Catch-up: Sauron’s fear

bootless

New Member
Hi! Just caught up after months of diligent and highly enjoyable listening, very excited to be on par finally. There seems to be a tradition in the seminar that caught-up participants are tolerated one post looking back on some issue they might want to raise, so here goes.

While following the seminar has prompted me to many new understandings of the text, perhaps the most profound so far was speculating on the psychology of the enemy (Witch King and Sauron) afteir their defeat at the Ford of Bruinen and the passing of the Ring into the control of the Wise. I read LoTR the first time as a teenager, in anticipation of the release of the PJ film. I had seen the book on my father’s bookshelf growing up and (having read The Hobbit) when news came of the films’ imminent arrival, I just knew I wanted to read the novel before seeing the film. While that gave me a basic relationship to the novel independent of the film, every re-read has subsequently been influenced by the PJ films. And I think I had forgotten just how momentous the victory at the Ford is in the novel. As a reader post PJ we are so “schooled” in to thinking that (i) “there is only one lord of the ring, only one who can bend it to his will” and (ii) it’s OBVIOUS that taking the ring is bad, and only IDIOTS like Boromir think that it can be used against Sauron. We are told in the Council and in the films that in seeking to destroy the Ring we are putting the enemy “out of his reckoning”. But the film does a very “good” job of putting wielding the Ring against Sauron our of our reckoning as readers/viewers. I had until this seminar not fully realised the consequences to Sauron of the possibility, inevitability even, that someone else, someone powerful, will now seek to wield the Ring.

While from the point of view of our protagonists the Quest and the War seem almost hopeless and against all odds (or as the professor put it, a series of eucatastrophies need to take place in order for the good guys to finish on top), the point of view of Sauron is desperate.

His chief foes have his ring, they know it is The One, they are winning battles, and having all kinds of weird “luck”. This changes the whole dynamic of the reading from “plucky gang of rag tag hobbits and others do Hail Mary play for the destruction of the enemy, who, if frankly he’d only been a little smarter and set serious guards at certain important places in his realm would have been totally fine” to “really quite clever group of extremely self-disciplined hobbits and others use their asymmetrical information advantage to the absolute maximum to cause a far superior enemy to act in fear and desperation for a full year, manage to subvert every expectation of their adversary and pull off extraordinary covert oprleration based, in great part, on psychological warfare.”

The movies make this latter reading quite impossible and Tolkien never fully spells it out in the novel. I fear it may have required a more subtle ability than I possessed as a 14-year old hoovering through the greatest adventure story I’d ever read. Thank you Prof for this insightful reading and I look forward to rereading the novel, with this basic post-Ford dynamic of Sauron’s fear in mind throughout.

p.s I have been able to catch up mainly thanks to my being on parental leave for my 10 month old daughter and have been “Exploring the Lord of The Rings” while she’s been exploring our living room. Another baby who will go to sleep to the sound of your voice for years to come.
 

Blad The Inspirer

New Member
Congratulations on catching up, though you are now stuck waiting for a new lesson each week like the rest of us!

I was still in high school when the first two films were released, and had only read LOTR a couple of times at that point. Ever since then I have slowly tried to read the books without picturing the films. It's so hard to remember the way I pictured the books in the few years before the films came out.

I agree with you that in general, the films make it seem like destroying the ring was a foregone conclusion, and each plot point was an inevitability. In the books you can feel the significance of each character's choices throughout the story. Also, we can see Sauron as a brilliant strategist who ends up being too clever for his own good, and we can understand the perspective of characters like Boromir and Denethor. Honestly, if I were a character in the story, I would have been on their side. I (and, I suspect, most people) would have considered trying to destroy the ring to be hopeless. It is very hard to feel that way when watching the movies.
 
More than hopeless. Boromir can be completely forgiven for thinking in terms of using the ring as a weapon; that's the way his mind (and likely most Men, really) would consider it, because Men lack the long-game perception of immortals like Elrond ad Gandalf. Men are born, live, and die and the blink of an eye to an Elf. Elrond has the luxury of looking back through his personal memory to times and events so long gone that they aren't even a memory of a legend in the lands of Men. In Elrond's own lifetime Morgoth was put down, and Sauron has come and gone and come back again. Compare to a man, who born in to the middle of the reign of a Dark Lord, can reasonably expect the Shadow to last his entire life time, and possibly the life times of his children and grandchildren. That would be one very important way that Elves and Men could almost never be able to comprehend each other in more than an abstract fashion.

And now here, the One Ring has turned up in the very nick of time, almost as though it were meant to be a weapon used to fight the Shadow, and these crazy Elves and wizards want to send a halfling (what even is a halfling, anyway!?!?!??) on a mad quest through the heart of the enemy's realm to try and destroy it, giving the Enemy every chance in the world to take it back! Probably the best chance they (and by they I mean Gondor, bright center of the free lands of the free, of course) will ever have to beat Sauron once and for all. Of course it would look like madness to Boromir.
 

JJ48

Active Member
More than hopeless. Boromir can be completely forgiven for thinking in terms of using the ring as a weapon; that's the way his mind (and likely most Men, really) would consider it, because Men lack the long-game perception of immortals like Elrond ad Gandalf. Men are born, live, and die and the blink of an eye to an Elf. Elrond has the luxury of looking back through his personal memory to times and events so long gone that they aren't even a memory of a legend in the lands of Men. In Elrond's own lifetime Morgoth was put down, and Sauron has come and gone and come back again. Compare to a man, who born in to the middle of the reign of a Dark Lord, can reasonably expect the Shadow to last his entire life time, and possibly the life times of his children and grandchildren. That would be one very important way that Elves and Men could almost never be able to comprehend each other in more than an abstract fashion.

And now here, the One Ring has turned up in the very nick of time, almost as though it were meant to be a weapon used to fight the Shadow, and these crazy Elves and wizards want to send a halfling (what even is a halfling, anyway!?!?!??) on a mad quest through the heart of the enemy's realm to try and destroy it, giving the Enemy every chance in the world to take it back! Probably the best chance they (and by they I mean Gondor, bright center of the free lands of the free, of course) will ever have to beat Sauron once and for all. Of course it would look like madness to Boromir.
Personally, I think it's less a matter of short-sightedness and more a fundamental misunderstanding of the Ring (which, in fairness, the Wise don't really explain too well). Boromir is looking at it strictly as a weapon. From that standpoint, why not use it, the same way one might use orc arrows or orc swords in need? If the Ring were simply a weapon or tool in this sense, it would make perfect sense to use it as one.

What he's missing is that the Ring is not merely a weapon. It does not simply have Power, but Power with a specific purpose for subjugation and domination; and anything accomplished with that Power will move toward those ends. It is this sort of spiritual element that Boromir is missing, and the reason that he doesn't understand the need to destroy it.
 
Yup, that's exactly what I was trying to say (badly). Obviously Boromir is not correct, but he basically found out about the ring ten minutes ago. I think he can be forgiven for not jumping right on Gandalf's bandwagon immediatly, based entirely on the say-so of a roomful of people he's never met before (apart fom Gandalf, I suppose). Add to that he is probably inclined to be distrustful of most of them because they aren't Men of Gondor or Rohan. Even considering that he traveled all that way to see Elrond.
 
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