Tolkien was clear in the books The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings that the struggle between good and evil would be never-ending. Right after the Valar vanquished Melkor, Sauron emerged in the Middle Earth and forged the Rings of Power to bring it all under his control. Not only do the seeds of evil continue to grow in Middle Earth, but also the dark conditions in which they grow continue to spread. As the sources of light decrease over the different Ages of Middle Earth, it becomes easier to deny the power of light and show off that of darkness. This expansion has encouraged a loss of hope and a lack of faith.
In our world, a feeling of growing darkness can lead to feelings of despair and defeat. In this feeling of defeat is the sense that evil is stronger and somehow more real than goodness. This is the exact opposite of the truth as many see it, Evil cannot prevail over goodness because evil is just a denial of the only true and fundamental wisdom: God. In other words, the light may be hidden or blocked, there for allowing darkness to grow, but it cannot be destroyed. All you have to do to regain the light is remove whatever obscures it, be it Melkor’s or Sauron’s evil.
The great thing is that the moment you remove whatever blocks the light, it immediately flows again, illuminating the world as brightly as before. Of course, as The Lord of the Rings so aptly points out, removing the obstacles to the light is often very difficult and comes at a very high price. More importantly, even though the light returns as strong as before once the obstacles are removed, the damage caused by their evil can still linger long after. Tolkien often used the word shadow in relation to evil and evil characters, even going so far as to say Sauron is the Shadow.
This is so effective to us because of the stereotype that a shadow is evil. As the darkness created by an object blocking out light, a shadow lacks substance. Shadow can also mean a faint representation, in the sense of “he is only a shadow of his former self. ” And shadow can refer to darkness and gloom, as when Aragorn tells Celeborn and Galadriel that Gandalf has fallen “into shadow” in Moria. Tolkien’s calling Sauron the Shadow is an effective way of getting across his dark, evil aspect while reinforcing the insubstantiality of his evil. Same goes for Sauron’s good buddies, the
Ringwraiths, The Ringwraiths, too, are just dark shapes that instill great fear, even though they seem to lack any substance. Consider that when Merry stabs the Lord of the Nazgul, his hauberk gives the only indication of where to try to wound him. The threat of becoming a shadow like one of the Ringwraiths or Sauron himself is one that particularly menaces Frodo as the bearer of the One Ring. After the Lord of the Nazgul wounds Frodo with the Morgul-knife, Gandalf notices that Frodo is becoming slightly transparent. As the Ring’s evil power becomes stronger as Frodo nears Mordor, this process of turning into a wraith becomes more pronounced.
Frodo is literally becoming a shadow. In Frodo’s struggle against turning into a wraith, Tolkien illustrates one process of becoming evil. It is not a process that happens all at once. Frodo’s his criticism of Bilbo’s pity towards him, and his revulsion at the idea that Gollum is at heart a hobbit — are due to Frodo’s fear of what he himself could become. In this view, the evil that Frodo carries can separate him from his own self and all he holds dear. In the end, the power of Ring, especially given Frodo’s continued use of it, corrupts him and convinces him that he can stand against Sauron and be the new Lord of the Ring.
Tolkien’s notion of “wraithing,” that is, gradually giving yourself over to a controlling power until you’re just a shadow of your former self, helpless before the evil influence, is very compelling and particularly applicable to modern life. Note that the power causing the “wraithing” doesn’t have to be as symbolic as the Ring: it can be any of the hundreds of addicting influences that rob people of their humanity. The main idea here seems to be that this process of becoming evil renders all of its “wraiths” into indistinguishable shadows, robbing them of individuality and personality.
In the Norse mythology, that I mentioned influenced Tolkien’s writings on my first paper for this class, the final battle that ends the world is called Ragnarok, the Doom of the Gods. This great battle not only destroys the Norse gods of the higher realm of Asgard, such as Odin and Thor, but also ends up destroying all of Midgard as well. But from the ashes of this final battle, a new, more beautiful world eventually comes to be. Ragnarok is quite unlike the Christian notion of Armageddon in the Book of Revelation. There, the angels of God overwhelm and cast down the Devil and his beasts just before God creates a new heaven and earth.
In Ragnarok, the gods face giants and other fell beasts knowing they will be killed in the process. In other words, the Norse gods face the Last Battle as any Viking hero would: ready and happy to die if necessary. In this Norse version of the end of the world, both good and evil annihilate each other. The few survivors establish the new world. Despite Tolkien’s firm personal belief in a “Day of judgment” his fantasy works show no such certainty, only hinting at the possibility of a Last Battle and a new world to follow.
His clearest reference is in the Dwarve’s belief that at death they will wait in the Halls of Mandos until the Last Battle, at which time they will come out and help their father fashion a new world. Other than that suggestion, Tolkien gives only vague references to a day when the world is changed or made new. But you can imagine that if pushed to depict the Last Battle in Middle Earth, Tolkien would fashion something closer to Ragnarok than Armageddon. This assumption is based on the way in which Gandalf and Aragorn face the Battle of Morannon near the end of The Lord of the Rings.
Here, they decide to face the Enemy and his great forces right outside the Black Gate of Mordor. They know that the chances of Frodo succeeding are remote, and that even if he does they may not live long enough to see it. Nevertheless, like the Norse gods at Ragnarok, they’re ready to battle the enemy in the face of almost certain defeat. The biggest difference between the heroes of the Battle of Morannon and those of Ragnarok is that Aragorn and the others show no relish for the fight and little of the Rohirrim’s delight in a warrior’s death. Instead, the warriors of the Battle of Morannon seem quite resigned to their fate.
They face this tremendous challenge with great fear and anxiety. In fact, Tolkien’s attitude in The Lord of the Rings towards war and battling evil is very modern. In most of the battles, good guys are far out numbered by bad guys, and their chances of victory are usually slim to none. Tolkien’s warriors are serious about their jobs, especially Gandalf and Aragorn. Tolkien’s attitudes toward warfare in The Lord of the Rings is simply explained by the phrase “War is hell”. The world is a dangerous place, and the forces of evil are everywhere and are numerous.
Just as fewer of us are certain that good always triumphs over evil, heroes such as Gandalf and Aragorn are far from certain about the success of their desperate venture to prevent Sauron’s total domination of Middle Earth. Tolkien’s heroes fight with little assurance of victory in their particular struggle, to say nothing of a final triumph of good over evil in a much later Last Battle. They fight knowing that they have to resist evil to preserve the islands of light in Middle Earth and to stop the spread of darkness, and they must do this with no guarantee of success.