Last week, whilst snowed in with the kids for a day, I decided to introduce them to Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. We watched Fellowship, which is about as much as one can ask of a 7 year old and a 4 year old in one day. They liked it and were very engaged in the battle scenes and loved Galadriel and Arwen, especially. I liked it more.
It’s always been my favorite of the three films. It’s the one I think deserved all the Oscars, not the bloated 3rd Act with all the incessant monologues and that damned ship that we watched sail away for, like, ten minutes or something. The Fellowship of the Ring really conveys the full strength of the novels in miniature, and does so with artistry rather than with brute SFX force. I’m not here, though, to debate the films’ comparable merits. I’m here to tell you how the movie affected me this last time in a way it hadn’t before.
Our society – by which I mean the United States – has taken a pretty sharp left turn into dark, disturbing, and destructive territory (yeah, yeah – there’s some politics here. Feel free to tune out.). Times are uncertain. People are uneasy, the world stands on edge. A dark power has arisen, one seeking to devour all that the free peoples have built over the ages. One that sows lies and deceit with every breath. One that values wealth and power above all other concerns – a Dark Lord.
And so here we are. The analogy is pretty clear, and it’s notable that Tolkien wrote these books with this loose analogy in mind. The One Ring was always the symbol of greed and domination, of deceit and lies. It is the Machine – the modern world Tolkien saw as antithetical to everything he loved. Everything green and quiet and simple and good. It doesn’t take a lot of prodding to slip the Trump administration, with its desire to obliterate the EPA and its oil tycoon Secretary of State, neatly into place. We can even see the conservative wing of our government, sitting there in their studies, hugging a book, whilst some disembodied voice whispers “BUILD ME AN ARMY WORTHY OF MAR-A-LAGO.”
As in Middle Earth, the human race (the “Race of Men”) is rolling over before the might of the Ring. As Galadriel says:
And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of Men, who above all else desire power.
…but the hearts of men are easily corrupted. And the ring of power has a will of its own.
Enter Boromir, who may as well be wearing a Make Gondor Great Again hat, pissed off at the elves for not doing enough to save his people, pissed off at Aragorn for shirking his duty, pissed off that they have this super-weapon ring that might turn the tide and they’re just gonna throw it away.
So the guy is a hand’s breadth from betraying Frodo, stealing the Ring, and ruining them all. But, for all this, he is not a bad guy. He’s just a human being, trying to get by in a world he doesn’t fully understand, observing it through unavoidable filter of his own experience. One can (and I have) written essays on understanding Boromir’s motives – he is the symbol for humanity more than any other in the trilogy. But, of course, he’s still dead wrong. He still seeks to betray.
Here’s the thing, though: he realizes he was wrong. He redeems himself, fighting to defend his friends and dying in the attempt. There – right there – is the cause for hope. The hope that he himself could not see even as Galadriel told him of it. He cannot see it because he is blinded by his own struggles and lashing out at what he thinks are their cause. But he’s wrong.
Boromir joins a long list of hopeless people giving in to darkness for the lack of hope. Saruman is a great example, as is Theoden before Gandalf’s intervention. Even Smeagol/Gollum falls on this spectrum – a being so poisoned by his own greed that he loses all sense of self. There is no hope beyond which the Ring might provide him – that Sauron might provide him. But, of course, Sauron has no intention of doing so. As Gandalf says:
There is only one lord of the ring, Saruman – only one. And He does not share power.
So, okay – what are we to do in the face of all this? We feel powerless to affect the destinies of nations, of peoples, of the world. We, like Frodo, wish it had never happened to us. We are angry with the ones whose fear has brought us to this pass – Frodo wishes Bilbo had killed Gollum when he had the chance. Again, though, Gandalf demurs:
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them. Frodo? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
We are left, then, with two pieces of wisdom, one from Gandalf and one from Galadriel, to guide us. On the one hand, Gandalf tells us that all people who live in such times wished they were not so, but we cannot make such choices. All we can do is decide what to do with the time that is given us. And then, Galadriel:
Even the smallest person can change the course of history.
I take great comfort in those words. I must – we all must – endeavor to maintain hope in the face of despair and loss. We must seek to be unafraid before that which is fearsome and terrible to behold. Small though we are, we must believe. Because if we give in to fear and lose our hope, if we (to paraphrase Aragorn) sever all bonds of fellowship, then the Dark Lord will have won.
Dear Duke Lothario,
If you are receiving this correspondence, it is because you have successfully stolen Degas’s The Bellelli Family from Musee D’Orsay in Paris and have found our note taped to the back of the canvas. Congratulations, monsieur, on your successful heist and be assured that our fence, Madame Noir, shall be by tomorrow at midnight to take possession. This note, however, will be stolen off your person by tomorrow morning by the one and only Chat Mauve. Do not try to stop him; you will only embarrass yourself.
Why have we gone to such lengths? It is to inform you of an unparalleled opportunity developing in the United States of America. As you may have heard, inveterate fool and consummate imbecile Donald Trump has managed to achieve the White House (thanks, in no small part, to our meddling, we assure you – your service fees at work!), and now, friends, our true work begins. A golden age of kleptocracy is about to begin in the US of A, and we would love for you to be part of it!
Let it be known that we are contacting every hustler, grifter, sneak-thief, footpad, brigand, con-man, cat burglar, extortion artist, cutpurse, second-story man, bandit, robber, and pickpocket in our network that, once Trump takes office, we are declaring open-season on any and all American goods, artifacts, or government assets. We are buying military equipment, real-estate, physical assets (e.g. gold), and artifacts. Grab all you can carry – we are absolutely certain that the FBI, NSA, and CIA will be entirely too worried tracking down Hispanic farm workers with unpaid parking tickets to bother stopping you from filching weapons-grade plutonium from a government lab. Their eyes will be so fixated on signing unassuming Muslims up on some fascist database that not a single person will notice if the Washington Monument goes missing. Trump isn’t even living in the White House, so the whole damned place is basically unoccupied except by those glorified rent-a-cops in the Secret Service and, let’s face it, you are just three or four high-end strippers away from having the run of the place!
Just to give you a taste of the things we’re looking to purchase off the ambitious villains willing to pull it off, here is an incomplete list:
- The US Constitution (an easy grab, since we doubt it will be seeing much use)
- The Declaration of Independence (note: do not look for any secret treasure maps)
- Lincoln’s Head from the Lincoln Memorial (rest of statue optional)
- The VA Hospital system (the whole thing–no partial buys)
- A Commissioned Aircraft Carrier (deliverable to our offices in Arkhangelsk, Russia)
- Minuteman missiles (for our mad-scientist clients–demand is high, so prices are too!)
- Trump’s Toupee (careful–it might bite)
- Mount Vernon and/or Monticello
- The US Interstate Highway System (suffering from some disrepair, so be delicate)
- Mount Rushmore (Teddy Roosevelt only)
And on and on and on…
Friend, the possibilities here are literally endless, but act quickly – Trump’s minions are going to be pawning a lot of this stuff off soon, so supplies are more limited than you think!
Good luck, Duke Lothario! Remember: your success is our success!
Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL)
Will the wailing of you weakling wetlanders never cease? Now, I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northron Wastes, am forced to listen to you moan and weep over who shall be your next King? What madness is this? What ails thy current King, the one known as “Obama?” Hath his death-drones abandoned him? Why can he not slay his rivals, as is fitting? Is his champion, Biden, bereft of blade and fire with which to burn the homes of his foes? This perplexes me.
Why should finding the Obama’s successor require so much time and foolish preening, like cocks strutting in the yard? Why do these contenders not merely fall upon one another on the field of battle and the mightiest prove the gods’ favor in him? This talk of “super delegates” and “caucuses” is madness.
But lo, Vrokthar is no man to sit and ponder the mysteries of your depraved people! Vrokthar acts, and what he does shakes the foundations of the world! So it is that I will settle your whimpering, once and for all, and command you to choose the king who would suit thee best. Therefore, wetlanders, heed me: Trump is now thy new King. Bow down to the Trump, lest thee be slain for thy insolence!
Why? You dare to question Vrokthar’s wisdom? He who hath slain seven polar bears with his bare hands? He who hath razed thy villages and sold thy children into slavery in the Mysterious East? For this insult, all you and your clan shall have thy bones ground to meal to make my bread!
But, in the meantime, Vrokthar shall explain.
This Trump is the only suitable King for your wretched people. In the first place, he is an unnatural color orange, and therefore is no doubt blessed by the gods. Indeed, his skin may even be impervious to the spears of his enemies, as was the case with Golmarg the Yam-Colored in days of yore. Furthermore, this chief Trump is the only candidate who wears the pelt of a beast he hath slain upon his head. I know not what unnatural creature it was, but I can be certain that it was a mighty battle, given how restlessly the pelt lies upon the Trump’s brow.
Yes, the Trump will be a mighty King. Already he hath found innumerable enemies for thy people to ride forth and slay. Yes, much war and glory shall come to your shores with this new King. The name of thy tribe shall ring with fear the world over, and he even promises to be so fearsome that thy foes shall construct a mighty wall to keep thee out. It is a testament to the bloodthirsty urges of the Trump (and, indeed, to all barbarians) the height and length of the walls their enemies, in their abject terror, are forced to construct.
Let it also be known that the Trump speaks his mind, not fearful of being called a liar, for such persons will no doubt be silenced by his champions. He speaks in short words, which is fortunate for the many fools who dawdle their pointless existences within your borders, and when he speaks, he speaks of victory! Yes, the Trump promises to win in all things, just like a good chief must. Care not that he hath no “plan” or “knowledge” – such are the trappings of lesser men! A true king acts, he does not plan! A true king makes his vision true by force and rage and the blessings of the gods! Surely, his orange hide is proof enough of his virility!
The Trump hath many wives and hath built great towers to his own glory! He hath pillaged fortunes and then squandered them and then pillaged still more, without care for the weaklings who perished in his wake! Those who challenge him he mocks, for he knows they are too weak to face him in battle! He is, at long last, a King worthy of my own people, who ravage the northern wastelands and live hard lives worthy of the name.
Who else wouldst thou select, fools? The duplicitous dowager queen? The wild-haired old madman? The beardless, malevolent wood-sprite? That other guy, who bears no discernible features?
No! It will not be! Trump is the victor – Vrokthar hath declared it! Kneel to him and his battle sledge, or become the first of the slaves tasked to build his mausoleum! So Vrokthar hath decreed!
Trust me in this, weaklings. It takes a true barbarian king to know his own kind.