The LOTR Movie Site
October 16, 2000

Fate, Freewill & Heroism -- Response to Stacy B.
Mark S.

As regards your pleased recognition of our debates at this site, I think we are all here because other Tolkien chat sites tend to attract 'dungeons and dragons' types who are more interested in how long Gandalf's staff is rather than discuss the archetypal imagery and cosmic issues addressed in LOTR, Silmarillion etc.That, or else we are all frustrated sophomores, desperate to voice our pet theories somewhere public!! :-) Anyone care for some more heavy philosophy? Trust me, I DO come to a point at the end of it all! :-)

So... fate and free will, and heroism. Free Will Vs Determinism is a favourite topic in Philosophy. The question is, ultimately, one of ontology; Is the Cosmos so constructed that the actions of sentient beings are merely the playing out of Destiny -- and therefore volition is an illusory abstraction -- or is volition contingent with the very dynamic nature of a Cosmos where the "rules" are the forces that govern that the motions of atoms and energies, but are nevertheless all subject to Wills or Souls whose origin is beyond the Natural Cosmos? This is where Philosophy meets Theology -- yes, I know. And to that, presently. Meanwhile...

The concept of "Multiple Possible futures" allows Free Will within an otherwise bound Cosmos; 'Destiny' is the Laws of Physics -- Free Will is 'extra-Cosmic force' that overules the Laws of Physics. I tend to go with this theory, as it allows scope for understanding human action. Furthermore, it disallows the convenient "out" of "Do what you want to do, because ultimately it all doesn't matter" -- a philosophy fondly embraced by moral relativists whom I despise... they strike me as just plain intellectually lazy hedonists at heart!

When you mention Gollum as a conduit for Fate, this helps focus the debate greatly. I think you are most on the ball when you have Gollum less as a conduit for Fate, and more as a vehicle for Sauron's Will. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' "Unman", Dr Weston in Perelandra, who subjugates his will to Satan and thus becomes a damned soul. So too, has Gollum subjected himself to another will. I think most readers would have Gollum as a hero were he to have resisted Sauron's will, to the point of martyrdom, rather than yield only to meet with ignominious destruction.

It seems that heroism, as we define it, is a 'twin-criteriad' phenomenon; one must exercise one's own volition -- and one must choose the Good, whatever the cost.

Occasions where such choices are made are not often seen, but when seen on a grand scale are soberingly dramatic. Gollum, when torn between 'Slinker' & 'Stinker' is a masterpiece in cameo of Tolkien's art; witnessing a sentient being undergoing psychological fragmentation is a sobering experience. The reader feels like s/he is in an asylum and thoughts of the fragility of our own consciousness rise ominously. Does sanity hang on so slender a thread?
No wonder Gandalf and Frodo pity him!

And Eowyn? I agree, she's hardly heroic. Her choice to fight on the battlefield was selfish -- she sought oblivion, not fulfilment. Were she not a shieldmaiden (an heroic archetype)she would have slit her wrists or, in another time, swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills... and been little more than a tragic love-lorn statistic. Likewise, Denethor's suicide is grandly 'Tragic' -- but hardly heroic.

So what determines "heroism"? To reiterate; to freely choose the good.
And do we REALLY have free will. I say, yes! Absolutely! To deny ourselves that capacity is to deny our very humanity; to put ourselves on the level of instinctual animals subject to the spinning of quarks in a meaningless Cosmos.

In brief, we must have anchoring Absolutes (such as there IS a thing called Free Will, and the boundaries or 'rules' of its exercise are the Laws of Physics) lest all our conjecturing crumble into word-play and sophistry... or the degeneration of psychological coherence as seen in Gollum, Dr Weston and, all too frequently, in today's social reality -- a reality where mental fragility and moral vacillation are all too common and heroism all too rare.