I have gone through the Lord of the Rings trilogy several times recently. To understand Tolkien’s mind is what I aimed for. I am ashamed to say that I never saw it as more than an English myth before, though a right good one. Now, I know it somewhat to be his lament that the England he knew as a boy was losing its hobbit-like ways, and so, very much in danger of being overrun by “Shadow.” Shadow, then, to Tolkien is all things hyper-industrial and lacking regard for the innate value of living things.
Wherever the shadow spreads, greed, lust for control, and dullness of imagination and creativity prevail. Treebeard (the Ent) gives us this window into Tolkien’s mind in “The Two Towers.” There the tree herder states something concerning Saruman to the effect of, ‘He has a mind of metal and gears. He no longer cares for growing things.’ So, the shadow takes us from adoring creation, one another, and the goodness and artistry to be enjoyed in life toward seeking for value in what can be made, taken, subjugated, or mass produced for profit and economic power. Worth is not measured by life itself but by how much life can be controlled, possessed or by what a life can produce – for ME, MINE, MY OWN… MY PRECIOUS. And, just like the Ring of Power does, one is taken into “the void,” neither truly living nor dead. My, my! Isn’t that telling!I am sure that the struggle Tolkien presented in his series had (I should say “has”) its foundation in that premise.
Factually, Tolkien admitted that the seeds for Middle Earth and its languages and stories were fostered in the trenches of war. There, on the front lines in World War I and faced with nightmares while both awake and asleep, Mr. Tolkien got sight of the flame-wreathed eye of materialistically driven societies. Frodo and his friends were all struggling for the analogous point, being: human dignity and quality of life found in relationships and in enjoying creation and life as it is… or can be beautified by sound thought, virtues & artistry. In many ways, this stands quite against the Marxism and growing fascism of Tolkien’s time.
Yet, I see that Tolkien admits, through his portrayal of the Ring’s power, that even the most simple and pure are greatly pained with greed, envy, power, quick gain, etc. In the end, we find that both our enemies (Gollum) and our friends (Sam) have something to do with our desired riddance of Shadow and the Ring of Power. Though Frodo’s (and Bilbo’s) sympathies were with Gollum for what the Ring had done to Smeagol, there was no abiding with Gollum who indeed had some [notorious] part to play as Bilbo predicted. Sam is the real hero, though, along with every other person who proves faithful, modest, true, and brave not for his own sake. Those are the true warriors and victors in friendship and life.
All in all, I much more enjoyed the trilogy this time. I do feel I understand Tolkien a bit more. Just the same, I feel his philosophy – no, his motive – for writing differs from C. S. Lewis’. Lewis, according to letters, wrote his Chronicles to “slay the stained glass dragon.” By that, he went on to say he meant to tear down the formalism of ritual religion, which is apart from real relation with God. He meant to illustrate the sort of relation possible with God, which he also knew himself. As Aslan says (paraphrased) to Lucy and Eustace in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, ‘I am in every world; but in your world, I go by a different name. That is the reason I brought you into Narnia – that by knowing me here, you might know me better in your own world.’ Thus we see Lewis’ motive for writing the stories.
Both Tolkien and Lewis were self-proclaimed Christian men. Whereas Tolkien spoke to the human soul as it struggles in life against evil within and without, Lewis speaks to the human spirit, as it relates to God. Whereas Tolkien wrote to expose degradation of human dignity by humans and self, Lewis wrote to expose the dead orthodoxy of the Anglican Church of his day and of all “church” (so called) that points to ritual and feelings of awe, instead of genuine interaction and relationship with God.Both are masters!
Both have given us wonderful insights. Though Tolkien ribbed Lewis for his being too allegorical and simple, I think Lewis held the correct priority. No human can rightly relate to other humans until he is first rightly related to God. No one can win over the Shadow until Aslan has cut away the dragon of self (as Eustace experienced). If we are to throw the Ring of Power in the fires of Mt. Doom, we must first allow the claws of Aslan to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves – remove the scales of self (the source of shadow within) down to the core and then wash us clean in the pool of his renewing power. This is the beginning of our transformation into “a better Eustace” and the crumbling of the evil tower in our Middle Earth.