Autumn is the season which many deeply love. Good, dry autumn is, indeed, a magical time of year. The air is crisp, clear and the smells are rich, musky. Leaves change their colour so that the palette of red, yellow and golden is pleasing for the eye and senses. Autumn is yet another proof that nature is a gifted painter and that her choices of colour are always good.

Being the time of change and transition from the hustle and bustle of summer to the quietness of winter, autumn is unsurprisingly the time when many people get itchy feet and wish to set off on a journey. Especially this feeling seems to apply to long walks in the countryside or roams in the forests, fuelled by the desire to be as close to nature as possible. In a letter to his son Christopher, J. R. R. Tolkien admitted to being prone to autumn wanderlust himself, too:

But I have the autumn wanderlust upon me, and would fain be off with a knapsack on my back and no particular destination, other than a series of quiet inns.

(Letters, № 81)

The same sense of autumn wanderlust also becomes very prominent in Frodo Baggins. Having turned into a sole master of Bag End after Bilbo’s departure, Frodo is growing restless as he wants to follow and find Bilbo:

He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself: ‘Perhaps I shall cross the River myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied: ‘Not yet.’

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 56; emphasis mine)

The necessity to set off on a perilous journey to take the One Ring as far from the Shire as possible brings about Frodo’s decision to start it in autumn as “when autumn came, he knew that part at least of his heart would think more kindly of journeying, as it always did at that season” (ibid., p. 86). He is reluctant to start a dangerous quest, but autumn and the prospect of finding Bilbo make the idea more bearable.

When Frodo and the company do begin their journey at last — and they decide to cover the first part of their journey to the Bucklebury Ferry on foot — it happens in September, right after Bilbo and Frodo’s birthdays. Tolkien’s descriptions of autumn on the first leg of the Hobbits’ journey are very evocative: the Professor never fails to mention clear autumn air, morning mists that are so spectacular and eerie, red and golden foliage and the richness of nature’s bounty that the season brings.

However, apart from being the time of travelling and wanderlust, autumn is often seen as the time of decay and aging. Tolkien’s first Quenya poem written around 1915-1916 is entitled Narqelion which, in the High Elven tongue, means Autumn. The mood of this poem is rather nostalgic and sad, with a shade of poignance, as if signifying the end of something beautiful, something delicate which is no more. The imagery is beautiful as Tolkien captured the autumn atmosphere perfectly:

Oh! Fall with its many swallows,
the airs are so full of golden feathers,
and orange-red ones too,
that they call to mind the gems of Elven-home.

(from Narqelion, translated by Chris Gilson)

There, between exquisite descriptions and vivid images of autumn there hides melancholy and heartache that, though not deprived of beauty, are tinted with grief and the sense of finality showing the second side of autumn which many feel, too.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  2. H. Carpenter – The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien; with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2012 (Kindle edition).

Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.

6 thoughts on “Tolkien inspirations /// On autumn.

  1. My younger daughter is going to University in a week’s time and for the first time in many years I approach autumn with no parental responsibilities (apart from that important one of being there when needed). I am in good health, for which I am grateful, and although there are projects to work on there is a little more space than there has been. As I read your lovely piece I began to feel a little like Frodo thinking “more kindly of journeying”. I wonder where I might go.

    1. I hope your daughter enjoys her time at university and you — some more time on your hands 🙂
      Autumn is indeed good for journeying. I tend to feel in the same way, so try to spend as much time as possible outside or in the countryside.

  2. Your post has vividly displays the brightness and occasional gloom of Autumn. Thank you very much for your commentary and Tolkien’s excerpts.
    I have felt this way since I was a boy, even before first reading The Fellowship of the Ring as a 14 year old in the late summer of 1978, but Tolkien (through Bilbo and Frodo) reinforced and articulated the restless feelings of wandering which did and still do arrive with the first hints of autumn.
    In my 6th grade English class we studied poetry for the first time (age 12). A study in contrast was between two very different feeling autumnal poems: Slow Season by Theodore Roethke and A Vagabond Song by Bliss Carmen. It was early in the school year (which in the U.S. means late summer/early autumn) and as a slowly maturing young mind the actual world changing around me while walking to and from school made the connection, tangible.

    Now light is less; noon skies are wide and deep;
    The ravages of wind and rain are healed.
    The haze of harvest drifts along the field
    Until clear eyes put on the look of sleep.
    The garden spider weaves a silken pear
    To keep inclement weather from its young.
    Straight from the oak, the gossamer is hung.
    At dusk our slow breath thickens on the air.
    Lost hues of birds the trees take as their own.
    Long since, bronze wheat was gathered into sheaves.
    The walker trudges ankle-deep in leaves;
    The feather of the milkweed flutters down.
    The shoots of spring have mellowed with the year.
    Buds, long unsealed, obscure the narrow lane.
    The blood slows trance-like in the altered vein;
    Our vernal wisdom moves through ripe to sere.
    –Theodore Roethke
    (I love how the last line of this poem feels the similar to “For east or west all woods must fail….”)

    A Vagabond Song
    There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood —
    Touch of manner, hint of mood;
    And my heart is like a rhyme,
    With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

    The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
    Of bugles going by.
    And my lonely spirit thrills
    To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

    There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
    We must rise and follow her,
    When from every hill of flame
    She calls and calls each vagabond by name.
    –Carman Bliss
    (Although he is a “moss gatherer”, I catch a bit of “Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!” in this one.)

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