THE MIRROR OF MIDDLE-EARTH
Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the Politics of our Times
‘In the long run, men are moved more by fantasy than by tractarian polemics,’ declared the great American conservative scholar, Dr Russell Kirk, in his monumental study of the battle between truth and ideology, Enemies of the Permanent Things (Arlington House, USA, 1969). Kirk devoted a whole chapter of his book (‘Rediscovering Norms through Fantasy’, pp 109-124) to stressing the important contribution that fantasy can make to the safe-guarding of a nation.
Kirk pointed out that ‘the modern masters of fantasy’ have an ethical purpose of ‘rousing the moral imagination of a people long ensnared by idols.’ The strangeness of fantasy induces a sense of wonder, and ‘the shock of the fantastic is intended to wake us from dullness and complacency.’ A myth, argued Kirk, ‘is a poetic representation of hidden reality’, and great works of fantasy have similar characteristics. ‘If we are arrested in our march towards Logicalism and its inhumane universalism, our rescuers may be the authors of true tales of wonder, not the theologians of our schools.’
Kirk concentrated in his chapter on that latter-day Keats, Ray Bradbury, whose haunting work, The Martian Chronicles (it is sometimes known as The Silver Locusts) is one of the most exquisite pieces of prose poetry in the English language. He revealed that some of Bradbury’s works had been subjected to extraordinary hostility, unfair criticism and library censorship, and drily remarked: ‘The ideologue, in particular, denounces “escape”; for he is the prisoner of his own political obsessions, and misery loves company.’
In this essay I shall consider what is probably the greatest work of fantasy written in the English language this century, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In particular, I shall study it as a reflection of the political sickness of our times and as an invaluable indicator of ways in which the body politic may be healed.
The Lord of the Rings tells of how a great political conspiracy, organised by powers of evil, is defeated by a coalition of the inhabitants of Middle-earth (an imaginary and idealised version of North-western Europe in an earlier era). It is appropriate that my essay should be offered to the Australian people through the auspices of The Australian League of Rights, an association of Christian patriots who have often been unfairly maligned and jeered at because of their belief that Australia, like the Shire in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, is the potential victim of a long-gathering political conspiracy which is now nearing the critical moment when it must nakedly grasp out at power or be exposed and defeated. It is an irony that many of those who have ignorantly scoffed at ‘devotees of conspiracy theory’ have at the same time been fervent admirers of The Lord of the Rings and of those characters from Middle-earth within its pages who actually dared to challenge the conspiracy of Sauron.
J. R. R. Tolkien was born of mixed English and German ancestry in South Africa on January 3rd, 1892 and died in England in 1973 after having had a distinguished academic career which included the posts of Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. From his teens Tolkien had a deep love of words and languages, and he developed into an exceptionally brilliant philologist specialising in Old English, Icelandic, Old Norse and other ancient tongues of North-west Europe. He delighted in making up his own languages; Quenya, the high elven tongue in The Lord of the Rings, is largely modelled on the Finnish of the Kalevala, and the second elven language in the novel, Sindarin, is derived from Welsh.
Tolkien was very early taken to England and developed a lifelong devotion to English tradition and the English language. Early years in rural Worcestershire filled him with a love of the English countryside and an implacable enmity towards the modern industrial civilisation which was tending to destroy it. The Shire, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, is his representation of much that he loved best about England and especially its West Midlands. Humphrey Carpenter in his fine biography of Tolkien (Allen & Unwin, UK, 1977) quotes an important statement by Tolkien of one of his great literary ambitions: ‘I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story – the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to England, to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our “air” (the clime and soil of the North-west, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe…), and, while possessing… the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic…, it should be “high”, purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long steeped in poetry.’ (pp 89-90)
Tolkien was also a deeply pious Catholic Christian, much influenced by his mother in this respect. Carpenter makes an important statement about the relationship between Tolkien’s religious faith and his works of fantasy: ‘Some have puzzled over the relation between Tolkien’s stories and his Christianity, and have found it difficult to understand how a devout Roman Catholic could write with such conviction about a world where God is not worshipped. But there is no mystery. The Silmarillion is the work of a profoundly religious man. It does not contradict Christianity but complements it. There is in the legends no worship of God, yet God is indeed there, more explicitly in The Silmarillion than in the work that grew out of it, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s universe is ruled over by God, “the One”. Beneath Him in the hierarchy are “The Valar”, the guardians of the world, who are not gods but angelic powers, themselves holy and subject to God; and at one terrible moment in the story they surrender their power into His hands. Tolkien cast his mythology in this form because he wanted it to be remote and strange, and yet at the same time not to be a lie. He wanted the mythological and legendary stories to express his own moral view of the universe; and as a Christian he could not place this view in a cosmos without the God that he worshipped. At the same time, to set his stories “realistically” in the known world, where religious beliefs were explicitly Christian, would deprive them of imaginative colour. So while God is present in Tolkien’s universe, he remains unseen.’ (p 91)
Unseen, yes, but not unfelt. The whole of The Lord of the Rings is filled with a living sense of benign Providence as a ruling power high beyond the machinations of even the most dangerous spirits of evil such as Morgoth and Sauron. In Book I Chapter 2 (‘The Shadow of the Past’) the wizard Gandalf speaks to the hero, Frodo, of the most inspired moment in The Hobbit (a novel that should always be read by newcomers to Tolkien before they tackle The Lord of the Rings), when Bilbo, hero of the earlier novel, finds the Great Ring of Power far underneath the Misty Mountains.
‘It was the strangest event in the whole history of the Ring so far: Bilbo’s arrival, just at that time, and putting his hand on it, blindly, in the dark. There was more than one power at work… The Ring was trying to get back to its master….. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire. Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker….. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.’ (pp 61-62) [All page references to The Lord of the Rings refer to the three volume paperback edition published by Unwin Books in the UK in 1974.]
The Great Ring of Power had been made by the evil Sauron in order to control the lesser rings forged by the elves. At the time of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron, who had lost the Great Ring in an earlier age, was struggling to gain possession of it again, so that he could master the three elven rings possessed by Gandalf, by Elrond, the Lord of Rivendell, and by Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien. Possession of the Great Ring would have enabled Sauron to treat the whole of Middle-earth as the foul despot, Ceauescu, is at present treating that once noble nation, Romania.
It is Frodo’s heroic task in the novel to bear the Great Ring to the one place where it can be destroyed, Mount Doom, in the centre of Sauron’s kingdom of Mordor, and to cast it into the Cracks of Fire in that mountain. Frodo is a typical Christian hero, humbly and self-sacrificingly devoted to his terrible ordeal, which he did not choose, but which he inherited from his guardian, Bilbo; and at first, like Moses, he is reluctant to assume responsibility. In the previously cited chapter he tells Gandalf: ‘I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’ Gandalf explains: ‘Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’ (p 66)
Again and again Frodo is helped in his quest by chance encounters and fortunate coincidences. In Book I Chapter 3 (‘Three is Company’) he is saved from capture by one of the terrifying phantom sorcerers known as the Ringwraiths, thanks to the unexpected appearance of a troop of elves in the Shire, led by Gildor. ‘This is indeed a strange chance….. A star shines on the hour of our meeting,’ says Frodo. And Gildor tells him: ‘In this meeting there may be more than chance; but the purpose is not clear to me.’ (pp 83-84, 88) Then in Book I Chapter 7 (‘In the House of Tom Bombadil’) Frodo asks Tom Bombadil if it was ‘just chance’ that brought him to the rescue of the four hobbits in the Old Forest, and Tom replies: ‘Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you. We heard news of you and learned that you were wandering.’ (p 127)
The lesson here is that Christian patriots should not doubt that there is an actively benign Providence working in its own way to assist in the Great Work of maintaining freedom and traditional culture in Australia. Those who have faith will gradually find, if they devote themselves selflessly to their missions, that their very lives absorb something of the mysterious texture of this all-patterning emanation of the Divine. This is why, as Tolkien constantly reiterates in The Lord of the Rings, those who struggle to serve Good and avert Evil should never flinch from continuing the fight even when all seems lost and despair seems logical. Miraculous intervention from Heaven is always and everywhere possible.
At this stage we should note that Tolkien was by nature one of our allies. Another passage from Carpenter’s biography makes this clear: ‘Nor was he without consciousness of class: the very opposite was true. But it was precisely because of his certainty of his own station in life that there was about him nothing of intellectual or social conceit. His view of the world, in which each man belonged or ought to belong to a specific “estate”, whether high or low, meant that in one sense he was an old-fashioned conservative. But in another sense it made him highly sympathetic to his fellow-men, for it is those who are unsure of their status in the world, who feel they have to prove themselves and if necessary put down other men to do so, who are truly ruthless. Tolkien was, in modern jargon, “right-wing”, in that he honoured his monarch and his country and did not believe in the rule of the people; but he opposed democracy simply because he believed that in the end his fellow-men would not benefit from it. He once wrote: “I am not a ‘democrat’, if only because ‘humility’ and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanise and formalise them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power – and then we get and are getting slavery.” As to the virtues of an old-fashioned feudal society, this is what he once said about respect for one’s superiors: “Touching your cap to the Squire may be damn bad for the Squire, but it’s damn good for you.”’ (pp 127-128)
It is easy to see why some folk are very eager to stress that The Lord of the Rings was not crafted deliberately by Tolkien as an exact reflection of, or allegory on, the politics of his time. Carpenter has an important passage about this matter too: ‘At about the time that Tolkien decided to call the book The Lord of the Rings, Chamberlain signed the Munich agreement with Hitler. Tolkien, like many others at the time, was suspicious not so much of German intentions as of those of Soviet Russia; he wrote that he had “a loathing of being on any side that includes Russia” and added: “One fancies that Russia is probably ultimately far more responsible for the present crisis and choice of moment than Hitler.” However, this does not mean that the placing of Mordor (the seat of evil…) in the East is an allegorical reference to contemporary world politics….. As C. S. Lewis wrote: “These things were not devised to reflect any particular situation in the real world. It was the other way round; real events began, horribly, to conform to the pattern he had freely invented.”’ (pp 189-190)
Yet it must be noted that Tolkien himself left record that his work was inspired: Carpenter writes that he wrote of some of his tales: ‘They arose in my mind as “given” things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew….. always I had the sense of recording what was already “there”, somewhere: not of “inventing”.’ (p 92) In my view The Lord of the Rings is itself a miraculous intervention. Regardless of whatever Tolkien himself thought about its relationship to the politics of his century, it has dramatized the essence of the great political contest of our times with piercing sharpness and it has profound educative value for those of us labouring to alert our less vigilant fellow-citizens to what is happening.
One of the novel’s most important warnings is that evil may be successfully suborning and corrupting some of the highest and seemingly best gifted leaders on the side of the free peoples. A severe blow is dealt to the ‘It can’t happen here!’ school of thought. Even the president of the White Council himself, the wizard Saruman, becomes the victim of hubris, of arrogance. He schemes to defeat Sauron by making himself the master of Middle-earth and jealously arrests his fellow-wizard, Gandalf, who is in fact the providentially destined chief opponent of Sauron and was seen as such by Cirdan the Shipwright who thus voluntarily surrendered to him the Ring of Fire. Saruman, without knowing it, became the tool of Sauron; yet, out of his insurrection Providence brought good, since otherwise Aragorn would not have been able to wrest the palantir (the ‘seeing stone’) out of Sauron’s hands, as he did in Book V Chapter 2 (“The Passing of the Grey Company’), thus provoking the Dark Lord into a premature attack on Gondor and taking his main attention away from Mordor while Frodo and Sam Gamgee approached it.
Denethor, High Steward of Gondor, also became corrupted by the evil Sauron. Denethor had made the error of looking into his own palantir, although knowing he had not really the force of soul to master it; and Sauron had cunningly shown him visions of the gathering armies of Mordor. Thus the Dark Lord had been able to fill Denethor’s heart with despair. The High Steward subsequently made bad errors of judgement about Gandalf, who he thought was plotting to rule Middle-earth, and about Aragorn, whom he regarded as an upstart instead of as his true sovereign. A further weakness in Denethor was revealed in Book V Chapter 7 (‘The Pyre of Denethor’) when he gave this answer to Gandalf’s question as to what he really wished could happen: ‘I would have things as they were in all the days of my life… and in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil.’ (pp 114-115)
We learn from this unfortunate man’s plight that there are periods in history when we must be ready to part with that which has served us well for perhaps centuries but which changed conditions have now inexorably superannuated. Christian patriots in Australia may be required to swallow two extremely bitter pills if they are to successfully save their nation from the tyranny which seeks to command it. The first draught of wormwood is the recognition that Christian exclusivism is no longer practicable in a modern world in which intercommunication has brought the sacred traditions of other peoples inextricably into our own culture. Not merely Archbishop Lefebvre but also the National Civic Council (and its eminent president, Mr B. A. Santamaria) and many evangelical Protestant groups in Australia appear unwilling to abandon Christian exclusivism, a position which in fact is founded on ignorance, on an excessively rigid view of the divine origin of the sacred scriptures in the Bible and on a misinterpretation of certain statements made by Our Lord.
Martin Lings, the distinguished orientalist and biographer of Muhammad, has explained why this spiritual reorientation is required. In his book The Eleventh Hour, which is subtitled ‘The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern World in the Light of Tradition and Prophecy’, (Quinta Essentia, UK, 1987) , Lings explains why a return to pre-Enlightenment Christianity will not serve the needs of today: ‘Truth has its rights, and nothing less than the full doctrine of the samsara (the wheel of births and rebirths) is capable of giving a concept of the universe adequate to what the contemplative intelligence demands as a symbolic basis for meditating on the Divine Infinitude….. Any simplification of cosmology is likely to leave certain loose threads hanging, to the detriment of any religion that cannot tie them in place…..Today the danger of “loose threads” is considerable, owing to the existence of so many overactive minds “set free”, as they would put it, “from the shackles of religion”.’ (pp 27-28)
Melbourne psychologist and author, Ronald Conway, who is a distinguished Catholic layman, has likewise warned in the epilogue (‘A Small Testament’) of his autobiography, Conway’s Way (Collins Dove, Australia, 1988) of the futility of adhering to antiquated conceptions of the Church. Conway argues that ‘The only hope for the Christian vision, which has traditionally fixed its hopes on a faithful, loving existence on this earth and a higher existence in another world, lies in a revival of a true spirituality… in the old Christian heartlands, Great Britain, Europe, the Americas and Australasia.’ However, he makes clear that he opposes the ‘moral imperialism’ of the pre-Vatican II church, and that he welcomes his church’s ‘abandonment of the assertion that salvation can only be obtained through communion with Rome.’ Conway adds: ‘There has always been a long tradition of Christian, rather than heretical, gnosis from the early Christian mystics through Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Origen, Dionysus the Areopagite, Saint Bonaventure, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila and on into the modern age. It is to that tradition rather than Thomist rationalism that I adhere.’ This tradition of Christian gnosis, which includes mediaevalists such as Ruysbroek and Boehme, is in fact closer to the Will of Christ than is exclusivist and dogmatic Christian theology; it is also able to accept, welcome and work with (rather than against) other authentic sacred traditions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and others.
Significant minorities of Australian citizens now adhere to sacred traditions other than Christianity; they will be much more successfully invoked to defend our traditional freedoms by Christian patriots who know enough to honour their religions than by dogmatic Christian exclusivists.
The other bitter pill which Australian patriots may have to swallow is the loss of the protective power of the British monarchy. With the greatest respect to Her Person, I have to say that our Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, seems to have made some serious errors of judgement which may have vast implications for us in our struggle. It may be that she was badly advised or that action was even taken in her name without prior consultation; but none of that takes away from her responsibility for the decisions. I have always thought that Her Majesty should never have intervened in 1968 to purportedly overturn sentences of death passed by the Rhodesian High Court on certain terrorist murderers. She should have insisted that she would remain above and aloof from the disagreement which at that time existed between her parliaments in the United Kingdom and in Rhodesia. She should have done more to protect the Rhodesians of all races who were loyal to the Crown. Secondly, Her Majesty should never have consented to appoint the self-confessed atheist and disbeliever in royal authority and the position of Governor-General of Australia, Mr Bill Hayden, to be Australia’s next Governor-General. She has thus joined the infamous Hawke socialist government in delivering a gross insult to loyalist Australians.
It is unpalatable but has to be acknowledged that an unholy alliance of socialists, communists and internationalists has been slowly pushing loyalist Australians towards a point where they will be forced to adopt positions of civil disobedience and qualified rebellion in order to defend their traditional freedoms. The resounding defeat of the four referendum proposals has delivered a strong check to this alliance; but the War Crimes Amendment Bill may still be passed, and it is difficult to see how Christian patriots in Australia can stand idly by and allow their fellow-citizens to be imprisoned on the basis of retrospective and ex post facto legislation relating to alleged crimes committed in other lands against the citizens of other nations by those who were not at the time Australian citizens and on the testimony of Soviet or Zionist witnesses who plainly cannot be trusted in this context. It seems unlikely that a Sovereign who appoints Mr Hayden Governor-General-designate will take action if appealed to by Australian patriots over the War Crimes Amendment Bill. And British tradition rules, as Dr Walter Henderson wrote some years ago in a learned opinion related to the Rhodesian question, that a monarch loses the right to the loyalty of his or her subjects if he or she ceases in his or her duty to properly defend them.
The Lord of the Rings shows on several occasions that Evil will only be defeated if, in critical situations, men and women are prepared to adhere to their consciences and their intuitions even to the point of disobedience to the orders of their superiors. In Book III Chapter 2 (‘The Riders of Rohan’) Eomer, Third Marshal of Riddermark, uses his own judgement after being appealed to by Aragorn: ‘I am not free to do all as I would. It is against our law to let strangers wander at will in our land, until the king himself shall give them leave, and more strict is the command in these days of peril.’ The truth is that the orders to which Eomer refers, although issued by his liege lord, King Theoden, have been inspired by Theoden’s treacherous adviser, Grima Wormtongue, who is secretly in the pay of Saruman and who has been corrupting Theoden with counsels of despair. Eomer’s nobility of nature is such that he recognises that ‘something is rotten in the land of Rohan’ (to paraphrase Hamlet’s words) and he is thus the readier to act on his own initiative when extraordinary allies appear within his ken. So, quite contrary to orders, he tells Aragorn: ‘This is my choice. You may go; and what is more, I will lend you horses. This only I ask: when your quest is achieved, or is proved vain, return with the horses over the Entwade to Meduseld, the high house in Edoras where Theoden now sits. Thus you shall prove to him that I have not misjudged. In this I place myself, and maybe my very life, in the keeping of your good faith.’ (p 34) As the result of Eomer’s decision, Aragorn was able to meet with Gandalf and have his invaluable knowledge and powers with him when he encountered King Theoden. There followed the expulsion of Grima Wormtongue, the return of Theoden’s confidence and capacity to act with kingly authority, the successful repulse of Saruman’s forces at Helm’s Gap and the glorious Ride of the Rohirrim (the cavalrymen of Rohan) to turn the tide of battle against Sauron on the Pelennor Fields outside Gondor.
Other notable examples of individual initiative backed by integrity seizing the correct moment to act against orders include Beregond’s defiance of Denethor to save the life of Faramir, and the willingness of Hama, Theoden’s Doorward, to allow Gandalf to enter the Golden Hall with his staff: ‘The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age. Yet in doubt a man of worth will trust to his own wisdom. I believe you are friends and folk of honour, who have no evil purpose. You may go in.’ (Book III, Chapter 6, p 101)
The different status of these three men should be noted. Eomer was a lord; Beregond was an elite guardsman; Hama was an ordinary guard. Yet all three played vital roles in bringing the Great War of the Third Age to a happy conclusion. Partly because of its encyclopaedic dimensions, The Lord of the Rings shows graphically how a great campaign against evil can be won by the combined efforts of a great array of various folk of varying stature, capacities and gifts. A historic result that will affect the lives of nations for centuries may hang in the balance, and one small virtuous deed by an apparently insignificant person in what appears to be a civilizational backwater may swing the whole result favourably. Admirers of the farming community will note the role played in The Lord of the Rings by Farmer Maggot. To Frodo in boyhood this hobbit had seemed nothing more than a surly old rustic who objected to mushroom thieves. Yet in Book I Chapter 4 (‘A Short Cut to Mushrooms’) Frodo discovers that Maggot is a sturdy, resilient, independent and decent hobbit who has the inner strength to confront and warn off his premises one of the dreaded Black Riders. Furthermore, Maggot actually offers to drive the three hobbits to the Bucklebury Ferry at night, even though the Black Rider may still be in the vicinity. (pp 94-100) In the following chapter (‘A Conspiracy Unmasked’) we learn that, unlike most hobbits, who are singularly unadventurous, Maggot has been accustomed to venture into the Old Forest. Merry remarks: ‘He has the reputation of knowing a good many strange things.’ (p 105) And later, in Chapter 7 (‘In the House of Tom Bombadil’) we find that Tom Bombadil is up to date in hobbit affairs thanks to Maggot, of whom Tom remarks: ‘There’s earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open.’ (p 133)
Another virtue possessed by The Lord of the Rings and related to its encyclopaedic dimensions is its grasp of a vast historical perspective. Another educative aspect of the novel consists in its capacity to show dramatically how the events of the present have not only been shaped by events of varying significance in various periods of previous history, but also can only be understood in terms of that ancient and not-so-ancient history. When first reading about Aragorn at the Bree Inn, I could not comprehend why he was solemnly carrying around a broken sword; and it seemed to me to be both peculiar and too easy that he had it reforged at Rivendell before the Fellowship of the Ring set forth. However, I now see that what Tolkien has given us is a symbol that can lead to profound insight. Aragorn’s extensive grasp of the history of his people enables him to know when the right moment has arrived in which truth from the past can be brought again into operation against the Enemy. He is aided by prophecies, which can be defined as wise utterances based on a vision that exists above time and which thus imparts to them an apparently predictive nature. The dream which Boromir reports at Rivendell in Book II Chapter 2 is a final confirmation to Aragorn that now is the time to reforge Elendil’s sword.
At this stage it is possible to consider the meaning of the different types of people in Middle-earth who lead the successful war against Sauron. First, let us consider Gandalf. He is a wizard, whose prototype according to Nikolai Tolstoy was Merlin. The essence of a wizard is that he possesses superhuman knowledge and powers. In terms of the traditional Hindu caste system he is clearly a first caste figure, a Brahmin. Such a figure is regularly misunderstood by most of those around him; for example, Sam Gamgee’s father, the Gaffer, whose behaviour shows the folly of utterly rigid conservatism, thinks contemptuously of Gandalf as ‘an old wandering conjuror’, and Tolkien tells us that Gandalf’s ‘fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill with fires, smokes and lights. His real business was far more difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it.’ (Book I Chapter 1, pp 32-33) Gandalf’s mastery of psychic powers and magic shows that much that is called today ‘the occult’, far from being fairly derided as imaginary by rationalists or satanic by ignorant and bigoted fideists, is essential knowledge for the leaders of the great struggle to protect our sacred traditions and the associated political freedoms.
The importance of wizardry to a successful conclusion of hostilities is also shown in The Lord of the Rings through Elrond and Galadriel, the elven rulers of the peaceful sanctuaries at Rivendell and Lothlorien. Elrond presides over the great council meeting in Book II Chapter 2 at which representatives of four different races of Middle-earth (elves, men, dwarves and hobbits) decide, with Gandalf’s crucial advice, to form the Fellowship of the Ring in an effort to frustrate Sauron by destroying the Great Ring. Galadriel is clearly a personification of the White Goddess, the divinity of the Old Religion of Europe about whom Robert Graves wrote his famous study. Those who have studied this benignant witchcraft or ‘craft of the wise’ will recall the traditions of scrying in lakes and ponds as soon as they read her description of her Mirror in Book II Chapter 7: ‘Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal, and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell….. Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them. The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds….. You may learn something, and whether what you see be fair or evil, that may be profitable, and yet it may not. Seeing is both good and perilous.’ (pp 343-344)
Galadriel explains to Frodo that she has chosen to show him her Mirror and offer him the opportunity of scrying in it because she believes he has ‘courage and wisdom enough for the venture.’ The gifts she presents to the members of the Fellowship before they leave Lothlorien also have mysterious characteristics, especially the phial she gives to Frodo, in which, she says, ‘is caught the light of Earendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.’ (Chapter 8, ‘Farewell to Lorien’, p 357)
Carpenter in his biography explains (p 64) the importance of Earendil to the whole of Tolkien’s oeuvre as a master of fantasy. In 1913 Tolkien was reading Cynewulf’s Crist and came across lines in this Old English poem which may be translated as: ‘Hail Earendel, brightest of angels/above the middle-earth sent unto men!’ The word ‘Earendel’ meant a shining light or ray, but Tolkien instantly identified it with Venus, the Morning and Evening Star. He subsequently wrote a poem about Earendel the star-mariner who navigates the night sky. This was in 1914 and was the beginning of his own mythology. (p 71) Thus, at the very least, Galadriel’s phial contains the Muse’s light of inspiration which first entered her creator’s mind in his early twenties.
The phial plays an indispensable role in saving Frodo and Sam and enabling the Ring-bearer to complete his mission. In Book IV Chapter 8 (‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol’) there is great danger that Frodo will put the Great Ring on his finger and reveal himself to the chief of the Ringwraiths. He feels himself subjected to pressure from the evil will of that perverted being, ‘the beating upon him of a great power from outside.’ A clash of wills develops upon which, as we well know, all depends: ‘Then his own will stirred; slowly it forced the hand back and set it to find another thing, a thing lying hidden near his breast. Cold and hard it seemed as his grip closed on it: the phial of Galadriel, so long treasured, and almost forgotten till that hour. As he touched it, for a while all thought of the Ring was banished from his mind.’ (p 280) In the following chapter Sam, the epitome of the faithful follower (whom Tolkien deliberately modelled on the English soldiers, privates and batmen, whom he had admired during his experiences at the Front in World War I), brilliantly reminds Frodo to utilise the light from the phial against the attack by the spider-monster, Shelob. ‘Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes.’ (p 294) That amazing light repels her. It should be noted that on both occasions Galadriel’s phial worked in conjunction with Frodo’s own heroic will. The strength of that will derives from the exceptional selflessness with which Frodo has been able to undertake and carry out his dreadful mission.
Yet outside Lothlorien Galadriel’s nature is misunderstood even by good folk such as Eomer, who says to Aragorn in Book III Chapter 2 (‘The Riders of Rohan’): ‘Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell! Few escape her nets, they say….. But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.’ (p 28) And Grima Wormtongue later spins this slander in Chapter 6 (‘The King of the Golden Hall’), when he says to Gandalf: ‘Then it is true, as Eomer reported, that you are in league with the Sorceress of the Golden Wood? It is not to be wondered at: webs of deceit were ever woven in Dwimorden.’ (p 103) Those who regard the Old Religion of goddess worship as mere superstition, if not black magic, make the same error in Australia today; yet Christian patriots need to recognise that an ally is here. Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, for example, is a novel profoundly influenced by the Old Religion; both Lara and the old wise-woman Kubarikha, whom Yury Zhivago meets while with the Forest Brotherhood, are incarnations of the Goddess.
Tolkien’s elves in general have a special importance in the great contest against Sauron. This is what Carpenter writes of them: ‘They are to all intents and purposes men: or rather, they are Man before the Fall which deprived him of his powers of achievement. Tolkien believed devoutly that there had once been an Eden on earth, and that man’s original sin and subsequent dethronement were responsible for the ills of the world: but his elves, though capable of sin and error, have not “fallen” in the theological sense, and so are able to achieve much beyond the powers of men. They are craftsmen, poets, scribes, creators of works of beauty far surpassing human artefacts. Most important of all they are, unless slain in battle, immortal.’ (p 93)
As symbols, the elves have something of the qualities of angels. In contemporary language they represent and embody the higher faculties of soul which we humans possess but which in most modern people are dormant, if not atrophied. Sam’s ‘interest in elves’ indicates that, though of humble origin and uneducated, he is sensitive to these higher possibilities of awareness. It is owing to this divine yearning, as well as to fidelity to Frodo, that Sam becomes the main companion of the Ring-bearer. Applied to the current Australian situation, we may say that one of the most important divisions of human beings is between those who are ‘interested in elves’ and who deserve to be called ‘elf-friend’ (as Gildor calls Frodo) and those who have no belief in or interest in them. Study the attributes that Tolkien gives to his elves. Song is one, and song is a traditional attribute of angels. The power to ward off evil is another – and we all recall the beautiful tradition of the Guardian Angel. Laughter and merriment is a third quality – and this indicates their freedom of soul, freedom from care. They sing to the Moon as sower of the stars in Book I Chapter 3, to sources of light. The superior foodstuffs of the elves, like manna, nectar and ambrosia, represent higher psychic nourishments.
Ordinary human nature will not be sufficient to win the day. That is the message which the presence of the wizards and elves in The Lord of the Rings has for us in the contemporary Australian struggle.
The most arresting human figure in the novel is Aragorn, who is destined to be the new King of Gondor after the defeat of Sauron. Tolkien has here given us a most profound portrait of the royal nature of the True King. Our first glimpse of Aragorn comes in Book I Chapter 9 (‘At the Sign of “The Prancing Pony”’): ‘As soon as his [a village guard] back was turned, a dark figure climbed quickly in over the gate and melted into the shadows of the village street.’ (p 151) One of the key attributes of the genuine monarch is watchfulness: he watches over his kingdom, and he watches for dangers new and old. At this early stage Aragorn is King-in-Exile, an archetypal figure with profound significance: consider Orestes, Arthur, Hamlet, the Old and Young Pretenders, the Prodigal Son, and read The King’s Son (edited by Robert Cecil and published by Octagon Press in the UK in 1981). In a spiritual sense, we are all kings in exile. Notice the dramatic irony in Tolkien’s first presentation of Aragorn. Surely all of us, on first reading, thought that this ‘dark figure’ was one of the Black Riders, or some other sinister person. Good sometimes comes in a form that at first may be easily mistaken for bad.
Tolkien’s description of Strider (the disguised Aragorn) as first seen by Frodo is magnificent. A very great deal of the language carries profound psychological connotations which will be validated by Aragorn’s later behaviour. He is ‘strange-looking’; a true king is always unusual-looking. He is ‘weather-beaten’; he faces and has faced many storms of the soul. ‘Listening intently’ is another example of the royal watchfulness. ‘A tall tankard in front of him’ shows that he can drink deeply of the cup of wisdom. “Smoking a long-stemmed pipe’ indicates that he can relax amid arduous and dangerous times, because of his inner strength and his unselfishness, his lack of attachment. The pipe is ‘curiously carved’, which shows that he appreciates fine arts and crafts. ‘Supple’; he is supple and flexible of character, ‘Dark-green’: green is a colour associated with new life and flourishing conditions. ‘Cloak’: this traditionally conceals knowledge and powers. ‘The gleam of his eyes’ denotes that he is something of a seer, very alive, and that the light of goodness comes from him. ‘Sitting in the shadows’ and ‘overshadowed’: he has humility and does not always seek to put himself forward. He also has prudence and discretion. (p 155)
I recall that on my first reading this figure instantly gripped my attention; and, long before I understood the full importance of Aragorn, I knew that I was in the presence of a profoundly significant person. Frodo’s meeting with Strider is an archetypal event comparable to that of Bilbo’s finding of the Ring. Tolkien’s inspiration burnt at white heat at these moments.
Who is destined to be the King of our own nation, Australia? Who is meant to be the King of our souls? Have we the virtue and the insight to recognise the True King, who may well be disguised when we first sight him? A study of Aragorn’s behaviour in Book V Chapter 8 (‘The House of Healing’) suggests to me that the inner meaning of the tradition that ‘The hands of the king are the hands of a healer’ may be as follows. A distinction must be drawn between those who are kings and queens by institution and inheritance and those who are naturally kings or queens. The soul structure of the True King or True Queen must be of such refined nature that a capacity to bring harmony of soul to others, by psychic rapport as much as by any use of herbs, is an inevitable attribute.
A study of Aragorn will be very beneficial for anyone who believes he is gifted to lead or who seeks to find a true leader. It is Aragorn who makes one of the most dignified pronouncements in the novel, to Eomer at their first meeting: ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them.’ (Book III Chapter 2, p 34). And it is Aragorn who shows the indispensable characteristic of first-class leadership in Book V Chapter 2 when he wrestles control of a palantir from Sauron in one of the most decisive personal actions in the whole novel. The main significance of this is that Aragorn had the inner strength to back his own judgement against the advice even of Gandalf. A true King dos not always accede to even the wisest of advisers; or else he would be a mere puppet. The effect on Aragorn of this immense contest of wills is described on page 44: ‘But Merry had eyes only for Aragorn, so startling was the change that he saw in him, as if in one night many years had fallen on his head. Grim was his face, grey-hued and weary.’ In Chapter 9 (‘The Last Debate’) Aragorn explains why he took this exceptionally bold step: ‘I deemed that the time was ripe, and that the Stone [the palantir] had come to me for just such a purpose. It was then ten days since the Ring-bearer went east from Rauros, and the Eye of Sauron, I thought, should be drawn out from his own land. Too seldom has he been challenged.’ (p 138)
Other topics which deserve research are the celebration of chivalry and high style in the novel; these qualities are intimately linked to a lofty conception of human dignity that is incompatible with socialist levelling and internationalist tyranny. The Lord of the Rings also stresses the importance of blood and heredity: Aragorn is Isildur’s heir and Faramir, the best man after him, is rich in Numenorean blood. The Great Ring of Power which is in fact being wielded in our time is the financial system that causes escalating debt, inflation and servitude. Evil, however, always over-reaches itself, as shown in the novel by Saruman’s foolish hostility towards the trees of Fangorn Forest (which brought down the destructive wrath of the Ents, the tree-shepherds, on his citadel at Isengard), by Sauron’s aggressive response to Aragorn’s challenge and by Gollum’s evil dance of glee on the brink of the Cracks of Fire on Mount Doom after he has bitten off Frodo’s finger with the Ring. (The result is that he falls with the Ring into the fires, thus destroying Sauron, after Frodo has fallen prey to the Ring at the last minute and reneged on his duty.)
There is so much more that could be written about the way in which the novel reflects the current world-struggle. Book VI Chapter 8 (‘The Scouring of the Shire’) is particularly relevant as a primer in how to deal with the lackeys of the tyrants if they have got a foothold in one’s nation. Interesting comparisons can be drawn with Solzhenitsyn’s advice in an early chapter of The Gulag Archipelago, where he discussed how groups of Russian citizens should have banded together with knives and axes from the start and killed the secret police operatives when they made their night swoops. Enough of that, quickly and bravely done, might have frustrated the imposition of the totalitarian strait-jacket.
How did Tolkien come to write such an amazingly prescient work? I suggest that it was partly through his own gifts and wisdom and partly through his devoted copying and adapting of narrative elements in the literatures of the old societies of North-western Europe. Those ancient texts must often have been written by wizards, or by poets who consorted with wizards and wise-women. It is possible that Tolkien created a greater work than even he, as a pious Catholic, understood.
Melbourne, 5th September 1988