Lewis, Tolkien and the nature of Good and Evil

One of the greatest misconceptions about Lord of the Rings is that Frodo succeeded in his quest. He did not. In the end, just like everyone else he succumbs to the temptation of the ring and puts it on. If it were merely up to Frodo, then Middle Earth would have been enslaved by Sauron and Aragorn’s army would have been crushed at the Black Gates.

Yet, it is mercy that saves the day.  Sam and Frodo showed mercy to Smeagol, when they could have simply left him to die.  When Smeagol commits the vile act of betraying Frodo and Sam and tries to take the ring for himself he falls into the lake of fire and both he and the ring are consumed.  This strange ending can give us insight into how Tolkien and also C.S. Lewis viewed evil.

For both of them, evil was simply a corruption of good.  This can be seen in Tolkien’s universe where evil can create nothing, it can only corrupt the good.  C.S. Lewis makes a direct statement of this fact in Mere Christianity.  Evil is a perversion of good traits such as love of one’s home or love of one’s family which are turned into hatred towards others.  Even Sauron was originally good and had a desire for order.  That desire for order became a will to dominate.

The key word here is dominate as that is the nature of evil. It wishes to have dominion over all things.  When good people use the tactic of domination against evil, it corrupts them.  Gandalf states that if he used the ring his desire to do good would lead to evil.

In the face of evil, what can goodness, kindness, and mercy do?  Yet, in the case of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings it is mercy towards the most unrepentant character Gollum which leads to the demise of Sauron.  And yet none of it would have been possible without the mercy of Frodo and Sam.

Another interesting fact is that in a letter Tolkien revealed that the deity of Middle Earth, Eru Illuvatar intervened and caused Gollum to trip and fall into Mount Doom.  This is similar to the verse in Exodus that talks about God hardening Pharoh’s heart. It deals with the notion of taking the evil within someone’s heart and using it to bring about some greater good, something only a perfect Being could do.

I think the interesting fact we can draw from all this is that goodness influences and transforms whereas evil tries to dominate but in the end it can only pervert.  In the end, its methods are empty and worthless before the transforming power of good.