Tolkien and Boethius

Have you ever had one of those moments when you read something that perfectly encapsulated something you’ve been thinking (and possibly writing about) for months? Well I had one of those moments last week and it was reading Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. In this particular bit, Boethius is writing about the effects of sin on human lives, and his phrasing (aside from the fact that the translation I’m reading from is about 400 years old) sounds like something straight out of my partially-written chapter on Saruman. In this chapter I’m thinking through what exactly happens to Saruman over the course of his personal story arc. I’m thinking through his starting and ending points, and Boethius nails it! As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, Saruman in effect become no-one and no-thing as a direct result of his actions within Middle-earth (though as a created spirit with free will he can never really become no-thing in the truest sense since created spirits cannot be annihilated, but within the context of Arda, and possibly Ea, he ceases to exist in any meaningful fashion), or as Boethius’ anonymous 17th century translator puts it, “Whatsoever is, must also bee good. And in this manner, whatsoever falleth from goodnesse, ceaseth to be…”
This is straight up Tolkien. All created things are good since they are created by Eru, Iluvatar, the One. So even that which is broken and fallen with Arda was not always so; not Morgoth, not Sauron, not orcs, not Saruman. All things were originally good and by virtue of being maintain some semblance of goodness. But, by pursuing vice and falling from goodness created things cease to be what they once were. They lose their goodness and in doing so lose their very being; so too for Morgoth, Sauron, orcs, and Saruman. By embracing evil, wickedness, and sin and pursuing them they sacrifice their goodness and their very being, leaving themselves to become, in the end, no-one and no-thing. They are an absence rather than a presence. But still they have power. Still they can negatively affect the world. And yet while “evil labours with vast power and perpetual success” it always does so “in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in” (Letters, 76). 
This is the truth of the world all around us. It may seem that evil is winning, but it’s not. It may seem that the darkness will forever prevail, but it won’t. It may be that hope has died, but it will always be reborn. Evil cannot conquer forever. One day, it will cease. It will become what it truly is: no-one and no-thing. 

Morgoth’s Ring

So, I’ve been reading Morgoth’s Ring (History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 10), and Tolkien’s reflections on Morgoth, Sauron, and the Ring are simply fascinating. In an unfinished essay entitled “Notes on Motives in the Silmarillion” Tolkien compares Morgoth and Sauron, the ultimate evils of their respective eras. While Morgoth is the superior being, he was foremost among the Valar along with Manwë, and Sauron is a lesser spirit, one of the Maiar, Sauron is actually “greater” in his era than Morgoth was in his. But why? First, a little back story may help.

As one of the chief among the Ainur (or Valar), Morgoth was one of those who sang the themes propounded by Eru (or Iluvatar: God) and thereby fashioned the world. He was integrally involved in the process, and was in fact the one who introduced discordant threads into the music in his desire for glory and dominion. When it came time to get their hands dirty and make the world fit for the Children of Iluvatar (meaning elves and men), Morgoth volunteered his services pretending to be rehabilitated after his altercation with Eru. But because he could not stand being confronted with things outside of himself in which his mind and will had played no role, he sought to taint and destroy all that the other Valar attempted, thereby making himself their enemy.

What Tolkien reveals in his unfinished essay is that in his desire to dominate and corrupt Morgoth invested most of his being into the physical constituents of the world, in the same way that Sauron invested the greater park of his power into the One Ring. But where Sauron’s power was localized into one item, small and potent and thereby always at hand, Morgoth’s power was distributed through all things that were “born on Earth and lived on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits” (395). This means that all matter outside of Valinor (the earthly home of the Valar) contained a little bit of Morgoth–one might say that every atom contained a piece of his being–and therefore every living thing, to greater or lesser degree, leaned toward Morgoth and his ways. His being was disseminated far and wide, so though his power and being were far superior to Sauron’s in his original “angelic” form, he spread himself too thin and fell far from what he was. Sauron had not fallen so low in his era. His power was with him, contained in a ring on his finger rather than spread through every atom of the world outside Valinor.

This also means that the whole of Middle Earth was Morgoth’s Ring. It was the item he had invested the greater part of his being and power into so that he might achieve mastery and dominion over it. This is why the Valar were cautious in bringing battle to Morgoth. They knew that overthrowing his power would desolate parts of the world. And though they cast him down and the world was not wholly broken, neither was it cleansed of his taint.

The only way to cleanse the world of its terminal case is to break it down and build it anew.

At the end of days, Tolkien’s imagined world will, just like our own, need to be made new. The old must pass away and the new must come. Only then can the corruption of Morgoth be exorcised from the very fabric of the world, and the Children of Iluvatar be free of the pull to be like that fallen “angel” and those he has ruined.