Kevin Roger Black - Where the Shadows Lie
"For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory." (III: 157)
The enemies of The Lord of the Rings are what we most remember from reading the workthey are terrifying. Enough that Tolkien thought that the book would be unsuitable for children, and told his publisher so. The imaginative depth invested in the opponents of the West is surely one of the keys to the work's success. The enemies can be split into two groupsthe demonic, fairy-tale monsters that (mainly) pursue Frodo and the Ring, and the more "realistic" monsters and men that actually fight the war against the armies of the West. Looking closely at these groups (and here we murder to dissect), we find that the first is symbolic of the potential for evil that exists in men's hearts, and the second represents the effects of the corruption by that evil: effects that could already be seen in twentieth century Europe.
The first set includes creatures that are specially attuned to the power of the Ring, and attempt to wrest it from the Ringbearer, Frodo. Frodo's Questto journey with the Ring of Power into the Land of Evil, and destroy it in the fires where it was madeafter all strongly suggests an internal battle, in which Frodo, standing in for the human race, must resist the corruptive temptation of using a machinethe Ringto raise war and destruction on the land. The enemies that hunt for the Ring have equal psychic significance. First, there are the nine Ringwraiths, hissing black shadows, remnants of men who were themselves enslaved Rings of Power during the Second Age. Their appearance as they are first seen, riding through the Shire on black horses, obscured by black cloaks and hoods, exactly reflects their nature. They are the incarnation of nightmaresphantoms of the imagination, ghoulish as any Halloween spirit. Instead of pursuing the hobbits systematically, and taking advantage of their numbers, they merely fade in and out of the scene whenever the hobbits feel insecurity or doubt. Appropriately, the Wraiths, also called Nazgûl or Black Riders, rarely do anything physical, but attack the heroes' mindsproducing incapacitating terror in most, and in Frodo an intense temptation to put on the Ring, betraying himself to its power. The "attack" of the riders on Aragorn and the hobbits on Weathertop hill, for instance, involves little actual fighting:
Terror overcame Pippin and Merry, and they threw themselves flat on the ground. Sam shrank to Frodo's side. Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring... he could think of nothing else.... something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. (I: 262)
Frodo gives into the temptation and puts the Ring on his finger, and receives a wound from the Nazgûl's knife. But the wound is really only a brand of his failure to resist temptationthe effect of the wound is a spiritual sickness, not a physical hurt. Had the Nazgûl been a realistic enemy, it could have slain him and taken the Ring instead of merely pricking him on the arm. The Ringwraiths are a literalization of dread, weakness, and incapacitating lack of confidenceterrors that live in the secret hearts of the heroes. In their shadowy physical forms they dare the heroes, and especially the Ringbearer, to master those specters in themselves, or fail in their quest.
The "boss" of the Ringwraiths, and instigator of the crisis in Middle-earth, is, of course, Sauron. As is discussed in chapter three, Sauron never physically appears in the work, and thereby operates almost entirely a symbolfor Evil, denuded, without human conscience or dignity. Since Sauron remains hidden, in his tower, Barad-dûr, the only Evil that is ever seen is reflected in his fallible and corrupt servants. Sauron's emblem, by which he is often referred, is an "Eye": the red Eye, the lidless Eyethe Eye in the Dark Tower that never sleeps, scanning the countryside in search of his lost Ring. Frodo sees the Eye occasionally in his dreams. It also comes to him in his greatest moment of indecision, just before the breaking of the Fellowship, when he must choose between going on with the Ring to Mordor or turning aside to Minas Tirith. At this time he is wearing the Ring, which he put on to escape from his companion Boromir, who tried to seize it from him by force. Alone now with his awesome responsibility, Frodo has climbed up the hill of Amon-Hen, to a stone monument left there by the old Númenoreans. He sits on the chair he finds there "like a lost child that had clambered upon the throne of mountain kings" (I: 518). Using the power of the Ring to scan the countryside, and he "sees" the Eye of the enemy doing exactly the same, ever-vigilant for his moment of weakness. Frodo takes off the Ring just in time to avoid the Eye's gaze, and, shaken, resolves to continue on to Mordor, alone if necessary, to destroy the Ring and the Eye.
The gaze of the Eye is always trained outward, so that anyone who looks into it will find that they, in turn, are being watched: the subject of Evil becomes themselves. Those peering into the mask of Evileven with the intention of defeating itare shaped by the return gaze of the Eye, molded by its malice. Evil is within; to imagine that is has an outside source is a trick, an "optical" illusion, a distraction from the real battle against corruption in ourselves. Hence both Denethor and Gandalf repeat the warning: "against the power that has now arisen there is no victory" (III: 157, 189). They see what their compatriots do not, that any conquest over Sauron on the battlefield will be in vain, because the spirit of the Enemy is inside them, and as they raise their armies to fight Sauron, they come to resemble him more closely. Their righteousness soon falls into vengeance and anger, and their people degenerate into barbarityalready Minas Tirith is little more than a military garrison. Tolkien may have had in mind the failure of the League of Nations after World War I, an organization that was supposed to be the expression of the values for which the war was fought, but collapsed under the weight of retribution and greed, defrauding its own principles and leading to another World War within a generation. Tolkien saw his country falling into the same mistakes in the aftermath of World War II, and probably only the threat of nuclear arsenals prevented conflicts in Korea, the Suez, and Cuba from escalating into World War III a generation later, when The Lord of the Rings was reaching the peak of its popularity. The terror of the Cold War must have made Gandalf's solution to Middle-earth's crisis seem all the more appealing: to defeat the Enemy with pacifism, by destroying the Ring that he would use against them.
Gandalf realizes that the greatest threat to Middle-earth is not the military one, for it is no good for the people to resist an enemy only to find that they have in the process become the enemy themselves. It is appropriate that, during the siege of Minas Tirith, Gandalf's greatest deed is not done in the battle, but within the heart of the city, where he prevents the mad Denethor from killing himself and his heir. Alerted to the jeopardy by Pippin, and coming across the body of a murdered guard, Gandalf cries out:
"Work of the Enemy!" said Gandalf. "Such deeds he loves: friend at war with friend; loyalty divided in confusion of hearts." (III: 154-5).
Gandalf could not have meant that he believes that Sauron was personally involved; rather it is an act that Sauron would approve, because it comes from the inner Enemythe destructive, sometimes self-destructive, impulses that intertwine with the good in human nature.
Thus Sauron and the Ringwraiths, who hunt for Frodo, are not so much realistic beings as embodiments of the shadows of Evil and nightmares that live in the heart. But Frodo, Sam and the Ring are separated from their companions at the end of the first volume, and the symbolic nature of their journey into Mordor is paralleled by the relatively realistic and practical task faced by the other companionsto marshal the nations of the West to combat the coming onslaught of Sauron's armies. In this endeavor they face a different class of enemythat is, real flesh and blood enemies, not fairy-tale monsters. For our purposes, these enemies are the most interesting of all, for they show the way Tolkien believed that evil manifests itself in "real" people. And here are to be found several veiled references to the problems of modernity in Europe.
There are actually two enemies to be considered herethe Orcs, as a class, and Saruman, the traitor Wizard. Orcs are the basic soldiers of the Dark Lord, bred by him as beasts of war. As soldiers, they look and act quite a bit like the caricatures of German soldiers that could be found in Allied war propagandastupid, inhuman, ferocious, and immoral beasts. They come in many different tribes and types, but in general they are short, squat, and fierce, with long fangs and short tempers, and they would just as soon kill each other as do anything else. The orcs supply the trilogy with an enemy that is ferocious and unambiguously wicked, in plentiful numbers, which is a great convenience. But Tolkien does not use the orcs carelessly, as we shall see; in fact, their sheer numbers become their most ingenious and horrifying characteristic.
The orcish hordes are brutishly ignorant of the reasons or motives for the war they are fighting, and their resignation, combined with their confusion over ambiguous and contradictory orders, puts them in the pitiable plight of modern soldiers, like those English soldiers romanticized (with irony) by Tennyson in "The Charge of the Light Brigade":
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
The orcs, mercifully, have temperaments that match their work, but in them we nevertheless see the degradation of modern warfare. The first battle the orcs fight, the battle of Helm's Deep, presents a stark contrast between two styles of portraying war: a heroic battle romance, on one side, and the nightmarish reality of modern mass warfare on the other. The fighting of the forces of the West celebrates individual heroismwe always know who is the first to spot each breach in the defense, and marshal the troops to the response. There are men leading charges on white horses and living to tell about it, and there is the memorable contest between Gimli and Legolas to see which of them can slay more of the orcs, won by Gimli with a score of 41-42. None of the great heroes on the front line are killed: this is the safe and grand style of battles from the epic tradition that used to make young boys yearn to go off to war themselves to share in the imagined glory. Tolkien knew what he was doing here, for he studied old great battle romances such as "The Battle of Maldon" and "The Battle of Brunanburh," and himself enlisted with the hordes of other young men at the start of World War I. But fighting in the trenches taught him the difference between fictional war and the impersonal reality of mass slaughter, the true story of modern warfare. The Orcs fight in the latter tradition: their masses swarm forward like "a great field of dark corn" and they die in unacknowledged and anonymous droves: slow to react, mindless, and persistent. They gain the advantage through sheer bloody-mindedness and vast loss of life:
They wavered, broke, and fled back; and then charged again, broke and charged again; and each time, like the incoming sea, they halted at a higher point. (II: 175)
The soldiers on the front lines are unnamed, killed and replaced, and there is no honor accorded to the living or the dead.
The orcs, in their ignorant masses, resemble a (slight) exaggeration of a negative stereotype of the working class: Marx's famous proletariat, that sent so many of its members off to war. The orcs speak a debased, jocular English which is a stylized form of Cockneythey even refer to each other as "lads" and use the exclamation "Garn!" Like the image of downtrodden workers, they are exploited, low-paid (in horse-flesh), uneducated, angry, and rebellious. And they continue to breed in huge numbers, as Frodo sees from his vantage atop Amon-Hen: "The Misty Mountains were crawling like anthills: orcs were issuing out of a thousand holes" (I: 518). I do not mean to suggest that, like orcs or termites, Tolkien thought that the English poor were an unredeemable scourge, ripe for extermination. But, in their masses, the orcs lead a grim, anonymous, and inescapable existence that compares to the worst stories told about English laborers. Their great "spawning," orchestrated by Sauron, is described in factory-like terms of the mass production of war machinery. And the description of the great siege engine that they bring to the attack on Minas Tirith tips Tolkien's hand:
Great engines crawled across the field; and in the midst was a huge ram, great as a forest-tree a hundred feet in length, swinging on mighty chains.... Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain-trolls.... Grond crawled on... now and again some great beast that hauled it would go mad and spread stamping ruin among the orcs innumerable that guarded it, their bodies were cast aside from its path and other took their places. (III: 124)
Grond is a massive machine, and orcs swarm around it to keep it running, making it almost seem alive. But though it depends on orc labor to operate, the orcs are considered to be the most expendable parts of the mechanism, and are wasted and replaced without any consideration. The good of the machine is held as all-important, and the value of life is completely degraded in comparison. This is the great terror of the Industrial Agelabor has become increasingly unspecialized, replaceable, and distanced from management, which ensures that wages stay low and profits high. Consequently, labor grows to be dehumanized and alienated like the orcs, to the detriment of societal order and content. Tolkien certainly thought that it was wrong to value a machine higher than a living creature, even an orc, and this perversion of value is characteristic of the most devilish works ascribed to the Enemy.
Turning towards Isengard, the headquarters of Saruman, we find that it has been converted into a kind of factory in service of Saruman's ambition for the Ring, to its great detriment. Though it was once beautiful, "no green things grew there in the latter days of Saruman:"
The plain... was bored and delved. Shafts were driven deep into the ground, their upper ends were covered by low mounds and domes of stone, so that in the moonlight the Ring of Isengard looked like a graveyard of unquiet dead. For the ground trembled. The shafts ran down by many slopes and spiral stairs to caverns far under; there Saruman had treasuries, store-houses, armouries, smithies, and great furnaces. Iron wheels revolved there endlessly, and hammers thudded. At night plumes of vapor steamed from the vents, lit from below with red light.... (II: 204)
"Graveyard of unquiet dead... plumes of vapor... red light"Tolkien describes the factory as it might be seen by someone who didn't understand its function, and divorced from the propaganda of production, it is shown to be a horror, purposely incongruous in its fantasy-world setting. Elsewhere it is said of Saruman that "He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment" (II: 96). He follows the principles of capitalism without conscience: to give his armies an advantage he has even manufactured explosives and begun cross-breeding men and orcs. In the story, nature has its revenge: the Ents and Hurons of Fangorn Forest, living and walking trees, rise up against Saruman to take revenge for the chopping of the trees, by wrecking the walls of Isengard and rechanneling a river through its gates, to quench the fires in the underground furnaces, and halt the iron wheels forever.
Of course, in real-life nature does not have this option, and Tolkien thought its wanton destruction was folly. The history of the world is in the forests, which have the strength of the "bones of the earth"Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents in Middle-earth, can remember the coming of the elves in the first days. Tolkien elsewhere lamented the world's hostility to its trees, and its senselessness:
[A poplar tree] was suddenly lopped and mutilated by its owner, I do not know why. It is cut down now, a less barbarous punishment for any crimes it may have been accused of, such as being large and alive. I do not think it had any friends, or any mourners, except myself and a pair of owls. (T&L: 6)
Tolkien saw a spiritual dimension in the appreciation of nature, as can be seen in his allegorical short story, "Leaf By Niggle," in which a painter, Niggle, trapped in purgatory, expiates his sins and escapes to Heaven through the creation of an imaginary forest. Tolkien, though a medievalist, would have taken these lines from Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" very much to heart:
Therefore I am still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being. (102-111)
This fragment stresses the interaction of nature and sense to "half create" the mighty world, in which nature inspires the mind with new thoughtsthe seed of sub-creation and makings of Fantasythat anchor the heart and the soul. Saruman's factory is not consonant with the spirit of nature, and goes so far as to require the clearing of trees for its sustenance. Hence it is a corruption, an expression and imitation of Shadow:
Saruman... [was] deceivedfor all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength. (II: 204)
The tranquility, reverence, and humility gleaned from the appreciation of nature by a sensitive soul is a bulwark against Mordor and the Enemy. The destruction of nature is the fulfillment of the curse Marx proclaimed for modernity: "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned." With the greedy depletion of natural resources, Tolkien saw the balance in men's hearts shifting inevitably closer to Evil.
Another dangerous attribute of Saruman is the intoxicating sweetness of his voice, which survives the destruction of his army and the breaking of his magic staff. It is possible to read this as a reflection of the dangerous charisma of world leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini, who led many down the path of Evil with their rhetorical skill. But that would be to ignore Tolkien's warning and confuse applicability for allegory. The music of Saruman's voice simply mirrors the allure of the temptation to which he succumbed. As Elrond said, "nothing is evil in the beginning," and, even as Saruman surrounded himself with Orcs and fire, he clung to the thought that his vision for Middle-earth's future was the correct one, that he was embracing the inevitable, and that his efforts would make the world better. Similar things have been said of laissez-faire capitalism. Tolkien regarded that logic as easy and empty: a sign that Saruman had relaxed his vigilance and blinded his imagination to the monstrosity of his actions. He would have asked all who follow the footsteps of Saruman to remember Aragorn's words: "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."