Saturday, February 6, 2016

Lord of the Rings Quotes

This is one of the rare instances where one of Professor Tolkien's themes is readily apparent--probably because The Hobbit is a children's book he wanted to make it very clear.  This is what he says:

"Now goblins are cruel, wicket, and bad-hearted.  They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones...hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well, or get other people to make their design, prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light.  It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far."

Wow!  Clearly Tolkien had some strong feelings about the subject!  As for the "machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once" perhaps the Professor was referencing some of the mechanisms used during his time; mustard gas, atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs, and so forth.  However, maybe he wasn't.  This paragraph seems so allegorical, and yet I hesitate to draw that conclusion because Tolkien was so adamantly against allegory.  

There are two conclusions I think we can draw from this paragraph in terms of it being an allegory.  The first is that it is indeed an allegory.  Since it was early on in Tolkien's writing process, he may not have developed such a dislike for the style yet.  Or, perhaps, since this was a children's book, he allowed himself to be more straightforward with his themes.  The second conclusion is that it has nothing to do with anything going in Tolkien's time.  It could be that Middle-earth and our current day earth are just very similar and end up going in the same direction (that is, towards developing weapons of mass destruction) on our own.

In any case, Tolkien clearly has something to say about machines.  First of all, he relates the people that create these inventions to the goblins which is not exactly a flattering analogy.  

The thing I find really awesome is that last sentence, "but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far."  This instantly reminded me of his poem, Mythopoeia, in which he says: 

"I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name."

animal, wilderness, zooThe way people used the phrase "progress" Tolkien disagreed with, it would seem.  If by scientific progress you mean the development of new and more powerful bombs, well that is not progress at all.  Congratulations, you've come up with a way to inflict more death.  But it's not really advancing the human race at all. 

So when Tolkien says "advanced (as it is called)" he is clearly saying that the development of these weapons was not an advancement and not an achievement.

I've been re-reading The Hobbit and this just really stuck out at me.  Any thoughts?


  1. I've just been watching a documentary about J.R.R. Tolkien, and apparently he was filled with disgust for the modern world and scientific advancements. Machines, electricity, "labor-saving devices", all of them he despised.
    Though I see why he might despise them, I find I cannot fully agree with him. I for one very much enjoy my electricity and labor-saving devices such as cars, sewing machines, and automatic beaters. I think of it this way; God created mankind with the intellectual capabilities to invent great things, and He gave us wonderful materials within the earth to make them. It's up to us to use His gifts to the best of our abilities, and give Him all the more glory for it. Most people don't do this, it's true. But a God-loving man should look at the "progress" of the world and thank God for the gifts he has so graciously allowed us to build.

    1. I think Tolkien's dislike for machines stemmed from how people used them and what their creation led to.

      In a letter to Milton Waldman in 1951 he says, "Anyway all this stuff [these stories] is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine[...] He will rebel against the laws of the Creator--especially against mortality. Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective--and so to the Machine[...] by the last I mean any plans or devices (apparatus)."

      Creating things like you said is certainly a good thing! Think of Fëanor's original creation of the Silmarils--very good! They brought a lot of joy and happiness (originally of course). But contrast that with Fëanor's later smithing of swords in secret which then led to him threatening Fingolfin by sword point. Very bad.

      There are both good and bad ways to create and to use those creations, as you say, and I think Tolkien was emphasizing that it is a fine line between the former and the latter.