J.R.R. Tolkien and the Discipline of Hope
- Friday, December 07, 2012
What would compel him to go forward in the midst of an apparently hopeless situation? Certainly his loyal friendship with Frodo is a powerful force. But I think more is at work in this moment. Professor Ralph C. Wood explains in his book, The Gospel According to Tolkien, that the heroes of The Lord of the Rings exhibit a kind of hopeful endurance that is different from mere stoic endurance: “Stoics endure life both fearlessly and tearlessly, convinced that things could not be other than they are . . .” (p. 104). Unlike the stoics, Samwise is convinced that things can become “other than they are.” More to the point: Sam is convinced that his life is part of a larger story that will end well, no matter how his own story may end.
Sam exhibits the discipline of hope – a discipline that can empower us to see something on the other side of our present struggles.
LEARNING THE DISCIPLINE OF HOPE
To be honest, hope is not an easy discipline for me. I tend to get stuck on life's disappointments. Maybe that’s why I appreciate Tolkien so much. He had experienced great sadness in his life, but he was somehow able to exemplify hope in his storytelling. Because I'm so convinced of hope's value, I want to help both my children and my students intentionally pursue hope. So how can we pass on the discipline of hope to our own children?
If your kids are old enough, I suggest looking for it in the upcoming Hobbit movie. Certainly Bilbo has to exhibit a combination of hope in something beyond the present struggle, otherwise why not just give up when in the dark cave of Gollum or under the dark shade of Mirkwood Forrest? Likewise, try re-watching The Lord of the Rings movie and highlighting the importance of hope there as well. How is it that characters there were able to hold out against overwhelming forces and overwhelming odds? Courage? Certainly. But I think that courage was rooted in a faith that believed there was something beyond the present struggle.
Focusing on something beyond our present struggle is good advice for today as well. I recently had a conversation with a local community leader that was insightful on this issue. When one of his employees or family members struggled with fear, he asked them about another time in their life when they faced something fearful and overcame it. He then said, "Focus on that feeling of overcoming the fear. Focus on that - not the fear."
Learning to focus on hope and not fear - that’s good advice for both hobbits and humans.
Stanley J. Ward is the Director of Campus Life and Ministry at The Brook Hill School in Bullard, TX. He is also the author of Worldview Conversations: How to Share Your Faith and Keep Your Friends.
The Letters of JRR Tolkien and JRR Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter.
The Gospel and Middle Earth: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle Earth by Ralph Wood
Publication date: December 7, 2014
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