The Good, the Bad, and the Outlawed - Michael Martinez' J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth


"Turin himself is both an outlaw and a hero, but not a folk-hero outlaw. That is, he passes through outlawry and gains acceptance into two communities despite his own moral failings. Turin's initiation into outlawry derives solely from his lack of faith in Thingol's justice. He elects not to abide in Doriath while the Elves decide his fate. Hence, Thingol's pardon is ineffectual, even though Beleg seeks out Turin to explain the outcome of Thingol's investigation. In ceasing control over a band of outlaws, Turin sets the stage for his emergence from outlawry. With Beleg's aid, Turin leads the outlaws in a campaign against the Orcs. They turn aside from their past behavior in which they preyed upon their own kind."
All the great tragedies of Tolkien's First Age cycle are founded upon the outlaw motif. The loss of community and the moral isolation force his characters to undertake purifying journeys. But the journeys are so arduous that most who tread the outlaw path fail to redeem themselves, or must do so by paying the ultimate price.

Here is an excerpt from Michael's August 19th article.


It's almost impossible to have a real hero in Middle-earth who has not passed through a period of dispossession and outlawry. But since outlawry is the province of all the villains, too, there must be something in the character of the hero which helps him to achieve redemption. Or, if he does not require redemption, then his outlawry is a moral abridgement of rejection. That is to say, if you're an outlaw under Morgoth's regime, you're not an evil person. You have rejected evil.

But life is not so simple in Middle-earth, as it seldom can be. Outlawry proves to be a state in which the character defines his purpose. For example, when Melkor asserted his presumptious claim to Arda, the Valar rejected his arrogance. He became an outlaw and fled (for a time) into the wastes of Ea (Creation, the universe). It was during this initial period of oultawry that Melkor metamorphosed into the first dark lord.

Upon initially entering the universe, Melkor assisted the Valar in all their labors. There appears to have been no strife between them. Only when they began to shape the "habitation of the Children of Iluvatar" (Cf. "Ainulindale") did Melkor depart from the appointed task begin to pursue his own goals. But though "he meddled in all that was done, turning it if he might to his own desires and purposes" (ibid.), it would not be until Melkor said to the other Valar, "This shall be mine own kingdom; and I name it unto myself" (ibid.), that he transgressed and passed into a state of natural outlawry.

Natural outlawry is the segregation of the individual from the community. It may be formalized through a process of law, but the fact of outlawry is determined by the individual's decision to set aside the moral bounds of the community. Melkor abandoned the task set to the Ainur by Iluvatar, and thus he entered into outlawry. But though he attempted to claim Arda for himself, his claim was rejected and he was himself driven into exile. There he bided his time, and he gathered followers from among the other Ainur.

Melkor's last act of pure outlawry was the toppling of the two lamps of the Valar. In destroying the lights which nourished Arda, Melkor brought about an end to the formal order established by the Valar. We are told nothing about how the Valar arranged themselves prior to the hour when they began to shape Arda. But they may have, for all we know, passed from world to world, dwelling upon it for many ages, giving shape to their thought. Yet when they came to rest in Arda, they were sundered from Melkor and their natural course through Time was irrevocably altered


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