The Long View
Good Frodo and Evil Gollum
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:28:00 11/22/2009
IN book two of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Celeborn, elven co-ruler of Lothl0rien, speaks directly to the readers as much as to the Fellowship when he counsels, “Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.”
Chances are you’ve read or watched “The Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien’s saga in three volumes of how a reluctant hero is tasked with destroying a Ring of Power as a squabbling alliance of Hobbits, humans, dwarves and elves backs him up and fights titanic battles against the evil Sauron and his gruesome dark hordes. The epic is about Good and Evil, and how individuals can be one or the other, or even both, depending on the circumstances.
Some months ago Jim Paredes quipped that Noynoy Aquino is like the reluctant Hobbit hero Frodo Baggins, and that all those flocking to his aid and assistance are like the motley cast of characters that comprised the Fellowship of the Ring.
Tolkien the narrator observes of hobbits, as much as of men, of people in books as much as of people in real life, that “There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.”
In Book Two, the message is amplified in an exchange between Gimli the dwarf and the elf Elrond, representatives of races that do not like each other but now allied in a common quest, yet the two still disagree on how to approach the physical and even moral perils of their quest.
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” the action-oriented Gimli starts off. Elrond the jaded elf replies, “Maybe, but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.” Gimli counters, “Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,” only for Elrond to pragmatically respond by saying, “Or break it.” This is the eternal conflict between purists and realists.
At a time when there’s a general desire to see righteousness reign in our politics, there is too great a danger of self-righteousness intruding its discordant voice, insisting, on one hand, on impossible standards for individuals while ignoring the need for a common cause to confront the greater danger. This is the danger of pride substituting for true conscientiousness.
Quite early on in Book One of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” in the second chapter, the reluctant Frodo and the wizard Gandalf discuss Gollum, the deranged previous holder of the Ring of Power from whom Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo, had taken the ring; throughout the saga Gollum represents the problem of Frodo the Good, requiring the at times sincere, and most other times, deceitful, assistance of the generally Evil Gollum.
From the very start, Frodo thinks it’s a bad thing to have to engage the help of bad people and tells Gandalf, â€œHe deserves death.” Gandalf’s answer is instructive, laying down a theme that will persist to the end of the saga, as he repeatedly counsels the members of the Fellowship of the Ring against the perils of confusing the righteousness of their cause with the pride of self-righteousness.
“Deserves it! I daresay he does,” Gandalf agrees; but adds, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least.”
Tolkien repeatedly returns to this theme of redemption – whether partial or complete – for the bad, or the merely confused, a possibility that should temper the self-righteousness of characters themselves fully capable of departing – temporarily but at times, disastrously – from the path of righteousness. Pride, he perpetually points out, feeds the divisions self-righteousness creates and which harms Good and promotes Evil.
As the elf Haldir of Lorien, responding to the bickering and simmering tensions between allies, points out in another chapter of Book Two: “In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.”
Gandalf himself, in Book Three, returns to the basic lesson Haldir propounded: “We are all friends here. Or should be; for the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward, if we quarrel.” Something he returns to again, much later on in Book Five, where once again self-righteousness has provoked discord and to which his reply is, “Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend. It can be so, sometimes.”
Hope is what enabled Good to conquer Evil – for at the heart of hope is the humility to give all a chance to help fight Evil, without sneering at motives. A humility based on belief in redemption for those who once served Evil. Frodo could not do it alone, he needed help; help came from all quarters and much of it tainted by mixed motives as shown by the thoroughly bad Gollum.
Every character wrestled with the dilemma of fighting for Good yet being confronted by Evil, internal and external. Hope subdued pride, humility fostered unity and trust in Good allowed individuals as well as kingdoms to conquer the Ultimate Evil, Sauron.
As the fair elven Galadriel had told the impatient dwarf Gimli in Book Two, “I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Gloin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”