Saturday, May 21, 2005

Farewell to Lórien

by J.R.R. Tolkien, from The Fellowship of the Ring

'Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!'

'Nay!' said Legolas. 'Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream. But I count you blessed, Gimli son of Glóin: for your loss you suffer of your own free will, and you might have chosen otherwise. But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlórien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale.'

'Maybe,' said Gimli, 'and I thank you for your words. True words doubtless; yet all such comfort is cold. Memory is not what the heart desires. This is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zâram. Or so says the heart of Gimli the Dwarf. Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for Dwarves.'

* * *

Here Tolkien deals with one of my perennial questions: since the loss of joy is so hard to bear, might it not be better never to have tasted joy at all?

Gimli says yes. It is too hard to leave happiness behind: he would have rather not have come than endured it. Memory is not enough of a comfort. Instead it reminds him of his sorrow.

Legolas, on the other hand, says no. Even if one does have to leave what one loves, it is better at least to have known it. "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Memory may be slightly bitter, but it is also sweet.

And Legolas adds another important point: Gimli has proven his worth by freely renouncing the happiness of Lothlórien. He has shown that he truly does have the strength to do the right thing even if it means giving up the thing he wanted most. It is cold comfort for one who suffers, but later it can be an assurance against self-doubt.

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