Tuesday 14 June 2011

TA Shippey on Tolkien: Take courage - things may not be as bad as they seem


"None of the characters, as Tolkien wrote the story, really understands the whole of what is going on.

"Not even Gandalf. In fact, the only thing they do know is that their fate will not, in the end, be determined by visible events but by a mostly invisible one: the stealthy crawl of three insignificant-looking characters into the lion's mouth of Mordor.

"The great ones and the heroes are continually trying to see what is happening elsewhere, through the palantirs and the Mirror of Galadriel and the Eye of Sauron. The attempt is repeatedly disastrous. Denethor commits suicide because of what he sees in his palantir, but he has read it wrong. As Gandalf says, "Even the wise cannot see all ends," and the really wise remember that.

"The moral is the motto of the British redcoat: "Look to your front." Don't think about what other people are doing: you'll get it wrong and it's disheartening. Or, to quote Gandalf again - and Jackson picked out just these words to repeat in the first movie, varying the pronouns cunningly - "[The future] is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

"Tolkien surely did not mean these words just for Frodo. They were a major part of his own conviction and a part of his own cure for the defeatism, the appeasement, the lack of will and the weary calculation of odds that he saw dogging the Western democracies as he was writing The Lord of the Rings and still after he had finished it.

"Tolkien's achievement, it may be, was to reintroduce a heroic world view, drawn from the ancient texts he taught as a professor, to a world gone ironic."





Mike Kenny said...

i noticed a similar ethos in prussian military doctrine to tolkien/shippey's idea of the unseen being important. robert citino writes about how prussians tended to attack in battle when they could, which would tie down the enemy and buy time for their fellows out of sight to come and hit the enemy in the side or rear, similar to sauron being distracted by battle while frodo sneaks into mordor, which i think shippey points out.

the prussians had to be brave and had to trust their fellow soldiers.

i think the tv show 24 played on this idea too--individuals fighting evil sometimes on their own, it looks helpless, but the many little efforts have cumulative effects.

Dedicated Reader said...

'I wish none of this had happened.

So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us.'

I have that quote on my Ipod.

Brett Stevens said...

It's in part the split between appearance and reality.

If you take appearance to be a cause and not an effect, often things seem more dire than they are.

But what you're really seeing is a small part of a larger system.

It's something to consider in the context of religion. What if all we knew as "reality" was merely a tiny part, not even a percent, of what is?

Things to ponder, I suppose.