The chapter ‘On the Doorstep,’ like ‘Barrels out of Bond,’ may be seen as a parable of sorts. Whereas the latter referred to the virtues of trust, gratitude and guardianship, the current chapter subtly describes the difference between Hope and Faith.
After the festivities and general carousing at Esgaroth, the Company is left on the bank of the Running River, well within the Desolation of Smaug. Tolkien crafts a sepulchral atmostphere, which quite fittingly brings a dark gothic cemetary to mind. The land is dead, “bleak and barren…broken and blackened” (TH 235). The lands around the Mountain are full of a brooding silence, broken only by the rushing water and the croak of “a black and ominous crow;” all keeping watch over the “grey ruins” of the once great city of Dale (TH 236). The hopes of the Company are dampened.
They come to the western slopes, and at the enthusiastic urging of the Hobbit begin to search for the secret door. There is life on this side of the Mountain, and though the silence persists, the life of hope is renewed. It takes many long days to find their goal, but eventually it is found and greeted with great joy and an urgent desire of the door’s immediate opening.
They fail. And with this failure, as the days creep inexorably towards winter, so fails hope.
Hope is an interesting concept. It is defined by a desire of an object or turn of events to which the possitive outcome appears certain. However, hope is often situational, grounded in temporal concerns, and therefore dashed by them.
Hope may not surrvive without Faith.
The Company waits on the doorstep, testing the door, going at it with brawn, tools and spells of opening (TH 240-1). Nothing works. The dwarves quickly become restless, and turn to grumbling, finding no easy solution before them. So as before, they soon look to Bilbo for the miraculous completion of the task, contemplating sending him in through the main gate!
Bilbo too is discouraged. He is “lonesome,” and often broods of his hobbit hole far to the east (TH 241-2). He does little more than sit and think, though not of the task at hand; or if so mostly with fear of what the dwarves may ask of him. The day following the dwarves’ grasping plan, Bilbo remains at the doorstep, filled with “a queer feeling that he was waiting for something” (TH 243). It is nearing sunset, the new moon rises and the thrush knocks. Bilbo, the only one of the Company who appears to have studied Thorin’s map since Rivendel, immediately makes the connection and calls for the dwarves.
They come, but at first nothing happens, and the sun appears hidden and all hope lost. Yet Bilbo holds steady, waiting, and “when their hope was lowest a red ray of the sun escaped like a finger,” strikes the rock-face and reveals the keyhole.
Bilbo has Faith.
Faith is different from Hope in that it is a trust or belief in something outside of oneself. It often functions like hope, in that it is often a Trust in a future outcome for the Good. Unlike Hope, however, Faith is not situational. It is drawn from without, and sustained from without. Though it requires acceptance and effort on the part of the faithful, the goodness of Faith (whether it be fate or luck or God) continues regardless.
It can be argued everywhich way where Bilbo’s faith stems from: intuition from memory, luck or even the Valar. On Durin’s Day, Bilbo knows intuitively that it is a day of import, something is about to change. He does not know what, but he stands resolute to bear witness.
Faith is much more certain than Hope. Though it resides in the realm of Mystery and what appears uncertain, Faith is always there, ready to sustain Hope. Faith and Hope are intrinsically tied. One may have Hope without Faith, but one who has Faith also has Hope.