Fate – Finduilas POV – 1 of 6
In which a prince returns on the wings of swans, and many fates are changed.
And we are back to Finduilas. The opening of this chapter will make better sense if you read the last few paragraphs of Ch. 30, Cunning, to pick up the story. I introduce 14 new characters in this chapter, though most are only in passing. Don’t worry, they will all come back in at some point – it’s a long story. There are a lot of Silmarillion references, direct and oblique; see if you can pick them out. There is also a reference to one of my favorite fairy tales.
One of my interests in HotK has been to portray female characters who are clearly limited to certain kinds of roles and acts because they are female, but who are thoughtful about those roles and who are able to act effectively within their societies in great part because of the structure of the roles. Limits can strengthen as well as restrict, after all, as anyone who has studied the power of institutions can tell you. The next several chapters on Finduilas are a look at how she begins to become a dominant political and economic actor in Gondorian society. One key is the way in which she learns to manipulate public opinion.
I also spend some time allowing Finduilas to contemplate fate, free will, mythic echoes, and the heart of what Nietzsche called the eternal return. How can you have predestination and also free will? The motif of the swan (and, more broadly, of pale sea birds) in Tolkien is usually a signifier of this tension, of Powers who cannot act and Children who refuse the roles given to them in the drama of Arda. Fate is not something passively endured – it is very much a performative. It’s also not a mistake that good old Ulmo is deeply ensconced in the acting out (both performing and defying) of fate.
But Ulmo was alone, and he abode not in Valinor, nor ever came thither unless there were need for a great council; he dwelt from the beginning of Arda in the Outer Ocean, and still he dwells there. Thence he governs the flowing of all waters, and the ebbing, the courses of all rivers and the replenishment of Springs, the distilling of all dews and rain in every land beneath the sky. In the deep places he gives thought to music great and terrible; and the echo of that music runs through all the veins of the world in sorrow and in joy; for if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomed at the foundations of the Earth. … And thus it was by the power of Ulmo that even under the darkness of Melkor life coursed still through many secret lodes, and the Earth did not die; and to all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he ever forsaken Middle-earth, and whatsoever may since have befallen of ruin or of change he has not ceased to take thought for it, and will not until the end of days.
The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 1, Of The Beginning of Days
Unlike Manwë, Ulmo is not enthralled by the end-point of Arda and reunion with Eru. Heaven is not his bag. He sees not redemption and triumph, but joy rising out of suffering and sorrow, and so he (like another somewhat solitary character) has a fundamentally tragic view of life. It’s not a mistake that Denethor carries his favor, in both sense of the phrase, nor that Finduilas conquers under the sign of Ulmo’s greatest champion, Tuor.