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Kate Marie

Nicely done, Lance.

I would argue, maybe, that Sauron and Aragorn are set against each other as well -- that Sauron is a mocking, mirror image of kingship. That's one reason why Aragorn is the only character who (somewhat) directly confronts Sauron and even, in a way, defeats him, by wresting the palantir from his control.

And I would qualify the characterization of Sauron as strictly an inner evil. He's that, to be sure, but he and his armies are also an external threat, since inner evils become external threats when enough people give themselves over to the evil. I think Tolkien, by depicting Sauron and the Ringwraiths as either disembodied or shadows who nevertheless exist enough to cause great harm in Middle Earth, was attempting to come to terms with the evil on an unimagined scale that the twentieth century witnessed without resorting to strictly Manichean categories.

I'm struck by your suggestion that Aragorn is the character we're all striving to be. It's funny; when I first read The Lord of the Rings, at thirteen, Aragron was my favorite character, the one who seemed to me most heroic, most worthy of emulation. After several rereadings, I haven't lost my love for Aragorn, but my appreciation of Frodo has deepened. I do think the two of them represent different models of heroism -- Aragorn the epic, Beowulfian hero, and Frodo the self-sacrificing and renouncing hero -- that are equally important, though Frodo's type of heroism is as easily overlooked by modernity as it was by the hobbits of the Shire. Frodo's type of heroism is also maybe increasingly required by modernity -- that's why he and Sam, in the dead marshes and in Mordor, "relive" Tolkien's experiences in the Great War.

P. S. For what it's worth, I know hardly anything about Star Trek, and would be hard put even to tell the difference between Klingons and Romulans.

Kate Marie

By the way, I'm not suggesting that Aragorn isn't self-sacrificing -- just that his heroism is more overt.

And that Shippey book is a great one, isn't it? He completely convinced me with the comparison between Tolkien and Joyce.

Falstaff

It's funny -- I usually look at the great posts here, then the great comments, and wish I had something cogent to say, something really interesting to add, but the one or two times I have it's been to either be a pedant (or that's how it's come out) or make a bad joke.

So, this time, I'd like to say, up front, that this was a great post, following up on another great post, and that "Lance Mannion" is my first stop every day, and I really, really dig your stuff.

Okay. Now I'm gonna be a pedant again real quick.

The whole Sauron-doesn't-have-a-body thing was an invention of Peter Jackson's. Sauron has a body. The "Eye of Mordor" bit is, you'll recall, a metaphor -- Jackson jumped on it and ran with it, presumably so he could show Sauron without having to show a giant-sized demigod throughout the movies.

A giant, sizzling electronic eye IS a hell of a lot more interesting to watch.

And while I take your point about the whole interior evil thing, Sauron has got a personality (it's just that you have to read a different book, The Silmarillion, to actually see it in action) --

And now I'm being too much of a pedant even for me, so I'll just repeat what I said before about this being my daily first stop and thinking this post was terrific.

M. Duss

I've always been interested in LOTR as one of the great literary expressions of English ruralism, the idea that the true quality of English nobility is to be found in the countryside, and amongst the people who work it. The only creature capable of (almost) disposing of the Ring are the simplest country folk, whose idea of true happiness is a pipe, a fire, and good book. The closer you get to cities and industry, the more corruption and malice you encounter.

Going somewhat farther afield, it's interesting the way that this idea, which went into overdrive after the trauma of the First World War (Tolkien's experiences in which deeply affected his work), influenced the way that the British tried to divide and control Iraq under the mandate, imputing purer motives to rural tribal leaders, and assuming corruption on the part of urban dwellers.

Neddie Jingo

I was pretty amused by the scene in the last LOTR movie when Frodo is toiling up the side of Mount Doom and comes across a carefully constructed archway opening out onto a lovely balcony overlooking the Magma of Doom. Clearly, this was the spot the architect intended for the Ring of Power to be thrown into the pit of fire; it certainly had no other conceivable use. I remarked to my wife that there should have been a large neon sign over the portal: "Halflings! Deposit Rings of Power Here! No Waiting! Wireless Internet! Free Coffee!"

I'm like that at the movies. You don't want me along, believe me.

blue girl

Falstaff,

...or make a bad joke.

I don't think Mannion minds bad jokes. Because if he did I would've been banned from this blog long ago.

:)

Linkmeister

Lance has made a few bad jokes of his own, too.

ajay

Neddie: not completely. The point about having to take the Ring to Mount Doom was that Mount Doom was where it was forged by Sauron in the first place - therefore makes sense that there would be easy access. Obviously, that was a long time ago, and things have crumbled a bit in the last few millennia...

As to why Sauron didn't wall up the passageway - the whole point is that he can't conceive of anyone getting hold of the Ring and wanting to destroy it.

Stephen Frug

Wow, terrific pair of posts. A couple of random thoughts.

First, if you liked Author of the Century that much, you might want to read his other book, The Road to Middle-earth. The arguments are very similar, and overlap quite a bit; but -- somewhat irritatingly, I suppose -- there's a lot of good stuff in each that's not in the other. And they approach the material from a somewhat different point of view. It's sort of too much overlap to be totally engrossed in both, but too little to skip the brilliance of either book.

Second, in reply to Neddie Jingo, in agreement with Ajay:


The path was not put there for the purposes of Sam. he did not know it, but he was looking at Sauron's Road from Barad-dûr to the Sammath Naur, the Chambers of Fire. Out from the Dark Tower's huge western gate it came over a deep abyss by a vast bridge of iron, and then passing into the plain... Often blocked or destroyed by the tumults of the Mountain's furnaces, always that road was repaired and cleared again by the labors of countless orcs. (The Return of the King, "Mount Doom")

Third, I have to say that I think that while I greatly enjoyed Jackson's films, I also had a lot of problems with them; but that, save in one case, my problems were never visual: the films looked like Middle Earth, the characters like the characters, the whole thing looked perfect... except for the Eye of Sauron. It wasn't so bad in the first two films; but the "search light" bit at the end of the third film was just silly. The only major visual (as opposed to thematic or character or dialogue etc) flaw in the films, really. But a big one.

Finally, I think any attempt at an allegorical reading of Tolkien has to confront the following quote from the preface to LOTR:


f [WW2] had inspired or directed the development of [LOTR], then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt; they would not long have survived even as slaves.

And that's Tolkien's portrayal of the Allies at the end of WW2! No surprise for a work all about the corruption of power -- but if that's how he portrays the end of one of the least controversial wars in history, invoking him in any other allegorical context on the side of war is a really dicey proposition.

Anyway, again, great posts. I'm not sure I (fully, baldly) agree with the reading that all the characters are (simply and purely) inner evils; but I think it's a brilliant reading -- and one far more on the mark than any political allegory.

Stephen Frug

Um, the first word in the quote from the Tolkien preface was supposed to be "if". And unlike me, Tolkien did not neglect to capitalize the first word of the second sentence of the passage from The Return of the King.

Oops?

jillbryant

I just want to answer Falstaff's comment by saying that I try NOT to make Lance's blog a first stop because not only are the posts incredibly thought-provoking (mentally urging lots of comments - even if just a bad joke :)) but the links are great and the links of the links can lead you into a whole new zone....so, reading Lance can be a very dangerous first stop...

jillbryant

Oh, and also, I wanted to comment on this:

"But I'm more disturbed by the point he was using the eye of Sauron to make---that it's a good thing that all those Iraqis and American soldiers and Marines are getting killed every day, otherwise we might have to worry about getting killed ourselves.

It's better all those people die on our behalf than that we have to think twice about going to the mall."

Having just read Riverbend's first post in months which is in response to the Lancet Study, http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/, I would think it'd be hard for any American leader to feel anything less than incredible sorrow and shame over what's happening in Iraq, much less tout the fact that this is some sort of solution to America's fear of terrorism.

p.a.

If you are interested in reading Tolkien expand on his book, read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. One other point; there is a scene where Gandalf explains the situation at the time to Agagorn, Legolas, and Gimli. He points out that if Sauron had closed off Mordor and put all his efforts into hunting down Frodo, the free peoples would have had no hope. But imagining war he released war, and made Frodo's task possible. Substitute America for Mordor (not morally, but as the great power) and Osama for Frodo (an individual who, while a threat, could be defeated easily with the proper tactics), and you have an uncomfortable similarity to the Iraq war and Bush admin. missteps.

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