Middle earth first
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:58 PM
"Illustration reproduced from The Hobbit/ Michael HagueAn environmentalist reading of 'Lord of the Rings.''The road goes ever on and onDown from the door where it began.Now far ahead the road has gone,And I must follow, if I can,Pursuing it with weary feet,Until it joins some longer way,Where many paths and errands meet.And whither then? I can not say.''That sounds like a bit of old Bilbo's rhyming,' says Pippin.But to a studied reader like islander Maggie Fitzgerald - that sounds like the work of old Tolkien.She ought to know, having been familiar with the lilting, lisping language of J.R.R. Tolkien's lost time since his acclaimed fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, first appeared on the shelves in the 1960s.Some years ago, Fitzgerald penned an imaginary ceremony of remembrance for the author's Middle Earth, the third-ever performance of which takes place at 4 p.m. Sunday in Island Center Hall.Tolkien forges a convincing alternative reality, says Peter Berry, coordinator for the event, which takes as its title The Passing of the Eldar. Fitzgerald's musical narrative tells the tale of Tolkien's people of the stars who, summoned by the Guardians of the world to journey to the Uttermost West - and there to dwell in harmony with their environment - died far from the mortal concerns of Middle Earth, honored by the hobbits as worthy ancestral figures. Their history is the backdrop to the Lord of the Rings and the plight of characters like Pippin.In these precarious times, when we small creatures seem habitually to put our planet in jeopardy, director Edward Mast elaborates on the significance of Tolkien's seemingly self-contained tales to our modern sensibility.His challenging thesis - we call on our ancient allies to help us reconnect to the life of our own Middle World - is one that complements the inspiration Fitzgerald says she found in the importance Tolkien places on man's relationship with nature. We need to renew our connection with the planet, she says.While Fitzgerald's solution to our decaying relationship with Mother Earth involves 10 musicians and two vocalists, Mast looks to Tolkien's use of language. He cites the connotations of knowledge and precedence implicit in the word elder as helpful to understanding the word eldar. That the Eldars' passing forms only a distant background to popular works like The Lord of the Rings is, Mast explains, nonetheless significant. The story of the Eldar is distant, the way adult concerns may seem distant and inscrutable to the mind of a child, he says.And if the sale of Tolkien's works to kids and their parents is anything to go by, his dynamic friends of the natural world have nourished many a childhood. They have also secured his reputation as a writer of literary classics, as well as an Anglo-Saxon specialist - not to mention acquiring a kind of cult following in clubs, where the films of his books form a flickering backdrop to the movements of dance-music enthusiasts. It seems Tolkien's translation of the Red Book of Westmarch (which subsequently became known as The Hobbit) far exceeds the realms of linguistic satisfaction that he cites in his introduction as the main incentive for undertaking the task.Which makes translating Tolkien's tales of Middle Earth into a musical narrative no small feat. Berry says an understanding of Tolkien's writing is not necessary to glimpse the world Fitzgerald evokes, a sentiment that one of Wagner's beliefs sheds light upon. The renowned composer argued that unlike other art forms, music reflects that beyond the world we know - and Tolkien's world, complete with its own legends, language and history, certainly transcends many of our pettier concerns. Perhaps to the receptive ear, his language is a kind of music.Fitzgerald, at any rate, has every faith in the receptiveness of Bainbridge audiences to the message of her musical event.We live slowly here away from the city, she says. Islanders want to preserve the future of their environment, and they like to listen.* * * * *The Passing of the Eldar runs 4 p.m. Sunday at Island Center Hall. Cost is $5 for adults, $2 for youth. "