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On the moral simplicity of the LOTR


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I know this has been discussed elsewhere, but I dont post in the insecure forums and I dont know how crazy their censorship rules are. Their lore-monkeys seemed to be missing the point.

My post refers to this article.

Assuming little censorship here, I would say that in the case of Lord of the Rings, the level of moral simplicity is appropriate to the war that Tolkien is describing. He is not describing a Vietnam-style war where there were a variety of opinions of the war inside the U.S., but rather the far rarer type of war against an aggressive tyrant out to subjugate all opposition. Take the case of the German dictator of 1945; the overwhelming majority of Americans today may welcome his passing, a minority may regret it but I would be amazed if there are any who are ambivalent about it, including Gopnik.

Although World War II was an unusual war, it is an extremely important one in that it marks the beginning of a new technological age: the age of the bomb. Its aftermath also marks the first real attempt (with the founding of the United Nations) to restrain the aggressive imperialism that had blighted humanity since it started to turn from hunter-gathering to farming and occupation of the land. Thus far it has been partially successful (no nuclear war as yet). There are echoes of all this in the Lord of the Rings.

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Tolkien's work does have, as you say, a moral simplicity, but I think it is through this perceived simplicity that we the reader can be more "engaged" in the story and see what the characters faced. And in fact, their choices were anything but simple. I think Tolkien did a very skillful job in writing a story that incorporates real life: uncertainty, challenge, growth, hope, and many others. Like any good analogy (not allegory), there is a simplicity to it that belies its true depth, this helping anyone to "see" the/a meaning and apply it to their own experience, which is in fact very complicated! Thus , in the case of LotR, the story can have a very powerful meaning for a reader, but perhaps a different meaning for each reader. (Whether this be a total immersion in another world, fantasy & imagination, or application to real life.. doesn't matter) This why the books are so cool! (and movies too ;) )

Given the inherent applicability of Tolkien's writings, it is possible to draw corollaries to almost endless real-life events. Power seeking to control or influence others without their consent...nothing new here. Despite many Tokien "experts" I have heard that say that WWI and the impending WWII heavily influenced his work and that he undoubtedly was making a connection... While his experience certainly had impact on him, I think it's grasping at straws and missing the point. And most significantly JRR himself makes it very clear that any such "..meaning or 'message' has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical." (ref. Forward to the Second Edition)

For me the most profound echos of Lord of the Rings are in one's own journey in life, but there are connections in society as well, most definitely. But tying it in to WWII - my personal opinion is not at all. WWII had much complexity and darkness to it, hardly an simple "good vs evil" (though I used to think so) based on the more I have studied and visited. The war of the ring brought peace in it's victory, but I would say sadly that firstly WWII did not brought us peace.

I know this last paragraph could be touchy, so I'll certainly say this is just my two cents. :Y)

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Tolkien's work does have, as you say, a moral simplicity

Personally, I find that Tolkien's work on LOTR is pitched just right given the evil (in my view) nature of the enemy that the Free Peoples were fighting at the time of the War of the Ring. I think that any perceived moral simplicity in LOTR is appropriate.

This should be compared with some of the conflicts in the Silmarillion, for instance caused by the moral stance of the Sons of Feanor. Also in the Appendices to the LOTR, mention is made of Gondorian Civil Wars prior to the War of the Ring.

Thus , in the case of LotR, the story can have a very powerful meaning for a reader, but perhaps a different meaning for each reader.

I agree but authors are not stopped from exploring more than one theme in a book. 'Experts' have pointed out the following possibilities (of which I am sure you are aware :') ):

  • The LOTR is in part a mythic prehistory of Europe
  • The LOTR is in part a commentary on the horrors of industrialisation (particulary industrialised warfare)
  • The LOTR is in part a religious parable

Just because a reader agrees with only one of these themes (or a different one), it does not mean that the author did not intend to suggest other meanings.

Furthermore I was not implying that the War of the Ring is an allegory for any modern war. I was stating that there is a historical example for the attitude taken by Tolkien.

The war of the ring brought peace in it's victory

Unfortunately the Appendices indicate that that was not the case for the Free Peoples (Appendix A of the LOTR):

And wherever King Elessar went with war King Eomer went with him;
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I agree but authors are not stopped from exploring more than one theme in a book. 'Experts' have pointed out the following possibilities (of which I am sure you are aware :') ):

  • The LOTR is in part a mythic prehistory of Europe
  • The LOTR is in part a commentary on the horrors of industrialisation (particulary industrialised warfare)
  • The LOTR is in part a religious parable

Just because a reader agrees with only one of these themes (or a different one), it does not mean that the author did not intend to suggest other meanings.

I certainly agree. A reader may find or agree with one or many meanings and these may or may not be the same as the authors when he wrote it. Authors may intend one thing, readers may see that or something else entirely. Neither can be said to be wrong.

I do however find it amusing how the "experts" talk about "oh, he must certainly have meant this." or "There is no doubt that he connected it to this.." I've heard many, including the list you have there. Yet, not my opinion but in Tokien's own words, he says that these "meanings" suggested by others were not what he intended. Doesn't mean they don't have validity, but still.

So it's this "standardized" or accepted meanings debate that I think is a little misplaced. The experts thinking they know what he really meant, even we he himself says, no, that's not what I meant. It can all worthwhile and interesting discussion, don't get me wrong, but at some point it does seem to be grasping at straws to be focusing on what he meant vs what meaning we feel from it.

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Its aftermath also marks the first real attempt (with the founding of the United Nations) to restrain the aggressive imperialism that had blighted humanity since it started to turn from hunter-gathering to farming and occupation of the land.

I have to completely disagree with this. You ignore, or are ignorant of, the League of Nations, and the post WWI Naval treaties (the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922 & the London Naval Treaty of 1930) that attempted to do just that (capital ships being the most powerful & visible weapons of the day). That they were flawed and, ultimately, failed in the 1930's in the face of rampant nationalism and Axis aggression is beside the point. They existed. They were very real. Indeed, the UN itself inherited a number of agencies and organizations founded by the League.

As for LOTR itself, I have said often enough on the the CM forums (I don't post on Turbine forums) that a key thing to remember with the material available is that JRR was acting as a storyteller, not a historian. There was a particularly egregious idiot on the CM forum for whom The Book was The Bible. Nothing in it could be wrong; nothing in it could be contradicted, and he would go to extraordinary lengths rather than accept any correction, or himself admit to any error.

But, if you doubt me, look at what Tolkien doesn't tell you about. He doesn't, for example, give you any blow-by-blow detail of individual combat, and little more than an overview of battles. Rather than trying to describe the mechanics of things he doesn't very well understand & isn't interested in, he's rightly trying to sweep you up in the story and in the characters. There are a number of pulp fantsy authors in the 60's & 70's who make the error of doing the opposite, describing sword fights in sport fencing terms which, believe you me, is nonsense. And then there's the utterly woeful latest Turbine Epic book and the ludicrous so-called assault on Isengard. By cavalry! :?:F

So yes, moral simplicity; black & white; make it stark, and of course, since "history" is written by the winners, Sauron is utterly evil, because the storyteller is one of the "good" guys. It's not the only way you can tell a story, but it is a very good way of doing it (vice Star Wars - America vs. the USSR in space... ;)).

You can though, if you've some background, read between the lines somewhat and have a more balanced view of the world. Turbine don't do this a great deal; in fairness, the licence may not allow them to. I was rather disappointed with the opening Trum Dreng quest - where was the option to join the bandits, leave the silly cow to her fate, and explore a different storyline? It may be that there is a built in agreement that the Freeps have to be good guys, though. The amount of black & white back-story does actually constrict creativity to some degree, never mind if the Saul Zaentz lot actually have any say in the matter.

And, as Haim subtly acknowledges, there is no intention to reflect upon the real world conflicts that the Professor knew only too much about. He was flatly adamant that LOTR held no shred of allegory so, I think, reading into it comparisons with WWI, WWII, or Korea (Vietnam is certainly too late to signify) is a purely personal exercise not borne out by any evidence.

And the truth is that most actual mythologies and epics and sacred books are dull. Nothing is more wearying, for readers whose tastes have been formed by the realist novel, than the Elder Edda.

That, I am afraid, says more about the smug modern bias of the author than about the Eddas, or any other older tales, as does his comment at the end, "One might mock — one does mock — the mastery of what is, after all, mere mock history." I can only respond that those who can do; those who can't... go into journalism or become critics! ;) An interesting discussion here; I don't think all that much of the original article, notwithstanding the fact that I know nothing of the Eragon or Twilight series.

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You ignore, or are ignorant of, the League of Nations

I called the U.N. a real attempt at peace because it has (till now) been a partial success rather than the complete failure that the League was. This may well be because the U.S. joined the U.N. unlike the League. Perhaps history would have been different if Wilson had had his way.

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Again, I cannot agree. You can only describe the League of Nations "a complete failure" if you take the extremely narrow view that its sole purpose was to prevent another world war. Quite apart from any other successes, if there had been no LoN, would there have been even a partially successful UN? Or would the UN instead have "completely failed" as you say the LoN did? Probably with more serious consequences, given that nukes were around by then...

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I think any organization that allows tyrants and dictators to sway the discussion and it's public statements of policy has lost any shred of respect it may have ever had, and certainly has no more moral ground than a wolf does over the sheep.

and Raedwulf, there is no 'g' in whine. I can't stand lookin' at it anymore. ;p sorry.

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I called the U.N. a real attempt at peace because it has (till now) been a partial success..

Oh man, I'm probably starting something, lol, but I strongly disagree on this point. This is personal opinion, but I would question it as a true attempt at peace (though some involved believed it.) Regardless of the opinion, the U.N. has proved to be a failure, has caused far more harm, injury, disruption, and loss of life than it has done good - from everything I have seen, studied, and learned. I wouldn't call that a success in any sense of the term.

However, how one defines success is a factor. If success means dictators exerting their will on the people, causing harm and loss of freedoms and life, for desired agendas and mutual gain and secret agreements between dictators.. then in that case the U.N. has been a success.

I think any organization that allows tyrants and dictators to sway the discussion and it's public statements of policy has lost any shred of respect it may have ever had, and certainly has no more moral ground than a wolf does over the sheep.

Totally agree with Jacka on this.

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I think any organization that allows tyrants and dictators to sway the discussion and it's public statements of policy has lost any shred of respect it may have ever had, and certainly has no more moral ground than a wolf does over the sheep.

The world is changed. Countries do their best to remain non-active participants in countries where injustice is found. The entire world learned an important example with the US trying to be the "world police" in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are important staging grounds for its remaining enemies in the Middle East (Iran and Pakistan). The popular opinion of such an action within the country is largely negative, even if the people in the warring country were asking for assistance or not (such as was the case with Libya).

Countries are simply not prepared or interested in trying to tempt fate at a third world war. The people in power, currently, are either people who grew up in such an environment or lived through it, and they have not lightly forgotten it. How does one make Iran or North Korea step down from their violent dictatorships if not through a show of force, which would result in a war? And even then, if it is won, the win is by a foreign influence without a rebellious leadership, which leads to another Iraq situation where the country is slowly wittled down by the loyalists (or worse--people simply trying to establish their self as the new warlord). Africa, a country torn apart by war and injustice by the Lord's Resistance Army, continues to go unnoticed.

Instead we have a group of nations calling each others "allies" who simply get together every now and then to wag fingers as warring parties--a group of nations that cannot solve conflicts that have been going on for 60+ years, like Israel and its neighbors. What good are you, as a group, if you claim that you are trying to bring peace and stability to the world if you're just going to wag your finger at the people who aren't following the example?

Anyway, sorry to go off on a different tangent. The point is, we all know how peace will be won. A peaceful solution will only be found when those who believe it to be a weakness are removed from power.

and Raedwulf, there is no 'g' in whine. I can't stand lookin' at it anymore. ;p sorry.

Actually, 'whinge' is a word. Funnily enough, it practically means the exact same thing as 'whine'.

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(...)How does one make Iran or North Korea step down from their violent dictatorships if not through a show of force, which would result in a war? (...)

As an Iranian this question seems to me quite sarcastic.

Especially if you consider that the so called civilized western nations destroyed actively the iranian democracy and replaced it by a dictatorship.

But lets turn the time back to WW1. Iran, which was called Persia by the western nations in these times, declared its neutrality when WW1 occured.

This neutrality was ignored by both sides, so in the northern part of Iran ottoman-turkish and imperial russian troops were fighting each other.

After WW1 the iranian Kadjar dynasty was overthrown by the Pahlavi-dynasty.

In WW2 Iran again declared its neutrality. The iranian Shah, Shah Reza Khan, was a friend of the German Reich, but not allied with axis powers.

The allied powers wanted Iran to expel all germans out of Iran and become part of the allied nations in the War. Mainly because of the land-route to support the USSR and also because of the iranian oil ressources.

Iran refused and was attacked by the so called "good" allies. It was occupied, its Shah was deposed and died in South Africa and iran was forced to join the Allies. During the occupation thousands of iranians were killed by soviet and british occupation forces.

So its no wonder that there is no sympathy for these two nations in Iran.

After WW2 Iran turned to the USA. This "new player" was fascinating for many iranians.

In the 50ties then one great iranian came to power: His name was Dr. Mossadegh and he was the prime minister of Iran. He deposed the Shah and sent him in an unbloody revolution to exile to Italy.

Mossadegh was from the Kadjar-bloodline, but instead of declaring him a new Shah or dictator he wanted to change Iran to democracy.

Then he cancelled the oil contracts with the UK.

The british influenced the USA by telling horror stories and lies - like that Mossadegh was a communist and wanted an alliance with the USSR. That was nonsense.

But finally the CIA and the UK-secret service performed the "Operation Ajax". Mossadegh was deposed and the Shah reinstalled.

To repeat this: the democratic leader of Iran, who wanted to continue the democracy process in Iran was deposed by the democratic western nations of USA and UK and a dictator was reinstalled.

To ensure that the Shah could not deposed again, the imperial secret police of Iran, the SAVAK, was changed to a mighty suppressing instrument. Like the Nazi Gestapo the SAVAK killed and torturd for the next decades thousands of iranians.

The iranian people were so frustrated about these developments that they just wanted to depose the Shah.

Finally the bloody islamic revolution happened. And the mullah pack around Khomeini took their chance. They have been the best organized group and took the power and Iran was since then in a new dictatorship, even worse than during the Shah-reign.

So again: When today western politicians demand the iranians to change their country to democracy it is like a blow in the face (I hope that there is a similiar english expression. If not please consider that English is the 3rd language I learned).

Iran (unlike germany which was forced to democracy after WW1 or WW2) was in 50ties on the right path to change to a democratic country.

Then we would have had three non-arab democracies in the Middle East: Israel, Iran and Turkey and a much more stable situation than today.

Also it is quite funny (sarcastic) that Iran is blamed for so many crimes while the ally Saudi-arabia is ignored.

But if you check Saudi-Arabia you will find out that this country has a very similia dictatorship. There are much more archaic and religious motivated rules in SA than in Iran.

Saudi Arabia supports terrorists like Talibans and Al Kaida, they even have much worse women rights than Iran. The women in SA are even not allowed to driv a car.

Dont misunderstand me: I dont want to defend the crimes in Iran but I want to raise the question why no one seems to be disturbed by the crimes in Saudi Arabia. When the syrian Assad butchered the democrats with his tanks we got many pictures and films but when Saudi arabian tanks did the same to the democrats of Bahrein no one cared.

But this is the reality. It is not important, if you are a bloody dictator or not. Its only important if you are the bloody dictator who is allied to the West or not.

Remember that even Saddam was once the ally of the West and when he used poison gas against Iran and even his own people the UN-resoultion was blocked by the Veto of the USA.

And these are things which are not forgotten by iranians who are trying to find a way to depose the mullah-regime. There is simply no trust in the western nations because of their actions in the past.

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I think you may be unclear about my intentions. I'm not trying to use a broad brush to paint strokes of "Iran is evil". Just that it's part of the UN, its signed the NPT, and it's developing nuclear weaponry. I mean, at least India, Pakistan, and Israel are upfront about their intentions. Iran, on the other hand, has been drumming up attention by issuing threats to its numerous would-be enemies, saying they would use said WMDs. I'm not saying the UN should throw up its "Occupy Iran" signs, but they could do a little more than just finger-wagging. God knows foreign influences are doing their best to do exactly that through illegal means. I would rather have it done legally and with the whole world watching.

I am also fully aware of the US's past, present, and future mistakes. You didn't even mention the worst of it between the US and Iran--Iran AIr Flight 655, for starters. Although I suppose it's like watching two children who keep hitting each other. When asked why one hit the other, the other responds with, "Well, he started it!" The only reason why Iran catches a lot more flak for it than the US is because Iran has a Holocaust-denying madman for a leader who persecutes his own people for their religious and social beliefs. The only reason the US tolerates the exact same issues in Saudi Arabia and Egypt is because both those countries have something the US needs (not wants, but "needs"). And since Saudi Arabia also considers itself mortal enemies with Iran, then I think we can see where this is going (hopefully it doesn't).

Also, people are not their governments. I know quite a few Iranians, I've seen some nice things happening in regards to art in the country, and I'm looking forward to the day when its people gain control of their country again.

Anyway, I think we've thoroughly gone off topic now...

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Probably because no-one ever asked for one before. ;) Incidentally, how did we go off-topic, cos I'm not entirely sure what the topic was... But I suspect it might have been me commetning on "first real peace attempt"! :D (And Doro, if the original one had have been, they might have been more effective...)

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I agree Ag, lasting political change does not come from outside a nations borders. Short term brutal repression to be sure, but long term positive change can only be realized when the people living there decide they've had enough shyte and do something about it. Until then, what anyone says is pointless tongue waving for the cameras. I don't think people in those situations should be given aid unless they've proven they are willing to take the fight on themselves, and risk their own lives. At least they will show that they know what freedom means and what it's worth to them and no one is needlessly wasting lives for nothing.

That's usually how the current regimes get the people inflamed against the 'saviors' from outside, by painting them as aggressors who are to blame for all the social ills they suffer and claiming they want to take away what is theirs. (Although when it comes to oil, that's usually the case, the US wants it obviously, if there had been no oil in Iran or Iraq, there would have been no war). No one fights harder than someone protecting their home from an invader. Simple psychology. Add to that that they are usually indoctrinated quite thoroughly with the current hatred of the day internally. The only way most dictatorships remain in power is through outside help in the case of the US and other countries, and by playing groups off against each other internally. Keep them wearing themselves out on the cape and never reaching the bull.

And I can't believe whinge is a word. I had to look it up. Looks like British origin. Must be another word that has been Americanized into whine. Although, pronouncing the j at the end just sounds wrong to me. Not only that, but whine sounds annoying and just like the noise made by crybabies that are whining. Whinge sounds nothing like that. I'll take whine as a descriptive word over whinge any day. Personal preference. But you go ahead and do it your way Raedwulf.

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Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony...

I so wanted to throw "Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" at Sap in a PM, when they decided to put me on Mute, but I didn't think he deserved the chuckle.

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(Although when it comes to oil, that's usually the case, the US wants it obviously, if there had been no oil in Iran or Iraq, there would have been no war).

Another statement I cannot agree with. Korea. Vietnam. No oil in either of those. I will agree that as far as Iraq goes, security of oil supply (not necessarily from Iraq / Kuwait themselves; uncertainty over oil drives up global prices, wherever you actually buy it from) was a factor, but how much of one is another matter.

It was a factor; it might have been a major factor; I don't think it was the major factor, which is how a lot of people portray it ("Iraq was all about oil..."). I sometimes wonder if people have forgotten there were two Gulf Wars. The first was about the invasion / liberation of Kuwait. Twenty years ago is a very long time ago for some of you guys, I guess... ;)

As for Iran, I don't think that's got anything to do with oil. As with Korea & Vietnam, this is a clash of ideologies.

And I can't believe whinge is a word. I had to look it up. Looks like British origin. Must be another word that has been Americanized into whine. Although, pronouncing the j at the end just sounds wrong to me. Not only that, but whine sounds annoying and just like the noise made by crybabies that are whining. Whinge sounds nothing like that. I'll take whine as a descriptive word over whinge any day. Personal preference. But you go ahead and do it your way Raedwulf.

As a matter of fact I nearly said before that, to me, whine is pretty much as you describe it, whereas whinge is more like grumble. Although you'll find them given as synonyms for each other, those are the contexts in which I would tend to use them, rather than as direct replacements for each other. As for origin, no, there's no Americanisation, although most dikkers will tell that whinge is "chiefly British" or "Brit. informal". They stem from related OEng / OGmc words which, I think, may be related to wind (in the sense of gale, rather than clockwork toy).

Who says you don't learn anything playing games, eh? ;)

I so wanted to throw "Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" at Sap in a PM, when they decided to put me on Mute, but I didn't think he deserved the chuckle.

More to the point, I'm not sure he'd have taken it as a joke...

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