Thu
Dec 27 2012 12:00pm

Tolkien, Alignment, Non-Violence, and Why Hobbits are Required for Middle-earth to Survive

Tolkien, Alignment, Non-Violence, and Why Hobbits are Required for Middle-earth to Survive

At this point, using the Dungeons & Dragons alignment system to categorize popular culture is old hat; it has made its fair share of funny memes and passed into common parlance. There are a lot of things wrong with the alignment system…but I think it remains a useful descriptive tool. In fact, I think using it as a rubric for understanding the ethics at play in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work—from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings and back again—can actually tease meaningful statements out of the text. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it explains the whole point of the most contentious of all characters: Tom Bombadil.

Let’s start with hobbits. I don’t think it is particularly controversial of me to posit that the hobbit’s idyllic life in the Shire is Tolkien’s attempt to render a pragmatic utopia. Just a bunch of little folks eating six or seven meals a day, relaxing with hobbies like gardening or mapmaking, living in cozy homes and drinking with their friends. All the small pleasures in life, stretched to fill a world. I’d say The Shire, overall, could be viewed as Neutral Good. Moral people, without a need to really codify or organize things too much, but not wanting them decentralized too much, either.

Tom Bombadil, then, is I think the enlightened, perfected version of this ideology. He is more than “Comfortable Good,” as the hobbits are; he’s Chaotic Good. Tom Bombadil is free—ahem, excuse me, I’d even say he’s capital-F Free. Tom Bombadil is a sort of bodhisattva; he expresses extremes, but those extremes are tempered by goodness. As the professor said himself (as taken from The Chesterton Review):

“The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object except power, and so on; but both sides want a measure of control, but if you have, as it were taken a ‘vow of poverty’ renounced control, and take your delight in things themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless.”

This is only half of the picture, however. The rest of Tolkien’s quote here is quite germane when we look at Noah Berlatsky’s piece in The Atlantic, “Peter Jackson’s Violent Betrayal of Tolkien” precisely because I think that Tolkien would agree with that undercutting. To wit, Tolkien’s quote continues:

“It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left to him in the world of Sauron.”

This I think is the root of the issue, and why the alignment system works as a thesis for Tolkien literary criticism. Gondor represents a necessary evil—little e—in the form of the Law. On the subject of Good versus Evil, Tolkien assumes a moral reading from his audience. On the subject of Chaos versus Law, however, there need to be arguments made.

A quick look at Evil. We have some very clear statements on Evil in Tolkien’s work, but I’ll summarize how I view them. You might disagree with the particulars, but I think the gist of it will ring true. The Balrog is Chaotic Evil. Sure, it’s surrounded by goblins and trolls, but those are an ecosystem dragged behind in its wake. The Balrog doesn’t care about the war for the Ring, it just cares about doing random acts of cruelty, like an inverted platitude. Smaug and Shelob are Neutral Evil. They are wicked through and through, but their motives are strictly selfish. Smaug wants to lay on a pile of ill-gotten gold; Shelob wants to torture and eat you. Their motives are Evil, but ultimately personal.

Sauron—and yes, Morgoth—represent Law. Tyranny. As we see in The Hobbit, orc raids and wild packs of wargs are a problem that elves, humans and dwarves can handle…until a greater Evil starts organizing them. That is when things become truly problematic. Lawful Evil is the great juggernaut, organized and foul to the core, and all the little Neutral and Chaotic fiefdoms of the world can only either serve them or be destroyed.

Which is the “why” of Gondor, and of Rohan. Gondor is Lawful Neutral under Denethor; a strong kingdom, united to oppose Mordor…and that is necessary. Without Minas Tirith, Middle-earth would fall. No wizard could stop it, nor could even Galadriel, greatest elf left in the East, and all the elves of Lothlorien and Rivendell. For all that, Gondor is imperfect…until Good blossoms there again, with the—excuse the pun—return of the king. Aragorn is the fulfillment of Faramir’s promise; Gondor is meant to be Lawful Good, and when it becomes so, thing immediately improve.

Rohan is the question of Law, and how Good and Evil differ. Under Sauron, against Lawful Evil, you can only submit or be destroyed. Lawful Good, on the other hand, allows a flourishing of options. The Rohirrim—whether you think they are Neutral or some other alignment—are an argument for alliance, and a statement that Lawful Good allows pluralism, diversity. “IDIC,” as the Vulcans would put it. Tolkien’s Lawful Good kingdom is what allows Tom Bombadil and the Shire to exist. It is the required compromise.

Even then, we see threading through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings the story of those hobbits. Bilbo’s mercy for Gollum is explicitly connected to the fate of the Ring. I would argue that mercy is not the same as pacifism—Bilbo spares Gollum, he doesn’t unilaterally foreswear violence, but rather sees another path and takes it. That act—along with the all-but-martyrdom of Frodo—ultimately decides the question of Good and Evil in the Third Age.


Mordicai Knode thinks about ethics a lot, to both real and fantastic questions. He is also much more a fan of Tolkien’s literary explorations of ethics than C.S. Lewis’, with the notable exception of the first two Space Trilogy books. You can find Mordicai on Twitter and Tumblr.

32 comments
David Moran
1. DavidMoran
If it wasn't for us Gondorians, you Elves would all be speaking ORC by now!
Arghya Raihan
2. Umbar
Actually, they'd be dead....

Nothing controversial in this analysis. I agree with the gist of it. It's interesting to note that Frodo did become a true pacifist at the end of his trials, regretting the death of even Saruman and Wormtongue.
Mordicai Knode
3. mordicai
1. fordmadoxfraud

Typical Human claptrap. Gondor, you mean the exile nation of those Humans we let live on a fancy island for a while? Real impressive!

2. Umbar

I'd agree with you, but then I read Noah Berlatsky's piece & felt like I needed to weigh in.

When I re-read The Hobbit a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure Bilbo never killed anybody besides spiders. Am I wrong? Same question; Frodo was never directly (or even, really, indirectly) responsible for anyone's death, was he?
Eugene R.
4. Eugene R.
One of the drawbacks with the D&D alignment system is that a lot of good, philosophical dichotomies, like pacifism vs. physical resistance, just slip through the cracks. Democracy vs. monarchy is another. Tolkien opposes kingship and tyranny, which leaves some of us without a horse in the race, so to speak. Gondor under the Stewards *might* be considered a commoner-led autocracy, but it clearly was not a democracy, and it was not what was needed in any case, as Mr. Knode observes.

mordicai (@3): Bilbo, in The Hobbit, does consider stabbing Gollum as a means of escape after the Riddle Game, but he ultimately rejects killing except in self-defense. Bilbo does cause (non-spider) deaths indirectly, though, as his theft of the gold cup triggers Smaug's rampage on Lake-town, producing widows and orphans as the story relates. Frodo is a bit more of a pacifist, as you and Umbar (@2) point out.
Erik
5. gadget
Actually, I've always found to "cartesian coordinates" version of morality in D&D to be a quite poor measuring system for any complex or in depth discussion of ethical and moral issues, being full forced symetry and false dichotomies as it is.
Good and Evil and be argued about in detail of course, but the whole Law vs. Chaos axis seems to mean whatever the current user seems to want it to mean, and that is problematic.
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Mordicai Knode
6. mordicai
4. Eugene R.

I think viewing the DnD alignments as a straight jacket or a code never works, but I do think they have descriptive power, & that is their strength. This is, by the way, why I like the ethics/ethos based cliques in Planescape so much-- I think there is plenty off interesting stuff there. I think the real problem with alignment is that there are core mechanics that rely on it. As an ethical tool, I like 'em-- gives a common language-- but as a complete set? Nah!
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
5. gadget

Gadget...more like...RADAGAGET. Urgh, terrible pun!

Anyhow, like I said above, I like them as pieces of language, & in certain genres, but they do fail as absolutes...then again, a lot of philosophy fails in absolutes. For me, the fact that alignment (law, evil, good, chaos, whatever) varies depending on the speaker is really interesting! It means that games that include discussions of alignment are explicitly asking ethical questions. I'm into that. I think that alignment as descriptive is valuable-- not a be-all, end-all, obviously-- but it helps move the conversation along. I want to ask big questions.
Eugene R.
8. Colin R
The nine-point alignment system has always seemed perverse to me. In the worldview of Middle-Earth there isn't really a meaningful distinction between Law and Good, Chaos and Evil. Everything good flows down from divine authority; everything wicked follows from attempts to selfishly defy the divine mandate, everything tragic stems from attempts to avoid it. Aragorn is a good king because he is the divinely rightful king; Denethor is a bad king because he is defying the natural succession.

To the extent that Tom Bombadil stands outside the conflict of good and evil, it's in the same way that a mountain stands outside human conflicts.
Eugene R.
9. radagastslady
Eugene R. My reading does not support that Tolkien opposes kingship. Tyranny yes, but the land can be restored when the rightful king is in charge. It would be interesting to know if he was at least symathetic to the restoration of the Stuarts or if he felt the last true king of England was Harold Godwinson.
Mordicai Knode
10. mordicai
8. Colin R

I'm not sure I agree with your points entirely. The concept of divine mandate is central to a lot of Tolkien's work, but so too are the weird pathways outside of that-- you can look at Morgoth as the perversion of that, & the Valar as the real deal, but then you run into stuff like Thingol & Melian, for instance. Or the dwarves. Or the ents. Or the hobbits. Which I guess is sort of what I'm saying-- you are talking about what I'd say is Lawful Good & Lawful Evil, though to be clear I'm only using that rubric because I did in the original piece-- but there are ways outside of that. Heck, the Valar themselves are Tolkien's attempt to paganize Christianity-- rather, I think, than vice-versa, see also Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight-- showing that there is a diversity of complexity there.

& to say Tom stands outside of it like a mountain is a curious turn of phrase, given how explicitly mountains are anthropomorphized in Tolkien's writing...
Eugene R.
11. Colin R
Yes, I think that Tom Bombadil is very much like the mountains--Tolkien portrays nature as a living, sentient force that should be respected. The earth isn't always agreeable to what humans and hobbits want, but it can only follow its nature--the plans of Iluvatar, not the plans of humans and hobbits. The tragedy of Middle-Earth is that humans and hobbits aren't always wise enough to understand Iluvatar's plan, and they try to bend the world to their own whims. By doing so, they are losing the magic of the world.

I'm not sure that it's in agreement with Tolkien or the text to cast Minas Tirith as the only thing stopping Sauron either, or as something necessary to Middle-Earth. As you noted, Tolkien and the books are pretty skeptical that warfare and violence, even for righteous purposes, have the power to save or protect. All the battles in Rohan and Gondor are essentially side shows to Frodo and Sam's quest, and their success ultimately depends on grace, and their mercy for Gollum, not from any cleverness or might on their part. Tom Bombadil and Ents perhaps understand this better than humans and elves do, although even Ents can be pushed too far.

What are Thingol and Melian doing that subverts the will of Iluvatar, by the way? Melian, like the Valar, is guilty only of loving the elves too much. It's the Noldor who are in conflict with Iluvatar--Thingol and his people stay out of that conflict. It's not until he rashly involves himself with the Silmarils that Thingol involves himself, and that directly brings about his doom. As for the dwarves, well, Aule creates them rashly, but when Iluvatar chastens him he is going to destroy them. Aule was only impatient, not willfully disobedient, and it's by Aule's grace and obedience to his maker that Iluvatar saves the dwarves.

The nine-point alignment system is really two alignment systems that were mashed together, not very successfully in my opinion. Obviously I'm biased against it. I don't have anything against arguments about what alignment batman is of course (I'm not a barbarian), but I think that trying to separate Tolkien's themes into lawful and chaotic stripes is kind of missing what he was driving at.
Eugene R.
12. Kingtycoon
You know I've come to put my love into the 3 step alignment system - I think it's better. Do you think that the universe has constants and rules? Lawful. Do you think that the universe barely exists tangibly and is almost or maybe even a dream? Chaotic. Do you not even think about that stuff? Neutral.

But for the D&D 9 (10) way system - I can say a few things. First, you always gotta remember the two kinds of True Neutral - the one that's just indifferent or in the middle - or the activist version that tries to maintain the cosmic balance through being utterly crazy. Mordenkainen switching sides halfway through a fight... Come on man.

Maybe the Balrog is the bestial kind of true neutral - I think you accidentally make a better argument for that than for him being chaotic evil. Chaotic evil is so hard to do - but I think that rejecting the concensuses around reality are the way to demonstrate it. Does the Balrog just not notice or care about reality like we do? Maybe not.

Tolkien, he doesn't strike the Law/Chaos note for me like he does for you -it's all Good V. Evil - which I don't much care for. If D&D was solely based upon his works there'd be only the good/evil axis of alignment - I think that the Chaos/Law axis comes from his detractors like Moorcock - which is fine.
Mordicai Knode
13. mordicai
12. Kingtycoon

I guess what I mean by descriptive is-- well, who cares what the weird summaries in the 2e PHB say! Those are clearly crazy, like half of the alignments are all "crazy murder." I like the idea that two people could be two different radical kinds of alignment. Then again, I also like the idea that the same way "Good & Evil" is newer than "Chaos & Law" there should be a new axis, "Ethics." We're veering off here though-- I didn't mean for the alignment system to be defended or condemned. I could do both all day long.

I don't think the Balrog is Neutral by any stretch of the imagination. It is largely a MacGuffin in the Lord of the Rings-- a balrog has come, ai!-- so it is hard to judge based on actions, but I think in the broader mythological context you have to classify it as evil. & that is what I meant about whether it is NE or CE; your milage may vary.

I wonder about "good versus evil," because honestly, I don't think that is right, either. It is easy & reductionist to say, but it isn't the case-- look at his quote up there:
“The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object except power, and so on..."
There are "good guys" & "bad guys" but really it is more...well, pastoral England versus mechanized warfare, right? Or the Old Ways versus the Modern, or...the Modern ways untempered by wise use, clever just to be clever. "Moderated freedom with consent" & "...compulsion that has long lost any object except power." The ethics of Tolkien is more complicated than "Good" & "Evil."
Eugene R.
14. Patrick Mullane
It could also be that the author's nuance worldview reflects his Catholic faith.
Mordicai Knode
15. mordicai
14. Patrick Mullane

Well, sure, but that hardly counts as an insight on its own...however, when you start trying to reconcile your interest in polytheism & paganism with your Catholic faith, well, then things get interesting.
Eugene R.
16. Colin R
Within the confines of Tolkien's universe, balrogs are clearly evil; Maiar like balrogs, Sauron, and Saruman have a better understanding of Iluvatar's song than any human or elf could, because they were there when it was formed. When they reject their divine responsibilities to act out their own selfish whims, they are acting in ways that are truly evil, not just misguided. That kind of evil probably isn't possible for a human, in the context of Middle-Earth. That's why I didn't get the comment about Melian though--there's no indication that marrying Thingol was wrong, or that she was working at cross purposes with The Big Plan. It does seem like some maiar drifted away from the plan without malice, like Radagast, and Tolkien clearly had unresolved problems in his cosmology, like the dwarves. The true sin though is clearly assuming that you know better than Iluvatar.

Full disclosure though, as a firm atheist, I still find Tolkien's melancholy view of history pretty compelling. He weaves these epic arcs that are both beautiful and futile, while keeping a humble and gentle view of the world. The ethical heart of the stories is Gandalf lecturing Frodo in the heart of darkness, "do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment." This is a lesson we could still do well to learn today, and it's a far cry from the cheerful nihilism of a lot of fantasy (even if cheery nihilism has its place.)
Eugene R.
17. Tim Poston
In Buddhist terms, Tom Bombadil is surely not a Boddhisatva.
The Boddhisatva Vow is not to enter nirvana until one has enabled all living beings to enter nirvana.
Bombadil is a solitary Pratyekabuddha, living off in the forest like all such, in Tantric balance with Goldberry and the life around him. He is not, and cannot be, part of the wider struggle against the dark: Gandalf says that he would not misuse the One Ring, but would misplace it through utter lack of attachment.
The tension with the Rivendell view is close to the Mahayana respect for the solitary, while choosing the activist Vow.
Mordicai Knode
18. mordicai
17. Tim Poston

Thanks for the clarification; I don't mean to misuse terminology! I think you put it very well.

16. Colin R

Well I mostly am referring to how Thingol just bailed on his responsibilities as king to go fall in love with an angel-- not an evil act, but not in keeping with the will of the Valar. Whenever you have a functionally omniscient creator-- like Eru-- you could always say that he planned for the plan not to go according to plan, but I think it is cheating.
Eugene R.
19. Eugene R.
radagastslady (@9): My apologies for being unclear. When I say Tolkien "opposes" kingship and tyranny, I mean to say that he places them in opposition to each other. I agree with you that he supports the idea of a True King like Aragorn/Elessar being enthroned. C. S. Lewis, his fellow Inking, also thought benevolent kingship to be the highest form of social order, one that our sadly corrupted world did not often permit, forcing us to make due with forms of authority less open to abuse like democracy.

I do not know if Tolkien made any statements expressing preferences for any particular monarch(s), as opposed to more general statements on the inadequacies of our usual forms of governing.
Mordicai Knode
20. mordicai
19. Eugene R.
&
9. radagastslady


This issue of kingship is one I find really fascinating, in a roleplaying context-- to sort of step sideways-- because as an American we have it so deeply hammered into us that monarchy is Bad & democracy is Good. Which...well, I don't want to actually get into a discussion on those merits, but I do use my roleplaying campaign to delve into those issues. Seriously, I find that modern players just assume that all aristocrats are corrupt-- which is fine, you could play fantasy RPGs as an implicit condemnation of inherited governance!-- but I like to mix it up. Make, for instance, the noble lineage a bunch of aasimar, for instance. Suddenly, the issue of the princess marrying a commoner becomes a big deal-- their children won't have the literal blood of angels in their veins. I don't know, I like to mix up expectations.
Eugene R.
21. fatsupidweasel
Leaving aside the fact this is a conversation I recall having with great earnestness in ninth grade (which doesn't make it wrong or dumb, of course, and is freely acknowledged at the outset), isn't there something kind of circular in using a simplified if mildly intriguing ethical framework invented to play games based on Tolkien's world to analyze...Tolkien's world? Background in mythology aside, he served on the Somme, and as a way to look at his work this feels ahistorical and kind of small. But -- oddly -- without much of a shift at all, it could be an excellent exploration of whole D&D based alignment system.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
21. fatsupidweasel

I think saying that Dungeons & Dragons was created to simulate Tolkien's world is itself reductionist! We're trapped in a loop. Really though-- no, I think the fact that Tolkien was one of the influences on D&D is what makes it a good tool. You know, the whole Law & Chaos thing is more taken from your Poul Anderson & Moorcock, right? The Good & Evil is a later add-on, & I think by that point it wasn't Tolkien the game was shooting at, but a pulpier milieu. That said, the same logic is in hand, as a critical tool-- the fact that they have a shared lineage is what makes if a good device for exploration. Anyhow, it is purposefully ahistorical; Tolkien explicitly rejected a historical reading of the text, & while I think he's wrong-- you can absolutely use that angle!-- I do think there is something to be said. His experiences in war clearly influenced thing but they also clearly influenced his ethical calculus, yes? That is the act of empire versus empire, & if you read Lord of the Rings, it seems as though he feels that those conflicts are horrible, but neccisary.
Eugene R.
23. Colin R
I don't think Thingol was a bad king--at least I don't think that's the message of his love of Melian. Together he and Melian protected their people for a very long age; it's a story of love truly protective and providing. They may have protected their kingdom indefinitely if he hadn't rashly involved himself in the Oath of Feanor. The tragedy of the first age is that men and elves chose to take battle to Morgoth rather than trusting in Iluvatar.

Love is a gift from Iluvatar, and it's never wrong in Middle-Earth. It is itself a kind of worship. The only instance of there ever being a love that is wrong is in Turin's tragedy, and that's explicitly identified as the curse of Morgoth at work--the most wicked of all misdeeds in the legendarium.
Mordicai Knode
24. mordicai
23. Colin R

Thingol was a bad king to the Teleri! Sure, after he snapped out of it & made a kingdom in Middle-Earth he was a good king-- you know, barring dwarf betrayal & being a jerk to Beren-- but he was SUPPOSED to be getting his tribe of elves & escorting them to Valinor!

That said, I agree with Feanor. The Valar had proven themselves unable to deal with Morgoth time & again. His answer to the Herald was well put, & frankly I think that elves & men did a great world by engaging in war against Morgoth, & at horrific cost. Earendil lulled them out of their complacency, but even that is an act of the Children of Iluvatar.

Another "wrong love" off the top of my head is Eol & Aredhel, which was a marriage that was...well, forced on Aredhel. & led to another "wrong love" of their son Maeglin & his unrequieted love for Idril.
Eugene R.
25. Colin R
I dunno, the Teleri were looking for Thingol, but they were free to go on to Valinor, and many of them still did. Many never made it to the sea in the first place. I never read any judgment laid upon Thingol or Melian for their love, not in the way that judgment is laid for his trying to hold the silmaril. Middle-Earth before the Oath of Feanor was a milder and happier place, and I don't think hanging out looking for your king for a couple hundred years is that big a deal to immortals.

Unrequited love is sad, but not the kind of love that I mean though, and probably not one that Tolkien considers real love at all. Eol's doesn't love Aredhel, he covets her and his son--likewise for Maeglin and his 'love' for Idril. If they really loved these women, they wouldn't have violently betrayed them. For a counter example, Eowyn's love for Aragorn for example is really about her own desires and ambitions--she sees in Aragorn what she wants for herself. Happily, she survives to grow beyond that, and she loves Faramir genuinely.

I think it speaks to Tolkien's concept of love though that great love affairs between elves and men are directly linked to salvation. Turning away from real love is truly tragic--Turin might have been saved if he hadn't abandoned Finduilas. And if Melian and Thingol hadn't fall in love, life would be much darker for the people who stayed behind--no Girdle of Melian, no Luthien, no Dior or Elwing, no Elrond and Elros, no Aragorn and Arwen.
Mordicai Knode
26. mordicai
25. Colin R

I would disagree with that-- I think the difference between the Calaquendi & the Moriquendi is a major spiritual gulf-- but I would say it isn't a betrayal but rather an abdication. It isn't just "hang out looking for your king" but rather "never go to the West to be filled with the light of Aman & changed forever for the greater." Sure, some went, but some stayed, & ultimately, staying was the wrong choice. That said, no, nothing like what happened with the Necklace & the Jewel.

Now your argument about love is turning into a "No True Scotsman." Any love that doesn't fit the bill doesn't count! & I would say that you list of might-have-beens doesn't work, either: I could as easily say that if Thingol had remained Elwe & gone into the West instead of staying & becoming Greycloak, then he could have persuaded Finwe not to neglect his son Feanor in his grief, or counciled Feanor to unlock the Silmarils to heal the tree, or, or or...

(Mind you, I'm really only arguing because I'm enjoying the discussion; I think you are right about the role love plays as redeption, though I would disagree about Eowyn; I think her love is real but unrequieted, & then healed & redeemed in turn by Faramir.)
Eugene R.
27. Colin R
No, I don't think that there's much ambiguity between requited and unrequited love at all. In the books at least, there is never any doubt that Aragorn is for Arwen, and he has no interest in Eowyn. The only affair that's even slightly ambiguous is Eol's, and that's only because there are differing versions of it--in some versions of it Eol clearly raped Aredhel.

Anyway yes, there is a spiritual difference between the elves who did or did not visit Valinor, but I don't interpret any negative judgment on the elves who chose not to visit--failing to go to Valinor is not inherently sinful or wrong. Where there is ambiguity in Tolkien it's the love he has for the natural world. Those who live in Valinor are wiser and closer to grace, but the world was made by Iluvatar too, and I think Tolkien sympathizes more with the elves who love Middle-Earth too much to leave it. Loving the real world is sad because it's fleeting, but the love the world isn't wrong--only trying to possess and master it in Iluvatar's place is.
Mordicai Knode
28. mordicai
27. Colin R

You misunderstand me on Valinor; I'm not saying it is sinful, but rather the opposite-- "less-virtue." That is, if they'd gone to the West, they would have been given a gift...you say "grace" but I might say "Grace," as in capital G. I don't think it is a matter of a degree, but a qualitative change.

Anyhow, I think your statement about Tolkien sympathizing with the elves who remained-- or the elves who went back-- actually speaks to the point of the article. Divine grace is well & good, but Tolkien can't help but put his sympathies in more naturalistic forces. For all his Catholicism, he exalts Odin in Gandalf & the pagan in general in the Valar. For all of his rhetoric about Gondor & the True King, he cares about hobbits. I think Tolkien's loyalties & fancies lie with Tom Bombadil & the ents-- an old world, stranger even then the superhuman elves, being swept away. The elves will go to the West, but the rest will be swept up into the hidden pockets of the world, or go extinct.

As for love, so we're drawing the line at requited love? I suppose that is a line in the sand, & it would include things like Celebrimbor's affections for Galadriel. Maybe there is something there-- a treatise on requited versus unrequited. Though-- we have Gimli's unrequited love for Galadriel that veers into Courtly Love, or True Admiration. Also, the fact that as far as I'm concerned Gimli & Legolas slash might as well be canon...
Eugene R.
29. Colin R
I think you might be kidding, but I think Tolkien was far too innocent to think of Gimli's love for Galadriel as being something romantic.

What I mean though is that the natural world is not opposed to Valinor, Grace, Iluvatar, in any way--not in the way that Law and Chaos are supposedly opposite cosmic forces in the D&D ethos. The World is created by Iluvatar--it is truly good. It is part of Iluvatar just as much as Valinor. It is marred by wickedness, but that wickedness isn't the world's fault, it's ours. If Morgoth hadn't rebelled, if the Noldor hadn't disobeyed the edicts of Manwe, if Thingol hadn't been so rash, if humans were not fickle and proud and easily swayed into temptation, if we had more respect for the world and lived in harmony with it, maybe it would be just like Valinor. There could very nearly be heaven on earth, if not for us.

You look at it that way I think the underlying Catholicism is pretty clear.
Mordicai Knode
30. mordicai
29. Colin R

I dunno, I don't think I agree-- or any way, I don't think Tolkien agreed with himself! I don't think the concept of an innocent natural world is possible. You know, that whole "Morgoth's ring" chesnut. It is interesting, if you want to continue to use a Catholic lens-- which I think is a bad one, actually, with Christianity only being set dressing & apologetics, not central thematically-- that Original Sin doesn't stem from human (or elven, which would count as well, I think) action, but rather from divine action on Melkor-as-Satan's behalf.

Though to go back to my point-- I wasn't arguing for a Law versus Chaos, or Good versus Evil; I'm explicitly arguing that it is Lawful Good as the compromise between a Chaotic Good ideal (Tom) & a Lawful Evil threat (Sauron, in the case of the trilogy).
Eugene R.
31. Parzival
Like others, I am always interested in (and amused by) attempts to apply D&D's alignment system to other works. So a "thank you" to Mordacai for the article, and also to those who have commented. Intriguing reading, throughout!

I think, however, that some are missing the point on who or what Bombadil is. He is neither nature, nor a mountain, nor anything resembling Buddhism. To understand him, one need merely look at Tolkien's devout Catholicism and his knowledge of Western (Christian) philosophy. Bombadil is Adam— or rather, Adam as he should have been— the Unfallen Man.
In Christian theology, Adam is made to be the head of Creation, and Eve to be his helpmate (and Lover, in the truest sense of the word). All Creation was to be subject to Adam, and Adam was to tend to it. Thus Creation (nature) would have no power over Adam, and Adam would have power over it without the possibility of abuse.
Bombadil reflects this perfectly— he fears nothing in the Old Forest (or anywhere) because he has nothing to fear— even the shadow of death moves aside from him, as the darkness and the wight flee the barrow at his approach. The Ring has no power over him because he has no lack of power, nor any need or desire to have power over others— to him, the Ring is both pointless and useless, and therefore powerless.
Bombadil's childlike nature is also significant— he is Innocent in the deepest sense of the word; a Sinless Being. He exists to enjoy Creation; he has no other purpose, nor any other desire, nor any other need. He has no need to gain the approval of others— no fear of being thought foolish, no vanity in being called wise— he simply enjoys life and delights in it, and sings his delight without care or concern, just as young children do before we saddle them with foolish fears. That is Bombadil— Good because he is fully as his maker intended— the Perfect Man— no need of either law or chaos, and no tittle of evil anywhere at all.
Mordicai Knode
32. mordicai
31. Parzival

...uh...that...that actually...yeah, okay, that is a really solid reading, & concurr completely! Adam Kadmon Bombadil!

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