My readers, like all men of sense, take it for granted that Tolkien does not take war seriously on its own terms – or politics, for that matter. There is a lot to be said about this form of contempt. A useful comic image of this contempt is the continuous chaos that mocks all the swordplay, every direct confrontation, each failure to move the plot along. War is no war on fate. Man is fated.
Men were supposed to protect dwarves from the dragon; they failed. The elves refused to help then, the dwarf refuses an alliance now. They only help each other in failing in their attempts to kill each other. The wizard & the halfling, both inclined by nature to indirection, learn a thing or two this way, but their powers are tragically limited. Bilbo’s dialogue with the dragon might be a lesson in the necessity of irony.
All minds are embodied. When even these rather less spirited fellows attempt direct confrontation, they fail. The dwarves knock iron against stone. The wizard tries to fight evil, perhaps to come to know the end of the world. His punishment is swift. His mind, to unite the dwarves in destroying the dragon & use them as yet another bulwark against the coming evil, should make the confrontation unnecessary. But how to explain evil? How to defeat what one misunderstands?
But if he survives this fight, the wizard might come to believe there is a way to fight. Maybe he has sacrifice on his mind. The only creatures who would remember the evil are disinclined to fight, lest they be compelled. They only fight for their own, which they guard jealously. They refuse to acknowledge any universal principle of action. Only evil seems universal – power.
This evil is a new thing. It always has to be. It starts in a place, which it defiles, but it spreads. The dragon is limited, unambitious in his boasting. The reasoning of talk & war makes sense, therefore. It implies, knowledge & goodness are very much connected. Maybe only surviving evil can prove that.
Home is the basic experience of goodness, or peace, or justice. Home is restful. Whether man is at home is the question – whether there is any ground for hope – whether civilization can overcome the evil or keep it at bay. The elves are not cowards; they know too well, evil & striving are connected. They depend therefore on spontaneous goods like forest & food. The dwarves too insistent on control, on moving inanimate things to get power. They need more power continuously to fulfill their designs. Any flaw could be calamitous. Maybe a striving that is not striving for power is needful.
Peter Jackson’s latest Christmas movie, this time a dragon tale.