Lecture 6: The Lord of the Rings
In conclusion, we can look to some of the larger themes, as well as perhaps some of the lesser.
No virtue (or fault) is found in a transitive verb. We do not know if someone is virtuous simply because they “love.” What do they love? Or that they are wicked if they “hate.” What do they hate? When literature like The Lord of the Rings is criticized, it is often attacked for being “escapist.” But what is being escaped from?
As Tolkien once put it, the people who are so concerned about escapism have a name – jailers. Although he described them as gaolers.
We have commented before that the wizardry and such is something of an optical illusion. Gandalf is one of the lesser Valar, not a warlock.
But look away from this kind of detail for a moment. The whole point of magic is the manipulation of matter in order to acquire power, which is what Harry Potter does, becoming an adept. But the world of The Lord of the Rings is the reverse of this – if anything the good guys represent a photo-negative of magic. The ring of power is the ultimate symbol of magic in the traditional sense, and the whole point of the book is to destroy it, resisting all temptations to use it. All such temptations are temptations, in effect, to engage in what we would call “white magic.”
Notice the theme of various changes – but how the emphasis with change is on those characters who are good. The evil ones are monotonously regular. But:
Gandalf the Grey becomes Gandalf the White. Frodo the hobbit becomes quasi-elven.
Samwise the hobbit becomes true hobbit, or a quasi-man. Strider becomes Aragorn. Arwen becomes mortal.
Et cetera. And in all this, note the two fundamental directions of the changes.
By Christian themes, I am not referring to the great issues discussed last week – creation, God, man, sin and salvation, and so forth.
Rather, consider the comment of Elrond: “This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”
The first will be last and the last will be first. God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the strong. Or, as Frodo says at the Grey Havens, some give things up so that others may have them.
Another theme: Aragon says that “good and ill have not changed since yesteryear” and that they are not “one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.” For Tolkien, this shows his total lack of sympathy with the relativism of our age.
Like and Unlike:
Thoughts for discussion.
What do Faramir and Gandalf have in common?
What do Arwen and Eowyn have in common?
What do Frodo and Gollum have in common?
What do Boromir and Aragorn have in common?
What do Theoden and Denethor have in common?
Last Little Tidbit on Technology:
Treebeard says of Saruman that he “has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things.” Gandalf says to Saruman – “he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom” In what ways is this par for Tolkien’s course?