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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