When CS Lewis died, leaving his great friend Tolkien behind him, the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was devastated.
Such great friends they were, with Tolkien the instrument of Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.
But he was impatient with Narnia. Norman Stone – he who made Shadowlands– has unearthed entrenched differences between the friends over such a blatant Christian allegory.
Meanwhile, Tolkien was writing of Middle Earth amid a cataclysmic bid for a reign of darkness: right at the heart of the Second World War.
An allegory, surely?
No, protested Tolkien. Rayner Unwin, of publishers Allen and Unwin,made the mistake of making his suspicions that Lord of the Rings was indeed allegorical public.
“Do not let Rayner suspect ‘Allegory’,” Tolkien retorted.
“There is a ‘moral’, I suppose, in any tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing. Even the struggle between darkness and light (as he calls it, not me) is for me just a particular phrase of history, one example of its patterns, perhaps, but not The Pattern; and the actors are individuals–they each, of course, contain universals, or they would not live at all, but they never represent them as such.”
Every living thing has universal-ness, then, according to Tolkien. But every actor on the world’s stage is an individual.
Today I woke with a heavy heart: for in just one part of my charmed life an era has come to an end, and I find myself rather a round peg in a square hole.
Carrying around the burden of a situation full of uncertainty felt today ike hauling a ball and chain, in the same fashion as Pip’s convict on the Kentish marshes scanning wildly for food and a file to broker freedom.
These days we are fortunate; There are so many ways to conquer such looming dread, which is often born not only of this situation, but of those which have come before it. We fight dragons from our past with a modicum of success, once we have learnt their names.
Yet still they loom in the shadows occasionally. A universal pattern: they do not come to all, but haunt many.
I found myself thinking of John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. Which, for the record, I have never liked: moralistic, obvious preaching in a story which the author does not trouble to veil in any more than a fairytale.
Then how is it that the name Giant Despair kept nudging my thoughts?
Christian is on his way to the Celestial City when he and his younger brother Hope take the wrong path.
They fall asleep in the grounds of Doubting Castle, where lives the Giant Despair.And when he’s out on his morning constitutional, he finds them.
The Giant throws them into a dungeon and beats them until they are grieviously wounded. He robs them of all dignity and then he says to them: you are in hell. Best do away with yourselves, by knife, or halter, or poison: “for why, said he, should you choose life, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness?”
I’ve always thought Christian’s way out rather corny. A cheap piece of plot manipulation. For after days languishing in Despair’s dungeons our hero claps his hand to his forehead. Blow me, he says, if I haven’t got the key to the door!
The key is called promise.
I looked around the house after trying vainly to plan for tomorrow and getting nowhere for hours. We were four disparate characters: Maddie wrote, Felix played a game, Phil was ecstatically burning an old chest of drawers in his chimenea in the garden.
Today, I needed them all.
“Run and get Daddy,” I told my daughter. “Ask him if he’d like to take the dog for a walk in five minutes.”
The answer came back: Love to. Be there in two minutes.
We haltered the dog and found sensible shoes and stepped out into the clearest sunshine and bluest skies, a proper-cold winter day.
We shambled up into the forest, across the top of the fort and into acres of woodland to salve the soul. And the three of them talked: about inconsequential stuff and momentous stuff, about the day the dog got stung on the bottom and whether a bit of the phobus grunt might clink across the path at any moment.
Up there, in the woods, I realised I had inadvertently been carrying the key to the ball and chain, the whole day long.
It was called promise.
a. A declaration assuring that one will or will not do something; a vow.
b. Something promised.
2. Indication of something favorable to come; expectation: a promise of spring in the air.
3. Indication of future excellence or success: a player of great promise.
Picture source here
Tolkien quotes aplenty here
Definition of promise here
57 thoughts on “Giant Despair”
We all need promise when the world feels dark and unfriendly
Every village that Bunyan lived in, appears in my Family Tree. My last few years at work in London, looked down Snow Hill, where he died. Our flat was a couple of minutes walk from Bunhill Fields. I chose the name for where Giant Despair lived, more than his robust testing of Theological concepts. 🙂
Bunyan’s wife inherited a book by Arthur Dent!
Tolkien lived and did his Army training 3 miles from where I now sit, I have seen the Oaks that became Ents.
Our relatives recently rented the inspiration for Miss Haisham’s house on the North Kent Marshes while between properties. 🙂
I should write a book about it! 🙂
Your writing is excellent, it flows so well . The skipping from “now” to “then” and back again, can be so clunky. Thank you for a very nice start to the day.
Off to find my best club and then lay about me on Twitter! 🙂
Hi Phil, what a fabulous comment, and my mind is reeling at so many connections! As you say, it’s a book waiting to be written! Thanks for those comments: and latterly for that gorgeous photograph. Fantastic.
We do 🙂 And I’m lucky to be able to find it lying around!
Ahh, Kate. May it be a Giant Promise that takes you in to grand treats and awesome outcomes.
Huzzah, Amy! Onwards and upwards, further up and further in!
Lovely words Kate, Just what I needed, thank you.
Hope all is well xx
And I hope all is well with you, Nix. Some things put my problems into the shade.
You have the gift Kate. You can recognise the promise, the path out from under the weight. I hope today is a lighter day.
Well, Fiona, bit heavy but I think it was ’cause I left my key behind….thanks. And as Scarlett says, tomorrow is another day…
Uncertainty can be the heaviest of burdens. I’m sorry you had a day of despair, and glad you remembered promise.
Me too, Kathy 🙂 Strange how uncertainty can be a powerful force.
The Giant Despair can never have his way for long when one has such promise. Still, an ending is never easy. I hope the promise you found hanging in the air will always stave off any lingering despair.
I feel sure it will, Andra, given time, wisdom (not my forte) and patience. Thanks 🙂
Promise only what you can deliver. Then deliver more than you promise. ~ Author Unknown
I am pleased your day ended on a lighter note.
Rosemary, very pertinent words! Thank you 🙂 It was a relief when things got lighter.
So glad you found your key 🙂
Each day we have a chance to do a little good in this world is a promise of better things to come. It doesn’t take much other than to try to follow the Golden Rule.
I should put that on a piece of paper and staple it to my hat, Lou 🙂
I have no pithy phrase to display, I’m just really glad we have a connection, Kate. Amazing what it can mean on certain days…
Thanks, friend. Solidarity. Looking forward to seeing some new words on your site soon? 🙂
Thanks, yeah. I actually managed to put some on there this past weekend, reflecting my own current state of mind.
Excellent! I’ll pop over.
Let God’s promises shine on your problems. ~Corrie Ten Boom
With promise firmly in hand, I hope that today is brighter and lighter for you.
Karen, I’d forgotten that Ten Boom quote and find it so lovely to see today. Thanks.
Wow, that is really dead on the money, isn’t it? Thanks so much Karen!
Wonderful, Kate and how well to remember that we all hold the key to the door, if we just look. The sun is shining here, too, and the day is new and young and your lovely post will take me forward.
Hope the day turns our to fulfil all its beautiful promise, Penny.
Oh, how I recognise that household of four different people doing different things. In the here and now the number of times that everyone wants to do the same thing are becoming fewer and fewer. Holidays are good for this. But teenagers will go their own way !
As a child I would always try to get all members of the household to be in the same room in the evenings and at the weekends – there was a very strong urge to hold everything together. In retrospect, I can understand this felt like a ‘responsibility’ – it was a role at that time of my life to smooth trouble waters in the family.
I shall treasure the times while they are here, Pseu 🙂 Strange, I am an eldest child with the same instincts: like a sheepdog…
Glad you found a way to toss that “ball and chain” to the side of the path, Kate.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, or a Hell of Heav’n. ~ John Milton
Oooh, Nancy, I read that in the midst of work and it went deep into my mind immediately. Thank you. Milton: my hero.
The end of an era, no matter how unfitting it turned out to be, has got to be a struggle.
That Tolkien was a believer is one of the best arguments I know in favor of Christianity (and thanks for that info about his role with Lewis–I only knew that they were friends). How fitting that you bring him up, when your response to the Giant of Despair was to summon a fellowship. Thank you for inviting us to walk with you, as extended family, into the forest.
My arms around the round peg.
Got a trifle teary reading your comment. Your words are always incisive and pertinent; today they have walked beside me. Thank you, Barbara.
Nothing beats a walk in the air to crystalise our thinking. The Walking and the Breathing are all enough for the moment, and our poor old weary minds relax and sigh. When our minds relax we solve stuff. I call it pushing search. I ask the question of my brain, push search then leave it do its thing, as i walk, eventually the solution will appear. Promise.. a beautiful word. Lovely read.. c
Thanks Celi. You are right: stop trying, and things really begin to happen. There’s a lesson for tomorrow!
Lovely – take care and sending a hug 🙂
Thanks Nicola 🙂 Hug greatly appreciated.
The promise may be – and often is – that when one door closes, another opens.
I have been there, Kate. Believe that the promise will happen, but don’t try to predict it,
or to drive it.
Love in plenty.
Thanks Dad, I’ll bear that in mind 🙂
Beautifully written Kate, as always. Glad you found your key — hold tight to it.
Thanks, Kathy 🙂
I don’t really have anything to add, save that this resonated. So very much.
Glad to hear it, Cameron.
Reading your blog, and then the comments I see that I have commented on this already.
Well, this time it’s the other me.
Hoping all is well with you and sending much love,
Hi Miff 🙂 Thanks! Right back at you!
Don’t you wonder why sometimes we can hurdle the most amazing challenges and be bright and optimistic, and then other times we can literally feel the gloom (despair) settle on us with such certainty. I’m grateful you acknowledged it–makes us all part of the same family, and I hope it didn’t linger. And I strongly suggest it stay away for a long, long time! Debra
How wise you were, Kate, to step back for a moment and see the key to your promise. Transition is always uncomfortable, often painful. But, if all else fall to ruin, still you will have this, your heart.
A lovely thought, Elizabeth…
Wonderful! I’m catching up on my Kate-Shrewsday reading tonight, and oh-so-glad that I am.
And in the absence of identifiable promise, hope often steps in
Interesting, the relationship between the two. Bunyan has Hope travelling with Christian: his constant companion. Promise only appeared as the key to despair. I’m left wondering what the difference is.
I feel that promise is based on some concrete prospect, whereas hope is an innate survival mechanism that steps in to keep us alive regardless of the reality of our prospects
That’s what I’ve always felt too. Bunyan’s Christian just finds it in his coat. He had forgotten it was there. Is it a message about our own abilities which we so often overlook?
Alas, Bunyan will never tell us.