… my thoughts, I mean.
This post might be a little … rambling. A poorly thought-out combination of recent events in my life, vague political implications, and nostalgic revisiting of old favorite fantasy novels. You know, the way blogs used to be back in the day. Because I am just so dedicated to bringing you, my faithful Internet friends, content, even if it is crummy content.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve done a couple of knitting marathons (about which, more in the near future). I like having something to watch while knitting, and the least repellant thing on Netflix was The Lord of the Rings, so I have recently watched through all three movies. I enjoyed the movies mostly because they reminded me of the books, which I haven’t read in a long time. Yeah, I’m a purist. I couldn’t believe they left out Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, the Barrow Wights, and they completely messed up the scene in Bree, and they Hollywooded up Gandalf’s confrontation with Saruman and with Theoden, and they destroyed Faramir … but even so, even so, they kept enough of the original plot that watching the movies was edifying.
The theme that jumped out to me this time — well, there were a couple. One was the way that every single member of the party pays a high cost in the service of the quest. Even people with fairly minor roles, such as Merry and Pippin, suffer greatly – Merry from stabbing the Witch King, and Pippin has to deal with Denethor’s madness. Multiple people had to be willing to pour out their lives. Not just Gandalf, and not just Frodo. This rings true to me. Whether we are fighting the good fight by building a family, a school, or a local church, everyone feels like they are giving 110%, and then the job just barely gets done.
The other theme that I noticed this time was that of despair. Denethor succumbs to despair, kills himself, and nearly kills Faramir. Well before that, he essentially abandoned his duty to the people of Minas Tirith because he believed the cause was lost. And it turns out, this was a stratagem of the enemy, who had been showing him misleading things in the Palantir.
Meanwhile, over in Rohan, Wormtongue has gotten Theoden to abandon his duties to his people by convincing him that he’s old and tired and the heroic age has ended. Wormtongue gets inside Eowyn’s head, getting her to see Edoras, the glorious hall of her ancestors, as a stupid redneck hovel, and her own role in it as boring and stultifying. She ends up, essentially, suicidal, but luckily the presence of Aragorn has turned her suicidal impulses in the direction of brave self-sacrifice, rather than foolish action like Denethor’s. But this is another case where despair doesn’t just happen, it is a direct, intentional action of the enemy.
Other characters suffer feelings of, or temptations to, despair, pretty much in direct proportion as they come in contact with the enemy. Physical contact with the Ringwraiths pulls a personal partially into their world, as happens to Frodo at Weathertop, and the Eowyn and to Merry, who says to Pippin, “Are you going to bury me?” Victims don’t just despair of victory, but they doubt their own judgment, their own senses, even their own existence. It’s at times like these that we need the shoulder of a friend.
James Lindsay has posted recently about how modern-day deceivers will try to induce despair by robbing us of epistemic authority (“you don’t know what you are talking about.” “Do you have a degree?”), psychological authority (“you are crazy/phobic”), and moral authority (“you are a bigot/oppressor” “It’s so heartless/insensitive to say that”). The goal is to get their interlocutor to stop trusting their own mind and conscience, and just accept the new system of thought they are being offered. Perhaps this podcast of his was the thing that caused me to notice this dynamic happening in Middle Earth.
Anyway, you can make your own applications. Don’t despair. Your mind is probably working OK. You are probably not a crazy bigot oppressor who doesn’t have a working conscience. You are not the only one who has questions. There are friendly shoulders to lean on.
I was going to call this post “Don’t Despair,” but I thought that would sound too cliched and I wasn’t sure I could follow through on the promise of such a title.