Today, March 25, is celebrated each year by the Tolkien Society, as a day set aside to honor JRR Tolkien’s life and work by reading passages from his books. The Society began this practice in 2003. March 25th was chosen because in the Middle Earth history, that date marks the downfall of Sauron with the destruction of the one ring.
Somehow, this special day has escaped my notice, until this year. I was delighted to discover the celebration last week and looked forward to spending time reading in one of my Tolkien books. I had originally intended to read in the Silmarillion, a collection of stories that tells the history of Middle Earth before the time depicted in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I realized late this afternoon that each year has a different theme, for Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Friendship.
Í chose to read instead from The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, near the end of the book. The chapter I chose is titled Many Partings which tells of the breaking of the Fellowship. Cozy inside while storms moved through the area, a cup of hot tea nearby, I enjoyed my soulful journey back to Middle Earth.
In the final Lord of the Rings movie, we last see the Fellowship together at Minas Tirith, the White City, shortly after Aragorn has been crowned king. The next scene we see is one of the Hobbits returning to the Shire, riding in as princes, grown and changed from the Hobbits who excitedly began their adventure together 13 months before.
In the book, there are several chapters between those two scenes. In Many Partings the Fellowship leaves Minas Tirith as a “great and fair company.” Queen Arwen accompanies her King and husband. Legolas and Gimli continue to ride together on their horse. Eomer bears home the body of his uncle, King Theoden, who fell in battle. Eowyn and her betrothed, Faramir are part of the company. As is Elrond and his sons, and Galadriel and her husband, Celeborn. The Hobbit friends ride their ponies. And Gandalf, as always, oversees the whole group. These are the key characters from the story, from the Fellowship, minus Boromir, who fell protecting the Hobbits before the Fellowship broke into three groups.
They have long journeyed together, and for a short time, they continue to. Back in Rohan, King Theoden is laid to rest, in a great and honoring ceremony. Eomer is crowned king and his sister Eowyn and Faramir announce their upcoming marriage. It is a very touching moment when Eowyn looks into Aragorn’s eyes and says, “Wish me joy, my liege-lord and healer.” With such grace, he replies, “I have wished thee joy ever since I first saw thee. It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss.” Arwen remains in Gondor, to await her husband’s return. She withdraws into the hills to speak words of love and sorrow to her father, Elrond, whom she will not see again. Choosing to be mortal, she gives Frodo the gift of passing into the West, when the time comes.
The first good-byes, the first parting, and the rest of the party continue on. Stopping by Isengard, the group checks on Tree Beard, an ancient Ent. Merry and Pippen especially are sad at this good-bye, as they spent much time with this strange fellow who looks like a tree. Legolas and Gimli depart, set on an adventure of their own, their friendship entering into legend. A short distance beyond, Aragorn takes his leave of the Fellowship. This was a difficult parting, as Aragorn had been the guide for the Hobbits through many perils, and their friend.
Near Rivendell the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn turned toward their home, knowing that their time in Middle Earth is drawing to a close. At last arriving in Rivendell, the Hobbits rest for a time, reunited with a very elderly Bilbo, who sleeps and wakes to eat and visit for short periods of time. Frodo fears he will not see his uncle again, but Elrond assures him that in about a year, he will personally escort Bilbo to the Shire.
The chapter ends with only Gandalf and the Hobbits continuing on, bound for the Shire. There was great sadness in the many partings, and yet what amazing, life changing adventures the Fellowship shared.
I was very thoughtful as I read this chapter. I am so very grateful for all who have traveled with me on my own journey, serving as my friends, as my guides, as my companions. Some I have already said good-bye to. Some still walk alongside me. There are those who were destined to walk with me for a short time and now, no longer do. I am thankful for those traveling companions as they challenged me, made me grow, or offered encouragement along the sometimes difficult path. I am who I am, because of the journey, and because of those who have walked with me and those who continue to. I know there will be more partings. It is the nature of the journey. The nature of life. I want to hold all in gratitude.
In honor of this great author, and the friendship theme, I offer these words of Tolkien, as spoken by Elrond as the Fellowship departed from Rivendell the first time:
“You will meet many foes, some open, and some disguised; and you may find friends along your way when you least look for it.”