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The Importance of The Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings

"Epilogue Number Two: Sam and Elanor" by Miriam Ellis

"I still feel the picture incomplete without something on Samwise and Elanor, but I could not devise anything that would not have destroyed the ending, more than hints (possibly sufficient) in the appendices." - J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter No. 173 to K. Farrer

While J.R.R. Tolkien's contemporaries "universally condemned" the notion of him including an epilogue to The Lord of the Rings, the author was dissatisfied enough with the decision to leave it out that he mentioned it in more than one letter. On the one hand, it's impossible to improve upon the official ending of the story.

"Well, I'm Back" by Miriam Ellis

We catch a glimpse of baby Elanor as Sam returns from the Grey Havens with the famous last line, "Well, I'm back," but for Tolkien, the tale had not ended. The two unpublished epilogues to The Lord of the Rings matter to readers because they mattered to the Professor. He wanted us to see a day fifteen years beyond the end of The Return of the King, to be in the study with Mayor Samwise Gamgee and his daughter on her 15th birthday.

Fathers and Daughters in Tolkien

I think there is more to the epilogues than them being a mere convenient vehicle for answering the questions of hobbit children about Gimli and Shadowfax and entwives. In Letter No. 131 to Milton Waldman, Tolkien wrote:

"There is a brief epilogue in which we see Sam among his children, a glance at his love for Elanor (the Elvish name of a flower in Lórien) his eldest, who by a strange gift has the looks and beauty of an elven-maid; in her all his love and longing for Elves is resolved and satisfied."

Tolkien was an extraordinary father; from their earliest days, the Tolkien children were included on their Daddy's rambles into Faërie via the North Pole, and while Christopher's contributions to his father's legacy are perhaps best-known, it is lovely to think that little Priscilla may have, in some way, made the author feel that enchantment had at last come to dwell within the family home.

Both hobbit and human lasses can have a sort of "ordinary everyday" magic in the eyes of loving parents. I can only hope my own father felt this way about me, when he took me through Tolkien's great works as a child and walked with me under the stars while my own head was full of hobbits and elves.

We see very few father-daughter relationships in detail in the legendarium. We know little about Galadriel's daily life with Finarfin, or that of Celebrían with Celeborn. Lúthien's saga with Thingol is very strained and the parting of Elrond and Arwen is almost unbearably sad. But in the glimpse of the story of Sam-dad and Elanorelle, we see a truly heartwarming example of the tender closeness that can exist between a good father and a dear daughter. We can immediately picture them in that cozy study on the night of her 15th birthday, talking and laughing together.

It is to Elanor that Sam will leave the lore books on his last journey to the Grey Havens. She may be only an infant at the traditional end of the The Lord of the Rings, but as the matriarch of the Fairbairns of Westmarch, through whom we get all these wonderful stories, Elanor is a central figure. She may indeed surpass the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took. And while the first readers of The Lord of the Rings have convinced the author to abandon his epilogues, I am so grateful to know that Tolkien valued Elanor enough to feel his work was unfinished without a little more about her being told.

I don't think you'd find a serious Tolkien fan anywhere who would not joyfully welcome whole volumes more about the Gamgees and their neighbors! But we only get these few paragraphs, now thankfully available in The History of Middle-earth series, and they deserved to be treasured. Scholars call Tolkien the father of modern fantasy, and I would make so bold as to say that he has taken on a fatherly role for many readers in his wisdom, comforting presence, and guidance through life. It is a special and warm thought to imagine being Elanor in her father's cozy study or Priscilla learning the lore at Tolkien's elbow.

I hope you will spend a minute enjoying the reflected glow of such ponderings, and to share in the gratitude we feel to Tolkien's children for sharing these epilogues that their dear father felt to be important.


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