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 on June 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 Padme:

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.

Links to articles about Christopher Lee's death:

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