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In the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the human character Aragorn II, son of Arathorn, was raised as a foster child after the age of two years, by Elrond Peredhil, the half-elven Lord of Rivendell, a magically-protected realm of Noldorin and Sindarin elves. Elrond was the twin brother of Elros Tar-Minyatur, the first king of Númenor and Aragorn's many-generations distant ancestor; as a result, despite countless generations of removal from one another, Aragorn was Elrond's grandnephew, a legitimate kinsman with the right to live as a sheltered guest and ward among Elrond's people, including Elrond's daughter Arwen Undomiel, who would later become Aragorn's wife and Queen of the reunited human realms of Gondor and Arnor.

Aragorn was kept ignorant of his heritage until he came of age, for his own safety. Due to Aragorn's status as the heir to multiple thrones, and due to the unpleasant circumstances of his father's death, Elrond considered it prudent to establish an alias for Aragorn, thereby avoiding a similar grisly fate for the child. He was named Estel, the Sindarin (grey-elvish language) word meaning "hope."

Aragorn's mother, Gilraen, remained with him as a guest in Rivendell, likewise keeping his heritage secret from him until he reached majority. When Aragorn came of age, he chose to pursue a life of service as a ranger, traveling stealthily among the many realms of elves, dwarves, and men, keeping the peace between races and killing the evil creatures in service to Sauron. His mother's final words to him, before he left Rivendell to begin this career, were in the form of a linnod, a fourteen-syllable poetic couplet in Sindarin, typically used to render pithy and laconic statements: Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim, meaning "I gave hope to the men of the west, and I have kept no hope for myself." With this statement, in clear deliberate use of Aragorn's elvish alias, Gilraen indicated that she accepted that her son's role in the history of Middle-Earth was going to be greatly important, and as a result, she could no longer keep him protected from the world, either for his own sake or out of her own maternal possessiveness (or, for that matter, her own grief at the departure of her only living kin, as she was a widow whose parents were long dead). His mother saw that he would become a capable and powerful leader of men, and she recognized his devotion to the greater good. She felt the years begin to weigh upon her in Aragorn's absence, but surrounded by the ageless elves, a race she considered far nobler than her own, she felt feeble, base, and lonely. She departed Rivendell and moved to Eriador, the northwestern human realm where she was born, and there she lived another fifty-three years without ever seeing her Estel again, dying as a centenarian.

Regarding the word estel itself, we can infer some plausible etymology from other Sindarin words Tolkien has supplied. Our most likely clues are found in the word estolad, "encampment, establishment, fixed place" and the word el, "star." The particle -lad in Sindarin typically represents something equivalent to "-ness" or "-ment" in English, the condition of having a quality, or an object which has a given quality. If we subtract this from estolad, we may infer that the est- particle indicates firmness and invariance. Est- + el might therefore offer the compound meaning, "star-fixed," extended to mean, "having resolute clarity of purpose, and not being easily moved to despair." Simplified, this would render in English as "hope." This proposed etymology is, of course, not definitive, but it is consistent with the manner in which Tolkien's Sindarin morphology (word formation) operates, and Tolkien himself supplied canonical statements about the meaning of estel as a philosophical concept, in the form of statements from native Sindarin-speakers in the stories. Finrod Felagund, a Noldorin king among elves, said that estel "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 Eruchin, 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." Finrod refers to Eru Iluvatar, the creator god of Middle-Earth.

Manwë, lord paramount of the Valar, lesser gods or archangels created by Eru to shepherd his sentient creations, have this to say about estel: "For Arda Unmarred hath two aspects or senses. The first is the Unmarred that they discern in the Marred, if their eyes are not dimmed, and yearn for, as we yearn for the Will of Eru: this is the ground upon which Hope is built. The second is the Unmarred that shall be: that is, to speak according to Time in which they have their being, the Arda Healed, which shall be greater and more fair than the first, because of the Marring: this is the Hope that sustaineth."

Sindarin has a separate word for the more attitude-driven form of hope, also translatable as "optimism," as its literal translation is "looking up," amdir. Finrod describes it as "an expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known." Estel, in contrast, is hope, faith, or trust which does not rely on externally objective evidence, nor on any provable knowledge. It relies instead on a deeply resilient conviction in the omnibenevolence of Eru, the ultimate fulfillment of Eru's intentions for Middle-Earth, and the inherent potential for goodness hidden deeply in the souls of all creatures with free will.

Therefore, when Gilraen states that she has surrendered all of her hope for the sake of mankind, what she truly means is that she no longer has an spiritual conviction for her own sake, regarding the possibility of ever again knowing happiness after the loss of her husband and the inexorable path toward grand destiny for her son... but at the same time, she has complete conviction that Aragorn's role in the destiny of all humankind is one which is deterministically ordained by Eru Himself, and she personally will not strive to thwart it for selfish reasons.


Iron Noder 2017, 26/30

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