I shall not now feel ashamed.

I borrowed the extended edition of The Return of the King from our friends Jason and Brooke and have been ever-so-slowly making my way through the special features. In one of the (many) featurettes, a bushel of Tolkien experts examine his theme of hope versus despair, which he explores most powerfully in the contrasting characters of Theoden, King of Rohan and Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Their story lines are remarkably similar: each has lost a son, each has another heir (Eomer and Faramir, respectively) who just doesn’t seem as great as the first, each one’s kingdom is threatened with impending doom. Yet even with all their apparent similarities, one chooses the path of hope (with no promise of fulfillment), while the other commits the ultimate act of despair: suicide (with no chance for what Tolkien called “the eucatastrophe“).

As I was watching the featurette, I realized I was crying. This in and of itself is not that surprising: I’ve become a bit of a blubber-baby in my old age. (All that “feelings need feeling or they get really pithed” has really done a number on my equilibrium.) What was a bit surprising, however, was the realization that the cause of my tears was a short clip of Theoden’s death scene — which was completely out of context, since I wasn’t even watching the film itself. As he lies dying, Theoden says, “I go to my fathers, in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed.”

It just broke me up. It struck me that this hope — the hope that I will someday stand in the presence of my Father, as well as those who have gone before, and not feel ashamed — goes to the core of my desire to live well. I don’t fear punishment (hell, if you prefer) for NOT living well. No, I fear the shame of squandering the graces I’ve been given — and more, I long (on my best days) to live a life deserving of those graces.

7 thoughts on “I shall not now feel ashamed.

  1. Covert7

    That rocks Aly! Very well said! :)

    May we all live well and enjoy the Life we’ve been graced with.

  2. Carrie

    Aly, there’s a whole book series entitled “Finding God in _____”, insert LotR, Harry Potter, etc. Sounds like you might have the gumption to write for THEM.

  3. michael lee

    There is just too much awesome theological content in those three books. One of my favorite written scenes (the movie doesn’t quite do it justice) is the “awakening” of Theoden, when Gandalf pulls him out of the deathgrip of Saruman. It’s such a vivid picture of redemption, I think – Saruman’s hold over the king is by virtue of continually feeding him deceptions. Gandalf rescues Theoden by manifesting a truth that he doesn’t want to acknowledge, that he resists right up to the point where he finally cedes.

    My frustration with the movie was that it turned that interplay into a kind of possession of Theoden by Saruman. In the book, it’s much more subtle – Theoden is a willing accomplice to the deceptions that he has been fed. They are comforting in their hopelessness. Events are too large for him to control, so he gives up any obligation to fight for the side of good.

    Man, I love that story. The whole thing. I need to go read the books again.

  4. grammy

    Well stated, Aly; your post moved me deeply. Michael, I couldn’t agree with you more–the character of Theoden, as drawn in the book, is far more layered than the movie had time to convey.


  5. Morphea

    Yeah, but who doesn’t like a good exorcism? Layers schmayers. Just kidding. I also thought that in that one instance the book exceeded the movie.

    This is beautifully written, Al. I must now ponder the idea of living well for the hope of looking back with satisfaction. It coincides very neatly with a current, smallish ‘What the hell do I do now?” crisis I’m bandying about. (Wait – aren’t I always having one of those? Yup.)

    And for the record, this observer of your life thinks you’re doing very, very well so far. Really really.


  6. Sieglinde

    This is so odd! I’ve been having a philosophical (& moral, maybe?) debate with a 19-year-old Russian girl on another site, about Hope. She keeps quoting Nietzsche (as I used to at that age) and saying hope is useless and even destructive (“the worst thing in Pandora’s box”). Now that I’m “older”, I can call Nietzsche a repressed, old wet-blanket, but she doesn’t get it. I thought of Tolkien, and exactly what you posted about Denethor’s and Theoden’s struggle with hope and despair. What is most fascinating and uplifting in Tolkien’s story is how the characters, particularly Sam and Frodo, marching toward almost-certain death, never give up hope except briefly. The scene that chokes me up is of Sam & Frodo, lying amid the destruction, after the Ring is gone, and still thinking of the beauty of the Shire. Facing death, they refuse to despair. I’m going to tell this poor girl she NEEDS to read LOTR!
    For an article on “Pessimism vs. Existentialism”, by Richard Solomon, which deals heavily with the idea of hope vs. despair, visit this site: Link: http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=t4qclp5gps7qp17lc9jxxr0s20t7335x

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