THE COTTAGE OF LOST PLAY
On the cover of one of the now very battered 'High School Exercise Books' in which some of the Lost Tales
were composed my father wrote: The Cottage of Lost Play,
which introduced [the] Book of Lost Tales
; and on the cover is also written, in my mother's hand, her initials, E.M.T., and a date, Feb. 12th 1917. In this book the tale was written out by my mother; and it is a fair copy of a very rough pencilled manuscript of my father's on loose sheets, which were placed inside the cover. Thus the date of the actual composition of this tale could have been, but probably was not, earlier than the winter of 1916-17. The fair copy follows the original text precisely; some further changes, mostly slight (other than in the matter of names), were then made to the fair copy. The text follows here in its final form.
Now it happened on a certain time that a traveller from far countries, a man of great curiosity, was by desire of strange lands and the ways and dwellings of unaccustomed folk brought in a ship as far west even as the Lonely Island, Tol EressÃa in the fairy speech, but which the Gnomes call Dor Faidwen, the Land of Release, and a great tale hangs thereto.
Now one day after much journeying he came as the lights of evening were being kindled in many a window to the feet of a hill in a broad and woody plain. He was now near the centre of this great island and for many days had wandered its roads, stopping each night at what dwelling of folk he might chance upon, were it hamlet or good town, about the hour of eve at the kindling of candles. Now at that time the desire of new sights is least, even in one whose heart is that of an explorer; and then even such a son of EÃrendel as was this wayfarer turns his thoughts rather to supper and to rest and the telling of tales before the time of bed and sleep is come.
Now as he stood at the foot of the little hill there came a faint breeze and then a flight of rooks above his head in the clear even light. The sun had some time sunk beyond the boughs of the elms that stood as far as eye could look about the plain, and some time had its last gold faded through the leaves and slipped across the glades to sleep beneath the roots and dream till dawn.
Now these rooks gave voice of home-coming above him, and with a swift turn came to their dwelling in the tops of some high elms at the summit of this hill. Then thought Eriol (for thus did the people of the island after call him, and its purport is 'One who dreams alone', but of his former names the story nowhere tells): 'The hour of rest is at hand, and though I know not even the name of this fair-seeming town upon a little hill here I will seek rest and lodging and go no further till the morrow, nor go even then perchance, for the place seems fair and its breezes of a good savour. To me it has the air of holding many secrets of old and wonderful and beautiful things in its treasuries and noble places and in the hearts of those that dwell within its walls.'
Now Eriol was coming from the south and a straight road ran before him bordered at one side with a great wall of grey stone topped with many flowers, or in places overhung with great dark yews. Through them as he climbed the road he could see the first stars shine forth, even as he afterwards sang in the song which he made to that fair city.
Now was he at the summit of the hill amidst its houses, and stepping as if by chance he turned aside down a winding lane, till, a little down the western slope of the hill, his eye was arrested by a tiny dwelling whose many small windows were curtained snugly, yet only so that a most warm and delicious light, as of hearts content within, looked forth. Then his heart yearned for kind company, and the desire for wayfaring died in him-and impelled by a great longing he turned aside at this cottage door, and knocking asked one who came and opened what might be the name of this house and who dwelt therein. And it was said to him that this was Mar Vanwa TyaliÃva, or the Cottage of Lost Play, and at that name he wondered greatly. There dwelt within, 'twas said, Lindo and VairÃ who had built it many years ago, and with them were no few of their folk and friends and children. And at this he wondered more than before, seeing the size of the cottage; but he that opened to him, perceiving his mind, said: 'Small is the dwelling, but smaller still are they that dwell here-for all who enter must be very small indeed, or of their own good wish become as very little folk even as they stand upon the threshold.'
Then said Eriol that he would dearly desire to come therein and seek of VairÃ and Lindo a night's guest-kindliness, if so they would, and if he might of his own good wish become small enough there upon the threshold. Then said the other, 'Enter,' and Eriol stepped in, and behold, it seemed a house of great spaciousness and very great delight, and the lord of it, Lindo, and his wife, VairÃ, came forth to greet him; and his heart was more glad within him than it had yet been in all his wanderings, albeit since his landing in the Lonely Isle his joy had been great enough.
And when VairÃ had spoken the words of welcome, and Lindo had asked of him his name and whence he came and whither he might be seeking, and he had named himself the Stranger and said that he came from the Great Lands, and that he was seeking whitherso his desire for travel led him, then was the evening meal set out in the great hall and Eriol bidden thereto. Now in this hall despite the summertide were three great fires-one at the far end and one on either side of the table, and save for their light as Eriol entered all was in a warm gloom. But at that moment many folk came in bearing candles of all sizes and many shapes in sticks of strange pattern: many were of carven wood and others of beaten metal, and these were set at hazard about the centre table and upon those at the sides.
At that same moment a great gong sounded far off in the house with a sweet noise, and a sound followed as of the laughter of many voices mingled with a great pattering of feet. Then VairÃ said to Eriol, seeing his face filled with a happy wonderment: 'That is the voice of Tombo, the Gong of the Children, which stands outside the Hall of Play Regained, and it rings once to summon them to this hall at the times for eating and drinking, and three times to summon them to the Room of the Log Fire for the telling of tales,' and added Lindo: 'If at his ringing once there be laughter in the corridors and a sound of feet, then do the walls shake with mirth and stamping at the three strokes in an evening. And the sounding of the three strokes is the happiest moment in the day of Littleheart the Gong-warden, as he himself declares who has known happiness enough of old; and ancient indeed is he beyond count in spite of his merriness of soul. He sailed in Wingilot with EÃrendel in that last voyage wherein they sought for KÃ´r. It was the ringing of this Gong on the Shadowy Seas that awoke the Sleeper in the Tower of Pearl that stands far out to west in the Twilit Isles.'
To these words did Eriol's mind so lean, for it seemed to him that a new world and very fair was opening to him, that he heard naught else till he was bidden by VairÃ« to be seated. Then he looked up, and lo, the hall and all its benches and chairs were filled with children of every aspect, kind, and size, while sprinkled among them were folk of all manners and ages. In one thing only were all alike, that a look of great happiness lit with a merry expectation of further mirth and joy lay on every face. The soft light of candles too was upon them all; it shone on bright tresses and gleamed about dark hair, or here and there set a pale fire in locks gone grey. Even as he gazed all arose and with one voice sang the song of the Bringing in of the Meats. Then was the food brought in and set before them, and thereafter the bearers and those that served and those that waited, host and hostess, children and guest, sat down: but Lindo first blessed both food and company. As they ate Eriol fell into speech with Lindo and his wife, telling them tales of his old days and of his adventures, especially those he had encountered upon the journey that had brought him to the Lonely Isle, and asking in return many things concerning the fair land, and most of all of that fair city wherein he now found himself.
Copyright © 1992 by J. R. R. Tolkien. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.