Monday, February 14, 2011

Free Will vs. Fate

In Christian theology, evil (Satan/Lucifer's fall, etc.) is the price of free will. Humankind (and the angels, too) must have the ability to choose between the two poles of evil and good in order to achieve grace. Free will itself is dependent upon the choice between good and evil. In such a schema, fate is an operation of free will, not a predestined fact. By allowing free will, God must not only allow evil to exist as a choice, but He/She must also be removed from the choices free will must make in order to operate. How does Tolkien weave these theological concepts into his work? Does this notion explain why there is no "God" in Tolkien's trilogy? Why or why not? Or, contrary to the assumptions of many, does "God" appear in Tolkien's works?


Elladan said...

This debate has raged since readers began to critique Tolkien's works. When I was a sophomore in High School, my Sunday school class worked our way through a book called "The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in Lord of the Rings" by Fleming Rutledge. This book attempted to point out the ways, conscious or unconscious, that Tolkien included God in his works. Tolkien names the "God" of Middle-Earth as Eru, "The One," "Iluvatar, and "Father of All." Rutledge analyzes the religious backgrounds to the plot rather than the plot or narrative itself. It was an interesting, though quite different, new light shed upon the stories I love so dearly.

Radagast said...

So, can free will and fate both opperate in the same world? It seems to me that if a person has free will, then their lives can't really be ruled by fate because then it doesn't seem like they're really making their own choices. In Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit, the characters always appear to be free to choose what they will. They make decesions about where they will go and who will be their allies/enemies. However, they talk a lot about fate and how it was fate that Bilbo, and then Frodo, came to have the ring. But if you look at the whole world through the point of view that it was fate, then this seems begs the question: who determined this "fate"? Doesn't there need to be someone or something that is making these desicions, or can a world just progress and continue down a specified/"fated" storyline?

Belladonna Took said...

In my post “more than just luck” I describe a variety of quotes concerning destiny in detail; some of these included:

In Chapter II of Book I, Gandalf reasons, “Bilbo was meant to find the ring, and not by its maker. In which case, you were also meant to have it.” When the Black Riders first approached Frodo, the narrator conveyed that “a sudden desire to hide from view of the rider came over him.” “When the Hobbits set out from the shire, they met Elves: “Our paths cross theirs seldom, by chance or purpose.” When Frodo asked if Bombadil heard him calling he replied, “Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it.” In Chapter XII of Book I, Aragon expresses, “There my heart is; but it is not my fate to sit in peace, even in the fair house of Elrond.” Destiny is also used in foreshadowing; Gandalf exclaims (in the Council of Elrond), “But he (Gollum) may play a part that neither he nor Sauron have forseen.

Despite the prevalent appearance of fate, I think that there is, nonetheless, the freedom of choice in all of the characters. To me, it seems as if everyone is destined or supposed to do something, but it is up to them whether or not they decide to do it. They must choose between the path they are “supposed” to take and the path that they are not supposed to take. In Tuesday’s class, we discussed the decisions of many characters. All of them were faced with decisions that greatly affected the future. One important decision was Aragon’s decision to pursue Merry and Pippin instead of Frodo. It seems to me that Aragorn freely choose the path that he was also “supposed” to take. In this sense, everyone must choose between their fate (the correct pole) and the opposite pole. I do think that the prevalence of fate and destiny at least implies a higher power (God) is at work.

Luthien said...

I agree with Belladonna - each character was perhaps "born" to do great things or become great leaders (such as Aragorn, who is the born heir of Elendil/Isildur), but it is up to them to step into whatever role awaits them. I think they can choose not to accept that role. Either way they choose, the consequences of their actions could potentially have a huge impact - for good or ill - in the overall story. These consequences could be taken as actions that were meant to happen, though they came from the free choice of a character. It's a really weird, twisted up way to think about it, I guess.

But, on the other hand, there are the smaller, very unlikely things (such as Bilbo finding the Ring in the dark - though that could've simply been because the Ring was trying to get back to its master) that seem to be wholly reliant on a higher power orchestrating things in Middle Earth, to some degree at least.