Our Sponsor Sideshow Collectibles Send us News
Lord of the Rings Tolkien
Search Tolkien
Lord of The RingsTheOneRing.net - Forged By And For Fans Of JRR Tolkien
Lord of The Rings Serving Middle-Earth Since The First Age

Lord of the Rings Movie News - J.R.R. Tolkien
Do you enjoy the 100% volunteer, not for profit services of TheOneRing.net?
Consider a donation!

  Main Index   Search Posts   Who's Online   Log in
The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
**Fire and Water** III: The Politics of Esgaroth

Modtheow
Lorien


Oct 14 2012, 3:40pm

Post #1 of 11 (473 views)
Shortcut
**Fire and Water** III: The Politics of Esgaroth Can't Post

After the death of Smaug, the people think that Bard is also dead. Then he appears in a moment that seems very cinematic to me (or at least, very Peter Jackson-Viggo Mortensen-like):

“And in the very midst of their talk a tall figure stepped from the shadows. He was drenched with water, his black hair hung wet over his face and shoulders, and a fierce light was in his eyes.”

Earlier this week, justbennett commented on how Bard seems similar to Aragorn. Any other thoughts on Bard’s similarity to Aragorn?

The people immediately shout for “King Bard! King Bard!” Then they are immediately swayed by the Master to blame the dwarves for their troubles. Bard calls them “Fools!” Have they elected the right leader for themselves?

The Master cleverly deflects criticism of his own behaviour and the people’s cry to raise Bard as king partly by saying “In the Lake-town we have always elected masters from among the old and wise, and have not endured the rule of mere fighting men.”

What’s the better political system in Middle-earth: democratic election of the” old and wise” – or at least of a clever “Moneybags”? Or a monarchy headed by a young warrior-king, claiming a hereditary line to the last lord of Dale? Does one result in a more successful society than the other? Or is it the Master’s rhetoric that is tricking me into asking this question in the first place?

Now that there’s an unguarded treasure hoard in the mountain, people are on the march. Bard suddenly imagines Dale rebuilt; the Master thinks of recompense for his town; the Elf-king is on his way with an army. Is everyone infected by the bewitchment of the treasure hoard? Are they motivated by greed? political ambition? justice?

As always, any other comments on the chapter are welcome. Next week: on to “The Gathering of the Clouds.”


Escapist
Gondor


Oct 14 2012, 4:05pm

Post #2 of 11 (169 views)
Shortcut
warrior king [In reply to] Can't Post

Middle Earth is not the world we live in today. There is constant peril on an entirely different level.

I'm not a royalist so don't take me wrong. It's just that when you are not quite at the top of the food chain anymore it totally changes things! It is a good thing that the people who listened to Bard did so when the moment of need really hit. When the basic level of physical well-being is almost continuously threatened, military/centralized leadership makes sense.

I am not so sure about the comparison with Aragorn. It can be tempting to assume every likeness implies a sameness but I find that in general, jumping to such conclusions leads to a lot of wrong assumptions. I agree that a certain grim association with duty and courage is shared. But the connection to ancient faery legend isn't quite as clear and the claim of kingship seems different in this case. There isn't the same sense of Bard being a "renewer" etc. etc. I'd say Bard has some of what the humans of middle earth needed so much in a leader like Aragorn but not quite everything that Aragorn had.


sador
Half-elven


Oct 14 2012, 5:19pm

Post #3 of 11 (172 views)
Shortcut
Answers [In reply to] Can't Post

Any other thoughts on Bard’s similarity to Aragorn?
Hmm... Aragorn seems much more impressive; and especially touched by some divine grace.


Have they elected the right leader for themselves?
Yes: a clever and able politician, who led them to prosperity. Don't forget that it was the Master who rebuilt the town.

Of course, he has his drawbacks, and is clearly not very good in a crisis in which the townsfolk face the risk of physical extermination. But will you vote next week based on your estimate whether President Obama or Mr. Romney would act better in such a crisis? And how would you make such an estimate, even had you wanted to?
People who vote do so according to more tangible considerations (both practical and idealistic).

What’s the better political system in Middle-earth: democratic election of the” old and wise” – or at least of a clever “Moneybags”? Or a monarchy headed by a young warrior-king, claiming a hereditary line to the last lord of Dale?

Well, Tolkien was a royalist.

Does one result in a more successful society than the other?
Sometimes the one, on other times the other. But how do you define success?

Or is it the Master’s rhetoric that is tricking me into asking this question in the first place?
Well yes, Tolkien knows his readership, and is tricking you into rethinking your political values. I call anything which leads one to seriously rethink their convictions a good thing.

Is everyone infected by the bewitchment of the treasure hoard?

Yep.

Are they motivated by greed? political ambition?
The two are not so very different, at least not for mortals.
The Elvenking is probably more greedy than ambitious, and the Lake-men are more needy than either.

justice?
As a rule, people are pretty good in believing that their greed and ambition are no more than a call for justice.

"Bard is known as someone who forebodes gloomy things like floods and poisoned fish. Floods I can see, but poisoned fish? How and why would Bard forebode poisoned fish? Or is this just a slander against Bard?"
- Curious



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Fire and Water!


Modtheow
Lorien


Oct 14 2012, 5:49pm

Post #4 of 11 (161 views)
Shortcut
the success of a society [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not an American and so I won't be voting in the upcoming election there, but if I were, I certainly know who I'd be voting for. However, I'm not going to say who that would be, and I think we'd better keep current politics out of the discussion, since that can get very personal and inflammatory.Smile

If Tolkien is a royalist, then why is the Master's rhetoric making me think "hmm, you're right; it's my inclination to prefer democratic election rather than the rule of fighting men." (Even though I can see that Bard is so much better and more capable in a crisis than the Master). And if Tolkien is a staunch royalist, then wouldn't he make his beloved Shire a monarchy as well?

And I agree that there are different ways of defining the success of a society. The Master may be an awful person, but he does bring prosperity to his town. That prosperity could be one way of defining success.

I also agree that the people have elected a clever politician in the person of the Master. But aren't they willing to elect a king in this moment of crisis? And would that king even want them as his people?


Modtheow
Lorien


Oct 14 2012, 5:55pm

Post #5 of 11 (177 views)
Shortcut
I agree [In reply to] Can't Post

I think I see the Aragorn - Bard comparison pretty much as you do -- some similarities but more differences between the two. But that's the usefulness of comparisons to my mind -- they can often highlight differences rather than assume everything is the same.


Escapist
Gondor


Oct 14 2012, 6:11pm

Post #6 of 11 (153 views)
Shortcut
Bard vs the Master [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't remember too much about the Master of Laketown but it sounds like PJ and company are adding a lot to that character's role and expanding it beyond what it actually is in the book. I guess there are cinematic reasons to play up/emphasize the weaknesses of one in order to make another look better to the audience.

Bard is a very memorable character. He gains much from the crisis that appears to be matched to his skill set and background in that moment. I wonder if he felt somehow the call of fate. It certainly helped that he had maintained such a good relationship with the thrushes who whispered key secrets in his ear and his ear only. That makes sense since he had taken the time to maintain a close relationship with those birds. Apparently that was the only thing needed beyond the courage to risk being burned to ash by an aggressive monster and a base level of physical skill with a bow (which apparently many other men in that town had enough of to bring an arrow to the dragon's hide only to have it turned away by the seemingly impossible barrier of Smaug's body).


Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Oct 14 2012, 6:49pm

Post #7 of 11 (146 views)
Shortcut
Esgaroth [In reply to] Can't Post

Was Esgaroth the only example of a functioning democracy in Middle-Earth? And did Bard and his descendants destroy it, like Ju.iis Ceaser in Rome?


sador
Half-elven


Oct 15 2012, 10:05pm

Post #8 of 11 (128 views)
Shortcut
Oops. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I'm not an American and so I won't be voting in the upcoming election there, but if I were, I certainly know who I'd be voting for.


I assumed you were. Sorry!
I'm not an American either; if I were - I have an idea who I would vote for, but had this been relevant I would follow the issues of the election far more closely and weigh them more carefully.
But anyway, I agree it's better not to mess up with politics in this discussion - especially those of a country which isn't mine!

Regarding your questions:

If Tolkien is a royalist, then why is the Master's rhetoric making me think "hmm, you're right; it's my inclination to prefer democratic election rather than the rule of fighting men."
Because the Master is good, and he has a real point. Tolkien might show his less flattering side, but is too honest to make him a mere caricature. The Master does stand for serious values - which are at the present accepted far more than Tolkien's own.


In Reply To

Even though I can see that Bard is so much better and more capable in a crisis than the Master.

Even that I could quibble with. He is a warrior, but rather than rebuilding Esgaroth (which the master does) he recruits an army to the Lonely Mountain, where he blithely waives the townsfolk's claim while pursuing his own quest for his private inheritance. He is all for war with Thorin and then Dain (only restrained by the Elvenking), and doubts could be cast upon his military leadership in the Battle of Five Armies.
Of course this is only one side of the coin; to his credit, Bard takes leadership on the spot when Smaug attacks, willingly bears the onus of the Lake-men's complaints after the crisis is over, secures the Elvenking's assistance (I suspect that the necklace of Girion - his only known heirloom - was sacrificed as a part of that bargain), and even is one of the few to have noticed and remembered Bilbo! And as far as we know, he does make a good king of Dale, to the extent that his people are named after him.

And if Tolkien is a staunch royalist, then wouldn't he make his beloved Shire a monarchy as well?
No; the whole idea was that the Shire was originally a part of the Royal demense, granted to the hobbits. They have a Thain as the King's, err, senschal - and later the Thain become a local prince, waiting for the true King to return. And once he does, he takes up again his role as overlord, granting the residents the privilege of freedom from any Big Folk intruders.
But is this different from his giving the Druadan forest to Ghan-buri-Ghan? Did Aragorn give up his suzeranity over either?

I also agree that the people have elected a clever politician in the person of the Master. But aren't they willing to elect a king in this moment of crisis?

Not really. It is a few voices in the crowd, the weight of which we cannnot estimate. And one canny speech by the Master deflects the people's zeal for a new monarch to other channels.

And would that king even want them as his people?
Where do you think his future subjects came from? Did he also call his 'Wandering Folk', like the dwarves did in the previous chapter?


And lest I forget - thank you, Modtheow, for this fascinating discussion, and for that of the previous chapter as well!

"Bard is known as someone who forebodes gloomy things like floods and poisoned fish. Floods I can see, but poisoned fish? How and why would Bard forebode poisoned fish? Or is this just a slander against Bard?"
- Curious



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Fire and Water!


justbennett
The Shire

Oct 15 2012, 10:26pm

Post #9 of 11 (155 views)
Shortcut
Wasn't the Shire somewhat democratic? [In reply to] Can't Post

I remember that there was a mayor, and I believe he was re-elected from time to time without opposition, though if I recall, Frodo and/or Sam did serve a term or two.

It is worth considering (briefly) the possibility that LakeTown wasn't exactly a democracy but rather a bureaucracy. The Master spins the situation as if he were a fairly elected president benevolently serving at the behest of the people. Reading between the lines it seems more likely that he had worked his way up the economic chain to become the head of commerce. Either he was selected by a guild or he had the backing of one or more important guilds. Of course, this requires the favor of the people, but so does being king.

Then again, is it really that different today? Haha!

I think Tolkien saw the pragmatism of democratic principals. He just thinks it is boring and ugly compared to the adventure and beauty of following a king! So if there is a connection between beauty and Truth, which I think is a major theme in all these works, then Tolkien would espouse that it is true that men are fundamentally meant to follow a great and noble King.

BTW, I wonder who, if anyone, was a "land owner" on the lake?


Istari68
The Shire


Oct 16 2012, 7:56pm

Post #10 of 11 (152 views)
Shortcut
Democracy, Hobbits and Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not sure if Tolkien was a 'royalist' in a classical sense. He certainly highlights the limits of deliberative democracy in a mob setting, I think of one of his letters (I'm paraphrasing) where he states that democracy make us united in a pride, not humility...till some orc grabs the ring of power. It seems power is not handed to the "good guys" in Middle-earth by hereditary alone, it is gained by merit and humility. The folk of Esgaroth are mislead by a corrupt mayor and there is little Bard can do immediately to untie those deceptions. The power of the 'voice' recurs in Tolkien's work and it is well played in this instance, certainly a cautionary tale for the observant reader. Overall, Tolkien's heroes spend a lot of time debating, planning and listening to many of the voices around the table - sounds pretty democratic to me.


telain
Rohan

Oct 19 2012, 1:00pm

Post #11 of 11 (185 views)
Shortcut
a rather late thought... [In reply to] Can't Post

I always had the opinion that Tolkien understood the balance of plusses and minuses for any given person/culture/viewpoint/political affiliation, etc.

I think by juxtaposing the characters (caricatures?) Moneybags with Warrior King he demonstrates that in time of rebuilding and relative peace, a society needs someone capable of understanding and (dare I say) "capitalizing" on trade, diplomacy, and socio-economic well-being. However, in times of war, the skills of a Warrior King are more applicable. The trick is to know when each is called for -- if you call for the wrong one, a society might suffer or collapse, either under the weight of a warmongering tyrant or through the negligence and cowardice of a peaceful ruler with no stomach to fight.

 
 

Search for (options) Powered by Gossamer Forum v.1.2.3

home | advertising | contact us | back to top | search news | join list | Content Rating

This site is maintained and updated by fans of The Lord of the Rings, and is in no way affiliated with Tolkien Enterprises or the Tolkien Estate. We in no way claim the artwork displayed to be our own. Copyrights and trademarks for the books, films, articles, and other promotional materials are held by their respective owners and their use is allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law. Design and original photography however are copyright © 1999-2012 TheOneRing.net. Binary hosting provided by Nexcess.net

Do not follow this link, or your host will be blocked from this site. This is a spider trap.