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"The Hobbit" Free Discussion: Beorn's interrogation and execution of prisoners.
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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Aug 3 2009, 7:01pm

Post #1 of 44 (1464 views)
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"The Hobbit" Free Discussion: Beorn's interrogation and execution of prisoners. Can't Post

The following passage from "Queer Lodgings" only received a few passing comments this time through The Hobbit. In it, Beorn tells Thorin & co. that in the process of investigating their story, he captured a goblin and warg:


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From these he had got news: the goblin patrols were still hunting with Wargs for the dwarves, and they were fiercely angry because of the death of the Great Goblin, and also because of the burning of the chief wolf’s nose and the death from the wizard’s fire of many of his chief servants. So much they told him when he forced them, but he guessed there was more wickedness than this afoot, and that a great raid of the whole goblin army with their wolf-allies into the lands shadowed by the mountains might soon be made to find the dwarves, or to take vengeance on the men and creatures that lived there, and who they thought must be sheltering them.



Beorn then kills them, and hangs their bodies at his gate, apparently to warn off other enemies. The narrator says, "Beorn was a fierce enemy. But now he was their friend", and Gandalf takes him into their trust, requesting aid for the journey ahead.

Does Beorn torture his prisoners? Can he trust what they tell him under duress is true? Does Tolkien mean readers to understand that torture is an effective means of interrogation? Or by having Beorn merely guess at the larger plans of the goblins and wargs, is Tolkien indicating that torture often will not yield useful information? Does Beorn have the right to torture prisoners? (How would Mandos judge him?) To summarily execute them? To desecrate their corpses? What if on the dwarves' arrival he had suspected them to be goblin spies --earlier in the story Tolkien had told us that "in some parts wicked dwarves had even made alliances with" goblins-- and tortured them? Would he be justified in doing so? (Or would he only torture goblins and wargs?) Might the dwarves even have confessed to be goblin spies, just to stop the torture?

That should be enough questions to start a discussion. Feel free to add more of your own.

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Curious
Half-elven


Aug 4 2009, 12:43am

Post #2 of 44 (1094 views)
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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

Does Beorn torture his prisoners?

Unclear. He might just have intimidated them, as Gandalf did Gollum in LotR.

Can he trust what they tell him under duress is true?

No.

Does Tolkien mean readers to understand that torture is an effective means of interrogation?

No, the point is that Beorn is a fierce enemy, not that he is a paragon of virtue.

Or by having Beorn merely guess at the larger plans of the goblins and wargs, is Tolkien indicating that torture often will not yield useful information?

Again, the accuracy of the information isn't really the point.

Does Beorn have the right to torture prisoners?

No.

(How would Mandos judge him?)

Harshly, if that is what he did.

To summarily execute them?

Arguably yes, although this gets into the whole quagmire of whether goblins and wargs are irredeemable or whether any effort should be made to redeem adults who undoubtedly have done wicked things.

To desecrate their corpses?

It's not saintly, but it's in line with medieval frontier justice.

What if on the dwarves' arrival he had suspected them to be goblin spies --earlier in the story Tolkien had told us that "in some parts wicked dwarves had even made alliances with" goblins-- and tortured them? Would he be justified in doing so?

No.

(Or would he only torture goblins and wargs?)

Most likely, if indeed he tortured anyone at all.

Might the dwarves even have confessed to be goblin spies, just to stop the torture?

That is a real danger of torture, and the reason many interrogators find it not just wrong but ineffective.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 4 2009, 8:25am

Post #3 of 44 (1080 views)
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Natural morality [In reply to] Can't Post

Does Beorn torture his prisoners?

I can't see him going in for thumbscrews or waterboarding, but I think he'd be quite ready to maul his prisoners, bear-style.

Can he trust what they tell him under duress is true?

We are just told that he's got some information, not whether it is true or not. It turns out to be (mostly) true. But whether Beorn "can trust" the information is neither here nor there - he acts on what he believes, which is what he (presumably) beat out of his prisoners.

Does Tolkien mean readers to understand that torture is an effective means of interrogation?

No, he's just telling a story.

Or by having Beorn merely guess at the larger plans of the goblins and wargs, is Tolkien indicating that torture often will not yield useful information?

That neither. He isn't indicating anything. This is just a story. Beorn is an ambiguous character, neither good nor evil. Whether Beorn's information is true or not does not tell us whether or not his methods were good.

Does Beorn have the right to torture prisoners? (How would Mandos judge him?) To summarily execute them? To desecrate their corpses?

He's not subject to the cosmology of the Elves, surely. He's basically "non-aligned", part of the natural world. It's not about rights, it's about the behaviour of nature, which is not intrinsically either good or bad. Gandalf sometimes chooses to align himself with parts of the natural world that happen to be enemies of his enemies (like the huorns of Fangorn, for example). But nature is outside the morality of elves and men - and Beorn as a skin-changer, I think, lives outside the cosmology of the Elves, just as Tom Bombadil does. Nature is not called "red in tooth and claw" for nothing. The Geneva convention does not apply.

What if on the dwarves' arrival he had suspected them to be goblin spies --earlier in the story Tolkien had told us that "in some parts wicked dwarves had even made alliances with" goblins-- and tortured them?

That's presumably why Gandalf took the precautions he did - he knew you had to get on the right side of Beorn as quickly as possible!

Would he be justified in doing so? (Or would he only torture goblins and wargs?) Might the dwarves even have confessed to be goblin spies, just to stop the torture?

Again, justification doesn't come into it. If he had done so, he'd presumably be depicted in the story the way the spiders are - as a cruel enemy who threatened the dwarves' lives. I don't know whether the dwarves would have confessed - their pride would have conflicted with their desire to escape from any tight spot they found themselves in. They would have been reliant on whatever clever ploy Bilbo or Gandalf would have been able to come up with to rescue them, I guess, as with the trolls or the spiders.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea
upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Aug 4 2009, 2:18pm

Post #4 of 44 (1065 views)
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Just a story? [In reply to] Can't Post

A complaint has been made about the popular television series 24, that by repeatedly showing torture as an effective means of obtaining information from suspected terrorists, it has encouraged the American public to be more accepting of torture when conducted by real American officials. If Tolkien presents a story which seems to endorse torture, is it unfair to subject him to the same charge? (If as you suggest, Beorn, as an expression of the amoral natural world, is not subject to such questions, there is the case of Gandalf using fire to threaten Gollum in LOTR.)

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sador
Half-elven

Aug 4 2009, 2:25pm

Post #5 of 44 (1079 views)
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A few answers [In reply to] Can't Post

Does Beorn torture his prisoners?
He seems to; how else does he 'force' them, by intimidation? Highly unlikely.

Can he trust what they tell him under duress is true?
Not one hundred precent, he still has to excersize his judgement, like Gandalf did from what he heard from Gollum.
He seems to do this well.

Does Tolkien mean readers to understand that torture is an effective means of interrogation?
But it is effective! Not absolutely, but quite so.
The practical problem with torture is that it does not give any incentive to telling the truth, but rather to telling the interrogator whatever he wants to hear.

But this is the problem with any kind of pressure - also with psychological or economic pressure. It shows the pressured that s/he is in your power, and that unless you are satisfied the pressure will continue.
For this to be effective, they must be sure a) that you are serious and just (i.e. will not continue torturing them just for the fun of it) b) that you want the truth and c) that it is pointless to try and fool you. If the prisoner guesses what it is you want to hear, and that it is not necessarily the truth; or if s/he thinks you might be fooled - the pressure loses its effectiveness.

Of course there are people who resist torture (Orwell didn't quite believe in them, but I think Tolkien did - see Hurin) - but is there any more effective way to get information out of them? No.

Note that Gandalf admitted that he couldn't get everything out of Gollum - because there was another fear on him, even greater than his own. I take that to mean Gandalf tortured him, but has reached the limits of what physical duress could pry out of him.
And of course, after that he still had to sift what Gollum said to learn the truth.


Or by having Beorn merely guess at the larger plans of the goblins and wargs, is Tolkien indicating that torture often will not yield useful information?
No, I don't think so. He didn't catch the high command, only a patrol.

Does Beorn have the right to torture prisoners?
More than Gandalf has - he is the secular authority, not the messenger of the Valar.

(How would Mandos judge him?)
How would Mandos judge Gandalf? It seems Eru himself judged him favourably - enough to send him back for another term!

To summarily execute them?
Didn't Tolkien believe in martial law?

To desecrate their corpses?
Well, that was a common mediaeval practice; I'm afraid Tolkien's idea of Edward I was different from Mel Gibson's.

What if on the dwarves' arrival he had suspected them to be goblin spies --earlier in the story Tolkien had told us that "in some parts wicked dwarves had even made alliances with" goblins-- and tortured them?
It would have been a different story altogether.
Probably one I wouldn't like.

Would he be justified in doing so?
Aren't you harping a bit to much on the same theme?

(Or would he only torture goblins and wargs?)
That's a comforting thing to think.

Might the dwarves even have confessed to be goblin spies, just to stop the torture?
From Tolkien's description of dwarves, I get the impression it would not be very likely, at least it would take more for the torture do be successful than with Men.
He might get more by torturing Bilbo. Shocked

"You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you" - Gandalf.


Curious
Half-elven


Aug 4 2009, 2:42pm

Post #6 of 44 (1095 views)
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Gandalf did not "use fire to threaten Gollum." [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf "put the fear of fire on him." Gandalf is also the "servant of the Secret Fire." Could there be a connection?

I refuse to believe that Gandalf tortured Gollum, although I readily believe that Gollum tortured himself, and could find torture in a Holy Blessing, or in a simple revelation of Truth. Anyone who thought elvish rope burned and thought lembas was poison was capable of reacting to anything Holy as if he was being tortured.

Beorn, though, may well have been brutal. Beorn is not an angelic being.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 4 2009, 5:08pm

Post #7 of 44 (1065 views)
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It's a long way [In reply to] Can't Post

from a rather vague statement about Beorn that seems to imply torture, to showing it in full colour with Dolby surround sound.

Not that I take those kinds of complaints too seriously anyway. If 24 did anything to the American public, it probably made them more fearful of shadowy enemies than they needed to be. And once you're afraid of someone, it's a short step to demonizing them, and from there to treating them as less than human. Even then, it's a bit much to blame 24, which was probably just channelling the Zeitgeist. The real problem (from my foreigner's perspective) was a lack of leadership. If anything, Tolkien's stories highlight exactly the kind of courageous leadership that was missing in the US at that time - the willingness (like Frodo) to face threats courageously rather than striking out of fear. I think Jackson's movies found such a willing audience because the publc was thirsting for just such a message.

And they do show 24 in the UK and Ireland too, and I've seen no public acceptance of torture here.

As for the example of Gandalf "putting the fear of fire" into Gollum, I've always read this as just an expression, based on "putting the fear of God" into someone, although obviously leaving out God and replacing Him with Gandalf's own mystical power. Both Gandalf and Aragorn make it clear that they treated Gollum harshly, but it's Sauron who seems to have tortured him:

‘What he had been doing he would not say. He only wept and called us cruel, with many a gollum in his throat; and when we pressed him he whined and cringed, and rubbed his long hands, licking his fingers as if they pained him, as if he remembered some old torture. But I am afraid there is no possible doubt: he had made his slow, sneaking way, step by step, mile by mile, south, down at last to the Land of Mordor.’

If you want to argue that hinting at torture at all, even if it's done by the bad guys, is harmful to the morality of the readership, then I think you have your evidence. But I see no evidence of torture by Gandalf or Aragorn. And my argument about Beorn, as I said, is that he's a part of nature, like huorns or Old Man Willow. He may be dangerous if you get on the wrong side of him, he may even kill you. But that's how nature is.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea
upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Curious
Half-elven


Aug 4 2009, 6:43pm

Post #8 of 44 (1048 views)
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Why do you say God is left out? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think, rather, that Gandalf's "fire" is Tolkien's subtle way of referring to the Secret Fire, which in turn is code for the Holy Spirit.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 4 2009, 9:26pm

Post #9 of 44 (1057 views)
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Just God by that name. [In reply to] Can't Post

I just meant that the explicit word 'God' is left out (like all other overtly religious references), and is replaced by a word that implies the mystical and mysterious 'Secret Fire" (which I agree may be a coded name for the Holy Spirit, on one level - I can certainly believe that).

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea
upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



sador
Half-elven

Aug 5 2009, 6:39am

Post #10 of 44 (1085 views)
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Is this not to be considered torture? [In reply to] Can't Post


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I readily believe that Gollum tortured himself, and could find torture in a Holy Blessing, or in a simple revelation of Truth. Anyone who thought elvish rope burned and thought lembas was poison was capable of reacting to anything Holy as if he was being tortured.


Gandalf was causing Gollum pain, with the intent of prying out information (perhaps also of curing him in the long run, but then training elephants to stand on their back feet might also be considered 'improving' them). Had a Balrog scorched someone, would the fact that it loves fire itself make it less of a torture?

If you say 'Gandalf was good and the Balrog was evil' - that's fine. I also agree that Gandalf was no sadist, while the Balrogs (as described in HoME) seem to be. But I see this distinction as applying to the ends, not to the means.

"You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you" - Gandalf.


Curious
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 12:42pm

Post #11 of 44 (1045 views)
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If I show a cross to a vampire [In reply to] Can't Post

and it causes the vampire pain, is that torture? If I invoke the name of Christ to expel a demon, and it causes the demon pain, is that torture? If an angel appears to a wicked man, and that causes the wicked man pain, is that torture?


squire
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 1:36pm

Post #12 of 44 (1054 views)
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If I waterboard a known terrorist, is that torture? [In reply to] Can't Post

The answer to all these questions is yes.

As Sador says, the question is only whether the end justifies the means. Gandalf undoubtedly tortured Gollum, as is clear from the way he reveals that it was his last choice of interrogation method, and from the usual excuse he gives: "it was desperately important."

Along with the take-no-prisoners policy towards orcs, this episode is a fine example of Tolkien's understanding of wartime realities.

"I refuse to believe that..." is the saying of someone who is willfully blind to reality, because they know it is true but discordant with their world-picture. No one likes to imagine Gandalf as a torturer, of course. But in the last resort the wizard is, as he says, "more dangerous than anything you will ever meet" short of Sauron himself.

If it makes you feel better, clearly Gandalf did not enjoy doing what he did to Gollum. An example of Gandalf's preferred style is the fact that he endured long hours of frustrating dialogue with the creature first. We see the same method in use with Bilbo, where Gandalf "badgered" him until it "for a while strained their friendship", when trying to get the true story of the finding of the Ring from him. (As usual, Bored of the Rings gets the subtext right. In its rendering of that scenario, Goodgulf uses sodium pentothal, a so-called "truth serum" drug used to elicit involutary confessions, to get Dildo to confess his story.) Gandalf says he "at last got the truth out of him" in reference to Bilbo; and he says he "wrung the true story out of" Gollum. Perhaps the two phrases are "too much alike for my comfort" but to me they are purposely related; the link is the Ring, and the difference is that Bilbo is still good and a truth-teller, while Gollum has become evil and is a liar.

It is interesting to compare this question to Faramir's capture and questioning of Gollum in Henneth Annun. Although the film exaggerated his methods (beating the creature savagely versus looking into his mind until he cries out rather than lie), it captured his undeniable willingness to torture or kill when necessary. Aragorn shows the same realpolitik qualities in his capture and harsh treatment of Gollum while bringing him to Mirkwood from the margins of Mordor. As Paul Kocher points out, Aragorn and Gandalf get what they need from Gollum through their cruel actions, while the "kindly" elves lose Gollum through a lack of harshness.



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Twit
Lorien

Aug 5 2009, 1:42pm

Post #13 of 44 (1034 views)
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here goes [In reply to] Can't Post

I think Beorn is half bear because that gives him the 'right' to be cruel when he feels like it. If he wasn't half animal, he would be cruel whether he tortured orcs and goblins or dwarved and Hobbits. He is even allowed to threaten Bilbo (in not so many words) and gets away with it, even ending up with us liking him. I agree that he would have used menace and physical violence as opposed to the rack or boiling water.
I also think it gives a whole new meaning to the orcs and goblins, something I have tried to stay away from to be honest as in this story they are written as Bad Guys and in a child's mind they deserve everything they get purely because they are Bad; there is no background story or reason for why they are Bad. Whether they are intrinsically bad or not, they want the pain to end and so spill the beans, knowing I'm sure that Beorn was going to kill them (It is what they would do).
I wonder if Beorn was created to show 'good' and 'bad' in one person to extremes in an attempt to not only get children to think in shades of grey but also to prepare them for another grey area, Thranduil and then again later with Thorin.


Curious
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 2:19pm

Post #14 of 44 (1059 views)
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There is a line neither Aragorn nor Gandalf crossed. [In reply to] Can't Post

I believe that because it would not be consistent in a world of moral absolutes, not because I am "willfully blind to reality."

Did Frodo torture Gollum? Did Gandalf torture Bilbo? Wormtongue? Saruman? Denethor? Did Glorfindel torture the Nazgul? We do not see exactly what happened between Gandalf and Gollum, but we do see other scenes in which information or actions are forced out of someone, and the means that are used. Torture is not used by Frodo or Gandalf or Aragorn.


(This post was edited by Curious on Aug 5 2009, 2:19pm)


squire
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 3:17pm

Post #15 of 44 (1079 views)
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'You won't rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.' [In reply to] Can't Post

A world of moral absolutes? Does that mean that everyone in Middle-earth is either absolutely good, or absolutely evil? Or does it mean that absolute good and absolute evil can be found in some beings, unlike in our world, but that others (like Denethor, Treebeard, or Beorn) are a complex mix of good and evil?

In either case, even the most absolutely good characters, including Manwe and Eru, show no compunction about waging war or inflicting pain on those who are shown to be evil, even when the evil ones are unable to fight back. Yet no one maintains that the evil creatures of Middle-earth do not feel pain; and no one maintains that all the killing and other operations of war between good and evil are conducted "cleanly". Torture is the intentional infliction of pain on anyone who is helpless to resist, to punish for evil deeds. Compelling a confession implies that the victim has committed or is complicit in evil deeds - including lying - so interrogatory torture is just a subset of general torture. Being based on a medieval model of human life, Middle-earth is rife with what we would call torture, conducted by both sides, using levels of force and pain that our modern society generally condemns as being "cruel and unusual".

The difference between the good guys and the bad guys of Middle-earth, perhaps different from real life, is that the good guys obviously don't like doing it and always look first for other means of reconciling differences before resorting to physical force and pain, whereas the bad guys enjoy inflicting pain and compulsion on their antagonists and do it whether it is necessary or not. In the real world, as we know, things are not so black and white.

Your understanding of torture seems to match Rumsfeld's, who argued on two levels - 1) it's not really torture if it doesn't cause permanent physical damage, but 2) anyway torture is what the bad guys do to us, not what we do to the bad guys. Thus the Bush Administration argued that harsh and painful techniques that we learned from the Soviet secret police and the Spanish Inquisition are not torture when applied by the CIA. When Gandalf and Frodo and Aragorn do it, I think you're asserting, it isn't torture by definition because they're the good guys.

Tolkien is up front about his position. He understands that sometimes you have to wage war and kill people; and sometimes you have to torture as a last resort. We may not agree with him! The Geneva Convention and the U.S. Constitution and Jesus says he is wrong. But he argues in this matter for the realism of War and Nature, not the idealism of the Enlightenment and the modern Church.



squire online:
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Curious
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 7:34pm

Post #16 of 44 (1035 views)
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You have not answered my questions. [In reply to] Can't Post

Does Frodo torture Gollum? Does Gandalf torture Bilbo, Wormtongue, Saruman, or Denethor? Does Faramir torture Gollum? No, they do not. It would be inconsistent, then, to assume that Aragorn and Gandalf tortured Gollum based on the ambiguous information Tolkien gives us.

I am not arguing that the means justifies the ends, you are. And I feel quite sure, based on everything Tolkien stood for, that he did not believe that to be true, or mean to imply such a lesson. Otherwise Frodo would not have been shocked and sad. Yes, some violence happens in the Scouring. But Merry wasn't attempting to justify torture, nor was Tolkien.

I cannot believe we are even arguing about this.


squire
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 7:42pm

Post #17 of 44 (1035 views)
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We needn't argue any further [In reply to] Can't Post

We will, as you say, agree to disagree. In forty years of reading LotR, I have never read the passage where Gandalf confesses to using fire to extract information from Gollum, apologizing for it as he speaks, without concluding that the wizard tortured Gollum out of the dire necessity of locating the One Ring before Sauron does.

I suppose I am gobsmacked to encounter an argument based not on the text, but on a theory that it couldn't have been torture at all, but something else that's nicer, just because Gandalf is a symbol of all that's good in Middle-earth.

We'll move on to other arguments soon enough, to be sure. I will be on a break for the next 10 days or so.



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


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 7:49pm

Post #18 of 44 (1053 views)
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There was an article published in "Mallorn" a couple years ago. [In reply to] Can't Post

I know it only from David Bratman's positive comments about it in "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2006" essay in Tolkien Studies 6, which appeared last month. The article, so I understand, argues that Gandalf threatens Gollum with real physical fire to induce him to reveal the truth about the Ring. (Perhaps someone has read the article, or has access to Bratman's response, in which he praises the author for, so to speak, holding Tolkien's feet to the fire?) And I remember that Reading Room participants have so interpreted that passages from "The Shadow of the Past". So I see nothing unbelievable in the discussion underway -- in fact, I can't remember anyone previously suggesting, as you have, that what Gandalf did was confront Gollum with some terrible vision of holiness. It's a neat interpretation, and I would agree with you, and against squire, that such an act, like confronting a vampire with a cross, would not be torture: but no such act is possible in the real world.

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We're discussing The Hobbit in the Reading Room, Mar. 23 - Aug. 9. Everyone is welcome!

And sign up now for The Silmarillion!
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How to find old Reading Room discussions.

(This post was edited by N.E. Brigand on Aug 5 2009, 7:51pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 8:26pm

Post #19 of 44 (1043 views)
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Will you at least agree [In reply to] Can't Post

that the text does not actually say Gandalf tortured Gollum? And that we don't see Gandalf torture anyone else? So maybe my interpretation, if not explicitly supported by the text, at least does not conflict with the text?

I turn, I will agree that your interpretation is a legitimate way of interpreting Tolkien's ambiguity, although I insist it is not the only way to interpret it. And personally, I find it inconsistent with everything Gandalf and Tolkien stood for.

And I apologize for letting my emotions get the best of me. I will agree to disagree if you prefer, and I hope you are taking a well-deserved vacation.


(This post was edited by Curious on Aug 5 2009, 8:35pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 8:32pm

Post #20 of 44 (1033 views)
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Quite right. [In reply to] Can't Post

It is a legitimate interpretation of Tolkien's ambiguity, and indeed many interpret it that way, just as many assume that Celebrian was raped, even though I do not.

I just don't happen to agree with that interpretation, I believe there is support for my position, and I resent being told that I am willfully ignoring the evidence in the text, let alone that I am adopting Rumsfield's position on torture in general. But I should not have let my resentment get the best of me. I apologize.

I'm not sure that Tolkien would agree that no such act is possible in the real world. Tolkien believed in angels, after all.


(This post was edited by Curious on Aug 5 2009, 8:37pm)


sador
Half-elven

Aug 5 2009, 9:08pm

Post #21 of 44 (1021 views)
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Even a defeated one? [In reply to] Can't Post


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I would agree with you, and against squire, that such an act, like confronting a vampire with a cross, would not be torture


Confronting a vampire with a cross is usually a matter of defending one from evil; but we are not talking here about self-defense!
Would going with a cross over a defeated vampire who was rendered non-dangerous (is there such a thing?) just for the fun of it, not torture because the cross is Good and the vampire Evil? You know, anyone could pick up a cross - even pretty nasty fellows.
And if it is - what about hitting it with a cross in order to beat it into submission, and getting needed informaton out of it? That is the true parallel to Gandalf putting the fear of fire on Gollum, even if we accept Curious' interpretation.

Of course, Gandalf is concerned with self-defense in the broader sense - that of needing to win the war. But if this kind of self-defense might justify torture - is Rumsfield so wrong?

(Just to clarify: I haven't really read what Rumsfield said - the impression I have of his words is based on what was posted here)

"You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you" - Gandalf.


Curious
Half-elven


Aug 5 2009, 9:46pm

Post #22 of 44 (1022 views)
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No, there is no hitting involved. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
what about hitting it with a cross in order to beat it into submission, and getting needed informaton out of it? That is the true parallel to Gandalf putting the fear of fire on Gollum, even if we accept Curious' interpretation.


That's not my interpretation at all. The mere sight of a cross, held by a true believer, should cause harm to a vampire. I'm not talking about beating someone up, I'm talking about putting the fear of God into them.

I'll admit, though, that the vampire is an imperfect analogy for Gollum. There are some striking parallels, especially to the Nosferatu variety of vampire, but Gandalf still held out hope for Gollum's redemption.

The closest parallel, as I see it, is what happened between Frodo and Gollum. Frodo sternly intimidated Gollum -- it was pathetically easy to do so -- but he did not torture him. But Frodo also appealed to Gollum's human side, however buried it may have been, and Gandalf would have done the same. After all, it was Gandalf who advised Frodo to show Gollum pity.



(This post was edited by Curious on Aug 5 2009, 9:48pm)


Desicon9
Bree

Aug 6 2009, 1:37am

Post #23 of 44 (1031 views)
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Torture is Torture... [In reply to] Can't Post

It seems quite plain to me that ANY act of violence against another involves an element of torture, that is the basic nature of violence. I torture the food I eat, the viri which invade my body, torture me in turn. In defending myself against a vampire, the Holy Water, Silver Bullets, Garlic Cloves, Crosses etc cause fear, anguish, pain in my foe -- hence I torture him/ her; just as their rending fangs would otherwise torture me. It becomes of matter of total, personal subjectivity as to which of us is "right" or "justified" in this case of mutual torture -- the vampire is merely trying to devour its natural food source, and I am simply trying to avoid being eaten by causing as much pain as possible to my predator (even to the death).

What we are more closely considering here is the application of terror by mental anguish or physical pain to induce a helpless other to conform to our will, another who cannot either adequately avoid the torture (flee the scene of action), or strike back in self-defense. A captured vampire could simply be left in a holding cell (fed on pig blood substitute?), but if we then deliberately expose this helpless captive to crosses, holy water baths etc, we are indeed engaged in an act of torture.

Under this rubric, the warg and goblin were entirely in Beorn's control, and he could deal with them as he deemed fit. In his case, he was a "grim enemy," living in a frontier zone where physical violence was a commonplace risk, and had the tables been turned, Beorn would, I am certain, have died a very nasty and prolonged death. Here, in The Hobbit he simply meted out his own fierce justice to his enemies, and I feel certain he did not merely tickle and tease these foes to death, or just use "killing" sarcasm -- a bear can leave a very messy corpse. I also got the clear feeling that Beorn, at least partly, enjoyed his session with the warg and goblin. Tolkien himself, as author of the tale, does not seem to have had many qualms about including this bit of "realistic violence" in his (ostensibly "just for kiddies") bit of literature. He does allow us to see the shock of poor Bilbo -- a "civilized" soul from a softer environment -- when he confronts this torturing deed of Beorn's -- but still, there the episode stands, a part of the final narrative. So, I see JRRT as not being above adding this graphic violence as a sort of Brothers Grimm realism -- where cannibal witches lure children into boiling pots, and wolves devour helpless grannies.

Gollum, also a captive, could not flee his inquisitor, could not strike back -- Gandalf controlled that situation, and feeling time to be of the essence, Gandalf tortured Gollum to speed up the process of information retrieval. Gandalf put the "fear of fire" on his victim (however we construe that -- real burning, the mere "feeling" of burning, or just a moral imperative?). Gollum, a gangrel creature already long tortured by the Ring and Sauron, was "terrified,' tortured into revealing information he did not want Gandalf to know. In this case, I'm sure JRRT felt Gandalf's torturing of Gollum to be a necessity of war, and somehow justifiable. But, as in Beorn's case, JRRT seems to be telling us that torture only elicits at best, partial information, not fully to be trusted. Beyond a certain line, the warg and goblin would not go; nor could Gollum be induced to reveal his entire body of knowledge, as the greater fear of Sauron was still upon him. In both these cases, JRRT, while acknowledging that torturing will not secure all the available information, does at least state that it was efficacious enough -- the warg and goblin did give Beorn enough helpful intelligence for him to establish a course of action that seemingly was correct -- now he knew he could trust (at least somewhat) Gandalf, the 13 Dwarves, and the hobbit. Gollum, likewise, gave Gandalf sufficient intelligence of a critical nature that it affected the wizard's future plans in the "Elvish Conspiracy" against Sauron. For JRRT, writing in the tumultuous 1930 - 50 period, it seems that he himself probably believed that torture could produce useful information, but that information gained in this fashion, would always be suspect and must be carefully inspected, and only cautiously utilized. There seems also to be a "relativity factor" here, Goblins would use enormous amounts of torture just to entertain their twisted senses of pleasure, but Frodo, Sam (the burning Elven rope); Gandalf and Aragorn, we are led to infer, would minimize their own applications of torture to a "humane" minimum, and would actually be repulsed rather than thrilled by such episodes. Still, torture is torture -- is it not?

What I find most interesting about this topic is our own common attitude toward the violence of torture. We seem quite easily (hypocritically?) to label as "foul torture" any attempts to intimidate, terrorize, or physically harm ourselves; while it seems that when we are applying the "turn of the screw" to others, we can always come up with some justification for the act. The "assumption" that all the persons we torture deserve it, that all of them are guilty, should be carefully reviewed. Most of the "terrorists" caught up at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, were tortured without trials, without any credible evidence of their complicity in terrorism against us...

At least Gandalf (or JRRT behind him) seems genuinely bothered by the torturing of Gollum, but, as I interpret the passages here, Gandalf (JRRT?) took upon himself the full burden and guilt of this extreme action because he felt a greater cause was being served thereby. I do not see Gandalf trying to hypocritically squirm away from personal responsibility in this torturous matter by simply redefining "torture," or saying that Gollum was not worthy of the Middle-earth equivalent of "Geneva Protocol" protections...


(This post was edited by Desicon9 on Aug 6 2009, 1:40am)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Aug 6 2009, 3:52am

Post #24 of 44 (1010 views)
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Correction. [In reply to] Can't Post

Voronwë has kindly observed that David Bratman's comments appear not in Tolkien Studies 6 but in "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2005" in Tolkien Studies 5 (2008). Sorry about that. Here are the passages in Bratman's survey:


Quote
Outstanding individual essays of the year included Richard C. West on the morality on honesty in Tolkien, Hilary Longstaff's character study of Merry Brandybuck, Adam Roberts' analysis of the One Ring, and Joseph Ripp's large survey of 1960s Tolkien commentary. Other essays ranged through the thoughtful and useful to the inaccurate or thoroughly wrongheaded. Comments on the last group may leave the impression that the reviewer wants only worshipful or admiring essays on Tolkien. But while it remains true that authors who admire Tolkien have a better chance of understanding him usefully, even a fundamental criticism of Tolkien's premises is praiseworthy if it is actually insightful and significant--and such work is likely also to come from admirers. Two such essays are notable this year: Scott Kleinman on Sam Gamgee's servility, an often maltreated topic, and Adam Rosman arguing that Gandalf acts immorally. Both are in the tradition of Verlyn Flieger's "Taking the Part of Trees" (in J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances, 2002) as bold critiques that honor Tolkien by taking his morality seriously enough to point out flaws in it.
[p. 272]

- - - - -
The Eaglestone contributors' attempts at re-envisaging Tolkien are outclassed by "Gandalf as Torturer: The Ticking Bomb Terrorist and Due Process in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings" by Adam Rosman (Mallorn 43: 38-42), the most arresting article of the year. Despite beginning with a dubious claim that Jackson's films capture Tolkien's moral clarity, Rosman zeroes in on that moral clarity and argues that Tolkien violates it. Gandalf, by being "harsh" with Gollum and "put[ting] the fear of fire on him," has by modern standards tortured him--and, Rosman argues, does so unnecessarily, merely to confirm information Gandalf already has and does not immediately act upon. Thus, even the "ticking bomb" thought experiment for justifying torture does not apply. Though the arguments can be loose (the Elves imprison Gollum though "he had broken no Elvish law" (39n) -- how does Rosman know what Elvish law is?), the article is most usefully provocative.
[p. 279]


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Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 6 2009, 4:48am

Post #25 of 44 (1014 views)
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I knew it sounded familiar [In reply to] Can't Post

But it has been many months since I read the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2005, in TS 5, so I just couldn't place it.

Interestingly, though, Bratman does mention another article in the TS 6 Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2006 that might be considered to contradict the Rosman Mallorn article. Speaking about the chapter "Democracy in Middle-earth: J.R.R..Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from a Socio-Political Perspective" by Alexander van de Bergh in the first volume of Tolkien and Modernity he writes:


Quote

A brief section on the films contrasts Tolkien's Gandalf, who operates by the power of words, with Jackson's wizard who, lacking compassion and self-control, prefers to heal Rohan and Gondor with special effects and by hitting people.



Of course, that doesn't specifically say anything about the Gollum episode, but the implication seems to be that Gandalf in the book would have use the power of words to put the fear of fire on Gollum, not actually using the fire. I tend to agree with this, so I think I mostly agree with Curious on this issue.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

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