Exploring Tolkien's Fourth Age

Auteur : Michael Martinez

Author : Michael Mar­ti­nez — Publi­shed on : January 7, 2000 — URL : http://www-suite101-com/article-cfm/4786/31389

Many people are curious about how the Fourth Age would have unfol­ded had Tol­kien writ­ten much about its his­tory. Unfor­tu­na­tely for curious fans Tol­kien felt the wonder of Middle-earth sort of died with Ara­gorn. After his time « the dynasts des­cen­ded from Ara­gorn would become just kings and gover­nors like Dene­thor or worse » (Tol­kien, « Let­ters », p. 344).

Tol­kien did begin a story set in the Fourth Age, the wor­king title of which was The New Shadow. This would have been a sequel to The Lord of the Rings, but he aban­do­ned the work after only a few pages, fee­ling there was nothing left to say which would have been fan­tas­tic and enchan­ting. There was no longer a phy­si­cal embo­di­ment of evil in the world. There was no longer a uni­ver­sal enemy. Sauron and Melkor had both been defea­ted and ren­de­red impo­tent, so the Free Peoples were no longer at risk of being sub­ju­ga­ted against their wills in ways that no man could domi­nate others.

The New Shadow would have been set in Gondor, or at least would have begun there, in the house of Borlas, the youn­ger son of Bere­gond, the guard­sman of the Cita­del who became Cap­tain of the White Com­pany, Faramir’s guard, after the War of the Ring. There is a pro­blem with the dating of the story, howe­ver, in that Tol­kien ori­gi­nally set it about 100 years after the Down­fall of Sauron, at the begin­ning of Eldarion’s reign. But years later Tol­kien chan­ged the time to 100 years after Elda­rion ascen­ded the throne. Howe­ver, Tol­kien retai­ned Borlas as the pri­mary cha­rac­ter, and one must wonder why he would do such a thing. Borlas would have to have been about 200 years old, which is an incre­di­bly long time for even a Duna­dan to live, unless he were a des­cen­dant of Elros. Pro­ba­bly Borlas would have become a grand­son or great-grand­son of Bere­gond.

Borlas was concer­ned with rumors of a strange and secret cult gai­ning popu­la­rity in Gondor. It had become fashio­nable among Gon­do­rian boys to play at being Orcs, doing Orcish things (such as des­troying trees for no appa­rent reason). But now men were whis­pe­ring of a new leader, Heru­mor (which is Quenya for « dark lord »), around whom a cult had formed (Tol­kien called it a Sata­nic cult, and pre­su­ma­bly it would have been a revi­val of Mor­go­thian wor­ship). The story pro­ceeds no far­ther than Borlas” receipt of an invi­ta­tion from Saelon, a youn­ger man who grew up with Borlas” son, to attend a secret mee­ting (most undoub­tedly of Herumor’s fol­lo­wers). It is not clear whe­ther Saelon would have been a member of the cult attemp­ting to recruit (or murder) Borlas, or if he was enga­ged in some cam­paign against the cult and requi­red Borlas” aid.

Tol­kien deci­ded that he could have writ­ten a thril­ler about the dis­co­very and over­throw of the cult, which would have been plot­ting the over­throw of Elda­rion. But such a story did not inter­est him, even though it surely would inter­est his many rea­ders. Borlas might not have remai­ned the pri­mary cha­rac­ter, but he could have been ins­tru­men­tal in ini­tia­ting or cata­ly­zing wha­te­ver coun­ter­mea­sures Eldarion’s sup­por­ters would take against the cult.

Middle-earth would of course have to be a very dif­ferent place from the world des­cri­bed in The Lord of the Rings. If we assume the later dating of the story, around the year 220 of the Second Age, would have remai­ned fixed, then we can deduce a few things about the state of the world. For ins­tance, in The Peoples of Middle-earth we learn that Durin VII, the Dwar­ven king des­ti­ned to res­tore the Long­beard Dwarves to Moria, would pro­ba­bly have been the son of Thorin III Sto­ne­helm, the son of Dain II Iron­foot. Thorin IlI was born in the year 2866 of the Third Age, and he would have been 153 years old when his father died in the War of the Ring. Thorin pro­ba­bly would not have lived to the end of Aragorn’s reign (though Gimli, who was born in TA 2879, did live that long). Hence, Durin VII became King under the Moun­tain around the year Fourth Age 100.

When did the Long­beard Dwarves return to Moria ? Maybe early in Durin’s reign, but pro­ba­bly not until after Aragorn’s death. Undoub­tedly the event would have occur­red before the year 172 of the Fourth Age, when Fin­de­gil made the last recor­ded note in the Thain’s Copy of the Red Book of West­march. So the reco­very of Moria pro­ba­bly occur­red bet­ween the years 120 and 172. Such an event would have resul­ted, per­haps, in one of the last wars with Orcs before the time of The New Shadow. Borlas, the aged pro­ta­go­nist of The New Shadow, could smell « the old evil », which appa­rently was the evil repre­sen­ted by the true Orcs, former ser­vants of Sauron, and other crea­tures. Per­haps he would have fought these crea­tures in his youth.

Indeed, in a letter Tol­kien wrote to a reader in 1963, he noted of Fara­mir : as « Prince of Ithi­lien, the grea­test noble after Dol Amroth in the revi­ved Nume­no­rean state of Gondor, soon to be of impe­rial power and pres­tige, was not a « market-garden job »… Until much had been done by the res­to­red King, the Prince of Ithi­lien would be the resident march-warden of Gondor, in its main east­ward out­post. and also would have many duties in reha­bi­li­ta­ting the lost ter­ri­tory, and of clea­ring it of out­laws and orc-rem­nants, not to speak of the dread­ful vale of Minas Ithil (Morgul) » (Tol­kien, « Let­ters », p. 323).

Although Fara­mir pro­ba­bly achie­ved most if not all of the work requi­red, his suc­ces­sors may have had to fight Orcs in the Ephel Duath, the Moun­tains of Shadow. And it may be the Prince of Ithi­lien (Fara­mir or his suc­ces­sor) would have been given com­mand of any expe­di­tio­nary forces sent to help rid other areas of Orcs. Such an expe­di­tion could then have been made to the Vales of Anduin to assist the Long­bard Dwarves in clean­sing Moria. Borlas, as an offi­cer in the White Com­pany, would have been an ideal can­di­date for a member in that expe­di­tion. Though Tol­kien would pro­ba­bly have alte­red much, we can sup­pose that the young Borlas may have visi­ted Moria around the time Fin­de­gil was wri­ting the Thain’s Copy of the Red Book. Fin­de­gil would have known of Durin’s intent to return to Moria, but the event may not have been fully rea­li­zed. Hence, the infor­ma­tion in the red Book is scanty, but by the time of The New Shadow it is an old memory for the aging Borlas.

Ano­ther pos­sible source for the old evil Borlas reco­gni­zed at the end of the frag­ment of The New Shadow could be the Barrow-wights. These were evil crea­tures sent to inha­bit the ancient hill-lands of Tyrn Gor­thad in nor­th­wes­tern Car­do­lan after the Great Plague des­troyed most of Cardolan’s people. Tom Bom­ba­dil kept watch over Tyrn Gor­thad in the late Third Age (he cast out a wight which had cap­tu­red Frodo and his com­pa­nions), but Gan­dalf implied in Elrond’s coun­cil that Bom­ba­dil had only seclu­ded him­self, per­haps, until there was some change in the world. The res­to­ra­tion of the King­dom of Arnor by Ara­gorn could have been such a change.

Ara­gorn rebuilt the ancient city of Annu­mi­nas north of the Shire, and he visi­ted the region in the year 15 of the Fourth Age. Gan­dalf had told Bar­li­man But­ter­bur that in time many people would migrate up the Green­way to reco­lo­nize the ancient lands of Arnor. Ara­gorn seems to have concen­tra­ted on the nor­thern areas first, but in time Car­do­lan would have been reco­lo­ni­zed as well. An ear­lier attempt during the 19th cen­tury of the Third Age had been thwar­ted by the wights, so Ara­gorn (or Elda­rion) pro­ba­bly would have had to deal with them at some point. Again, Borlas might have been part of that expe­di­tion.

And a wight makes a cer­tain better sense for the Sata­nic cult than a mere Orcish pre­sence in Gondor. Sauron was clo­sely asso­cia­ted with sor­cery and necro­mancy, and he was served by many spi­rits, not just the Nazgul. Although the Nazgul were redu­ced to impo­tence when the One Ring was des­troyed, the Barrow-wights and other spi­rits may have remai­ned to trouble the living for many cen­tu­ries after­ward. If Heru­mor and his fol­lo­wers had found and become invol­ved with a wight, the terror it could wield and the power it pos­ses­sed would be consi­de­rable.

What was a wight ? Tol­kien doesn’t really say. They were spi­rits which ori­gi­nally came out of Angmar and Rhu­daur. By the year of the Great Plague (TA 1636) Rhu­daur had long been deser­ted, but the hill-folk there who had sup­plan­ted the Dune­dain in secret alliance with Angmar had prac­ti­ced sor­cery, and undoub­tedly that means they had sum­mo­ned and consor­ted with spi­rits in Sauron’s ser­vice. The wights pro­ba­bly were these spi­rits, but we don’t know whose spi­rits they were. It is most likely, because of the power exhi­bi­ted by the Barrow-wight which cap­tu­red Frodo, that the spi­rits were those of cor­rup­ted elves (ensla­ved by Melkor in the First Age) or lesser Maiar, not as power­ful as, say, a Balrog, nor even as the Nazgul, but more power­ful than the spi­rits of Men.

In Morgoth’s Ring Chris­to­pher Tol­kien publi­shed an essay by his father in which J.R.R. Tol­kien dis­cus­sed Elvish fading. After the final over­throw of Melkor, Eonwe tra­ve­led throu­ghout Middle-earth and once again sum­mo­ned all Elves to migrate to Aman. Though many refu­sed, they were now put under a doom by the Valar, that they should fade and even­tually become disem­bo­died spi­rits if they did not ulti­ma­tely sail over Sea. This fading pro­cess appears to have been neces­sary to induce the Elves to leave Middle-earth, which was in time to become the pos­ses­sion of Men. But in the essay Tol­kien sug­gests that some Elves refu­sed to leave Middle-earth even though fading was inevi­table, and in time they became haunts dwel­ling in regions they had once inha­bi­ted. Such spi­rits were some­times contac­ted by men, prac­ti­cing sor­cery or necro­mancy, and they might even allow the spi­rits to pos­sess them.

It is concei­vable, the­re­fore, that the Sata­nic cult had some­thing to do with com­mu­ni­ca­ting with faded Elves (assu­ming that any of the Elves might indeed have faded by this time). On the other hand, Elves could die by acci­dent or in war, and when they did so they need not answer the sum­mons to Mandos if they did not wish to even­tually become re-embo­died. Many of the Avari are said to have made this choice, which though per­ilous during the time of Melkor’s reign may have been less so in later ages. Hence, some of the more bitter or evil Elves could have remai­ned in Middle-earth after dying and per­haps become invol­ved with Herumor’s cult.

But des­pite the pos­si­bi­lity of fading, and the pre­sence of Elvish spi­rits, there were most likely still enclaves of Elves in Middle-earth at the time of the New Shadow. Lego­las depar­ted over Sea when Ara­gorn died, but Tol­kien doesn’t say that all his people left with him. Some of the Silvan Elves may have remai­ned in Ithi­lien for many years. Thran­duil seems to have stayed content in nor­thern Green­wood (Mirk­wood, which was rena­med after the War of the Ring). Celeborn’s people would also have remai­ned long content in East Lorien, the king­dom he foun­ded in the sou­thern part of the forest, in the lands for­merly domi­na­ted by Dol Guldur (which Cele­born and Gala­driel over­threw). Cele­born went to live in Riven­dell with his grand­sons Ella­dan and Elro­hir before finally sai­ling over Sea, and the year of his depar­ture was not recor­ded. So there may yet have been some Elves living in Riven­dell, and in Mith­lond, though some people feel Cirdan left with Elrond and Gala­driel.

Dun­land became a part of Rohan during Eomer’s reign, per­haps as a conse­quence of the Dun­len­dings” role in the War of the Ring. It may seem strange that the Rohir­rim would try to coexist with the Dun­len­dings, but it does seem appa­rent that they rea­li­zed they had to learn to get along. Erken­brand showed great mercy to the Dun­len­dings after the Battle of the Horn­burg, and that may have begun a hea­ling pro­cess bet­ween the two peoples, who had been ene­mies for more than 500 years.

The popu­la­tions of Rohan and Dun­land pro­ba­bly expan­ded as well, and they may indeed have contri­bu­ted many of the colo­nists who set­tled in Eria­dor. We know that the Shire expan­ded, because they colo­ni­zed the Tower Hills and all of West­march, and it’s pro­bable that the Bree­land expe­rien­ced a new period of growth as increa­sed eco­no­mic acti­vity would have pro­vi­ded such impe­tus. Annu­mi­nas would have been depe­nendent on trade with the Shire, but if For­nost was reco­lo­ni­zed Bree would again have been an impor­tant center of trade, news, and travel in Eria­dor.

The world of The New Shadow must have been more crow­ded than the world of The Lord of the Rings. There were pro­ba­bly fewer Elves near the end of Eldarion’s reign, but pro­ba­bly there were more Dwarves. And Men increa­sed and spread far and wide, while Hob­bits, too, flou­ri­shed. The plots of Heru­mor could have been confi­ned in the sou­thern lands, but it seems likely to me that Heru­mor would have exten­ded his influence as far and wide was pos­sible. Even the Hob­bits of the West­march may have felt some trace of his influence, if only in fear­ful whis­pers the origin of which they could not know for cer­tain. Though it would have no great ene­mies like Sauron to trouble it, the Fourth Age could none­the­less have become a dan­ge­rous time for the Free Peoples again.

Michael Mar­ti­nez is the author of Visua­li­zing Middle-earth, which may be pur­cha­sed directly from Xli­bris Corp. or through any online books­tore. You may also spe­cial order it from your local books­tore. The ISBN is 0–7388-3408–4.

And be sure to down­load your free copy of Parma Endo­rion : Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd edi­tion at Free-eBooks-Net !


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