The Star of Eärendil as a Sign of Hope
An Advent Reflection by TeawithTolkien
Mae govannen, friends! Josh here. Today’s newsletter is a guest piece by Kaitlyn Facista, who you may know as TeawithTolkien. Last week Kaitlyn published an Advent Reflection in her newsletter and I enjoyed reading it so much that I wanted to share it with you all too! Kaitlyn graciously agreed and so I’ve brought it to you in the below newsletter! You can find the original text of this reflection on her website and find her on Instagram and Twitter too.
The Star of Eärendil as a Sign of Hope
In The Silmarillion, Eärendil the half-elven Mariner sails to Valinor guided by the light of a Silmaril, where he then pleads before the Valar for their intervention in the war against Morgoth. It had been spoken among the Elves long before his birth that one day a messenger would sail across the Great Sea into the West and call upon the aid of the Valar; and Eärendil came, not for his own sake, but for the sake of both Elves and Men whom he represented with his half-elven lineage.
Upon his arrival, he is heralded by these words:
“Hail Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope! Hail Eärendil, bearer of light before the Sun and Moon! Splendour of the Children of Earth, star in the darkness, jewel in the sunset, radiant in the morning!”
Ultimately, his call is heeded by the Valar and Morgoth is defeated. Eärendil, unable to return to Middle-earth after stepping foot on the shores of the Undying Lands, is offered the choice between the mortality of men and immortality of the elves. He accepts the fate of his Elven kindred and within his ship, Vingilot, he now sails across the sky with the Silmaril shining upon his brow like a Star. This Star is taken as a sign of hope for all those who would remain in Middle-earth and is named Gil-Estel (the Star of High Hope). Its light and high beauty remain a steadfast beacon of hope throughout the remainder of Tolkien's legendarium.
Thousands of years later, in the darkness of Shelob’s tunnel, Frodo holds aloft the star-glass of Galadriel containing the light of Eärendil and calls out, “Aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima!” (In English: Hail Eärendil, brightest of the Stars!). Even within the boundaries of Mordor, Sam Gamgee is pierced by the beauty of one singular star shining high above Sauron's shadows. Could this have been Eärendil’s star?
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. 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 character of Eärendil and his voyages were inspired, in part, by a collection of Old English poems about the coming of Christ written for the Advent season, referred to as Crist (or Christ I, Christ II, etc):
“Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
Sent to men over middle-earth,
And true radiance of the sun,
Fine beyond stars, you always illuminate,
From your self, every season!”
While Eärendil is decidedly not meant to stand in as an allegory for Christ, nor does he represent God (Eru) incarnate within Middle-earth, his character is one in which readers may find reflected glimpses of Christ.
Eärendil: whose fate compels him to plead before the Powers of the world for its salvation, whose nature represents both mortal and immortal, who accomplishes his quest and ascends into the heavens as a sign of hope, whose light is not inaccessible but instead allows itself to be carried into the very depths of darkness and despair.
When the star-glass is held aloft in Shelob’s tunnel, Tolkien writes of Shelob’s reaction: “No brightness so deadly had ever afflicted [Shelob’s eyes] before. From sun and moon and star they had been safe underground, but now a star had descended into the very earth.”
In the season of Advent, may we remember that the light of Hope descended into the earth to dwell among us, and the light was not conquered by the darkness.
A guest post by Kaitlyn Facista
Kaitlyn Facista is a Catholic convert, wife, mother to five babies at home + two in heaven, and hobbit at heart. She lives with her family in the Midwest. She is the creator of Tea with Tolkien, an online community inspired by the works and faith of J.R.R. Tolkien. This reflection was originally published on her website here.
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Editor’s Note: For those unfamiliar with the term, Advent is the season of the Christian liturgical year that precedes Christmas. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and is a time of anticipating and celebrating the arrival of Jesus, both during his first coming on the first Christmas and his prophesied future return. As a Catholic, Tolkien would have celebrated this season of Advent each year.
Editor’s Note: for more of the story, see my essay on Eärendil from this past September: