Sunday 18 March 2012

What do hostile critics mean when they say Tolkien is morally simplistic?


The accusation that Lord of the Rings is morally simplistic - consisting of whiter-than-white goodies and blacker-than-black baddies - is extraordinarily common among those who dislike Tolkien considering that it is obviously, utterly, absurdly false.

But I think I now realise what they mean.


What they mean is not really what they say, that the characters are dichotomously distributed between Good and Evil...

What they mean is that LotR depicts the underlying Cosmic war of Good and Evil, the War of God and the angels and the free peoples; against Satan and the demons, their machines, slaves, servants and dupes.

The line between Good and Evil in LotR does not run between the characters (as the critics accuse) but within each character - no character is wholly either Good or Evil, but some mixture - however there is indeed a war afoot, and the sides are clear and distinct at a cosmic level, and each character chooses on which side they will try to fight.


And that is what the hostile critics recognise, and what they loathe - the traditional, and human universal conception of Unseen Warfare between good and evil:

And their recognition and hatred of this depiction of life as fundamentally an Unseen Warfare is (often) precisely at the root of their visceral hostility to Tolkien - because the hostile critics implicitly recognise the reality of this war, but they have chosen not to fight on the side of Good.


Note: Something similar applies to many similar criticism of fantasy such as Lewis's Narnia and Rowling's Harry Potter. The best examples of the genre are morally complex at the individual level - but clear and simple at the cosmic level - and it is this real and objective metaphysical morality which modern critics loathe.


1 comment:

George Goerlich said...

I think that is the problem then! They have taken the side of badness, but do not think it is fair to paint them as such. They do though chose to create their own larger-than-life enemies as it suits a given goal.