Tolkien, I have a bone to pick with you. Bear with me, beloved readers--there is a point to this post. It might sound like nerdy rambling for the first paragraph or two (or five), but I'll do my best to make this worth reading. Without further ado, I present my humble criticism of the laws governing Middle-earth.
As you all may have read yesterday, I watched The Two Towers last night (and ate some delicious chocolate cake while doing so). Twice in the movie, we see evil men. First are the Dunlendings--a sort of wild, stunted, and vicious tribe who inhabits the less-than-picturesque land near Rohan. If you've seen the movies, you know Rohan is gorgeous and has land aplenty, but Dunland (from where the Dunlendings get their name) is not so lucky. The harsh terrain is inhospitable, and the Dunlendings have long envied the people of Rohan. In the second installment of the trilogy, we see Saruman convince the Dunlendings that enough is enough; it is time to destroy Rohan. The men pillage the towns, burning crops and homes, leaving none alive.
Next are the Haradrim. They play a much bigger part in The Return of the King when they go up against the Rohirrim at the Battle of Pelennor Fields (along with even more evil men, the Easterlings and the men of Umbar), but we first see them in The Two Towers when Faramir leads a raid against them before capturing Frodo, Sam, and Sméagol. The Haradrim are from Harad in the south of Middle-earth and are ancient enemies of Gondor. If it helps jog your memory, it's the Haradrim that have the oliphaunts (or Mûmakil, if we're going to use the proper terms--picture elephants, but bigger and angrier).
My point is, there are evil men in The Lord of the Rings. The laws of Tolkien's Middle-earth allows for men to choose evil. We can safely assume that elves can also choose evil, because orcs were once elves. Dwarves aren't particularly good or bad, they're more benign than anything else, but they still do more good than evil. I don't think an evil hobbit exists (unless you count the Sackville-Bagginses' mean-spiritedness as evil). Men, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and Ents are the "good" races of Middle-earth. They are good, but they can still do evil. Okay, stick with me and hold that thought.
Now look at the "bad" races: Orcs, goblins, Uruk-hai, Balrogs, Wargs, dragons, trolls, the Nazgul, and giant spiders. These are the inherently evil races. Can they choose good? The Nazgul were once great kings of men who, when given the nine rings by Sauron, fell into darkness. As men, they chose evil, and became evil. But has any one of the "bad" races ever done anything good of its own volition? No. Here, Tolkien, I call foul.
It's not a one-way street. If the good can choose evil, the evil can choose good. When I had this realization, I wanted to go back in time and shake J.R.R. Tolkien and tell him to stop messing with my world view. It isn't just. If the kings of old could become the Nazgul, is there no hope for them?
The Lord of the Rings makes the reader think about the allure and dangers of power, temptation, and addiction. It exults courage and sacrifice. It is about good fighting evil, hope triumphing over despair. It tells the reader that loss is a part of life, that farewells don't have to be sad, and that death isn't what we should fear--that the pursuit of deathlessness (as said by Tolkien himself), of escaping death, is what we should be careful of, because it will never work. It's about fate or free will, if both coexist or if one is an illusion. People have said for years that The Lord of the Rings has not one Christ figure, but three: Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn. There are a lot of heavy themes (not to mention endless symbolism) in these books.
But redemption? Where is the redemption for the Nazgul? They have none. The Witch-king of Angmar is killed by a grammatical loophole (he couldn't be killed by a man, so Eowyn--a woman--kills him). For Gollum? His love for the ring destroys him, driving him into the fires of Mount Doom. Once the ring has been destroyed, the ground crumbles beneath the army of Mordor in the Battle of the Morannon, sending them to their deaths. There is no redemption for the evil and enslaved races in The Lord of the Rings. There is no chance for them to do good or to apologize for what they've done.
For everything that is good and amazing about The Lord of the Rings, this is a glaring error that I'm having serious trouble overlooking. I know that odds are, Tolkien simply didn't think this all through when he was writing. He didn't focus on the evil races; they were the enemy, a plot device, a symbol of everything wrong in the world. I love Middle-earth, but I feel like I've stumbled into a darker part of it, and I don't care for what I've found.
I still love The Lord of the Rings, though.
Peace be with you.