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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Some objects are "evil" in Tolkien's world, but he explains what that means in terms of his story.

squire
Valinor


Jan 31 2013, 2:37pm


Views: 109
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Some objects are "evil" in Tolkien's world, but he explains what that means in terms of his story. [In reply to] Can't Post

Do we really want to use the mechanisms of a digital computer to explain the ways of Tolkien's universe - a universe where both morality and magic are more effective than they are in our world of science and relativity? Analogies tend to take their users where the users want to go, in this case in a mechanistic direction. Even Tolkien tended to fall into the trap of scientizing some of his magic, such as in his later essay on the palantirs (in Unfinished Tales) where he actually tries to write down the rules of their operation to fit, retrospectively, a sequence of episodes that he wrote rather freely while composing The Lord of the Rings. The explanations seem forced and artificial, even when phrased in Tolkien's soothing and authoritative prose, because his imagination was not following any rigorous rules when he wrote about the Stones in the first place.

But Tolkien is stronger on the subject of the Ring than he is with the palantirs, luckily, since the problem of the Ring is the core of the entire book. The Ring is an extension of Sauron, and both are said to be evil in the story. If we ask what it means to be "evil", there is a clear and satisfying answer: Tolkien consistently shows that Sauron is evil because of what he does, not who he is. The Dark Lord personifies the human concept of a Will to Power, which is the compulsion of another free will. The Ring likewise enables its wearer to compel others to follow his or her commands, against their own wills. This is inherently a corrupt act, and furthermore we know that human nature being what it is, the corruption tends to appeal to the vanity and ego of any personality, leading to further and stronger acts of compulsion. The final result is, in fact, the Dark Lord, a being of absolutely isolated ego and a total inability to empathize with any other personality.

So the Ring is not just vaguely "evil", as if evil is some discrete quality that can be imbued in an object with evil results, etc. The Ring is evil because its only power is to compel obedience and unwilling action through the will of the wearer. Tolkien followed a long string of philosophers and theologians who recognized that compulsion vs. freedom is how good and evil actually exist in the workaday world. His brilliant contribution was to isolate and highlight the point by writing a story in which compulsion is embodied in a physical and inanimate artifact that people can choose to make use of, or not.



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 (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Subject User Time
How The Ring tempts noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 27 2013, 5:02pm
    Get thee behind me, Ring! CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 28 2013, 12:36am
    Loyal evil Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 28 2013, 1:54pm
        I like your conclusion CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 28 2013, 4:45pm
        How "intelligent" is the Ring? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 28 2013, 5:07pm
            The power of the ring... elevorn Send a private message to elevorn Jan 28 2013, 6:06pm
                There was only One Ring, but CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 28 2013, 6:50pm
            Not so sure about the Palantir. Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Jan 28 2013, 10:42pm
                Corrupted palantirs, an insight into Sauron's powers and methods? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 29 2013, 1:05pm
                    still not sure about the palantir... telain Send a private message to telain Jan 30 2013, 7:09pm
                        Imbued vs contaminated? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 30 2013, 9:11pm
                            "When can an object be evil?" May be a promising question noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 31 2013, 11:05am
                                Some objects are "evil" in Tolkien's world, but he explains what that means in terms of his story. squire Send a private message to squire Jan 31 2013, 2:37pm
                                    Very interesting answer: thanks! // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 31 2013, 2:40pm
                                    Very well said! // Voronwë_the_Faithful Send a private message to Voronwë_the_Faithful Jan 31 2013, 2:52pm

 
 
 

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