J.R.R. Tolkien’s Vision of Just War


Writing in the latest Imaginative Conservative,   and  offer a useful summary of Tolkien’s themes in Lord of the Rings. They point out that Tolkien’s epic is a war tale that was not intended to be an allegory, but still applicable to the issues of the time in which it was written. I’d add that Tolkien’s insights are applicable to many current issues  as well.

In response to the early criticism that the methods of Sauron’s forces and those of the Fellowship are “indistinguishable” since each side kills the other, Richards and Witt note that the Fellowship observes Just War theory: They fight aggression, they fight honorably, and, as far as circumstances allow, they are charitable to those they defeat in battle. But such acts rise from a fundamentally different worldview from their enemies:

There is also the stark difference between what Brian Rosebury calls “the diversity of good and the sameness of evil.”Among the free peoples of Middle-Earth there is widespread and mostly tolerated diversity, which extends to what does not happen. For instance, King Théoden and later Aragorn might have tried to insist that a primitive and ancient people known as the Woses join their military alliance. Instead Théoden takes the gracious help they offer, and both he and Aragorn honor the Woses’ desire to otherwise stay out of the war.

Compare this to the homogenizing slavery and oppression of those who bow the knee to Mordor. The contrast is stark enough that only a reader blinded by a philosophy of war devoid of even the crudest nuance could miss it.

I think that’s the key to understanding the differences between Sauron and the Fellowship, as well as the difference between totalitarians and small “r” republicans. The desire to flatten reality and make all the same drives all totalitarians, whether Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot. One of Russell Kirk’s principles of conservatism tell us, “They [conservatives] feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.”

The notion that one possesses an absolute and universal truth is too often used to justify the initiation of violence to enforce that truth. As Tolkien counseled, men are not wise enough to choose for all. Now that lesson is certainly applicable today.

Walker Percy on Modern Life

The homogenized, globalized, sterilized world we’ve created is no place for a healthy human. In his book Lost in the Cosmos, Southern writer Walker Percy argued that depression is a rational response in such a world. Like a wild animal in a cage, we’re trapped in an environment that denies the essentials for living the way we were meant to live:

Because modern life is enough to depress anybody? Any person, man, woman, or child, who is not depressed by the nuclear arms race, by the modern city, by family life in the exurb, suburb, apartment, villa, and later in a retirement home, is himself deranged.

Now, call into question the unspoken assumption: something is wrong with you. Like Copernicus and Einstein, turn the universe upside down and begin with a new assumption. Assume that you are quite right.

You are depressed because you have every reason to be depressed. No member of the other two million species which inhabit the earth—and who are luckily exempt from depression—would fail to be depressed if it lived the life you lead. You live in a deranged age—more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.

So all the Prozac in the world can’t treat the underlying problem, which is not in the head of the depressed, but in the world he inhabits. How does one break out of such a world? Step one is to recognize there’s a problem. What happens next begins with an exercise of the imagination

A Dreamer Out of Time: Nicholas Roerich


Over at the Imaginative Conservative, Benjamin Welton has a great article on a neglected Russian painter whose central theme was the re-imagining and refinement of Russian mythology. Nicholas Roerich’s mission, says Welton, was analogous to what Tolkien aimed for in TLOTR. And it turns out that Roerich also inspired none other than Lovecraft:

The American pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft spoke often of his appreciation for Roerich and once wrote to his friend James F. Morton that “there is something in his [Roerich’s] handling of perspective and atmosphere which to me suggests other dimensions and alien orders of being – or at least, the gateways to such.” Notably, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness was influenced by Roerich’s renderings of Tibet’s glacial precipices.

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