Friday, December 12, 2014

Hope in a Godless World

As I continue to read The One Ring, I am struck (as many tend to be) by the depth and detail of Tolkien's world. It seems like every facet of Middle Earth has been well thought out, except one: Gods. There does not appear to be any religion in Tolkien's world.

(Let me preface the rest of this blog by saying my knowledge of Middle Earth is pretty basic. I've seen the movies a few times, I read the Hobbit in fourth grade, and I read Fellowship about a month or two before the first movie came out. That is the extent of my knowledge, so I may be completely off-base here. If there are any Middle Earth scholars reading this and want to correct me on my notions of spirituality in Middle Earth, I am all ears.)

That's not too unusual, of course. I just wrote a blog entry a few days ago about the god-less religious system in my childhood homebrew world. I just find it interesting that Tolkien, a scholar who undoubtably understood the influence of religion in politics and conflict, would not include such an analog in his own world. Is it because he thought of Middle Earth as some kind of atheistic utopia? Considering how dark many parts of the story are, that seems doubtable. 

What then struck me as I read closely about the setting within the pages of The One Ring is that there is a sort of morality/spirituality in Middle Earth. The difference though, unlike our world, is that morality in Middle Earth has hard, established borders. The Shadow is everywhere in Middle Earth, and amoral things such as greed and murder can increase one's vulnerability to the Enemy's influence. So in Middle Earth, there's no need for a church to tell you stealing is wrong; you can see it yourself, right there in the world, the actual, literal corruption of those who steal (just ask Golum). Evil is not a subjective thing in Middle Earth; there really are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.

Maybe this is also why love and lust play such muted roles in Middle Earth, as well. In real history, wars were fought over women. Rape and pillage and all that. Prostitution, the "world's oldest profession," seems nonexistent in Middle Earth. Again, I propose that this isn't necessarily because Middle Earth is some utopian world, or even because Tolkien was some prude who didn't want to deal with yucky sex stuff in his elfbooks; it's because on Middle Earth, rape and prostitution are undeniably evil, and to indulge in them is a one-way ticket to becoming a mindless puppet of the Shadow.

All of this "morality has a real effect on a person" stuff swings the other way, too. While fear and greed can corrupt a person, hope and courage can strengthen the soul, too. Tolkien's world is a world where not only doing the wrong thing can corrupt you; doing the right thing can strengthen you. This, after all, is how Frodo managed to destroy the One Ring. It wasn't with badass swordfighting skills or a pet panther or superpowers: it was with hope and courage, kindness and companionship.

In a world like this, where morality is as real as physics, the idea of a divine being guiding our behavior does seem a little unneccessary. Throw in some of the more fantastic elements like the Wizards and other magical stuff, and yes, I can see how Tolkien's Middle Earth has little need for a god. 

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