What I learned from Lord of the Rings

I have been reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy non-stop since 1998. Each year, I would read The Hobbit, followed by Fellowship of the Ring, then The Two Towers and finally Return of the King. It takes about three and a half months during my leisure reading time at night before going to sleep. And I have been doing this every year, so that’s about twenty times. One year, I “cheated” by watching the extended version of all three movies.

And you know who else did this as well before he died? Christopher Lee, the actor who portrayed Saruman the wizard who betrayed them all. He too is a huge Tolkien fan and had the privilege of acting in it. Oh, better yet, Lee HAS met the great man: J.R.R. Tolkien. BTW, this is probably my favorite Christopher Lee meme:

Evil exists but is only a corruption of good.

Good and evil exists but it is not a duality. Good and evil, light and darkness, God and Satan is what we all hear and perhaps either unconsciously believe it or overtly profess it. However, that is wrong. The devil is not the equal of God, nor does light and darkness co-exist at the same time. Darkness is the absence of light, and evil is a corruption of good. Case in point: the orcs

The Silmarillion and from dialogue in Fellowship established that the orcs were corrupted good Elves, twisted by Melkior to serve his purposes. Sadly, the orcs are not redeemable. Humans, however, are redeemable. In real life, even the worse offender has the possibility of rehabilitation. (Whether he takes it or not, that’s a different story.)

Evil exists from within.

Gollum is perhaps one of the most compelling characters in the entire universe. He is at once most clearly a villain and yet at the same time the most pitiable.

Frodo: “It’s a pity that Bilbo did not kill him when he had a chance.”
Gandalf: “Pity! It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand…” 

As you follow the story of Gollum/ Smeagol, you find that he is a murderer; he had killed his friend Deagol to obtain the Ring. He uses the Ring to spy, steal, to kill, and basically be a selfish person. Yet, in the good parts of his soul that is hidden, he hates the Ring and what it has done to him – driving him away from a community, forcing him to commit more evil just to stay alive, and so on.

It is a constant reminder that we are just as capable of acting the same way. We have plenty of restraints to keep ourselves from murder, theft, and violence, but it is inside of us. We too alternately love and hate ourselves, being happy when we do well and regretful for all that bad. This is why I categorically refuse to believe that humans are basically good, kind, and selfless. I mean, when was the last time you had to teach a 4 year old child to lie? NO! Instead, you have to teach him NOT to lie.

Fight for Good

Edmund Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

The Lord of the Rings universe is full of heroes and heroines.

In the case of Theoden, it’s never too late or too old to get on a horse one last time and draw your sword to defend your home. Then make one gallant charge into history on the Fields of Pelennor, saving your longstanding allies. Love that scene.

Twenty years later, Tolkien’s story and universe still captivates me and millions of others. Whether you read the book, or watched the movies, or did both, you find the themes of good triumphs over evil, sacrifices involved for such victory, resonating. That is why it continues to be on my annual reading list.

Oh. And yes, the memes.

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