Michael Tolkien

APPENDIX 5. Sauron and Evil

                    (Good v. Evil and moral relativism )


    Because of the 'heroic' and hierarchical nature of society in T.'s Middle Earth, his fantasies are often assumed to be morally simplistic and one-dimensional. In the letter he prepared to answer Auden's 1956 review that raised this issue (See Appendix 4) he contended that the claims of either side in a conflict between good and evil (if indeed you accept such concepts), let alone the complex motives and actions of individuals, prove nothing. For example, the use of force and military endeavour by the opponents of Sauron's martial machine does not mean they are at one with his motives and behaviour. Judgment

' must depend on values and beliefs independent of the particular conflict...' ( L pp 242-3)

    The character of Sauron throws some light on the moral structure of the L/R. It would also be facile dilution into mere 'symbolism' to assume that Sauron is Absolute Evil, and a failure to look properly at the history of Middle Earth. He is more accurately a 'reincarnation of evil.'(L p.151 §1) This is clear at the close of the Valaquenta in The Silmarillion:-

    ' Among those of <Melkor's> servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the cruel. In the beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of the people. In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part, and was only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the void.'(S. p.35)

    Because he had an immortal spirit and angelic powers he 'excelled human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination'.( L p.243) A temptation shared by Elves and Mortals. So when Sam thinks that Galadriel would amend immediate wrongs if she had the ring of power, her answer implies that this would only be the start of a catastrophic abuse of will. Her change of stature is in itself a flash of insight into this transformation.

    For such reasons T. said that the conflict throughout the history of Middle Earth is not about 'freedom' as such despite the manifestations of the shrinking boundaries of the just and the enslavement and corruption of thousands into instruments of evil. It is ' about God and His sole right to divine honour...The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in the One, True God...Sauron desired to be a God-King.'

(L p.243 & footnote on the evolution of Sauron's treacherous career)

' If victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.'

{The very rewards Satan offers Christ in the Temptation in the Wilderness }

    Clearly then, even if his opponents copied his tactics in some respects their cause was still 'right' even though their actions were individually 'wrong' or questionable. Without this distinction we surely go down the path to moral relativism which was quite alien to T.'s way of thinking as a committed Christian.

    Earlier reviewers and commentators of course had no access to the details and implications of the annals of Middle Earth prior to the Age in which Sauron's might is rebuilt on a colossal scale. But thanks to the industrious scholarship of Christopher Tolkien we now have advantageous perspectives: the literary enrichment of the resurrected earlier tales, a compendium of the major ingredients of The Silmarillion and a copiously detailed outline of the history of Middle Earth and how it was accounted for in story.

   Intellectual elitism and trendiness, though, are irrepressible; and superficial readings of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, or ill-informed or parrotted assumptions (latched onto and further vilified by have-a-go journalism) continue to generate the sort of comments and responses I allude to in my preamble.