The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
It is uncouth to give serious credence to the idea of history as an actual story: that all the experiences, choices, and moments great and small are not some unrelated assortment of pre-deterministic genetic calculations or chaotic randomness within scientific bounds, but instead a tale with a telos, an epic with an end in mind, written by Someone, acted out by others. With such a notion, the levels of the stories vary: the tale of the person, of the community, of the country, of the people, of the value. The yarns are interwoven with each other, being of different lengths and prominence. Yet they all add value to time’s tapestry.
But then there are also the great tales, the tales of which Sam speaks to Frodo:
“‘Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’
‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended.’”
As the Bard says, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Each tale points to another, and all tales point to the first and final story, the frame narrative that not only encompasses all but gives all their meaning and emotion. The Music of Ilúvatar unfolds in its glory, and its song more than any Ring or Silmaril binds together the deeds of Beren and Eärendil, Elendil and Aragorn, Frodo and Sam. Amidst the joys and sorrows it is that narrative that offers meaning to it all.
We too are players, coming into the great tales, and then leaving when our part has ended. We know not whether we will obtaining a happy-ending or sad-ending in this life, or whether we will obtain some rest and some sleep within the circles of this world. Yet our tales are small pieces of the Great Tale, the Tale that Never Ends: the story of salvation, the unfolding of God’s grace. We play a part in the same tale as our ancestors did, as all humans do: a tale of which we only possess a glimmer of an ending, an assurance from one we trust who has read the book in advance and has told us with a reassuring smile that it truly ends with “happily ever after.” Not every character must come to final chapter for us to nod and feel satisfied. We live in the tension of desiring to witness “the tales that really mattered” while also living “a good end.”
There is a subtle beauty in playing a small role in the tales that never end. In the greatest of tales, every character matters: no player is superfluous, no persona unnecessary for the story’s ultimate conclusion. Though we may come and we may go, and only rarely may our part of the story be told by the fireside, nevertheless there is One who will know our tale from start to finish, who shall put it into song. The Music of Ilúvatar resounds through the all of creation, and it echoes in the memory of all that creation has done.
And so, we are left with what we are always left with. Faith in One who has written the great tale that never ends and now reads it with undistracted intensity. Hope that our small part, our coming and our going, will be worthy of the song that shall be sung of it. Love for our companions along the way, the fellow characters of the greatest story ever told, whether they have completed their character arc, play now, or will come in some later chapter. This is the true endings to the great tales that never end, and it should make us merry in laughter.
2015’s Reflection: “On the Sadness of Losing a Soul”