There is Providence and then there is Providence!

Timdalf

Active Member
As if we have not mulled over Providence, Boethius and Tolkien enough, I want to underline something that was implied in Session 178 -- Seasoned Deliberations. It was mentioned that the Valar could have seen to it that the Ring actually did get sent down the River to the Sea, But they did not. In other words, if the Valar --presumably under the influence of Eru, could have Providentially sent the Ring either to oblivion in the Sea or safety among the Valar. But they did not. This then is the other side of Providence. Conventionally thought of as benevolent and protective, Providence should also be thought of as -- if not as hostile -- then as challenging. It is actually a side of the Will of God... Usually, as I say, thought of as its"nice" side, as opposed to the stern or even displeased, wrathful side. But by not "taking care" of the Ring Itself on behalf of the inhabitants of Middle-earth, it is demonstrating a relation to them that is neither benevolent at first glance, nor negative. As Prof Corey notes, Tolkien is always very circumspect about the role of Providence, merely hinting at its behind the scenes presence in comments about luck or happenstance, if mentioned at all -- rather than just being active in how the plot situations occur (the timing of the Elrond Council and its assemblage). What these comments (in the narrative, and in our comments) about the lingering presence of the Ring (on the one hand being kept out of sight vis a vis Sauron, but on the other, still un-disposed of) indicates that it is the Will of Eru (and thus of the Valar too) that it is the legacy of Middle-earth, and it is the business of its denizens to deal with it, successfully or not. In fact, it might be the deep reason why Middle-earth exists at all! This moral struggle is what will justify its existence or condemn it, if they fail through negligence or venality. Now, we are perilously close to the worst of crit-fic here, of course. Where does "Providence" within Arda end and Tolkien begin? But let's bracket that meta-textual issue out (the way Phenomenologists bracket out metaphysical issues in philosophy). Another way of stating what I am driving at here is: The cosmic Music of Eru et Ainur has a great theme... one development of that Great Theme is the creation, action, and response to the One Ring. The One Ring is the focal point that puts all that happens and all those that "happen" it into perspective. The whole picture is arranged around this one issue, one concrete thing. What defines the content is not the frame, but the frame is defined by the content... In the case of Middle-earth there is much left beyond the frame, only mentioned in passing and not explicitly imaged. To use another term, familiar to film goers, it is the Macguffin of the whole Tale. In once sense it is a bit arbitrary that it be a ring, but in another, somehow intrinsic. Or to use another term, that would appeal to chemists, it is the catalyst not only of the Tale, but of the calling into existence (directly or no) of Middle-earth and its entire historical path. OK, what is the point of all this? That I am trying to peel off the layers as to why the prime movers (Elrond, Gandalf et al) and we definitively sense that laying the Ring in the lap of the Valar is not a worthy option. They would simply refuse to take it and send it back. This is your baby, guys. Whether it would tempt them or not, is not the real point. You in effect brought it into being, even though Sauron is the proximate agent, Your gold is the material cause, that it is a ring is the formal cause, Sauron is the efficient cause... and -- this is most important -- the Three Elvish Rings are the Final Cause -- the teleological cause -- the reason why gold, ring and Sauron came together in it! (Everybody will of course see Aristotle lurking with a self-satisfied smirk in the background here.) The One Ring is, in its essence and being, an ELVISH problem! In a very real sense the Ring is indeed a counterpoint to the Silmarils -- another Elvish problem. (But very different as was [pointed out in the Sessopns).... However, the Three Rings are direct analogues to the Three Silmarils. Tolkien may have spread out his theme, like Eru, into three almost endless ages. But in fact, the three ages come crashing into collision via the three Rings and the three Silmarils. The Elves were not very nice (to use a favorite word of Smeagol) in dealing with the Silmarils which were not malicious in intent. But the Ring is. Are the Elves up to this task? Or are they a bit wiser and decide to leave it in better hands? Namely, that of frail, diminutive, unsuspecting Hobbits!! Pride was the Elves downfall in the First Age. And Men's in the Second. Will the humble and unassuming do better? But woven into that commission of the mission, have been and will be the tests of the Elves. Exemplified in Lady Galadriel. And the tests of Men -- as in Boromir and Aragorn, and most nobly of all, Faramir, In sum, fear to resist the Will of God. He knows of more alternatives to see to it that His Will is responded to than mere mortals, or mere everlasting Elves know.
 
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Timdalf

Active Member
PS: OK, to make this clear. What I am saying is that the Elven Rings are directly caused by, a result of the Silmarils' history under the sons of Fëanor. The Elves learned that not only do mortal things come and go while they have to endure. But the very LIght of their Two Trees was lost to them. They were not going to see that happen again. So Celebrimbor disgusted by the House of Fëanor and his father Curufin in particular in response made the Three Rings to guard and preserve their finest achievements in Middle-earth. Does Tolkien say this explicitly? I don't think he does. Prof corey will know. But that seems to be the overwhelmingly circumstantial evidence of this most understated of authors, it seems to me. While Sauron it is said taught him the lore of Ring-making, Celebrimbor hid his three Rings from Sauron. Tolkien never really finished The Silmarillion or The Akallabêth so this motive of a connection between the Silmaril troubles and the Three Elven Rings was apparently not arrived at. But there is a kind of gap in the plot, perhaps, that -- using Tolkien's own penchant for filling in gaps in tales -- we can risk bridging. Some have noted that Tolkien's works are fan fic in regard to Beowulf (the missing passage about the cup stolen from the dragon hoard in the final third -- that becomes Bilbo in the Lonely Mountain pinching a cup from Smaug) or Eddas referring to "dark elves" become the Noldor in Tolkien.
 
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MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I see part of what you are saying - the elves made rings of power, and so the elves must figure out what to do about those rings of power, even if what they choose is to...let other people deal with the rings of power.

But I think there is a bit more to the story. We, and the Council of Elrond, tend to view the One Ring as a problem. And it is. It corrupts, it does bad things, it belongs to Sauron, and in some ways is Sauron. Thus, the options of seeing it wash down the river and be lost in the Sea, or taking it over the Sea and handing it off to the Valar seem...like that would solve the problem. Get the bad thing out of the picture, leaving Middle-earth and the Elves in peace.

We know how the story ends, though, and presumably so does Eru. We know that if the One Ring were absented from Middle-earth without being destroyed...that the power to defeat Sauron would not be found in the peoples united against him. Certainly, there is a risk - if Sauron obtains the Ring, he becomes even more powerful, even more certainly unable to be defeated. But if the Ring is simply removed from the board, and the war is allowed to play out...there is not much hope of defeating Sauron that way, either. In the end, destroying the Ring (not just 'losing' it) is the only real hope for the people gathered at the Council to decide its fate.

Granted, they don't know if that plan will work. They can have fears and doubts, and wonder if the safer option (assure Sauron doesn't get it) would be more prudent and better in the long run. But Eru has no need for doubts. He knows how the story will go. And so, when viewing the failure of the River Anduin to wash the Ring down to the Sea in that light...there is nothing 'negative' about Providence there, either - chance, if chance you call it, is working to enable the quest of the Ringbearer to be completed. I can definitely see why you'd label it as challenging, though. Providence (in this case) has not taken the choice or the decision out of their hands. It has not solved the problem for them. And this loops back to the 'you started it; you must deal with it' interpretation.

I do not think it an accident that Tolkien settled on Three Elven Rings (and oh look, also Three Silmarils). Nor is it merely a coincidence that Celebrimbor, who forged the elven rings of power, is Fëanor's grandson. So, there is certainly sufficient bones in the story to connect these two feats. How and in what way Celebrimbor was inspired by the silmarils is open to interpretation, I think, but I would consider it a straightforward conclusion to say that he was inspired in some way.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
In fact, it might be the deep reason why Middle-earth exists at all! This moral struggle is what will justify its existence or condemn it, if they fail through negligence or venality. Now, we are perilously close to the worst of crit-fic here, of course. Where does "Providence" within Arda end and Tolkien begin? But let's bracket that meta-textual issue out (the way Phenomenologists bracket out metaphysical issues in philosophy). Another way of stating what I am driving at here is: The cosmic Music of Eru et Ainur has a great theme... one development of that Great Theme is the creation, action, and response to the One Ring. The One Ring is the focal point that puts all that happens and all those that "happen" it into perspective. The whole picture is arranged around this one issue, one concrete thing. What defines the content is not the frame, but the frame is defined by the content... In the case of Middle-earth there is much left beyond the frame, only mentioned in passing and not explicitly imaged.
I don't fully understand what you are saying - like Lord Peter Wimsey, I don't have a philosophical mind - but it seems to me that the One Ring is not a development of the Great Theme so much as a development coming from the discord introduced by Melkor, and its history is part of the playing out of the conflict in Middle-earth. One could say that conflict became a secondary theme of the Music, at once an intrisic part of it and a discord requiring resolution. And that resolution belongs to Middle-earth. It reminds me of the Kabbalistic creation story of Isaac Luria: in the beginning there was only the divine. To create the universe, God had to contract to create space or it. He put filled three vessels with the divine light and sent them out into that void to create the universe. But the vessels could not contain the light and shattered, sending out shards of the vessels, which became the physical universe, and shards of light which landed on earth and were hidden. The job of humanity is to find and free those shards of light. If the vessels had remained whole, creation would have been perfect; as it is, it will not be perfect until all the light is freed and gathered back to the Godhead. Imperfection and discord are part of creation, and only we can repair it. That is how I see those gathered at the Council of Elrond - those are the people who must fix the damage to the world embodied in the One Ring. It's a job belonging to Arda.
 

Timdalf

Active Member
I like that you, Mithluin, emphasized that Eru -- whose Providence is the focus here, obviously -- knows the outcome. Thinking in terms of eternity is not something that comes readily to us mortals. We need to consciously make an effort if we are to do so. So.... He knows the Free Peoples will succeed. He is serene in that knowledge -- in his foreknowledge. He knows how they will succeed. He knows how much support or help they need. But he also knows, therefore, how much to challenge them. He knows -- in other words -- how much to pressure them. But by the same token he knows how much opposition they can stand. In other words, he knows how much he can not weaken or thwart Sauron with his minions by whatever means he employs. Thus -- to directly answer the main thrust of your reply -- it might be that it was an act of Providence that Sauron had to make The One Ring and see to it that he had to pour so much of his very being into it in order to forge it. I think it is unclear what Eru's intention is for the ultimate destiny of his Elves. We know what is the intention of the Christian Trinitarian God. To save mankind from death, and thus from sin (which is the cause of sin) and thus to prepare mankind as a whole and individually for eternal life, when the consequences of lapsing into choosing sin will be permanent, which is not the case in this transitory -- i.e. temporal -- life. Eru is not a Trinitarian god. He is god as Elves know him. And we do not definitively know -- do we? -- what his purpose was in creating the First Born nor in creating their part of the world of Arda -- Middle-earth. I don't know if Tolkien ever resolved this point. And it would be interesting to understand why he didn't. I have long felt the Elves are a kind of thought experiment. Done for contrast and edification. What would it be like to have everlasting life? But everlasting life under the conditions of human frailty? Not all that comforting, if one faces up to the consequences. Some Elves are not above "human" passions... the House of Fëanor is the prime example. Possessiveness, pride, rage, and such all lead to literally mortal sins: the Kinslaying. They lead to banishment from the Blessed Lands. Tolkien seems to be illustrating and demonstrating: Be careful what you wish for! The often overlooked theme of mortality as a blessing is the point here. Endless life in a morally fallen condition is nothing but endless torment. And this goes far beyond the torment of being everlasting within a transitory mortal world. There is no respite from the recollection of one's fallen personal history. And there is no respite from ongoing acts of fallenness. The only resolution is the finitude of the Elves and their world. Eru is not a redeeming god; he does not transform the inner nature of those Elves that are in ethical jeopardy. He can only end their existence, apparently. And this, by ending the world in which they exist. And this would be a very dismal situation, except that it is meant to be, perhaps, for us human mortals a lesson. The Elves' only "redemption" is to win the battle against the evil forces which they have unintentionally sparked -- first with the Silmarils and thus then with the Three Rings -- the logic of which I sketched out above. That accomplished, they have earned a sense of moral rest. They can return to the Blessed Lands in serenity. Again, this is perhaps the underlying motive why the Ring must be and remains an Elvish problem, not to be passed off by hiding the Ring or impotently -- probably unsuccessfully -- passing the buck to the Valar.
 

Timdalf

Active Member
Interesting, Rachel. I know nothing of Kabbalism. And as such, I do not know enough to appraise its imagery and mythology. I do not see how creating space for the universe leads to the vessels of Divine light and the subsequent events. Nor do I understand how, if the Divine creates the light why could He not create vessels able to contain it? Nor do I know if Tolkien knew of Kabbalism, or this particular imagery. There is a parallel of the 3 vessels with the 3 Silmarils. But was that an influence or just coincidence? Dunno. I also do not know if Kabbalism has roots in Gnosticism, which asserts -- wrongly, in Christian cosmology -- that matter is evil and co-eternal. I will point out, that I did not say that the first theme of the Great Music produced evil, either as Morgoth, or the One Ring. They are not developments attributable to it. One has to be very, especially, careful not to mistake the presence of evil with attributing it in any way to the Divine. That is an irreverently wrong accusation, worthy of evil itself, trying to shift the blame for its own existence. Evil arises out of free choice. Free choice arises out of the gift of existence, of independent (hypostatical, to use the technical term) existence. conferred by the Divine out if His perfect and pure love. Morgoth conceives of his own evil motives. He is entirely responsible for them. He invents evil, as it were. That is his counter-creation. That is what makes it a counter-creation. Ontology is ethics. Ethics is onltology. Being and ethics are inseparable. Time and space, as creations of Eru, are not evil. They allow for beings to come into being. Matter and discreteness (separate existence) are not wrong, let alone evil. Separateness only becomes evil when it sets itself against Good... and God is Good. Morgoth chooses to misuse his independence not to serve Him Who created him, but to serve himself. To set himself against the Good, the Light, the Truth, the Beautiful. Sauron is not as great as Morgoth, he is a follower, and imitator. He is not an original. He chooses to dominate the Three Rings out of envy and spite. Out of mightily offended ego. "I taught Celebrimbor what he knows! How dare he resist me!" But to surpass the potency of the Three Rings, Sauron must go beyond them, perhaps only possible if he pour his own malice of will into the One Ring. Again, Eru and his Music have no part in this decision. Like Morgoth, Sauron withdraws himself and sets out to do what he will do.
 
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