September 21, 2005

Daily Dose of Tolkien Geekery

Gary the Tolkien Geek, after being delayed in the Blogger Marshes, has posted his latest on FOTR: Book I, Chapter 11 - A Knife In The Dark.

Meanwhile, if you haven't seen them, some great comments were posted in response to my own outburst of Tolkien geekery yesterday. I just wanted to keep this thread going by responding to a couple of them.

BWS says:

My main thrust was that the ring was not just a passive object, but an active evil influence. Aragorn, Faramir, et al were not just resisting their own temptations, they were coping with an active force seeking to bend their will to Sauron, something not even the maia (Saruman) were immune to.

No doubt about it. And the Ring not only worked by preying on its victims' weakness of will (the whispering bit does not appear in the book, but I'm willing to accept it as a legitimate screen device for demonstrating this), it also had the capacity to take some limited physical action of its own - i.e., slipping on or off a finger at an opportune time. A fascinating question is raised early on about how Bilbo came to find the Ring in the dark. Gandalf states that it clearly wasn't the intention of the Ring itself or the Enemy and that some other power must have been at work. But we never really get a definite answer as to what that power might be. Is it the work of the Valar? Or possibly of Eru himself? We might call it Divine Intervention in our world, but given the multiple layers of divinity in Tolkien's, it becomes that much more complicated to identify the mover.

Then we come to the issue of the strength of the various Men to resist the Ring

Gary says:

Just for the record Robbo, the Numenorean blood flowed pretty darn strong through Isildur's veins, but it didn't seem to help him.

Vinnie says:

I will say one thing though, I don't think Numenorean blood had anything to do with the difference.

And Matt Navarre says:

But it's not just that Faramir and Aragorn are men of uncomprimising principle and Boromir is not. It's just that Boromir's principles are much more amenable to being twisted by the Ring. Boromir has just as much honor as Faramir and Aragorn, but it's different, and arrived at from a different perspective.

First of all, it is a given that the Enemy theoretically could corrupt any Man, regardless of his blood. In fact, as told elsewhere, Sauron managed to so twist Numenor itself that the Valar eventually destroyed it and most of its inhabitants. Furthermore, many so-called "Black Numenoreans" settled along the coasts of Middle Earth to the South - it is from them that the kingdom of Harad arose. As to Isildur and the Ring, just remember that he thought he was taking it as a weregild and a prize after what he thought was the destruction of Sauron. He wasn't after it as a source of power in and of itself.

But on the broader issue, it is absolutely impossible to ignore the importance of the blood of Elendil. He and his folk were known as "The Faithful" in Numenor before its fall, those Enlightened Men who remained respectful of the Valar and friendly with the Elves, while the other Numenoreans gradually went over to, if you'll pardon the expression, the Dark Side. When Numenor was drowned, the Valar once again stepped into ensure that a remnant of the Faithful survived its downfall and made it to Middle Earth, where they founded the "good" kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor.

Tolkien spends a good bit of time discussing the various kinds of Men in Middle Earth. There are basically three types - the Men of the West (the Numenoreans), the Men of the Twilight who are (or can be) essentially good but ignorant of the Divine Grace of the West (the Rohirrim and the Beornings are cited as examples), and the Men of the Dark, those under the thumb of Evil (the Dunlandings and the vast nameless hordes of the East are the examples here). So far as I can recollect, the Men of the Dark never rise above themselves. [UPDATE: I had forgotten about Ghan-Buri-Ghan and his folk. They appear to be wild yet uncorrupted by Evil.] But Tolkien spends a good bit of time discussing the gradual slide of the Numenoreans toward Twilight status, as well as the rise of the Rohirrim toward a more, what, civlized or enlightened culture. I'm not sure there necessarily is any real fault about the gradual decay of the Numenoreans. Rather, it is a function of being separated by time and space from Valinor, the equivalent of being kicked out of Eden.

But even though the Numenoreans are, in effect, exiles from Paradise, it is their high purpose to maintain the memory of that ideal. Gondor and Arnor are a reflection of Numenor at its best. Numenor, in turn, is a reflection of Valinor, and was originally a gift from the Valar in thanks for the efforts of the Three Houses of Men that aided the Elves in their wars against Morgoth. (This continuity is symbolized by the White Tree of Gondor, by the way, which has a similar lineage.)

Although the Light has been fading gradually among the Numenoreans, it is not completely gone. Faramir is an example of this. And in Aragorn, it shines out again as bright as ever it had been. This, in the end, is closely tied to Aragorn's central role in the closing of the Third Age and the beginning of the Fourth Age, the Dominion of Men.

There are all kinds of theological implications to this that I won't get in to here. But as far as Tolkien was concerned, in Middle Earth, blood definitely does tell.

Posted by Robert at September 21, 2005 11:59 AM | TrackBack

Why didn't you highlight BillINDC's comments?

<smiley emoticon omitted>

Posted by: JohnL at September 21, 2005 12:46 PM

I need to go back and consult my copy of "Unfinished Tales" to read over the story of the Gladden Fields, but I seem to recall Isildur acting a little "ring-possessed" in that tale. I'll also need to scan through the Index of Tolkien's "Letters" to see if he has an comment on Isildur's desire to keep the ring for its own sake.

By gum, I'm not letting this one go!

Posted by: Gary at September 21, 2005 02:18 PM

Please do. I haven't read Unfinished Tales in years and years and may very well be forgetting something. But saying that Isildur could have been corrupted isn't the same thing as saying Numenorean blood doesn't matter.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 21, 2005 02:25 PM

Unfinished Tales?

Yup, I'm out of my league here. I'll just shutup now.

I haven't even read The Hobbit yet, either.

But, that being said, I would seriously like to know which version of the movies you refer to, the extended or theatrical.

The first time I tried to read LOTR, in high school, I didn't get past the first chapter, I found it insufferably boring.

Please don't hurt me.

After I saw the first two movies is when I decided to read it again, and now I'm hooked. Apparently, I need more training.

I'll do better, I promise.

Posted by: Vinnie at September 21, 2005 08:19 PM

OK, Robbo. Page 274 of Unfinished Tales:
When the orcs attack, Isildur's son Elendur asks his father about using the power of the ring to fight the orcs. His reply: "I cannot use it. I dread the pain of touching it. And I have not yet found the strength to bend it to my will. It needs one greater than I now know myself to be. My pride has fallen."

No I definitely take this to mean that Isildur had hoped to put this weregild to use for purposes that he originally thought he had strength enough to master. Even with Sauron gone, I suspect he may have had dreams of becoming all of Middle-Earth. This is just a theory but it would seem that despite the pain it gave him he had attempted to "bend it to his will" - meaning tap into its power.

The key here is that the Ring exploits Isildur's p ride. It enhances whatever weakness the bearer has. Now as noble as Aragorn and Faramir are I find it hard to fathom that they are so "perfect" in their qualities that there wasn't something in each of them that the Ring could work on. This I think is the point Jackson was making in altering the characters. Aragorn wrestled with self-doubt and Faramir longed for the love and approval of his father (and loved his land so much that he may - even for a moment - have considered that the Ring could be used for defensive purposes).

I don't think either of us is "right" on this subject but I'm not as annoyed at the idea of the characters portrayed as more fallible. I think it makes them more human.

Posted by: Gary at September 21, 2005 08:38 PM


Posted by: spurwing plover at September 24, 2005 04:45 PM

I like your blog. It is a very interesting one. Player can Do Boy: , when Table Lose Tournament Anticipate Superb Stake Percieve or not , Boy will Gnome unconditionally to Play Chair you should be very Curious

Posted by: Caleb Clark at December 3, 2005 08:58 PM