A common theme in Tolkien’s works is how loving one’s possessions too much can have a harmful effect. This ‘greedy love’ manifests itself in many ways, but for the most part it is the total obsession with an object to the exclusion of everything else – often this object it a link to the person’s (perceived) power or greatness. In The Hobbit Thorin’s obsession with the treasure, especially the Arkenstone, causes a conflict. And in Lord of the Rings, the effects of One Ring has on the people around it are clear enough. Flieger makes some good connections concerning this topic in chapter 13 of Splintered Light.
In class we arrived at the conclusion that the peril of the Valar existing in the world is that people may start worshiping them as gods, as opposed to Eru; as illustrated by the men of Númenor. Melkor is also representative of this false worship when he desired “to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself.”(Silmarillion,p16). This almost perfectly matches what Augustine has to say about evil angels in City of God; that they “ …were delighted rather in their own power, as though they themselves were their own Good.” The problem with this is “that there is only one Good which will bring happiness to a rational or intellectual creature; and that Good is God.”(p471). Overall, losing sight of Ilúvatar as God, or the source of all things, is wrong for both the Valar and Children of Ilúvatar
During discussion we compared and contrasted Aulë and Fëanor to understand why ‘greedy love’ is wrong, and how this manifests itself as sacrifice. Both are faced with a choice; of weather to give up their creation or not. Aulë passes this test, and is willing to destroy the dwarves; but Fëanor refuses to give up the Silmarils even though many would benefit from it. Because Aulë was face with such a decision, he understands Fëanor’s reluctance.
Are these two comparable in this way? Though Aulë goes against Ilúvatar by creating the dwarves, the dwarves themselves do not pose a threat to Arda, and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious benefit from destroying them. In fact, Aulë is never asked to destroy the dwarves; he comes to that conclusion himself. I suppose that because they are not part of Ilúvatar’s plan, they could pose some threat to it; and I suppose that the act of making the dwarves is the problem, and not the dwarves themselves. Yet for me this is still very different from Fëanor refusing the Silmarils, and the obvious good that would come from restoring the trees. Contrasting the two seems less questionable to me.
The reasons why Fëanor does not give up the Silmarils (and why Aulë is willing to destroy the dwarves) connects to the idea that losing sight of Ilúvatar as, for lack of a better word, God is wrong. “For Fëanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love… he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own.”(Silmarillion,p69). In essence, Fëanor forgets that Ilúvatar is the source of everything, and begins to think of the Silmarils as representative of his own greatness only, which leads to the all the strife of his people. Aulë, on the other hand, realizes what he has done and makes to fix it, and is therefore forgiven.
Given these themes – which ‘greedy love’ leads to a kind of ‘false worship’, which is wrong – the question becomes what one should do with them. Is it enough to take them at face value, that they exist in the stories as a connecting theme and have no other applications? I’m going to assume no. If there is a ‘lesson’ it is plain enough; one needs to know when sacrifices are necessary for the greater good, and no one should think too highly of themselves. This seems like an easy way out. In The Road to Middle-Earth, Shippey proposes that ”A more wide-ranging reason is that a love of things, especially artificial things, could be seen as the besetting sin of modern civilization, and in a way a new one, not quite Avarice and not quite Pride, but somehow related to both. In that view The SIlmarillion would have something like the distinctively modern ‘applicability’ of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, of all it’s archaic setting.”(p242). I feel like this is only part of the answer. My main issue with approaching these themes is that I’m reluctant to take very far. The idea that losing sight of God is inherently wrong is a very religious, specifically Christian, viewpoint; and I’m not sure how thinking of the themes in this way would affect their applicability.
Taking this very Christian stance may not matter in a way. Tolkien was Christian, and Christian elements are woven throughout his works. This doesn't quite solve my problem.
One of the last things we touched on – but didn’t answer – was what how Tolkien and his works would fit into this. Someone proposed that Tolkien and his works were akin to Fëanor and his Silmarils. This brought up the question whether or not Tolkien would have been able to give up his works (as Aulë was able to). I can only assume that this is a question that Tolkien was aware of, and struggled with. Was he worried he would have to sacrifice his work? If so, for what? Was the Christian view of it –that loving objects more than god is wrong– a legitimate problem for him?
Overall, I'm not sure how I should approach the idea of ‘false worship being wrong’; I think I've only understood a part of it, and its importance in Tolkien’s works.
- Chloe Besanko