Further Conversations on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

Evil vs. Corruption

DO writes,

Very nice piece on The Lord of the Rings (Sin and Redemption in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings ). Another interesting good/evil characteristic of TLOTR is that nothing and nobody (except maybe the Balrog, I’m not sure on him...) starts out as an evil being. They can, however, start out weak or strong and are corrupted accordingly. This insightful pattern has always been both interesting and a little scary to me.

Good Paired Against Evil

I think that the Balrog, like Tom Bombadil, may exist in another framework entirely. It seems like the good/evil are paired. Orcs vs. Elves, Goblins vs. Dwarves, Ents vs. Trolls, Nine Ringwraiths vs. the council of wizards. What then, is Tom Bombadil, and what is his opposite? Tom transcended the evil of the ring.

Also, what is the good power opposing Shelob? Difficult to say, but perhaps the fleeting glimpse of the mountain men (Ghan-buri-Ghan and his people) may counter Shelob? Both are more ancient than the third age of Middle Earth.

Re: Good paired against Evil

DO writes,

I’m not so sure about the pairing you suggest. There is explicit mention of orcs being bred “in mockery of elves.” However, there doesn’t seem to be such direct connection between the other pairings you suggest. Goblins and dwarves have had their battles, but so have others with goblins, orcs, etc. Ents don’t seem to have much to do with trolls and others as long as they leave the trees alone. Treebeard seems almost offended by the suggestion that he would take sides in the absence of malice towards trees.

The wizards pre-dated the Nazgûl and were described by Gandalf as stewards of middle-earth. Gandalf seems to take an opposite role to Sauron directly rather than to his minions. He states that he was the enemy of Sauron and that once Sauron was vanquished, he had little purpose left in middle-earth. If you place the head of the order against Sauron and the other wizards against the Nazg û l, the pairing may make sense, but it is clear that Gandalf’s direct opposition of Sauron long preceded his role of leading the order. In the movie, Gandalf mentions that he has walked the earth for “300 lives of men.” I couldn’t remember this line in the books and have been unable to find it, but of course the script has been moved all over the place and changed in many ways. Taking this as an original line, it would place Gandalf on middle-earth for between 20k and 30k years - even more if you use a Numenorean life-span as a basis for calculation. Even non-Numenorean people seem to live for quite a long time in middle-earth. This life-span of Gandalf would seem to pre-date any presence of the current forces of evil in the world including the rings without which the Nazg û l do not exist. Let me know if you have a better reference point for Gandalf’s time on middle-earth.

I think that the pairing is more about good and evil in general than with specific race conflicts. In fact it is more about weakness and strength of character since all races and people are subject to corruption towards evil. Also it is clear that dwarves and elves (who are generally both thought to be good) have deep hatred and distrust of each other at the level that probably would not exist if there hadn’t been substantial physical conflict (wars) between them.

Shelob doesn’t seem to have an opposite. In fact, she consumes all of both good and evil character. There was reference to Beren doing battle with her kin, but also elves, etc. No apparent connection to the mountain men. I don’t think that she needs an opposite. She is alone in her emptiness and her only relationships are with Gollum and Sauron, both of which provide her with food. Maybe a hostile relationship lingers with the elves from her time in Mirkwood, but I think that she would be a target for anyone who did not want to be eaten - including evil races. Maybe her biggest enemy from this point on will be hobbits!

Regarding Bombadil (who sadly didn’t rate mention in either the movie or the radio series) there is much speculation about who he really is supposed to be. People suggest that he is a manifestation of Tolkien himself (perhaps as an observer), but it seems that most people close to Tolkien disagree with this assessment. He is also described as some representative of the “spirit of middle-earth”. I think that he is probably the closest to the ents in character and he obviously has a close and ancient relationship with them. It could also be, of course, that he was an enjoyable character of little plot importance other than getting a sword into Merry’s possession that could later damage the Nazg û l. Tolkien may have enjoyed his brief chapter and then dismissed him from further participation by making him seem “above the ring.” It would of course have been a little boring to have him waltz into Mordor, casting aside evil with his song and flipping the ring into the fire. Would have saved them all from a lot of exciting battles - not movie material at all!! Tolkien had to think of his kid’s inheritance you understand!


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date:1/23/2004