Hobbits and Orcs

GaladrielThumbby Glenn Fairman
It was with a burdened and weary heart that I made my way to the IMAX theatre to catch the premiere of Peter Jackson’s rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” The stormy night had blackened my already dour mood, having arisen that morning to another of man’s inconceivably brutal horrors that had taken place at an elementary school thousands of miles away.

But upon seeing the face of my lovely daughter, the “Almost Pharmacist” and her devoted fiancée, both who had invited me to this 3-D showing of a classic book that has a special place in my life, I put aside that volume of human tragedy in anticipation of a literary master’s fantasy world. One of the most precious things in my life has been the ability to share this love of Tolkien with Melinda—to hear her rhapsodize of Middle Earth’s richness as we shared the grand cosmology where hobbits, elves, dwarves, men and necromancers dwell in the tenuous balance of Good and Evil. Indeed, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, in their imaginary worlds that have captured the imaginations of child and adult alike, sound a chord that serves to awaken souls to the never ending tension that constrains the human spirit into opposing directions. Later, while driving back home on rain slicked streets accompanied by the chatter of news concerning mass murder and inconsolable parents, I reflected on the Tolkien universe.

Of all the characters of these books, Hobbits are the most joyous and grounded of creatures. Perhaps because they are the smallest and least robust of beings or because they dwell idyllically in the insular Shire, their hearts are attuned to the creature comforts of hearth and home. With their lives bound up in family, food, and drink, they have been seemingly afforded by nature a calm moderation and a predisposition against novelty and adventure. The world around them, however, is anything but a paradise of rolling green hills and warm fires.[pullquote]Evil, whether appearing in the disembodied spirits of Melkor/ Morgoth, Sauron or in the spirits of those it tempts or leads away from the light, cannot of itself create. Being indeed contingent, Evil can only propagate and seed itself through deception, corruption, vanity or fear.[/pullquote]

In the Silmarillion, Tolkien tells us that the Creator Illuvatar begat the Ainur, a host of powerful creatures who in obedience to his purpose sang the world into existence. The greatest however, Melkor, slowly began deviating from the harmonies of creation and through his dissonance clouded Illuvatar’s intent. Illuvatar, nevertheless incorporated his dissonance into even more profound harmonies. Drawing an analogy from the Judeo-Christian God and Lucifer, we find in this genesis myth that what began as loving creation ex nihilo soon became a warring battleground. In the moral sphere of Good and Evil, a contest for hearts and minds spanned three ages of Middle Earth. In the Tolkien mythos, it is revealed that the world of this Third Age is but a paltry shadow of the First and that a great schism had divided an increasingly disenchanted world.

Evil, whether appearing in the disembodied spirits of Melkor/ Morgoth, Sauron or in the spirits of those it tempts or leads away from the light, cannot of itself create. Being indeed contingent, Evil can only propagate and seed itself through deception, corruption, vanity or fear. While the First Born Elves have a certain moral excellence and noble distance in respect to their characters, it is in Men and Dwarves that evil finds a firm foothold. Being heir to dispositions of honor, power, and greed, Evil throughout the ages of Middle Earth often projects itself through strife and vanity. Moreover, the races of Orcs and the terrible creatures in Middle Earth were fashioned in darkness by Melkor through cruel and persistent tortures in the pit of Utumno. Thus, elves and beings of the first age were corrupted and bred for their dullness and black cruelties.

The universes of Tolkien and Lewis touch a spot in our hearts, not because of a one-dimensional black and white depiction of Good and Evil, but because they ring true in excavating the subtlety of what drives evil. Evil is not deemed co-equal with Good, as in a Manichean worldview, but as a corrupted end which once sought the Good. Such is vice and evil in our lives: love is denatured into lust, acquisition and thrift becomes greed and covetousness, and the desire to rule becomes the thirst for power and tyranny.

No sane man seeks evil for its own name sake and even Lucifer aspired to rule in autonomous freedom because he judged that he would rule better. Having become unhinged from the Light and lost in the labyrinth of unanchored self, once man proceeds out into a vector of independence from the Archimedean Star of the Moral Law, he can no longer discern how far afield he has gone. Without milestones or ethical guideposts, our liberty becomes its own justification and soon we become the sole arbiter of truth and the moral “ought.” Ungrounded from the light, Good inexorably morphs into a dark caricature of itself that eventually inflicts or condones actions that fall lock step along the continuum where pain and suffering reside.[pullquote]The universes of Tolkien and Lewis touch a spot in our hearts, not because of a one-dimensional black and white depiction of Good and Evil, but because they ring true in excavating the subtlety of what drives evil. Evil is not deemed co-equal with Good, as in a Manichean worldview, but as a corrupted end which once sought the Good.[/pullquote]

Clearly, the Bible and these lovely books, yea all of the classic fairy tales, are rooted in the knowledge that evil is a persistent companion in our amphibious souls. Having a nature that is both carnal and spirit, we are contestants in a subtle warfare for our minds and imaginations. Christians are, however, assured that though evil ebbs and flows in the hearts of men, Goodness and justice will win out in the fullness of days. Despite the manifold vices and wickedness that entertain the human imagination, a joyous optimism is evident in the words of Christ, Tolkien, and Lewis. Therein, we can take comfort in virtue, faith and courage that the Dark Lord shall not stand.

It is in our finite reckoning of time that patience exhausts itself and oftentimes our endurance is drawn down as we despair of evil’s resolute gravity. Faced with suffering and evil occurring at an ever accelerating cadence, it may be easier to believe that we are alone in our sorrows instead of exerting faith that a Deft Hand holds the reins. Sometimes it seems as if the freewill of a broken humanity is insufficient when weighed in the balance against our cruelties. But without freewill there is no love; and without love there is no impetus for a God of Love to create.

But Free will or a future redemption is thin gruel to a town with classrooms full of murdered children. Is it enough to say that God did not will this thing and that despite the glib horror of the words, ripples of good are projecting out in time so that as a consequence at least some of this evil might one day be redeemed? Unlike our stories of Middle Earth, there was no convocation of Eagles to spirit those innocents away from a cruel and insane hand. Nevertheless, we have heard the tales performed by unlikely heroes and of their sacrifices in the face of certain death — some who did not come home.

It is too early to tell, perhaps even in this lifetime, how these events will have weighted the waves of contingency and their significance for those perhaps not yet born. It is not a cliché to hold that courage and faith are needed now more than ever. They were indispensable in an age of Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves; how much more so in a tangible world of fragile men.
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Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at arete5000@dslextreme.com.
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14 Responses to Hobbits and Orcs

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A most excellent article, Glenn. I’m both impressed and inspired.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    In Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, there’s a brief reference to Numenor (though he spelled it Numinor, as I recall), when Merlin speaks to Ransom in their language.

  3. Kung Fu Zu says:

    “they are the smallest and least robust of beings”

    As a Tolkien fan, I have to disagree with you. As Gandalf mentions in both “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”, Hobbits will surprise you with their resilience and toughness.

    I believe Hobbits represent the common everyday people in the world. People who are grounded in the belief that the world did not end and begin with themselves. That there is something greater than themselves. And that there are eternal truths. Those who get on with their business and shoulder their personal responsibilities in a moral way. They may not be fancy, but they are tough and, in the end, will be the people who carry on the torch of humanity when much of the earth is in darkness.

    • Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

      Kung Fu Zu—-of course you are correct here. I should have made it more apparent when I wrote the piece that such a judgment was predicated on first impressions. The reader finds out through the course of these works how tough and resilient these creatures are….as well as something about the capacity of brave and noble hearts to slay giants and monsters when fear and the evil report might tell us otherwise. In spite of the manifest horrors that seem to govern the flow of the world, a golden thread leading towards justice is available for the earnest pilgrim…….good will win out. How we need to remember this promise!

      • RobL_V2 RobL_V2 says:

        Yes good will win out but only if it fights. If you don’t fight you cannot win an you most certainly can still lose.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    In addition to the orcish nature of modern liberals, we should also remember the point of the One Ring: that it provided power that corrupted everyone, even those who would try to use it with good intentions — and would even use those good intentions as the means to corrupt them. (This was a concept Lewis well understood, and I suspect one of them got the idea from the other.)
    And while I’m at it, I have heard the claim made that the source for the last names of the hobbits (all those Bagginses and Bolgers and whatnot) was a Rhodes Scholar Tolkien met who told him about the interesting names he encountered in the phone book for Lexington, Kentucky.

    • Kung Fu Zu says:

      “we should also remember the point of the One Ring: that it provided power that corrupted everyone, even those who would try to use it with good intentions — and would even use those good intentions as the means to corrupt them.”

      Lord Acton said it more prosaically, “all power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

      I believe the mere search for power can tend to corrupt. We must keep an honest eye on ourselves.

  5. Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

    who can forget Plato’s Ring of Gyges and its lesson of inordinate power on the soul?

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Geez. A Lord of the Rings geek convention has broken out. 😀 I read LOTR and The Hobbit last year. It actually surprised me that I liked them both as much as I did.

    And an interesting thought about the harmonies or resonances — even with the existence of evil — that can work for (or elicit) the good. Also interesting is the idea (surely true) that some of our inclinations become evil when taken to an extreme, or separated from their more useful function.

  7. Kurt NY says:

    LOTR was heavily influenced by Western historical experience. Anybody notice that Mordor is shaped like Anatolia, from whence the Turks attacked the West, and more specifically Christian Constantinople, the last remnant of the fallen Roman Empire. And that Minas Tirith, the capital of the men of Gondor, directly abuts Mordor, just like Constantinople? That a fallen, chaotic, and disorganized West sheltered from the attacks of Mordor by the efforts of Gondor, the remnants of earlier Numenorian empire?

    As for the Silmarillion, it read like the Bible (which was probably intentional), and much of it almost theological, some of which was worthwhile. For instance, the creation myth in it was a song, in which it became clear that suffering and effort in the face of adversity added depth and profundity to the beauty and glory of the music created. In which we can find parallels in the real world. While we all wish to avoid unpleasantness, isn’t it also true that all true accomplishment, all glory (for want of a better word) comes from overcoming challenges of the most dire sort?

    And perhaps that is the function of evil and suffering, that by facing them and overcoming them is how we grow and achieve our utmost virtue. We seek to shelter our children from harm, but they never become full adults until they have to face reality on their own two feet, and the true measure of any adult is how he/she does so. Mightn’t that also be God’s plan for us? That those who are continually protected and cosseted remain children, but to be fully adult means to assume the role of protector yourself.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      LOTR was heavily influenced by Western historical experience. Anybody notice that Mordor is shaped like Anatolia, from whence the Turks attacked the West, and more specifically Christian Constantinople, the last remnant of the fallen Roman Empire. And that Minas Tirith, the capital of the men of Gondor, directly abuts Mordor, just like Constantinople? That a fallen, chaotic, and disorganized West sheltered from the attacks of Mordor by the efforts of Gondor, the remnants of earlier Numenorian empire?

      A very nice point, Kurt. I’d never thought of that before.

      While we all wish to avoid unpleasantness, isn’t it also true that all true accomplishment, all glory (for want of a better word) comes from overcoming challenges of the most dire sort?

      Another great point. Or is it just a rationalization? Well, I’ve been thinking along the same lines. No God worth his salt would create a universe of the “nice” and “pleasant” sort as conceived by Queen Pelosi and King Barack. Such a sort is the earthly Utopia that “Progressives” long for. And we see that such a “vibe” turns mankind into stupid and often cruel vegetables, unfit for much else than lowly, crude pleasures and wherein rarely a noble thought troubles their marshmallow minds.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Tolkien disdained allegory, so one must be careful about reading too much into his work, but he was inevitably influenced by the past. His expressed point in his Middle Earth sagas was to create a mythos that could serve as a starting point for human history (if only as an example). He did say that the volcanic nature of Mordor was influenced by the Mediterranean volcanic ring (which, however, was heavily Italian in his time, before we knew about the great Thera eruption).
      An interesting take on the “problem of evil” can be found at the end of Anthony Boucher’s story “We Print the Truth”. A priest explains that we don’t love, say, a chess piece that does what we make it do, whereas we do love our friends and family even when they don’t. So it is that God gives us free will, which means that we decide what we will do with it — for good or evil.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Just as with C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series, I didn’t particularly see strong moral issues in either Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

        What I instead saw, particularly in the Tolkien books, was a sense of having a destiny, and one either fought that destiny or went along with it. This seemed to be particularly true in “The Hobbit” wherein Gandalf (seemingly driven by a sense of fulfilling destiny) taps Bilbo for an adventure that neither he, nor Gandalf, could justify in any terms that may sense other then a sort of fulfilling of destiny.

        I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it didn’t occur to me to be a book about transforming character via making choices in the face of good and evil. It seemed more as if Tolkien (like a Deist god) had set his players in place, gave them the attributes he wanted them to have, and then wound up his universe like a watchspring and let it play out.

        This is especially true about the magical Ring. I’ve read many people’s comments (elsewhere) about how supposedly profound the Ring is, and The Lord of the Rings, in general, regarding good and evil or even Christianity. But the Ring was not a thing that tested one’s metal. You simply put it on and then were overcome by it. One was quite beyond making much of a choice.

        There was little to no moral choice being made by Gollum, for instance. He simply became possessed by the ring and desiccated by it. One could, I suppose, say that the Ring represents temptation in idealized form. But I think this is where the moral component of The Lord of the Rings is over-rated.

        It’s still a grand adventure story. But perhaps the only one to my mind who is constantly showing his metal and making good moral choices is Samwise Gamgee. It seems to me, he is the true hero of the story. And as beloved a character as Gandalf is, he comes across ultimately as somewhat confused, if not feckless, and certainly not a particularly rock-solid moral arbiter. He seems to be, much like Aragorn, moved around the board like a chess piece. They each have a distinct role to play and it doesn’t seem to matter what choices they make because those choices are already embedded inside them. They simply have to play them out.

        • Black JEM says:

          I think you are reading much too literally. I think the Ring signifies the failed search for utopia on earth, with a slightly malevolent intent. Kind of like our current set of progs – cast Obama as Sauron and I think you would be close to accurate. In fact – I think the entire series is just that, the desire of some to ignore the realities of life and to impose their will on the world. Describes progs to a tee.

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