The war against Islam and the War of the Ring

Paul Cella writes, in an important article at Tech Central Station:

The people of the free nations of the world, the citizens of the West, or her descendents if in fact the West is no more, are now confronted with sufficient evidence that the efforts to call totalitarian Islam into existence in every free nation are well underway; that such efforts will be materially supported from the home bases of totalitarian Islam, and may be spiritually supported by the very nature of Islam as such; and that those efforts can, at least to some degree, be encouraged or discouraged by the actions of our own governments.

We are indeed facing such a global threat from Islam. Yet just before reading Mr. Cella’s article this morning, I had by chance (or rather by Jungian synchronicity) been reading the chapter on the “Council of Elrond” in The Fellowship of the Ring. The two are deeply connected.

Here I need to backtrack a bit. A year and a half ago I read for the first time The Fellowship of the Ring, and initiated a huge thread at VFR about the Ring trilogy. Many VFR readers are great Tolkien fans and have much of interest to say about him. Despite the warm assurances from several commenters that I was in for the greatest reading experience ever, I did not continue reading Tolkien at that time. However, last week, something drew me back to him. It happened this way. A friend had raised the question, how is it that the gods in Wagner’s Ring Cycle face destruction, and this led me to re-read Edith Hamilton’s discussion of Norse and Germanic mythology, which I hadn’t read since I was a kid. Hamilton explains how in Norse mythology, unlike in any other, the gods are doomed, and that the task of Odin, the leading god of the Norse pantheon, is to stave off that doom as long as he can, through guile and the willingness to endure great suffering. This was very striking. It seemed to capture something of the essence of the German and Northern spirit. And this same insight suddenly made Tolkien understandable, revealing the profoundly Germanic aspects of Tolkien’s myth, the tragic sense of fighting off a perpetual threat to one’s whole civilization. (I don’t know why the Germans developed such a world view, though I’ve read somewhere that it came from the experience of being driven back by the Huns in the early centuries A.D., the event which began the Volkerwanderung, the wanderings of the peoples.) And this in turn drew me to rent the DVD of The Return of the King last week. And indeed the Germanic side of it is evident, as when Aragorn says to his men before the great battle: The day when we are finally destroyed will come, but this is not that day, this is the day for us to fight and win. I then wrote at VFR about the tragic nature of the The Return of the King, and about the similarity between resurgent Mordor and resurgent Islam. All this in turn got me to re-open the pages of Tolkien early this morning for the first time in a year and a half.

My point in all this is: I had never been attracted to Tolkien decades ago, when everyone I knew was a fan of his. What I heard about the Ring trilogy from other people made it sound like a hippiesque fantasy, which didn’t particularly appeal to me. No one I knew gave any hint of the dark and tragic quality of the stories. Even the cover illustrations of the paperback edition of Tolkien (of which I sold hundreds of copies in my days working in a bookstore in Aspen, Colorado) had something of an “escapist fantasy” look, not a tragic look.

So the first point is the tragic element, which in the movie version only comes fully to the fore in The Return of the King. But the second point is the Germanic, civilizational element, the heroic staving off of a recurrent threat from the East, from Mordor, and how this connects with the deepest themes of European civilization, namely how the West has repeatedly faced extinction at the hands of barbarians emerging from the East, first the Germanic barbarians themselves in the fourth and fifth centuries, then the Huns and the Slavs, then the Muslims in the eight century, then the Mongols in the thirteenth century, then the Muslims again in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, and then, in the twentieth century, the Germans again in the two World Wars. (The Germans at different times have thus played the two opposite roles in this drama, both as the defender against the Eastern barbarian, as when they were driven into flight by the Huns in the fourth century and fell upon the Roman empire, and as the barbarian invader against whom peoples who lived further to the West had to fight, an irony captured by the English calling the Germans “Huns” during the Great War, giving them the name of their own ancient enemies.) And now we are facing yet another of these recurrently arising storm clouds from the East—resurgent Islam, and, moreover, not as an external invader, but, unbelievably, as a citizen of the West, whom the West, in the greatest fit of absent mindedness in history, freely permitted to settle by the millions inside its own borders. Just as men had defeated the forces of Sauron in the past, but not destroyed them, and they have now returned, the West has defeated Islam in the past, but not destroyed it, and it has now returned.

Thus, far more than when it was a cult classic in the Sixties and Seventies, Tolkien’s timeless myth with its Germanic and tragic elements is directly relevant to our time. Consider Aragorn’s speech at the Council of Elrond, in which he talks about the hard life of the Rangers (who are the remnants of a lineage of kings almost wiped out millennia ago by the forces of Sauron), how they wander about, saving the people of the civilized lands from dread dangers which they, in their comfort and simplicity, know nothing about. Aragorn in this scene has something of the grim, hard-bitten quality of Odin in his perpetual struggle to fend off the ever-encroaching destruction of the world. The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo’s anguished quest to destroy the source of Sauron’s power, the gathering together of the peoples of Middle Earth to drive back and defeat Sauron’s fiendish hordes, this is the struggle to which we are now called, we men of the West.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 24, 2005 12:58 PM | Send

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