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Top Five: An eminent historian's favorite books
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Feb 28 2007, 5:13pm

Post #26 of 39 (398 views)
*mods up* [In reply to] Can't Post


Idril Celebrindal
Tol Eressea

Feb 28 2007, 5:37pm

Post #27 of 39 (424 views)
Ties in with Tolkien's underlying theme [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
excerpt from Reading and Writing History
From: Columbia University | By: Eric Foner

The message in The Lord of the Rings is, in a way, that the struggle to destroy the evil also destroys the good. The very effort to mobilize against the evil unalterably changes what you're trying to defend. So at the very end of that trilogy, the heroes--Frodo the Hobbit, Gandalf and Elrond--sail away. They can't live in this world that they've created, because it's so different from what they started out to defend. It's a metaphor; Abraham Lincoln didn't sail away, he was killed, but the world after the Civil War was not Lincoln's America anymore. It was a very different world, in some ways better and in other ways much worse, and somehow the Tolkien book suggested that insight to me which I have used in a lot of my writings and teachings ever since. It had a greater influence on my writing of history than one might think from reading my books, even if it's never cited in the footnotes.

To me, Foner's analysis ties in with one of the overriding themes of Lord of the Rings: that of loss. Lord of the Rings is all about the passing away of the old order in Middle-earth. And this struggle, which overcame one of the main forces of evil in the world, also destroyed much that was good. The destruction of the Ring vanquished Sauron, but also caused the sanctuaries of Rivendell and Lothlorien (where much that was beautiful from the Elder Days was preserved) to fail. Even the bucolic, isolated Shire is irreversably changed by the war and its aftermath. The War of the Ring marked the end of the Elves' influence on Middle-earth and the beginning of the dominion of Men, with all of the good and bad that implies. Hobbits and Dwarves, though they initially prosper in the aftermath of the war, will also eventually fade away into legend.

So in that sense, the War of the Ring does resemble the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Period. The Civil War marked the end of a culture that had flourished in the Southern states for generations. Although to modern Americans the goals of eliminating slavery and preserving the union seem worth the cost of the war, there's still a strong sense in some quarters of loss at the end of this era, a concurrent nostalgia for its good points and forgetting of its evils, and a certain resentment of the victors that still festers nearly 150 years later (which unscrupulous figures have nourished and exploited for their own ends).

Tolkien witnessed this kind of transition twice in his life. He was well aware of the changes both good and bad that both world wars had wrought, having experienced them firsthand. He would never have said that the British should not have fought against Germany even if it was certain that they'd be defeated, nor would he have thought that removing someone like Hitler wasn't worth it. But he also was well aware that the very struggle to vanquish such an enemy would cause bitter losses and wreak innumerable changes in the people who fought against it, and not all of these changes would have been for the better.

Most of the characters in LOTR are well aware that they'll have to pay a heavy price to defeat Sauron. But we never get the sense that the fight against evil isn't worthwhile. Galadriel and Elrond realize that the destruction of the Ring means that the Three Elven Rings will fail, and much that is beautiful will fade away. Yet they and the rest of the Elves are willing to endure this if by it Sauron can be defeated. The Ents believe that they're marching to their doom, but they know that doom would have found them anyhow if they did nothing. Instead, they plan to go down fighting -- the last march of the Ents will be worth a song! Theoden, Eomer, and the rest of the Rohirrim know well that they may be killed while fighting against Saruman's and Sauron's armies. But defending their lands and people against evil enemies and keeping the oath of Eorl to help Gondor in its hour of need are more important than their individual fates. Frodo is so damaged by his struggle to bear the Ring to Mordor that he cannot live in the new world that he has helped to create. Yet although he takes up the Ring in innocence, he passes up many chances to give up the quest after he realizes its danger.

In short, Tolkien's good characters are well aware that their struggle against evil causes irreversible change and may even cause the destruction of what they cherish. They mourn their losses, but they still resist evil. And however futile their struggle turns out to be, it's still worthy of praise.

With caffeine, all things are possible.

The pity of Bilbo will screw up the fate of many.

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N.E. Brigand

Feb 28 2007, 5:56pm

Post #28 of 39 (426 views)
"much that was fair and wonderful shall pass for ever" [In reply to] Can't Post

"Yet also I should be sad," said Théoden. "For however the fortune of war shall go, may it not so end that much that was fair and wonderful shall pass for ever out of Middle-earth?"

"It may," said Gandalf. "The evil of Sauron cannot be wholly cured, nor made as if it had not been. But to such days we are doomed. Let us now go on with the journey we have begun!"

That's from "The Road to Isengard". As a.s. also observes later in this thread, just because the defeat of evil also leads to the loss of good did not mean to Tolkien that evil should not be fought.

Detail from earliest version of Thror's MapTolkien Illustrated! Jan. 29-May 20: Visit the Reading Room to discuss art by John Howe, Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith and others, including Tolkien himself.

Feb. 26-Mar. 4: Fan Artistry.

N.E. Brigand

Feb 28 2007, 6:01pm

Post #29 of 39 (394 views)
How do you know? /nt [In reply to] Can't Post


Detail from earliest version of Thror's MapTolkien Illustrated! Jan. 29-May 20: Visit the Reading Room to discuss art by John Howe, Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith and others, including Tolkien himself.

Feb. 26-Mar. 4: Fan Artistry.


Feb 28 2007, 8:37pm

Post #30 of 39 (430 views)
Have you read the longer explanation below? I think he has a point. [In reply to] Can't Post

Of course there is no one message to be gleaned from LotR. But Tolkien was not altogether enthused about the beginning of the Age of Men. Much that was good left Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, never to return. Much magic went out of the world, for better (Sauron would never rise again) but also for worse (the High Elves would never be seen again). Even among those who stayed, non-human populations were dwindling, again for better (fewer dragons, Balrogs, and Shelobs) or worse (fewer dwarves and elves and ents).


Feb 28 2007, 10:30pm

Post #31 of 39 (393 views)
Paradise. We would be left with Arda Unmarred. [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
then good also ceases. What would we be left with then?

That is precisely why I point out that Tolkien did not consider that evil and good were two equal forces with a possibility that evil may actually triumph over good. That would be to deny the existence of a personal, merciful Creator who made all things good and all things to work to his (very mysterious and unknowable) purpose. Good (as a "force", if you will) predates Evil, because initially, everything in the whole universe was created by God and everything he created is good by definition.

The Creator allows evil to exist in the world at his privilege, but we don't know why.

Evil was "discovered", if you will, by created beings exercising free will in the matter: to obey the will of God or not. Hence the fall of the Angels and of Man.

Once evil ends, it will be a return to Paradise, because good can never end because God can never end. Good comes from the Creator and is man's intended state.

(This is not a personal preaching episode! I am trying to portray Tolkien's viewpoint, not my own.)

Now, I suppose that as a definition, it is hard to precisely define either "evil" or "good" if one or the other doesn't exist. So I see what you mean from that standpoint: that without evil, it is hard to define "good". In fact, what would "good" mean if there was no "evil"?


"an seileachan"

Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worried 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
No one knows for certain, and so it's all the same to me:
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
~~~~Iris DeMent

Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 28 2007, 11:22pm

Post #32 of 39 (379 views)
Brava, Idril [In reply to] Can't Post

Excellent analysis!

Each cloak was fastened about the neck with a brooch like a green leaf veined with silver.
`Are these magic cloaks?' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.
`I do not know what you mean by that,' answered the leader of the Elves.

NARF since 1974.
Balin Bows

Grey Havens

Feb 28 2007, 11:26pm

Post #33 of 39 (358 views)
*mods up* / [In reply to] Can't Post


Grey Havens

Feb 28 2007, 11:27pm

Post #34 of 39 (352 views)
Very well said! /nt [In reply to] Can't Post



Feb 28 2007, 11:49pm

Post #35 of 39 (375 views)
well said, a.s. and Idril. [In reply to] Can't Post

thank you.

“For the record, I am not a nut. I am an optimist. That’s exactly like a nut except with a better attitude.”
- Scott Adams

NARF and member of Deplorable Cultus since 1967


Feb 28 2007, 11:59pm

Post #36 of 39 (355 views)
Excellent! / [In reply to] Can't Post


"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
~Oscar Wilde


Mar 1 2007, 12:01am

Post #37 of 39 (358 views)
Not to mention [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
that he must be thinking of how the destruction of the One Ring ends the power of the Three, and/or of how the quest to destroy the One destroys Frodo's ability to live in ME. Painful but necessary trade-offs.

Not to mention the many good people who died in the struggle, not only the warriors who fell but also the Rohirrim peasants whose homes were burned (the 'rick, cot, and tree' casualties), beautiful things destroyed in Gondor and Ithilien, etc. Even in as relatively light-hearted a book as The Hobbit, there's the elegy for those who fell in the Battle of Five Armies. Tolkien lost his best friends in WWI, and was keenly sensitive to the fact of the good being destroyed along with the evil. Whether that is his main theme, though, is debatable.

Queen Mary II approaching Honolulu harbor
February 9, 2007, 7:30 am

Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Mar 1 2007, 12:16am

Post #38 of 39 (376 views)
Good and evil defined. [In reply to] Can't Post

I supposed in terms of Tolkien's (and my) religious beliefs, "good" is adherence to the Creator's purpose, and "evil" is rebellion.

Children’s Interpretations of the Bible

Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt during the day, but a ball of fire during the night.

The greatest miracle in the Bible is when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed him.

Christians have only one spouse. This is called monotony.

Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea

Mar 3 2007, 1:40am

Post #39 of 39 (382 views)
I read this thread on Wednesday [In reply to] Can't Post

And Wednesday night I had a dream that someone had written a long scholarly paper based on Owlyross's post! Maybe it was your essay, Annael! But according to my dream, you'd have to list Owlyross in the bibliography.Wink

I've had LotR dreams before, but I think that was my first TORn dream.

Where's Frodo?

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