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At the end of Lloyd Alexander's "The Chronicles of Prydain" series, all of the people with magic left Prydain for some other place, leaving the world to be ruled by men. I thought this was surprisingly similar to the end of "The Return of the King," where Gandalf and the elves leave for the undying land, leaving their world to "men."

I know that both Alexander and Tolkien borrowed from the mythology of the British Isles, is there some myth or story there that would inspire this ending?

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    @ibid Surely not. He did it because there wasn't enough good mythology ;-) -- He certainly knew King Arthur and Beowulf and to my knowing admired both. – larkey Apr 4 '16 at 9:56
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    @larkey It's complicated but from a pure standpoint neither Arthur or Beowulf are English (as in the country of England) mythology – Tim B Apr 4 '16 at 10:59
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    @TimB But British (in the sense of pre-anglo-saxon era) and certainly British Isles ;) – larkey Apr 4 '16 at 11:01
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    @larkey Beowulf is written in England but set in Scandinavia. Arthur is as much (or more) Welsh as English. – Tim B Apr 4 '16 at 11:24
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    @larkey Indeed. However note that Tolkien didn't say Britain, Tolkien said "I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own … Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story… which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country." – Tim B Apr 4 '16 at 11:28
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It seems extremely likely that the ending was inspired by the story of the Death of Arthur; from Le Morte d'Arthur:

Then Sir Bedivere took the king upon his back, and so went with him to that water side. And when they were at the water side, even fast by the bank hoved a little barge with many fair ladies in it, and among them all was a queen, and all they had black hoods, and all they wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur. Now put me into the barge, said the king. And so he did softly; and there received him three queens with great mourning; and so they set them down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head. And then that queen said: Ah, dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me? alas, this wound on your head hath caught over-much cold. And so then they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld all those ladies go from him. Then Sir Bedivere cried: Ah my lord Arthur, what shall become of me, now ye go from me and leave me here alone among mine enemies? Comfort thyself, said the king, and do as well as thou mayst, for in me is no trust for to trust in; for I will into the vale of Avilion to heal me of my grievous wound: and if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul.

Le Morte d'Arthur Book XXI Chapter 5: "How King Arthur commanded to cast his sword Excalibur into the water, and how he was delivered to ladies in a barge*

There are several parallels:

  • Our protagonist is gravely injured
  • Magical creatures (fairies; and note that Tolkien's elves were Faerie in the early drafts) come and take him away to a land of magic (Avalon in Arthur, Aman in Tolkien), so he can be healed
  • This represents the end of the "Golden Age"; the end of the quasi-mystical Camelot in the Arthurian case, and the end of the Age of Elves in Tolkien

I'm not confident how closely we should read these parallels, but it's clear that Tolkien intended at least some of them; in Letter 131, he wrote:

To Bilbo and Frodo the special grace is granted to go with the Elves they loved - an Arthurian ending, in which it is, of course, not made explicit whether this is an "allegory" of death, or a mode of healing and restoration leading to a return.

[...]

It is hinted that they come to Eressëa.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 131: To Milton Waldman. 1951.

It's worth noting at this point that the main port of Eressëa is called Avallónë.

It's also worth noting that Tolkien was at one point writing a poem covering the last days of King Arthur. As late as 1955 he was still thinking about it:

I still hope to finish a long poem on The Fall of Arthur

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 165: To the Houghton Mifflin Co. June 1955.

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    The suspense is killing me ! Did Tolkien ever finish this poem ? The link says it was published in 2013. Why so late ? – Kalissar Apr 4 '16 at 8:01
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    @Kalissar Nope, he didn't -- he has only reached the passage where Arthur & Gawain face Mordred back in Britain. More on the relations of 'The Fall of Arthur' in my answer: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/124023/40955 – larkey Apr 4 '16 at 9:55
9

Adding to Jason's answer:

In "The Fall of Arthur" (Tolkien's version of the Arthurian stories, unfinished but post-mortem published by his son with plenty of worthy commentary) Christopher Tolkien quotes some interesting notes by his father confirming that he at least at one time intended to bridge the gap between Arthur and the stories in Arda:

He [Lancelot] turns from her [Guinevere] and rides west. The hermit by the seay shore tells him of Arthur's departure. Lancelot gets a boat and sails west and never returns. -- Ëarendel passage.

On the next page, Christopher quotes what (probably) is referred to as the 'Ëarendel passage':

[...]
 O! wondrous night
when shining like the moon, with shrouds of pearl,
with sails of samite, and the silver stars
on her blue banner embroidered white
in the glittering gems, that galleon was thrust
on the shadowy seas under shades of night!
Ëarendel goeth on eader quest
to magic islands beyond the miles of the sea,
past the hills of Avalon and the halls of the moon,
the dragon's portals and the dark mountains
of the Bay of Faery on the borders of the world.

And later he quotes the second version of The Fall of Numénor:

But when Morgoth was thrust forth, the Gods held council.
The Elves were summoned to return into the West, and
such as obeyed dwelt again in Eresseëa, the Lonely Island,
which was renamed Avallon: for it is hard by Valinor.

The Fall of Arthur (ISBN 978-0-00-748994-7) pp.136

Christopher goes even farther analyzing this but I recommend buying the book. In my edition, the pages from 123-169 are all dedicated to 'The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion' -- so plenty to read here.

Summary:
Yes, Tolkien has at some point at least planned to merge the Arthurian stories into his. The link would've been the quoted 'Ëarendel passage' with Lancelot following his king to Avalon/Tol Eressëa (nobody knows whether he's found him and he never returns).
Incidentally Gawain's ship is called 'Wingelot' which is also the ship with which Ëarendel seeks for Valinor -- as Gawain dies in the Arthurian stories, in 'The Fall of Arthur' the former-friend of Gawain, Lancelot, apparently has the ship now. This however is more speculation and also contradictory to 'The Silmarillion' where is stated that 'Wingelot' was built by Cirdan for Ëarendel.

(bold and [in brackets] mine)

6

I don't know if this is a direct influence on Tolkien, but the theme of magic dissapearing and a new world that is undeserving of a wiser ancient world is a theme reapeting since ancient times.

One of such tales, perhaps the first one, is Hesiod's Ages of Man , picturing how poorly the new men compare with ancient ones. This stories can probably come from the "dark age" that was the Bronze Age Collapse and the memories of better times.

Actually, there is a cognitive bias studied called Declinism, that describes people that view the past favourably and future negatively. It's kind of understandable seeing how Tolkien witneessed WWI as a soldier.

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