“We Must Do Without Hope”. The Company Go On After The Fall of Gandalf.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 321-324

How do we carry on after the catastrophe has happened? The journey of the Fellowship through Moria has taken them at last to the terrible climax at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf has broken the bridge upon which both he and the Balrog confronted one another and then,

“With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasping vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”

“Fly you Fools!”

All in the briefest of moments the Company experience the terrible juxtaposition of relief at the fall of their deadly foe and then sheer horror as they witness in total helplessness the fall of Gandalf into the dark. At that moment it is Aragorn who is able to lead them all away from what remains a deadly danger out from Moria into the bright sun beyond its doors where grief overcomes them all.

The Fellowship Are Overcome By Grief

And so they stand in the strange unreality of a sunlit day after the dark, and the yet stranger unreality of being alive after they have lost one whom they have all loved, who presence has seemed to them to have been one of the few certainties in a world that is in constant flux; one whose very existence has enabled them to give shape to that world. It is Aragorn again who finds words to express this.

“‘We must do without hope,’ he said. ‘At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do.'”

This begins a thread that runs through the narrative of the next part of the story and is associated most with Aragorn. It is the theme of hope, the loss of hope and how to continue after hope has gone. Ever since the debate between Gandalf and Aragorn took place about which way the Company should cross the Misty Mountains Aragorn has been gripped by an inner sense that if they were to go through Moria something terrible would happen to Gandalf. All through the journey in the dark he has remained separate from the others, breaking his silence only at a moment when it seemed that doubt would take hold of them all. Might it be said that this inner sense, this foresight, has in some way prepared him for this moment? Might it be said that that all through Moria he has begun to live without Gandalf, who has been guide, even father to him?

“Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?”

The Fellowship must continue their journey, not because they have hope that they will succeed but simply because they have a task to fulfil. The Ring must go to the Fire. What part each one of them will play in this is not yet clear. Only upon Frodo has the obligation to complete the task been laid by the Council and Sam will go with him because that is who Sam is. The point will come in the journey when each member of the Company will have to make their own choice about what they must do and as this point is reached for most of them the choice will become harder to make. Only Boromir will be certain about what direction the Fellowship must take and at the last it will be his certainty that will enable, even force, Frodo to make his choice and the attack by the Uruk-hai will force the choice of the others. But what they will all have to do will have to be done without the hope that Gandalf gave them, that sense that whatever happened there would be someone to sort everything out. It has been wisely said that we know for certain that we are grown ups when we know that our parents are not going to come to rescue us from whatever predicament we have got ourselves into. That realisation can be catastrophic in nature and for some it comes too soon in life. Only time will tell whether it has come too soon for the Fellowship of the Ring.

4 thoughts on ““We Must Do Without Hope”. The Company Go On After The Fall of Gandalf.

  1. I seem, personally, ruggedly tied to the necessity of hope–or at least hopeful about the possibility of hope. I don’t mind the occasional self-delusion (i.e., next year when … I lose weight, when COVID is over, when people return to normal, when my hockey team wins), but I do feel like I want my hope to be rooted in reality.

    • I recognise that, as I reflect upon your comment, that I have much work to do on ‘hope’ in LOTR. I wondered whether Gandalf just might have spoken of the Ring coming to Bilbo and then to Frodo as a’ hopeful’ thought but I was wrong in my recollection. He spoke of the thought as being ‘encouraging’.
      Is this a point in the story when we realise that Aragorn, for all his greatness, is not a Christian Prince? That he is closer to the Germanic and Norse heroes who laugh in the face of death. I ask the question because at this stage it is very much a question.
      Like you, I am very much wedded to the kind of hope that Aragorn now feels has gone. I know this because of my hope for my daughters. I want them to be happy and to be prosperous. I have become aware of the American theologian, Michael Dowd, who proposes a “post-doom spirituality”, one that can sustain us on the other side of catastrophe, in particular one caused by climate change. My head recognises that such a spirituality may be a necessity for all of us but I do not long for it. The poor folks in Kentucky putting their lives back together again after the tornadoes need it but I would like to hold onto my comfortable life here in the Shire and I would like my children to share it. Like Gandalf I think it would be “a grievous blow to the world, if the Dark Power overcame the Shire”.

  2. Nice reflections here, and i like what you say about the lesson of independence.

    I think trust is a form of hope. Gandalf and Aragorn both seem to have it, because they are both still able to act, even when they have no concrete hope in the moment. Gandalf said once that despair (the opposite of hope) is only for those who can see all ends perfectly; we cannot, so we do what we can. That’s why I think he had some trust at all times, irrespective of whether external signs pointed to hope or despair.

    • Hi Kevin, thank you so much for dropping by and for leaving a comment. Yes, I think that trust says that there is something worth hoping for. And thank you so much for reminding me of those words of Gandalf. They are very powerful.

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