Read: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” still matters 80 years later
It is a more measured version of a larger phenomenon: erstwhile NeverTrumpers who wryly describe themselves as “OccasionalTrumpers,” or who attempt to cleanse themselves of the stain of having signed letters denouncing candidate Trump by praising President Trump’s achievements and his crudely framed, rough-hewn wisdom, deploring his language but applauding at least some of his deeds. It is the temptation to accommodate oneself to the nature of the times, as Machiavelli would have put it, and to ally—cautiously but definitely—with the Power that is rather than the principles that were.
And that is where Tolkien comes in. His masterwork—the six books in three volumes, not the movies with their unfortunate elisions, occasional campiness and spectacular computer-generated images—addresses many themes relevant to our age, not least of which is that temptation.
At the beginning of Book II, elves, men, and dwarfs have gathered at Rivendell, home of Lord Elrond. There they debate what to do about the ring of the Dark Lord, Sauron, which has by a curious chance fallen into the possession of the hobbit Frodo. Toward the end of their deliberations they hear a report from Gandalf, the wizard who had befriended Frodo, and who had been taken prisoner by Saruman, the most senior wizard of his order, and escaped. Saruman had learned that the Ring had fallen into the possession of the hobbit, and he wanted Gandalf to help him get it. Gandalf reports Saruman’s pitch as follows.
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“A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”
And there you have it. Ally with the rising power (Sauron is making his ashen, desolate homeland, Mordor, great again) and use your wisdom to contain and guide it. Your old friends and allies are fools or weaklings. Go along with the inevitable, and you may shape the new world; oppose it, and you will simply fail and perish.