Our Own Dear John Ronald: Power Corrupts

‘True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted.’ (…) ‘I am too strong for you, halfling’.

‘Alas, no,’ said Elrond.  ‘We cannot use the Ruling Ring.  That we now know too well.  It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil.  Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own.  But for them it holds an even deadlier peril.  The very desire of it corrupts the heart.  Consider Saruman.  If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would then set himself on Sauron’s throne and yet another Dark Lord would appear.  And that is another reason why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise.  For nothing is evil in the beginning.  Even Sauron was not so.  I fear to take the Ring to hide it.  I will not take the Ring to wield it.’

‘Nor I,’ said Gandalf.  (…)

‘I pass the test,’ Galadriel said.  ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’

~ J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings.  Book 2

Tom Shippey

At the heart of THE LORD OF THE RINGS are the assertions which Gandalf makes in Book 1/2, his long conversation with Frodo. (…)  First, Gandalf says that the Ring is immensely powerful, in the right or the wrong hands. (…) Second, though, Gandalf insists that the Ring is deadly dangerous to all its possessors: it will take them over, ‘devour’ them, ‘possess’ them.  But finally, and this third point is one which Gandalf has to re-emphasize strongly and against opposition in the ‘Council of Elrond’, the Ring cannot simply be left unused, put aside, thrown away: it has to be destroyed, and the only place where it can be destroyed is the place of its fabrication, Orodruin, the Cracks of Doom.

This assertion determines the story. (…) One might point out that (…) Gandalf’s postulates might take a bit of swallowing.  Why should we believe them?  However, while critics have found fault with almost everything about THE LORD OF THE RINGS, on one pretext or another, no one to my knowledge has ever quibbled with what Gandalf says about the Ring.  It is far too plausible, and too recognizable.  It would not have been so before the many bitter experiences of the twentieth century.

If one fits together the many points which Gandalf makes in this early chapter, it would be a dull mind, nowadays, which did not reflect ‘All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  This was first stated (…) in 1887. (…)  I do not think many people would have agreed (…) much before 1887.  The medieval world had its saints’ lives, in which the saints used their immense and indeed miraculous power entirely for good purposes; while there is no shortage of evil kings in medieval story, there is rarely any sign that they became evil by becoming kings (though there are some hints to that effect in BEOWULF). (…) The nearest thing (…) in Old English is the proverb (…) ‘A man does as he is when he can do what he wants’, and what this means is that power REVEALS character, not that it alters it.  Why have opinions changed?  (…)

The major disillusionment of the twentieth century has been over political good intentions, which have led only to gulags and killing fields.  That is why what Gandalf says rings true to virtually everyone who reads it – though it is, I repeat, yet one more anachronism in Middle-earth, and the greatest of them, an entirely modern conviction.

~ Tom Shippey: J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

Maybe here lies one of the reasons for Beowulf’s undying popularity.

Our Own Dear John Ronald: Our Time

“I cordially dislike allegory (…). I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader.”

‘ I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.  And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.’

JRRT: LOTR, Book I, Chapter II

GandalfHobbiton
Gandalf Arrives in Hobbiton. What started as a sketch of Gandalf and his cart ended up as a view of Hobbiton.

‘Large symbolism’, however, should not be a matter of one imposed diagram, but of repeated offered hints.  The hints would work only if they were true both in fact and fiction.  History, thought Tolkien, was varied in its applicability.  But if you understood it properly, you saw it repeating itself.

(…) When Gandalf tells Frodo about the ring, Frodo replies ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, but Gandalf reproves him: ‘So do I … and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide’ (p. 50).  The rebuke is deserved by Frodo, but also by Neville Chamberlain with his now infamous promise that he brought ‘peace in our time’.  Elrond, on p. 237, has learned better.  He remembers a moment when ‘the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever’ but knows that ‘it was not so’.  Tolkien himself fought in ‘the war to end all wars’, but saw his sons fighting in the one after that.

Tom Shippey: The Road to Middle Earth, pp. 169-70

Both illustrations used in this post are from John Howe’s website.  For the featured image uncropped, visit his Portfolio.

If You Were the President of the United States of America…

What would be the five most important things you would do if you were in charge?

Our girls like the Brain Quest material for some supplementary schooling material, and for fun.  This year, we purchased their “America” quiz card set containing “850 questions and answers celebrating our history, people and culture (Ages 9 & up)”.  Our girls very much enjoyed going over these, and it was amazing to see what kind of information they have picked up from various sources.  On the second-to-last card, one questions was “How old must you be before you can run for the office of President of the United States?”  While they did not know the answer to this question, our 2nd daughter stated that it was a terribly scary thought to imagine oneself as president of this country, with all the responsibility involved and such.  So we got to talking and each girl ended up writing down the five most important things they would do if they were in office.brain quest america quiz questions

Abigail (age 11) wrote:  I would

  • Change the fashion.
  • Bring back family meals.
  • Bring back horse travel.
  • Empty the prisons.
  • Turn former prisons into homes.

Rebekah (age 9) wrote:  I would

  • Ban cars.
  • Shut down all schools in favor of home schooling.
  • Not allow garbage in the woods.
  • Feed pets home-made food.
  • Have people eat family meals.

Sarah (age 7) wrote:  I would

  • Destroy tree-shredders.
  • Ban public schools and home-school children.
  • Have family dinners.
  • Ban supermarkets and bring back small shops.
  • Do not allow ripped jeans.

How about you?

Quote: Why JRRT Was Not a ‘Democrat’

JRRT was a conservative with a big heart for his fellow men in their misery.

I am not a ‘democrat’, if only because ‘humility’ and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, until some Orc gets hold of a ring of power – then we get and are getting slavery.

~ John Ronal Reuel Tolkien

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