One of the major themes in all the stories of Middle-Earth is the constant battle between light and darkness, good and evil. This war manifests itself from the very beginning, when Melkor the Ainu deviates from the music of Ilúvatar to play his own themes. From that first initial act of rebellion stems all the evil that continues to plague the world throughout every age. Many ties, evil seems to have the upper hand. Good fights bravely and often wins, but evil is ever lurking near. No matter many times the light prevails, darkness always returns. For the inhabitants of Middle-Earth, this reality can become quite depressing. After all, what is the use of continuing to fight if the enemy will never stay dead?
This particular problem is central to The Lord of the Rings. The land has been at peace for thousands of years, but when Bilbo Baggins happens upon a simple golden ring that allows him to turn invisible, everything changes. Though Bilbo uses the ring as a way to avoid unpleasant people, the wizard Gandalf suspects it may have a far more potent power. And indeed, nearly eighty years later Gandalf learns that the ring is none other than the Ring of Power, created by the Dark Lord Sauron himself in a scheme to control all the races of the world. Sauron was defeated over three thousand years ago, losing the Ring at the same time, but at last he has begun to take shape again, and he desires the Ring above all else. The task falls to Frodo Baggins, Bilbo’s cousin, to take the Ring to Mordor, Sauron’s realm, and destroy it in the only fires hot enough to melt it. The mission will be fraught with danger, nearly impossible to accomplish. But Frodo willingly volunteers for it, believing that saving all the free peoples of Middle-Earth is far more important than returning to his comfortable home. With eight companions, he sets out for Mordor.
After a series of calamities, however, Frodo is left with only one companion—his gardener and faithful friend, Sam Gamgee. Sam is an eternal optimist, refusing to let anything get his spirits down for long. He is fiercely loyal to Frodo, and he will do anything in his power to keep him safe. But most importantly, he does not believe in the power of evil. Though he sees firsthand the works of darkness and the horrors those bound to it commit, he will never lose hope. So long as there is even the slightest bit of light to cling to, he will press on. In the middle of Mordor, when both he and Frodo are nearly dead from thirst and exhaustion, Sam looks up at the sky. For days, there has been nothing but an oppressive darkness covering all the land. But tonight, Sam can see a single star twinkling amidst the shadows.
The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. The Return of the King, p. 901
This beautiful moment sums up the entirety of book’s message on light against darkness. Though all may seem lost from one’s immediate perspective, there is more still to come. The darkness does not last forever. Even as Sam gazes at the solitary star, his friends are winning a monumental battle against Sauron. Already the darkness in their part of the land has been blown away. The light is coming, shining in the darkness, pushing it resolutely back. The darkness will not last forever.
This is the reason why the peoples of Middle-Earth continue to fight. No matter how many times evil arises, those on the side of righteousness and goodness will push it back again. They will never give up hope, because they understand that the light is stronger than the darkness. It is those who just go on, even when all seems lost, who realize this firsthand. Sam and Frodo, after pressing past every impossibility and destroying the Ring, wake up to a morning of peace, healed and refreshed. As Sam rejoices, everything sad begins to come untrue as they meet friends they thought were dead and witness the restoration of a long-crumbled kingdom. The shadow has passed; the light has come. Hideous death sought to destroy the world, but beautiful life has prevailed. The light, having overcome the darkness, is more beautiful than ever before. The darkness cannot last forever.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).