Childrens' book philosophy 18: Retributive justice in Lord of the Rings

[Frodo:] "I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let [Gollum] live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."

[Gandalf:] "Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."

- From JRR Tolkien, "Fellowship of the Ring"

Danko's picture

I don't think the Lord of the

I don't think the Lord of the Rings is a book for children. But I think the greater sin is misspelling Tolkien's name, he is 'kein Tol' but it comes from "tollkühn", foolhardy, too daring etc. :)

However, I like this quote, it is a good response to those who are quick to judge.

Peter Adamson's picture

Yes, I wondered about that

Yes, I wondered about that actually - I mean whether it is "childrens' literature." I decided that it is because I read it when I was 12 or 13 or something. But like much childrens' literature it is also good for adults.

Sorry about the misspelling though! I'll fix that.

Danko's picture

No worry :) I think the

No worry :)

I think the spelling was what unnerved the author very very much.

I think it isn't, but aside from that, it is actually a sort of a reception of medieval literature. Hence it is very often commented (and admired) chiefly by medieval scholars.

For instance, a point has been made that there is a dual vision of the nature of evil - evil as deviation from the good; and evil as something substantial itself. It being a work of literature, the interplay allows for various interpretations which is always a good thing.

This particular example is for example tied in with specific sense of providence: had they killed Gollum at that particular point, he would not have been able to later "help" in destroying the ring. Hence, some sort of mercy led to salvation, but it is all complicated by the fact that Gandalf says that even the wisest 'cannot see all ends'. So whether it was really predestined or not is also another question which is not easily resolved.

I am saying all these not to brag about my knowledge of Tolkien, but because I think that 'childrens' literature' at least for me implies easy reading, formative reading, and preparation for 'serious literature' in the future. Whereas, Tolkien himself was a medievalist and a renowned scholar, and his work springs from a dialogue with medieval tradition.

On a wholly different note, I have to say that I admire your podcast, and all your effort, that I have been following it since last year, and that your style of presentation is excellent, so I always enjoy every episode, and look forward to listening to this podcast.

And also I might add that I really hope you do mention Chinese philosophy of which I am a great fan.

Cheers!

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