I wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Nothing much in this post – just a few quotes that I feel are particularly relevant for the season (and for the times).
The first quote comes from J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, a lengthy conversation between Finrod Felagund, the Elvish King of Nargothrond, and Andreth, a wise woman of the House of Bëor. The deeply philosophical (and to some extent theological) exchange dwells on the metaphysical differences between the Atani (Men) and the Eldar (Elves) of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, including the “mortality” of one and the “immortality” of the other. Published only after the author’s death, this is one of many writings that illustrate how strongly Tolkien’s devout Catholicism informed the creation of his great literary corpus.
The Athrabeth is sometimes quoted by Tolkien fans around Christmastime, mainly because of the relevance of the following lines to the spirit of the season. The very event of Christmas, after all, may be seen as a fulfillment of the “Old Hope” described by Andreth.
‘Those of the Old Hope? said Finrod. ‘Who are they?’
‘A few,’ she said; ‘but their number has grown since we came to this land, and they see that the Nameless can (as they think) be defied. Yet that is no good reason. To defy him does not undo his work of old. And if the valour of the Eldar fails here, then their despair will be deeper. For it was not on the might of Men, or of any of the peoples of Arda, that the old hope was grounded.’
‘What then was this hope, if you know?’ Finrod asked.
‘They say,’ answered Andreth: ‘they say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end. . . .’
An earlier part of the same text deals with two concepts of hope. If amdir fails you this Christmas season, I pray that estel will nonetheless abide.
‘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.’
The next quote is from Queen Elizabeth II’s 1957 Christmas message, the very first such message to be televised. A copy of the message has been published on the recently launched “Royal Channel” on YouTube (click on the link above to access the video). The following extract is from the full text of the Queen’s speech as published on the British Monarchy’s official website.
That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us. Because of these changes I am not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold on to and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old.
But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.
They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.
[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]
Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.
It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.
These quotes probably make me sound like an old man, looking back with nostalgia on the cherished memories of a bygone age. In fact, I am a very young man with deeply conservative leanings who, as the Queen said in her message, merely wishes “to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old”.
Happy Christmas to all!
Lead image. Image for the January-February spread, 2007 Newtype Illustration Calendar. Included with the January 2007 issue of Newtype (Japanese edition).
Quotes from the ‘Athrabeth’. Selections taken from the text of the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth by J. R. R. Tolkien, pp.301-366 of Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillion, Part One (volume 10 in the ‘History of Middle-Earth series), edited by Christopher Tolkien. Published by the Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, 1993).