Although our lengthy discussions in class and on the blog about the nature and meaning of evil have often raised more questions than they've answered, some things have been made quite clear indeed. One of these is that we (members of this class and of the race of men) don’t want to be good angels. We don’t blame the Númenoreans for their fall. Many of us even claim we would do the same.
One consideration that seemed to be brought up quite often on the topic of why we would ourselves be bad Númenorians, or at the very least why we don’t fault them entirely for the fall of Númenor, is that to some extent it seemed inevitable. Or rather, it was “human nature,” a concept which I think warrants some attention within our discussion of evil and free will. In our discussion of the bad Númenorians we often attributed their fall to unshakable internal motivations, for example the desire to improve one’s lot, to strive for something, to challenge authority, to know the truths that are kept secret from them, or even to “push the big red button.” Moreover, these motivations seem somehow to be inherent in human nature. While it is clear that Sauron pushed and manipulated the Númenorians, contributing to their turn away from the Valar, the changes taking place among men, the rage, violence, and fear of death, were already present. In fact, it seems that even without Sauron’s influence it was only a matter of time before they fell on their own—that to do so is simply a part of being human.
Moreover, this is not the only instance of human nature leading men to such an end. One very common trend noticeable throughout Tolkien’s work is that history tends to repeat itself time after time. Nothing happens only once. Even the Lord of the Rings itself is not the only—or even the first—story of its kind in Tolkien’s history. Not only is it not the first time forces of middle earth have sought to destroy Sauron, but Sauron himself, as we have seen, is a repetition of sorts, a subordinate of Morgoth following in his footsteps. Even the fall of Númenor which we have been discussing was not the original fall of man but the second, for man as a race had already fallen long before. When man fell the first time, falling under the sway of Morgoth, the ancestors of the Númenorians remained loyal to Iluvatar, and yet in time even they made the same mistakes as their ancestors, following Sauron to their doom. Thus it seems that even when some men succeed, and manage not to succumb to what might be considered their nature, they are not free from its influence, or from future failure.
If these aspects of human nature are truly as inescapable as this story makes them seem, what does that say about the free will that men are so explicitly given in Tolkien’s world? In order to fully discuss the concepts of evil and free will with respect to men in Tolkien’s works, we must first consider why it is that despite the free will granted to men to deviate at their will from the music of Iluvatar, nevertheless the same repeating patterns are visible throughout history. Certainly it is difficult to consider men as having this free will when they are seen to make the same decisions again and again almost without fail. It is this line of thought which takes us to the idea of the fall as Númenor as being inevitable according to man’s nature, and perhaps to question the true extent of man’s free will.
In order to consider the origins of this nature, and perhaps even its consequences, one must keep in mind the origin and the creation of men according to the Sillmarillion. As Flieger discusses, man came about not in the first song, when the music was all according to the plan of Iluvatar, nor the second, when it was corrupted by the interference of Morgoth’s music. Rather, they came into being during the third song, when Iluvatar took the interfering music of Morgoth and worked it into his own greater piece. “The children come with, not (as might be expected) in the third scheme, which is not just the result of Melkor’s rebellion, but also Iluvatar’s acceptance of it and decision to work with it” (Flieger 128). While we know that man was created by Iluvatar alone, it still seem that there is something of Melkor inherent in human nature, quite possibly as a result of these origins. If humans then are not free of this nature are they truly free of the song itself?
The question that we must ask then is what does it mean to have free will if it always leads to the same things. Is it really free will at all? If it is and men really can change the music they why do the persist in repeating the same mistakes? Is it really possible for men to change these trends in history—could the Númeorians have, perhaps, resisted their nature and prevented the fall of Númenor—or are men just as constrained by their nature as elves are by the music? Although there is clearly much to discuss on these subjects, my inclination based on what we’ve read so far is to believe that despite man’s freedom within the music they are nevertheless still shaped by their natures and their role in the music in such a way that the fall of Númenor was inevitable, and that even for men to change the music is not as easily done as one might think.