Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"The End of All Things"

Did Frodo quote the Apostle Peter (or whoever wrote in his name)?

In 1 Peter 4:7 we read:
"But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer" (KJV).

Near the end of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, while Frodo and Sam are at Mount Doom, we read:

"'Yes,' said Frodo.  'But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do?  But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring.  The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end.  So let us forgive him!  For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over.  I am glad you are here with me.  Here at the end of all things, Sam'" (926).

And again a little later:

"'I am glad that you are here with me,' said Frodo.  'Here at the end of all things, Sam'" (929).

Was Tolkien drawing on a biblical phrase, or is this just coincidence?  Tolkien's work was indebted to biblical apocalypticism, and I suspect he was consciously drawing on 1 Peter.  Whatever the case, Peter's phrase is potent and memorable.  The film version of the "end of all things" is currently viewable here.  And the song from Howard Shore's Return of the King soundtrack bearing the same name can be listened to here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tobit in the Duino Elegies

In reading Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies I came across a reference to the Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal book of Tobit.  While their canonical status has been debated since late antiquity, the Old Testament Apocrypha have left their imprint on western art and literature.  The passage from Rilke:

"Jeder Engel ist schrecklich.  Und dennoch, weh mir,
ansing ich euch, fast tödliche Vögel der Seele,
wissend um euch.  Wohin sind die Tage Tobiae,
da der Strahlendsten einer stand an der einfachen Haustür,
zur Reise ein wenig verkleidet und schon nicht mehr
(Jüngling dem Jüngling, wie er neugierig hinaussah).
Träte der Erzengel jetzt, der gefährliche, hinter den Sternen
eines Schrittes nur nieder und herwärts: hochaufschlagend
erschlüg uns das eigene Herz.  Wer seid ihr?" (from the Second Elegy)

"Every angel is terrifying.  And yet, alas,
I invoke you, almost deadly birds of the soul,
knowing about you.  Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of you, veiling his radiance, stood at the front
slightly disguised for the journey, no longer appalling;
(a young man like the one who curiously peeked through the
But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars
took even one step down toward us: our own heart, beating
higher and higher, would beat us to death.  Who are you?" (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

The reference ("one of you") is to the angel Raphael in the book of Tobit, who disguises himself as a human and serves as a guide for Tobit's son Tobias in his journey.  In the end he reveals his true identity to Tobit and Tobias and they fall on their faces in fear (12:6).

For Rilke, angels are creatures that inspire holy terror: "Jeder Engel ist schrecklich."  He draws on the ancient theme of a direct, unmediated experience of divine/heavenly beings causing fear and even death and contrasts this with the veiled presence of Raphael in the story of Tobit.  Back in those days a human could rub shoulders with a disguised Raphael, but now if he were to emerge from behind the stars and approach humanity our own hearts would "beat us to death."

If you've never read Tobit, check it out!