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A Thief in the Night -- Part 4
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Jul 14 2009, 6:56pm

Post #26 of 31 (421 views)
The Quest for Power [In reply to] Can't Post

Although people often equate the Ring with the Atom Bomb (a connection Tolkien denied as allegory, yet admitted as one of many options within the scope of applicability) I think that WWI and WWII made it clear how leaders will look for power everywhere and in everything. And in doing so, they will stick at nothing.

He had finished most of the books before the horror of the atom bomb became known to all the world, yet everyone knew how all sides scrambled to master it before the others and use it on their enemy--and in this there seemed to be no innocent parties. Tolkien witnessed hideous weapons used by both sides in WWI, poisonous gas and flamethrowers, and breathed a sigh of relief with the rest of the world when the Geneva Convention banned them--only to see them replaced by still worse weapons. And he saw the new media of radio and film harnessed into propaganda machines that seemed to cast huge populations under evil spells.

I can see how it became easily plausible that a handy little trinket, like a ring of invisibility, could turn into yet another tool of evil, offering the lure of power.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


Jul 14 2009, 7:46pm

Post #27 of 31 (409 views)
Tolkien wanted to put the genie back [In reply to] Can't Post

in the bottle and turn back time long before the atomic bomb was invented, and long before World War I. In LotR, for a little while, the long slow decline is reversed, although much good is lost when evil dies, and evil will return. The end of the Third Age is not Judgment Day, but it foreshadows the end of the world, just as the War of Wrath and the Fall of Numenor did.


Jul 14 2009, 9:39pm

Post #28 of 31 (424 views)
"Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it" [In reply to] Can't Post

That quote by Pitt the Elder, spoken in Parliament in 1770, precedes by a century the slightly better known variation by Lord Acton about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Both quotes predate the yet little-known horrors of industrialized warfare.

I think Tolkien was more interested in the moral destruction that power causes, than in the physical. The Ring, after all, is not a weapon of physical destruction. Sauron does not wield any really advanced technologies by modern standards. The weaponry of World Wars I and II were indeed horrific to their generations because of their vastly increased power compared to earlier generations of weaponry. Yet I wager that Tolkien was more appalled by the uses to which the weapons were put: the destruction and enslavement of unarmed civilian populations rather than military forces - and potentially the corruption of all of Western Civilization by totalitarianism whether Communist, Fascist, or Democratic in guise.

Your thoughts about mass propaganda, in other words, strike me as most germane to an analysis of the One Ring's relationship to what was going on in Tolkien's time as he considered a sequel to The Hobbit featuring Bilbo's ring of invisibility. By setting his fable in a medievalized world he may have hoped to help people see that physical force - physical weaponry - is the thing we have least to fear when we think of the concept of a "Ring of Power."

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Jul 14 2009, 10:39pm

Post #29 of 31 (418 views)
Or Capitalist or Colonialist [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, Tolkien was almost as horrified by the British Colonialist Empire and the American Commercial Empire as he was by the Fascists and Communists. In his eyes, they all behaved like orcs and they all would have eagerly used the Ring.

This strikes me as more a product of World War I cynicism, in which there was no consensus about the true villains, than World War II, the so-called "good war." Or perhaps it was a product of World War I cynicism plus pre-World War II cynicism, when the War to End All Wars turned out to be anything but.


Jul 15 2009, 2:42am

Post #30 of 31 (405 views)
You got my point [In reply to] Can't Post

It is the mentality of control that was so appalling, and so apparent within Tolkien's lifetime, rather than the brute force aspects. Fire is so innocent in the hearth--and so diabolical when deliberately shot into a trench full of men. Poison gas, if I recall correctly, was the accidental byproduct of trying to find a way to slow rot in food. It's the mindset behind these things, rather than the things themselves, that are so terrible.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


Jul 15 2009, 2:53am

Post #31 of 31 (422 views)
Consensus is a matter of opinion. [In reply to] Can't Post

If Tolkien learned cynicism in WWI, he applied it to WWII. Remember his horror at hearing his fellow countrymen cheering at the sight of weary lines of German refugee women and children. And he wrote to his son that unfortunately orcs fought on both sides. And he likened aerial warfare to desperate hobbits learning to ride Fell Beasts. (This involved more than his dislike of technology; bombing cannot help but cause massive collateral damage among civilians.)

It is no small matter that Tolkien was ethnically German. He despised Nazism and everything to do with it, yet he could not see the German people as inherently different from himself, unlike so many who missed the whole point of what we were fighting for and viewed Germans as somehow fundamentally flawed, not like us. He couldn't retreat into the myth of Enemy as Monster; he had to deal with the seduction of initially decent human beings.

So it wasn't entirely a "good war" to him. Good and evil he saw clearly enough, and supported the opposition to evil by force of arms. That did not free the "good guys" from a responsibility to resist justifying bad means by good ends.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!

(This post was edited by Dreamdeer on Jul 15 2009, 2:56am)

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