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Dreamed 1986/2/1 by Chris Wayan

Edith and JRR Tolkien.

I quit my job and go back to school. I take a writing class, literature classes...

I must write a paper, and the deadline's nearing. On the freeway, I get an idea. I'll write about Tolkien. He's retro now. I'll pick a small, self-contained part: a poem! The Elvish folk-poem of Beren and Luthien. I always liked their love story, and I recall the last few lines, which helps when you're driving and writing a paper in your head and can't look anything up:

Long was the way that fate them bore
O'er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The sundering seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
in the forest singing sorrowless.
I drive along Bayshore Freeway, framing a thesis in my head, emphasizing the magical effects of structure. Not imagination, not boldness... structure. The odd rhythm-scheme, a mode Tolkien's narrator calls "ann-thennath," sounds genuinely folky, yet also feels like woven branches, creating the sense you're peering through deep woods at the story, the woods of time: for these lovers lived six thousand years before.

And the last line! " the forest singing sorrowless." Again Tolkien creates the frame he wants of time and distance so there's room for magic to breathe, without bumping against the current "primary universe", in this case, tired, frightened hobbits who listen to this old song to cheer them, as Dark Riders gather around them for an attack. Tolkien creates this frame with ONE WORD--the ambiguity of "sorrowless." In that single word, he evokes wild songbirds, endlessly living and singing out their mortal lives, oblivious of history, knowing momentary pain, but never sorrow, never regret... and yet he subtly refers to Beren and Luthien themselves (her nickname Tinuviel means "nightingale"), for they did, in the end, live in the forest together as fellow mortals, and die, happily, without regrets, ephemeral as birds... sorrowless.

"And they died happily ever after," so to speak.

Slowly I pull myself out of the frame, and find myself on the freeway, and realize... I really need to move out of here. The Silicon Valley isn't the right frame for me any more.

And then I wake in bed. I was wrong. That freeway wasn't the frame; that too was a dream--part of the picture. No, the frame is my bed, my room, the pad I'm writing on. And outside my dream, outside the frame, I'm no longer in college and I have a job where they don't care if I can explain how the frame protects the picture, and how to make fairytales work, and how to draw a safe circle for dreams to come true.

The dream is right. I must start planning to leave this place. This dreamless place.


Within months I was driving weekly up to San Francisco to an improv dance class, making friends in the arts community. And saving up. Four years later I quit my job at Stanford and moved to the City of Dreams.

And here will I live till I pass away
in the City singing sorrowless.
Edith and JRR Tolkien's shared headstone.

LISTS AND LINKS: rants - literary dreams - false waking and dreams within dreams - dream advice - Tolkien dreams (for his ideas on creating secondary worlds, see his essay "On Fairy-Stories") - Only in San Francisco - the bizarre publisher's error that led to The Lord of the Rings at the expense of Beren and Luthien

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