The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 236-239
How do we judge the value of an historical event or of a lifetime? Those of us who can remember them will recall the events of 1989 in Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a thesis by the American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, in 1992 which he entitled, The End of History and The Last Man, in which he argued that the free-market capitalism of the western powers and their associated liberal democracies might signify the end point of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government. For the western nations 1989 acts as a high point of optimism in their history and a year in which everything seemed to be possible. Fukuyama caught the spirit of that year with his thesis but now, a little over thirty years later, it seems to be very much of its time. Fukuyama now argues that alongside the political events of 1989 the emerging dominant cultural theory was postmodernism with its profound pessimism regarding the human project and that this undermined all that took place in that year.
Imagine Elrond giving a lecture on the geo-political history of his long life to the Council gathered together in Rivendell on that October morning in the year 3018 of the Third Age of Middle-earth. One thing that a political theorist would observe almost immediately would be its complete lack of anything that they would expect, that is a theory. Elrond has no theory but only a story. A story of thousands of years in which he has been intimately involved since the last part of the First Age. It is given to Frodo to speak on our behalf here.
“I thought that the fall of Gil-galad was a long age ago.”
As a pupil of Bilbo Baggins Frodo probably already knows this but someone has to speak for the rest of us who come to the story for the first time in complete ignorance and so we are grateful to him for his willingness to do so.
If Elrond has no political theory neither does he have any doubt as to where righteousness lies. He has no doubt that Sauron and Sauron’s master, Morgoth, before him are utterly evil. He has little, if anything, to say about the peoples of Middle-earth with whom the descendants of the Eldar and of Númenor have had to do. The Easterlings, the Haradrim, the Dunlendings, the wild men of the Druadan Forest play little part in his story except as foes, largely of Gondor. This is not to say that such questions are never addressed in The Lord of the Rings. Faramir in particular speaks of his wish that the wisdom of Númenor and its descendants should be offered to the peoples of Middle-earth not as a means to dominate through cultural superiority but “beautiful as a queen among other queens… not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.” That such wisdom is praiseworthy is not something that is questioned. There is no suspicion of narratives here.
Elrond does not share the optimism of Faramir regarding the renewal of Númenor nor, as we shall see, Boromir’s pride as a son of that people. He sees the history of Middle-earth through the eyes of the Firstborn and so he speaks of fruitless victories. “Never again shall there be any such league of Elves and Men; for Men multiply and the Firstborn decrease, and the two kindreds are estranged.” Although he remembers the overthrow of Thangorodrim and the fall of Morgoth and although he remembers the overthrow of Sauron upon the slopes of Orodruin when Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron’s finger, he sees each of these events through the eyes of the decline of his people and the diminishment of the beauty that they have given to the earth.
And yet Elrond does not give way to his pessimism. He knows truth and goodness and the beauty that harmonises them both. He knows the sacrifice of his father, Eärendil, and of his grandsires, Beren and Lúthien and he will betray neither of these sacrifices nor those who offered them. He may not know what lies ahead for good or ill but he knows what he must do. He must do all that he can to end the threat of Sauron for ever.