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McKellen: No Source of Morality in Hobbiton?

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Anybody catch Ian McKellen's spin on Middle Earth morality?:

"Although it's about good and evil, the concentration is all on good people," McKellen said. "We never see the villain. Sauron is just an eye; he's a notion; he's a threat, a force . . . .

"I think people respond to that. I think they like perhaps the idea of a fellowship of good people. Not being told by any church leaders what's right or wrong. There's no church in Hobbiton, no source of morality. It's all within yourself and the people you associate with. So maybe that's the appeal. But who can say? Maybe people just like looking at wonderful pictures."

From the Sunday Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/art...leisurearts-hed

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"the concentration is all on good people...We never see the villain. Sauron is just an eye; he's a notion; he's a threat, a force..."

Tolkien spoilers

The element of truth here is that Tolkien doesn't develop the one most entirely evil figure, Sauron, into a character. But it's ridiculous to look at Saruman, Wormtongue, and Gollum, and say "the concentration is all on good people." Saruman and Wormtongue are just plain evil, and Gollum is mostly evil, and finally succumbs entirely to evil. Even with Frodo, as with Boromir, when finally put to the ultimate test they ultimately succumb to evil, though both are spared the consequences of their failure and allowed to redeem themselves.

"Not being told by any church leaders what's right or wrong. There's no church in Hobbiton, no source of morality. It's all within yourself and the people you associate with. So maybe that's the appeal."

Yes, he spouted this same line at the junket. It's quite true that Tolkien deliberately avoided any hint of institutional religion in Middle-earth, in order to avoid colliding with the actual economy of salvation. But morality in Middle-earth isn't "within yourself." As Silmarillion readers know, it comes from Eru, the One, also known as Illuvatar, All-Father, who created the world. Sauron, the Evil One, is the disciple of Melkor, first of Eru's creatures to rebel. Evil in Middle-earth, and Sauron's evil in particular, is thus inextricably linked to rebellion against Eru.

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Yes, he spouted this same line at the junket.

But that's not surprising, it seems to me. Did anyone from the movie give any sense during the junket that they understood the religious underpinnings of the trilogy? If so, I'd be surprised. I don't know that any of the stars of the movie are Christians, or would be expected to understand the stories on anything more than a surface level.

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Christian wrote:

Did
anyone
from the movie give any sense during the junket that they understood the religious underpinnings of the trilogy? If so, I'd be surprised. I don't know that any of the stars of the movie are Christians, or would be expected to understand the stories on anything more than a surface level.

The screenwriters were all aware of the faith issue, and there were a few perceptive comments. Here's an excerpt from my coverage of the junket; the full piece will be up Friday (I can't put it up before then as part of my deal with the Register).

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I'm not surprised either. In fact, this comment of MacKellan's dovetails nicely with Davies comments quoted in another thread that show Davies to view the trilogy as an extended analysis of WWI and the need to stand against the threats to one's national and cultural values. I'm not sure that this is so off the mark. 1) Silmarillion was at least published long after the trilogy, and 2) folks not sharing Tolkein's values can hardly be expected in this day and age to trumpet those spiritual values or strain to notice them.

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