Fictional Flags, Bad Odds, and Defiant Hope

I’m undertaking a new writing challenge: write one post a day for as many days as possible based on things at my desk. This is day 3 of that challenge. 

There are two flags hanging at my desk at work. Both belong to fictional countries.

“Winter is coming” has been my unofficial motto for much of my time as BitPay, so for about as long the flag of the Stark family has hung by my desk. Their grim motto grounds me in the reality of the challenges and catastrophes that come with the territory of startup life.

2017 was an appropriate year to have that motto: simultaneously our best year ever for growth and our hardest year ever for the challenges of scaling: wild cost variables, angry customers, rapid scaling, and brand management challenges.

But in January 2018 I added another flag, without a motto but with a sigil of a running horse against a golden sun. If you know your Lord of the Rings, this is the flag of Rohan, home of the horse-lords.

I’m no equestrian, so having the flag of Rohan is not about a love of horses (though I would like to take riding lessons back up one day). Instead, this flag came up on my wall in January of this year as a counter point to the more morose flag of the Starks.

In The Lord of the Rings movies and books, the people of Rohan fight against devastating odds several times, and they have a sort of furious, defiant hope which I love. From a Tolkien reader’s first experiences with these  Nordic-inspired people it’s obvious that they live and fight and die with an attitude of furious fatalism and defiance. They may go down, but they go down fighting.

That kind of grim determination and fatalism can oddly lead to the best kind of hopes. The flag itself is hopeful – a horse running across a green field in the sun is a sign of peace and power and joy.

There is a phenomenal section from The Return of the King which sums up for me the spirit of this flag, and the spirit I hope to have in the face of challenges. Rohan’s Eomer discovers the death of his uncle King Theoden. Meanwhile his riders of Rohan are being slowly worn down by the evil forces of Sauron which are besieging the city of Minas Tirith:

“Stern now was Eomer’s mood, and his mind clear again. He let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could come thither: for he meant to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pellenor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark. So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day’s rising

I came singing in the sun, sword unsheating

To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking

Now for wrath, now for ruin, and a red nightfall!

These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.”






James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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