Thursday 1 June 2023

The trade-off between life and works: Legolas, Gimli and the stones of Minas Tirith

'We will come', said Imrahil; and they parted with courteous words. 

'That is a fair lord and a great captain of men,' said Legolas. 'If Gondor has such men still in these days of fading, great must have been its glory in the days of its rising'. 

'And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,' said Gimli. 'It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.' 

'Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,' said Legolas. 'And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of Men will outlast us, Gimli.' 

'And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens, I guess,' said the Dwarf. 

'To that the Elves know not the answer,' said Legolas.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

I have always found the above to be a particularly deep and resonant passage; and so do many others. 

At one level, the difference between short-lived, distractible but procreative Men; and the Elves and Dwarves who are (especially Elves) potentially relatively longaevus - seems to be profound. Elves and Dwarves are both capable of greater works of arts and crafts, better able to work on long 'projects' without losing interest...

Yet this is only a relative difference, and sooner or later, all the achievements - all the 'stone work' - of Middle Earth, will decay, and be destroyed. 

The rate of change can be diminished by better work, by steadier and more focused effort - but, it seems, only by a 'slowing' of existence. 

Dwarves and Elves have a longer time horizon, but this goes-with a lower rate of procreation, a lesser focus on reproduction - which stands-for and is symptomatic-of a tendency towards desiring to slow life, trying to hold-things static, attempting to prevent decay by 'crystallizing' achievement... 

But, this has a price; being bound-up with a tendency against life.  

Men, by comparison, are more alive, do more stuff (good and bad, careful and slapdash); just keep on trying different things; bounce-back after defeats and start again - have kids, rebuild the ruins, make another new civilization... 

But Men never seem to get very far with anything they attempt; and they each soon die, and their best civilizations are brief. 

So; in this mortal world, in all we know of this material universe, entropy will always win in the end - whether sooner or later; it will prevail. 

If we imaginatively identify with the perspective of God the Creator, take his Point of View (POV); then this continual dismantling of creation by entropy is unsatisfactory

Of course, we (as God) can keep-on creating forever and without limit; yet this is always going to be a matter of patching-together repairs and not a restoration to a pre-entropic state. We can continually compensate for the damage of entropy - a bridge collapses, so we build a new one; a Man dies and another is born - yet whatever we do, entropy accumulates

More familiarly for Christians, a closely analogous situation occurs with Sin (which may be understood as an aspect of entropy). God can compensate for the effect of Sin, can repair the consequences, can provide the world with help from Angels and Saints... but nonetheless Sin accumulates. 

The way out from this unsatisfactory situation was for God to create another world from this one; by using this one. 

In other words: God's creative plan was two-stage (which is why Jesus was necessary - for the second stage). 

While the first creation is mandatory; the second creation is discretionary: optional, opt-in, for those who choose it. 

The second creation is a 'world' without entropy, a world in which the tendency for destruction and sin has been left-behind. 

I am talking about Heaven, of course. 

And Heaven did not arise until after Jesus Christ.

The reason that Jesus Christ is an essential aspect of salvation; is that He was what made it possible for Heaven to exist, for Heaven to be populated... 

To put it bluntly; God the primary creator needed Jesus Christ in order to make possible the second - and final - creation that is Heaven. 

Jesus Christ came from within the prime creation, lived within the world of entropy - and died; but did so in perfect alignment with the values, aims, love, of God the prime creator. 

In other (more familiar) words; Jesus was a mortal Man who was fully divine. Mortal in body and by living in the primary creation, divine in terms of wholly Good and on the side of God; knowing and being in complete-harmony-with God's creative plans.

Thus Jesus was unique: nobody-else could have done the job (not even God the prime creator) because Jesus knew - experientially, from living fully in both worlds - 'how' to guide Men from this primary and entropic-mortal creation to the secondary and eternal-immortal creation that is Heaven.


Anonymous said...

Interesting in this context is Tolkien's Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth Commentary (Morgoth's Ring, p. 333) in which he concludes that Finrod "comes (or if you like jumps) to the conclusion that the fëa of unfallen Man would have taken with it its hröa into the new mode of existence (free from Time). In other words, that 'assumption' was the natural end of each human life, though as far as we know it has been the end of the only 'unfallen' member of Mankind."

Tangentially, working on Tolkien and Cynewulf, I find that word "jumps" in this context makes me wonder how attentive Tolkien was to Cynewulf's 'leaping' imagery about Jesus in the Exeter Book poem usually called Crist II or 'The Ascension' (starting at line 712 in Cook's edition = line 711 in Gollancz's edition with translation in Cynewulf's Christ (1892) - both scanned in the Internet Archive, as well as other translations from the time of Tolkien's youth).

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - "the fëa of unfallen Man..."

Yes, I've seen that idea elsewhere too.