Monday, May 16, 2016

7 Lively Virtues of Middle-earth

In an attempt to get this all in one post, I will be only choosing only one example of the virtues shown in Middle-earth.  There are certainly more than one example for each, so let me know any you think of in the comments.  Each virtue corresponds and is the opposite of the deadly sins: pride/humility, envy/admiration, wrath/forgiveness, sloth/zeal, greed/charity, gluttony/temperance, lust/chastity.

The antidote to the deadliest of the deadly sins, pride, is humility.  I briefly commented on Samwise's famous humility (and his literal humus) in this post.
"[Sam] did not think of himself as heroic or even brave, or in any way admirable – except in his service and loyalty to his master." (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 239)
It is clear that Sam was one of--if not the--hero(es) of the story, but he did not regard himself as better than others or above anyone else.
In opposition to the next sin, namely envy, is admiration.  Theoden and Aragorn are both powerful royalty, however Theoden has a kingdom and Aragorn has not taken his throne yet.  While the following is true of the book, I think it is demonstrated exceptionally in the movies so I will be using evidence from them.  Theoden starts off feeling threatened by Aragorn, and perhaps even envious of him.
"Last I checked, Theoden--not Aragorn--was king of Rohan." -The Return of the King (film 2003)
Is it just me, or does Theoden sound a bit defensive?  Aragorn was just trying to give advice.  But throughout the course of the film, Theoden gains more respect for Aragorn and eventually becomes a great admirer of his:
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Wrath is counteracted by forgiveness.  Feanor shows completely disordered wrath when he threatens his own brother by sword point.  Fingolfin however, forgives him:
“For Fingolfin held forth his hand, saying: ‘As I promised, I do now. I release thee, and remember no grievance.’ Then Feanor took his hand in silence; but Fingolfin said: 'Half- brother in blood, full brother in heart will I be. Thou shalt lead and I will follow. May no new grief divide as.’ 'I hear thee,’ said Feanor. (Silmarillion 73)
 The opposite of sloth is zeal.  I discussed this a bit when explaining how Denethor was slothful in my last post.  While Denethor refuses to help in the battle and stays inside, Theoden rides out with his host and gives them hope.  He energizes them and shows a zeal for righteous battle and doing what needs to be done.
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In contrast to greed is charity.  Lobelia Sackville-Baggins shows immense greed to the point where she would rather have Bilbo dead so she can take his home.  Bilbo, however, counteracts this by giving away gifts (albeit pointed gifts) just before he leaves the Shire.
"For LOBELIA SACKVILLE-BAGGINS, as a PRESENT; on a case of silver spoons. Bilbo believed that she had acquired a good many of his spoons, while he was away on his former journey. Lobelia knew that quite well. When she arrived later in the day, she took the point at once, but she also took the spoons."  (The Fellowship of the Ring 22)
 The opposite of gluttony is temperance.  While the orcs gluttonously use up the trees and other naturally resources, Elves are the poster-children for using things in moderation and respecting nature.  Instead of cutting down trees to build their homes, the Elves of Lothlorien build around the trees and the spectacle is not only good for nature but one of the most beautiful places in Middle-earth.
“The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of L√≥rien, there was no stain.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring 351)
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Finally, in contrast to lust is chastity.  Aragorn shows immense chastity and faithfulness by tactfully avoiding Eowyn's (well-meaning) advances.  He does not do this in a rude or condescending manner, but sincerely wants the best for her and knows that means not being with him.  Eventually, Eowyn realizes just how much his refusal of her has helped her.  After Eowyn announces her engagement to Faramir, she says to Aragorn, "Wish me joy, my liege-lord and healer!" Aragorn replies perfectly, saying, "I have wished thee joy ever since first I saw thee.  It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss."  (The Return of the King 279)

There are sins and virtues to be found in Middle-earth just as there are in any good story, including real life.  It reminds me of Boromir's saying:

"Yes, there is weakness; there is frailty.  But there is courage, also, and honor to be found in Men." 

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