“Have Ye Then No Hope?” (12): Tolkien’s Ragnarok

(I told myself that I would finish this series before the end of the year, and I think there are at least 2-3 more posts left. This post will touch on the eschatology – the end times – of Middle Earth.)


Tolkien wrote that eucatastrophe, the unexpected upheaval of good signifies that there will not be universal final defeat. So what kind of an end, if any, did he envision for Middle Earth?

Tolkien seemed reticent to speak of it beyond the tensions explored in this paper. Indeed, if the history of Middle Earth is supposed to be a pre-history of Planet Earth, then it follows that the eschatology of Middle Earth is ultimately bound up in the eschatology of the Primary World. There are, however, a few strands that we see in his earlier writings, which are worth examining. The first is the prophecy of “a greater music still”, which will be sung by the Ainur and the Children of Iluvatar:

Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Iluvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Iluvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Iluvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the the comprehension of each, and Iluvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

Once again, this prophecy is from the Elvish perspective, and it is not spoken in terms of certainty but rather possibility: “it has been said…”.

There are also references to a final climactic battle at the end of days. Though Christopher Tolkien edited it out of the published Silmarillion, his father wrote to Milton Waldman that the Silmarillion

ends with a vision of the end of the world, its breaking and remaking, and the recovery of the Silmarilli and the ‘light before the Sun’ – after a final battle which owes, I suppose, more to the Norse vision of Ragnarök than to anything else, though it is not much like it.

The battle is not like Ragnarök principally because the forces of Good are not ultimately defeated!

At the very beginning of the Silmarillion, when Varda makes the stars, she puts two constellations in particular that anticipate a final battle at the end of days: Menelmacar (Orion), swordsman of the sky and Valacirca, the “Sickle of the Valar and the sign of doom.”

In later versions of this story, Menelmacar comes to be identified as none other than the cursed Turin Turambar.  While there are multiple differing stories as to who kills Melkor, in the end it seems that that honor goes to Turin:

Thus spake Mandos in prophecy, when the Gods sat in judgement in Valinor, and the rumour of his words was whispered among the Elves of the West. When the world is old and the powers grow weary, then Morgoth, seeing that the guard sleepeth, shall come back through the Door of Night out of the Timeless Void; and he shall destroy the sun and the Moon. But Earendel shall descend upon him as a white and searching flame and drive him from the airs. Then shall the Last Battle be gathered on the fields of Valinor. In that day Tulkas shall strive with Morgoth, and on his right hand shall be Fionwe, and on his left Turin Turambar, son of Hurin, coming from the halls of Mandos; and the black sword of Turin shall deal unto Morgoth his death and final end; and so shall the children of Hurin and all Men be avenged.

It seems that Tolkien feels the need to vindicate his arguably most tragic character: who but Turin should slay Morgoth? This takes on added significance if, as discussed above, we see Turin as typological for humanity: valiant but self-cursed. This does beg the question, however, of how a human character like Turin is allowed to come back for this battle. But then the Author of the play is free to bring his characters back on the stage after the play seems to be over.

Might this be a hint of the hope of resurrection? If so, it is a “hope without guarantees”, at least for the free peoples of Middle Earth. At the very least, since Tolkien is writing a myth and not just a story, these impulses signify his attempt to give all his characters justice in the end.

Next: Hope in the Primary World (Some Applications)

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