Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Triumph of Mercy

But we are assured that we must be ourselves extravagantly generous, if we are to hope for the extravagant generosity which is the slightest easing of, or escape from, the consequences of our own follies...
- “The Letters of JRR Tolkien”

Many of you have read or watched the movies of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). For those of you who haven’t – stick with me. While reading the Letters of JRR Tolkien, I ran across one where he laments that so few people caught a crucial point in his story.

Frodo failed.

At the end of his Quest – his mission – after expending “every drop of his power of will and body,” which brought him to the “destined point,” Frodo succumbs to the power of the Ring and chooses to keep it for himself. It was Gollum, who bites off Frodo’s finger in order to regain the Ring, who falls into the Cracks of Doom with it clutched to his breast, who “accidentally” destroys it.

“In this the cause (not the ‘hero’) was triumphant…” *

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, early in Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring, he had the opportunity to kill Gollum and chose not to. At the time, Gandalf (think: Merlin) told Frodo something to the effect that his mercy towards Gollum very well might turn out to play a significant part in destroying the Ring and, thus, the Enemy, Sauron.

In his Letters, Tolkien explains the significance of Frodo’s earlier mercy and the victory that was won.

“(B)ecause by the exercise of pity, mercy, and forgiveness of injury, a situation was produced in which all was redressed and disaster averted. Gandalf certainly foresaw this….” He goes on and notes that, “Of course, he did not mean to say that one must be merciful, for it may prove useful later – it would not then be mercy or pity, which are only truly present when contrary to prudence.”

Had Frodo not extended mercy but, rather, killed Gollum months earlier he wouldn’t have been there in the end to bite off Frodo’s finger. Thus, mercy created a scenario where victory was attained.

One of Tolkien’s critics, “(R)eviled Frodo as a scoundrel (who should’ve been hung and not honoured), and me too. It seems sad and strange that, in this evil time when daily people of goodwill are tortured, ‘brainwashed’, and broken, anyone could be so fiercely simpleminded and selfrighteous.”

Some “temptations” are beyond our power to resist, Mr. Self-Righteous. For example, Tolkien refers to those who leave prison broken or insane, “praising their torturers. But we can at least judge them by the will and intentions with which they entered the Sammath Nauer (this is a chamber in Mount Doom where the Cracks of Doom are located); and not demand impossible feats of will, which could only happen in stories unconcerned with real moral and mental probability.”

Tolkien believed that Frodo deserved all the honors he received for the victory, as he had spent all of “his power of will and body, and that was sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. A few others, possibly no others of his time, would have gone so far. The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), ‘that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named’ (as one critic has said).”
Thank God that victory is in the hands of the Writer of the Story and not in those of some “hero,” eh?  We might want to remember this, the next time our Frodo falls. Remembering it even before this is even better!

We also may want to spend some time contemplating “doing unto others what we would have done unto us,” granting to others what God so graciously has given to us, remembering that mercy triumphs, whether in this life or the one to come.

* All quotation from Tolkien’s Letters, (Numbers 191 & 192)

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2018

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