Photo by Mark Sommer, October 2012
In the Peter Jackson movie
"The Two Towers," Aragorn finds a clasp shaped like a mallorn leaf
from an elvish cloak. For Aragorn’s reaction, the movie uses the exact same
words as JRR Tolkien wrote in the book.
Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.
This quote is quite ubiquitous on
the Internet, but no one seems to know why it is such a favorite. There appears
to be more to it than just “This brooch didn’t fall to the ground by accident.”
Aragon’s declaration has a certain rhythmic quality to it as though it were a
It would seem that not idly does
Tolkien use these words.
Aragorn could very well be
remembering a saying about Lorien which aptly applies to what he has found.
Does Tolkien intend a double meaning?
What does Lorien represent in The Lord
of the Rings? In a draft of a letter to the editor of New Republic,
Michael Straight [letter #181 in The Letters of JRR Tolkien, edited
by Christopher Tolkien, p.236], Tolkien gives us a little hint.
Elves… are... ‘immortal’… to
endure with and within the created world, while its story lasts… When ‘killed’…
they do not escape from time, but remain in our world, either discarnate, or
being re-born. This becomes a great burden as the ages lengthen… [T]he Elvish
weakness is… to become unwilling to face change: as if a man were to hate a
very long book still going on, and wished to settle down in a favourite
chapter. Hence they fell in a measure to Sauron’s deceits: to arrest change,
and keep things always fresh and fair.
The great desire of the Elves of
Lorien was to preserve the world ever the same – especially their part of it.
Elves were especially gifted at controlling nature, which may have led to the
saying, “Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.” Not even the falling of a leaf
was an accident in the Perilous Realm.
The mallorn trees in Lorien had
green and silver leaves and golden flowers in spring and summer, and their
leaves turned gold in autumn. However, the golden leaves would remain all
winter, and not fall until replaced by green and silver in spring.
The falling of the brooch also seems
to have more significance than hope for Merry and Pippin. The age of the Elves
was coming to an end. Their autumn is here; soon winter will come, and the next
age will dawn as the beginning of the age of Men. The Elves will no longer try
to hold on to Middle-earth, but will return to the West where they are meant to
In the same passage of the letter
quoted above, Tolkien tells us that the Elves, while they were resisting the
change coming to Middle-earth, were opposing “the unfolding of the story and to
refuse this is of course against the design of God.”
The temptation for Men was their
thirst for power in order to enforce unmitigated “progress,” while the
temptation for the Elves was to obtain power to resist change. Both temptations
can be lessons to us as we seek to be responsible in our stewardship over the
earth. (Genesis 1: 26-28) God has given us “all things freely to enjoy” (1
Timothy 6:17), but we are to be conscientious in how we use the resources we
are given. The wide use of natural resources has done much to mitigate
suffering and poverty. But wanton waste of the environment benefits neither
humankind nor the other species of earth. The hard part is finding the balance
between progress and conservation.
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