Friday, 18 May 2012

Corruption in Tolkien's Legendarium

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It suddenly struck me the other day that corruption is almost the norm in Tolkien's world - even for the greatest, and indeed especially for the greatest.

The greatest of the gods (i.e. angelic powers below the one God) was Melkor, corrupted to Morgoth.

The greatest elf to dwell in Middle Earth was perhaps Feanor, or perhaps Thingol Greycloak - both corrupted by pride and self-will.

And in Lord of the Rings we see Saruman, the greatest wizard corrupted; and Denethor - pure Numenorean, second in personal wisdom and power only to Aragorn, and ruler of the greatest nation of Men. 

Greatness usually is corrupted. This is worth remembering.

Refusal of the Ring by Gandalf, Aragorn and Galadriel was not something to be taken for granted... 

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2 comments:

Brian Murphy said...

Yup. It's a point worth repeating because a common criticism by tin-eared Tolkien readers is that his universe is black and white, that the stainless forces of good are arrayed on a field against iredeemable hordes of dark evil. When in reality even the very highest may fall.

Dale James Nelson said...

One of the passages in The Lord of the Rings that, as a young reader, I didn't appreciate as much as I do now, is Galadriel's refusal of the Ring when Frodo offers it to her.

Her refusal shows Tolkien here to be on the same wavelength as Dosteovsky in The Brothers Karamazov, where the Grand Inquisitor offers Christ an earthly "paradise." (This offer amounts to a world that John Lennon yearned for in "Imagine." "No hell below us / Above us only sky" -- i.e. we are not immortal souls; give up that awareness and an "earthly paradise," it is promised, will be possible.) The Ring offers Galadriel the way to create an "earthly paradise" with herself as the "benign" ruler. She turns down the offer. Why? because she knows others are souls and she will not put herself in the way of dominating them.

The horrible thing is that many people would be quite willing, it seems, to live in such an "earthly paradise" as a Ring-wielding Galadriel would give them. It would be beautiful and "serene." This is actually what many people want now, it seems. They would like a beautiful, wise, and powerful ruler, and no real burden of awareness of themselves as souls.