Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Baptism of Isengard

"The filth of Isengard is washing away." (The Return of the King 2003)
Saruman's troubles began when he started to fortify Isengard.  He turned away from his counselors and incurvatus in se*, turned in upon himself.  He resisted help and rarely left his own chambers.

We see the trend of characters isolating themselves backfiring often throughout all Three Ages: all the way back to Melkor being alone in the Void, to Feanor spending time alone in his forge, Eol living in solitude in the woods, Maeglin his son cutting himself off from the people of Gondolin, Elu Thingol spending less and less time with his wise wife, Melian, and it is probably no accident that bearers of the Ring tend to seek to be alone.  And keep in mind that there is only One Ring to rule them all.

Contrasting that, there are people who are closely associated with people who come to good ends.  The prime example of this is the Fellowship.  By working together, they can accomplish so much more than they ever could have alone.  Gandalf is known for travelling far and wide--he is the Grey Pilgrim after all--and he is well known by many and well loved.

We can already begin to see some of Saruman's problems emerging the minute he begins to fortify himself in Isengard.  He blocks off all efforts to help himself, and at the same time, blocks the River Isen.
Curunir had turned to dark thoughts and was already a traitor in heart: for he desired that he and no other should find the Great Ring, so that he might wield it himself and order all the world to his will.  Too long he hand studied the ways of Sauron in hope to defeat him, and now he envied him as a rival rather than hated his works...Then he perceived that Saruon also had learned if the manner of Isildur's end, and he grew afraid and withdrew to Isengard and fortified it; and ever he probed deeper into the lord of the Rings of Power the art of their forging.  But he spoke of none of this to the Council, hoping still that he might be the first to hear news of the Ring...and in that year the White Council met for the last time, and Curunir withdrew to Isengard and took counsel with none save himself. (Silmarillion 301)

When Merry, Pippin, and the Ents come to liberate Isengard, they break down the dam keeping back the River Isen and flood Isengard.  In doing so, they give Saruman a second chance to turn back to good.
Gandalf says: "I do not wish to kill you, or hurt you, as you would know, if you really understood me.  And I have the power to protect you.  I am giving you a last chance.  You can leave Orthanc, free--if you choose." (LOTR 568) 
"But listen Saruman, for the last time!  Will you not come down?  Isengard has proved less strong than your hope and fancy made it.  So may other things in which you still have trust.  Would it not be well to leave it for a while?  To turn to new things, perhaps?  Think well, Saruman!  Will you not come down?" (LOTR 568)
Saruman's struggle mirrors many aspects of human struggle.  From a theological point of view, it begins with the rejection of God and his counsel, just like how Saruman cut himself off and didn't listen to the White Council.  It proceeds from there to become a sort of "fortifying", or, in Biblical terms, hardening of the heart.

Eventually however, there is an interruption of grace through which the "dam" breaks and forgiveness and cleansing rush in, just how Isengard was flushed out.

People can experience this grace in many different ways, surely.  We read about it in the Bible as far back as the Flood where God washed the impurities off the earth and gave mankind a second chance.  In the Parting of the Red Sea, God saves the worthy and dispels of the wicked.  During Baptism, the Holy Spirit purifies us.  Baptism is the breaking of the dam through which grace flows.  Just how Isengard is both liberated and made clean, so too is our soul washed and given a second chance.

"Water may come through--and it will be foul water for a while, until all the filth of Saruman is washed away.  Then Isen can run clean again." (LOTR 555)

"There we sat high up above the floods and watched the drowning of Isengard.  The Ents kept on pouring in more water, till all the fires were quenched and every cave the evening there was a great rainbow over the eastern hills." (LOTR 557)

God wants to fill ever cave of our souls with his cleansing water.  Just as in the story of the Flood, there is a rainbow as a symbol of hope and beauty.

person, water, stream

We are all Sarumans in one way or another and Christ is like Merry, Pippin and the Ents: breaking down our dam of resistance and flooding our lives with grace.

*One of my new favorite Latin phrases--and so relevant!  You will probably see this in many of my articles.  You've been warned!

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