Falling Awake

Just Darts Since 2009

The Voice of Saruman

Recently I’ve been re-reading The Lord of the Rings, as I do every few years.  As usually happens, some passages I read the other day jumped out at me, almost as if they were written about current events.

This has been happening to its readers since it was first published.  In Tolkien’s foreword to the second edition, he addresses readers who believed his book was an allegorical retelling of World War II:

…I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

So here I am, exercising my freedom.

Both of the following passages are from The Two Towers, Chapter X (“The Voice of Saruman”):

Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment.  Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them.  Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.   When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell.

Shortly after this passage, a supporter of Saruman tries to harm Gandalf, the elderly wizard, but the plan backfires to Saruman’s detriment.  Gandalf comments:

Still for us things have not gone badly.  Strange are the turns of fortune! Often does hatred hurt itself!

Only “often,” though.  Tolkien was a realist as well as a fantasist.

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2 responses to “The Voice of Saruman

  1. INFJ September 24, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I believe (consciously or unconsciously) Tolkien was describing Hitler’s speeches. If you read them you realize that he’s really saying nothing, but look at the hatred they inspired. Tolkien says he, “prefers history,” isn’t it strange how history often repeats itself. The current political situation is even more analogous. “Change!” “Yes we can!”

  2. Pingback: What are you doing here? « Falling Awake

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