom on the fangs of the wolf. Lúthien with her lips drew out the venom, and she put forth her failing power to staunch the hideous wound. But behind her in the depths of Angband the rumour grew of great wrath aroused. The host of Morgoth were awakened.
Thus the quest of the Silmaril was like to have ended in ruin and despair; but in that hour above the wall of the valley three mighty birds appeared, flying northward with wings swifter than the wind. Among all birds and beasts the wandering and need of Beren had been noised, and Huan himself had bidden all things watch, that they might bring him aid. High above the realm of Morgoth Thorondor and his vassals soared, and seeing now the madness of the Wolf and Beren’s fall they came swiftly down, even as the powers of Angband were released from the toils of sleep.
Then they lifted up Lúthien and Beren from the earth, and bore them aloft into the clouds. Below them suddenly thunder rolled, lightnings leaped upward, and the mountains quaked. Fire and smoke belched forth from Thangorodrim, and flaming bolts were hurled far abroad, falling ruinous upon the lands; and the Noldor in Hithlum trembled. But Thorondor took his way far above the earth, seeking the high roads of heaven, where the sun daylong shines unveiled and the moon walks amid the cloudless stars. Thus they passed swiftly over Dor-nu-Fauglith, and over Taur-nu-Fuin, and came above the hidden valley of Tumladen. No cloud nor mist lay there, and looking down Lúthien saw far below, as a white light starting from a green jewel, the radiance of Gondolin the fair where Turgon dwelt. But she wept, for she thought that Beren would surely die, he spoke no word, nor opened his eyes, and knew thereafter nothing of his flight. And at the last the eagles set them down upon the borders of Doriath; and they were come to that same dell whence Beren had stolen in despair and left Lúthien asleep.
There the eagles laid her at Beren’s side and returned to the peaks of Crissaegrim and their high eyries; but Huan came to her, and together they tended Beren, even as before when she healed him of the wound that Curufin gave to him. But this wound was fell and poisonous. Long Beren lay, and his spirit wandered upon the dark borders of death, knowing every an anguish that pursued him from dream to dream. Then suddenly, when her hope was almost spent, he woke again, and looked up, seeing leaves against the sky; and he heard beneath the leaves singing soft and slow beside him Lúthien Tinuviel. And it was spring again.
Thereafter Beren was named Erchamion, which is the One-handed; and suffering was graven in his face. But at last he was drawn back to life by the love of Lúthien, and he arose, and together they walked in the woods once more. And they did not hasten from that place, for it seemed fair to them. Lúthien indeed was willing to wander in the wild without returning, forgetting house and people and all the glory of the Elf-kingdoms, and for a time Beren was content; but he could not for long forget his oath to return to Menegroth, nor would he withhold Lúthien from Thingol for ever. For he held by the law of Men, deeming it perilous to set at naught the will of the father, save at the last need; and is seemed also to him unfit that one so royal and fair as Lúthien should live always in the woods, as the rude hunters among Men, without home or honour or the fair things which are the delight of the queens of the Eldalie. Therefore after a while he persuaded her, and their footsteps forsook the houseless lands; and he passed into Doriath, leading Lúthien home. So their doom willed it.
Tolkien takes a position at Leeds University, teaching philology and languages. He seems unsure of himself in his first lecture, the young men his students watching with diffident interest. He sees his old pals there and cannot bear to look up for a moment. Then he draws a deep breath and launches into his lecture with unforced gusto, roaring the opening lines of Beowulf to make them jump in their seats, “Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum/þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon!!” unmistakably the cheerful young debating master of old, using words we recognise from his teachers Gilson, Brewerton and Wright.
We see him in his study afterwards, writing, smoking his pipe, a figure of concentration.
… the onslaught of Carcharoth, the Wolf of Angband. In his madness he had run ravening from the north, and passing at length over Taur-nu-Fuin upon its eastern side he came down from the sources of Esgalduin like a destroying fire. Nothing hindered him, and the might of Melian upon the borders of the land stayed him not; for fate drove him, and the power of the Silmaril that he bore to his torment. Thus he burst into the inviolate woods of Doriath, and all fled away in fear.
Even in that dark hour Beren and Lúthien returned, hastening from the west, and the news of their coming went before them like a sound of music borne by the wind into dark houses where men sit sorrowful. They came at last to the gates of Menegroth, and a great host followed them. Then Beren led Lúthien before the throne of Thingol her father; and he looked in wonder upon Beren, whom he had thought dead; but he loved him not, because of the woes that he had brought upon Doriath. But Beren knelt before him, and said: ‘I return according to my word. I am come now to claim my own.’ And Thingol answered: ‘What of your quest, and of your vow?’ But Beren said: ‘It is fulfilled. Even now a Silmaril is in my hand.’ Then Thingol said: ‘Show it to me!’ And Beren put forth his left hand, slowly opening its fingers; but it was empty. Then he held up his right arm; and from that hour he named himself Camlost, the Empty-handed.
Then Thingol’s mood was softened; and Beren sat before his throne upon the left, and Lúthien upon the right, and they told all the tale of the Quest, while all there listened and were filled with amazement. And it seemed to Thingol that this Man was unlike all other mortal Men, and among the great in Arda, and the love of Lúthien a thing new and strange; and he perceived that their doom might not be withstood by any power of the world. Therefore at the last he yielded his will, and Beren took the hand of Lúthien before the throne of her father.
But now a shadow fell upon the joy of Doriath at the return of Lúthien the fair; for learning of the cause of the madness of Carcharoth the people grew the more afraid, perceiving that his danger was fraught with dreadful power because of the holy jewel, and hardly might be overthrown. And Beren, hearing of the onslaught of the Wolf, understood that the Quest was not yet fulfilled.
Therefore, since daily Carcharoth drew nearer to Menegroth, they prepared the Hunting of the Wolf; of all pursuits of beasts whereof tales tell the most perilous. To that chase went Huan the Hound of Valinor, and Mablung of the Heavy Hand, and Beleg Strongbow, and Beren Erchamion, and Thingol King of Doriath. They rode forth in the morning and passed over the River Esgalduin; but Lúthien remained behind at the gates of Menegroth. A dark shadow fell upon her and it seemed to her that the sun had sickened and turned black.
The hunters turned east and north, and following the course of the river they came at last upon Carcharoth the Wolf in a dark valley, down the northern side whereof Esgalduin fell in a torrent over steep falls. At the foot of the falls Carcharoth drank to ease his consuming thirst, and he howled, and thus they were aware of him, But he, espying their approach, rushed not suddenly to attack them. It may be that the devil’s cunning of his heart awoke, being for a moment eased of his pain by the sweet waters of Esgalduin; and even as they rode towards him he slunk aside into a deep brake, and there lay hid. But they set a guard about all that place, and waited, and the shadows grew long in the forest.
Beren stood beside Thingol, and suddenly they were aware that Huan had left their side. Then a great baying awoke in the thicket; for Huan becoming impatient and desiring to look upon this wolf had gone in alone to dislodge him. But Carcharoth avoided him, and bursting from the thorns leaped suddenly upon Thingol. Swiftly Beren strode before him with a spear, but Carcharoth swept it aside and felled him, biting at his breast. In that moment Huan leaped from the thicket upon the back of the Wolf, and they fell together fighting bitterly; and no battle of wolf and hound has been like to it, for in the baying of Huan was heard the voice of the horns of Orome and the wrath of the Valar, but in the howls of Carcharoth was the hate of Morgoth and malice crueller than teeth of steel; and the rocks were rent by their clamour and fell from on high and choked the falls of Esgalduin. There they fought to the death; but Thingol gave no heed, for he knelt by Beren, seeing that he was sorely hurt.
Huan in that hour slew Carcharoth; but there in the woven woods of Doriath his own doom long spoken was fulfilled, and he was wounded mortally, and the venom of Morgoth entered into him. Then he came, and falling beside Beren spoke for the third time with words; and he bade Beren farewell before he died. Beren spoke not, but laid his hand upon the head of the hound, and so they parted.
Mablung and Beleg came hastening to the King’s aid, but when they looked upon what was done they cast aside their spears and wept. Then Mablung took a knife and ripped up the belly of the Wolf; and within he was wellnigh all consumed as with a fire, but the hand of Beren that held the jewel was yet incorrupt. But when Mablung reached forth to touch it, the hand was no more, and the Silmaril lay there unveiled, and the light of it filled the shadows of the forest all about hem. Then quickly and in fear Mablung took it and set it in Beren’s living hand; and Beren was aroused by the touch of the Silmaril, and held it aloft, and bade Thingol receive it. ‘Now is the Quest achieved,’ he said, ‘and my doom full-wrought’; and he spoke no more.
They bore back Beren Camlost son of Barahir upon a bier of branches with Huan the wolfhound at his side; and night fell ere they returned to Menegroth. At the feet of Hirilorn the great beech Lúthien met them walking slow, and some bore torches beside the bier. There she set her arms about Beren, and kissed him bidding him await her beyond the Western Sea; and he looked upon her eyes ere the spirit left him. But the starlight was quenched and darkness had fallen even upon Lúthien Tinuviel. Thus ended the Quest of the Silmaril; but the Lay of Leithian, Release from Bondage does not end.
For the spirit of Beren at her bidding tarried in the halls of Mandos, unwilling to leave the world, until Lúthien came to say her last farewell upon the dim shores of the Outer Sea, whence Men that die set out never to return. But the spirit of Lúthien fell down into darkness, and at the last it fled, and her body lay like like a flower that is suddenly cut off and lies for a while unwithered on the grass.
Then a winter, as it were the hoar age of mortal Men, fell upon Thingol. But Lúthien came to the halls of Mandos, where are the appointed places of the Eldalie, beyond the mansions of the West upon the confines of the world. There those that wait sit in the shadow of their thought. But her beauty was more than their beauty, and her sorrow deeper than their sorrows; and she knelt before Mandos and sang to him.
The song of Lúthien before Mandos was the song most fair that ever in words was woven, and the song most sorrowful that ever the world shall ever hear. Unchanged, imperishable, it is sung still in Valinor beyond the hearing of the world, and listening the Valar grieved. For Lúthien wove two themes of words, of the sorrow of the Eldar and the grief of Men, of the Two Kindreds that were made by Iluvatar to dwell in Arda, the Kingdom of Earth amid the the innumerable stars. And as she knelt before him her tears fell upon his feet like rain upon stones; and Mandos was moved to pity, who never before was so moved, nor has been since.
Therefore he summoned Beren, and even as Lúthien had spoken in the hour of his death they met again beyond the Western Sea. But Mandos had no power to withhold the spirits of Men that were dead within the confines of the world, after their time of waiting; nor could he change the fates of the Children of Iluvatar. He went therefore to Manwe, Lord of the Valar, who governed the world under the hand of Iluvatar; and Manwe sought counsel in his inmost thought, where the will of Iluvatar was revealed.
These were the choices that he gave to Lúthien Because of her labors and her sorrow, she should be released from Mandos, and go to Valimar, there to dwell until the world’s end among the Valar, forgetting all griefs that her life had known. Thither Beren could not come. For it was not permitted to the Valar to withhold Death from him, which is the gift of Iluvatar to Men. But the other choice was this: that she might return to Middle-earth, and take with her Beren, there to dwell again, but without certitude of life or joy. Then She would become mortal, and subject to a second death, even as he; and ere long she would leave the world for ever, and her beauty become only a memory in song.
This doom she chose, forsaking the Blessed Realm, and putting aside all claim to kinship with those that dwell there; that thus whatever grief might lie in wait, the fates of Beren and Lúthien might be joined, and their paths lead together beyond the confines of the world. So it was that alone of the Eldalie she has died indeed, and left the world long ago. Yet in her choice the Two Kindreds have been joined; and she is the forerunner of many in whom the Eldar see yet, thought all the world is changed, the likeness of Lúthien the beloved, whom they have lost.
The scene closes on Tolkien putting down his pen, placing a last sheaf of paper on a stack three inches high, folding it into a drawer, opening and shuffling other drawers similarly full of paper, seeming skeptical of the lot of it. He stands, shakes his head ruefully, then picks up a set of keys and goes out whistling.
Christopher Wiseman visits again, aged beyond his years, tired and cynical and grudging in his interest in Tolkien’s work. Tolkien falters indistinctly in telling his friend the outline of his tale, and later seems sadly reluctant to give his great news – Edith is with child, due sometime in ***. Christopher is uncharacteristically delighted by the news, suddenly a callow bachelor offering awe-struck homage to the mother-to-be and thumping his friend’s shoulders.
After a meal more cheerful and less frugal than last time, Tolkien and Wiseman at last begin to talk more freely. Tolkien confesses that his epic is far from what they originally planned together and is probably unpublishable. Wiseman advises him to find a story in it, even a children’s story, something like the old Red Fairy Book. Tolkien is a bit shocked by the idea at first, as though writing his epic was just a beginning, but he quickly sees the humour in that and they laugh together, old friends but still young men after all.
Ronald, Edith, and all their families in a great cathedral for the christening of their first son, Christopher. The Catholic mass is solemn, high ritual, Edith deeply in love with her husband and their baby, Tolkien the figure of a proud father and devoted husband, but still of far greater devotion to him, quite obviously, is his love of Christ and the holy sacrament. The contrast with the pre-Christian elements of his story should be plain at this point.
The following narration, if it can be included at all, should be told over the scene of Christopher’s christening, in Tolkien’s voice:
It is said that after the departure of the Valar there was silence, and for an age Iluvatar sat alone in thought. Then he spoke and said: “Behold I love the Earth, which shall be a mansion for Elves and Men. The Elves shall be the fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty than all my children, and they shall have the greater bliss in this world. But to Men I will give a new gift.” Therefore he willed that the hearts of men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else.
Oxford once again, scenes of the University evoking an unchanged past indifferent to the cares of this or any story. In a rural side-street Tolkien driving their new car, Edith terrified, the boys laughing, as Tolkien aggressively attacks the clattering modern horror of the streets. “Charge ‘em and they scatter!” he roars, cutting across an intersection.
Tolkien with his boys at bedtime. They clamour for a story. He sits with his pipe, blows smoke-rings to see them jump about the parlour, then settles them and begins, “Once upon a time, in a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”
The scene withdraws out of the window, rises over snowy rooftops to a moonlit sky, widens to include the English landscape in mid-winter, fades to black.