Every holiday season, when my family and I start our annual re-watch of The Lord of the Rings movies (extended editions, of course), I bring out my three-inch-thick, 1196-page, hardcover edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (illustrated gorgeously by Alan Lee, of course). My husband and son exchange somewhat apprehensive glances, because they know what this portends. As the movies progress, I follow along quietly in the text... and then the inevitable happens: I reach forward, pause the movie, and announce that I have a passage to share.
Frequently, this passage comes from the Appendices found at the end of Tolkien’s masterpiece. Originally published with The Return of the King, the Appendices make up just over 120 pages of the overall text. Comprised of five sections (A - F), they cover the historical background of the various communities in Middle-earth, provide a timeline of events, outline family trees, as well as explain calendars, languages, and pronunciations. Tolkien includes the Appendices into the overall narrative frame of the book, keeping up the illusion that he is a mere translator of the “Red Book” written by Bilbo and Frodo.
I will confess that I have never read the Appendices straight through, but have dipped in and out of all of the sections following whatever informational whim is blowing at the time. I have, however, gravitated most frequently to the parts detailing additional history about the lives of the key characters, and, in particular, what happens to them after the events in the story. It is in the apparent minutiae of these sections that a truly remarkable thing starts to happen. All of these facts and dates and extra tidbits latch on to the narrative of the story, lifting its sense of history and heightening its connection to the reader.
As you read through the Appendices, written in such a concise and informational style, you suddenly stumble on passages that resonate with tremendous emotion. They hit home with force, precisely because they impart such momentous information in just a few sentences. For instance, we discover in just two paragraphs about the tragic death of Denethor’s wife and his resulting self-isolation and depression. “After her death Denethor became more grim and silent than before, and would sit long alone in his tower deep in thought, foreseeing that the assault of Mordor would come in his time.” We suddenly see his behavior in the story in a new light.
Tolkien devotes more time to the story of Aragorn and Arwen, which, of course, was adapted heavily into the movies, but doesn’t appear in the original narrative of the books. There are few things in all of Tolkien’s writing more tragic than these few lines in Appendix A about Arwen’s final moments in Middle-earth after Aragorn’s death: “There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea.”
The lives of these characters did not stop with the destruction of The One Ring. In the subsequent years in the timeline in Appendix B, we see Frodo continuing to struggle with the wound he received at Weathertop. After his departure over the sea with Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, the remaining Hobbits each marry, start families, and take on positions of responsibility in the Shire. They travel and interact with the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor. Their offspring head out into the wider world to have adventures of their own and the lines of their genealogy become intertwined.
Which brings us to the final endings for the members of the Fellowship and my favorite passages in The Lord of the Rings. After the death of his wife, Samwise rides out from Bag End and passes over the sea to follow Frodo. He gives the Red Book to Elanor, his daughter. Merry and Pippin make a final journey to Edoras and Gondor, where they are lain to rest along with the Kings and Stewards of Gondor.
The last entry of the Appendix B timeline tells us, "1541 -- In this year on March 1st came at last the Passing of King Elessar [Aragorn]. It is said that the beds of Meriadoc and Peregrin were set beside the bed of the great king. Then, Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf. And when that ship passed, an end was come in the Middle-earth of the Fellowship of the Ring."
The final paragraph of Appendix A gives us more detail about this extraordinary journey. “We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Gloin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. But it is said that Gimli went also out of desire to see again the beauty of Galadriel; and it may be that she, being mighty among the Eldar, obtained this grace for him. More cannot be said of this matter.”
In these passages, Tolkien confirms that the bonds forged between the characters lasted well past the events in the story. The legacy of their friendship carries far beyond the resolution of the conflict and the defeat of the villain. The themes of loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice persist long after the adventure fades away. The deeds of the least among these characters are not forgotten, whether noble or evil; indeed, they are noted in the annals of history and affect generations to come.
This is all due to the vision Tolkien had to create a complete mythology around Middle-earth. Every character, from Frodo to Gollum, from Aragorn to Grima Wormtongue, deserves their place in the chronicle. The Appendices are presented as side notes to an epic tale, something extra to read, not vital to the story. But they are in no way inconsequential. They matter greatly in this story, because they solidify for us the profound effect these experiences had on the characters’ lives and the entire universe Tolkien so meticulously created. In that regard, there are no details too small to note in Middle-earth. Every footnote matters.