Hearkening to the Horns of Hope and Love:
What The Lord of the Rings Teaches Us For Today
by Anne Marie Gazzolo
Hope and love are dominant themes in The Lord of the Rings. These are two of the most desperately needed virtues today in a world entrenched in a culture of death, despair, and lust, due to the instant and 24 hour access the media provides. Those in the Red Book are no more exempt from darkness than we, but the examples of hope, love, courage, and fidelity in the tale give us inspiration and strength to keep going.
One of the most important exercises of hope is Gandalf’s for Gollum. He acknowledges the small possibility of this, but it is still there. Because he refuses to abandon it, the Elves in Mirkwood treat him kindly, and Frodo actively works toward it also. We need to have this same hope for those who appear lost, for as Bilbo and Sam point out, “Where’s there life there’s hope” (Hobbit 288, LotR IV:7, 685).
Galadriel’s words, “on one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope” (LotR II:8, 367) are also powerful for Tolkien’s world as he and his family lived through the dark years of WWII and for our present day which has witnessed so many senseless acts of hatred and violence.
Dimitra Fimi makes note of the shared faith of Tolkien and the poet Francis Thompson and Tolkien’s admiration of the man’s mystical work, especially noting from The Kingdom of God:
O World invisible, we view thee,
O World intangible, we touch thee,
O World unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee! (qtd. in Tolkien, Race 43)
These words remind me of two more times during the War of the Ring where hope is strongly present. As the siege of Minas Tirith is about to start, with no sign of hoped-for reinforcements, Pippin perceives that Gandalf remains joyful inside. The wizard has faith in his Creator and His plans, so he does not perceive just the dire straits of the present but beyond them to the future. Denethor says such “hope is but ignorance” (LotR V:7, 835). But it is not. It is faith and trust. Because Gandalf hopes, Pippin hopes. This also brings to mind the profound experience that Sam has upon seeing the star in Mordor, which shows him that while he and Frodo toil in darkness on the ground, there is beauty far above that evil cannot touch or mar. The words Thompson uses bring to brighter light the deep hope Gandalf and Sam both have that the present darkness is not all there is.