*Editor’s Note: So, I want to preface this piece by pointing out that when I first read the Athrabeth and wrote this piece about it, that the timeline I was using had it radically out of place. This is all talked about at some length in the review below, ie. why the timeline had it out of place, why I was able to tell as I was reading it that it was out of place, etc. At this point, I should point out only that I e-mailed Joe Borngiorno, the creator of the timeline, and he had the error fixed by the very next day. So, his timeline now, correctly, places this piece at FA 409.
*Editor’s Note: All this is to point out that I am taking a review I wrote at the wrong time in this project and posting it at the right time. This leads to a few problems: I reference things in this review that happen after this story, something I generally don’t do a lot on chronological projects, but did on this one because I had read it so far out of order; I also talk about reviews I had written about events that happen after this story. So, I’m talking about things I shouldn’t know yet (like Finrod’s death) and about reviews I shouldn’t have posted yet (like my review of The Wanderings of Hurin). But I’m posting the review pretty well as it stood at the time out of a respect for my original text; to make this review really fit at this point on the timeline would require massive overhauling and I am loath to massively overhaul anything I’ve ever written, saving edits for minor mistakes and misstatements. So, without further ado, let’s get to the review. I now take you to my original review as it stood. Where necessary, I may amend Editor’s Notes through the body of the review.
*Okay, so this one is quite a bit out of its proper placement on the timeline. This problem is compounded by the fact that the date on the timeline, of FA 490, is also incorrect. This work focuses on Finrod, who dies during the quest of Beren which takes place in the FA 460s.
*Also, it is referenced several times during this story that it takes place during the Long Siege of Angband, meaning that it must take place prior to the Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame. The Quenta very specifically states that the Dagor Bragollach takes place 455 years after the return of Feanor’s Elves to Middle Earth. So, I would actually place this story around FA 450, as it gains a little extra poetry if it takes place toward the very end of the Long Siege.
*Some of you experts, correct me there if I’ve made any obvious errors.
*So, this story, like The Wanderings of Hurin, takes us into the 12 volume History of Middle Earth. I talked a bit about this series back in my Wanderings of Hurin post. Specifically, this story and all its supplementary material can be found in Volume 10 of the series, Morgoth's Ring.
*We’ll be returning to Morgoth’s Ring quite a bit later, toward the end of the Fourth Age, to read a bit more. But as with most of the History of Middle Earth Series, we’ll be leaving Morgoth’s Ring mostly unread. So, if you’ve read it, talk about it and explain why we should read it or not read it. Tell us what you thought.
*So, the title of this story loosely translates as “Conversation (or debate) of Finrod and Andreth.” And that is essentially what the story is.
*There is a four and a half page introduction to the story proper where Christopher Tolkien talks about the various manuscript versions of the story and he also includes a one page introduction that was included with one of the manuscripts. This introduction helps to settle the story in time and to remind of us what we already know about Finrod and to underline his interest in Men.
*Er, his interest in Men being purely anthropological.
*Now in a footnote here, J.R.R. Tolkien places the story in approximately FA 409, which explains the error on the timeline, I think. The timeline author probably flipped 409 to 490 in a typo. I maintain my dating of late FA 440s or early FA 450s as I think the story makes more emotional sense if it comes just in the very breath before Sudden Flame. I’ll talk about why later.
*Editor’s Note: After writing this post, I sent an e-mail to the timeline author with my reasoning here. The Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth has now been moved to its proper placement on the timeline, FA 409.
*The story itself runs to nineteen pages of pure Tolkien text. It can be summarized as follows: Finrod, Elf with a great interest in the origins and fate of Man, discusses both with Andreth, a wise Woman.
*The story is essentially an effort to sort of come to grips with man’s tendency toward death. It is, therefore, part of the oldest conversation in recorded history and it is, fittingly, told in a sort of Socratic dialogue where Finrod discusses what Elves believe about man’s death and Andreth posits what her people believe.
*It is interesting to put this up against one of my favorite passages from the very beginning of the Quenta Silmarillion where the author talks, quite explicitly, about the fact that man’s death is given to man by Eru as a gift and that it is part of the other great gifts he gives them which are a soul that is ever searching for something more to life and a will that is free to make its own decisions outside of Eru’s control.
*I talked quite seriously back then, in my very first post on the Quenta, if you care to go back, about how death is in fact something of a need for mankind and something of a perfect ending to our lives here on earth, a rooting of ourselves in the natural cycle of this planet.
*So, having accepted and internalized that perspective, it’s rather shocking to suddenly have the question raised again. However, in the context of these as works of history, it makes a certain amount of sense, in that the perspective of Eru’s Gift is extant in the Quenta as a work of, I assume, Elvish history, not to say myth, and therefore it is not at all surprising that someone like Finrod might wish for something deeper than the traditional creation myth and that Men themselves might have an entirely different perspective.
*This is the perspective I’ve eventually come to in my chronological journey through the Star Wars mythos and it seems to apply here as well: one has to get past the idea that any of the works we read in this timeline are necessarily the ‘truth.’ They may be or they may be very close; or they may simply be cultural artifacts that, like, for instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh or the historical passages of the Bible or the histories of Tacitus or Seutonius, may contain artistic and emotional truth at the expense of real literal historicity.
*There’s certainly great emotional truth in this picture from the Quenta of Eru giving death as a gift; it may, however, have no basis in the actual fact of the creation of men. Likewise, the arguments put forth by Finrod and Andreth in this story also have tremendous emotional weight, serving to reveal their characters and to resonate quite deeply in my heart as I read. But, as with the Silmarillion’s ‘history,’ these opinions may carry no actual weight and may in fact be entirely untrue.
*And just as Tacitus’ Annals or the Book of Genesis or the Epic of Gilgamesh or Seutonius’ Twelve Caesars are not damaged by the realization that they are in fact works of literature first and works of history second, so, obviously, these works by Tolkien are also undamaged by this. This perspective frees us to not become pedantic with the art we experience (though I do, as do all truly good people, enjoy a little pedantry from time to time) and allows us to see through the history, as it were, to recognize the emotional, spiritual and artistic truths that lie behind the historical ‘truth.’ And, with no reason not to do so, it seems pretty easy to accept the historical truths as mostly true or an idea of the truth.
*Having thus gassed on for over two pages, I now turn my attention to the actual story. I’m nearly as bad as Chris Tolkien himself.
*So, anyway, this is a very dense sort of philosophical discussion about the body and the soul and the creation myths of the elves and men respectively.
*Also important to this discussion is what it means to live eternally. According to Andreth, men believe that they were originally born to eternal life: “Born to life everlasting, without any shadow of end.” This provokes Finrod to discuss about how even the Elves do not believe in life everlasting; at some point in the future, Arda will cease to exist and the Elves, of necessity, cannot outlast Arda.
*Finrod then posits that, if this is true of men, that they were originally born to life eternal, to the perpetual marriage of the body and soul, then it must be that they were intended to bring total healing to Arda. There’s a discussion about Arda Unmarred, the original Arda as it would have been had Morgoth not caused so much trouble, Arda Marred, Arda as it is now after the conflicts with Morgoth, and Arda Healed, as it would have been had men been able to fulfill their destinies.
*And ultimately, Finrod argues, there would have been an Arda Remade where Elves and Men would have lived in perpetual fellowship and harmony with each other and in relationship to the Valar and Eru.
*Andreth is cagy about what exactly legend has it caused the change of man from immortal to mortal. She seems to know the story, but she will reveal little to Finrod except to confirm, as he guesses, that Morgoth had a hand in it.
*Allow me to quote at length here, a full page of dialogue, just because I found this entire page incredibly moving and powerful and also because it’ll give you a very definite picture of the style of this story. This passage follows Finrod’s theorizing about Arda Remade.He pauses in his speech when he notices that Andreth has broken down into tears.
*‘Alas, Lord,’ she said. ‘What then is to be done now? For we speak as if these things are, or as if they will assuredly be. But Men have been diminished and their power is taken away. We look for no Arda Remade: darkness lies before us, into which we stare in vain. If by our aid your everlasting mansions were to be prepared, they will not be builded now.’
*‘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 dreaming 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. This they say also, or they feign, is a rumour that has come down through years uncounted, even from the days of our undoing.’
*I found that discussion of hope vs. trust to be incredibly provocative and powerful and it certainly speaks to my own personal faith in God, which wavers between the two at any given moment. Likewise, I found the questions of despair put forth by Andreth to be utterly on point and to be almost exactly the questions of doubt and despair that I wrestle with myself: “Is it part of human nature to be so untrusting? Are we in truth the children of God? Doesn’t something much crueler rule this world?” I mean these are the central issues of faith in three sentences: What is our nature? What is our origin? What of suffering? Those three questions, every faith must answer or prove unworthy of the name of faith.
*But that powerful statement of faith from Finrod that as a Child of God, he knows that, no matter how bleak things may look, in truth he will never be forsaken and that, in the end, whatever end that may be, he will find ultimate victory and salvation . . . that is truly astonishing and gripping.
*What is perhaps distinctly interesting is this idea that Andreth puts forth as the “Old Hope.” In the ensuing paragraphs, she disavows the hope herself, stating that it is impossible for the One who created Arda to ever enter Arda, being, as He must be, so high above and so much greater than His creation.
*Later, in another section after the story, Tolkien talks about the fact that, at this point, Finrod very nearly posits the great theory of Christianity, that Eru could enter Arda if he came as a Man and that this would be the poetic fulfillment as out of the corruption of man, man could be restored to its rightful place as a great healing flows out of it.
*So, it’s quite shocking to see it here, but there is no doubt whatsoever what this is: it is a prophetic moment for Finrod, a character, as you may recall, given to sudden prophetic insights (as he foresees the need for Nargothrond and also his own death as a result of his vow to Beren), a moment when Finrod sees down through the ages and catches a glimpse of . . . it can only be Christ Himself that Finrod sees here.
*So, in a sequence of stories bound up in allegory and symbolism, to see a distinct and sudden vision of Christ Himself, even as it stands, not in an actual story, but in a note Tolkien made about the story, is quite shocking and stunning.
*So, then, after a bit more conversation, Andreth has plunged at last to the ultimate despair as she sees the utter hopelessness of Men and the tragedy of death. Finrod speaks to her then of the subject that has been underlying every line of this story, though we did not know it: the fact that Andreth and Aegnor, Finrod’s brother, had fallen in love, but because of the barrier of their different races, Aegnor has decided that they can never be together and he has gone away to the front lines of the Long Siege.
*It’s a stunning revelation, just two pages from the end of the story, but it makes the entire story click into place; the increasing bitterness of Andreth stems not entirely from the utter hopelessness of death, but to the havoc that her mortality has brought to her heart and soul by forever separating her from the one she loves.
*For the last two pages, Finrod attempts to express to Andreth why Aegnor had to leave her.
*‘I should not have troubled him,when my short youth was spent. I would not have hobbled as a hag after his bright feet, when I could no longer run beside him.’
*‘Maybe not,’ said Finrod. ‘So you feel now. But do you think of him? He would not have run before thee. He would have stayed at thy side to uphold thee. Then pity thou wouldst have had in every hour, pity inescapable. He would not have thee so shamed.’
*And so, at the very end of this staggering twenty page conversation, the topic suddenly shifts. As if it is not enough that the conversation has dealt already with the meaning of death, what lies after death, the nature of humanity and the nature of faith in God, the conversation now expands to take in as well the nature and meaning of love and sacrifice.
*An astonishing moment as Andreth muses that the pain of her loss will follow her beyond the grave: “And what shall I remember? And when I go to what hall shall I come? To a darkness in which even the memory of the sharp flame shall be quenched? Even the memory of rejection. That at least.”
*Finrod responds with a benediction of incredible, horrible compassion: “The Eldar have no healing words for such thoughts, Adaneth. But would you wish that Elves and Men had never met? Is the light of the flame, which otherwise you would never have seen, of no worth even now? You believe yourself scorned? Put away at least that thought, which comes out of the Darkness, and then our speech together will not have been wholly in vain.”
*And then, my God, I’m getting cold chills even as I glance back over the passage in preparation for the closing as Andreth and Finrod say their goodbyes, send their thought to the absent brother and Finrod makes one last great statement of faith, the last words of the story.
*Darkness fell in the room. He took her hand in the light of the fire. ‘Whither go you?’ she said.
*‘North away,’ he said: ‘to the swords, and the siege, and the walls of defence – that yet for a while in Beleriand rivers may run clean, leaves spring, and birds build their nests, ere Night comes.’
*‘Will he be there, bright and tall, and the wind in his hair? Tell him. Tell him not to be reckless. Not to seek danger beyond need!’
*‘I will tell him,’ said Finrod. ‘But I might as well tell thee not to weep. He is a warrior, Andreth, and a spirit of wrath. In every stroke that he deals he sees the Enemy who long ago did thee this hurt.
*‘But you are not for Arda. Whither you go may you find light. Await us there, my brother – and me.’
*I mean, Jesus.
*As the story started, I felt a little bogged down in the detail and began to feel that this story was probably one just as well not told. But by the end, it has ascended to a level of triumphant faith and broken despair, an emotional closing that ascends, without even trying, to the level of tragedy, fear and pity, sorrow and terror evoked beautifully as the two part, Finrod soon, very soon, to see his brother die in the Sudden Flame, soon after to die himself in a dark dungeon; Andreth, to return to her existential loss and aloneness and despair.
*There then follow four pages of notes by Christopher Tolkien, most of which are taken up with figuring out how exactly Andreth is related to Bregolas or some crap. The rest are taken up with figuring out the exact grammatical rules Tolkien applied in using “thee,” “thou,” “you,” and “ye.”
*Yeah, I greatly appreciate Christopher Tolkien’s efforts. But does he occasionally just seem to miss the whole point or what? I mean, great God, this is what he’s talking about after that gut wrenching story?
*There then follows more from Tolkien’s pen, first of all an eight page ‘commentary’ that Tolkien wrote wherein he discusses the various ideas contained in the Athrabeth and how those ideas reveal the characters of Finrod and Andreth. This isn’t fiction, but it’s Tolkien and worth reading. It’s a wonderful exercise in self-criticism.
*There then follows thirteen pages of, get this, ‘Notes on the Commentary,’ also written by J.R.R. himself in which he goes deeper into the Elvish religion. In Note 8, for instance, about half a page, Tolkien discusses the nature of Desire in the Elvish religion and in Note 7, which is a page and a quarter, he talks about the Elvish teaching about the Apocalypse of Arda.
*This is all deep background stuff, but fascinating to read. Tolkien has fashioned a complete religion for his Elves and the eleven notes that go with the Commentary are fascinating reading.
*Then at the end of the notes, there is a four page draft that Tolkien had written in which he had originally intended to have Andreth fill Finrod in on Morgoth’s dealings with Men that led to their corruption. It’s a basic ‘fall,’ really, whereby Morgoth arrives and tells the Men that he is the creator and all that and that the ‘voice in their hearts’ that Eru speaks to them by is the voice of a liar. They believe Morgoth and make him their ruler; he becomes ever more tyrannical and corrupting until finally some of the men simply flee and it is these men that come across the mountains in the Quenta Silmarillion and make their home in Beleriand. The Easterlings then are those that stayed behind, under Morgoth’s rule.
*There’s a two page glossary, written by Tolkien the elder for the Athrabeth.
*Then Christopher Tolkien takes over again for seven pages where he compares and contrasts three earlier versions of the myth that Andreth was to tell Finrod. Ultimately, as Christopher prints an excerpt from a letter Tolkien wrote, J.R.R. decided to, after struggling with the story for some time, simply have Andreth remain circumspect about the origin of man’s mortality since, as Tolkien says, his story is already enough of a ‘parody of Christianity.’
*Frankly, I think that was the right decision. When we do finally get the story, it just seems too simple and obvious to really work well. And anyway, even if we don’t really know how Morgoth seduced that first generation of Men, really, we do, don’t we, being men and having all of us been seduced at one time or another by the desire to do as we should not do.
*There then follow four pages of notes that Christopher Tolkien has written that go along with Tolkien’s Commentary on the Athrabeth and Notes on the Commentary.
*That’s right, we now have Notes to the Notes on the Commentary.
*There then follows six pages of Christopher Tolkien’s Appendix (!!Good Lord!!) wherein he talks about the Elvish idea of reincarnation and quotes from various unpublished Tolkien texts on the subject including a one page length story titled “The Converse of Manwe and Eru” whereby Manwe convinces Eru to allow the Elves to be reincarnated.
*The gist of it is that they can either be born into a new baby’s body back in Middle Earth or else they can receive their old body back, in which case they have to stay in Valinor.
*And then, at long last, the section on the Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth ends.
*So essentially, there are forty pages of supplementary material for this nineteen page story; the ‘extra features,’ as it were, are twice as long as the story itself. Luckily, some of the supplementary material, namely the Commentary and the Notes on the Commentary, are pretty fascinating and entrancing.
*But at the end of the day, it’s the story you won’t forget, a bitter, grim suckerpunch of a story, a beat of character development for Finrod just before the maelstrom.
*It seems fairly obvious to me, that even though this story is just a conversation that it still needs to appear in my series of movies, especially given that I think Finrod is essentially the most interesting character of the First Age. This added moment with him would be very great, I think.
*So, I would introduce Andreth, though I would, I think, not tell anything of her story with Aegnor, in The Dark Elf, movie four, during the section about the growing alliance between Men and Elves.
*I would then open The Sudden Flame, movie 5, with a perhaps condensed version of the Athrabeth. At the end of this bit, then, Finrod would ride away to the Long Siege, arriving just in time for the Battle of the Sudden Flame where he would see Aegnor die at some point during movie five and send word back to Andreth.
*Dang, I grow ever more excited about seeing these movies on screen, which is just too bad, ain’t it?
*Okay, so next time, we’ll get to the storm after the calm as our long descent into darkness begins. It feels very appropriate that this beautiful & poignant interlude comes here. Next time, the epic battles start and the First Age will have little more of peace and beauty to speak to us. Join me then as we hop back to the Quenta for Chapter XVIII, Of the Ruin of Beleriand & the Fall of Fingolfin!