On this Remembrance Day, I reflect on all the soldiers and civilians who died during World War I. Remebrance Day honours all who have fallen, though my thoughts keep wandering back to those soldiers of the Great War as I’m working on my book.
I don’t usually feel emotional when writing, i.e. when I’m writing an exciting or fast-paced scene, I don’t feel excited – I feel the emotions after, when I’m reading it over. I don’t know why. But writing this story seems to be different; before I even began writing, when I was still thinking about it, the story only a vague idea, an image came to me (a key scene in the story) and before I knew it, tears welled in my eyes and a profound sense of sorrow washed over me.
I’ve looked at photographs and read books as part of my research, and sometimes I’m so overcome by sadness that I have to put whatever it is I’m looking at aside and do something else to raise my spirits again. This pattern was on my mind again shortly after I read Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy. The ending wasn’t just sad, it was incredibly depressing. I was so low as I read it, and after I’d finished reading it. It took me hours to feel better. (I was kind of interested in seeing the last movie as I was reading the books but, now, if the book is anything to go by, I don’t want to be depressed all over again.)
Afterward, I looked at my response objectively and I came to the sudden conclusion that my novel would end with hope.
Emily Dickinson described hope as “the thing with feathers”. John Keats, in his poem “To Hope”, wrote,
Should Disappointment, parent of Despair,
Strive for her son to seize my careless heart;
When, like a cloud, he sits upon the air,
Preparing on his spell-bound prey to dart:
Chase him away, sweet Hope, with visage bright,
And fright him as the morning frightens night!
Whene’er the fate of those I hold most dear
Tells to my fearful breast a tale of sorrow,
O bright-eyed Hope, my morbid fancy cheer;
Let me awhile thy sweetest comforts borrow:
Thy heaven-born radiance around me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!
My favourite definition of hope comes from J.R.R. Tolkien, in Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (The Debate of Finrod and Andreth, found in Morgoth’s Ring):
Have ye then no hope?” said Finrod.
“What is hope?” she said. “An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.”
“That is one thing that Men call ‘hope’,” said Finrod. “Amdir we call it, ‘looking up’. But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust”. It 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 Eruhin, 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. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?
War is a heavy topic to read about, and certainly to write about as well. Knowing that Suzanne Collins’s father was a Vietnam War veteran helped my understanding of how she wrote The Hunger Games and ended it as she did, though what I also took away from my own response was that I want to write a book that, yes, deals with war (World War I) but also offers a message of hope (which I didn’t feel with Mockingjay) that is very much needed at its conclusion.