Mad Hope

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Hope is manifested in many forms. One moment, hope is presented as a nagging insistence that cannot be dismissed, or perhaps a wild rush of emotion coupled with fear, or maybe a shying away from the notion that it could be too could to be true. Or it might come in its strongest form—the unbridled joy that comes when all has been counted lost by those with any reason, but the madmen who hoped are the ones who have the day. Then, the sudden turn comes, a happy shift, as the sun breaks through the clouds and the villain becomes a hero, or the tide is turned. That hope realized is inebriating, and those who taste it become mad themselves in the joy of its fulfilment.

In the beautifully crafted world of J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-earth, one finds no shortage of these scenes. In truth, the whole story is a suggestion of this reality, promised in the prose of a broken sword re-forged, the crownless becoming king, and help coming at long last, unlooked for at the dawning of the sun. On the heels of the horns that announced King Théoden and Aragorn riding out to meet death at the battle of Helms Deep, they instead meet Gandalf (arriving exactly at the time he meant to). The Rohirrim arrive to aid a beleaguered Gondor on the Pelennor Fields. The small battered army of the newly-arrived but still yet-to-be-crowned king, march towards the jaws of death to draw Sauron’s eye away from Frodo and Sam. To give them the fools chance, there is still yet one more scene that transforms certain despair to a stunning hope. 

Hope comes when there could be no sharper contrast. In gray ash raining down, a mountain erupting, heat and fire cascading down on two bodies that by all rights should not have even been there, huddling together on a rock, their task complete but their lives forfeited. “Do you remember the taste of strawberries?” Sam asks Frodo in Peter Jackson’s film adaption of The Return of the King. He cannot, and neither can we, as we agonize over the injustice of this. And their friends on the barren, collapsing fields of Mordor cannot either as they look to the fearsome sight of a collapsing mountain and think of the cost of this victory. 

If Tolkien had ended his tale there, perhaps the occasional criticism that his storytelling was not realistic or pragmatic enough would not be dropped as often as it is. But as Bilbo (who would be echoed by Pippin) would shout at the end of all hope, mad with delight and a swelling of the soul —“the eagles are coming!”—and out of a dark, evil sky and a world folding in on itself, hope, “the thing with feathers,” descends and saves the saviors at the very last moment. 

Although there is no Sauron on our Planet Earth, and no evil ring of power, there are yet our own powerful forces of darkness that must be reckoned with, those that threaten all of us both collectively and individually. There is disease (as the whole world has been painfully reminded of in the last months). There is still war; there are those that still turn their backs on their brothers in hate and prejudice. And there are our own, untamed, imperfect souls. But Sam’s words remind us, that even in the midst of all this, somewhere there are strawberries and cream, somewhere there is green grass and good ale, that our own timid hearts can become bold and brave like that of a hobbit. We are reminded that if we cling to that good in the world—that which is worth fighting for—hope returns to us in a rush of happy madness on sturdy feathers and swift wings. The fools may yet have the day.

Bernadette Howell

I am a grateful and awe-filled traveler of what has been a wonderful life for twenty-three years. Humbled by what I experience on a daily basis – the wonder of life, the love of family and friends, the comfort of a clever tale, and the beauty of a stunning planet to call home.

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