“Fellowship is possible, maybe, but kinship not so, for Man is Man and Elda Elda, and what Iluvatar has made unalike may not become alike while the world remains”
– Meril-i-Turinqi, “The Book of Lost Tales”
A few months ago, I moved back from South America to the UK – and a few weeks ago, I finally received my shipment of household goods, including my Tolkien books (which spent a couple of months sitting in a Colombian warehouse, making it rather difficult for me to do the research necessary to keep up with the blog!) To celebrate having them back, I decided to do an entry on a character from one of the obscurer reaches of the legendarium – Meril-i-Turinqi, Queen of the Elves of Tol Eressea in the “Book of Lost Tales”. Unlike the other characters I’ve looked at so far as part of the blog – including characters such as Andreth who similarly appear only in the “History of Middle-earth” series – Meril is one character who we can’t say for sure even exists in Tolkien’s final conception of the story. When Gandalf, Galadriel, Frodo et al disembark on the shores of the Lonely Isle post-RoTK, are they arriving on an island ruled by this teller of tales and dispenser of limpe? On the one hand, there’s nothing anywhere to contradict it. On the other, so much else from the Lost Tales era fell by the wayside, and the tales themselves ended up so fundamentally altered, that there’s absolutely no guarantee that Meril was still envisaged as part of the scene.
All that said (phew!), who exactly is this mysterious character? She’s described by others in the Book of Lost Tales as the Queen of the Lonely Isle – and although it’s not made clear exactly what degree of authority she wields or how, this is enough to mark her out as one of the few female authority figures to make an appearance in Tolkien’s works. No king or other male authority figure is mentioned in conjunction with her, meaning that whatever authority she wields, she does so entirely by her own right (something which can’t be said for, say, Galadriel or Melian). Indeed, from the few references in the text to who she is and why she holds the position she does, it seems clear that she derives her authority from her lofty ancestry. She is first mentioned in the text as a descendant of “Inwe” (presumably a forerunner of Ingwe, High King of the Noldor and licker of the Valar’s boots – er, sorry, let out my inner Feanorian for a moment there!) and later informs Eriol (the mortal mariner whose experiences on Tol Eressea are the framework for the telling of the Lost Tales) that she is also related to the Shore-pipers – the Solosimpi, who would later evolve into the Teleri. If, as seems very likely, this ancestry is the reason why she occupies the position of Queen, then it’s the sole example I can think of where an Elven woman is a hereditary monarch.
As far as her actual purpose within the text is concerned, Meril is a dispenser both of healing and of wisdom. Her home, set amid flowers and elm-trees, is described in idyllic terms and provides a respite from the cares of this world (and for Eriol, a respite even from the sea-longing, that most Tolkienian of afflictions). The drink she provides (limpe), meanwhile, appears to be possessed of restorative properties far beyond the miruvor of Rivendell: it is through the drinking of limpe, we learn, that the “hearts (of the Eldar) keep youth”. However, her dwelling is not merely a place of escapism: Meril is also a dispenser of wisdom and a teller of hard truths. Her refusal to allow Eriol to drink limpe, and her assertion of the fundamental differences between Men and Elves (“Man is Man, and Elda Elda, and what Iluvatar has made unalike may not become alike while the world remains”) could have come from the mouth of Finrod Felagund himself in the “Athrabeth Finrod a Andreth”.
As I mentioned further up, it’s not at all clear whether or not Meril survived into Tolkien’s later conception of the legendarium. What is clear, however, is that something of her survives in later, more fully-realised characters such as Melian and, in particular, Galadriel. I’m not the first person to point this out. John Garth, in his wonderful book “Tolkien and the Great War” (seriously, if you haven’t read it, check it out!) points out the similarities in their dwelling-places (“She (Meril) lives among her maidens in a ceremonial circle of trees in Kortirion, like Galadriel in her city of trees in Lothlorien”) and in their functions (“Both elf-queens are repositories of ancient knowledge, but each also is the source of a supernaturally enduring vitality: Meril through the marvellous drink limpe that she dispenses, Galadriel through the power to arrest decay in her realm”). The two women even share a similar ancestry: Galadriel, like Meril, is descended from the Vanyar (Meril through “Inwe”, Galadriel through Indis, second wife of Finwe), and both are also related to the Solosimpi/Teleri (Galadriel’s mother Earwen is the daughter of the king of Alqualonde). So even if Meril (as seems likely) did not survive into Tolkien’s final conception of the political configuration of Tol Eressea, the idea of the great queen of illustrious ancestry who is simultaneously a dispenser of healing and wisdom did survive, and gave rise to one of the most memorable characters and sequences of “The Lord of the Rings”.