This has been posted really quickly, but Scav. That is all that needs saying.
What really struck me about our discussion of free will and evil was how we defined what evil was and how easily someone could swing from good to evil in a very short time. Gandalf is seemingly the most perfect wizard who could never be evil, yet Tolkien noted how even he would fall when given something as powerful as the One Ring, as he would “remain ‘righteous’, but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for ‘good’, and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great)” (Letters 333). He would become evil, despite his entirely good intentions. We determined in class that such power in the hands of one individual would lead to temptation and would crush the free will of those who surrounded the empowered, making that person evil. I want to look more into this spectrum of morality that Tolkien is using and figure out if this definition of evil is sufficient and accurate, as some doubts have arisen in me.
I would first note that there is an assumption that there is an objective good and an objective evil and that Iluvatar meant for all creatures to have free will. We view the oppression of free will to be a great evil, despite beings like Morgoth or Sauron potentially seeing it as a good. To make this assumption, we have to infer that Iluvatar made all beings with free will and did not want anyone to infringe on that, and anyone who did is evil. Sauron’s attempt to dominate others is then, by definition, an inherently an evil act. If there was no assumption like this, then good and evil would be entirely relative. To paraphrase a playwright whom Tolkien disliked, only thinking about something would make it good or evil. By itself, the thing merely exists. We determined that this objective morality is the type of good and evil that Tolkien wanted present in his legendarium, but I think that there are a few issues with it, as I will elucidate later.
Assuming the objective morality for now, we can first look at how good and evil are styled. Tolkien portrays ‘good’ people as kind, just, honorable, and noble, among other traits. Most importantly, good people are merciful, as shown in Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam and their treatment of Gollum. ‘Evil’ is shown more in line with our primary reality’s conception of the seven deadly sins. Pride, wrath, gluttony, and envy are all traits that are exhibited by evil people on Middle-Earth. However, these seem to be only traits of good and evil people. We determined that true evilness is the suppression of the free will of others. That is what makes the Ring of Power so evil, it gives the user the temptation and power to achieve great ends. Sam could make all of Mordor into a peaceful and wonderful garden (LOTR 880), Gandalf could destroy Sauron and become more powerful than anyone in Middle-Earth, Galadriel could become a queen and goddess and equally powerful. However, while they might have good intentions with their power, their domination of others would make them evil in the eyes of Iluvatar, as they would inevitably force their will upon innocents.
With this in mind, where does one draw the line between what is good and what is evil? Suppose for a minute that Gandalf does get the Ring. He uses the power of the Ring to overcome Sauron and establish peace over all of Middle-Earth. It would be logical to say Gandalf was It is at this point that Gandalf seems to swing to evil because he forces peace and his idea of justice upon all of the free people of Middle-Earth, whether they like it or not. That would be evil. I wonder if he became evil earlier in this hypothetical case, such as in his attack on Sauron. My reasoning behind this stems from the idea that all beings have free will. All beings including Sauron, since he is a Maiar and was created by Iluvatar like everything and everyone else. Gandalf’s assault upon Sauron is an attempt to dominate his will and cast him out of Arda, making Gandalf’s attack evil in nature. People may counter that since Sauron committed terrible and sinful acts and deserves to be destroyed, but that would still mean violating his free will. It would be two ills making a good. The argument that Sauron is evil and must be banished is a slippery slope, as the only objective judge to that question would be Iluvatar, who is far aloof of Middle-Earth in this time. Whether or not Sauron committed evil acts, the action to remove him from Middle-Earth is still evil in nature, as it is forcing him against his will. Unless there is some other point I am missing, it would seem that evil is a lot more complicated that it seems.
I want to look at another example I thought of while in class. After the Ring is destroyed and Elessar becomes king of Gondor and Arnor, he undertakes a series of campaigns to reestablish the kingdom to its former glory and mop up what is left of Sauron’s forces (LOTR Appendix A). One of the places he conquers is Umbar and the Corsairs who were loyal supporters of Sauron. Once again we find that Elessar is acting with good intention, eliminating those that would do harm to others and reestablishing rule over his land. However, since free will is in all people, we have to assume that this includes the Corsairs of Umbar. If this is the case, then Elessar is restricting the free will of the people of Umbar by making them submit to his kingdom by force. He has nothing but good intention and cares for the good of every person under his kingdom, but he is still dominating an entire people. By the definitions that we worked out in class, this would be considered evil, just like the hypothetical Gandalf example above. I don’t think that Elessar is evil, so either I am wrong or this definition of evil needs refining.
Based off of these examples, I take issue with the morality and definition of evil that we came up with. Desiring to dominate the free will of others can be present in good people with good intentions, not just sinful and evil people whose intentions are easy to discern. This definition leaves so many possibilities open as to who has free will and who can take it away. Logically, only the creator, Iluvatar, can take away the free will of any being. However, since we do not have any sort of clarification from Tolkien as to the active role Iluvatar plays in the Third Age, we cannot simply assume that Sauron and the Corsairs automatically lose their free will when they commit sinful and evil acts upon others. As I said before, I don’t know if the definition of evil we came up with was sufficient, but at the same time I don’t know what else it could be. I will admit, I am torn.