Why Gandalf Chose Not to Remove Saddam Hussein

Tue Feb 25 2003 09:02PM -0600

This is a response to a blog post that tries to parody the anti-war movement by paralleling the current situation with Iraq to the War of the Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Silly, and mildly amusing (particularly with the follow-up comment by The Rogue Prince, proclaiming "No war for Isildur's Folly!" in keeping with this looney theory about why the War of the Ring was started) But, in the end, I feel like the post misses the mark.

I won't comment on the politics embedded within the post, which is another topic entirely, and which I've commented about since the U.S. presidential election of 2000. No, the things that irritates me about the post is that it uses the source material badly, as if the post's author had never read the actual story. (Does he work for the media, I wonder?)

If you force the analogies to hold true (Mordor = Iraq, Sauron = Saddam Hussein, The Realms of the West = U.S. and Europe, Isengard = France, Gandalf (or Aragorn) = George W Bush, etc.) I think the conclusion you will come to will actually contradict the intent of the post. If you insist on forcing such a reading of LotR (and, as we all know, Tolkien detested allegoryâ€â€Tolkien has said "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence." exact citation pending) you will find that what ends up happening is that the West does not pursue military action in Iraq (until the very end, but this is more a parlay than an actual invasion) Instead, the West concentrates on defending its own borders from rampant terrorism coming from all sides, and sends two covert agents into the heart of Iraq to not only destroy the enemy's weapons of mass destruction, but the West's own weapons as well.

Yeah, this is brutal. Tolkien must be rolling in his grave. Why am I wasting my time? But let us continue to deconstruct.

In the past, many people have equated the One Ring with the nuclear bomb, and in this analysis, I will continue to foment this allegoric substitution. In this case, the rings (including the three rings wielded by Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf, the nine rings of the Nazgul, and the One Ring itself) represent weapons of mass destruction in general. In LotR, the destruction of the One Ring results in the weakening/complete loss of power of the other rings. If only nuclear disarmament were as easy.

And noticeâ€â€no one in the Fellowship and in the White Council (except Boromir, and even he learns his lesson, although too little, too late) attempts to actually use weapons of mass destruction directly on Mordor. Notice that Gandalf and Galadriel both refuse the power offered to them, realizing that instead of creating peace, all they will end up doing is removing Sauron and have another Dark Lord take his place. (Something which apparently the CIA has not really learned.)

Now, I'm not the first to say this... this is probably better articulated elsewhere on the net, but Tolkien was certainly not a pacifist, and The Lord of the Rings is not a book about pacifism. But the key point is this: the main characters only fight when they have to, and they take great pains to make sure they fight for the right reasons. The heroes of the story don't have this delusion of "I'll only use the Ring for good purposes for a few years, and then we can pull-out the occupation forces and then I swear that I'll destroy my own weapons of mass destruction." The characters that believe this, like Boromir, Denethor, and Saruman, somehow manage to die horrible deaths.

So I think Viggo Mortensen is interpreting Tolkien's masterpiece in the correct spirit after all. The leaders of the U.S. are more like Saruman urging the Dunlanders to attack Rohan because of past grievances, and all the while the true danger is actually elsewhere entirely.

And I like the following quote from LotR:

Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.  Gandalf the White

While, depending on your political leaning, it can be interpreted as a call to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and other such dictators, it can also be interpreted as a condemnation of the doctrine of pre-emptive strike. You deal with what is in front of you first (e.g., the war on terrorism and destroying Al-Qaeda, or, horrors of horrors, maybe doing something about health care or the economy) before you try to save the world all at once. (And I think this is a good case of "applicability" in contrast to "allegory")

And finally, this quote:

Frodo Baggins: "He deserves death."

Gandalf the Grey: "Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."

Whatever. War is inevitable. But if we truly fight with honor, in defense of what we believe in, and not for some petty self-interest and the pursuit of raw power, then we will probably weather the consequences well. Otherwise, don't be surprised when a Dwarf sees you and he immediately swings an axe at your head.

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