An exceptionally lovely moment of hope returning unexpectedly is found in The Return of the King, in the chapter “The Land of Shadow.” Frodo and Sam have passed into Mordor, wearily and with great struggle, after a brief respite and replenishment in Ithilien. Sam, keeping up his spirits the best he can, has encouraged Frodo—who is fighting off the vision of the Eye of Sauron, the power of the Ring, and ultimate despair—to rest while he keeps watch and takes stock of their provisions. As Frodo sleeps, Sam holds his hand until at last, he gets up to look out over the land. As he looks out:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for awhile. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
One of the most striking elements in this glimpse is found in the phrase “like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him….” This implies that hope is sent to Sam from somewhere or someone outside himself; perhaps a sign or message from Varda herself, Elbereth, the Kindler, Lady of the Stars: “…the light of Ilúvatar lives still in her face. In light is her power and her joy.” This gives to Sam hope in the most profound sense of the word—estel, the faith and trust in the ultimate purpose of the Music of Ilúvatar for the good of Arda and the Children of Ilúvatar. This hope ultimately helps Sam to keep in view what is good about the world despite the overwhelming, despair-inducing Shadow. And such hope leads to the fulfillment of the Quest.
In these dark times, I am fortunate to live in a place of abundant natural beauty. Often as I am outside hiking, basking in the splendor of the natural world, I will catch a glimpse of the rising moon or the evening star, which immediately bring this passage to mind. It is such a beautiful source of comfort and I find myself clinging to this perspective when everything in the world seems to lead to the conclusion that despair is the only possible outcome. And yet, as Gandalf would say, “…despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.” Indeed, thanks to the theme of hope running throughout the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, that is in fact the case.
Jen Berry is an obsessive book nerd and Tolkien aficionado. She lives in Montana and is a member of the Council of Westmarch, the Montana smial of the Tolkien Society. When not hiking in the mountains, she can be found re-arranging her bookshelves to accommodate her latest acquisitions.