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Tolkien and Evil

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 11:44 pm    Post subject: Tolkien and Evil Reply with quote

Does anyone know which of the many, many books written *about* Tolkien and Middle-earth specifically focus on, or have a good section on, Tolkien's definition and relationship (as a writer) with evil?

I was rethinking an earlier assertion made by both SRD and myself in the GI - that Sauron is evil personified. I'm second guessing myself, and thereby, also SRD - Shocked dare I? Faint

Here's the post, to save anyone time who actually cares enough to look. Big Grin

This is my second question in almost as many days, and given your time constraints and my selfish desire for you to get as much done on Fatal Revenant as possible, I feel a tad guilty.

Me! wrote:
I just read your statement in the GI, “I didn't want to go the Tolkien route: pick a name like "Sauron" and *pretend* he isn't Evil Personified.”

My question should be obvious by now. Why don’t you think that Sauron was evil personified? What did he “lack"?

SRD wrote:
I edited out most of your question because it seems to be based on a misunderstanding. I *do* think that Sauron was “evil personified.” My point, which I must have phrased rather badly, was simply that Tolkien doesn’t *announce* Sauron as “evil personified” (at least not in “The Hobbit” and LOTR, which is really all I know on the subject). To the best of my knowledge, Tolkien just told his story--and then stubbornly resisted all attempts to “interpret” it or assign meaning to it. Well, the story still is what it is; and Sauron qualifies as “evil personified”. But I got into this mess by trying to explain why I gave *my* “evil personified” a name as obvious as “Lord Foul the Despiser.” At the time that I wrote the first “Covenant” trilogy, I felt a young man’s desire to be VERY CLEAR that my story was not an imitation of Tolkien’s.

On a side note, I found it interesting that he put considerable effort into *not* being a Tolkien imitator, yet on the surface (surface only), there were dozens of superficial similarities. I don't have the guts to ask him if he's aware of this, though I've long wanted to. Embarassed
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." (Anais Nin)
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2007 10:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Professor Tom Shippey's 2 excellent books / The Road to Middle-Earth and JRR Tolkien, Author of the Century / discuss this aspect of Tolkien, too.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tolkien's relationship with evil.... interesting question. JRRT was a Christian, highly orthodox in doctrine if not in thinking. Smile

Sauron was originally a Maia- a quasi-angelic being- who chose to serve Morgoth, Middle-earth's equivalent of Lucifer. Both Lucifer and Morgoth were present (in their respective universes) at Creation, but their hearts were lifted up in pride and they coveted Eru/Yahweh's glory for themselves. They were not created evil, but became so when they turned in on themselves.

Morgoth overreached and was put into chains. Sauron filled the vacuum by becoming the marrer of Middle-earth. But for a time, he retained the beautiful appearance he was created with. He himself lost that beauty when he caused (maybe 'hastened' would be more accurate) the downfall of Numenor, using his beauty to deceive men. In the Bible, Satan/Lucifer is still able to have a beautiful appearance in order to deceive men (see 2 Corinthians chapter 11, I think).

My point is that if you want to get to the heart of your question, you have to look into a Bible understanding of evil, for that was JRRT's source and model for Middle-earth. I realize the Prof was also heavily influenced by pagan (particularly Norse) mythology, but you can see how the Bible influenced him just from this. And, he worshipped in a church, not a stone circle, whatever people might say.

Secondly, Tolkien SAW evil up close and personal during the war. He himself said that so many of his friends had died that he himself thought there would soon be no one left. That influenced him very deeply. The war trashed everything he held dear, both people and the beautiful English countryside. Industry was also beginning to grow in a rapacious manner. Before labor parties and environmentalists raised their voices, factories were destroying people and forests and rivers voraciously. This is reflected in Saruman's mind "of wheels and metal", tearing up Fangorn, and in the description of Mordor as a desert of toxic slag heaps.

JRRT took evil personally, it wasn't something that was 'out there somewhere'. He hated it. And he understood that sacrifice, personal and great, was necessary to redeem it.

Just as Christ "became sin" and "became a curse" when He died on the cross, Frodo had to take on some of the evil of the Ring before he could (with Gollum's help) destroy it. Yes, the analogy breaks down because Frodo was neither sinless nor supernatural, as Christ was, I'm just pointing out some of the similarities.

Am I making any sense at all or should I just shut up now? Very Happy
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2008 3:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting quote from elsewhere about Tolkien and his vision of evil (or at least of virtue)...
Tolkien was no Socialist. Anyone wishing to explore Tolkien's socio-political leanings would be much better advised to looks towards the neo-feudalism of the Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc. It dovetails much more clearly with Tolkien's professed monarchism, with the systems to which he was clearly sympathetic as portrayed in The Lord of the Rings, and with his devout Catholicism. Moreover, we know that he enthusiastically gave copies of Belloc's works to his son Michael (inscribed copies surfaced on the 2nd-hand market not too long ago, after Michael's library was sold). Carl Hostetter

"Belloc understood a rooted life, close to nature, as being humanly superior to the massification produced by modern civilization. Give a man a farm, a small business, an artisan's anvil, a boat to sail, wine to drink - suffuse all this with the love of Christ; center man's life around liturgical rhythms; and that man - at least Man writ in the large and taken by the handful - is happier than his industrial counterpart. A Catholic culture tends - and tends is the operative word - toward this kind of life. Tempering greed and avarice, man is then more than himself. As A. N. Wilson notes, in his introduction to a new edition of The Four Men, Belloc knew that his ideal was doomed...."
Methinks what Tolkien and Donaldson would agree upon--based upon their books--is that life without joy, beauty and hope is by definition evil. Methinks they would also say that such is too often the result in our modern industrial world. The exchange in TIW (?) about how in our language the word "scenery" implies beauty is somehow extra, a bonus but not primarily important, always struck a chord in me about that. Likewise, Tolkien made exquisately clear that he viewed the desire for power over others as a terrible thing, an arrogance in which Man seeks not to emulate God but rather supplant Him.
"O let my name be in the Book of Love!
It be there, I care not of the other great book Above.
Strike it out! Or, write it in anew. But
Let my name be in the Book of Love!" --Omar Khayam
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 16, 2010 9:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Master of Middle earth has some brilliant material on evil in Tolkien's work.
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