I’ve now finished reading The Lord of the Rings. As I completed part 3, The Return of the King, a passage from the last chapter, the very end where Frodo leaves Middle-Earth, there is this wonderful description of what Frodo sees as he sails across the sea to the West:
And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
As it happens, these words are also used in the film adaptation. There they appear on the lips of Gandalf and are said to Pippin in the moments before they meet potential doom in Minas Tirith. It’s one of my favourite moments in the film. The conversation goes like this:
Pippin: “I didn’t think it would end this way.”
Gandalf: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”
Pippin: “What? Gandalf? See what?”
Gandalf: “White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
Pippin: “Well, that isn’t so bad.”
Gandalf: “No. No, it isn’t.”The Return of the King (2003)
Here Gandalf describes what would be the Middle-Earth version of heaven, or so it seems.
Finishing the book trilogy is bittersweet. You really do feel like you have been on a journey with these characters with whom you have come to identify and to love and admire. Beyond that, it’s bittersweet because it’s not a fake, Disney-like, happily-ever-after ending. While couched in the narrative of fantasy, of an imaginative world of Tolkien’s making, there is an honesty and hope about the human condition. There is the acknowledgement of sorrow and death and how the truest and fullest joy is all the greater for them.
I’m sorry that the journey is over, but I am very glad to have taken it.