An Archaeology of Hope and Despair in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

Saturday Aug 10   11:30 AM to 12:30 PM (1 hour)

An Archaeology of Hope and Despair in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

Hope is arguably the linchpin virtue of The Lord of the Rings. In this essay, as part of a larger project intended to establish this claim, I take up Appendix A.I.v to The Lord of the Rings, the relatively self-contained “Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.” In drafts of a 1956 letter to Michael Straight of New Republic (Letters 232-237), Tolkien argues that, in The Lord of the Rings, he is “only concerned with Death as part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees. That is why I regard the tale of Arwen and Aragorn as the most important of the Appendices; it is part of the essential story, and is only placed so, because it could not be worked into the main narrative without destroying its structure: which is planned to be ‘hobbito-centric’” (237). Whereas much secondary literature has focused on examining Tolkien’s repeated claims about the importance of death (as opposed to power or other clear thematic elements) in The Lord of the Rings, a corresponding amount of time has not been spent unpacking the remarkable claim that “hope without guarantees” is crucially important as a response.

In this presentation, then, I take up Tolkien’s contention by way of a close archaeological reading of the “Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen” in the multiple holograph and typescript drafts for this section available at the Marquette University Tolkien archives* (which substantially buttress the publicly available materials in The Peoples of Middle-earth). I thereby demonstrate that this text evinces a gradually increasing emphasis on the importance of a particular kind of hope to the narrative proper. The drafts demonstrate that Tolkien was struggling intensely with how best to emphasize this point in the narrative as a whole, as he prepared the Appendices for publication with The Return of the King in 1954-55. Despite being one of the very last pieces that Tolkien prepared and finished for The Lord of the Rings, then, this narrative about the relationship between hope and despair must indeed therefore be understood as “part of the essential story.” I argue that this suggests the need for both increased scrutiny of the nature and development of hope in The Lord of the Rings and the broader legendarium; as well as a return to the manuscripts for in-depth analysis of the gradual development of other specific issues and themes in the texts that are not obvious from the archival materials already published in the History of Middle-earth.

[*Note: I have secured permission from the Tolkien Estate to utilize unpublished materials in the Tolkien Archives of Marquette University’s John P. Raynor, S.J., Library, and Oxford University’s Weston Library collections in conference presentation.]


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