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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The reader knows evil when they see it

Mim
The Shire

Jan 17 2013, 11:38am


Views: 1057
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The reader knows evil when they see it [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that there are a couple of things that can be said in response to that criticism. I think the most obvious thing to say is that yes, its a fair point. Good characters do evil things and at times its hard to distinguish between what evil is doing and what good is doing. At this point, it is in a lot of ways just a power struggle and a territory battle. In The Silmarillion, it is hard for anyone to take a moral high ground. However, the reader still gets a very clear idea of who is good and who is evil. I rather think that is the point.

There is no universally satisfactory explanation for the existence of evil. Tolkien also doesn't supply us with a finite in text explanation either, yet we are all on the same page about what is evil. I think it would be a struggle to find anyone you could give Tolkien's work to, ask them who the good characters are and be told that Melkor, Sauron and Saruman are the persecuted good guys. So then the interesting question arises, why can we all so confidently know that Melkor is evil and the Valar are good. Well the obvious answer is because Tolkien is a writer and he tells us so, he's crafted his text in such a way that when we read thats the impression we get. I'm not so sure thats totally satisfactory, I think that there are far more universal things at work here. Partially I think, the ingrained belief that the majority are normally right is one factor. Melkor is out there on his own, the Valar are a large group. I think that plays on a natural distrust of individuals and it plays on readers insecurities. You don't want to be out in exile with Melkor, in the dark fortresses, you want to be in the gardens with everyone else. A belief which is reinforced by the suggestion that Melkor's largest group of followers have to be coerced into following him, ie the corrupted elves that form the basis of his orc armies. There are other examples, but this is already at risk of becoming too long an essay.

Ultimately, what I'm trying to say is that yes, Tolkien doesn't really categorically make his evil characters evil and his good characters are more flawed than might at first seem appropriate. However, Tolkien doesn't really need to do more. Primarily because he constructs evil using elements that are inescapably a part of the basic conception of evil that is recognisable to most people. We know who is 'good' and who is 'evil' we don't need to be shown more because evil is something that is often constructed of more than behavior.

Subject User Time
The Silmarillion discussion: Of the Beginning of Days noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 14 2013, 4:29pm
    a lamp theory :), returning evil, and beautiful trees hanne Send a private message to hanne Jan 15 2013, 2:47am
        2 trees CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 16 2013, 2:59am
    Time and Valinor elevorn Send a private message to elevorn Jan 15 2013, 3:58pm
        Lamps, regrouping evil and selfish Valar noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 15 2013, 8:29pm
            yes, it does elevorn Send a private message to elevorn Jan 15 2013, 8:43pm
                When you put it that way, it is a hole CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 16 2013, 2:21am
    Inevitable evil Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 15 2013, 10:35pm
        Is evil logical or intuitive? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 16 2013, 2:08am
            logical and intuitive? telain Send a private message to telain Jan 16 2013, 4:50pm
            The reader knows evil when they see it Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 17 2013, 11:38am
                The next chapter is underway ! noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 24 2013, 9:42pm
    Even immortal elves can't escape Death and Taxes (VATs) CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 16 2013, 2:53am
        Nature is violent... Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Jan 16 2013, 3:59pm
            TV nature specials CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 16 2013, 7:42pm
    Very late answers sador Send a private message to sador Feb 4 2013, 3:23pm
        Very welcome answers: I don't think "late" is a problem! // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Feb 4 2013, 3:32pm
        Secretly an Ent? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Feb 4 2013, 7:37pm

 
 
 

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