TEMPTATIONS AND CORRUPTIONS
by David Rowe
by David Rowe
"I am going, over the course of a couple of (hopefully fairly brief) blogs, to deal with the question, ‘Why do good people go wrong?’
And by people, I of course mean Tolkien’s people.
The underlying assumption, throughout the history of Arda, is that the World and its inhabitants are good-but-corruptible: whether Maiar or Men, the origins of all peoples and all places are wholesome but susceptible to evil. Even Melkor himself was created good, as were Ted Sandyman and Smeagol, but they became twisted versions of what they could have been. I will be giving a couple of suggestions as to why this happened.
Suggestion 1: TRUSTWORTHINESS
I’m going to start with the idea of trustworthiness, and to do that, we firstly we need to look at the nature of temptation. There are several moments in the Lord of the Rings where ‘good’ characters are explicitly offered, or tempted to claim, the Ring and the power it might offer.
Boromir sees himself driving back the hosts of Mordor, all men flocking to him; Galadriel admits that she greatly desires it, to set herself up as Queen in place of the Dark Lord; Faramir has the chance to show his quality; Gandalf out of pity seeks the strength to do good; Sam sees Gorgoroth turned to a garden.
Of these, only Boromir ‘falls’, trying to take the Ring by force. The others, in Galadriel’s words, ‘pass the test’.
In addition to these examples, several other characters desire and seek the Ring but never have it within their grasp: Saruman, to achieve Knowledge, Rule, Order; Denethor, to hold as a weapon in the defence of Gondor; and Sauron, its maker, desiring domination.
If we can put these individuals and their temptations into two categories, of those who pass the test, and those who succumb, I believe a very simple pattern emerges. Those who fail and fall – Boromir, Denethor, Saruman, Sauron – are those who desire strength (albeit, often, in order to achieve noble purposes), and crucially, trust themselves to use that strength.
They trust themselves and fall, the others do not.
When Denethor criticises Faramir for not bringing the Ring to Minas Tirith, Gandalf tells him:
I do not trust you… no more than Boromir. Nay, stay your wrath! I do not trust myself in this.
Gandalf is wise enough to not depend on himself. Those who fall to the lure of the Ring and its corrupting promises are those who think themselves trustworthy and up to the task.
It is natural to presume that being worthy of trust would make you reliable under the onslaught of temptation, but as these examples show, it is the ability (and humility) to be aware of your untrustworthiness that actually safeguards against the corruptions of power. It should also be observed that the natural outworking of this humility is the willingness to collaborate, rather than the desire to command. Evil swaggers in self-sufficiency, while goodness stumbles in humble interdependency.
To finish this ‘part one’ (and look towards ‘part two’), here is Sam, when the temptation to claim the Ring came upon him.
In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command. "