Friday, June 17, 2022

“And the Elves deemed that evil was ended forever, and it was not so.”

From The Wall Street Journal this morning, Joseph Lonconte on "J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lesson About Evil for Our Time":
.... Tolkien was teaching at Oxford in 1933 when students at the Oxford Union Society approved the motion: “This House will under no circumstances fight for its King and country.” It was a shock to the political establishment. And it was a bad omen: Adolf Hitler had just become chancellor of Germany and was drawing up secret plans for remilitarization.

Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings in 1936, the same year Germany occupied the Rhineland and intervened on behalf of the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. In his introduction to the Shire and its inhabitants, Tolkien might well have been describing isolationist England under Neville Chamberlain: “And there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle-earth and the right of sensible folk.”

A combat veteran of World War I, Tolkien watched with dread the rise of ideologies unleashed in the war’s aftermath: communism, fascism, Nazism and eugenics. Almost as soon as he began writing The Lord of the Rings, it took on adult themes not found in The Hobbit. Although Tolkien denied that his work was allegorical, he acknowledged in a 1938 letter to his publisher that his new story “was becoming more terrifying than The Hobbit.... The darkness of the present days has had some effect on it.”

Less than a year later, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany, its policy of appeasement in tatters. As Gandalf the Wizard explains to Frodo Baggins: “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.” Or, as Elrond, the Lord of Rivendell, intones, “And the Elves deemed that evil was ended forever, and it was not so.”

Tolkien’s epic story embodies a moral tradition known as Christian realism: a belief in the existence of evil and in the obligation to resist it. We can hope that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine will prod leaders in Europe and the U.S. to recover this outlook.

In Tolkien’s world, indifference to the evil of Mordor is portrayed as an evasion that can only result in catastrophe. ....
Joseph Loconte, "J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lesson About Evil for Our Time," The Wall Street Journal," June 17, 2022.

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