Down the pub with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (I)

The original ending in the Shire…

There is magic in the last line of The Lord of the Rings. To recap: the stolidly courageous Sam Gamgee, having watched his best friend, Frodo Baggins, sail towards the Grey Havens and into a kind of death, is left to walk back to the Shire where he finds his wife and children waiting with the promise of a quiet life far from the slaughter of the War of the Ring. J. R. R. Tolkien finishes with the sentence: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said”. It is a touchingly understated conclusion which returns the prose to the homely simplicity of the inaugural chapters after the archaic epic mode of The Return of the King.

However, as Diana Pavlac Glyer tells us in her scholarly and perceptive study The Company They Keep, this is not how Tolkien originally intended to finish his trilogy. He had in mind a further epilogue, set sixteen years after the events of the rest of the book, which would have provided another, superfluous glimpse into Gamgee’s domesticity. In this ultimately excised version, a grey-haired Sam reads stories of his adventures to his children, spinning them tales of wizards and orcs and walking trees. There is even the faint suggestion that Sam has been narrating the story of The Lord of the Rings itself, before, at last, we depart the Shire for good, leaving Sam and Rose in a state of connubial bliss, tale-telling by the fireside.

What stopped Tolkien from publishing this ending was his membership of the Inklings (...) It was they who pointed out the glutinous sentimentality of the scene, marshalling their forces to argue that it added nothing of substance to a narrative which had already swollen far beyond the “second Hobbit” requested by his publishers. Glyer suggests that this incident typifies the way in which the Inklings affected one another’s work, despite the fact that in later years its members were frequently to insist that their meetings acted more as a social club than a writers’ circle, brushing aside any suggestion of real influence.

Jon Barnes – ‘The Atlantic’ – September 2007
The Company They Keep
‘C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as writers in community’
By Diana Pavlac Glyer

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