May 23, 2013

Wounds for good or ill

From our book of daily devotions, as we have now finished reading, aloud, the first of the six books of The Lord of the Rings:


To tell you the truth, I had very little hope; for I suspected that there was some fragment of the blade still in the closed wound. But it could not be found until last night. Then Elrond removed a splinter. It was deeply buried, and it was working inwards.’ 
Frodo shuddered, remembering the cruel knife with notched blade that had vanished in Strider’s hands. ‘Don’t be alarmed!’ said Gandalf. ‘It is gone now. It has been melted. And it seems that Hobbits fade very reluctantly. I have known strong warriors of the Big People who would quickly have been overcome by that splinter, which you bore for seventeen days.’ 
‘What would they have done to me?’ asked Frodo. ‘What were the Riders trying to do?’
‘They tried to pierce your heart with a Morgul-knife which remains in the wound. If they had succeeded, you would have become like they are, only weaker and under their command. You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you for trying to keep his Ring, if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand.’ 
‘Thank goodness I did not realize the horrible danger!’ said Frodo faintly. ‘I was mortally afraid, of course; but if I had known more, I should not have dared even to move. It is a marvel that I escaped!’ 
‘Yes, fortune or fate have helped you,’ said Gandalf, ‘not to mention courage. For your heart was not touched, and only your shoulder was pierced; and that was because you resisted to the last.

This passage stayed with me for several days, and the idea of evil as an introduced infection crept even into my dreams.  Gradually, I realized there was a strong parallelism with a book I read at about the same time I first went through Lord of the Rings, the near-contemporary (1955) Hinds' Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard.  In Hurnard's book - a kind of modernized Pilgrim's Progress - the dynamic is reversed, with the heroine reluctantly, but willingly implanted:
She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn… ‘The seed looks very sharp,’ she said shrinkingly. ’Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart? 
He answered gently, ‘It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.’ 
Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. ’When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return,’ and a strange new courage entered her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, ‘Please plant the seed here in my heart.’ 
His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, ‘Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.’


Knowing Tolkien and CS Lewis were friends, I've looked for Christian themes a la Narnia in Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien is playing a much deeper game.  His idea that evil can be introduced and overcome free will is deeply at odds with Christian thinking, and hated allegories in any case.  But it is not hard to see how someone witnessing the propaganda-fuelled hatred of the 30s and 40s might find considerable explanatory power in the notion.

What I am getting from Tolkien so far is an almost rapturous love of the English countryside, with passages like this, full of music and innocence, suggestive of Eden:
It was now as clear and far-seen as it had been veiled and misty when they stood upon the knoll in the Forest, which could now be seen rising pale and green out of the dark trees in the West. In that direction the land rose in wooded ridges, green, yellow, russet under the sun, beyond which lay hidden the valley of the Brandywine. To the South, over the line of the Withywindle, there was a distant glint like pale glass where the Brandywine River made a great loop in the lowlands and flowed away out of the knowledge of the hobbits. Northward beyond the dwindling downs the land ran away in flats and swellings of grey and green and pale earth-colours, until it faded into a featureless and shadowy distance.
Evil is introduced - unnatural, but malignant.  As Elrond says:
[N]othing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so. 

4 Comments:

Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

Hmmm. Must ponder this.

May 24, 2013 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger The Other Front said...

Perhaps relevant, from Tolkien's Forward to the Second Edition:

"Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

May 24, 2013 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Undersecretary to the Deputy Commissariat said...

Now, that I must ponder.

May 25, 2013 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger Undersecretary to the Deputy Commissariat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 25, 2013 at 6:34 PM  

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