Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Terrorism in Tolkien's Works

Yesterday in class, I mentioned briefly that for some readers Tolkien's text resonate differently today after 9/11 and other terrorist occurrences in this century. But, no terrorists as we think of them appear in Tolkien's works. So, what then is the relationship between terrorism and Tolkien's works? Do Tolkien's works suggest anything that connects with terrorism as we know it today? Why or why not?


Varda said...

Tolkien's experience with the world wars holds a different sense of terrorism for him than I believe many of us imagine terrorism. Many of us imagine certain stereotypes in our modern world, and Tolkien's vision of terrorism certainly comprised a collection of different stereotypes than we are most used to, today. For me, terrorism is simply defined as acts that inspire terror in a large group of people, committed by another group of people. Terrorism seeks to uplift life as we know it and either instill fear or transform the world into something it currently is not. For Tolkien's works, Sauron and Saruman are terrorists because they seek not only the destruction of the people of Middle-earth, but the change of Middle-earth as its inhabitants know it.

Ossë said...

Like Varda, I think that many of the evil characters in the books could count as terrorists, though they aren't exact parallels of 21st-century terrorists. Both Saruman and Sauron are both working towards a drastically different world, and they kill in order to achieve these ends. This is characteristic of modern terrorism as well. But I agree that these aren't exact parallels to modern terrorists.

I think that the connection between terrorism and Tolkien's works is the fight against great evil. I think that terrorists are probably the closest example of pure evil that we have today. The attacks on 9/11 reminded us that such evil does exist and that humans are capable of atrocities. We've seen this throughout history, but 9/11, specifically, happened around the same time that the LOTR movies were released. LOTR was more popular than ever after the movies, and I think that many people read the books for the first time during these years.

I'm wondering if the books resonate differently because of these experiences we've had with evil in the form of terrorism. In both Middle-earth and our world, evil is a dark and dangerous threat to humanity. I think that the circumstances we face today make LOTR all the more relevant because of the evil we've seen.

Estë said...

I was really surprised to hear to connection between the twin towers and the Two Towers had been made, and I was perhaps more surprised that I had never ever thought of it! Terrorism as we understand it today is so politically and religiously involved, something that I think would be difficult to create in Tolkien’s world. For one thing, he has no religious groups in Middle-earth, fanatical or peaceful, so the idea of religious extremists wreaking havoc on the innocent peaceful population is impossible. Also the politics of ME seem relatively simple, or at least not nearly as complicated as the politics of our reality. Warfare is not even close to as advanced and complicated, with battles being fought in the old fashioned way with actual physical beings fighting one another on a battlefield. There are no drones or chemical weapons. It seems completely impossible to me, as I understand terrorism now. But then I guess that makes me question what terrorism actually means.. Are there “acts of terror” in LOTR? It seems to me like there’s just war.

Yavanna said...

One of the underlying conflicts present within the Lord of the Rings that isn't really expanded upon until his other works is the Religious differences. The Elves and the "good people" seem to all have an understanding of the Valar, and Eru, and even Frodo is able to harm the Ringwraiths at Weathertop by calling upon the name Elbereth Gilthoniel.

While very...distant from our current chaotic mix of religions, cultures, and motivations, it speaks to the differences in religious beliefs which can cause harm and distrust amongst peoples. But, at the same time, the 'wrong' religion in Tolkien's work, the Cult of Morgoth, is very obviously 'bad' and wrong in moralistic terms.

Nienna said...

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines terrorism as "the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal." This definition is certainly simplified however, as the definition tends to change dependent on the context. In much of the civil war literature terrorism is viewed as the beginning stage of violent conflict by a rebel group before they have amassed enough power to outright fight the government using conventional warfare. Terrorism allows a group to spread fear and cause mayhem though they are likely too weak to stand up to a state's superior war power. In this way, I am not sure if terrorism is directly related to Tolkien's works because I do not think there are actual examples of terrorism in the novels. The type of warfare in LOTR is more reminiscent of the conventional interstate warfare we experienced in the World Wars. However, I think the connection between the two is the element of fear. Terrorism seeks to spread fear in the public, just as Sauron sought to spread fear and discord throughout Middle-earth. Middle-earth combatted this terror and fear by standing up for what was right and defying fear by heading straight into it and not giving into despair. Perhaps this example from LOTR can give us a perspective on how to combat terrorism in our age, by refusing to give into fear.

Tulkas said...

I believe we cited two particular similarities between the films and modern day terror: the presence of two towers and Denethor throwing himself over the ledge the bring about his death faster. Any connection between modern terrorism and Tolkien's work is purely coincidental. Every generation sees its own brand of evil. For us its at the hands of a radical group conducting sporadic attacks within our cities. When my mom was little she was afraid that a communist might be hiding under her bed. Power and tactics shift hands and change over time; the enemies Tolkien faced were very different than the ones we face today, and he could have no way of knowing that.

There is only one connection between Tolkien and modern terrorism: us. We are the only thing that links the two together. As such, any reflections of terrorism within his works are provided by us. People say that we only see what we want to see. In this case, and in many cases, I would argue that this isn't true. Instead we see what is familiar, whether it is comforting or painful. It's no surprise that we make these connections. Evil is evil, no matter what form it takes. There is not a single person living in the U.S. who has not been effected by terror attacks. It may be as simple as having the wait in longer lines at the airport, but we have all felt its impact and it changes the way we see things.

Lórien said...

Tolkien presents a very cold and unfeeling version of Terrorism in his writings. There is a kinds mechanical precision to the dark forces in Lord of the Rings and his other works. The emphasis is placed on the power of technology to corrupt the human spirit. Based on his experience with the World Wars, Tolkien understood Terrorism as a series of commands and inputs given and executed by soulless humans who treated murder and terror like a job. Therefore we see Sauron acting from a place of unfathomable cruelty, immense jealously and completely without remorse. The war he brings upon Middle-earth is also completely devoid of normal human emotion, is entirely psychopathic yet controlled, practically surgical in nature.

Our modern understanding of Terrorism is incredibly charged with emotion. It is perpetrated out of anger, resentment, and often out legitimate feelings of mistreatment acted upon in horribly incorrect ways. The emphasis is placed on the capacity for destruction that any ordinary person can be pushed to with enough emotion. The wars of modern times are brimming with Religious division, Ethnic issues, class gaps, and ideological disagreements. Words like Freedom, Oppression, and Rights are thrown around in a way that they simply weren't used in Tolkien's day. The concepts of good and evil are more or less the same but certainly more complicated to identify.

I will use the two obvious examples. The Holocaust and the 9/11 Terrorist attacks. The Holocaust is an example of Tolkien's understanding of Terrorism. To this day the human race has not been able to fully explain why and how the Holocaust could have happen. It comes from the cold, mechanical kind of terror that normal people simply cannot wrap their minds around. Decades of psychology discussions and research, the Stanford prison experiment, Sociologists, Philosophers, and Artists have hardly come any closer to an understanding. This is because this type of Terrorism is beyond the realm of our emotional comprehension. However, when it comes to 9/11, an event no less evil or horrific, there is an explanation. People around the world are aware why the attacks happened, they understand how they were executed. Our emotional reaction does not come from recoiling in the face inhuman coldness but out of amazement that people with feelings we know and understand were driven to such horrific lengths. In other words the terrorism of Tolkien is a terror of disbelief, whereas our terrorism is one of helplessness. We all know what the problems in our world are; we all know and perhaps on some level understand why terrorism occurs. However, it is our seeming inability to resolve our own political, religious, social, and ideological differences that makes us afraid.