The Shire and Mordor
May 26, 2018
Tolkien’s home of the Hobbits is The Shire – and even the name, The Shire, brings to any Briton’s recollection those ‘shires’ in England in particular, where Tolkien lived out a lot of his long life. Edward Thomas, a contemporary of Tolkien’s and a poet wrote a famous short poem named ‘Adlestrop’ which celebrates so remarkably the sort of tummy tingles a Briton feels when, far from home, s/he is reminded in some way of “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”: (see: William Blake: “Jerusalem”). Here is “Adelstrop” in full. It may mean little to readers unfamiliar with an atmosphere peculiar to a sleepy, basking in sunlight rural Britain towards the close of WW1; but in the hope something just might convey, here it is:
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Source: _ _Poems (1917)
Edward Thomas was I think dead when the poem was first published. He was a British soldier in the infamous and dreadful trenches of WW1, whereabouts he was killed shortly after he enlisted and had been posted to the Front. Perhaps it was, for him, for the best; since this war sent home perhaps many millions to Germany and to the Allied lands also, people who were now severely damaged goods So many soldiers who came home and were demobbed in 1918 and again in 1945, suffered terribly for the remainder of their lives from what we would now call PTSD; what was known in those days as ‘Shellshock’.
But nonetheless I do think there is that flavour of idyll strongly present in the poem “Adlestrop” – Adlestrop being a small village on a railway line and a stop for a train which in this poem, on this occasion, picks up and sets down no passengers.
And the final line of the poem; so evocative for Brits again; celebrates masterfully simply the glories of sleepy, quiet and plain ‘shires’ as they seemed so beautifully and serene in Britain at that time.
Thus for the purposes of this paper on Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings (LOTR) I am going to claim with some justice that I think that The Shire of Bilbo and of Frodo is at least interpretable in many of its aspects as being an idealised version of an England rural and peaceful, and far away from the carnage and destruction of war in France and Belgium. And since Tolkien lived through both world wars, and since both world wars took vast tolls of life in France and Belgium, both world wars apply in this respect of comparison.
Such a comparison invites Mordor, Saramand, Sauron, and all their crews and territories to be compared to the War Fronts where the bloody battles raged and death stalked and destruction reigned for so many years.
I do not want to pin on the Germans any fact of inherent evil being in them – any more than it is likely to be found in anyone not German - by making this suggestion. Like the ordinary Tommies, Fritz and Hans had no choice but to go when called to fight the wars.
Clearly though, and I am going to make this case stronger, the fact of darkness and ill-will and horror and violence and love of power and of instilling fear; all these are associated in LOTR with war and with dark threats of violence and with conquest for the sake of dominion and subjugation. Mordor and its assets were not the home and property in any way of misguided decent folk.
I want to go further. I want to say also that war is associated with industrialised production by Tolkien; and that for Tolkien industrialised production was part and parcel of the evil dweling in Mordor and living in Sauron and all his cohorts. The Shire then, inviting comparisons again, as being a rural idyll, appears to be representing via the toleration, easy-goingness, sociability, peace, friendliness, and that leisured but ethical approach to life of The Hobbits, this The Shire itself is without doubt leaning on the side of Goodness and that these traits found in Hobbits are the fruits and expressions of their leaning towards Goodness.
The lack of industrialisation in The Shire is then a positive virtue; I would say a symbol of and indicator of Goodness; whereas, and on the other hand, the preponderance of activity on industrial lines at work in Mordor denotes its evil and the evil of its occupants, their motives and ethos also being evil. Thus without doubt this industrialised aspect of Mordor is also a symbol of and indicator that evil lives there.
Saramand is the wizard who owns to the appellation ‘the wise’, which epithet is a double-edge appellation, were one to consider the Biblical attribution to his Father by Jesus that God’s wisdom ‘is the folly of men’ and conversely that man’s wisdom is ‘folly in the eyes of God’. Saramand is described by Gandalf the wizard, who is his peer and so his equal in standing, as having “a mind made of metal and wheels”. The industrial aspect of this description is apparent.
Saramand is a turncoat; he having transferred his allegiance to the darker side, to Sauron; he having once aligned with Gandalf, and with the types of various peoples who form the alliance to defend themselves against Sauron’s predations. Saramand’s mind ‘of metal and wheels’ has been attracted by way of its sympathies with a desire to aggregate power at the expense of (his own and others’) ‘common humanity’.
Saramand it is who orders the Orcs to cut down the trees en masse so as for their timber to feed the furnaces by which, again, the Orcs work forging weapons and armaments. (The Orcs themselves have been ‘mined’ out of the soils of Mordor – another industrial process; and they are mined for the purposes of serving as heavy labourers and as fighting soldiers. Let us look here at Charles Dickens writing about the persons who were used industrially as labourers in the generation before Tolkien’s birth, and he is describing the squalor of their lives, lives deprived utterly of that meaningful and joyous life which The Lord Jesus promises to us ‘in abundance’:
“Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets, which had come into existence piecemeal, every piece in a violent hurry for some one man’s purpose, and the whole an unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death; in the last close nook of this great exhausted receiver, where the chimneys, for want of air to make a draught, were built in an immense variety of stunted and crooked shapes, as though every house put out a sign of the kind of people who might be expected to be born in it; among the multitude of Coketown, generically called ‘the Hands,’—a race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs…”
This ‘underworld’ this ‘detritus’ of urban dwellers living in and off industrial society, and them being crushed to twisted subhuman shapes by its depredations upon their Biblical birthrights by which they were made ‘in the Image of God’, cannot help but, when we take away that pity we feel for these labourers, remind us of the grimness of the life of the brutal Orcs, and of how these Orcs similarly are ‘dwellers among darkness”.
The Orcs too are mere ‘hands and stomachs’ in so far as they resemble human beings who live in the light at all; fighting machines, cut out, mined, alive and whole and adult, from the earths of the badlands, for only the utilitarian purposes of war and violence, and to do evil.
Even the Shire, at the close of LOTR is subject to Saramand’s industrial depredations. He arrives there, in disguise now as ‘Sharkey’, and with a band of brigands whom he has ‘picked up’ along the way of his journey; and once there he begins felling timber again en masse so as to build for industrial production in The Shire a spread of ‘dark Satanic mills’ (William Blake: “Jerusalem”). Literally, Sharkey, Saramand, builds mills; he is an entrepreneur who has come to an idyllic part of the world, and who plans to ‘exploit it’ and in the way of ‘exploitation’ he is happy to destroy all that it stands for; all that it means; all that it is. This means the death of its idyllic presence and lifestyle, as a refuge, a place where goodness is allowed half a chance to thrive. The Shire, this place which embodies peace, toleration, kindliness, consideration, warmth, easy-goingness, and in all; goodness in the form of many civic and social virtues; is mapped out by Saramand, Sharkey, ‘for development’.
But just as the trees are felled and the forests go under the axe in LOTR, they do the same likewise in our daily lives even today in Brazil, in Indonesia, in Africa. I myself have seen in my life and in my personal experience many whole species of beautiful woods ransacked for furniture-making and bought by everyday people in the richer nations; so that nowadays these woods cannot be got, at any price, and especially not for use in furniture; except of course by the very privileged.
Just as the dam bars the flow of the river in LOTR; and just as this dam is breached by Treebeard, the Ent so as to become his weapon, and used in fury against Saramand and his allies, this because of the massacre of his brothers, the forests, by the labourer Orcs; in the precise same way becomes relevant here our global jamboree with plastics. Take a look on Google Images at ‘Ocean Islands of Plastics’; square miles of it afloat in the Caribbean, and off Japan. Microscopic grains of plastics are being said to have infused most of the world’s oceans. Just as the dam in LOTR on the river being breached by Treebeard allows the river to find again its natural course, and in passing, to flood Saramand’s city of Isengard; likewise our ocean waters will, again in passing, find a route by which our water supplies for our human use, drinking, crop raising, cleaning up after ourselves and so on; will become endangered, polluted, unusable.
Were such a disaster not to be accomplished by micro-plastics, unless we desist and pull ourselves up with a halt, a jerk, and take a shake up and a shakedown, it will occur in due course by other means. The reason I am able to predict this assuredly (and other disasters) is simply that nature will not be subdued and ravaged without nature eventually taking an equal toll upon its ravagers. And in the way of doing so nature will wipe away from the earth a million, million ‘innocent’ others – species, fauna, flora, soils, climates, and so on. For we people it will be a case of ‘As ye sow; so shall ye reap.”
Treebeard himself and his fellow Ents, they are slow to move, extremely slow, like nature herself is, but their impact upon the Mordor depredators of their brethren forests, the Orcs, Saramand, Sauron, and their sanguine plans; is equally devastating as was to the natural world that initial act of barbarity; the tree felling. Treebeard then, by his Ent forces attacking, and also by him allowing the natural force of the river to be unleashed, represents nature acting in (natural, undirected) retribution for the evils inflicted upon it – by – of course – the industrialisation, by that pernicious Will-to-Power which drives industry; and which in turn drives the Captains of Industry to such extremes of hubris in rapaciousness.
Another writer, Arthur Miller, an American playwright active during WW2, wrote a famous (infamous in his native country) drama titled “All My Sons”; and about which he said himself, that it exposed ‘the chickens coming home to roost’.
Arthur Miller saw around him during America’s involvement in WW2, how industrialists, many serving the needs of the Armed Forces; suppliers of clothing, uniforms, food rations, all the small necessaries of human life, as well as of course of weapons, vehicles, armaments, bombs and fighting tools in general; these industrialists were too often willing to supply poor, substandard grade, items, in order for them to profiteer out of the war.
The drama, ‘All My Sons’, deals with the owner of such a Company, and with his family. The son is in the air force and the father has supplied, knowingly, unsafe wing parts to US Air Force aeroplanes used in battle. The son dies in combat and it transpires that he was a victim of his father’s profiteering. Of course the coincidence factor is enormous; yet like the stories in the Bible, the Parables of Jesus, the Genesis stories; an interested person asks not – are they factual? – but rather – what are they meant to teach us?
The father in “All My Sons” is in fact every such industrialist and the son killed because of the father’s profiteering is every father’s son fighting for the USA during the war. Thus the drama is a morality play, a fable which encapsulates the general truth of a situation dramatically and indeed very disturbingly so as to make wretched any sensitive audience. Arthur Miller was interested in showing the ‘self-destructiveness of this Will-to-Power which drives industrialists such as the father in the drama.
Do not get confused and say to yourself that profiteering has nothing to do with Will-to-Power. Making oneself rich and leisured on the backs of the labour of others, or else in the case of WW2 in America as shown in “All My Sons”, on the backs of the deaths of allied forces members, members, who as it were, are your ‘extended family’; is an exercise in one’s Will-to-Power overcoming one’s humanity and discretion. Such acts are perpetrated because to increase one’s wealth is generally accepted as being universally desired so as to increase one’s personal freedom, one’s liberties and privileges; those worldly treasures which nothing else can provide, especially to ordinary or poor persons.
Money not only buys these things. It buts leisure; it buys influence and sway, control over others, and so whets a taste and liking for such control. It buys in too many cases indemnity for criminal guilt – look at the cases surrounding the Mille Dowler phone hacking scandal, and at the law trials connected to this scandal in recent years – look at the high profile murder cases in the US regarding basketball players, and their wives. Look at how dreadful scandals are kept under wraps until the culprits in high places have died – the Hillsborough disaster, the Bloody Sunday massacre; the deviant sexual scandals in high places – the contaminated Blood scandal – and more. It seems sometimes that there is an ‘unofficial thirty year rule’ on these things.
Coming up to the present we have companies like Google and Starbucks and many highly-placed individuals who are avoiding paying tax to the British Government. Google, like Facebook, is drift-netting its customers’ data without their knowledge or approval, and exploiting it so as to supply themselves and their directors with increased wealth and influence.
Google and Facebook successfully have infiltrated themselves into billions of personal lives, into the running and maintenance of millions of industries and firms; and like a National Bank these giant entities are now ‘too big to be allowed to fail’. The reaches of Google and of Facebook are enormous and their intrusiveness can take a form of being intensive in its detail. For example; write a Gmail to a friend saying you want to by a fire engine. Soon after you have sent the mail expect a Google ad to pop up in your Gmail directing you to an online toy, or maybe to a company which supplies fire hoses etc etc. The powers of Google and of Facebook for good or for evil are enormous actually, and in their potential. It is the obsession which it takes their directors to run them, which like a strain of noro-virus infects and kills almost all other considerations for them other than increase and profit. This is in fact only one of many addictive habits associated with technology and with business – even associated with pastimes and with viewing and listening, buying and selling – perhaps with my writing these papers as well?
In LOTR there is a common theme running through the book which insists that for a person with good intentions to be ‘touched’ by or to ‘get involved’ in dealings with evil persons, defiles that well intentioned person in some way; such a person does not come off, even when victorious in an encounter, without damage or tarnish. The Biblical adage applies: ‘Those who touch pitch shall be defiled’.
Frodo is thrice or more affected by this phenomenon. He is the ring bearer; and the ring whilst it was being borne by Gollum for aeons, had destroyed Gollum as a person; any kind of uprightness in him having come into severe conflict to the point of subdual by the forces of evil that the ring emanates. Frodo likewise is exposed to this evil from the ring; it is only Sam Gangee, and Sam’s capacity for loving self-sacrifice, which hauls Frodo back from the brink in the course of several crises.
The death of the Ghost King, killed by a woman, Arwen, after The Ghost King having, like Macbeth, boasted of no man being able to kill him; results in Arwen and also Merry the Hobbit, who has also stabbed The Ghost King, both thereafter being depicted in the story as suffering a dwindling sickness which threatens their lives. (Aragorn cures them both eventually; as being perhaps a Type of Christ, like The Perfect Fool, Parsifal, whose touch heals the wound of King Amfortas.)
Those globes which emanate glowing light into which Frodo and Merry and Denethor, Steward of Gondor, inadvisedly stare into (palantíri) thus allowing Sauron to unleash an attractive evil influence over them; these starings into globes leave their victims with long hangovers of illness and uneasiness of mind; Denethor, Steward of Gondor, being totally overcome by his adoption of this habit of staring into them, and ending himself by immolation on a pyre.
Frodo is also stabbed himself at one point and a piece of the blade remains in his wound, and is said to be almost purposefully moving, migrating slowly, towards his heart. The blade and its weapon are owned, one might say ‘possessed’, by dark forces.
The industrial ‘exploitation’ of the Shire by Saramand at the close of LOTR might also be seen as a result, as that ‘taint’, that ‘evil influence’, which has been of necessity attached to The Shire, because of the place having been the source, via Frodo and his friends, of the adventures of the good-willed against Sauron and Mordor
Finally, Frodo himself is unable to settle back down into a ‘blameless idyll’ of a life in The Shire, so that once his adventure is over and his mission succeeded he is visibly saddened, troubled now, and as in the legends of King Arthur wounded, he takes a barge along a stream towards some unknown and mystical destination. Hereabouts, it appears, he shall to want to live out his days as a recluse. We are to assume that Frodo has been ‘touched’ adversely by the evils he has battled against; just as were ‘tainted’ so many of those soldiers and airmen and naval personnel who in WW1 and 2, succumbed to ‘shellshock’ - or call it PTSD.
The poet T S Eliot writes: “After such knowledge; what forgiveness”. The poet Shakespeare writes: “Here is something stained with grief; that’s beauty’s canker.”
Of course, Tolkien would have known Richard Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ of operas – that epic struggle amongst the gods of Valhalla; and caused by the pillaging of the Rheingold by the giants in the first place, followed by dwarves, and complicating until the cycle ends in a general immolation of the gods in Valhalla, and so they are destroyed. I leave a reader of this paper to ponder on making connections between Wagner’s cycle and Tolkien’s epic.
In both Wagner and in Tolkien a ring has been forged, a ring of power – ‘one ring to rule them all’; the pronoun ‘them’ having been left very suitably unallocated precisely to any objective noun. Thus the gold is a mineral which has been mined, and then processed industrially, made, manufactured into an object having uses and value over above its ornamental value. It becomes a desirable item – like Harry Potter’s Philosopher’s Stone is desirable to Voldemort; desirable for the increase in power it promises to convey to its holder – and here the post–moderns are correct for once, just as a text reads its reader, the ring also “manages” the owner of it, despite, even because of the power it would endow to that owner.
Like The Philosopher’s Stone in Harry Potter, the ring in LOTR is only made ineffectual in its powers by a holder of it being undesiring of it and of its poison chalice which promises enhancements to one’s Will-to-Power. Frodo’s struggle at the end of the journey is no real triumph for him. Gollum himself in fact is defeated his own selfish success by him dancing himself, holding the ring still, in a delirium over the edge into the lava, lost to awareness of his danger and rapt in his delirious ecstasies at having retaken ownership of the ring from Frodo. Frodo loses a finger to Golum in their struggles, when Golum seizes from him the ring. This is yet another penalty to those with good intentions who have come into contact, messed with, evil powers.
My conclusions then, should they need drawing, are that war is depicted as being a handmaiden to industrial production and to its spur in men; which is their Will-to-Power. Just as the means to wage war are exponentially enhanced by the fact of industrial production; so too the stakes are raised equally highly in regard to the extent and sway of power attainable; and today globally.
Indeed these aspects of life, those desires to rise in the world, the become a somebody, to make a splash, make one’s mark, on things, to live as one looked up to as privileged and established, to be honoured as being a person of wealth, of means, of property and influence; all this and so on are able to work upon our minds and to take our minds over, so these aspirations being to run us and to rule us; just as the ring rules, possesses, its possessors. Ours is to much too often a sorry life in that we have no fitter concerns – such as our growing of our food, or our looking after our elderly with due care, or our properly bringing up and schooling our children, or our mending fences and repairing our dwellings, these being all those things of the kind which Jesus tells his parables to us about.
I solemnly swear that I firmly believe we are too much ‘hooked in”, “hooked upon”, and ‘possessed by”, managed somewhat abandonedly by our inconsequential ‘worldly’ obsessions; and that these to a man (or woman) are all driven by this Will-to-Power in us, which is promulgated generally as being The Only Thing; and whose head pops out at us at every turn in our lives.
I don’t want here to labour again a point I have laboured many times; I do say pnce and briefly that consumerism, which is the treadmill in ‘Oliver’ but without a Mr Bumble to turn it off and release us, the boys, from it – consumerism, its demand/desire forever-to-increase – add stuffs, and types of stuffs, for sale and so make more wealth to be had – which in effect means ever greater exploitation of earth’s resources and of using people as resources (“If you’re getting a service for free; then YOU are the product”) – consumerism is our goad, our whip, our carrot and stick’ and no one knows who or which of us is applying to whom which incentive.
Coupled with the feeble noises we make about the environment, pollutions and depletions of resource, about climate, and species and so on; it is perfectly clear to anyone being fair to themselves that consumerism, and our attitudes as a result, override utterly all this nominal concern in our day to day lives. This means that for us all – whether guilt parties or not –the race for more goods, services, wealth, exploitation, depletion, etc; goes on augmenting itself rapidly and unabated. We want our cakes and to eat them. We want a clean well-stocked planet but with no loss of stuffs and with avid rabid continuance of depredation and spoilage of the world.
Thus Tolkien’s thesis – if I am near the mark? - is one which is right and true – as we say nowadays – “on the money” – irony here, no?
Industrialisation, by which I include consumerism, and the vaunted service economy, and the bogus creative economy (which is essentially part of the destructive economy like the rest) - industrialisation is our payback – it is its own reward – if not now - in the future. We have got what we wished for.
There’s no sense in believing we are on a ride and we cannot get off – even though it seems so and even though it may be the case. We have to have hope, and have a place to aim at – all those who are discerning these things – and there are people who do discern them – discerned not as lip service, but as heartfelt pain and frustration and sorrow.
The solution to our self-engendered mess concerns a matter of the will. Where there’s a will there’s a way. And since The Lord Jesus is The Way – that is definitively The Way –and no other – for us to turn our wills to Him, for us to render up our wills to Him, for us to desist from attempting aggrandising ourselves and instead were we to aggrandise that Person who never pointed Himself up in any grandiose way – until we can do this we are a doomed race – doomed here and - God forbid! – I pray not so hereafter.