The moral of The Lord Of The Rings is a little bit wonky
The Lord of the Rings is easily one of the best recognized and best loved franchises around. Whether its J.R.R Tolkien‘s original epic fantasy novel, or Peter Jackson‘s film adaptation, pretty much everyone has had some exposure to the material.
At it’s heart, The Lord of the Rings is a classic ‘good vs evil’ story about a rag-tag group of Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and Wizards who journey across the lands of Middle Earth to defeat the Dark Lord Sauron and his evil armies by destroying the Ring of Power by tossing it into a giant volcano.
Over the course of about 1000 pages (if you’re reading the full trilogy of books) or 9 hours (if you’re watching the film versions), the heroes fight their way through/past/around multiple skirmishes with the forces of evil, always coming out on top due to their superior skill/power/luck. Eventually the armies of darkness are defeated, the land is cleansed and the Ring is destroyed. Everyone who survives goes home happy to put their feet up with a nice cup of tea and a pipe of some particularly good old Toby, safe in the knowledge that the right side has triumphed and everyone got what they deserved.
But is that really the case? Sure no one goes into a story expecting anyone but the good guys to eventually come out on top, but in the case of the LotR did they actually deserve it? Normally we would expect the heroes to win by being more skilful, or more moral, or just because the bad guy was a crazy evil genius who went a little bit too far leading to their mad-cap scheme falling apart around them.
But if you look hard enough at the Lord of the Rings story, you start to realize that none of the above reasons actually apply to this particular victory. Sure the forces of good have their fair share of excellent fighters, brilliant tacticians and sneaky wizards, but overall these were not the attributes that won the day. The reason the book/film ends with the cheers of humans and not the roar of the Orcs – basically dumb luck and the fact that they’re the good guys – that’s it.
Let’s take a look at the figures for the main battles of the Lord of the Rings:
Helm’s Deep (book); 2000 soldiers + 1000 mounted reinforcements – vs – 17,000 Uruk-hai, Orcs and Dunlendings.
Helm’s Deep (film); 600 soldiers, elves and peasants + 2000 mounted reinforcements – vs - 10,000 Uruk-hai.
In both versions the dark forces vastly outnumber the good guys, the only thing going for the heroes at the start is the fact that they’re holed up in an apparently impregnable fortress. What wins the day for the good guys in the end; men on horses + hills + sunlight! The wizard Gandalf and his reinforcements turn up at exactly the right moment for the Uruk-hai to be distracted by the sun in their eyes and before anyone can call a time out have crushed the remaining army, because hoofs clearly beat swords, spears and armor.
The dark wizard Saruman has spent months growing, armouring and preparing this supposedly incredibly strong vast army Of Uruk-hai. The good guys have rounded up a bunch of refugees and soldiers and crammed them into a fort. If Saruman had only thought to equip his forces with sunglasses or baseball caps then the whole thing would have ended quite differently.
Minas Tirith (book); 15,000 soldiers, Rohirrim and townspeople – vs – 100,000 Orcs, Haradrim and others + various beasts, trolls and Nazgul.
Minas Tirith (film); 8,500 soldiers and Rohirrim – vs – 223,000 Orcs, Easterlings and various + trolls, wargs and Nazgul.
Once again the forces of good are ridiculously outnumbered by a patiently compiled force of bad guys from across the land. This time they bring siege towers, elephants, dragons and catapults to the party to go against some (admittedly impressive) walls and archers. Learning their lesson from Helm’s Deep, this time the attack comes during the day so as not to be caught out by that pesky ball of gas in the sky. If you looked at the scene without the pre knowledge that the massive army on the ground were the bad guys and the besieged city was full of good guys, you would probably put your money on the Orcs without much hesitation. So what saves the day this time; you guessed it – a perfectly timed intervention by millions of ghosts. A small group of heroes have travelled to some distant mountain and convinced an army of long dead but bitter warriors that they might as well get out and help them rather than sitting in a cave being moody for the rest of time.
So given these revelations, the only reason that the good guys won anything was because they are the good guys and that’s what they’re expected to do. Never mind if on paper Sauron should now be the one relaxing on his front porch, smoking a mountain and watching the world burn with a smug grin on his face (or at least a smug glint in his giant eye). He’s the bad guy dammit so he has to lose no matter how well thought out and orchestrated his plan was.
Let’s be honest as well, the leader of the humans, Lord Denethor – is
batshit insane fucking crazy. Aside from being in no fit condition to lead or even watch over a Kingdom, Denethor willingly sent his only remaining son to die, whilst callously eating tomatoes and making his new hobbit sex slave sing a melancholy song. This man isn’t just depraved, he’s a lunatic and on that basis alone, the people of Minas Tirith should have died horribly.
In all fairness, most of them did, as it took a while for the deus ex machina to turn up and save the day, as the forces crashed their way through the many levels of the Kingdom. Not to mention that the world’s most powerful wizard found himself crippled and defeated after an intense staring contest with the Witch King. Two things win this battle, both of them equally ridiculous and demonstrate an author that is grasping at straws as to how to end this in a way the good guys can come on top.
In the end, The Witch King, the most powerful being on the battlefield is struck down, by a woman. Does this woman have any special discernible abilities? Not really, Tolkien just obviously needed to pull a strong female character out of the third act. See, when the Witch King specifically says “No man can kill me”, he’s not actually talking about a bipedal being of average height with a penis – he’s talking about HU-MANS. Having him defeated by a woman basically turns him into your average internet nerd LARPing on the weekend!
The moral of Tolkien’s story seems to be – taking all this into account – you can pretty much sit back and enjoy the battles going on around you, safe in the knowledge that the only prerequisite for winning is to be on the side of good. Religious zealots rejoice!
Kind of makes the whole 1000 page / 9 hour run time look a little pointless now.
Something tells me that’s the reason we never saw Tolkien’s proposed Sun Tzu smasher How To Win Any Conflict was scrapped due to the fact that it only consisted of:
Step 1: Make sure you’re on the right side.
Step 2: Do nothing and wait for victory.
So what do you think? Did the good guys deserve victory, or do you feel a little bit sorry for Sauron? Is Tolkien talking out of his arse? Give us your thoughts and feelings in the comments!