Sea-longing

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Postby wilko185 » Sat Oct 05, 2002 11:02 pm

A recurring theme or motif throughout Tolkien's writing is a longing for the sea (the "sea-heart" ). <BR><BR>This is felt in LOTR by Elves (Legolas), and Elf-friends (Frodo) who feel the call to <i>pass over</i> the Sea to Valinor. It is clear that this is not (literally) death, but just a passage to a different place in Arda. Yet going to Elvenhome <i>seems</i> like a symbolic death of sorts, and while some Men are called by the Sea, most sensible Dwarves and Hobbits shun it:<OL>And as the days of the Shire lengthened they spoke less and less with the Elves, and grew afraid of them, and distrustful of those that had dealings with them; and the Sea became a word of fear among them, and a token of death, and they turned their faces away from the hills in the west.<BR>-LOTR Prologue</OL>It is the Sea itself that stirs Legolas' heart and troubles Frodo's dreams, more than what lies beyond it. Why does it so call them? The Silmarillion tells us that water retains an echo of the Music of the Ainur, and the Sea carries messages to mortals from the Valar through Ulmo <i>"But they have not skill in such matters, and still less had they in those days before they had mingled with the Elves. Therefore they loved the waters, and their hearts were stirred, but they understood not the messages."</i> <BR>These appear to be good reasons why the Sea affects the heart of Men as it does. But they are later explanations for a motif that goes back to the Book of Lost Tales, the earliest version of the Silmarillion told to a human mariner who sailed to the Lonely Isle (<i>"then sea-longing gripped Ottor Waefre: he was a son of Earendel, born under his beam. If a beam from Earendel fall on a child new-born he becomes 'a child of Earendel' and a wanderer."</i> - a Christopher Tolkien note from BoLT 1.)<BR><BR>The Elves had the greatest affinity with the Sea, and it seems (to me) that sea-longing could be in some ways a desire to aspire to "Elvishness". Along with the example of Frodo (and perhaps even the great Elf-friend Gimli, who overcame his natural antipathy to the Sea to sail it with Legolas), we also have Tuor:<OL>he came suddenly to the black brink of Middle-earth, and saw the Great Sea, Belegaer the Shoreless. And at that hour the sun went down beyond the rim of the world, as a mighty fire; and Tuor stood alone upon the cliff with outspread arms, and a great yearning filled his heart. It is said that he was the first of Men to reach the Great Sea, and that none, save the Eldar, have ever felt more deeply the longing that it brings.</OL>And Tuor, of course, eventually joined the Elven race when he sailed into the West.<BR><BR>The British (islanders) have traditionally thought of themselves as seafarers, but Tolkien may have been drawing on older sources for his ideas about the importance of the Sea. There must be an echo in the idea of sailing to the Elven Lonely Isle in the Western Ocean, with legends such as Avallone of the Arthurian myths, or Tir-na-n'Og of Celtic myths (the island of perpetual youth, existing within the world but outside time). <BR><BR>Sometimes they come back, too. The Atlantis myth was one with which Tolkien seemingly felt a personal connexion, and it, or similar stories of advanced people bearing corn and civilisation to Men of Middle-earth (eg Sheave, legendary first king of the Saxons who appeared among them in a boat from the west), inspired Tolkien's Numenoreans returning to Middle-earth, both as benevolent rulers of Numenore early in the Second Age then later fleeing from its downfall. In Letter #163 Tolkien says<BR><OL>a man of the North-west of the Old World will set his heart and the action of his tale in an imaginary world of that air, and that situation....his heart may remember, even if he has been cut off from all oral tradition, the rumour all along the coasts of the Men out of the Sea.<BR>I say this about the 'heart', for I have what some might call an Atlantis complex...</OL>and in letter #227<OL>The legends of Numenore are .... not based on special knowledge, but on a special personal concern with this tradition of the culture-bearing men of the Sea, which so profoundly affected the imagination of peoples of Europe with westward-shores.</OL><BR>This post has a lot of quototations, but I'm trying to convey a feeling as much as prove a point. I can't say just what the "sea-heart" represented to Tolkien, (wander-lust, Elvishness, escapism, death...), or even if he had any sort of consistent feelings associated with it at all. But it seems to me to be an idea always running through Tolkien's work that must have resonated with him in a personal way.<BR>Various strands of Tolkien's idea of "sea-longing" are brought together in this quote from Lowdham's dream in part 2 of the Notion Club Papers (<i>Sauron Defeated</i>, History of Middle-earth 9).<OL>'I had been in Iraland more than once; and wherever I went I sought tales of the Great Sea and what lay out upon it, or beyond, if haply it had any further shore. Folk had not much to tell for certain; but there was talk of one Maelduin who had sailed to new lands, and of the holy Brendan and others. And some there were who said that there had been a land of Men away west in long days of yore, but that it had been cast down and those that escaped had come to Eriu (so they called Iraland) in their ships, and their descendants lived on there, and in other lands about the shores of Garsecg. But they dwindled and forgot, and nought now was left of them but a wild strain in the blood of men of the West. "And you will know those that have it by the sea-longing that is on them," they said; "and it is many that it draws out west to their death or to come never back among living men."<BR><BR>'And I thought that maybe the blood of such men ran in my father's veins and my own, for our kin had long been settled at Glastonbury, where there was rumour of strange comers out of the sea in days of old. And the sound of the winds and seas on the west beaches was ever a restless music to me, at once a pain and a desire; and the pain was keener in Spring, and the desire stronger in Autumn. And now it was Autumn, and the desire was scarcely to be borne; for I was growing old. And the seas were wide. So I mused, forgetting once again where I was, but not sleeping.<BR><BR>'I heard the crash of waves on the black cliffs, and sea-birds wailing; snow fell. Then the sea opened before me, pale and boundless. And now the sun shone above me, and the land and the sound of it and the smell of it fell far behind. Treowine was beside me, and we were alone, going west. And the sun came down and sank towards the sea before us, and still we sailed west, on towards the setting sun, and the longing in my heart drew me on against my fear and land-bound will. And so I passed into night in the midst of the deep waters, and I thought that a sweet fragrance was borne on the air.'...</OL>Then the dream ends.<BR>
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Postby Luthien_elentari » Sun Oct 06, 2002 10:42 am

Interesting topic Wilko!<BR><BR>Quite frankly, I can't really say what the significance of the Sea was to Tolkien himself, because I really don't know..<BR>however, an author writes through his/her emotions and feelings and sentiments...therefore I can take a pretty good guess about what he felt about...<BR><BR>Whenever I read passages about the Sea, it always seems like he writes it as something coming between your present life and true fulfillment..not in the sense of a barrier, but simply something that divides to keep order and peace. However, the Sea is also portrayed as an ennemi, something that is keeping a desired thing out of reach. As a matter of fact, that is one of the reasons the Nùmenorians rebelled: the Sea was always a division between them and the deathless and forbidden land (or rather the deathless who inhabit the land)...<BR>I guess I also saw it in this light: The Sea, though it is a barrier, is also a connection to ancient roots...for it is only through the sea that any may reach the lands beyond...naturally anyone would feel a longing (for some it was stronger) to rejoin a place where once your ancestors lived...<BR><BR>I never thought of the Sea as a form of death, though, but simply of non-existence in Middle-Earth..You can't sail back to Middle-Earth,right? so it's like leaving one life but starting another..<BR>actually, maybe I see it as a sort of reincarnation in the same form of life...<BR><BR>sorry if this post was a bit confusing..I'm a bit confused myself<img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby Quennith » Sun Oct 06, 2002 1:12 pm

Admittedly, I feel a bit funny posting here as the only two people that posted before me appear to be experts, and I only joined yesterday, but I suppose in a good conversation, it takes all kinds.<BR><BR>I do think the sea is a death, or a rebirth into a new life-an afterlife if you so wish to call it. But it is only the elves and a select few mortals that feel the longing to this next life, and that says quite a bit. The elves love life, and trust in it, and look forward to the life beyond even though that means giving up their beautiful homes in Middle Earth. Mortals, on the other hand, be they men or hobbits or dwarves, are too caught up with the here and now to feel that longing for the next life. Have you ever met someone truely elf-like? They always seem happy, and you get the idea that they would be happy moving on, that the would embrace death the way they do life. If you look at the mortal characters that feel the longing of the sea, you see this same thing. It's time for them to move on, they have what they needed out of this life, or in the case of Frodo, all he can from life and their ready to move on, across the sea to that better place.
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Postby Luthien_elentari » Sun Oct 06, 2002 1:39 pm

Welcome to the mbs, Quennith! First I must straighten you out: if the two people to post before you, the only one who is an expert is Wilko: you'll learn that soon enough, he's a Tolkien Guru.<BR>Second of all, I realise that even newbies can have interesting posts, so don't be intimidated!!!!<BR><BR>And, speaking of your post, it got me thinking of another thing: I believe those who have a longing for the sea know that one day, when they travel it, they will be in a better place. So I guess those afraid of death (Men, Hobbits [I guess]) don't know what's coming to them.<BR><BR><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby greenleafwood » Sun Oct 06, 2002 1:46 pm

Both Elves (First Kindred) and mortals (Followers) were born of the stuff of the earth, and I think the peoples of Middle Earth felt secure with the earth beneath their feet. Even in ancient cultures, overstepping the known boundaries was a big step, sometimes equated with exile. Sam is afraid of taking the big step out of the Shire borders because he feels he is breaking away from his own people. It is like going away for the first time, leaving familiar faces and places. <BR> <BR>Maybe Tolkien saw it that way, being a soldier shipped across the channel to face an uncertain future and destiny in the trenches?<BR> <BR>In the ages preceding that of swimmming as a leisure activity, people who had no connexion with wide bodies of water, ie living near the sea or big lakes, tended to be wary of them, because they probably did not know how to swim. Therefore, the Sea gives such people an awesome impression that it is bottomless, and commands some respect from this idea. People in ancient civilisation (or even not so long ago by several centuries) thought that the earth was flat, and believed the sea ended in a chasm beyond the horizon, and had a horror of travelling far out to sea. <BR><BR>The sea has its endless horizons, its black rising and swelling waves and it is a powerful force one cannot control. For example, one is practically "delivered" in a squall or a storm at sea, the ability to swim is practically redundant. Even the ships carrying the Gondolin messengers foundered at sea! In contrast, on land, one can to an extent protect himself against bad weather, seek shelter, and he still has control over his motoric capabilities. <BR><BR>The difference with Elves is that they have this assurance of eternal peace in Elvenhome across the sea. When they grow weary standing and toiling on the soil on Middle Earth, they can look forward to a better future elsewhere.<BR><BR>The sea as a form of death - because it is so fathomless, it has a mystery about it. I'm thinking of Boromir's funeral boat who the Gondorians believed was carried gently by the waters out to sea. Perhaps people believe there is a port somewhere out there at sea to receive souls. It seems to have a cleansing, purifying effect somehow. I don't have a basis for this opinion, but it sounds pretty logical to me.<BR><BR>greenleaf
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Postby wilko185 » Sun Oct 06, 2002 3:49 pm

Thanks L_e <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif"border=0> (and thanks for posting <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>. I was thinking no one would feel like responding to my ramble...)<BR><BR>Hi Quennith, welcome to the boards <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>.<BR>As L_e said, a heartfelt post from anyone is appreciated here. Thank you.<BR><BR>I really don't where I was going with this topic. The Sea can be Life, and Death; a Barrier, and a way forward; a beginning and an end. Tolkien tells us the first Man to see the Western Ocean was Tuor, who crossed it to join with the Elves; but soon afterwards Hurin came to the Sea and threw himself into it and died.<BR><BR><i>I'm thinking of Boromir's funeral boat who the Gondorians believed was carried gently by the waters out to sea.</i><BR><BR>greenleaf, yes, I meant to mention that. There is an old tradition of sending dead Viking warriors to sea in burning ships, to send them on to the next world. Tolkien may have also known about the famous <a target=new href="http://www.archaeology.co.uk/timeline/saxon/suttonhoo/suttonhoo.htm">Sutton Hoo site</a>, where in 1939 a 7th century Anglo-Saxon king buried in a ship along with a treasure trove was unearthed. <BR>The Western sea definitely had associations with some old pagan beliefs concerning passage to the next world. This has some resonances with Frodo at the end of LOTR, as well as Tuor, Amandil etc
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Postby Carnimiriel » Sun Oct 06, 2002 4:45 pm

A very interesting topic - I don't have much to add here but I can think of one idea that I don't think has been mentioned yet, though Quennith touched upon it (welcome, Quennith! <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> ).<BR><BR>From a religious standpoint, the sea could represent a longing for the divine, or to be joined with God (in whatever incarnation you find him/her/it). This fits with the possibility of the sea as a 'way forward', one of the many options that Wilko enumerated.<BR><BR>Elves would feel this most strongly, being the firstborn of Iluvatar and closer to the Valar by reason of their immortality and wisdom. Particularly the Noldor, because they or their ancestors had dwelled in Valinor.<BR><BR>The Numenoreans could have shared some of this because of the Elvish blood of their royalty and also because their pride and proximity to Valinor made them more susceptible. It is also on Numenor that we have the only temple to Eru ever built of which I am aware. Why not in Middle Earth? Was it their physical proximity to Valinor that both made the Numenoreans more spiritual people and also caused their downfall?<BR><BR>I just wanted to present one other possible option, which could have been a factor for Tolkien as a deeply religious man.
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Postby PipkinSweetgrass » Mon Oct 07, 2002 12:58 am

I really have nothing to add to this but my own experiences with the sea. There *is* something about the sea that is simply mystic. It is immutable and does not explain itself. It can bring great bounty and just as easily bring death.<BR> It is unforgiving of fools.<BR> If you've never been on it, it's very difficult to explain. I find I cannot stay long away from it. It calls, but how and why I have no way of knowing or explaining. But the word "powerful" does come to mind, with *all that that implies*.<BR> And it is heart-breakingly beautiful. When you catch a sunrise just right, for a split second, the light is emerald-green.<BR> Mostly, I think the whole thing has it's lynchpin in the journey. It's like success, it isn't so much a destination as a journey.<BR> In JRRT's world, yes, there is a destination, but that seems meant to be shrouded in mystery, perhaps deliberately.<BR> After all, none of us will get out of this world alive, we will all sail awy into the mystic, so to speak. I find that comforting.<BR>
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Postby -Rómestámo- » Mon Oct 07, 2002 1:23 am

<b>Carnimiriel</b>: <i>It is also on Numenor that we have the only temple to Eru ever built of which I am aware.</i><BR><BR>While the summit of the Meneltarma was <i>hallowed</i> to Eru, there were no buildings or structures; in Letter 156 (1954), JRRT writes:<UL><BR>The Númenóreans thus began a great new good, and as monotheists; but like the Jews (only more so) with only one physical centre of 'worship': the summit of the mountain Meneltarma 'Pillar of Heaven' - literally, for they did not conceive of the sky as a divine residence - in the centre of Númenor; but it had no building and no temple, as all such things had evil associations.<BR></UL>The only temple ever built in Númenor was the one raised under Sauron's influence for the worship of Melkor. <BR><BR>As for the Sea-longing, it was present in <i>all</i> elves, not just those who had been to Aman. Legolas was of Sindar (Telerin) descent. This may indicate that the elves were drawn to Ulmo (and were 'programmed' to want to go to Valinor?).
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Postby Fingolfin_of_the_Noldor » Mon Oct 07, 2002 3:44 am

<i>It is also on Numenor that we have the only temple to Eru ever built of which I am aware. Why not in Middle Earth? </i><BR><BR>Romestamo, is correct it there actually was more of a 'hallow' for the worship of of Eru as is partially also explained here:<BR><BR><UL>*There are thus no temples or 'churches' or fanes in this 'world' among 'good' peoples. They had little or no 'religion' in the sense of worship...The Numenoreans were pure monotheists. <b>But there was no temple in Numenor (until Sauron introduced the cult of Morgoth). The top of the Mountain, the Meneltarma or Pillar of Heaven, was dedicated to Eru, the One. and there at any time privately, and at certain times publically, God was invoked, praised and adored: an imitation of the Valar and the Mountain of Aman. But Numenor fell and was destroyed and the Mountain engulfed, and there was no substitute.</b> Among the exiles, remenants of the Faithful...religion as devine worship seems to have played a small part: though a glimpse of it is caught in Faramir's remark on 'grace at meat'... -pg 193-4 <i>The Letters of JRR Tolkien</i> letter #153</UL><BR><BR>Tolkien expands a bit in the following letter but for the most part simply puts off further explanation:<BR><BR><UL>It is a monotheistic world of 'natural theology'. <b>The odd fact that there are no churches, temples, or religious rights and ceremonies is simply a part of the historical climate depicted.</b> It will be sufficently explained, if (as now seems likely) the Silmarillion and other legends of the First and Second Age are published. -pg 220 <i>The Letters of JRR Tolkien</i> letter #163</UL><BR><BR>But alas, though some of it is explained in a couple other letters(eg: 153) very little is presented in this regard in the now published Silm. But there is a note to the account of the Hill of Halifirien which came right before that note presented in UT which does seem to cast some light on this issue(though the specific portion to which this was attached does seem to have been abandoned) published in <i>Vinyar Tengwar #42</i> 'The Rivers and Beaconhills of Gondor'. Here is the note:<BR><BR><UL>Before the removal of most of the survivors of the 'Three Houses of Men' to Numenor, there is no mention of the reservation of a high place for worship off the One <b>and the ban on all temples built by hand, which was characteristic of the Numenoreans until their rebellion, which among the Faithful (of whom Elendil was the leader) <u>after the Downfall and the loss of the Meneltarma became a ban on all places of worship.</u></b> -note 5 <i>VT</i> 'The Rivers and Beaconhills of Gondor'</UL><BR><BR>Elements of the above are further supported in letter #'s <b>156</b> and <b>211</b> and so it does seem that temples had evil connotations(interestingly enought in the very next note to that same account can be found an accounting of 'temples' in ME:<BR><UL>Note 6: The Men of Darkness built temples, some of great size, usually surrounded by dark trees, often in caverns (natural or delved) in secret valleys of mountain-regions; such as the dreadful halls and passages under the Haunted Mountain beyond the Dark Door (Gate of the Dead) in Dunharrow. The special horror of the closed door before which the skeleton of Baldor was found was probably due to the fact that the door was the entrance to an evil temple hall to which Baldor had come... <i>Ibid[/] </UL>) but it does seem that certain areas were 'hallowed' especially tomb areas and considered 'holy' though notplaces of worship, strictly speaking. Some of those mentioned in the letters and else where by Tolkien include, <b>Halifirien,</b> as refered to above; and <b>Mindolluin,</b> the mountain behind Minas Tirith.
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Postby scirocco » Mon Oct 07, 2002 4:14 am

Another great thread, wilko! <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><BR><BR>It's interesting that JRRT made so much of the love and longing for the Sea of the Elves and Men. I'm not aware that he had any special fondness for the Sea himself; in fact, he personally had the same dream that he gave to Faramir:<BR><BR><i>...of the land of Westernesse that foundered and of the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable. I often dream of it...</i> (The Steward and the King).<BR><BR>and said in Letter 276:<BR><BR><i>Of all the mythical or 'archetypal' images this is the one most deeply seated in my imagination, and for many years I had a recurrent Atlantis dream : the stupendous and ineluctable wave advancing from the Sea or over the land, sometimes dark, sometimes green and sunlit.</i><BR><BR>And yet he speaks of a dream, not a nightmare. <BR><BR>The Eldar did not love the sea from the very beginning. The migrating tribes who came to the western shore of Beleriand had to be persuaded by Ulmo, Lord of Waters, to cross it to Valinor:<BR><BR><i>Now Ulmo, by the counsel of the Valar, came to the shores of Middle-earth and spoke with the Eldar; and because of his words and the music which he made for them upon his conches their fear of the Sea was turned rather to desire...</i> (Annals of Aman)<BR><BR>Later, during the years of Melkor's domination of the First Age, while the other Valar were sitting behind their fortified Mountain Wall in Valinor, Ulmo did not desert those who fought the Black Foe: <BR><BR><i>And thus even under the darkness of Melkor life coursed still through many secret lodes, and the Earth did not die; and ever afterward to all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was open, nor has he ever forsaken Middle-earth, and whatsoever may since have befallen of ruin or change he has not ceased to take thought for it, nor will until the end.</i><BR><BR>Is it any surprise, then, that the more "enlightened" Free Peoples loved and respected the sea?
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Postby ArPharazon » Mon Oct 07, 2002 5:33 am

Wilko - what you have written my friend is far from a ramble, but a deeply inspiring and thought-provoking piece.<BR><BR>Coming late to the feast, I have little to add to the insightful comments already made, but a few points occur to me:<BR><BR>a) In his youth Tolkien must have made at least one long sea-voyage that he would have remembered. That on his return from South Africa to the UK. Several weeks at sea may well have imprinted an indelible impression in his mind. He may not have been able to understand it himself - but did he himself possess an unrequited longing for the sea? Or a deep-seated awe or even fear of it?<BR><BR>b) As Scirocco rightly points out, JRRT called his recurrent dream just that, and NOT a nightmare. But the impression one has is that destruction by the sea, as in the myth of Atlantis, was something that ebbed and flowed endlessly in his consciousness. In his M-E writings alone, the sea comes in on and drowns not only Numenor but Beleriand as well. There is a darkness and a finality here.<BR><BR>I have experienced recurring dreams (not nightmares) myself, over long periods. One involving a hedge of thorns that kept me from something while I was being pursued. Another about falling. In the case of the second, I did at one time ponder whether in a previous life that was how I had died. (I should emphasise that neither then nor now have I been a believer in reincarnation. But it does show how such a dream can make one ponder unusual things.) Both became not particularly frightening, but in some strange sense almost comforting in their familiarity. I wonder whether JRRT may have shared some of these responses to his dream?<BR><BR>I no longer have either dream and have not for many years, by the way.<BR><BR>c) It is interesting two that of the Ainur, two of those most fully developed are connected with the sea.<BR><BR>d) The sea plays a large part in the development of the Elves, going over the sea, being drawn on an island etc.<BR><BR>I think there is a doctoral thesis to be written on this deep subject. Thanks for drawing it to our attention, Wilko.
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Postby hamish_spence » Mon Oct 07, 2002 6:27 am

I noticed CS lewis's narnia books have a similar style: the country of aslan is in the east not the west though. I wonder if either of them noticed this similarity?
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Postby PhantomEngineer » Mon Oct 07, 2002 6:41 am

I must first of all admit that I haven't read all the previous posts, so I might be repeating something, but I find the subject most interesting, and Wilko's first post extremely accurate, together with some others (Roméstamo, as usual, Fingolfin...) and insightful.<BR><BR>Anyway, my idea was this: the sea, and the water in general, is commonly admitted as a "feminine" element. The great extension of water specifically projects the image of the mother; certain Latin languages, such as French or Italian, have almost the same word for 'mother' and 'sea'. So the plunging into the sea would have something to do with going back to mother's belly or something. It is rather curious, though, that in Tolkienish mythology, such as greek or roman, it is a 'male' god the one that rules the seas. Would it be a kind of 'counter-balance' to its feminine essence?<BR><BR>As someone in this thread already wrote, the children of Ilúvatar come from the earth, and dwarfes are specially linked to it. It is no secret that such element is often called "mother earth", which also gives us a view of its feminine essence, in contrast with air or fire, more masculine elements.<BR><BR>There is of course a lot to be said about JRRT and his relation with his mother...<BR><BR>Just a thought, and congratulations for this thread.
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Postby ArPharazon » Mon Oct 07, 2002 6:43 am

h_s hi <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><BR><BR>Are you referring to similar themes related to the sea or just to general similarities of style?<BR><BR>Tolkien was certainly aware of the similarities between his and CS Lewis's (CSL) Narnia books. <BR><BR>CSL's were written well after JRRT began work on LOTR and much longer still after he started work on his mythology. Indeed Tolkien was somewhat peeved that Lewis had adopted many of his ideas - even names. But Tolkien was pretty dismissive, if not scathing,of CSL's mythology which he found inconsistent. Nordic themes but with talking lions and other animals and Greek satyrs thrown in without explanation.<BR><BR>I think he also probably disliked the overt allegotical form Lewis used. Tolkien regarded his works as serious - Lewis as much more children'd books. Both heard the other's manucsripts read frequently at meetings of the Inklings.<BR><BR>Tolkien was a little jealous, I have always thought, of Lewis' quickness and prolixity as writer. In the 17 years that JRRT worked on LOTR Lewis wrote and got published numerous works and gained a wide popularity as an author. Tolkien had to struggle to get his own (in his view much more serious and meaningful work) published. I suspect he wished he might have enjoyed some of Lewis royalties and reputation. Lewis was also seen by JRRT as something of his protege - Tolkien had brought him back to Christianity - but the pupil escaped. All this, I suspect contributed to the way they drifted and their closeness was lost.<BR><BR>If you are referring to "sea themes" though - and certainly the sea features in Lewis' works - I would leave it to others who know and like them better than I to respond.
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Postby Magpie » Mon Oct 07, 2002 7:36 am

Oh wilko, this is one of those subjects that have always seemed so important to me, yet so big I'm not even sure it can be approached. Part of what I love about the whole sea-longing idea is that it's nothing so strictly allegorical as one might find in Narnia. While I definitely thought of things like a longing to be closer to God and think Tolkien would have agreed, it's not *simply* that, and that's a good thing. ME, like the sea itself, is too big to be reduced to one feeling description.<BR><BR>The part of Narnia that this thread reminded me of is in The Last Battle where the dwarves are sitting in the little shed--or think they are. Really they're one step away from paradise. The Penvensies keep telling them to look around and enjoy the grass and sky, but the dwarves just keep saying, "The dwarves are for the dwarves!" and insist they're in a shed. They were burned once by the false Aslan and have responded by never trusting to anything beyond the surface reality again.<BR><BR>I don't see people like the hobbits as so reactionary, but it is a big part of their character to consciously turn away from the sea. Elves and the sea offer possibilties of things too great to be tamed or understood. Men, too, are probably uncomfortable with this idea. I think it's interesting, though, that sea longing seems so linked to wisdom or experience. For a mortal to feel it they almost have to take a step beyond their normal experience first. Once they see things beyond what they know, part of them can never forget it. Legolas, for instance, is hit hard by his longing the first time he sees the sea. Frodo presumably experiences and sees thing far beyond normal mortal experience and understanding when he puts on the ring. Sam, I've always thought, continues to long for the light personified in Frodo. As much as he loves the sun, Sam has seen the light from the Phial and shining from Frodo himself. Once many people experience the sea it stops being frightening.<BR><BR>I've often heard the sea associated with emotion and memory--and the feminine too. (I have these animal oracle cards I'm very fond of with four dragons for the four elements and Water Dragon is emotion, memory, dreams etc.) It's not so much about going into the great beyond like an explorer as facing something you've always somehow remembered (which many probably would associate with reuniting with God, but you could also associate it with the womb or the ocean we all would come from evolutionarily speaking, I guess). The sounds associated with it are so immediately mournful and beautiful--the clanging of a sea bell, the moan of a lighthouse, the cry of gulls, the low swish of the waves. What I tend to personally associate with the sea in Tolkien is a feeling that you know something and hold it dear, but no one else understands it so you can't talk about it. Those who long for the sea are aware of things passing away and mourn it even while they accept it as the best way. Perhaps it's almost like a sense of your own mortality as a real, tangible, but not awful thing. So much of man's world is focused on the opposite. (Basically I'm agreeing with Quennith here--beleive me, Quennith, you've definitely got something to add! Welcome!<img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>)<BR><BR>That's obviously a big part of The Sea Bell poem. Frodo's dream begins with the call to the sea, which he follows to a strange land. But is it really a strange land or just the Shire after he's heard the call? His experience in the dream could very well be what he felt like upon returning home. Wherever he goes, no one speaks to him. He hears singing or dancing, but once he appears it all disappears--he most identifies with the things passing away like the dead leaves. There's an element of rejection there which perhaps not everyone feels. Sam doesn't seem to, but perhaps that's a special gift for Sam, who is kind of a bridge between the two places. (Or maybe Frodo is Sam's bridge, giving the sea a familiar, well-loved hobbit-face instead of its own, which Sam, being afraid of water, would normally fear?) Frodo still hasn't found his true haven in his dream. We live him sitting by a closed door to a house with rain running down a drain beside him, with only himself to talk to. The story, however, gives us hope that he just hasn't gone far enough in his dream. One of the things that strikes me about that poem, btw, is the town Frodo eventually lands in. It's so clearly *not* the Shire with its houses, streets and drainpipes. It's almost jarring, like Frodo's somehow been born away to a future where he doesn't belong. Maybe that's not so strange, since I'm sure the sea has also been associated with Time.<BR><BR>One last personal note on the sea. My own most vivid sea dreams happened when I was on this meditation course. For a little over ten days we meditated about ten hours a day and weren't allowed to read, write, speak or otherwise communicate with anyone else. During that retreat I had the most wonderful dreams, often involving boats and the sea. In one of them I was literally floating in the middle of this vast ocean at night, looking up at the stars. There was a boat nearby and I thought I should probably call out to it because I had no idea how I was going to get home, but the sea and stars were just too beautiful to do taht. I have never had another dream that I longed for again so strongly. The sea doesn't usually figure prominantly in my dreams (I recall one complicated adventure involving pirates but I suspect that may really have taken place at Disney World and not the actual sea...<img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif"border=0>). So it just struck me how when I focused so much on a meditation that's supposed to show you things as they "truly are" my mind, emptied of stimulus, took me straight to this vast ocean that was at once comforting and magical.<BR><BR>-m
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Postby Carnimiriel » Mon Oct 07, 2002 8:29 am

Romestamo - I stand corrected, I should have said 'holy place' rather than 'temple' to describe the Numenorean place of worship on the Meneltarma.<BR><BR>I did not imply that the Sindar do not feel the sea-longing, merely pointed out one 'extra' reason why the Noldor could possibly feel it the most strongly.<BR><BR>My original point still stands that the sea could have had religious significance, or at the very least, a sense of longing for the divine, in addition to all of the other possibilities discussed so well in this thread. Tolkien, though, very unlike Lewis, was quite sparing in anything that could be seen as direct religious allegory.<BR><BR>This is off topic, but that is one of many reasons I prefer Tolkien because I dislike works that I feel are trying to bombard the reader with obvious allegory.
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Postby naias » Mon Oct 07, 2002 10:48 am

An excellent theme Wilko, thank you for bringing this up. And thanks to all for the insights and the invaluable information. <BR><BR>The way Tolkien has chosen to paint his world has always intrigued me. When we look at a map of ME the landmass is dominating and the sea is the margin of the world. In fact this is a phrase Tolkien often uses to describe the sea. The mountains and the plains and the rivers of ME are described in every detail and his descriptions are varied and beautiful and emanate a true love of every natural environment, even the ones that inspire awe.<BR><BR>But for the sea Tolkien has not much to say. Being raised in a country were the sea is the center and the earth is the margin, this was evident for me, at first sight. Tolkien did not love the sea, it seems to me. He respected it , he felt its immense power, he was, of course, aware of the sea myths that were woven in European mythology, both Northern and Mediterranean, but I have the impression that he did not carry in his heart the love he carried for, say, the green hills of the Shire or the forested beauty of Ithilien. <BR><BR>The longing of the Elves for the sea is a longing for the “other world” and not a true love of the sea itself, with the exception of the Teleri, of course, who had an altogether different relationship with it. I can speculate that this was an acknowledgement on behalf of Tolkien that this strange and unfathomable natural force could be loved by some people. But it seems that the love the Teleri had for the sea was something that he himself did not share, and maybe this is the reason why he never developed their culture as well as that of the Noldor. The Teleri seem strange and estranged in their sea lore.<BR><BR>The sea is the means, it is the road and the bridge and at the same time, and in a much more accentuated way, it is the boundary of the world. I always found it fascinating that there were so few ships for the Elves to embark on. The ships are pictured as rare and valuable. The destruction of the ships of the Teleri by Feanor, equals a condemnation to death for the Noldor of Fingolfin who are left behind. After the destruction of Numenor the sea comes to be the physical boundary of the “real world” and the “mythical world” of the West. It becomes the one way road for the elves and the absolute end line for Men.<BR>…..<BR><BR>I can’t help wondering sometimes, what beautiful descriptions, Tolkien would have made of the sea, had he been raised close by the tame and inviting seas of my land…As it is, he has inspired in me the love for the northern landscapes that he obviously had in his heart.<BR><BR>naias
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Postby Leshii » Mon Oct 07, 2002 3:51 pm

<i>Frodo's dream begins with the call to the sea, which he follows to a strange land. But is it really a strange land or just the Shire after he's heard the call? His experience in the dream could very well be what he felt like upon returning home. Wherever he goes, no one speaks to him. He hears singing or dancing, but once he appears it all disappears--he most identifies with the things passing away like the dead leaves. There's an element of rejection there which perhaps not everyone feels.</i><BR><BR>I had always found this to be a disturbing, and ambiguous, poem, and much suited to Frodo in his last year. The speaker goes to Valinor: the sea shining with the light of reflected stars, the white cliffs, the sand of jewels, and the caves under the cliffs (that hide the sleeping men of Numenor that once tried to land there, and from which he “hurried away”). And it also has elements of old descriptions of faerie; there is dancing and music, but they are always unobtainable and out of reach, and trying to join results in a greater, and more dangerous, rejection. And then he returns home, to mortal lands that are themselves no longer familiar, and to mortals that reject him for his (presumed) association with faerie. He is rejected by faerie, and rejected by mortal lands; no place accepts him, and he belongs nowhere.
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Postby roaccarcsson » Tue Oct 08, 2002 4:49 am

Most interesting topic. I have some footnotes to add:<BR><BR>1. The sea as symbol for something transcendent spilled over into JRRT's "scholarly" work. In the Beowulf essay (I can't find my copy and have to rely on memory) there is an extended metaphor comparing the poem to a stone tower; scholars came and, instead of considering the tower as a whole, took it apart to try and figure out where the stones came from. "But from the top of the tower [the owner] could see the Sea."<BR><BR>2. The quotations from the Notion Club papers are very illuminating (thank you Wilko). They confirm that what the Prof was doing was to take various myths and legends about mysterious lands in the West, and reconstruct a hypothetical "common reality" that might lie behind them. Some of the strands in this are of course the Atlantis legend; and the departure of the wounded Arthur to Avalon; and the Irish legends about Tir na nOg, which is sometimes visible from the western shores of the island but cannot ordinarily be reached. And here in NCP, we have the further Irish tradion of the <i>imram</i>, an account of voyages to various marvelous islands.<BR><BR>The two best known of these, referred to in the quote, are the Voyage of St Brendan -- which the professionally Irish take as evidence of an Irish discovery of America pre-Leif -- and that of Maelduin, which I have heard recited to harp accompaniment on a tape by Robin Williamson, late of the Incredible String Band. (Maelduin, by the way, is pronounced "Muldoon," which may unfortunately lead those of a certain age to visualize Fred Gwynne in the part.)<BR><BR>The Prof wrote a poem called "Imram," in which a returned and dying St. Brendan recounts what he saw on his voyage -- which was the coasts of Valinor. It is included in NCP.<BR><BR>3. It is interesting that the question of JRRT's influence on CSL should come up in this context. IMO it is perfectly clear that "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is an <i>imram</i>, deliberately modeled on the voyages of Brendan and Maelduin (and perhaps others I do not know). It seems very likely that it was Tolkien who brought this tradition to Lewis's attention. Indeed I have no doubt that Lewis got the whole idea of VotDT from a reading to the Inklings of some part of the NCP. A possible further cause of irritation to the Prof.
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Postby Arwen740 » Tue Oct 08, 2002 6:44 am

OOC: Dear roaccarcsson, a fellow Robin Williamson fan! <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif"border=0> <BR><BR>I haven't the time I'd like to spend here. Wilko, you've brought up so many interesting points and I've always wondered about Tolkien's writings concerning the sea. Now I only have a brief moment to bring up my personal longing and what it means to me. Perhaps it is a universal longing, something that moves us all in some profound way.<BR><BR>When I remember the sea, I recall the peace of being in a dark womb. There is danger of course but also that mysterious connection to the mother, to birth. I thought of this when I carried my children, the suspension in fluid darkness, the rhythmic whooshing of mother's bodily fluids and the rhythm of the heart. A child in utero can hear all of these things for several months. When I walk beside the sea and listen to the pounding waves, or when I dive beneath the swells into that place where I am suspended and can hear and feel those rhythms, I feel that ancient tug, that sense of peace that we must remember on some level. <BR><BR>I must go now, in a hurry. Sorry to only contribute this little bit. I would go more into Atlantis, Avalon, the Vikings... but so little time. <BR><BR>Thank you for all of the wonderful thoughts here. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby wilko185 » Wed Oct 09, 2002 4:09 am

Thank you all for some beautiful, enlightening posts (and some touching private thoughts and dreams).<BR><BR>I personally feel "sea-longing" was a theme Tolkien probably synthesised of "Pagan" and "Christian" elements (like Earendil, the beacon of hope for Men in Middle-earth, for instance). There's the "transcendental" idea of becoming closer to God, and also the mysterious stirring in the blood, the disturbing dreams that Tolkien experienced. But it is a difficult thing to pin down to any particular source or menaing, isn't it?<BR><BR>Quick point: Arphy said "It is interesting too that of the Ainur, two of those most fully developed are connected with the sea." I assume Osse is the second. Interestingly, Osse was originally a Vala in the Book of Lost Tales, but in the Sil became an (exceptionally powerful) Maia. Anyway, I think Ulmo is the most interesting of the Valar, the most developed character and set apart from the other Valar in many ways. <BR><BR><i>The sea as symbol for something transcendent spilled over into JRRT's "scholarly" work. In the Beowulf essay (I can't find my copy and have to rely on memory) there is an extended metaphor comparing the poem to a stone tower; scholars came and, instead of considering the tower as a whole, took it apart to try and figure out where the stones came from. "But from the top of the tower [the owner] could see the Sea.</i><BR><BR>Nice point roac. The tower looking over the sea is a very Tolkienien image. He doesn't have to say more than that to express what he thought Beowulf (and poetry) was about, something built on our mortal shores, but enabling us to look beyond.
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Postby greenleafwood » Thu Oct 10, 2002 2:05 pm

I'm probably repeating everything that has been said here about sea longing as an Elvish trait, but I was thinking: <BR><BR>1. the Elves awoke by the Waters of Awakening. The first sounds they heard was that of water running. Since water is ever in motion, most sources eventually find their way out to sea.<BR><BR>2. Ulmo and Osse were those who protected the Elves in those early days. Lords of the waters, they came from the sea and up the rivers to come to the Elves.<BR><BR>3. The first Elves were persuaded to pass over the sea with Orome, the journey led by Ingwe, Finwe and Elwe. It may be that down through the ages, these first Elven lords were probably held in esteem and considered legendary among the Middle Earth Elves, their deeds remembered in song and tale. So maybe the sea longing may have also emerged through this medium. <BR><BR>4. Elvenhome, or Valinor, would be the last station in an Elven life, so it would be quite reasonable for an Elf to look forward to crossing the sea. There was no alternative, except in being slain, one was transported directly to Mandos.<BR><BR>(There are a couple of other things I have thought of, but have slipped my mind.) <BR><BR>I have enjoyed this thread!<BR><BR>greenleaf
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Postby truehobbit » Fri Oct 11, 2002 2:04 pm

This is such a great thread that I wanted to contribute, even if I haven’t got much to add. <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0><BR><BR>I agree that this can’t really be pinned down to one point. The idea of the sea comprises all the things that have been mentioned from womb to death – it comprises these things because they, like the sea, are beyond comprehension and reach, and yet so very important in our lives.<BR><BR>However, I think it’s important to stress what naias mentioned, that Tolkien seems to have no real connection with the sea. That is, it's not the familiar element you'd expect from someone of a seafaring nation. It stands for many awe-inspiring things, but the longing for it is presented as somehow uncanny.<BR>I guess this is stretching the point a bit, but it might have to do with the idea of wanting to know too much – the sea symbolizes eternal mystery, people get a longing to understand this mystery, but it’s not for the children of Iluvatar (or even the Valar) to know all secrets, as well as it’s not for men in the real world (at least from a religious viewpoint).<BR><BR>Tolkien’s own experience with crossing the sea, which Arphy mentioned, was probably too early in his life for him to remember anything certain about the ocean itself. But as he grew older that journey might have come for him to stand for a journey of leaving something behind forever (as it separated him from his father forever), as well as one into a new life.<BR><BR>I think it’s also of some importance that the sea that inspires such longing is a <i>western</i> sea.<BR>Earlier on, Pipkin described her feelings watching the sun rise out of the sea. It would seem to be a far different thing when the sea of one’s imagination is the place where the sun finally disappears at night, I think. It makes the sea become the end of the way – and hence again the idea of death or otherworldliness. <BR><BR>But Tolkien's sea also creates a distant horizon, an unknown place in the background, such as Tolkien thought should be present in faery story, a really existing place where one might go to, but still so distant that the author doesn’t have to give any details about it.<BR>
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Postby Ethel » Fri Oct 11, 2002 3:18 pm

Wilko, thanks for another interesting thread. I agree with many of the ideas expressed here... the West traditionally symbolizes death; and crossing the sea, that mystic barrier, takes the mythic traveler into unknown and perhaps non-mortal lands. This thread struck me because I recently reread WB Yeats' poem Sailing to Byzantium, and sailing in that poem too seemed to be about the transition from the mortal to the immortal. Especially in the first two verses, he might well be talking about Middle-earth:<BR><BR>That is no country for old men. The young<BR>In one another's arms, birds in their trees<BR>--Those dying generations--at their song,<BR>The salmon-falls, the mackrel-crowded seas,<BR>Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long<BR>Whatever is begotten, born and dies.<BR>Caught in that sensual music all neglect<BR>Monuments of unaging intellect.<BR><BR>An aged man is but a paltry thing,<BR>A tattered coat upon a stick, unless<BR>Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing<BR>For every tatter in its mortal dress,<BR>Nor is there singing school but studying<BR>Monuments of its own magnificence;<BR>And therefore I have sailed the seas and come<BR>To the holy city of Byzantium.<BR><BR>Am I crazy for seeing a likeness here? Yeats' poem, of course, goes on to equate artistic creation with the transcending of mortality, and I don't think that's what Tolkien had in mind. But these two verses seem to express the Elven weariness of the eternal cycle of birth, mating and death in Middle-earth, and the need at last to escape it to someplace less mutable.
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Postby Ethel » Fri Oct 11, 2002 3:18 pm

Another triple post... sigh.
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Postby Ethel » Fri Oct 11, 2002 3:20 pm

At this rate I'll be up to 2,000 posts in no time!
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Postby Leshii » Fri Oct 11, 2002 6:15 pm

Lord Tennyson's <i>Ulysses</i> would certainly be relevant; a Romantic poet using the sea, and sailing, to discuss death and immortal shores.<BR><BR>Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'<BR>Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades<BR>For ever and for ever when I move....<BR>And this gray spirit yearning in desire<BR>To follow knowledge like a sinking star,<BR>Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.<BR>....<BR>Come my friends.<BR>'T is not too late to seek a newer world.<BR>Push off, and sitting well in order smite<BR>The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds<BR>To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths<BR>Of all the western stars, until I die.<BR>It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;<BR>It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,<BR>And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.<BR><BR>
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Postby Orangeblossom_Bumbleroot » Sat Oct 12, 2002 11:47 am

This is another wonderful thread, Wilko. Also timely for me as I have been thinking about Atlantis lately, but I don't know why. It could be because a friend of mine died a few months ago and she had a huge interest in Atlantis. I don't know.<BR> <BR>Anyway, everyone has some wonderful thoughts on this subject. I used to live on the coast of California and my thoughts went back to the times I would sit on the cliffs and stare at the ocean and get lost in the rhythm of the waves, and almost slip into a type of meditation. It can be a very soothing place to be, and also a very frightening place when there's a big storm brewing. I moved to Colorado ten years ago, and people have asked me if I miss the ocean, and I have to say "no" because I'm so nature oriented I love being anywhere, ( as long as it isn't a city. No insult intended to anyone who lives in a city). But when I do go back to California I HAVE to spend time on the beach or cliffs. Even though I don't miss it when I'm away, it is a part of my life.<BR><BR>Anyway-The ocean is a symbal of spiritually in some ways of thinking, and returning to the sea could be a spiritual homecoming, or maybe a way of coming home to oneself. I think this was alluded to in some of the previous posts. Maybe Legolas has a longing to return to his "true" home. Just a thought. You guys know so much more about ME than I do, but I thought I'd throw this in anyway.<BR><BR>The other thought I had is that some Men and maybe some Elves have a need to explore and the ocean offers one means of accomplishing that desire. Exploring the ocean itself is an adventure. Water is also soothing, in the way it feels, ( unless it's coming down in torrents), in the sounds it makes,(rain, breaking waves,etc.) and in the way light reflects off its surface. In times of trouble the sea could be a wonderful place to go to.
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Postby Queen_Beruthiel » Sat Oct 12, 2002 4:41 pm

Several posters have mentioned the association between the sea and both the feminine, and the divine. <BR>One of the Virgin Mary's titles (in the Catholic Church), is "Stella Maris" (Star of the Sea); we beseech Her to "pray for the Wanderer". I don't know the origins of this title: it is just one of those things a Catholic is brought up knowing... and which the young Ronald would surely have been familiar with.<BR><BR>Great thread btw.
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