Tolkien Reading Day!

Posted 25 March, 2016 by Lianne in Books / 8 Comments

(image source)

I wasn’t going to schedule a post today as today is Good Friday but it’s March 25th, which means it’s also Tolkien Reading Day! 🙂 Here’s the description of what this day is all about:

Launched in 2003 Tolkien Reading Day event has sparked interest in reading and reading groups across several nations and ages, from primary schoolchildren to university students and library users of all ages. 25th March has significance to Tolkien’s readers, as it is the day of the Downfall of Sauron at the conclusion of the ‘War of the Ring’ in The Lord of the Rings.

more information about the event here

According to the Tolkien Society, the theme this year is ‘life, death and immortality. The theme seems rather fitting given today’s event in the Catholic liturgical calendar, but it is also a very prominent facet of Tolkien’s works and of Middle Earth. It’s an aspect that permeates greatly in Tolkien’s stories, that defines some of the characters’ journeys and challenges.

The following contains some spoilers if you haven’t seen the LOTR movies…

Even the structure of Middle Earth’s societies is defined very much by death and immortality: the elves, firstborn of Iluvatar, are gifted with immortality and the ability to travel to Valinor, the Undying lands, when they tire of Middle Earth. On the flip side the race of men are gifted with death and the ability to pass beyond the world. My memory of the details are honestly a little fuzzy now but I believe they are both recalled at the end of the world but as such there are of course pros and cons to their respective gifts: men’s lives are short, but they experience so much whereas elves gain so much experience because of their long lives but in a way are much removed from daily experiences compared to men.

Funnily enough though, these respective gifts are not set in stone as there are exceptions to the rule: elves can die in battle or of a broken heart and in rare circumstances elves can even choose to be mortal, though this was only seen in the cases of Luthien (after great trials fighting Morgoth and struggling to be with Beren, a mortal), Elros (Elrond’s brother as he and Elrond were half-man, half-elf–long story about their lineage there), and Arwen (to be with Aragorn). Some mortals have gained passage to the Undying Lands under special circumstances, namely Bilbo, Frodo (both for their role in carrying the One Ring), and Gimli (who travelled with Legolas to the Undying Lands).

(Arwen’s storyline in the LOTR movies very much rest on her choice to be mortal and be with Aragorn or remain an elf and travel with the rest of her kin–including staying with her father Elrond–to the Undying lands. The scene between them in TTT was beautiful and heartbreaking in showing what she faces if she stays in Middle Earth but also the relationship between father and daughter. Their parting scene in the books was merely a few lines long but absolutely heartbreaking ;_;)

Life and death in itself also plays major roles in Tolkien’s works as the struggle between good and evil, Morgoth and the elves, Sauron and the Free Peoples, rage on. Gandalf came back from the dead as the White after defeating the Balrog, returned to Middle Earth to complete the task he was sent to do. Characters die throughout The Lord of the Rings, some courageously, some tragically. It also makes its way into conversations; when I first read the topic for this year, I immediately thought of Gandalf’s talk to Pippin in ROTK about dying:

Shoot, I got chills just rewatching this scene–so good!!!

And then there’s of course the chilling cries of “Death!” that Eomer shouted during the Battle at Pelennor Fields (transferred over to Theoden in the movie at the tail end; starts at 3:30):

Now that I think about it, the speech Gandalf gave Frodo in FOTR (my favourite lines in the whole book, really) very much lies in life and death and whether we have the right to carry out such sentences:

This post is a bit all over the place but suffice to say the themes of life, death, and immortality are ever present in Tolkien’s works. It can be a tragedy–families and lovers eventually torn apart by the gulf of immortality and death–but it can also be a wonder and a contribution to Middle Earth. Looking at the Scandinavian epics that he also worked on in fragments (The Story of Kullervo (review), The Fall of Arthur (review), etc) it’s clear how entrenched death, glory, bravery, and immortality via these tales passed down were and where some of his inspirations came from.

What comes to mind when you think of the themes of life, death, and immortality in relation to Middle Earth and Tolkien’s works? How will you be celebrating Tolkien Reading Day?

I’m not sure that I’ll be able to because of the day’s observances but maybe I’ll sneak in reading a passage or two later in the evening.

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8 Responses to “Tolkien Reading Day!”

  1. I was hoping to celebrate Tolkien Reading Day – even if it meant watching LotR instead of reading but work has been insanely busy and will continue to be this coming week so I ended up being lazy yesterday. Hopefully I’ll be able to join in next year. You’re right though, life, death and immortality are all around in LotR. The Fellowship all unites to ensure Life will continue in Middle Earth by fighting against the evil Necromancer – which embodies death. There’s certainly a fair share of death within the characters themselves. And them well Immortality just takes me straight to the Elves, naturally 🙂

    • Aww, I hope your week clears up soon enough and that things quiet down at work 🙂

      That’s true how Sauron/the Necromancer embodies death and destruction of life as represented by the Fellowship and the peoples of Middle Earth. Drats that I forgot to mention it in my post but thinking a bit more on immortality now, I remembered Theoden’s death and how he spoke of going to the hall of his fathers, how his deeds and his leadership will be forever remembered in future generations of the Rohirrim and elsewhere. That’s immortality in a way too 🙂

  2. I never knew there was Tolkien Reading Day. It’s definitely something I should get on my calendar. Besides, I am realizing that I really should get back my Tolkien-buzz. I’ve been overly distracted with all this new reading coming in, I know I have been neglecting some old faves.

    • I only found out about it myself a few years ago; it’s nice that there’s a day dedicated to Tolkien’s works 🙂

      I totally understand, it’s great reading all of these new books (or old, depending on your backlist) but sometimes I just want to revisit old favourites 🙂 I’d love to re-read LOTR sometime soon…

  3. I remember seeing your post about this last year and wanting to join in this year. Of course, I totally forgot. Ah well. But yay for Tolkien! And such a great post. So many great things you point out and those speeches….yeah. Consider me a Tolkien fan now! 🙂

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