Monday, May 27, 2013

"The Way of the Reason" in The Fellowship of the Ring

Subtitle:  Hobbits know how to stick to an idea!
In The Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbit Frodo has been given the responsibility of taking a magic ring (The Ring, the one that everybody wants, the same one that Bilbo found in The Hobbit) and disposing of it properly...that is, taking it on a dangerous journey to Mount Doom, where it can be destroyed.  In the last chapter, he has to make a decision about whether to go to the east, probably by himself, although it already seems like a lost cause; or to go with the other travellers to the city of Minas Tirith, where a battle is being fought against the dark forces.

He says he needs to think it over, and heads into the woods.  After awhile, he looks up and sees one of the others, Boromir, who says he would like to help Frodo think the problem through.  Frodo is not quite sure whether to trust him, and he tells Boromir that really, he already does know what to do; he is just afraid to do it.
'I think I know already what counsel you would give, Boromir,' said Frodo. 'And it would seem like wisdom but for the warning of my heart.'

'Warning? Warning against what?' said Boromir sharply.

'Against delay. Against the way that seems easier. Against refusal of the burden that is laid on me. Against -- well, if it must be said, against trust in the strength and truth of Men.'
Frodo already knows that he could come up with all kinds of very good reasons himself NOT to go east, but that he still has to continue with the quest. 
'Yet that strength has long protected you far away in your little country, though you knew it not.' 

'I do not doubt the valour of your people.  But the world is changing.  The walls of Minas Tirith may be strong, but they are not strong enough.  If they fail, what then?'

'We shall fall in battle valiantly.  Yet there is still hope that they will not fail.'

'No hope while the Ring lasts,' said Frodo.
Boromir hopes that winning the battle at Minas Tirith, fighting the evil lord Sauron directly, will solve all their problems.  He wants desperately to get hold of the Ring, or get Frodo to use it to fight Sauron.  Frodo gets right to the point, though:  eventually, in this battle or in some other, the Ring will ruin everything.  The mere existence of the Ring has become a problem that has only one solution, and it is up to him to solve it.  He doesn't like it, and he's afraid, but he knows it's what he has to do.
'Ah! The Ring!' said Boromir, his eyes lighting. 'The Ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing! And I have seen it only for an instant in the House of Elrond. Could I not have a sight of it again?'

Frodo looked up. His heart went suddenly cold. He caught the strange gleam in Boromir's eyes, yet his face was still kind and friendly. 'It is best that it should lie hidden,' he answered.
I don't know how aware Boromir is of this, but looking at the Ring or holding it in his hand seems to have a strange effect even on Frodo, the Ring's current "owner."  In any case, Boromir probably thinks he can grab it if Frodo brings it out.
'As you wish. I care not,' said Boromir.
He trivializes what he desperately wants:  a small, insignificant thing, that he says he doesn't care if he doesn't get to see.  He realizes he may have pushed too fast, and backtracks.
'Yet may I not even speak of it? For you seem ever to think only of its power in the hands of the Enemy: of its evil uses not of its good. The world is changing, you say. Minas Tirith will fall, if the Ring lasts. But why? Certainly, if the Ring were with the Enemy. But why, if it were with us?'

'Were you not at the Council?' answered Frodo. 'Because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.'
Boromir's reasoning here:  what you think of as only a bad thing, could be a good thing, if we had the chance to use it properly.  We are good people; if we had it, we could defeat the Enemy and use it only for good purposes.  Frodo's response:  it is too powerful for us, good or bad, and its unpredictable power tends to turn even good people bad.  Nobody can handle it safely, so it has to be destroyed. (Wouldn't Frodo have been an asset in the Garden of Eden?  Or in the arms race?)
Boromir got up and walked about impatiently. 'So you go on,' he cried. 'Gandalf, Elrond--all these folk have taught you to say so. For themselves they may be right. These elves and half-elves and wizards, they would come to grief perhaps. Yet often I doubt if they are wise and not merely timid. But each to his own kind. True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. And behold! in our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!'
This paragraph is just crawling with manipulative suggestions that should have made Frodo doubt himself and his mission.  "You're not thinking for yourself, you're just saying what the wizards and elves have told you."  (Are you just gonna do what they say?)  "I think wizards and elves just say those things because they're scared of power."  "Besides, you and I aren't wizards and elves."  "We don't want more than our fair share; we just want to defend ourselves."  "Our cause is just." (true, but that's not the way the Council decided to solve the problem)  "Isn't it lucky that the Ring just happened to come along when we need it? Has to be fate." (Fred Flintstone: "it has to be fate that this bag of money flew over the wall and landed in my lap.") "You'd have to be crazy not to use the power when it's right in your hands." (using words like crazy and mad to make Frodo want to confirm his own sanity)  "We're fearless! We're ruthless!"  (maybe true, but it doesn't solve the problem)  "I'd give those guys what-for!"  (rah, rah)  And all we your little bitty ring.
Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly; almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; and he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise. Suddenly he stopped and waved his arms.

'And they tell us to throw it away!' he cried. 'I do not say destroy it. That might be well, if reason could show any hope of doing so. It does not. The only plan that is proposed to us is that a halfling [hobbit] should walk blindly into Mordor and offer the Enemy every chance of recapturing it for himself. Folly!

'Surely you see it, my friend?' he said, turning now suddenly to Frodo again. 'You say that you are afraid. If it is so, the boldest should pardon you. But is it not really your good sense that revolts?'

'No, I am afraid,' said Frodo. 'Simply afraid. But I am glad to have heard you speak so fully. My mind is clearer now.'
Yes, Boromir has an object outside of himself:  defeating Sauron and protecting his own people.  But his talk becomes more and more self-centered, so much so that Tolkien doesn't even bother to quote him directly.  But he throws in a few more zingers, including a final appeal to reason.  Frodo's response:  glad to know what you're really thinking, Boromir--at least I don't have to wonder about that anymore.  Is he going to listen to Boromir's line of thinking?  No way.
'Then you will come to Minas Tirith?' cried Boromir. His eyes were shining and his face eager.

'You misunderstand me,' said Frodo.

'But you will come, at least for a while?' Boromir persisted. 'My city is not far now; and it is little further from there to Mordor than from here. We have been long in the wilderness, and you need news of what the Enemy is doing before you make a move. Come with me, Frodo,' he said. 'You need rest before your venture, if go you must.' He laid his hand on the hobbit's shoulder in friendly fashion; but Frodo felt the hand trembling with suppressed excitement. He stepped quickly away, and eyed with alarm the tall Man, nearly twice his height and many times his match in strength.
The words are still friendly, but suddenly there's a sense of physical threat.
'Why are you so unfriendly?' said Boromir. 'I am a true man, neither thief nor tracker. I need your Ring: that you know now; but I give you my word that I do not desire to keep it. Will you not at least let me make trial of my plan? Lend me the Ring!'

'No! no!' cried Frodo. 'The Council laid it upon me to bear it.'

'It is by our own folly that the Enemy will defeat us,' cried Boromir. 'How it angers me! Fool! Obstinate fool! Running wilfully to death and ruining our cause. If any mortals have claim to the Ring, it is the men of Numenor, and not Halflings. It is not yours save by unhappy chance. It might have been mine. It should be mine. Give it to me!'

Frodo did not answer, but moved away till the great flat stone stood between them. 'Come, come, my friend!' said Boromir in a softer voice. 'Why not get rid of it? Why not be free of your doubt and fear? You can lay the blame on me, if you will. You can say that I was too strong and took it by force. For I am too strong for you, halfling,' he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.
"I don't want to keep it--but just let me use it!" "You'll make our side lose!"  "You're an idiot!" "It doesn't really belong to you anyway!"  And then..."You really hate it, don't you?  Having to go on this ridiculous quest?  Having to cart that thing around and be chased by every jealous evil thing that wants it?  You can get rid of all your problems right now.  It won't even be your problem anymore." 

And finally--when his persuasion proves useless, Boromir attempts to take the ring by force.

(What happens next?  You'll have to read it yourself.)


walking said...

I love how you illustrate the foibles of reason through literature, which is exactly what Mason encouraged us all to do!

Nadene said...

Excellent! ~ you had me gripped (and enticed me to go read the rest) and you fully demonstrated Ms Mason's principle! I'm sure your family will never forget this story and its analogy!

Lanaya said...

Great illustration. My daughter reads this book next year ~ I can't wait to read it with her now!