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Christine Kelley

Christine Kelley writes about science fiction and fantasy, popular music, radical politics, and revolutionary Christianity. You might know her for her semi-retired project Dreams of Orgonon, a song-by-song study of Kate Bush. Currently her main project is Nowhere and Back Again, a psychogeography of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Expect queerness, radical solidarity, wizardry, and the death of capitalism.Support Christine on Patreon.

11 Comments

  1. Ian S.
    April 9, 2021 @ 11:07 am

    Excellent post. I would quibble with the assertion that it is purely accident and the corrosion of the ring that causes its own destruction. That’s surely part of it, but I think within the text there’s more to it. Way back in Mordor, when Frodo and Gandalf notice that the Fellowship is being followed by Gollum, Frodo remarks that it is a pity that Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum. Gandalf chastises him, praising Bilbo’s pity and remarking that he thinks Gollum still has a part to play and that Bilbo’s pity may influence the fate of many. Frodo takes this to heart later on, when he is “kind” to Gollum and takes him into the expedition rather than killing him.

    So, yes, Frodo’s will fails at the end as even he is corrupted by the ring. But I think what Tolkein was probably trying to get at was that his and Bilbo’s charity and forgiveness of Gollum—the ur-values that many Christians like to claim rule the religion and its followers—meant that he won far before he got to Mount Doom. His (Christian) values left Gollum in play so that he could do his fated part.

    Reply

    • Ian S.
      April 9, 2021 @ 11:08 am

      Gah, “way back in Moria,” not Mordor.

      Reply

  2. Aylwin
    April 9, 2021 @ 12:03 pm

    Shadow-finger-puppet Sauron!

    That picture is so delightfully goofy. And I am unsure if that’s a crown, spiky hair or a cockerel’s crest.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      April 14, 2021 @ 10:27 am

      Also I am now visualising Gandalf and Sauron’s battle of wills over Frodo on Amon Hen as “I’m crushing your head! I’m crushing your head!” “I’m pinching your face! I’m pinching your face!”

      Reply

  3. Aylwin
    April 9, 2021 @ 12:05 pm

    As nature is the heart of Tolkien’s world, Mount Doom is its antithesis: an ultimately natural phenomenon, a stratovolcano, used as a forge for the greatest anti-naturalistic act of The Lord of the Rings.

    The Mountain as the natural source of the anti-natural is intriguing. It appears to be not only the only volcano in Mordor but the only natural volcano in Tolkien’s whole world. We are told that Morgoth purposely “reared” the Iron Mountains in those early world-shaping days (though both the practice of mountain-building and its use as a military technology are shared with the Valar), while it seems ambiguous whether the smoke-spewing “peaks” of Thangorodrim are to be considered mountains or towers, volcanos or chimneys, and they are in any case emphatically artificial and derivative of existing industry, sculpted slag-heaps of manufacturing and mining waste. Within the Lord of the Rings itself there is simply no hint that any character knows or believes it to be an example of a larger category. The deliberations on how to destroy the Ring imply that they think of it as unique, speaking of the problem in physical terms of finding a hot enough fire, rather than in magical ones of the place of its making being inherently the only place it can be destroyed, but never broaching the question of whether another volcano might do.

    Mount Doom’s singularity estranges it from the web of nature, and it functions utterly at odds with nature, turning day into night and Gorgoroth into a lifeless industrial wasteland (an ironic contrast to the life-promoting geological impact of real vulcanism), as well as being the basis for that supreme production of technological hubris. Yet ultimately we are never given any direct reason to think it not to be essentially natural, as we would generally suppose any volcano to be. The implication of its role in the forging of the Ring is that magic and making, even of a kind so much at odds with nature, must still be based upon nature. The foundation of Barad-Dur endures because it rests upon the Ring, but the Ring itself must have a foundation somewhere upon something which is not artifice, must touch the bedrock. It cames down to that central idea of evil having no originality or distinct substance, that “The Shadow … cannot make, not real new things of its own”.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      April 9, 2021 @ 12:23 pm

      This was half-formed and very incoherent, but mostly what I was trying to get at in the first part of the comment is how strikingly lacking in visible support within the fictional world the category of “volcano” as a natural phenomenon is, and how much the appearance of volcanos and their analogues within it are bound up with the malignly artificial, but without ultimately contradicting our model of it as a natural phenomenon as seen in the real world.

      Reply

  4. Devin
    April 10, 2021 @ 3:15 am

    Tolkien’s politics were anarcho/monarchist, rather than anarcho-monarchist, surely.

    Reply

  5. Lluvad
    April 14, 2021 @ 4:11 pm

    How much does Morgoth, the true Satan of the Arda who Sauron is ultimately just a imitation of, living up in the utmost north of Middle Earth complicate the narrative reading of that world based on it’s nobility?

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      April 16, 2021 @ 11:25 am

      I’d say not a lot, because Morgoth’s association with the north is about climate rather than culture, placing him outside and against the temperate world of habitation. Hell, in the traditions most influential upon Tolkien, is associated with the life-hostile elemental extremes of fiery heat and icy cold – the former in Christianity, the latter in Germanic mythology. Morgoth’s hellish abode, though its own physical character is barely hinted at, is linked with both elements by its environs, being located in the cold of the far north and set about with volcanos. It’s a placement on a different symbolic plane from the geohistorical one in which the north-west is “us”.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        April 16, 2021 @ 11:42 am

        It’s notable that even in The Simarillion, as in the LOTR, evil human society is associated with the east and south (the former explicitly, the latter implicitly, through the racial characterisation of the Easterlings as “the Swarthy Men” – thanks, Ronald).

        Reply

  6. Douglas Muir
    April 20, 2021 @ 4:28 pm

    Michael Martinez — who has written articles about pretty much everything in Tolkein — has an interesting article about Mount Doom. It’s somewhat orthogonal to your interests here, but not wholly irrelevant, so here it is:

    https://middle-earth.xenite.org/what-did-sauron-use-the-sammath-naur-for/

    TLDR: Tolkein uses Mount Doom as a symbol of evil industry, and also implies (but does not ever clearly state) that actual industry is happening there.

    Doug M.

    Reply

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