Note: As I wrote this, I realized that there were some common threads between it and my post from some months ago, Who Hijacked My Sci-Fi? Feel free to check it out.
Little known fact from the intriguing folks at MentalFloss:
J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling Middle Earth series covers more than a dozen books, several of which were published after his death. Of all of his extant materials, however, one culture’s history is mostly ignored–that of the people of Mordor. True, they’re the bad guys, but shouldn’t they get a say?
That’s the premise behind Russian author Kirill Yeskov’s unauthorized sequel, The Last Ringbearer. While it’s not an official sequel, the book is actually fairly popular on its own merits. Yeskov presents Mordor as a highly advanced society based around science and technology. Not unlike Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, The Last Ringbearer argues that “history is written by the winners” and that Mordor was actually a victim of the primitive cultures of men who blindly followed the Luddite-esque Gandalf.
I can sum up my response in 3 words: no surprise here.
[Based on the summary provided by Mental Floss,] there are so many things wrong with the assumptions the author is making, but I want to focus on only one.Leave it to a guy from the still largely secular former-USSR to write a novel reinterpreting Mordor as culturally and scientifically advanced. Why do I say that? Until Christianity came along, most world religions saw good and evil as a dualistic proposition, with either extreme an equal player in the world, each with its own existence and power. It was St. Augustine who did the most to counter this dangerous worldview after his own conversion from its most common form of his day, Manichaeanism. The Church’s view is that evil does not exist. Allow me to clarify: evil does not, in itself, exist. Sure, it exists as a perception, as a mental concept, and as an everyday observation in this vale of tears. Nevertheless, evil itself exists no more than cold does. Cold, as any scientist worth his salt will tell you, is a lack of heat. Evil is a lack of goodness. A lack of something is, by definition, not a something, and cannot exist.
It was that small tidbit of clarity that brought the world out of paganism. If good and evil are equals and opposites, there must be a principle behind each, and thus at least two gods, one good and one bad. If, however, only goodness really exists, then Christianity’s claim to the One, True God (and of human nature as fallen rather than as evil) makes a great deal of sense.
Paganism is on the rise in our times. The invention of pseudo-pagan religions, such as Wicca, and the devotion of an increasingly startling amount of Hollywood funding for movies about demons all go to show that. It’s no surprise, then, that people are missing the memo about the nature of evil. It’s no surprise when a guy from a very secular country wants to write about how Mordor had culture despite their lack of goodness. (It is, however, a surprise that our secular country didn’t think of it first.)
This is hardly the first offense coming from the world of literature and cinema. When I was young, I was a big fan of Superman, and after he died, I read the comics surrounding his possible new incarnations. Some of them were full of virtue. One was undeniably not. I remember the cover featuring the new, updated, “cool,” teenage superman, sporting an earring, a trendy haircut, and a gloved hand on the rear of a woman he’d just saved. Thinking back, though, that was to be expected. Superman’s strongly embedded sense of justice already took a dive in the movie Superman II, when he took Lois Lane to his bachelor pad, slept with her, and then erased her memory. More incidents include the troubling fact that he apparently sired a half-Kryptonian boy with Lois just before leaving earth in the precursor storyline to the most recent film. The Green Lantern movie, which I regret to admit I saw in theaters, featured an irresponsible test pilot, Hal Jordan, becoming an earth-saving hero. The recent Batman films, despite their many virtues, feature Bruce Wayne as a classic dualist: playboy by day, virtuous vigilante at night (if there can be such a thing as a virtuous vigilante). Are we as consumers of this dualistic culture really supposed to believe that the hero is full of virtue when he’s acting as a hero, but is actually, as an individual, a philandering, underachieving nincompoop?
(Interestingly, these are all based on the DC comic universe. At least Marvel’s morally flawed characters are honest, carrying those flaws over into their professional superhero lives.)
As for Mordor, are we supposed to believe they had a good culture because they were technologically advanced? No. Technology should build on nature, shouldn’t it? They replaced nature with machines (something Tolkien hated about the industrial age). In other words, they subtracted from the goodness of creation. Gandalf is called a Luddite for opposing them, when in reality, he’s a saint for wanting to restore the fullness of the good. We are, however, left with the impression by this author that the evil, nature-destroying culture of Mordor has a principle of its own.
It’s sort of ironic that, as western civilization comes to believe in dualism once more, the spiritual illness that results is not a dualistic evil in itself, but a lack of spiritual health and a lack of understanding about the nature of good and evil. The more the world tells, through Hollywood nonsense or unauthorized sequels spinning brilliant literary classics, that evil creates a culture of its own, the more dualistic it gets, the more I believe the opposite about evil. Evil is naught, and the only thing it does is bring the world – and the culture – to naught.