“Have Ye Then No Hope?” (7): ‘This Old Hope’, or, ‘My Favorite Passage in Tolkien’

We have been looking at the themes of despair and hope in Tolkien’s legendarium. In the last post, we looked at the debate between Finrod (the elf-king of Nargothrond) and Andreth (a wise woman) on the subject. As representatives of each race, they discuss and debate the very idea of hope.

Finrod tells Andreth that he believes that one day, humanity will be instrumental in redeeming all of Middle-Earth. Andreth does not share this view of humanity’s importance. And so Finrod presses her:

“Have ye then no hope?” said Finrod.

“What is hope?” she said. “An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.”

“That is one thing that Men call ‘hope’,” said Finrod. “Amdir we call it, ‘looking up’. But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust”. It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?”

This passage is profoundly moving, and the distinction between amdir and estel is essential for understanding the theme of hope in Tolkien’s words. It is possible to have lost amdir, to have no conception of how things could possibly end well, and yet to retain estel, to trust (against all appearances to the contrary) that evil will not have the last word.

To Finrod’s question, “does no Estel at all abide?” Andreth answers that there are some of the “Old Hope” who continue to hold onto estel that healing will still come for humanity. What is this Old Hope?

“‘They say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end. This they say also, or they feign, is a rumour that has come down through the years uncounted, even from the days of our undoing.’”

The One himself will enter Arda. That sounds familiar.

For Finrod and Andreth, the very idea of the One coming down fills them with both incredulity and wonder: “Can the singer enter into his tale or the designer into his picture?… Would it not shatter Arda, or indeed all Ea?”

Finrod concludes that it is beyond the reach of their minds, and yet he cannot conceive how else the healing of all things could be achieved apart from Eru’s direct intervention.

What is significant is that this Old Hope has never been spoken to the Elves. They only have access to it through Men, to whom it was sent, Men who struggle to believe that it is more than a dream. In the meantime, it remains a Hope without guarantees.

And yet for those who seem to understand the way that great tales go (like Finrod), it is a profound reason for estel.

Next: Leaving the Silmarillion, On to the Trilogy!

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What is Real? (7): “Myth Became Fact”

The great surprise of joy that Lewis speaks of in his autobiography was that there was indeed something real to satisfy his desire for Joy, and surprise upon surprise, his desires had been realized in the coming of a person.

The Joy to which all the great myths pointed had become fact in the person of Jesus Christ.  Upon discovering that the gospels were not as unreliable as he had been led to believe, he was blown away by the uniqueness of the story of Christ that he found in them:

Myths were like it in one way.  Histories were like it in another.  But nothing was simply like it.  And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all the depth of time…. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man.

In other words, all that was true of the great myths was true of the story of Christ: the story of a dying and rising god who came to save humanity from the course of destruction on which they had set themselves.

And yet, woven into this story were historical particularities: Christ was born at this real historical time in this real historical place under this real historical emperor.  His exploits were witnessed and recorded by real people who believed their veracity so strongly that they were willing to give their lives for it.  Lewis concluded (following Tolkien) that the story of Christ was a “true myth”

… a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with tremendous difference that it really happened… the Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of the poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing himself though “real things”.

The Incarnation was the deeper reality, the great Fact to which all the myths pointed; the hero with a thousand faces was revealed to be Jesus Christ, a real historical person, God expressing himself no longer through “good dreams” but through concrete reality.

The story of Christ was not, as the other myths, true merely because it contained spiritual truths or pointed to deeper realities, but doubly true because it happened.  It not only points us to a world beyond our senses, but satisfies our senses as well.

The eyewitness John put it well:

“that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands… the life was manifest, and we have seen it…” (1 John 1.1-2).

Next: The Invitation to Become Real