Everything I need to know about romance, I learned from Tolkien (part II): On quests involving grave danger and small chance of success
Posted by David
After I introduced the riches of Tolkien on romance last week, my inbox flooded with pleas for help on the subject “how can Tolkien help me win the love of my life?” So I won’t shadowbox the shrubbery’s periphery any further, but shall get right to the mail.
This week’s question comes from Diffident in Des Moines:
“I’m really smitten with this girl in my church’s college and career small group. However, her father – who is very protective – looks upon me skeptically. Maybe even scornfully. He says that anyone good enough to marry his daughter will have to “prove his worth.” While I don’t know exactly what that means, I’ve reached a point where I wouldn’t put anything past this man. So now I’m wondering: How should I respond if her father sends me on a quest [almost] certain to result in death?”
Killing off suitors by sending them on perilous quests, once considered a perfectly acceptable practice for fathers, is now deemed passé in most circles. In other words, Diffident, your contingency is remote. Still, the practice of assigning perilous quests, though fallen out of favor in recent years, has an undeniable quaint charm to it. So don’t fret if your prospective father-in-law orders you, say, to march into Hell armed only with a butterknife and a quiver of Nerf® arrows. Think of the one-in-a-billion opportunity before you, and the heavenly cause.
As for pertinent intelligence you might gain from Tolkien, you should know that he addressed your unlikely contingency in the story of Beren and Lúthien and the quest for the Silmaril. The obstinate father in that story was Thingol, Elf-King of the realm of Doriath, who would rather have seen Beren die than allow his daughter to marry a mortal man. So he sent Beren to steal a Silmaril, one of the great jewels, from the iron crown of the Dark Lord Morgoth.
Since the story so squarely addresses your question, I recommend you read it in full. And while I won’t spoil the story here, I can, without spoiling it, relate a few pertinent observations:
- Do not advise your beloved’s father against sending you on the quest. Sending Beren to fetch a Silmaril backfired on Thingol. You may be tempted, therefore, to advise your beloved’s father that by sending you on a perilous quest, he’d be moving forces whose effects he couldn’t begin to fathom. Resist the temptation. Such an observation, however wise and commendable coming from a matron or trusted advisor, should never come from a suitor. Gallantry, not wisdom, is the virtue that best adorns your office. Therefore . . .
- Accept the quest in the most gallant possible manner. That you should accept the dangerous quest is a no-brainer, in every sense of the term. But give thought to the manner of your acceptance. Laughing in the father’s face, for example, is recommended. So are public declarations that the object and dangers of the assigned quest are but small things compared to winning the hand of your beloved.
- Remember that death cannot stop true love. While I borrowed that quote from another fantasy world, it’s about as good a one-line summary of the tale of Beren and Lúthien as you’ll find anywhere.
In short: take courage, my good fellow, and be Diffident no more. If Tolkien was right about anything, as the probability of the success of a noble quest falls, the certainty of its success rises.