The Tolkien View of Destiny

The Tolkien View of Destiny

I want to pick up on something Jack discussed that I didn’t get to cover in my previous post.

It’s to do with destiny and the will of the gods.

He quotes Crowley as writing “it is impossible to perform the simplest act when the Gods say no.”

We have all experienced this. Sometimes the universe is malleable. Othertimes it just say non. (The universe is French, by the way.)

So what are the implications of this? If the broad sweep of destiny isn’t in your hands, what’s the point of practical magic at all?

Here is where I go to Tolkien for advice.

When the Lord of The Rings came out, Tolkien expressed surprise at readers thinking it wasn’t a very Christian book. Presumably they meant it wasn’t an execrable, horrifying, Biblical allusion like that other inkling’s appalling work.

But he was surprised because, in his own words, Catholicism “was on every page”.

I don’t think it was the early readers’ fault because it confused the screenwriters, too. Particularly when it came to the Eagles, which Fran Walsh referred to as “Middle Earth taxis”.

In her eyes, it looks like lazy writing: Tolkien must have written himself into a corner and got out of it by saying “and then the Eagles came and got them”. This was particularly frustrating as a screenwriter because the cinema audience was liable to ask why they didn’t just hop the nearest eagle to Mount Doom and drop the ring in.

The convoluted answer the writers came up with was that the Nazgul would have taken them out before they arrived.

Except that isn’t it.

The answer is hidden in some of his other works: The Eagles aren’t actually part of Middle Earth. They are the eyes of Valinor. They are how the Valar watch what happens in Middle Earth. The ring has no power over them because they are not of the earth, and none of the wizards (specifically Radagast and Gandalf) can call them for the very same reason.

When they appear in the narrative, that’s Tolkien saying -essentially- “God showed up”. God did something He rarely does, which is directly intervene in a miraculous way in worldly affairs.

The Eagles, like miracles, are something you can’t count on. They may show up, they may not. You just have to get on with it anyway. You have no choice.

At the end of Return of The King, when the Eagles appeared: That was a miracle. But the battle had already been joined. They were hoped for, but they weren’t counted on. The men of the West were prepared to fight to the very end for the tiny remaining hope that Light would prevail.

One of the best descriptions I have read for Lord of The Rings is that it is a “rallying call against despair”. Remembering that Tolkien was at the Somme in WWI, it is no surprise that his understanding of Catholicism was “on every page”:

Even in the face of absolute darkness, or horrendous odds, we must strive, we must fight, we must always choose to act as if the outcome is not God’s to decide.

But we must also know that, ultimately, it is.

I like to think of myself as pretty Catholic in that way.

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  1. 2

    I was reading the TVTropes article about the Eagle issue just yesterday, lol.

    In one of Tolkien’s letters he mentioned that they did actually discuss the issue in the Council of Elrond but decided against it since the Eagles were also mortal and susceptible to the temptation of the Ring + getting detected by Sauron long before they reached Mordor + losing the element of surprise.

  2. 3

    “They were hoped for, but they weren’t counted on”.

    I appreciated the sense of universal (catholic) hope that all of middle earth had – naturally occurring within them and their story.

    I am glad when people have this sense to help pick them up in the face of incredible odds.

    This sense of hope is in reality only as real as the individual or the purposeful focus of individuals within a situation.

    The eagles were purposeful in the story – representing a sort of reward for those who supported good. In real life they would be representative of pure chance that has combined with the sense of having done all that could be done (hope).

    Hope is an energy that comes from the individual. Chance is the not counted upon part.

    What is dysfunctional is the other half of the equation. The actions that are to come from above, but can not be counted upon. While below is where men work their hope faithfully.

    “As above, so below”.

    That really makes sense of the world – living in hope with nothing that can be counted upon coming from above.

    It would be better if hope were based in knowledge/experience that could contained something that could be counted upon. (Frodo was not talking to Sam on that rock about when the eagles are to arrive.)

    Tolkien’s story is the way it (life) should be. It represents to me the real hope that finally works once the argument for what should happen is done through the actions of all concerned – and finally the eagles come.

    Hope for me is the energy that brings actions into reality – not waiting upon that which is unreliable and haphazard at best.

    But that is just me and my experiences in life so far.

    I enjoyed your article and the trip to middle earth. The eagles coming was just as anticipated as the tree ents joining the battle too.

    This reminded me too of the mythology surrounding ancient deities and their many personalities representing what happens in life – hope, chance and not much rationality.
    M´s last blog post ..Illness became a Guided experience

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