This Blog is about The Inklings: the writers group in the mid-twentieth century that included JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and others. Although not officially part of the group, their colleague, Dorothy L. Sayers, will also be included.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Lessons from Saruman and Count Dooku
Christopher Lee passed away June 7, 2015. As soon as the news broke on the internet, I published this article (originally posted on the now defunct Examiner.com on July 11). I was reminded of this article earlier today, and I felt the occasion of the final presidential debate would be a good time to re-post it. Its themes, I feel, go to the heart of this year's election. I'll leave it to the reader whether you agree what I wrote over sixteen months ago speaks to our national decision this year.
The internet is flooded today with
the news Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93. Although the famous actor
passed away Sunday, news of his departure did not surface until early this
morning. (See a list of links at the end of this article.) Lee is famous for
his portrayal of Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Count Dooku in
the Star Wars prequels. Older fans may remember him as Count Dracula
in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The Internet Movie Data Base lists some 281 total acting credits.
Science Fiction and Fantasy buffs
will ever remember Christopher Lee as a turncoat. Count Dooku became Darth
Tyranus, in part because of some lees-than-blameless actions ordered by
the Jedi Council. This is reminiscent of Anakin Skywalker being drawn to the
Dark Side after being recruited to spy on the Emperor. We learn in the prequel
films the Jedi Order was run by people with feet of clay. The power of the
Force causes temptations for even the Light-Siders. Being one of the "good
guys" doesn't exempt people from questionable acts and decisions.
JRR Tolkien has
been criticized for a world which is too "black and white." But the
Middle-earth written about in Tolkien's books is not exactly a "black
hat" verses "white hat" universe. The temptation of the One Ring
involved more than just the desire to control others. Gandalf describes the
more subtle allurement in The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 2,
"The Shadow of the Past."
...the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity,
pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good.
Gandalf's temptation was to become
strong enough to be able to do the most good. This is the insidious nature of
power. We feel powerless when we see those suffering around us, and are tempted
to obtain and use power to "set things right." We fall into the same
trap Anakin Skywalker fell into. In Revenge of the Sith, he tells
I won't lose you the way I lost my mother. I am
becoming more powerful than any Jedi has ever dreamed of, and I'm doing it for
you: to protect you.
How many atrocities have been done
in the name of protecting loved ones and the weak? It's like what King Arthur
says in the television series Camelot (episode 4):
...if you have to fight dirty to protect your
cause, then so be it.
"The ends justify the means,"
they say. But we forget the byproducts which grow out of those means. What we
teach others by our actions often destroy the benefits of what we accomplished.
In the movie version of The
Lord of the Rings, Saruman is coerced to join Sauron when he believes the
Dark Lord cannot be beaten. But that is not how Tolkien wrote the story. In the
book version, Saruman is attempting to deceive Sauron and get the Ring for
himself. Saruman wants to set himself up as ruler of Middle-earth. His motives
probably were well enough to begin with. The wizards—the
Istari—including Gandalf and Saruman, were sent to Middle-earth to help the
people in their struggle against Sauron. However, they were told not to
dominate the peoples of Middle-earth.
But Saruman's desire to help protect
was corrupted as he began to lust for power. In our modern world, too many
politicians have gone down the same path. Be careful your desire to help
doesn't become a lust for power – to the detriment of those you desire to help.