We were having a lazy morning yesterday, in the sunny, warm conservatory, and Andrew was playing The Beatles 1967-70 on his turntable, when “The Fool on the Hill” started playing.
I love this song. I do understand why people tend to idolise John Lennon, with his experimentation, controversial ideas, and clear gift for originality, but I would insist that McCartney is the more melodic of the two, and his songs have aged much better and are much more memorable as tunes. “The Fool on the Hill” is a clear example of his talent, and so is “Blackbird”.
Now, Tolkien’s drawing is most probably a rather lighthearted representation of his early conception of Arda (the larger world of which Middle-earth is just a part) as a flat world, surrounded by the Outer Sea. One could potentially walk all the way to its end and literally fall off its edge. Tolkien changed his mind later with the story of the fall of Númenor leading to the notion of the World Made Round. But Narnia, for example, which was also inspired by medieval representations of the world, remained flat.
Nevertheless, the carefree, completely oblivious sauntering of the stick-man (you can’t wipe off my mind the idea that he is sporting a “foolish grin”) makes me think every time of “The Fool of the Hill”, who “sees the sun going down/ and the eyes in his head/ see the world spinning round”. Tolkien’s drawing even features a whirling, spinning sky (in a style that has been compared with Van Gogh’s) with the sun’s light merging with the night sky, complete with moon and stars.
As for the Fool from the major Arcana, he’s looking up and can’t see the precipice in front of him, much more interested in spiritual rather than earthly things. Will he plunge into the abyss, the victim of a naive approach to life, or will he fly and defy the pull of gravity? Poised in this position, full of doom or potential (depending on one’s view), he is a symbol of Everyman at the beginning of life’s journey. Or is it at the end? If memory doesn’t fail me, the Fool is either card 0, before even the beginning of numbering, or card 22, the very last one. And so we come back full circle to Tolkien’s idea of the “end of the world”.
Don’t forget Tolkien’s other “off the edge of the world” figure, Éarendel/Eärendil, whose journey launched the whole Middle-earth enterprise in 1914! Despite aspects of heroism, in the first poem, and in his later connection with the poem “Errantry”, he is a bit of a fool too.
Thank you, this is a wonderful musing, and as I have from childhood associated much of the Beatle music with the journeys of Bilbo and Frodo and Sam since they were introduced to me at the same age, I totally enjoyed your free associations
I hope Paul McCartney gets to hear of your musings; I think he’d enjoy them. I certainly did.