Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hope and Despair

All semester we have talked about the twinned themes of hope and despair in Tolkien's works. If pressed, I might even argue that Tolkien's construction of Middle-earth is founded primarily in these two themes. But, I might also argue that one of these themes is more important in his works than the other. Of course, I'm not really interested in what I think; I'm much more interested in what you think after this semester's study of Tolkien's less popular works.

Do you think the themes of hope and despair are central to Tolkien's works? Why or why not?

Does one of these themes seem more important than the other to Tolkien? What evidence do you find to support this?



2 comments:

Ashley Cauley said...

I don't know if would go so far as to say that hope is more important than despair in Tolkien's works. Rather, I would say that it is more important for hope to follow despair. There is obviously a lot of loss/longing/tragedy/despair in his stories, but they hardly ever end that way (excepting perhaps "The Children of Húrin"). When things look the darkest and the characters have perhaps given up all hope, the eucatastrophe happens and they are saved. If some remnant of despair is present in the end (like Frodo not being able to really return to the Shire or Smith having to give up the star) there is always a glimmer of hope to offset it (like Frodo going to the Undying Lands promising that Sam will follow after he lives a fruitful life in Middle-earth or Smith being able to spend time with his family and watch as his nephew inherits the star). This leaves the reader with hope in spite of sadness: the type of bittersweet ending that, I think, is Tolkien's trademark.

Lorin said...

At first I was thinking I'd say that hope is the more important theme, but now I'm really not so sure. I think both play an equal part in most of Tolkien's stories, but I don't think either one actually "wins" out over the other. In LOTR, as Ashley says above, there's still some sort of despair, or at least loss, in the end - it's not a complete restoration of hope/wholeness. In the same way, I think the end of Children of Hurin provides a tiny bit of hope rather than all despair: Morwen and Hurin are reunited, and Morwen remains undefeated in the end.

Eucatastrophe, too, seems to depend on both hope and despair in an equal way: as cheesy as it sounds, it's that whole idea that you have to know darkness in order to recognize and appreciate the light.