Theoden’s Ill Choices
Human Will and The Lord of the Rings
Last Sunday was Easter, the day on which Christians celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over death and the grave. Of course, before the resurrection came the cross. In the Bible, Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. During the course of his conversation with the Jewish Messiah, Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
Much of the last two thousand years has focused on that very question, with one group or another — Christians of various flavors, Muslims, scientists, atheists and others — claiming at various times to have a definitive answer.
Perhaps more significant is another question: What good is truth if known only; if it merely sits on a shelf, but is never used? Arguably, the defining human characteristic may be the ability to act contrary to what we know is good for us, even wilfully so.
As a Catholic, Tolkien understood the human capacity to exercise the will — even if it is exercised poorly — to be God-given, and a servant of Providence: one of the means by which God elects to work out his will on earth. As noted in the Hollywood Jesus review of The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson’s movies do not abandon these themes; if anything, they are brought into sharper focus — and The Two Towers, in particular, addresses the responsibility that comes with free will.
The Man of Action
Viggo Mortensen as AragornOne main story thread of The Two Towers follows Aragorn as he leads Gimli and Legolas in pursuit of the Uruk-Hai who have abducted Merry and Pippin. The decisiveness which Aragorn demonstrates in these opening sequences would have seemed out of place at times in the first of Peter Jackson’s movies.
While a member of the Fellowship, Aragorn was not so much a leader as one of many leaders — even, at times, a follower. From the time that Boromir falls defending Merry and Pippin, however, Aragorn assumes quite a different posture. It’s as if the words of fealty delivered by Boromir’s faltering lips finally convince Aragorn that he has the authority to lead — without Gandalf’s guidance, without the Ringbearer’s thoughts to be weighed, without the mission of the Council of Elrond to be protected. He is free to act, and act decisively. “Let’s go hunt some Orc!” he declares, and the eyes of his companions light up. They are ready and eager to follow.
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