Recipient: Celeritas AKA labourslamp
Request: I'd like to see your take on the after-life of any of the Great Tales that make up Tolkien's legendarium and were written down for our (eventual) reading. What kinds of people wrote them down? Who made sure--and how--that they survived at all, let alone managed to reach Tolkien? I don't care which tale or era you choose to highlight (or even a collection?)--anything from Cuivienen* to that mysterious extra volume of the Red Book made by the Fairbairns--and I don't care which stage of the stories' lives you focus on (if you choose one at all!)--creation, transmission, reception (positive or negative?), duplication, up to translation and publication. Just give me something about manuscripts!
*Not the Ainulindalë in this case, since even though the events may have happened earlier, the Elves wouldn't have learned of it till later.
Author's Notes: This story turned out much longer than I had any intention of writing. For this reason I have divided it into four main story parts, plus a short epilogue and end notes. These will be posted here separately over the next two days. I hope you don't mind not getting all your story at one time, Celeritas!
Summary: ”In Brandy Hall there were many works dealing with Eriador and the history of Rohan. Some of these were composed or begun by Meriadoc himself…It was probably at Great Smials that The Tale of Years was put together, with the assistance of material collected by Meriadoc.” (Prologue: Notes on the Shire Records) In Part One, Merry has an idea.
Word Count: Total story count—13,570; Part I—3,834
Merry pursed his lips and took off his spectacles, laying them to one side, and then looked up at his cousin, who sat across from his desk in the Master's study. "You've done a marvelous job with this Celandine. I think that some of it is as good as some of Frodo's work."
She blushed at his praise. "It was an honour to work on it, Merry. I am not so sure that any of it is as good as Frodo would have done; after all, he was taught by Cousin Calla! But I am more pleased than not with what I did. And writing the copy was a revelation to me. I have heard some of your story, from you and from Pippin. But this told me more than I ever thought I would know of what Frodo and Mayor Sam experienced."
"Well, I am very pleased to have a copy of the Red Book for Brandy Hall at last. And while the binding is not as fancy as the one in the Great Smials, I'd say your illustrations and illuminations put it ahead as far as beauty goes. And your hand is neat and legible through the whole thing. Why, even the original is not so pretty in the parts Cousin Bilbo wrote out. His writing was spidery, to say the least."
She chuckled. While Cousin Bilbo's handwriting was legible, that was the best that could be said for it. Frodo had a beautiful hand, an artist's hand. And Samwise Gamgee wrote in a practical round hand that was also attractive, if not artistic. "But as I said, it really was an honour. I only wish I could have understood more of it. There were so many references to ancient history, and people and places of which I've never heard. We hobbits are woefully undereducated about the past."
"As I learned on my journey. Fortunately, there was no shortage of Big Folk willing to educate us-- though Frodo, of course, knew much more than the rest of us."
There was a brief silence, and then Merry patted the book proudly. "I am sure that Moro is glad you have finished. I know it has taken a great deal of your time."
"I confess I shall be glad of a break from the work. But he's been very helpful with the children and the smial." She hesitated, and then said, "And you have no other projects for me, then?"
Merry shook his head. Was it only his fancy, or did she look just a little disappointed for an instant. But she stood and brushed out her skirts, and said, "Then, Cousin Merry, I shall go find my husband and children and see if they'd care to take a picnic by the riverbank."
He rose and nodded a farewell to her, and then sat down thoughtfully behind his desk.
No other projects. None for him, either. He had completed Herblore of the Shire several years ago. That was the first commission Celandine had done for him, the watercolours of plants that illustrated the book, and he had been so pleased with her work that he had asked her to scribe and illustrate a copy of the Red Book. The last few years she had worked steadily on it, and he had taken the time to consult her and to describe people and places for her illustrations. Now that was done, and he supposed that now he'd need to concentrate more on running Buckland. Though, as is the way of hobbits, Buckland mostly ran itself if there were no emergencies at hand.
He shook his head, and opened the book. "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit..." He could still hear those words in Cousin Bilbo's familiar voice, telling the story in the same way he had told it to generations of young hobbits before he left the Shire. Of course, they'd learned the hard way that time and long telling had rubbed the harder edges off Bilbo's story. Frodo's portion of the tale had come sooner, and was a darker and sadder tale, for all that it ended in victory. Merry felt his eyes burn, as he remembered Boromir, and Théoden, and the many others who had lost their lives. And then there were those lost to him by distance. They did not call it the "Sundering Sea" for no reason. He blinked, almost angrily, and closed the book. Then he got up and carried it over to put it upon the bookstand he'd had specially built just for it.
Many years ago, Cousin Merimas had succeeded to Uncle Dinny’s place as family tutor. He’d have a word with Merimas. None of the Brandybuck younglings should be considered to have finished their education until they each and every one had read every word of it. They would know just what Frodo had sacrificed on their behalf, to keep the Shire as safe as he could.
Sunday, 7 Halimath, S.R. 1458
My Dear Pip,
Brandy Hall’s copy of the Red Book is at last finished. Celandine did a marvelous job with the copying as well as the illustrations! I noticed that save for a map of the Shire at the front of the book, that your copy did not have any illustrations. Perhaps when you next visit, you might persuade our cousin to draw a few for the Great Smials edition.
At any rate, I am seeing to its return. Perry will be bringing it with him when he comes to visit Fam in a few days. In the meantime, I am making certain that Merimas reads our copy. I wish for the Red Book to become a fixture of study here at Brandy Hall.
Don’t laugh Pippin! I know that you believe I think too much about these things, but I am worried that Frodo’s part in things is in danger of being forgotten entirely. Remember what Sam said the last time we were all together at Lithe? That he overheard a little lass asking her mother “What was a Baggins?” That’s almost worse than the stories of “Mad Baggins”, which were told about dear old Bilbo.
Things are going quite well here in Buckland. The harvest was plentiful, and trade is brisk. Buckland seems to quite run itself, without any interference from me. At times I feel quite superfluous.
I look forward to seeing you at Bag End for The Birthday. Estella sends her love to Diamond, and has asked me to enclose that receipt for apple jam that Diamond wished to try. Don’t lose it.
Merimas looked thoughtfully at Merry across the desk. "You wish me to make it a requirement that all my pupils should read it, then?" He gestured to the book on its stand.
Merry leaned back, and crossed his arms. "Is there a problem with that?"
"Only one," Merimas said. "I've yet to read it for myself. I cannot make such a judgement without knowing what's in it. I've heard some of the tales, of course, but that is not at all the same thing, as you well know."
"Of course I do. And there is, naturally, a solution to that." Merry arched one brow in challenge.
"There is, indeed." Merimas got up, went over to the bookstand, and sat down upon the high stool in front of it. He put his hand on the top of the cover. "It's weighty enough. A hefty tome."
Merry chuckled, but then his grey eyes grew serious and he sobered. "It's a weighty tale that it tells."
But Merimas had already opened the book and begun to read.
15 Halimath, S.R. 1458
Perry arrived yesterday. He's fine and so is our copy of the Red Book. I look forward to seeing yours next time I'm at Brandy Hall.
You are bored. You need a new project.
Diamond sends her love to you and to Estella, and so do the children. The jam was very good.
I will see you at Bag End next week.
Merry blinked, and then chuckled. Seven whole sentences! Why, Pippin's letters were becoming positively garrulous as he grew older! He read it again, before putting it aside. Was he bored? He had to confess that the small doings of the Hall and of Buckland did not hold his attention as they once had. He had always had a project or two or three in hand as well as his duties as Master. But the copy of the Red Book was finished, he'd said all he could say about the herblore of the Shire, and it was not the time of year to be working in his garden. When Pippin and Diamond had dwelt at Crickhollow with him and Estella, he and Diamond often had work to do in her stillroom during the winter. But Berilac's wife Viola, who was the Hall's healer, would not have welcomed him in hers; she much preferred to do her distillations by herself.
His children were at the age when they did not care to spend so much time in his company anymore. He sighed. "Estella, Pippin and Diamond send their love."
She looked up at him from her knitting and smiled. "That's nice, dear." She put her needles down in her lap, and asked him, "Are you bored, Merry?"
"Pippin says I am," he admitted wryly. "I honestly don't know that I would call it boredom. But I feel at loose ends. The problem is, I do not know what I would do next."
Estella rose from her chair, and went behind his chair to drape her arms about his neck, leaning down to drop a kiss on top of his head. His sandy hair was not so light as once it had been for he seldom spent as much time in the sun as he had in his youth, but it was liberally sprinkled now with silver threads. But then her own brown hair had its share of silver as well. She chuckled and whispered in his ear. He looked up at her with a grin. "Well, I suppose that would solve the problem of boredom for a while..." and he allowed her to lead him from the room.
The Gamgees were well-pleased to welcome the Brandybucks for the annual party to celebrate The Birthday. Rose-lass had carted Wyn off almost immediately, full of gossip and excitement, while the younger Gamgees enveloped Dilly. Perry, of course, would be arriving with the Tooks.
“I’m expecting them to come up any time now, Merry! Pippin said he’d be here in time for lunch,” said Sam, after the two had exchange their first greetings. Rose and Estella had already entered the smial, and Merry could hear their voices as they went into the kitchen.
“He had better hurry, then,” Merry responded, “if those lovely smells are any indication, it won’t be long till it’s ready!”
Sam grinned, and turned an ear to all the clamour coming from the inside. “How ‘bout a smoke before we go in? Give the young fry a chance to calm down a bit?”
Merry took out his pipe, and he and Sam settled on the bench by the side of Bag End’s front step. It was well-worn now, but Merry could not help but remember the original, which had been destroyed during their year away. He recalled the pang he’d felt on seeing the new one, built as close to the original as possible, but the wood so raw and new. After all these years, it looked now almost exactly like the one he recalled from his earliest memories of Bag End.
He gave a pat to the back of it, and met Sam’s eyes. Sam nodded. “Looks just like the old one now, don’t it?” he asked.
“You would never know, just to look at it,” Merry replied. “So how soon will we be invaded by Tooks?”
“Any minute now, I’m sure,” replied Sam with a chuckle. “And your lad with them?”
Merry nodded. “Perry has been at Great Smials for a few days now—“ but what else he would have said flew out of his mind, for he heard the sound of ponies on the lane.
The Tooks had decided to arrive ponyback. It was the way the family had most often travelled in the years since the children had grown old enough to ride. Pippin looked well, riding at the head of the cavalcade, while his wife and three daughters rode just behind. Faramir and Peridoc brought up the rear.
Sam and Merry strolled down the garden path to the gate to greet the newcomers. Pippin swung down from his mount, and went over to help Diamond down from hers. Perry and Fam helped Fam’s sisters, and Sam opened the gate. “I see you made it,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Was there any doubt?” laughed Pippin. He turned to Perry and Fam. “You lads lead the ponies down to the Ivy Bush,” he said. “And hurry back or you’ll miss luncheon.” With that he lead Diamond through the gate.
Sam watched the two younger hobbits leading the ponies away. “They know Rose won’t start lunch without them.”
Pippin just laughed once more. “Their heads may know that, but their stomachs will worry!”
The afternoon passed in a flurry of activity and preparation. Sam felt that he owed it to Mr. Frodo to carry on the tradition of celebrating Bilbo’s Birthday, and since Mr. Frodo had honoured Bilbo long after he was gone, Sam did the same for Mr. Frodo as well. A couple of years ago, Merry had diffidently asked him if he thought the both of them were still alive in the West.
“I dunno, Merry, if Mr. Bilbo is still around, but I am sure as can be that Mr. Frodo is. And so I hope that Mr. Bilbo is still there, too, since it would be lonesome for Mr. Frodo without another hobbit there to keep him company. Anyhow, till I get some word to say otherwise, I’m going to keep on as I always have.”
Merry could not help his occasional doubts, though there were times when he too, was as sure as could be that his beloved cousin still remained in the world, if not in Middle-earth. Sometimes he could feel his presence still.
And so that evening, amid the crowd of Gamgees, Brandybucks and Tooks crowded about the massive dining room table, when it fell to Merry as the eldest blood relative present, to raise the traditional toast. And he felt not at all foolish, but quite certain in his own heart on this night at least: “To the byrdings, to Bilbo Baggins, one-hundred-and-sixty-eight years old today, and to Frodo Baggins, ninety years old today, may they yet have many happy returns of the day!” The vintage was not Old Winyards, but a marvelous Dol Amroth wine sent to Sam on his own last birthday by the King.
Afterwards, the three of them retreated to the study, as the older children saw to getting the younger ones a-bed (including Elanor’s little son Elfstan and her baby daughter Aster), and Rose, Estella and Diamond saw to the washing up. In a little while, the older children and the wives would join them there to listen to Sam read from the Red Book.
“What part are you going to read tonight, Sam?” Pippin asked.
“Thought I’d read the part about Crickhollow, and how we told Mr. Frodo we was coming with him.”
The two cousins exchanged a look and burst out laughing. “I will never forget the gobsmacked look on Frodo’s face when he realised we knew all along about his journey and the Ring,” said Pippin.
“Merimas thought that part was quite amusing,” said Merry. “He said I must have looked very smug.”
“So Merimas has now read the Brandybuck copy then?” asked Pippin. “And he’s right. You looked insufferably smug. If I had been Frodo, I would have smacked you!”
“He’s still reading it. After all, it’s a rather ponderous tome.” He looked to Sam. “It’s my intent that reading that book becomes part of every young Brandybuck’s education.” He ignored the part about looking smug. He probably had—it was not easy to pull the wool over Frodo’s eyes, and even now after all these years, he found it remarkable that they had managed it.
“I’ve been thinking about it since I got your letter,” said Pippin, “and I think I will see to it at Great Smials as well! Of course, Fam already read the whole thing during one of his visits here, and the lasses have heard it read here as well, but I think all the other Tooks need to do so.”
The cousins looked at Sam, wondering how he would feel about it. He nodded. “All o’ mine save Ruby, Robin and little Tom have heard it all, and they’ve heard Mr. Bilbo’s part. Ruby turns twenty this year. I’ll be letting her listen to the other parts now. Elanor and Frodo-lad, o’ course have read it for themselves. Rosie-lass, Merry-lad and Pippin-lad have read bits of it, but Goldilocks asked t’other day could she read it for herself.”
“What about others?” asked Merry.
“Not many in Hobbiton has the interest.” Sam heaved a great sigh. “There’s them around here don’t remember Mr. Frodo at all. Jolly’s read it, though. He heard so much of it when he was away South, he said he wanted to know the right of it. Still, I wish more would care about it.”
“Well, Sam,” said Pippin, “most hobbits feel what’s done is done and over and done. Those aren’t the sorts of tales they want to know about. And if they aren’t family, you can’t make them.”
The three looked at one another, and nodded wistfully. This was quite true.
Merry had become used to seeing Merimas sitting in the middle of the Master’s study on the tall stool at the bookstand, silently reading. Every once in a while, he'd stop and look over and ask Merry a question.
"What was all that business about the Elves and the Dwarves? Why don't they get on?"
"What was Gandalf up to when he went off and left Bilbo and the Dwarves to fend for themselves?
"Who is Elbereth?"
"How come the Elves made all those Rings? Couldn't they tell who Sauron was?"
"A Balrog? It seems that all the Big Folk knew what that was, but it's not clear to me."
"I don't understand all that business with the Lady Galadriel. What kind of test was she talking about, and how could passing it diminish her?"
"Why did that Lord Denethor want to keep from turning the country over to the King? Come to that, why wasn't King Elessar king all along?"
“He’d been betrothed to the Queen the whole time? Why did no one know of it? And why did he not tell you that you were waiting for his wedding?
There were others as well, and Merry would try to answer, but sometimes he realised that his own information was scanty at best. Merimas would purse his lips and give Merry that sort of look he remembered getting occasionally from Uncle Dinodas, or rarely from Frodo or Bilbo-- a look that said he'd come ill-prepared for his lesson and was a disappointment as a scholar. It irked him to get such a look from a cousin who was the same age as he, or, come to think of it, younger by a year!
Sometimes Merimas would come in to read when Merry was not in his study. One afternoon, a few weeks after Merimas had begun to read, Merry returned after supper to fetch a book for himself and saw Merimas sitting there, just staring at the book, his face stricken.
Merimas nodded. “I never truly understood. I don’t think I understand now completely. But you are right. This is something our young people should read. Not too young, though.”
“I agree. Tweens, of course. I fear the tale would be far too frightening to the youngest of your pupils.”
“I wish I had known Frodo better when he was here.”
Merry felt that sharp stab of grief that even now would come upon him unawares. He swallowed it down, and took a deep breath. All he said was “I wish you had, too.”
That night a hard rain woke Merry from a sound sleep. He rose from his bed quietly, so as not to disturb Estella, and went to look out the window. Storms were far more disturbing to him since the big flood twenty-five years ago. This was just an ordinary Blommath storm, but he knew he’d not settle to sleep until it slacked off. Seventy-six was by no means old, but he wasn’t as young as he used to be either.
He put on his dressing gown and went into the small kitchen of the Master’s apartment, and made himself of a cup of tea, and slipped out with it and padded across the passage to his study. There he sat down behind his large desk, and sipped his tea. An idea was forming in his mind. Years ago, perhaps a year or two before the revelation of the Ring, Frodo had toyed with an idea of writing a history of the Northern kingdoms, but had put it aside reluctantly when he realised there was not enough information in the Shire to do the subject justice.
But of course, that was before he knew where such a source of information could be found. Merry knew he was not nearly the scholar that Frodo had been, but perhaps it would honour his cousin if he could take up such a work. And perhaps it need not be merely confined to the Northern kingdoms…
He pursed his lips in thought for a moment, and then pulled out a sheet of paper from his drawer, and picked up his quill. Dipping it in the ink, he began to write.
5 Blommath, S.R. 1458, Fourth Age 37,
My Lord Celeborn,
Greetings from Buckland, and my wish that all is well in Rivendell.
I am writing to you in the hopes that you will be able to assist me in a project which I have in mind…”
The rain had stopped and the grey light of dawn had begun to light the sky above the Old Forest when he had finished. He’d time to slip back to bed for an hour or so. He was glad the weather was clearing. He’d have someone take the letter up to the King’s Messenger at the Messenger House by the Bridge today.