Saturday, April 29, 2017

Good and Bad

Dorothy Sayers says that “the characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things” (Image of God, 22).  To put it simply, when we have this desire and ability, we are doing “good” and when we do not, we are doing “bad.”  However, it is not always that simple.  Often, a wrong act is takes the form of some kind of perversion of that first statement.  For example, Tolkien claims, “the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men” (Letter 52).  Here, bossing other men presumes an authority over other men.  It is one thing to appeal to a higher common authority such as God, but it is quite another thing to claim authority in and of oneself.  Speaking on the difference between good angels (or creation in general) and bad angels, Augustine says the “difference had its origin in their wills and desires, the one sort persisting resolutely in that Good which is common to all—which for them is God himself…while the others were delighted with their own power, as though they themselves were their own good” (City of God, 471).  By claiming oneself as an authority with no appeal to a higher law, it follows that there is some sort of pride in thinking that one can change one of God’s own creatures and make it better.  Or, in another sense, claiming authority takes the role of God upon oneself.  Likewise, this also necessitates a sense of pride if a created thing thinks that it can become equal or greater than its creator.  It can be argued that in Genesis, God gave Adam authority over all living things.  He was to name them and, in effect, become their master.  In this example, Adam is able to exercise authority over other created things, so surely he must be placing himself on par with God.  However, Adam does not have this authority in and of himself.  It is a gift to him from God and therefore appeals to God’s higher authority.  Therefore, Adam is able to exercise some authority over created beings without succumbing to the pride of being greater than God himself. 

In a criticism of Tolkien’s presentation of good versus evil, Hastings says that “evil was incapable of creating anything,” but the Dark Lord created the Trolls and the Orcs (Letter 153).  Tolkien responds by saying that Sauron was “not ‘evil’ in origin” (Letter 153).  Tolkien’s logic is that since Sauron had good origins, he still retains some of that power to sub-create.  Furthermore, he says that the Trolls were not created by Sauron, but rather, Sauron twisted the already created creatures and turned them into the evil species that they are.  This comes from the aforementioned statement from Image of God, which states that creatures coming from God (i.e. good things) are able to share in God’s creative capacity, whereas wicked things are only able to twist or distort already created things.  With regard to the Trolls, Tolkien states that they are “sub-creational counterfeits” that do not show any good will at all (Letter 153).  The first part seems like an unnecessary cop-out and the second part seems impossible.  A sub-creational counterfeit seems eerily similar to creation and how can Sauron, who does not have evil roots, sub-create these trolls that do not emit any goodness at all?  Instead, it may be completely plausible if Tolkien admitted that Sauron could sub-create since he has good origins.  He can appeal to the smallest ounce of goodness in Sauron that will allow him to create.  With regard to the trolls, Tolkien clarifies by saying that the creatures made by Diabolus Morgoth are “creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad” but not “irredeemably bad” (Letter 153).  This can make sense if they are sub-creations of Sauron.  If so, they will have a good nature (similar to Sauron), but they will be twisted and somewhat unlike other creation since Sauron is so far from goodness.

Finally, with regard to Elves being reincarnated, Hastings says that the sub-creator “should use those channels which he knows the creator to have used already” (Letter 153).  Tolkien’s quick response is “I do not care” (Letter 153).  He says that this is just an imagined world, and if Elves and Men are able to produce fertile offspring, then that is the biology.  The reader must figure it out and make sense of it himself.  This serves as a snap back to reality in that Tolkien’s fantasy is still a sub-creation of Tolkien himself and therefore requires some sort of charity from the reader in order to fill out the details even if they are miniscule.

-Peter L.


1 comment:

  1. I would be curious to hear about how you read the relationship between angels and the Ainur/Valar as sub-creators. We talked in class about how ambiguous Tolkien is about whether the Ainur are angelic or something else. How much capacity for sub-creation do the Ainur in fact have? RLFB