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1.1 (Winter 2017)

“Pearl and The Lord of the Rings”

Faith Chesbrough
Fitchburg State University

Introduction

It is no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien drew inspiration from many medieval texts for certain details, ideas, or aspects of what has become an iconic world-renowned book series, and later movie franchise, The Lord of the Rings. As discussed in their book The Keys of Middle Earth, Stuart Lee and Elizabeth Solopova have paired many of these medieval texts, with their translations, to the corresponding chapters of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion where their influences can be seen. One pairing they make is between the “Crossing of the Nimrodel,” which is a scene that takes place in chapter six of book two of The Fellowship, and the medieval poem Pearl.

After reading and analyzing both the section from Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s translation of Pearl, I concluded that there are some striking parallels between the two works that required further research in order to make concrete my ideas about the shared similarities of character, theme, and content. Ultimately I found that the characters Galadriel and Frodo are analogous to the Pearl Maiden and Dreamer respectively. This correlation can be drawn from their shared characteristics of appearance, beliefs, roles, knowledge, and spatial positions, and further substantiated through religious understanding and ideology mostly present in Pearl, and which we can see in Lord of the Rings through parallels with Pearl and biblical lore.

I will mainly examine the scene in The Fellowship where the Company crosses the Nimrodel, a river which acts as a border between the common ground of Middle-Earth and the protected Elvish land of Lothlorien. This is similar to the separation created by the river present in Pearl between God’s kingdom and the earthly plane. Not everyone is allowed to waltz into the magical land of Lothlorien; they must be judged as a non-evil threat by the Elves. Similarly, those on earth have to do good works in order to be judged worthy enough to gain passage into God’s heavenly kingdom. I will also discuss evidence, mostly religious, that further equates the divine (Maiden) and the Elves (Galadriel) to the Dreamer and the more average folk (Frodo).

This argument is significant because it analyzes aspects of Tolkien’s work that reflect upon his interpretation of religious beliefs and medieval poetry. Jane Chance discusses in the first chapter of her book, Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England, Tolkien’s belief that works, such as Pearl, are “not an allegory but [are] allegorical…” (44), which we can say the same of about his own work. Chance’s work highlights many different aspects of religious allegory present in Tolkien’s work, so too does this work compare the characters Galadriel and Frodo to the Maiden and the Dreamer in Pearl with a religious allegorical lens.

Galadriel and the Maiden

The Pearl Maiden and Galadriel have much in common in their appearance, stature, and power. The Maiden is described as a child who is wearing a “robe of glistening white” (17.4), of having “beauty that was there displayed,/It was so polished, pure, and fair” (19.10-11), and golden hair: “gold then shone/Her locks on shoulder loosly laid” (18.9-10). Galadriel is described as “beautiful…clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold… no sign of age was upon [her]” (354).  Being of the same youthful and beautiful description, Galadriel and the Maiden can thus be seen as representations of perfection, or the divine, because beauty is an indication of a lack of imperfection. We can see this in Pearl because all creatures in heaven, i.e. the Maiden, are of God’s design which he made out of his own image–one of perfection. We know this from the Bible: “For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…by him and in him” (English Douay-Rheims Version, Col. 1.16). The description of the Maiden in Pearl–beautiful, fair, immortal, and a patron of heaven–matches this image of divine reflection. The Maiden has been cleansed of all inherited sin through death and thus has achieved immortal perfection. She has become the “Immaculate Pearl in pearls unstained” (63.1). Galadriel is an Elf, who are normally immortal and beautiful creatures, two signs that signify perfection in the same way they do for the Maiden. According to The Silmarillion Elves were made directly by Eru Ilúvatar who is equivalent to the Christian figure of God: “Now the Children of Ilúvatar are Elves and Men” (4), meaning that they were able to inherit his characteristics. In regards to the creation of men, even though they too were created by Ilúvatar, they are still imperfect in a Biblical sense because they did not inherit immortality, or like Adam and Eve they were unable to retain it. We can see further parallels between the Christian God and Eru Ilúvatar from the similar ways in which both the Bible and The Silmarillion begin. Genesis 1 begins, “In the beginning God created heaven, and earth” (English Douay-Rheims Version, Gen. 1.1), and in the forward of The Silmarillion it states, “In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Ilúvatar, made the Ainur of his thought” (7). These primordial beings are of similar origins, as are Galadriel and the Maiden– both were made in the image of their respective God inheriting immortality, beauty, and perfection.

Theses divine qualities make Galadriel and the Maiden worthy to be in positions of power. Both are considered to be queens in their own right. The Maiden is described as having a “crown of countless worth” (20.9), pearls “arrayed and royalled dight” (17.1), and she says that the Lamb “crowned [her] queen in bliss to shine” (35.7). When Frodo and company enter to meet Celeborn and Galadriel, they “stood up to greet their guests, after the manner of Elves, even those who were accounted mighty kings” (354), which implies that not only do they respect all who come to visit them by standing according to this custom, but that they themselves are of equally high stature to those aforementioned kings who rise for guests lower in status than they are. They are also addressed by the titles Lord and Lady, which no one else in the land is, meaning they are the only ones that hold rule and power over Lothlorien. They are understood to be the ruling class, similar to that of royalty, most likely due to their superior wisdom and age–characteristics which give them worth and power in Middle-Earth.

Wisdom comes from knowledge, experience, and good judgement–all things which the Elves have been seen to possess, and which older beings tend to have more of because they have had a longer time to acquire it. The Elves’ great wisdom about the previous happenings and events of Middle-Earth could be useful in order to avoid it being repeated. Wisdom is power in this world, for it is a guide to those whose lives are more affected by the flow of time. The Company knows that the Elves are immortal, so their foresight and advice is invaluable to them. The Maiden is also a possessor of wisdom which she tries to impart upon the Dreamer to help change his attitude and ideas so that he may avoid repeating mistakes made time and again by those in the past. She tries to impart her heavenly wisdom onto him to help him cross the river, which he cannot learn from just any mortal person. Her advice is hard to come by and invaluable once received. Due to the knowledge, experience, and unique viewpoint that Galadriel and the Maiden possess, their words hold more weight and importance to those like Frodo and the Dreamer, those seeking answers and help like a child would go to a mother or a sinner to a saint.

The lands that Galadriel and the Maiden inhabit also share similarities. What makes Lothlorien heavenly is not only the magic that sustains and preserves its ethereal qualities, but also its similarities to the land described in Pearl. Both are described as having fantastic-looking foliage in the surrounding lands and an eternal quality. In The Fellowship Frodo describes the lands as “gold and white,” “unfading,” and “ancient as if they had endured forever” (350), which creates an image of a primordial, decadent, and supernatural land. Pearl’s Dreamer describes the land as having “crystal cliffs so clear of hue” (7.2), “leaves…as burnished silver” (7.5), “food celestial” (8.4), and  “gravel… of precious pearl of Orient” (7.9-10), which does the same. In The Fellowship Frodo says, “On the land of Lorien there was no stain” (351). Here Frodo blatantly states there was “no stain” on Lothlorien, thus conveying that the land is spotless or perfect with no dead or withering flowers and no destruction; it is unfading and eternally preserved. In Pearl the Dreamer says, “Therefore I thought that Paradise,/Across those banks was yonder laid” (12.5-6). The Dreamer’s description of the land across the river as a “Paradise” corresponds to the description of the Garden of Eden in the Bible, a paradise only for perfect humans which was made using Heaven as a model. These lands are described as lacking imperfections and containing beauty beyond this world, thus reflecting two heavenly qualities. Immortal Elves such as Galadriel and immortal queens such as the Pearl Maiden are permitted to enjoy the sanctuary of Paradise due to their embodiment of heavenly virtues.

In order to gain entrance into these heavenly lands, those wishing to enter must pass a test of sorts and cross a river. Treebeard emphasizes for Pippin and Merry the exclusivity of gaining entrance into these Elven lands: “…it is a queer place, and not for just anyone to venture in. I am surprised that you ever got out, but much more surprised that you ever got in: that has not happened to strangers for many a year” (467). When the Company wants to enter into Lothlorien they are met by Elves who surround the edge of the forest guarding any entrance into the land. The Company must be judged as worthy of entrance by these Elves in order to be granted permission to pass. Gimli, who is not judged as worthy, must go through the land blindfolded, and to make it fair the entire Company is blindfolded as well. He is held to stricter requirements, and because he is a Dwarf he does not meet them. Similarly, the Dreamer may enter into and see the heavenly land on its banks only, but to enter deeper into the heavenly lands and cross the river he must first be judged worthy by God. There are stricter requirements for higher clearance of access. The Maiden informs him he must “swiftly seek Him as your friend…’Tis His to ordain what He right may deem” (30.6, 12), meaning that he must draw closer to God so that he may be judged worthy to cross. Gimli may not have such a chance at redemption being unable to draw close to the Elves which have already spurred and judged him.

After passing the test, there is still the matter of crossing the river. Both of these lands are protected by rivers, Galadriel’s by the Nimrodel and the Maiden’s by a nameless, deep river. Legolas describes Lothlorien as having “a secret power here that holds evil back from the land” (338). I believe the secret power to not only be Galadriel’s ring Nenya, but also the river Nimrodel as seen as an extension of her power. There is lore about the Nimrodel Maiden that Legolas sings to the Company after they cross the Nimrodel (339-41, Fellowship), which I believe could actually pertain to Galadriel herself. According to the tale, the river into which the Nimrodel flows is called the Celebrant, and the Elves that dwell in trees are called the Galadhrim. Celeborn would be Celebrant and Galadriel would be the Galadhrim; the two ruling Elves of Lothlorien have slipped into lore of the Nimrodel. The naming is no coincidence and reflects their roles in the lore as being part of the river’s course and significance, tied to its role of protection. Therefore Galadriel is the continued keeper of the “secret power,” as well as the Nimrodel, which guards and is the barrier into Lothlorien. Outsiders must get her approval to enter. Frodo and company are first and foremost brought to the council of Celeborn and Galadriel upon entering Cerin Amroth for this reason. Pearl also contains a “river maiden,” in the sense that the Maiden resides by the river for the majority of the poem, guarding its banks, but is more symbolically connected to it through the concept of purity. She relays the requirements for passage. Both Galadriel and the Maiden agree that those who deserve entrance into the sacred lands must be pure of character and good at heart.

These rivers share the characteristic of being able to perform the act of purification. While crossing the Nimrodel Frodo “as he went on… felt [that] the strain of travel and all weariness was washed from his limbs” (339), demonstrating that the river had a cleansing effect upon him. Aragorn also states that “only evil need fear [Lothlorien], or those who bring some evil with them” (338), which creates a standard of quality of character that those entering must meet in order to pass into the land. This also purifies the mind of worry and stress of those who do in fact harbor no evil, and thus can cross with confidence. In Pearl the Maiden remarks, “From without that precinct pure to stare,/But foot within to venture not;/In the street [of Jerusalem–the citadel of heaven] you have no strength fare,/Unless clean you be without a spot” (81.9-12), which means that if the Dreamer wants to cross the river he will have to be “pure” or else be rejected from heaven. By rejecting him later at the end of the poem, when he finally does attempt to wade across to get his daughter, the river thus tells him that he is not yet pure and that he must become so or he will not be able to see his daughter again. This catalyzes a change in the Dreamer’s life by revealing the truth to him that he is not going to be granted passage into heaven and he must purify himself in order to do this. The rivers in both instances are representations of judgement being passed on those trying to cross into preserved paradises, and indicators of the importance of being pure and true.

The borders created by the rivers also increase the distance between those seeking guidance and help from those who can provide it. Outsiders are separated from the Elves of Lothlorien, the Dreamer is separated from God. Those with sought-after abilities are now more remote and less accessible to those in need. According to the essay “The ‘Pearl’-Poet and the Pelagians” by Lawrence Beaston, the God being referred to in Pearl is one who appears only in the narrator’s dream and who doesn’t interact directly with human beings on their own plane of existence (24). Beaston believes this is because Pearl reflects the medieval belief of the Pelagians that the divine and the humans are separated. This can also be said to be true about the Elves of Middle-Earth because they are leaving Middle-Earth, further removing themselves from the daily lives of the Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, etc, more so than they were already removed through exclusivity and remoteness of location. There exists lore about Galadriel in Middle-Earth because she is such an elusive figure, but at the end of Return of the King she sets sail for the West, making her as removed and unattainable as possible. This travel to the West can also be seen as a death of sorts, for she is completely leaving one land and entering into what is supposedly a land untouched by darkness, similar to that of a heaven. The God in Pearl is also removed across a deep river, behind the walls of heavenly Jerusalem, interaction blocked also by the purity requirement. The Maiden herself is also removed from the earthly plane through death, and inhabits a heavenly land also untouched by darkness.

Most of what the Dreamer and Frodo are seeking from these figures are answers and guidance for their journeys–Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring and the Dreamer’s quest for purpose in life. These beings, Galadriel and the Maiden, being as close to perfection as they can be, have knowledge and experience of a higher sort. They are reputable sources of intellect on all subjects, especially those in nature of the ones Frodo and the Dreamer are seeking. Even though these beings are removed, they are both of high stature. According to Elizabeth Harper’s “‘Pearl’ In the Context of Fourteenth-Century Gift Economies,” it was especially expected of kings to be magnanimous and to not accrue treasures, but to distribute them: “Treasures in a gift economy are to be circulated, not hoarded” (425). Galadriel and the Maiden, both “queens,” reflect this notion that was custom of medieval economies and thus share their guidance with Frodo and the Dreamer. Galadriel grants Frodo (and Sam) a gaze into the Mirror of Galadriel in order to gain insight into what the future may hold as well as many various gifts such as cloaks, lembas, weapons, boats, and knowledge about where they should travel next. The Maiden, though a “favour rare,” is able to grant the Dreamer “A glimpse of that city… Beyond the river below” (82.9), which is Jerusalem in heaven where the Lamb and all the maidens thrive. It is what awaits the Dreamer should he be granted passage into heaven. Both Frodo and the Dreamer want to see what awaits them in the future and how they will succeed. Using the guidance they receive, both should be able to accomplish what they need to do in order to fulfill their destinies.

Frodo and the Dreamer

Frodo and the Dreamer are both inquisitive about the land across the sand, or the land across the river, in their respective works. Both desire to cross, yet neither is worthy to gain full access to the forbidden land. Frodo is able to meet with Galadriel, and the Dreamer is also able to see the holy city of Jerusalem, but Frodo and company must cross the actual land of Lothlorien blindfolded so he hasn’t really been allowed to see the beauty over the river, and similarly the Dreamer hasn’t been allowed to cross the river so he can’t see all the lands of heaven, only what is necessary to meet the Maiden and see the citadel.

Not only are these two inquisitive about the world around them, they are also skeptical of it, both questioning abstract concepts such as fate and destiny. Frodo wonders about the Ring, why him: “I am not made for perilous quests. I wish that I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?” (61). He rejects the fate that has been thrust onto him; he doesn’t want this duty, he never asked for it, and he tries to get rid of it multiple times. He first does so by offering the Ring, the source of his new fate, to Gandalf and then to Tom Bombadil and Lady Galadriel: “I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me” (365). But they all reject it, solidifying Frodo’s fate as Ring-bearer. The Dreamer is inquisitive about rewards of the afterlife. His understanding of the afterlife, as highlighted by the parable of the vineyard workers, is that those who work the hardest and longest in life should then in turn receive a reward of equal compensation. The Maiden argues that since all men made the same contract with the Lamb for his sacrifice all receive the same reward, no matter how long they lived or how many years they spent making up for their sins by doing good works. She says that those who live longer must do more good works because the longer they live the more they sin. The Dreamer thinks that the Maiden is undeserving of her queenly position because she only lived but two years on earth, too young to choose religion or make decisions, yet she received such a high position. The Maiden relays, that if anything, she is more deserving because of the short amount of time she spent out on the sinful earth, so she was closer to purity and perfection. Both wonder about who controls their path in life and what they can do to influence its direction.

Both Frodo and the Dreamer are carriers of an inherited sin. Frodo carries the Ring, which is an evil object infused with the darkness–the very essence–of Sauron, given to him by Gandalf after being left behind by Bilbo when he departed for Rivendell. Carrying this around is a burden and a mark of death, for those seeking the Ring will kill for it. The Ring can be equated to sin because Sauron is in discord with the will of Eru Ilúvatar, the universe’s Creator, which means he now has sinned against his Creator and has aligned with darkness. The Dreamer also possesses sin but in the form of inherited human imperfection: “For our heedless father did of old prepare,/Its doom by Eden’s grove and stream;/Through dismal death must each man fare,/Ere o’re this deep him God redeem” (27.9-12). In this passage the father the Maiden is speaking of is Adam whose original sin all inherit and pay for through death in order to rid themselves of it. This highlights the weakness of the flesh, for outside of the body, once the spirit is free it is perfect and sinless. Similarly, once Frodo rids himself of the Ring he will also be free of its tremendous weight and power that also has preyed upon the weaknesses of the flesh and its desires for power. Both must make amends for mistakes made in the past by their actions and decisions in the present.

Even though before them they see laid out challenges and strife, neither turn back from their paths. Frodo experiences temptation to stray from his path. Sam describes an experience he has with Galadriel: “She seemed to be looking inside me and asking me what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with–with a bit of garden of my own” (358). Afterwards all of them (the company) concurred that they experienced a similar test: “each had felt that he was offered a choice between a shadow full of fear that lay ahead, and something that he greatly desired: clear before his mind it lay, and to get it he had only turn aside from the road and leave the Quest and the war against Sauron to others” (358). Galadriel mentally tests them all, Frodo included; would they give it all up for what they desired most? None turn away though, and they all continue on the dark road to Mordor. Despite visions and words of warning received about the perils which lie ahead, Frodo still follows the Quest through to the bittersweet end because he not only knows that the world will be better off without Sauron, despite his own feelings of inadequacy and inability. He was strong enough to rise above temptation. The Dreamer, like Frodo, experiences temptation, but instead of being tempted to stray from his path he is tempted by the allure of heaven, which in turn redirects his life’s path. The Dreamer wishes to cross the river in order to be with the Maiden, his daughter, even though she told him already that if he crosses he will die. The Dreamer’s love for his daughter is so strong that despite all she has said to him he tries to cross the river anyways to be with her:

“Then saw I there my little queen
That I thought stood by me in the glade!
Lord! great was the merriment she made,
Among her peers who was so white.
That vision made me think to wade
For love-longing in great delight.” (96.7-12)

As a result he is sent back to reality because he could not resist what was in front of him, his path to him was clear. Barbara Newman in her essay “The Artifice of Eternity: Speaking of Heaven in Three Medieval Poems” discusses theological themes present in Pearl and says that “even at its best, earthly knowledge remains starkly opposed to the values of heaven” (11). Even though the Dreamer knew what heaven required of him to cross the river, he only thought of the desires of the flesh and in that moment decided that it would make him happiest to cross it, even though he knew it would end his heavenly experience. This experience changed the direction of his life and pointed him down a path towards that of Godly dedication, that he may follow his original path across the river successfully. These two both made choices in which they strongly believed despite those choices being difficult ones with severe consequences.

The actions of Frodo and the Dreamer are mainly driven by their distraught grief. Frodo is grieving the loss of the Shire. After the destruction of the Ring, Frodo laments “[i]t must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them” (1029). He is speaking of the Shire, of his happiness, giving it up so that others may continue to live on, free of the Shadow of Mordor and of darkness. Frodo has been wounded by blows that cannot heal. The Quest was long and hard; he was injured, abused, captured, tortured, brought to his limits, and then brought back home again. He’s seen horrid visions of destruction and ruin. He’s experienced turmoil, pain, and hardships that will haunt him. Like other Ring-bearers, he will forever remember his experience. It’s not hard to understand why he would mourn the loss of his old, simpler and safer, life.

The Dreamer is mourning the loss of his precious pearl, his two-year old daughter who died of natural causes. B.S.W. Barootes in “‘O Perle’: Apostrophe in Pearl” discusses the use of apostrophe in the medieval poem Pearl. Barootes says that apostrophe “allows the writer or speaker to express either a sentiment of pain and suffering, or of indignation towards a man, a city, a place, or an object” (742). The Dreamer for the first seven stanzas of Pearl talks of the sorrow he feels at the loss of his Pearl. He apostrophizes his loss into his dream-vision in stanza eight allowing him to see her one last time. Frodo has a similar mourning moment when he sings an old walking song while traveling to the boat to bring him away from Middle-Earth, commemorating his last walk in that land. The Dreamer is ripped from his daughter again at the end of the poem and snapped back to reality, mourning her loss anew, but gaining some solace in the fact that he can see her again in the afterlife. At the end of Pearl the Dreamer “[w]ith Christ’s sweet blessing and mine own, I then to God did resign… [to] Make precious pearls Himself to please” (101.8, 12). After experiencing the afterlife firsthand, and how wonderful it is, he resigns himself to a life dedicated to God so that he may purify himself from sin to become a pearl, like the Maiden, and gain entrance into God’s kingdom. Frodo gains some solace at the end of his journey by accomplishing the destruction of the Ring, and thus saving Middle-Earth, even though he sees it as “the end of all things” (947). Frodo decides to leave Middle-Earth in favor of the West since it holds more promises of happiness and respite from the woes attached to his home lands. Both Frodo and the Dreamer were forever changed by their journeys and came out with a new purpose and drive for the direction of their lives.

Conclusion

The similarities between these two character pairings are too many to simply write off as coincidence. Tolkien has drawn on various aspects of Pearl for inspiration of these characters. He has looked at religious, medieval, poetic, and ideological themes present in Pearl and made them his own. This sharing of ideas fits with Tolkien’s belief that all art is a sub-creation, a reflection of the divine. By taking inspiration from a work that was about divine concepts, Tolkien has sub-created it into his art and feels validated doing so. Rebecca Munro also discusses in “The Art of The Lord of the Rings: A Defense of the Aesthetic,” “a sense of sacramentality, the presence and the lurking of the divine in all creation… built into what Andrew Greeley calls the enchanted Catholic imagination” (639), which is a Catholic sensibility that can be seen throughout Tolkien’s work, a man also raised Catholic. His interweaving of divine notions into fictitious works of literature showcases the successful combination of the two at play. Like Pearl, Tolkien’s work can be interpreted in numerous spiritual ways because of the pluralistic meaning prevalent in medieval works, a concept highlighted by Monika H. Lee in “Oral Conceptions of Truth in Fourteenth-Century English Poetry.” Even though I believe the relation between these works to be clear, someone could read either work in a completely different way making this argument invalid. Like Tolkien, one can take any piece of literature and glean what they want from it for use in their own life because one will always see what one wants to. Like Galadriel and the Maiden, and Frodo and the Dreamer, you can even see yourself reflected in the art of another.

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Beaston, Lawrence. “The “Pearl”-Poet and the Pelagians.” Religion & Literature 36.1 (2004): 15-38. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

Chance, Jane. “Chapter 1: The Critic As Monster, Section III: Satan as Critic.” Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England. Rev. ed. Lexington: U of Kentucky, 2001. 37-47. Print.

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Lee, Stuart D., and Elizabeth Solopova. The Keys of Middle-Earth: Discovering Medieval Literature Through the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Print.

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Newman, Barbara. “The Artifice of Eternity: Speaking of Heaven in Three Medieval Poems.” Religion & Literature 37.1 (2005): 1-24. JSTOR. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

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