25 March 2023

Tolkien Reading Day: On Tuor and the sea-longing

Today, being – in addition to many other and more important events – is the anniversary of the destruction of the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. This makes today Tolkien Reading Day, the theme of which this year is Travel and Adventure.

When this theme was first announced, my thoughts turned first to Tuor and his wanderings to the city of Gondolin. We find his story in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth and a mention of it in The Silmarillion.

The story of Tuor speaks to me because of the sea-longing that awoke within his heart. In Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, we read Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin:

But now Tuor was dismayed by the fury of the strange waters, and he turned aside and went away southward, and so came not to the long shores of the Firth of Drengist, but wandered still for some days in a rugged country bare of trees; and it was swept by a wind from the sea, and all that grew there, herb or bush, leaned ever to the dawn because of the prevalence of that wind from the West. In this way Tuor passed into the borders of Nevrast, where once Turgon had dwelt; and at last at unawares (for the cliff-tops at the margins of the land were higher than the slopes behind) he came suddenly to the black brink of Middle-earth, and saw the Great Sea, Belegaer the Shoreless. And at that hour the sun went down beyond the rim of the world, as a mighty fire; and Tuor stood alone upon the cliff with outspread arms, and a great yearning filled his heart. It is said that he was the first of Men to reach the Great Sea, and that none, save the Eldar, have ever felt more deeply the longing that it brings (emphasis mine).

Jenny Dolfen, And his heart was filled with longing

If you have ever stood upon a cliff overlooking the sea at the hour of sunset, you know something of that great sea-longing that Tuor felt.

Indeed, the sea-longing never leaves those who first experience it, both in our world as well as in Tolkien’s sub-creation. In The Silmarillion, we are told that in the heart of Earendil, the sun of Tuor and Idril Celebrindal, “the Sea spoke ever in his ear and hart, even as with Tuor his father.”

The sea-longing that awakens also in our hearts is not simply a longing to look upon the depths of the waters. This is why as Tuor “felt old age creep upon him … ever a longing for the deeps of the Sea grew stronger in his heart. Therefore he built a great ship, and he named it Eärrámë, which is Sea-Wing; and with Idril Celebrindal he set sail into the sunset and the West, and came no more into any tale or song” because he set sail to the Undying Lands.

The sea-longing calls us beyond the circles of this world into the mystery of eternity. The vastness of the sea reminds us both of our own littleness and of the immensity of God. Our travelling and adventuring in this world are only a pilgrimage to God. It pertains to us now to abandon ourselves to the sea-longing, to our yearning for God, so that we, too, might set sail at the end of days for the great harbor of heaven.

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