m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

Hopeless Courage

So I have finally reached the end of The Two Towers, where Sam makes another comment about hope in the following one-paragraph scene:

Sam reeled, clutching at the stone. He felt as if the whole dark world was turning upside down. So great was the shock that he almost swooned, but even as he fought to keep a hold on his senses, deep inside him he was aware of the comment: ‘You fool, he isn’t dead, and your heart knew it. Don’t trust your head, Samwise, it is not the best part of you. The trouble with you is that you never really had any hope. Now what is to be done?’ For the moment nothing, but to prop himself against the unmoving stone and listen, listen to the vile orc-voices.

I won’t give a reference for who typed up this scene for me; judging from the typo I corrected he got it from an illicit and ill-spaced e-text which Google will find for you if you really want it. The real fun in googling these quotes is finding articles like Hopeless Courage: The Tragic Heroes of The Lord of the Rings Part I: The Limitations of Long-Term Hope:

The theme of hopeless courage is one of the most memorable aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. The characters in this story are courageous, even jovially so, but they tend ultimately to expect the worst. In this respect they share much in common with the heroes of Norse mythology, in which hope is foolish since evil is expected to triumph in the end (at Ragnarok). Despite what so many scholars are telling us these days, Tolkien’s protagonists are not exactly the stuff of Christianity, where hope is a virtue since good can be counted on to prevail. Though Tolkien was himself a devout Catholic, he devoted a great deal of his life to studying the Scandinavian epics and pagan folklore. He loved and emulated the theme of courage for its own sake, against all the odds, and his story evokes the Norse world-view at a most fundamental level. The notion that “hope springs eternal” is completely foreign to the people of Middle-earth.

While Loren Rosson classes Sam’s previous quote with the many other instances of Nordic hopeless courage, he finds today’s quote unusually Christian in its optimism:

One can only speculate why Tolkien allowed his true colors to show at these moments in the story after giving the theme of hope a thoroughly pagan treatment elsewhere. Maybe the sudden realization that one’s “dead” friend isn’t dead after all is enough to stand a world-view on its head.

I wouldn’t go so far as to stand Sam’s Norse worldview on its head. I haven’t reread The Return of the King yet, but I think Sam soldiers on with the same hopeless courage he had until now. Although Sam regrets leaving Frodo’s side, he could hardly have escaped the oncoming Orcs while carrying Frodo’s apparently dead body. His despair saved them both. Sam may regret his despair as—this one time—inappropriately placed, but his worldview still led him to the correct hopeless-courageous action. A hopeful heart would not have survived the crossing of the Ephel Dúath.

For even less hope, there’s Part II: Short-Term (Immediate) Hope and Part III: The Etymology of Hope—Amdir and Estel by the same author.