Monday, June 21, 2010

The Abolitionist Argument in 35 Seconds

An excellent article by Glen Allport on the most important lesson from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released on Blu-Ray in April, which reminded me that I hadn't seen the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, since its theatrical release in 2001. While watching the film again I was struck anew with its abolitionist message – a message that is clear, direct, and at the very heart of the story.

The exchange below, from a 35-second sequence in the film, illustrates this message well. The wizard Gandalf has just described the Ring of Power to Frodo, into whose possession the Ring has come, and has told the frightened hobbit that yes, the Dark Lord Sauron and his evil horde have learned the whereabouts of the Ring and are already heading to the Shire to take it back.

The Ring will give Sauron enough power to enslave the Earth, and so the Ring must not stay in the Shire – it must be destroyed (almost impossible to do) or at the very least, hidden from those seeking it. Showing rare indifference to the powers conferred by the Ring, Frodo sensibly offers the Ring to Gandalf, who does not live in the Shire and whose magic might be enough to keep the Ring safely hidden.

Gandalf knows better. Even he – a wise and good soul and a powerful wizard – is hypnotically drawn to the Ring; Gandalf lusts for its power despite knowing that to use the Ring would corrupt him and bring great evil into the world. With visible effort, Gandalf refuses to even touch the Ring:

(Frodo, desperately handing the Ring to Gandalf)
Take it, Gandalf. Take it!

(Gandalf, backing away from the Ring)
No, Frodo.

You must take it!

You cannot offer me this Ring.

I'm giving it to you!

Don't tempt me, Frodo! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo – I would use this Ring from a desire to do good . . . [long pause] . . . but through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.

You can view this scene on YouTube, here (the sound level is a bit low; you may have to turn it up to make out the dialog). The clip is from director Peter Jackson's gorgeous and epic screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (part 1 of the trilogy). The dialog for this scene in Tolkien's book is longer than in the film, and makes the same point even more powerfully: that Power is almost supernaturally attractive and addictive, and creates horrifying outcomes even when wielded with the best of intentions. Many other scenes in the book and film reinforce this same message.

Read the rest at Strike-the-Root

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