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Is "The Lord of the Rings" Harmful for promoting a Good vs Pure Evil Narrative?
in Philosophy

Is "The Lord of the Rings" Harmful for promoting a Good vs Pure Evil Narrative?

"J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a genuine masterpiece. The most widely read and influential fantasy epic of all time, it is also quite simply one of the most memorable and beloved tales ever told. Originally published in 1954, The Lord of the Rings set the framework upon which all epic/quest fantasy since has been built. Through the urgings of the enigmatic wizard Gandalf, young hobbit Frodo Baggins embarks on an urgent, incredibly treacherous journey to destroy the One Ring. This ring -- created and then lost by the Dark Lord, Sauron, centuries earlier -- is a weapon of evil, one that Sauron desperately wants returned to him. With the power of the ring once again his own, the Dark Lord will unleash his wrath upon all of Middle-earth. The only way to prevent this horrible fate from becoming reality is to return the Ring to Mordor, the only place it can be destroyed. Unfortunately for our heroes, Mordor is also Sauron's lair. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is essential reading not only for fans of fantasy but for lovers of classic literature as well."
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    Is "The Lord of the Rings" Harmful for promoting a Good vs Pure Evil Narrative?

    4 votes
    1. Yes
    2. No

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  • No it doesn't!  :|
  • No it doesn't!  :|

    The men/elves/dwarves/ect. are acting in self-defense as they have essentially no choice given they are facing murderous creatures from Hell who's lives' purpose is to carry out the evil deeds of the Devil (Sauron--and puppet Sauromon). It is also true that the orcs (and such) were born into slavery (somewhat like the First Order in Star Wars), they clearly are conscious, are brainwashed, largely terrified of their masters who control them like disposable pawns, have some redeeming qualities as is displayed toward each other--and are met with complete disgust/revulsion by the good guys rather than having some level of pity/compassion for their horrible situation (as is shown toward Gollum for instance).

    That is, my main points are:

    (A) The good guys undoubtedly have the moral high ground and are in the right since they are left with essentially absolutely no other option as they were up against the physical manifestation of Evil (which does not happen in real life--it is always more complex then that)

    (B) If you look a bit deeper, it is in fact more complicated than that as one would think the good guys should have some real pity/compassion toward many of these sad creatures who were born to be enslaved, brainwashed, controlled/conditioned to murder, do the bidding of the Devil, and are bound to a Hellish life (even though they show many humanoid characteristics--some of which are redeeming qualities). That is, there is a second tragedy at work in the novel (as is always the case in real life--however, is not the mainstream view of the story in LOTR)

    (C) (There are potentially many other areas that could be explored as well)

  • I do not think it is harmful for promoting a good-vs-evil narrative - but I do think that the narrative itself is unrealistic.

    In the Dungeons and Dragons rule set, there are two axes of "alignments" Good-Evil and Lawful-Chaotic. They are set to describe the general mindset and behavioral pattern of the given individual.
    • Good characters care a lot about helping others and promoting noble values.
    • Evil characters see others as sacrificial pawns in their quest for dominance and power.
    • Lawful characters believe in a strict form of a societal organization: they embody the principle of order.
    • Chaotic characters believe in strong individual freedoms and anarchy; they embody the principle of chaos.
    There is also the Neutral alignment for each of the two axes, playing the role either of the middle ground, or of the indifference with regards to the respective axis.

    This classification has a lot of problems, and one of the core problems is that different individuals simply see different things as Good or Evil, as Lawful or Chaotic. A could of examples:
    • Robin Hood is often viewed as a Chaotic Good character: he robs the wealthy and gives the goods to the poor. But one may object that he is not Good, since robbery is evil. Or that he is not Chaotic, because distribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor should be a proper legal concept.
    • Hitler would be Lawful Evil: he believes in a very ordered form of societal organization, with all individuality stripped from every person in favor of creating a large unified entity - and he does not see a problem with killing millions people on his quest to achieving his goals. Someone, however, could say that he is not Lawful, since he has violated countless laws with regards to human rights. Or that him being Evil is only such from the perspective of Western values, but from the perspective of Nazi values they did the right thing.
    We cannot escape the fact that "Good/Evil", "Lawful/Chaotic", etc. are poorly defined terms, prone to a large range of individual interpretations with often contradicting conclusions.

    As such, it is great that fiction writers nowadays add a lot of shades of grey to their characters and their decisions. The fact that the world is complex and the choices are often very difficult has to be recognized, and, rather than promoting what we see as Good and assaulting what we see as Evil, what we should focus on is recognizing the inherent subjectivity of the matter and finding a way to develop a practically sounds decision-making approach.


    In my fiction stories, I like to promote the idea of an individual questioning the universally (or near-universally) accepted dogmas and demonstrating them wrong, while along the way fighting his/her/its own demons.

    Is a vampire who is forced to kill for blood in order to survive evil for doing so? Well, let us make the main character, who is a regular good-natured human, befriend such a vampire - and see where it leads. How will the human deal with the fact that his friend is a mass murderer by necessity and accept her for what she is? And how will the vampire, used to treating humans as a cattle for slaughter, reconcile her experiences and her everyday needs with the fact that her friend is a part of that cattle? Instead of choosing the answer in advance and building a story in a way that leads to that answer - let us just let these two characters interact in a variety of realistic situations, and see what realistically can happen. Maybe the vampire will kill the human for blood, or out of shame, or for some other reason. Maybe the human will kill the vampire to save the fellow humans. Maybe they fall in love with each other and retire to a quiet grove, finding some non-violent solution for the vampire's needs. Maybe they will all die due to the retaliation from authorities. Maybe, finally, they decide that they are too different and part ways peacefully.

    It is the stories like this that I find most interesting and revealing of the world around us. Rather than the standard "A good guy takes a bunch of followers and travels through the dangerous land to defeat the ultimate villain", it is more interesting to see how the characters respond to the circumstances they found themselves in, how those circumstances and responses change them, and what consequences that change has on them and on the world around them. And in my view, The Lord of the Rings addresses these matters very well.
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