The beauty of Tolkien’s writings, especially his Elvish poetry and the songs of the First and Second Ages (from the Silmarillion and other texts), and the richness of his tales and the worlds of his tales, sometimes makes one truly wish that these were from the ancient history of humankind.
There have been essays written, one senses only partly as fantasy, that posit that the Fourth Age, which began with the destruction of the One Ring and of the Dark Lord who forged it, ended with a catastrophe, viz., the Flood; that the Fifth Age ended with the birth of Our Lord; that the Sixth Age will end with the Parousia; and that the Seventh Age will have no end.
I am reminded by those conjectural and wishful accounts of the eons of humanity of a passage from the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, “The Debate of Finrod and Andreth”, a conversation between one of the wisest of the Noldorin Elves (Finrod, king of Nargothrond, known as Friend-of-Men) and a Wise-woman of Men (Andreth), in which they speak and argue about many things, including the place of humanity in the World. The bitterness demonstrated by Andreth throughout their argument must be understood in the context of the condition of humankind in the First Age of the world, when they were a race buffeted and endangered by the wicked designs of the rebellious Ainu Morgoth (the first Dark Lord, and master of Sauron, also known as “the Nameless”). The two, Noldor Lord and human Wise-woman, speak of human death, of what we might call “original sin”, and of the place of humanity in the world.
At one point, Finrod suggests the real purpose and calling of humanity (”Arda” refers to the created world):
‘This then, I propound, was the errand of Men, not the followers, but the heirs and fulfillers of all: to heal the Marring of Arda, already foreshadowed before their devising; and to do more, as agents of the magnificence of Eru: to enlarge the Music and surpass the Vision of the World!’
‘For that Arda Healed shall not be Arda Unmarred, but a third thing and a greater, and yet the same. I have conversed with the Valar who were present at the making of the Music ere the being of the World began. And now I wonder: Did they hear the end of the Music? Was there not something in or beyond the final chords of Eru which, being overwhelmed thereby, they did not perceive?’
Professor Tolkien did not publish this text; it was published twenty years after Tolkien’s death by Frank Williamson and Christopher Tolkien in the volume, Morgoth’s Ring (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). The following remarkable passage occurs in the middle of Finrod and Andreth’s conversation, and is an eminently suitable meditation during Christmastide.
‘Have ye then no hope?’ said Finrod.
‘What is hope?’ she said. ‘An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.’
‘That is one thing that Men call “hope”,’ said Finrod. ‘Amdir we call it, “looking up”. But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust”. It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?’
‘Maybe, she said. ‘But no! Do you not perceive that it is part of our wound that Estel should falter and its foundations be shaken? Are we the Children of the One? Are we not cast off finally? Or were we ever so? Is not the Nameless the Lord of the World?’
‘Say it not even in question!’ said Finrod.
‘It cannot be unsaid,’ answered Andreth, ‘if you would understand the despair in which we walk. Or in which most Men walk. Among the Atani, as you call us, or the Seekers as we say: those who left the lands of despair and the Men of darkness and journeyed west in vain hope: it is believed that healing may yet be found, or that there is some way of escape. But is this indeed Estel? Is it not Amdir rather; but without reason: mere flight in a dream from what waking they know: that there is no escape from darkness and death?’
‘Mere flight in a dream you say,’ answered Finrod. ‘In dream many desires are revealed; and desire may be the last flicker of Estel. But you do not mean dream, Andreth. You confound dream and waking with hope and belief, to make the one more doubtful and the other more sure. Are they asleep when they speak of escape and healing?’
‘Asleep or awake, they say nothing clearly,’ answered Andreth. ‘How or when shall healing come? To what manner of being shall those who see that time be re-made? And what of us who before it go out into darkness unhealed? To such questions only those of the “Old Hope” (as they call themselves) have any guess of an answer.’
‘Those of the Old Hope?’ said Finrod. ‘Who are they?’
‘A few,’ she said; ‘but their number has grown since we came to this land, and they see that the Nameless can (as they think) be defied. Yet that is no good reason. To defy him does not undo his work of old. And if the valour of the Eldar fails here, then their despair will be deeper. For it was not on the might of Men, or of any of the peoples of Arda, that the old hope was grounded.’
‘What then was this hope, if you know?’ Finrod asked.
‘They say,’ answered Andreth: ‘they say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end….’