I wept writing this final episode of the BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, I wept again as the actors recorded it in the studio and I wept once more when I heard it first transmitted on this Sunday, forty years ago. I still weep every time I hear it...
My plan was always to include 'Bilbo's Last Song' in the final episode as the Ring-bearers sail into the West but – since it did not appear in the novel and Tolkien had gifted the copyright in the poem to Joy Hill, his secretary at George Allen & Unwin – the negotiations for its inclusion were long and tricksy. But it was finally achieved and Stephen Oliver's elegiac setting powered the closing moments of the dramatisation, representing not only the end of Frodo's journey but also that of everyone involved in writing, performing and producing the serial.
Eric Fraser's final illustration for the BBC's weekly listings magazine, Radio Times shows the bittersweet image of Sam, Merry and Pippin watching the boat slip from the harbour into the Firth of Lune...
"And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that ... the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."
For the moment of Frodo's parting from Sam at the Grey Havens, I transferred a few lines from an earlier conversation in the book as a leave-taking valedictory:
"Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."
Words that I used again, heard by Sam – as an echo in his memory – the moment before opening the door to Bag End and announcing to Rosie and baby Elanor: "Well, I'm back."
Thank you for sharing this pictorial journey with me across the six months and twenty-six illustrations by the magnificent, Eric Fraser.