As ever, dear readers, welcome.
Although Tolkien enjoyed a fast-paced production of Hamlet in July, 1944, (letter to Christopher, 28 July, 1944, Letters, 88), one gets the general impression that he was not a big fan of W. Shakespeare. Certainly his school-days experience had not been a happy one, (letter to W.H. Auden, 7 June, 1955, Letters, 213), but his frustration with the Bard (an archaic Celtic term perhaps first used of Shakespeare in David Garrick’s “The Ode, Dedicating the Town Hall, and Erecting a Statue to Shakespeare”, of 1769, in which Garrick calls him “Sweetest bard that ever sung”—if you’d like to read more, follow this LINK: https://ia800207.us.archive.org/4/items/historyantiquiti00whel/historyantiquiti00whel.pdf to Robert Bell Wheler’s History and Antiquities of Stratford-upon-Avon, 1806, and see pages 175-185) did produce two positive results:
1. his annoyance at Shakespeare’s treatment of Birnam Wood spurred him (eventually) to create the march of the Ents upon Isengard (see JRRT’s footnote to his letter to W.H. Auden, 7 June, 1955, Letters, 212)
(a favorite Ted Nasmith)
2. his equal annoyance over Shakespeare’s treatment of elves
(a Victorian illustration by Richard Doyle, 1824-1883, depicting the stormy meeting of Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1—you can read the first printing from the First Quarto, 1600, here: https://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/doc/MND_Q1/scene/2.1/index.html )
brought him to the borders of Faerie, which he understood to be a very different place from that miniaturized world imagined by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
In his writings, Tolkien sees fairies and elves as basically the same (“Fairy, as a noun more or less equivalent to elf”, “On Fairy-Stories”): beings of a different order from humans, but not supernatural ones. As he writes:
“Supernatural is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter. But to fairies it can hardly be applied…For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.” (“On Fairy-Stories”, 110 in The Monsters and the Critics)
Tolkien’s elves, as we see them particularly in The Lord of the Rings, are far from small and not at all magical as in Shakespeare, but they do seem doomed. Even in the Prologue, they are depicted as already something about to pass from the scene of the story–“For the Elves of the High Kindred had not yet forsaken Middle-earth” –and this melancholy tone persists throughout the text, not only to be found in groups of elves moving westwards to the Grey Havens, like that which Frodo and his companions meet in their journey eastwards towards Crickhollow (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 3, “Three is Company”), but also in statements like Galadriel’s, when she has refused the Ring:
“I pass the test…I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)
to the affecting scene in the last chapter of all, when Galadriel and Elrond, along with Frodo and Gandalf, take ship for the West. (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)
(another beautiful Ted Nasmith)
But why do the elves want to—or have to–leave Middle-earth?
There are various explanations, with citations to The Silmarillion and to passages in the volume of JRRT’s manuscripts called Morgoth’s Ring, but I would suggest another influence, which actually takes us back to that time which Tolkien blames for the other diminishment of the elves:
“Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of ‘rationalisation’, which transformed the glamour of Elf-land into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass…it was largely a literary business in which William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton played a part.” (“On Fairy-Stories”, 111)
The title of this posting comes (in its unedited form) from a short story collection by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).
Published in 1910, Rewards and Fairies
(You can have a copy here: https://archive.org/details/rewardsfairie00kipl/page/n5/mode/2up )
was a sequel to Kipling’s previous collection (1906), Puck of Pook’s Hill.
(Here are two copies for you with very different illustrations: the first American edition of 1906, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/26027/26027-h/26027-h.html ; or a British reprint of 1911 of the original 1906 British edition, illustrated by H.R. Millar: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15976/15976-h/15976-h.htm )
The title of this book is derived from the first line of a poem, “The Fairies’ Farewell” by Richard Corbet, (1582-1635)—
Or, as it is actually entitled: “A proper new Ballad entitled The Faereys Farewell”. Here’s the first stanza:
“FAREWELL, rewards and fairies,
Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they.
And though they sweep their hearths no less
Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?”
You can see the whole poem in Octavius Gilchrist’s 4th edition (1807) of the poems of Richard Corbet here on pages 213-217: https://archive.org/details/poemsofrichardco00corbiala/page/n3/mode/2up (This is based upon the original printings of 1647, 1648, and 1672—the last till Gilchrist. Some modern editions have removed the final three stanzas.)
Corbet wrote that this could be sung to “Meadow Brow” or to “Fortune My Foe”—here’s Ged Fox, who sings all of the verses in Gilchrist to “Meadow Brow”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMj7O9LZpU8 If you’d like to hear “Fortune My Foe: here’s version with the original lyric: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZkFUSUZH8Y
It is, in fact, a lament, and the tunes to which it is to be sung very much underline that tone. The point of the lament is explained by the Puck
of Kipling’s previous book:
“The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest—gone, all gone! I came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.” (“Weland’s Hill”, the first part of Puck of Pook’s Hill)
Corbet, in his poem, offers an explanation why:
“Witness those rings and roundelays
of theirs, which yet remain,
Were footed in Queen Mary’s days
On many a grassy plain;
But since of late, Elizabeth,
And later, James came in,
They never danced on any heath
As when the time hath been.
By which we note the Fairies
were of the old Profession.
Their songs were ‘Ave Mary’s’,
Their dances were Procession.
But now, alas, they all are dead;
Or gone beyond the seas;
Or farther for Religion fled;
Or else they take their ease.”
In 1534, Henry VIII (1491-1547)
had himself made head of the Church of England and created a new Protestant domination, the Church of England, which was perpetuated by his son, Edward VI (1537-1553),
but which Henry’s elder daughter, Mary (1516-1558),
tried to restore to its previous, pre-Henry form. It was only after her death, in 1558, when Henry’s younger daughter, Elizabeth (1533-1603),
took the throne that Henry’s version of Protestantism became the state church once more and which continued under the reign of her successor, James I (1566-1625),
as mentioned in Corbet’s poem. The fairies, then, in Corbet’s playful explanation, were followers of pre-Henrican English Catholicism, driven away in the change to the new Protestantism—and we know that it was meant to be playful, as the author, in his later years, was a senior clergyman of that Protestantism, being first Bishop of Oxford, then Bishop of Norwich.
There is no mention of Corbet or his poem in Carpenter’s biography or Tolkien’s letters, nor any reference even to Kipling, but might I suggest that this explanation by a contemporary of Shakespeare the Shrinker as to why the band of what Puck calls “the People of the Hills” had departed might have appealed to a someone who once wrote that The Lord of the Rings “is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision…” (letter to Robert Murray, SJ, 2 December, 1953, Letters, 172) and thus added to his own thinking about the Doom which he said belonged not only the fairies, but to his own later elves, as well?
Thanks, as ever, for reading,
Leave a bowl of milk out for the Good Folk,
And remember, as well, that there’s always
If you read those verses of the Corbet which have been deleted in some printings, the explanation for the reference to “William Chourne” may be found in “Letter Six” of Sir Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft… (1830) to be read at this LINK: https://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281b/Philosophy%20of%20Magic/Arcana/Witchcraft%20and%20Grimoires/scott/lodw06.htm