Tolkien and the Discipline of Hope

OLKIEN was no stranger to suffering. Tolkien lost both parents as a child. He served in War War I as a young man. His real life experiences gave him a framework for his stories with the beauties of the Shire contrasted with the evils of Gollum, Goblins, Smaug, and the Eye of Sauron.

As Dr. Stanley J. Ward points out in his article “J.R.R. Tolkien and the Discipline of Hope,” it was Tolkien’s Christian worldview that helped him make sense of the challenges of life and the real value of hope. In his article, Ward includes the following lines from Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings, spoken from the character Samwise Gamgee. Sam is a consummate friend to Frodo. In this passage he encourages Frodo to persist with hope in the presence of suffering:

“It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”

For the Christian, whatever we may face, we never go through it alone or without hope. We have something we are holding on to and it is far more than anything in this world. More importantly, we have Someone who is holding on to us. And he has all things in his hands.