Saturday, September 3, 2022

"Deep indeed run the roots of Evil"

About another book Tolkien didn't complete, this one a sequel to The Lord of the Rings taking place in the Fourth Age. Tolkien only wrote about thirteen pages.
“Deep indeed run the roots of Evil, and the black sap is strong in them. That tree will never be slain. Let men hew it as often as they may, it will thrust up shoots again as soon as they turn aside.”
It is with this depressing thought that Borlas begins his dialogue about the nature of evil with his interlocutor Saelon in The New Shadow, J.R.R. Tolkien’s scrapped sequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The text is brief, just the beginning of a novel that was meant to show “the inevitable boredom of Men with the good.” ....

...Tolkien believed we live in a sinful, fallen world that will never be perfected by human hands. It’s a concept reflected in his works; the whole of the Middle Earth writings is a saga about the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall of evil. Over and over again, Middle Earth is faced with a dark force, which Middle Eartheans band together to defeat, only to see another malevolent threat rise after. The lesson ought to be clear: At best, evil can be guarded against and squashed out when it first starts to rear its head. But the inhabitants of Middle Earth, like those of our world, tend not to go for that strategy, falling, instead, into complacency. As Tolkien noted in one of his letters, mankind has a “quick satiety with good.”

This satiety is bad enough when it leads to blindness to the rise of a new evil, but in The New Shadow, Tolkien sought to explore a more frightening outcome of it: What happens when people don’t just ignore the threat of evil, but forget why it is a threat to begin with. Set in one of the kingdoms of men, Gondor, 105 years after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron and his Orcs have been relegated to the stuff of legend while all the humans who fought them have died off. Only a few survive who have even the slightest memory of the War of the Ring from their childhood, and having known nothing but peace and prosperity for their entire lives, a restless sect of young Gondorians become fascinated by the evil figures of old. Boys run around committing acts of vandalism pretending to be Orcs, and there are whispers that a cult devoted to the old evil has begun. ....

Tolkien gave up on The New Shadow, saying in a letter that the story “proved both sinister and depressing.” (Writing on human nature often is.) What little he was able to complete serves as a reminder of the importance of engendering gratitude in every generation and of avoiding moral complacency. Never underestimate the ability of small wrongs to grow into something bigger. Hew the tree of evil at its first sign of growth. (more)
Alec Dent, "Socialism, Nationalism, and Tolkien," The Dispatch, Sept. 3, 2022.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.