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  • "Changed, Changed Utterly":The Implications of Tolkien's Rejected Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings
  • Nicole duPlessis (bio)

In a letter from April 1954,1 Tolkien describes his delight in hobbit children, and mentions an Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings that gives "a further glimpse (though of a rather exceptional family)," but which was "so universally condemned that I shall not insert it" (Letters 179). Tolkien's concession and seemingly reluctant acknowledgment in the same letter that "one must stop somewhere" produces the well-known ending in which Sam, returning to his wife Rosie from seeing Frodo off at the Grey Havens, announces "Well, I'm back," followed by further, non-narrative exposition in the Appendices. In contrast to contemporary writers, who might publish happenings in their secondary worlds as supplementary short stories in an electronic format to satisfy or engage a fan base,2 Tolkien's Appendices feature spare details told briefly and formally to offer closure while elevating the story to a history, maintaining consistency with the Prologue.3

Though rejected, the Epilogue—in some ways an ending to a very different work—does offer some insights into the published version of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien states plainly in another oft-quoted letter, to Milton Waldman,4 "I think the simple 'rustic' love of Sam and Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the 'longing for Elves,' and sheer beauty" (emphasis original, Letters 161).5 Five days after the publication of The Return of the King, Tolkien wrote to Katherine Farrer,6 lamenting the Epilogue for a different reason: "I still feel the picture incomplete without something on Samwise and Elanor, but I could not devise anything that would not have destroyed the ending, more than the hints (possibly sufficient) in the appendices" (Letters 227). Thus, Tolkien identifies two familial relationships (husband and wife; father and daughter) that the Epilogue seeks—however imperfectly—to dramatize, and suggests that the interactions between Sam and his wife Rosie and daughter Elanor capture something essential that, for the author if not for his readers, is missing from the final version. [End Page 9]

Without arguing that it is a preferable ending,7 it is productive to consider the Epilogue as a gloss to The Lord of the Rings, directing the reader to analyze more closely certain aspects of Sam's homecoming and to consider the story- and world-building implications within the spare details of the Appendices. Specifically, the scenes of Sam's children and his brief interaction with his wife Rose invite consideration of how the War of the Ring might impact the raising of hobbit children and the intimacy of spouses, and whether it is, after such an event, possible to go home—even for Sam. On the one hand, the Epilogue expands on the prosperity of the Shire after its "scouring"—highlighting Sam's "exceptional family" and "rustic love." But it also reveals the consequences of contact with and knowledge of the outside world, as simple hobbit joys ("food and cheer and song" and not "hoarded gold," as Thorin notes in The Hobbit [xviii, 348]) are touched by the sorrows of Middle-earth, and particularly of the Elves. This contact with the "heights," as Pippin would say in The Return of the King (V, viii, 146), also creates tension between familial love and the quasi-religious feelings and experiences that Sam has had or has shared with Frodo.

The two draft versions of the original Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings have appeared in two published volumes: Sauron Defeated (1992) and The End of the Third Age (2000), which is a partial reprint of Sauron Defeated. While the letters that document Tolkien's regrets over eliminating the Epilogue are often cited, there have been no close readings of the Epilogue to determine what the abandoned text communicates, either about the Sam-Rosie and Sam-Elanor relationships or about the fate of Middle-earth, of hobbits, or of Sam in the years following Frodo's...


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