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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room: Gloomy? Yes, but maybe also weirdly reassuring?: Edit Log


Feb 18, 1:54pm

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Gloomy? Yes, but maybe also weirdly reassuring?

Thanks for taking this chapter on HG! yes absolutely - it's gloom, gloom, gloom. Tolkien really follows through with what Gandalf told The Last Debate: there's every likelihood that this isn't going to work, but it's necessary to do the right thing anyway. I think we get a real sense that the best the Lords of the West can do is a diversion to help Frodo and Sam succeed. And that's a total act of faith because they don't know how Frodo and Sam are getting on. We readers of course do have extra information and, as is often the case in LOTR, it doesn't help - we have the now out-of-date information that Frodo has been captured.

I can think of two things Tolkien gets from this: I think there's a simple storytelling matter of suspense, and I see him as emphasizing one of the themes of the book.

As far as storytelling advantage goes, I can see similarities with much less thoughtful or profound storytellers than Tolkien. Let's choose the Star Wars screenplays written by George Lucas. Lucas seemed often to rely upon the small heroic party that has to sneak into the Throne Room and capture the Viceroy, make the tricky torpedo shot, or disable the shields on the forest moon of Endor. There are the same advantages I see Tolkien getting here: the side we're rooting for has to do more that just win the pitched battle. It gives the heroes something that only they can do.
As for thoughtful themes,Tolkien has been explicit that in Middle-earth it's essential to work out as best you can what the Right Thing To Do is,and then carry it out to the best of your abilities. You should do what you can to ensure success, but in the end the chances of it shouldn't hold you back. Gandalf has been perfectly clear about that (and so have other admirable characters such as Galadriel or Theoden). I suppose that Gandalf is speaking here as the representative of the Valar. He might also be acting as a mouthpiece for views Tolkien had about real life. Sometimes I can find that philosophy - just get on with doing the right thing - consoling.
If I get thoughtful about Tolkien being thoughtful, I wonder whether he's combining:
  • The old Norse and related cultures' ideas that humanity should side with the gods against the forces of chaos. No victory is likely within the world of time, but concepts such as honour, fate and courage make the fight worthwhile anyway. This is combined with...
  • ... what I'd suppose were his own beliefs as a Catholic that (despite all the chaos and bad stuff we see about us) the world is created and run by a benevolent and probably omnipotent god (Eru in the case of Middle-earth). Things go wrong either because of people exercising their free will in bad ways (if they can't choose to do that, they don't have free will), or because all the slaughter and mayhem is in some way part of a larger greater good. Things done in an attempt to thwart Eru's plan (or just out of pure selfishness) end up unexpectedly helping things along instead, whereas apparently tiny positive gestures can snowball into huge effects (Tolkien has shown us examples of both in this book). The net effects of good will and 'evil will shall evil mar' can lead to short-term victories for 'our side', though it's a game without a final whistle or checkmate. The ultimate victory is still not available within the world of time - it's just that there is hope that it might be available outside of the world of time.
I appreciate Tolkien not using his story as a pulpit here (c.f. CS Lewis in Narnia). I means the story doesn't collapse if you don't agree with the author theologically.

I sometimes wonder whether Tolkien hadn't spent some time thinking about 'The Problem Of Evil' - he was after all orphaned and then lost his friends in the First World War. What was the meaning of all that, he might have thought? Politics of his own times was likely just as dispiriting (if not more so) as our own can be - his life by the time he'd published LOTR had taken in World War I, the Great Depression, and the apparent failure of democracies against the rise of populist, aggressive totalitarian powers (both fascists and communists). Then there was World War II, the collapse of the British Empire, and the prospect of instant nuclear annihilation in the Cold War. Plenty to mull over!

"Yes, I am half-elven. No, it does not mean that I 'have one pointy ear' "
Sven Elven, proprietor of the Rivendell convenience store.

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Feb 18, 1:55pm)

Edit Log:
Post edited by noWizardme (Half-elven) on Feb 18, 1:55pm

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