Title: Where Hope and Despair are akin
Warnings: strong Christian themes ok, I did warn you. Briefly touched on Bunny's book past. Also mentions of war and death and associated messiness
Rating: ...I'd count this as G still I think
Disclaimer: I own nothing. My thanks go to GothicChesire, who let me bounce ideas in PM until this solidified.
Summary: What is hope?
"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?"
- Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth; HOME IV - Morgoth's Ring, JRR Tolkien
The problem about time travel, in the end, is that one gets very confused about one's own timeline. One might meet people out of sequence, perhaps, or have things happen out of order. You might have someone tell you something horribly important, but you may not find out why it was important, until much, much later (or you could be unlucky and find out too late!). This happens, you see, because time, despite what you may think, does not happen in a straight line at all. E. Aster Bunnymund, as he travelled up and down his own timeline, has become all too familiar with this.
The very first time he hears that word, he is in a village somewhere in the North of the world. It is early, he thinks, in Time, but he doesn't always remember when. They are a poor people, but proud. He likes to come here, and hide small gifts for the little ones, who endure so much and still smile. On this occasion there is a man, stern and forbidding but with kind eyes, who kneels before his mother and bids her farewell.
"Onen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim" she tells him, and he goes away already grieving, but there is a strange light kindled in his eyes. Aster thinks, to himself, that it might be something like determination, maybe, or resolution (it is the face of one who sees his future and accepts its bleakness, and yet goes on irregardless and despairs not).
Once, he is passing from East to West, and he comes upon a school of the stars where he seeks shelter for the night. It is run by two old men in blue with ancient eyes, who track the path of the stars and discuss their portents with their eager students. On this occasion, one star in particular, has moved from its path, shining clear and brilliant in the west like a beacon, calling.
"For a people walking in darkness have seen a great light" says one of the old men, and the look he casts out of the window is almost… fond.
"Perhaps it is now the time of fulfilment of the Old Hope, long whispered." Says the other.
"What would it take, to mend a world broken? What price would have to be paid, to balance the scales of justice for a whole world? And who would be willing, or even able to pay it?" asks the first to his students, and they murmur amongst themselves as they walk away from where Bunny rests outside the window, leaving him to wonder.
The second time, he is so far back in time that he is not entirely certain where he is. He hides in the shadows of a wise-woman's tent, and listens to her dispense wisdom to those who come to her. One, however, comes not to seek wisdom, but to share it, and he listens as they debate hope.
"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. Does no estel abide?"
Sitting in the shadows, Aster ponders the difference between "hope based on reason" and "hope based on trust", and wonders which he has. For a certainty, he thinks, it would be better to have "hope based on trust", but it is difficult to know what (or who) to trust, when your whole world has been destroyed. Better, he thinks a little bitterly, to look to reason, and returns to hide in his warren and mourn his lost people (it will take North and Katherine and Nightlight to drag him out into the world and begin to hope again).
"Easter is new beginnings, new life" He tells Jack, his eyes empty and choked with despair. "Easter's about hope. And now it's gone."
Once, he visited a great city, built of white stone into the very bedrock of a mountain. Here, too, as is often the case, the children play freely, despite the danger that shadows the footsteps of their parents. It is often hard to hide gifts here, in this bright city of stone, but he enjoys the challenge. On this occasion, war has at last come knocking too close, and the white stones are stained with the blood of foe and friend alike. The children are all gone and the many of the houses are burnt to the ground. Yet despite this, hope flickers faintly through the city, in defiance of the looming foe and the hopeless situation, a flame small but unquenched – and it has its roots in one man.
"We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin" the man says, and his face is stern but not despairing. "To waver is to fall." He leads his men to a war he knows he cannot win, to buy time for an errand he cannot know will succeed, and which may not save him in any case. His name, Bunnymund hears his brothers call him in private, is "Estel", and his men follow him because they love him, although they go to almost certain death.
When the Guardians meet Jamie and Jack, it is not only his small size that keeps him hidden in the sleigh. Listening to Jack, and hearing Jamie's laughter, Bunnymund begins to understand how he has failed in his guardianship, and he is ashamed. Here is one who despite being so much younger, has kept believing, despite the evidence to the contrary. Here is another, who having been alone for centuries, has reached out to aid one who never reached out to him first. It is a bitter thing, he thinks to himself, that he has seen better evidence of hope in those other than himself.
He doesn't always land where he means to, in the early days when he is perfecting the art. On this occasion he has arrived to a battlefield. Men and monsters lie tangled together on blood-sodden fields, and he flinches away from a reality too close to home. A voice rises above the battle-din, fierce and unbowed, and he sees a man backed against the river by the horde. "Aurë entuluva!" he cries and the monsters die before his great axe, until he stands amidst a mound of them and the blade smokes with their black blood. But still they come. He is doomed, and Aster sees that he knows it, but the light in his eyes is unquenched. "Day shall come again!" He proclaims it, even as he is overwhelmed, and Aster hurries away rather than see his fall.
There is a day when hope seems lost, and all creation mourns. There is also a day when the sun rises on an empty tomb, and Hope is justified.
His favourite place to visit in Time is a land of green rolling hills and well-tilled fields. Where a people live who enjoy comfort and good food, and better yet a good story to go with it. His favourite home there is set atop a hill beneath an old oak, and the family's many children are almost always underfoot, clamouring for stories or playing with each other or helping out with chores.
"Sam-dad, Sam-dad, read to us again!"
The father is a practical sort, full of statements like "Where there's life there's hope, and need of vittles!" but also with the most wonderful stories. He has old eyes, has the father – the eyes of one who has walked through grief and despair and beyond them, to come out all the stronger. His goodwife is bright and golden, a steady hand and a ready smile, and she sings sometimes, as she goes about her chores:
There's a place of thirst and hunger where the roots of faith grow deep
And there is rain and rolling thunder when the road is rough and steep
There is hope in desperation there is victory in defeat
Broken hearts find restoration where joy and sorrow meet
Bunnymund comes here when he is at his lowest, to soak in the gentle joy that wraps around this family, and lean a while on the strength that comes from walking through the darkness and out the other side.
"Loosing Easter took its toll on all of us" says North. "Bunny, most of all." And hidden in the sleigh, Bunnymund finally puts together his memories of long ago and begins to understand – hope is not conquered by the darkness, for hope believes that although darkness may seem all encompassing, there is light and beauty forever beyond its reach. Hope endures, because that is what estel does – it simply trusts. So he reaches again for that light, faint and faltering though it is, and hops out. He bluffs and blusters, and tries to remember what it was like to trust.
And when Jamie tells him how Jack helped him to keep on believing, Bunny wonders why he ever stopped.
AN: I had two problems with Bunny's chapter – one, book vs movie are very different characters, and two… well. *points at chapter quote* I will get into the whole argument about meanings of "hope" later and what this means for how I see Bunny.
1. …I am sorry about the Doctor Who reference. Also that tense change is deliberate yep.
2. "Onen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim" ("I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself") is what Gilraen says to Aragorn before she dies, after Aragorn tries to comfort her. He went away, it is said, heavy of heart but Tolkien writes of him "His face was sad yet stern for the doom that was laid on him, and yet hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart"
3. The two old men in blue are the two Blue Wizards, Alator & Pallando, who went East and vanished out of Tolkien's tales. He supposed in his letters, that they were the founders of many of the cults of magic in the East. In this scenario – well. They are astrologers, here, and from their school in the East, they have seen a Star in the West, and they recognise the sign given (and yes, that is Earendil) – There are only two of them, but check your bibles – we are never actually told there are THREE wise men, we only assume based on the gifts.
4. Isaiah 9:2 "For a people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned."
5. The "Old Hope" they mention comes from the rest of Finrod's debate with Andreth, where Andreth reveals that Men carry a secret hope, an old story, that the One Himself will enter into the world and mend its hurts, although neither she nor Finrod can see how that might be so.
6. The "great city" is obviously Minas Tirith, and the line is what Aragorn declares as he makes the decision to march on the Black Gates. "Estel" is his childhood name from when they raised him in Rivendell – thus, his brothers are Elrond's twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir.
7. The battle is the Nirnaeth Arnoediad – the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, where the hosts of the West were betrayed and their armies slaughtered. The man is Hurin, who fought a rear guard action to allow King Turgon of Gondolin to retreat. He killed 70 trolls with that axe, and every time he slew he called aloud "Aurë entuluva! Day will come again!" Despite what Bunny thinks, Hurin was actually taken ALIVE, although doubtless he wished for death many times thereafter (The Children of Hurin is seriously one of the most depressing things ever).
8. Yeah ok I had to reference the Shire and Sam, who has at once, both the least hope (Tolkien says of Sam that he did not need hope because he was cheerful), and the most of any character in the Lord of the Rings. Sam's too practical to see Bunny, but no doubt his kids made sure to sneak him food if they ever saw him. The song Rosie sings is actually a MODERN one, sorry – modified slightly, the lyrics are from Avalon's "Where Joy and Sorrow Meet"
RIGHT, NOW FOR A LONG DISCUSSION ON HOPE AND TOLKIEN. Feel free to skip this if you like, and if you get offended by Christian discussions on hope etc... uh, stop reading now.
Ok, so, the biggest problem for me with Bunny boils down, in the end, to the fact that he represents Hope...and he gives up. Blah blah, dramatic impact, I know. But you see, he represents hope. Further, he represents Easter, which, as he says, is all about Hope. I bashed my head against the wall a lot here until I worked out my problem - Bunny, you see, is probably meant to represent Hope, as in what Tolkien calls 'estel', but in the movie I only see him holding hope, as in what Tolkien calls 'amdir' - which is a whole lot more fragile (Admitedly, the fact that Bunny is a SECULAR easter and not a Christian one doesn't help, but I digress).
See, this is the thing with Tolkien's stuff - estel breathes through his work, and it comes clearest in the darkest parts of the story - he even coined a word for it - "eucatastrophe" - the sudden unexpected turn to good. For Tolkien, amdir is fragile, but estel is not. Amdir is based on reason - what the eyes see and the mind knows, and is therefore vulnerable to reality - that things reallyarehopeless sometimes. Estel is based on a certainty of belief, today we Christians would say, on the certainty of Faith (this is why we celebrate Easter!), and so it may falter but fails not, indeed estel is born when amdir fails - 'oft hope is born when all is forlorn'. The Lord of the Rings is NOT a Christian novel. What it is, is PRE-Christian - it shows why Christianity is needed. There is, in fact, no hope in Frodo's journey - it is, as Gandalf calls it, a 'fool's hope' - and indeed, the quest fails. 'It is not by might nor strength but by my spirit, saith the Lord' - it is not mortal strength that succeeds in the quest, indeed, mortal strength cannot succeed in the quest - "where hope and despair are akin" says Aragorn, because he sees that his cause is hopeless in his own strength. But Aragorn hopes, as Sam does, for the ultimate end - the success of Good over Evil, even if he himself does not see it, and so he goes on anyway. "Despair is for those who see clearly to the end" says Gandalf. Gandalf, of course, is a Maia, an angelic being who has walked in the Timeless Halls, and seen The One face to face - so he knows on what (or rather WHOM) his hope is based. But none of the other characters do - they have no hope, save only this 'fools hope' - but they continue on anyway - and this is what is at the heart of estel - to go on, irregardless - it is not optimism, or even cheerfulness. Sam sees "that there is light and beauty" forever beyond the Shadow's reach, that glimpse of divine Hope, that enables him to keep going, when all else is failed - hope not for himself, mind, for Sam never had any of that from the beginning, but hope that someday, somewhere, Good will prevail over Evil. Aragorn trusts in the hope that Gandalf and the Elves have taught him - that there is One above them whose "issue must be for His Children's joy", and goes to fight a hopeless war, where Denethor looks at the armies arrayed about him and the death of his sons and falls to despair. One had estel, the other, amdir, and where reason sees despair, trust keeps on hoping.
But Estel needs a basis on which to stand, and in the pre-Christian world of Tolkien, that basis is nothing more than a whisper, a promise not yet fulfilled, because estel is, in the end, a uniquely Christian hope. This is why, to a Christian, Easter and Christmas hold such value - Christmas is the incarnation, the first words of the promise, but Easter is its fulfilment. The resurrection proves our hope - "if Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain" - it is the promise that indeed, we are not forsaken, even to the last, and that victory will come, even through the shadows. It is, what Tolkien called the ultimate Fairy Story - it is the one that came true.
...and all of this is all a long ramble to explain why I had such issues with Bunny and trying to reconcile him to Tolkien's world