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Conquering Sauron with the Ring (JRR Tolkien’s Birthday 2024)

“Your service is, of course, as anybody with any intelligence and ears and eyes knows, a very bad one, living on the repute of a few gallant men, and you are probably in a particularly bad corner of it. But all Big Things planned in a big way feel like that to the toad under the harrow, though on a general view they do function and do their job. An ultimately evil job. For we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear cut as in a story, and we started out with a great many Orcs on our side… Well, there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them.”

JRR Tolkien
(From a letter to Christopher Tolkien, 6 May 1944)
Pinteret pin. The picture is a black-and-white photo of a mature professor JRR Tolkien smoking his pipe. The quote reads: "For we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs." - JRR Tolkien.

JRR Tolkien’s complex view on war and freedom

JRR Tolkien’s ideas about war were more complex than one may think if just looking at the surface.

He certainly detested war. Not a surprise for someone who fought in the trenches of WWI. And apart from this, he truly believed that no one had the right to impose themselves and their views on anybody else’s view and free will. In some of his letters, he brushes anarchism, convinced as he was that everybody has the right to make their own choices, whether that will bring about good or bad things. Making mistakes is part of free will, and therefore, people should be free to make mistakes. Because, after all (and I truly love this part of his philosophy), bad and even evil will eventually come to some sort of good.

I believe this is why he thought that some wars were worth fighting. Not to impose someone’s will on someone else. Rather, the opposite: to give everyone the opportunity to make their own choices.
The fundamental right to exercise free will is so important that it is worth fighting for, even if you detest fighting. Even if that is totally out of your personality. Even if you think you don’t stand a chance. Even if you don’t think you have it in yourself. By fighting for the right to make choices (and mistakes), you protect your own freedom and everybody’s freedom.

Yet, because it’s about freedom, even the war that is worth fighting should be fought in a different way, and certainly not by destroying and conquering and imposing. That’s Sauron’s way. And if you use Sauron’s way, you will eventually become Sauron, no matter how noble your intent was initially.
Find a different way. Find an alternative. Let go. Renounce – because sometimes renunciation isn’t defeat but victory.

I never realised before how close JRR Tolkien came to brushing the philosophy of non-violence, though he never embraced it – I suspect because he was a fighter at heart.

Yet I love how he suggests his son (who, at 18, was in South Africa with the RAF) to keep up: keep your hobbitry in heart. Remain a hobbit, keep valuing the small joys of life, the simple things. Don’t forget that even in the big scheme of the world, the way you live your life makes a difference. What you value in your everyday life will sip into what you stand for – and vice versa. Living your life by your values is what will ultimately win the fight, not the weapon you hold in your hand.

It’s a philosophy I feel particularly close to my heart nowadays.

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