“Ours is a High and Lonely Destiny”. Is the Lord of Isengard Saruman or Uncle Andrew?

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 251-254

Scholars of the Inklings speak of a certain cooling of the friendship between Tolkien and C.S Lewis following the publication and subsequent success of Lewis’s Narnia stories. It is not my intention to go into this here but I do want to draw the attention of my readers to a similarity between the speech that Saruman makes to Gandalf and that which Uncle Andrew makes to Digory in The Magician’s Nephew. We might extend that similarity to Weston’s speech, translated by Ransom, to the Oyarsa of Malacandra in Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet even though it was first published seventeen years before The Magician’s Nephew. Each of the speeches are similar in spirit. Each one has the sense of it being, as Tolkien describes Saruman’s speech, “long rehearsed”. And each speech is risible in nature. Lewis is quite explicit in this. Both Weston and Uncle Andrew are treated as laughable by those that they are trying to impress. Tolkien is never explicit in this manner and this might be regarded as a difference between him and Lewis as writers of fiction but I have written in this blog before of the way in which Saruman descends into absurdity as the story progresses. While Gollum’s fall into the fires of Orodruin calls upon our pity and Sauron’s fall into nothingness is a terrible thing, Saruman somehow becomes an unhappy joke. Not that anyone in the story is laughing, except perhaps for Merry and Pippin.

Harold Jig’s excellent imagining of Saruman’s display

I am sure that most of my readers recognised the quotation in the title of this week’s post as coming from The Magician’s Nephew. “Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are free from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.” Uncle Andrew is at one and the same time trying to impress his nephew with his significance while, at the same time, seeking to justify the low mean trick that he has just played upon Polly. In his speech to the Oyarsa in Out of the Silent Planet Weston is also trying to impress his audience while justifying his murder of some of the creatures of Malacandra. “To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race”.

Andrew Ketterley imagines Uncle Andrew’s Mean Trick Upon Polly

And then there is Saruman’s speech to Gandalf. Last week we thought about Saruman’s display of his own significance. The ring upon his finger, the coat of many colours and the magnificence of Isengard itself, are all intended to impress and to intimidate. This is a strategy that works with the Dunlendings but most certainly not with Gandalf. Nor does his speech, however well rehearsed it is.

“The Elder Days are gone. The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men that we must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.”

One can only guess that the kind of spirit that Saruman, Uncle Andrew and Weston all display must have been discussed when the Inklings met and certainly it must have been recognised and deplored by Tolkien and Lewis. Each of these characters place themselves within modernity, regarding themselves as its heralds, even its guardians and each of them enthusiastically adopt a chronological snobbery that regards any kind of morality other than the right of the strong to order and exploit the lives of the weak as being contemptible. Tolkien describes this contempt eloquently in his foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings. He speaks of the difference between the War of the Ring to the Second World War that had taken place as he was writing his own work. If, he says, the two had resembled each other more, the Ring would most certainly have been used against Sauron and then he says of Saruman that if he had failed to get possession of the Ring he “would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves”.

All of the works of the Inklings are a critique of this version of modernity and, as we have noted, as well as this version being cruel it is also absurd. We will return to this in next week’s blog.

“In All These Things He Has Been the Chief.” Elrond Calls upon Gandalf to Tell His Part in the Story.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 243-248

After first Gloín, and then Boromir, have spoken of the reasons why they have come to Rivendell Elrond calls upon first Bilbo and then Frodo to speak of how they came to possess the Ring and of how it was brought to Elrond’s halls. Perhaps it is the childlike stature of the hobbits, halflings as they are named by others, that arouses a certain scepticism in their hearers and so it is Galdor who has come from the Grey Havens to represent Cirdan, his lord, who gives voice to this doubt.

“The Wise may have good reason to believe that the halfling’s trove is indeed the Great Ring of long debate, unlikely though that may seem to those who know less. But may we not hear the proofs?”

And so Elrond calls upon Gandalf, declaring that he will have the place of honour as the last to speak, for “in all this matter he has been the chief”.

Gandalf and the Ring at Bag End

We have been in the company, first of Bilbo ever since he first found the Ring deep within the tunnels of the Misty Mountains, and then of Frodo on his journey through the wild pursued by the Nazgûl. At the Fords of Bruinen we heard the cry of the Ringwraiths, “The Ring! The Ring!” as they urged their horses into the foaming waters at the Fords of Bruinen but as Galdor said, the “halfling’s trove” is too big a thing even to accept its identity at the word of Elrond and Gandalf. It is the “peril of the world” whose very existence places all the peoples of the world in the greatest danger whether they know of it or not. This is why Gandalf must offer more than his word and so he begins to tell his part in the story of the Ring.

Gandalf first came to Middle-earth as one of the Istari, seven travellers sent by the Valar “as messengers sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him”. Soon after their arrival a shadow began to fall upon the Greenwood, home to the woodland elves of Thranduil. An evil power had made a stronghold at Dol Guldur in the south of the forest and people began to call the forest, Mirkwood. At first it was thought that the power was one of the Nazgûl but eventually Gandalf went to Dol Guldur and established the truth that the power was Sauron himself who was seeking to gather all the Rings to himself and for news of the One and news of Isildur’s heir. The Istari and the greatest of the Eldar had formed a council in order to resist the Power and on learning that it was Sauron Gandalf urged an assault upon Dol Guldur but Saruman opposed him. Eventually in the year that Bilbo found the One Ring in the Misty Mountains, Smaug the Dragon was slain by Bard of Dale and the Battle of the Five Armies was successfully fought, Saruman finally agreed to an assault upon Sauron. He had learned that Sauron’s servants were searching the Anduin vale near to where Isildur had fallen and he had become alarmed. Sauron retreated from his woodland fortress but only because his work in Mordor was now complete.

The Coming of the Istari to Middle-earth

At all times Saruman sought to allay the fears of the Council concerning Sauron’s search for the Ring.

“Have I not earnestly studied this matter? Into Anduin the Great [The Ring] fell; and long ago, while Sauron slept, it was rolled down the River to the Sea. There let it lie until the End.”

But Gandalf’s fears were never fully allayed and with the help of Aragorn Gollum was found and at last, in the study at Bag End, Gandalf read the words written upon the Ring.

“One Ring to Rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them.”

There is no doubt any longer that Frodo’s ring is indeed the One Ring that Sauron seeks.

One Ring to Rule Them All

Elrond Tells of How An Eagerness for Knowledge Allowed Sauron to Ensnare the Elven-smiths of Eregion.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.236-239

It was the Elven-smiths of Eregion who gave Sauron the knowledge that he required to forge the One Ring. It was not that Celebrimbor was an ally to Sauron in his desire for the mastery of Middle-earth but that and his co-workers failed to perceive the true motives of the one they knew as Annatar. At this stage of his career Sauron was able to appear in a fair guise. That is one reason why Celebrimbor was deceived. But much more importantly he was deceived because of what he shared in common with the one who would become his deadly foe. He like Sauron had an eagerness for knowledge and this is what lead to his ultimate ensnaring.

An imagining of the friendship between Celebrimbor and Sauron/Annatar

Or so Tolkien the narrator relates that Elrond affirms in his speech to the Council in Rivendell. And I think that we must assume that Tolkien agrees with what Elrond says here for in saying this Elrond confirms the way in which the story of Sauron is told throughout the legendarium, the complete works of Tolkien regarding his mythical world. Sauron is always presented as a character who desires order and control above everything and what is always necessary if anyone is to achieve order is to possess knowledge. Without the possession of knowledge order is an impossibility.

The artist, Kapriss, imagines the shared desire for knowledge that leads to the forging of the Rings of Power

It was th desire for order that led Sauron first to admire Melkor who was to become Morgoth and then to follow him. After the Fall of Thangorodrim and the judgement of Morgoth by the Valar Sauron was at first willing to submit to the overwhelming logic of a greater power. At least he was willing in theory. The Valar demanded that he present himself in person in Valinor in order to receive their judgement but he never came. Was this because this presentation of himself was to be a voluntary act on his part and not one that would be brought about by force? And was his ever hardening rebellion caused (in his own mind at least) by the realisation that the Valar would never enforce their will upon Middle-earth? I think that we have to affirm that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes.

For Sauron the patience of the heavenly beings, the Valar to whom the One entrusted the rule of Arda (the earth) at the beginning of time was a sign of the frailty of divine lordship. For most of the second and the third ages of Arda it seemed as if the Valar had little interest in Middle-earth, leaving it more or less to its own devices. The only realities that Sauron perceived were the power of Númenor and of the great Elven kingdoms of Middle-earth. Of course he fully came to understand that there was a limit to his power when he encouraged Númenor to invade the Deathless Lands and so brought down upon himself the wrath of Illuvatar but nothing changed his mind about the apparent indifference of the Powers to Middle-earth. After all what d he did perceive in order to change his mind apart from the Eagles of Manwë, Lord of the Valar, and the arrival of the Istari, the wizards, most of whom proved either to be ineffective or open to corruption?

The Arrival of the Istari

But what of Celebrimbor and the Elven-smiths of Eregion? In what way can we say that they too shared at least something of Sauron’s perception of reality? In what way did this perception enable Sauron to ensnare them? Firstly we have to say that Sauron fully owned his perception whereas Celebrimbor did not do so. Thus one was the ensnarer while the other was ensnared; and second is that the Noldorin smiths ruled by the grandson of Fëanor also desired knowledge in order to achieve control and in their case this meant a control that would enable the preservation of beauty. Sauron may have desired mastery and order for their own sake and he may have had no interest in the preservation of beauty but in his belief that the knowledge that Sauron was offering him could enable him to preserve the beauty of an ordered world Celebrimbor proved himself a fellow traveller to Sauron’s world view.