At this point in my life I don’t even know how many times I’ve read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. 20? 30? 40? Not sure. Not as many times as Christopher Lee (who apparently re-reads it every year), but still: quite a few times.
Even now I find new details and shades in the storyline every time I read it again, and I do have some favourite scenes, of course. Bits of story, parts of dialogue, certain descriptions and exchanges that shine just a bit brighter. So here, in honour of Tolkien Reading Day, are some of my favourite bits of The Lord of the Rings:
Galadriel’s song of Eldamar. The transition from the hope and joy of the first passage, to the wistful sadness and longing of the final lines, is one reason I love this poem so much. To me, it’s the best poetry Tolkien ever wrote.
Sam, describing Galadriel to Faramir:
“Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as diamonds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow-mountain, and merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair at springtime.”
Sam, wondering what to do when he thinks Frodo has been killed by Shelob. The implication that Sam contemplates suicide here is heartbreaking, even though he quickly rejects the idea.
“It would not be worth while to leave his master for that. It would not bring him back. Nothing would. They had better both be dead together. And that too would be a lonely journey.
He looked on the bright point of the sword. He thought of the places behind where there was a black brink and an empty fall into nothingness. There was no escape that way. That was to do nothing, not even to grieve. That was not what he had set out to do.”
…the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?
Pippin, watching Faramir before the battle of Minas Tirith.
Proud and grave he stood for a moment as he spoke to the guard, and Pippin gazing at him saw how closely he resembled his brother Boromir… Yet suddenly for Faramir his heart was strangely moved with a feeling he had not known before. Here was one with an air of high nobility such as Aragorn at times revealed, less high perhaps, yet also less incalculable and remote: one of the Kings of Men born into a later time, but touched with the wisdom and sadness of the Elder Race. He knew now why Beregond spoke his name with love. He was a captain that men would follow, that he would follow, even under the shadow of the black wings.
Gandalf speaking of Eowyn, to Eomer. This wonderful quote shows that even though Tolkien didn’t create a lot of female characters, he did create some great ones, and he also understood women a lot better than many people seem to think.
My friend, you had horses, and deed of arms, and the free fields; but she, being born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonoured dotage; and her part seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff he leaned on.
Frodo speaking to Galadriel, after looking in Galadriel’s mirror. Anything with Galadriel gets top votes from me, but this is a particularly memorable exchange:
Frodo bent his head. “And what do you wish?” he said at last.
“That what should be shall be,” she answered. “The love of the Elves for their land and their works is deeper than the deeps of the Sea, and their regret is undying and cannot ever wholly be assuaged. Yet they will cast all away rather than submit to Sauron: for they know him now. For the fate of Lothlorien you are not answerable, but only for the doing of your own task. Yet I could wish, were it of any avail, that the One Ring had never been wrought, or had remained for ever lost.”
“You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel,” said Frodo. “I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me.”
Galadriel laughed with a sudden clear laugh. ”Wise the Lady Galadriel may be,” she said, “yet here she has met her match in courtesy. Gently are you revenged for my testing of your heart at our first meeting. You begin to see with a keen eye. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer.
For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! it was brought within my grasp. The evil that was devised long ago works on in many ways, whether Sauron himself stands or falls. Would not that have been a noble deed to set to the credit of his Ring, if I had taken it by force or fear from my guest?”
“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful.
Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
“I pass the test,” she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.”
Faramir declaring his love to Eowyn. The way these two fall in love in the book is just so lovely: two wounded souls that find each other. I always find it intriguing how Tolkien pairs the woman with the most “masculine” attributes (the shield maiden who helps slay the Witch King in battle), with the man who has the most “feminine” attributes (at least some in Gondor, including Denethor, seem to think that Faramir is “less of a man” than Boromir, for example). Anyway, this scene is beautifully written:
‘I wished to be loved by another,’ she answered. ‘But I desire no man’s pity.’
‘That I know,’ he said. ‘You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn. Because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain may to a young soldier he seemed to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest that now is. But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle. Look at me, Eowyn!’
And Eowyn looked at Faramir long and steadily; and Faramir said: ‘Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Eowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Eowyn, do you not love me?’
Then the heart of Eowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.
‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ she said; ‘and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’ And again she looked at Faramir. ‘No longer do I desire to be a queen,’ she said.
Then Faramir laughed merrily. ‘That is well,’ he said; ‘for I am not a king.’
All images are screencaps from Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies.