Frodo Teaches Us about a Condition of Complete Simplicity Costing not less than Everything

Almost as soon as I reread the final sentence in last week’s blog posting, “The Darkness Cannot Overcome the Light”, I began to worry about it. For those who need to be reminded of what I wrote here it is again:

“Hell must be harrowed because Hell is but a negligible thing so vulnerable to the invasion of light and so easily overcome by it.”

It is not the negligibility of Hell that is in question. Its expression in The Lord of the Rings is, of course, Mordor, the kingdom created by Sauron during the Second Age that is the centre of his seemingly irresistible power and whose name alone is capable of striking fear into the hearts of those who hear it. Nothing it would seem can possibly withstand it and yet it will fall to two hobbits whose lives could be taken in a moment with one well aimed blow of an orc’s scimitar. Last week I wrote about the hobbits at the city of the Ringwraiths, Minas Morgul. At that point of the story they have already undertaken a journey that the greatest warrior of Gondor would not dare to take and yet how easily they potter past it and onward up the stair of Cirith Ungol. I believe that this perspective is no accidental discovery on my part but a deliberate intention of Tolkien’s and we will come across expressions of it many times as we journey through the remaining pages of his great story. It is a perspective that C.S Lewis expressed in The Great Divorce when the guide to the heavenly country, George MacDonald, affirms that “All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.”

No, Hell really is negligible and it is profoundly vulnerable to the invasion of light. That is not in question. It was not that statement that bothered me but the last words of the sentence, “so easily overcome by it.” How could I describe the journey of Frodo and Sam as easy when I know how much it cost them? At first I wanted to change what I had written by some simple act of editing but the more I thought about what I wanted to write the more I knew that I needed to write something a little more substantial. I needed to affirm both Hell’s negligibility and the cost of overcoming, harrowing it. In the Christian tradition this is what is understood as the triumph of the cross, the astonishing paradox by which the execution of an accused man is the means by which Death and Hell are utterly defeated. In The Lord of the Rings it is the act by which Frodo and Sam lay down their lives in taking the Ring to the fire. In Peter Jackson’s film this is wonderfully expressed when the screen is darkened for a moment when the flames of the fiery mountain surge about the two friends as Mordor falls into chaos.

Why we can say both that Hell is negligible and yet to overcome it will cost us our lives is the strangest of paradoxes. The butterfly in the heavenly, the Real, world can eat all Hell and yet not even be aware that it has done so and yet it must take the life of the Son of God to overcome it. At the end of T.S Eliot’s The Four Quartets he expresses perfectly the wisdom that may not understand the paradox  for paradoxes are not meant to be understood but to be lived. Eliot speaks of:

“A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)”

This is the simplicity that Frodo and Sam achieve at the moment they leave the comparative security of Faramir’s refuge in Ithilien, placing themselves again into the hands of a malicious guide who wishes to do them harm. At the moment they walk away from Faramir they give up their lives. If we are to know the conquering of Hell in our own lives then it will be when we find the same simplicity paying the same cost.

6 thoughts on “Frodo Teaches Us about a Condition of Complete Simplicity Costing not less than Everything

  1. And Heaven help us to do so.

    Yes, to this. So much.

    “so easily overcome by it.” I think the key is in the “it.” We are not the light, at least not yet. It may shine through us, but we are still shadow-creatures.

  2. As I think about your comment the beginning of John’s gospel comes to mind again which, of course, has been in my mind the whole time as I have written these last two postings. Those words regarding John the Baptist, “He was not the light but came to bear witness to the light” are true to Frodo and Sam and also to us. So too do the words that come soon after, “But to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” I think that is the miraculous nature of the lives of those who achieve “complete simplicity costing not less than everything.” Frodo and Sam are among that number and enter Mordor bearing a power that Sauron cannot resist but to do so will cost them everything.

    • “Frodo and Sam are among that number and enter Mordor bearing a power that Sauron cannot resist but to do so will cost them everything.” The very thing that makes the Lord of the Rings, and all of Tolkien’s mythos, so incredibly powerful.

  3. I agree with you entirely. I am currently reading a wonderful theological study on Tolkien and G.K Chesterton by Alison Milbank entitled “Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians” (T&T Clark 2009) that shows how fine both of these writers were as theologians. It also shows how Tolkien worked consciously as a theologian in the creation of his mythos and yet he makes us do the work. He never forces anything upon us. I wonder if his work is a hidden force for transformation within world culture that is yet to bear its fruit. To me that is a truly wonderful thought and I hope to play a small part in enabling it to happen.

    • “Tolkien worked consciously as a theologian in the creation of his mythos and yet he makes us do the work. He never forces anything upon us. I wonder if his work is a hidden force for transformation within world culture that is yet to bear its fruit.”

      Yes! Yes, yes, yes. This. So much is there, but he doesn’t spell it out for us, and because of that, he is able to slip into hearts and minds (clever as a serpent, harmless as a dove). And when we do find things in his writing that have to be sought after, we value them more because, instead of being told, we discovered.

      Also, this sounds like a book I need to read.

      • I love the thought of the serpent “slipping” here! And yet as harmless as a dove too. I read Alison Milbank on Treebeard this morning. It is wonderful stuff and greatly deepened my understanding of the Ents and wonder at them too. Her book has also given me a deeper insight into how I see your work too but I will offer that to you elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s