Mini-Lecture 14: From Darkness to Light
The Return of the King
opens with the same division between communal and personal struggle
The Two Towers
. As with
Book 3, all of
Book 5 concerns the great
struggle of Middle-earth against the forces of evil, of Mordor. Yet there is a slight difference: In
Book 5 (of
), some reference is occasionally made to Frodo’s personal struggle to attain
Mordor’s Mt. Doom.
Book 5 opens with yet another separation in the remaining fellowship – that of Pippin from
Merry necessitated by Pippin’s having looked into Sarumon’s cast-off
, or seeing stone.
Just as Rohan and Gondor – the two realms of men – initially battle against Mordor separately,
now these two hobbits also go off on separate quests.
Note the contrast between Theoden as lord and king of Rohan and Denethor as lord and steward
of Gondor. Though Theoden had been passive because of the evil sorcery of Sarumon via
Wormtongue, Denethor’s passivity and ultimate madness stem from his direct contact with
Sauron, via another
. Theoden accepts Merry into his service, while Denethor allows
Pippin into his, but these two lord-thane relationships are very different. Merry proclaims
Theoden like a father to him; Pippin must try to guard his tongue when in Denethor’s presence.
Merry defends Theoden, though unsuccessfully, against the Dark Lord’s attack; Pippin must defy
Denethor in order to save Faramir from his father’s madness.
Note also the “lord-thane” relationship between Frodo and Sam. Sam’s is the ultimate service.
He feeds and clothes Frodo, holds his hand, cradles his body, and, near the end of their journey,
even carries Frodo upon his back, all the while going without food, water, and sleep so as to
safeguard Frodo’s waning strength. If Frodo is the voice of hopeless despair, Sam is ever the
voice of hope. Only once does his hope ever falter and, even then, only for a short time. In part,
it is his memory of the Shire that fills Sam with hope; in part, Sam himself embodies all that is
good about the Shire. Sam’s hopefulness is not borne, however, out of any naïveté or failure to
perceive the actual state of affairs. It is, rather, a sense of hope even in what might be properly
viewed as impossible circumstances.
This is a sort of Christian hopefulness that is the counter to one of the seven deadly sins, which is
despair. In Latin,
is the sin of sloth, which does not mean “laziness” but rather a failure to
love and trust in God, leading one into a state of despair that is the opposite of faith.
cultivating the heavenly virtue of
, or persistence in faith, protects one from the vice of
. This is what Sam embodies throughout the quest – a persistence of belief even in the face
of circumstances that would suggest hopelessness. And, in the end, it truly is Sam’s faith, hope,
and persistence that account for the quest’s success, for surely Frodo could never have reached