Friday, November 27, 2015

Hope and Despair

A few weeks ago, we talked about the conflict between hope and despair in LOTR. Understandably, this dichotomy appears most often when the characters are facing intense trials. During these times, it would be easy to tip over the edge into utter despair (as we see Denethor do). However, Tolkien's heroes always* seem to draw up on some last bit of courage and overcome their battles. Instead of surrendering to despair, the heroes choose to live in hope. I think this happens a lot in LOTR, but two specific instances that come to mind are the battle of Helm's Deep and Sam and Frodo's battle up Mount Doom. At Helm's deep, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fight on despite the dark turns the battle takes. At Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam must constantly resist the urge to abandon hope and give up. They are exhausted and worn, and yet Sam carries Frodo partway up the mountain, and then fights off Gollum while Frodo continues on. In both these situations, there is still a faint glimmer of hope that the darkness can be defeated.

The theme of hope and despair appears in many of Tolkien's works. What are some other times when we see this theme at work in his writing (other than LOTR)? Which particular stories or scenes in The Silmarillion exemplify this conflict? What about his poem "Mythopoeia?" Do we see this in his short stories?

*Feel free to disagree with me for the sake of discussion!

1 comment:

Ulmo said...

I agree that this theme is vital to Tolkien's works, and noticed this theme most recently in "Leaf by Niggle." Poor Niggle is constantly distracted by the most tedious tasks, and yet still hopes and yearns to finish his masterpiece. He nearly does give up during his trial period - Purgatory is an excellent way to describe it - yet the idea is still present in the back of his mind. If he had given up on this idea completely, the story may have had a different turn, and his place in 'heaven' may not have been granted. Being that his own heaven as a goal seems to be the whole point of Tolkien's story, I'd say that hope does play a huge role in his writing, even in short stories.