Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Evil and Redemption

                I was so intrigued by our readings and class discussion for Monday that I immediately recounted it to my boyfriend. I told him about the downfall of the Númenóreans and our debate about evil, particularly in our use of Sayers’ framework of Hamlet and anti-Hamlet (creature/human being and evil). It was about there he stopped me to say, “But really good and evil are inadequate categories. First of all, they’re just accentuated in children’s stories to teach them lessons. Plus, good and evil are culturally specific. And besides, there are so few humans that are actually all evil.” I was floored. For one, I think Tolkien would have a lot to say about the tying of lessons of good and evil to children. I think, like fairy stories, stories of good and evil (because I think fairy stories do not necessarily have to be about good and evil although it seems they usually are) are not inherently for children and it is just a mistake that these kinds of stories have been attributed to them. However, I want to address how evil might be operating in the story of the Númenóreans, a story not at all intended for children. I want to think about how evil might be working in relation to Tolkien’s vision of using his “subcreation in a special way…to make visible and physical the effects of sin or misused free will by men” (letter 153). As someone mentioned in class, men do start to have selfish thoughts before Sauron ever arrives in Númenor, thoughts that ultimately lead to their downfall, and so it’s worth figuring out where these thoughts might come from. Of course, then the men must also contend with Sauron, the personification of evil. Finally, where is the redemption in all of this?
                The Akallabêth describes the envy that the men of Númenor begin to have as they reach the end of their extended life spans: “Thus it was that a shadow fell upon them: in which maybe the will of Morgoth was at work that still moved in the world. And the Númenóreans began to murmur, at first in their hearts, and then in open words, against the doom of Men, and most of all against the Ban which forbade them to sail into the West” (Silmarillion 315). Later, “But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could; and they began to build great houses for their dead…” (318). These fears, as mentioned, set in before Sauron arrives to whisper in the ear of the king of Númenór. The writer does not seem to know from whence these fears arrived, attributing them to “maybe the will of Morgoth.” This unsureness suggests that maybe fear of death only exists because of Melkor’s original contrary theme, but the Akallabêth seems to contend that is ultimately the free will of men, their choices, that lead to their downfall. They choose to fear death, the thing that is their gift, although the fear of death and the desperateness surrounding it seems quite normal in our primary reality. Some of their reasoning for this fear seems to ring true in our primary reality as well, like going “we know not whither” (315). But it seems to be more about the fact that they can’t live forever like the Eldar can: “And the Eldar die not, even those that rebelled against the Lords…why should we not go to Avallónë” (315). The fact that there are creatures that Eru created that do get to exist forever is ultimately what bothers the Númenóreans the most. They desire to become something they were not made to be and that is their evil.

                However, the evil of Sauron certainly aids in the process. In this story, it is interesting to note that he carries out his evil desires and corruptions in much the same way Saruman did through Wormtongue. This whispering into the ear of man is obviously reminiscent of Satan in the Garden of Eden, tempting Eve with words. Sauron’s monologue to the King is quite similar to Satan’s, in that he attempts to shift the perspective of the listener and claim what they thought as truth to be a lie. He says, “there lay yet many seas and many lands for their winning, wherein was wealth uncounted…the Valar have deceived you concerning him, putting forward the name of Eru, a phantom devised in the folly of their hearts, seeking to enchain Men in servitude to themselves” (325). Sauron’s evil here beyond the blatant lying, seems to be that he capitalizes on the Númenóreans’ weaknesses and fear. At the same time Sauron himself is the personification of evil, in that he is directly a servant of Melkor, the bringer of discord himself. While Sauron does work in the same way as Satan, I wonder if it might be more useful to think of Sauron and Melkor as the pain and suffering in the world. By that I mean, it is the after-effects of Melkor’s first discord that Eru continued to allow. It is inexplicable and hard to deal with, but it continues to exist, in order that Eru can eventually sow it back into his grander designs for Arda and for his creations. This is hinting at the redemptive possibilities for evil, particularly as Sayers discusses it. In her discussion of Hamlet and anti-Hamlet (in which Hamlet is the creature/creation and anti-Hamlet is the evil, willed corruption of that creation), she notes how the anti-Hamlet created by David Garrick, a corruption of the original, can in fact be redeemed. She says, “it is possible to take its evil Power and turn it into active good. We can, for example, enjoy a good laugh at David Garrick. In so doing we, as it were, absorb the Evil in the anti-Hamlet and transmute it into an entirely new form of Good. This is a creative act…” (Sayers 106). The beauty of Tolkien’s legendarium is that we know how Eru’s story ends for his creations. We know that the least of these will take down Sauron. We know that he is able to do this because he and various people around him use their free will to make the right choices, or at least enough right choices to fulfill Eru’s purpose. Of course, this is the hope that Christians cling to as well, that the end of the story is already known and it is ultimately a redemptive one.



  1. Dear GENF,
    I share the same experience of trying to share the discussion with another Tolkien-fan who is not in the class with the result of provoking tough questions! I think you’ve used this question as a great chance to re-consider these themes in the light of our discussion. But especially, I appreciate your close handling of the Tolkien’s text–finding and examining key passages–rather than unguided speculations.

    I think you’re holding a crucial balance with Sauron’s snaring of the Numenóreans: capitalizing on their weakness and their fear (a result of their former fall under Morgoth), not the introduction of a new fault. Your comparison to the Serpent’s temptation of Eve is also apt! Do not both introduce doubt of their command (regarding Tree and Ban) and promise a kind of divinity for their disobediance?

    But how far can this comparison be pressed? Does the Serpent capitalize on a inner fault of Adam and Eve? Since, Sauron addresses already fearful mortals (instead of fearless, potentially deathless Adam and Eve), would it be going too far to see in the Akallabêth a kind of analogy to the Fall or Original Sin (of Christian theology)?

    Finally, the redemption of an evil while it remaining an evil seems like a key thread to tug on as we keep going!

  2. Dear GNEF,

    In the first part of your post, you say, “[the Númenóreans] desire to become something they were not made to be and that is their evil.” I agree that once this wish was born in their hearts and minds they set themselves on the path to their Fall and that here is the beginning of their turn to evil. Their desire, however, is not the only important choice that they make in the early stages of this decent into darkness. By wanting to become something that they are not meant to be, they are also rejecting what they are. The Númenóreans, by trying to become deathless like the Elves, have refused to accept Ilúvatar’s Gift to Men, which is death and release from Arda. This ties in nicely with the parallels to Adam and Eve in Enden that you bring up later. They, too, were given a gift, a paradise and, as Robert mentions, potentially endless life. Yet, Adam and Eve reject what they have been given and proceed to violate the law of Eden. Though the Númenóreans make the decision to refuse Ilúvatar in their minds long before they are tempted to actually take action, Eve is tempted and acts immediately. This difference highlights the fact that Tolkien’s Men had been exposed to evil and fear by Morgoth long before they came to settle in Númenór. If even fearless and unaware Adam and Eve could be tempted to Fall, then theirs was all but guaranteed.

    -Jeff Nocton