“Have you read the Athrabeth?”
Listening to Fr. Anthony Cook ask this in conversation with the host of the Amon Sûl podcast, Fr. Andrew Damick, I was left a little at a loss. What on Earth is the Athrabeth?
Fr. Anthony’s excitement about this obscure text was infectious and when he mentioned it is found within Morgoth’s Ring (the 10th volume of The History of Middle-earth), I immediately ordered a copy for myself. This was Wednesday morning. The book was delivered by 4pm.
Although I consider myself a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and have read The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings more than once – and am, in fact, re-reading the latter at present – I am less familiar with the extended writing compiled by his son, Christopher.
At 2am on Wednesday, I awoke in the night. Because I know I will not easily fall back to sleep when in a stressed state, I decided to get up. I read the Athrabeth. I was stunned. Moved. This is a deeply philosophical dialogue between an Elf Lord and a Human Wise-woman on the subject of the Gift (or Doom) of Men: mortality.
Last night, I felt moved to begin to read The Silmarillion. I have previously said that I haven’t read this tome but my wife corrected me yesterday. We read it way back in the 1990s, I am told, for she remembers me reading it with her. I have little memory of that… but am happy to receive the correction. I began at the beginning, as they say, and was delighted by the letter from Tolkien in the preface all about the basic sweep of the history of Middle-earth.
Pondering my own fantasy imaginings, I am left humbled and somewhat dumb-founded. I am also inspired and realise that I have, in the deepest recesses of my soul and heart, been yearning for these ancient things of which Tolkien presents echoes. There is a deep mysticism to the realms of Arda that touches something primal and spiritual within me.
I realise that it is through my acts of sub-creation in gaming that I am repeatedly trying to find my way home to this primal, mystic, ancient realm of the imaginary.
In many ways, the imaginary is more real to me than the world of machines and technology that has engulfed so much of my waking life. When I read Tolkien, I am transported – freed even – to walk alone in wild places with people whose actions resonate with me. I am inspired by the quiet heroism of his world.
I wonder if my constant dissatisfaction with the fantasy worlds I have visited in my games is fuelled by this desire to delve deeper into the kind of sub-creative act that Tolkien himself was engaged in. Certainly I am not comparing myself to the Professor’s genius. Rather, I detect that his work was a call to something primal, mystic, and ancient as a response to the modern, secular, and new.
My path is to walk a little further with the Professor and see what else I can learn from him. To listen to his heroes and to wander the long roads with them a little longer. With the impending release of The One Ring (Second Edition) roleplaying game, I am minded to explore Middle-earth with fresh eyes and see where the pathways might take me. To look at old maps, read old texts, and consider ancient ideas.
I can already feel myself being swept up by the road. I wonder where it’ll take me?