Past Blast: My Mini-interview with the Tolkien Professor

It’s Past Blast!  A blast from the past!  Wherein the past blasts down the front door of my blog and leaves something I wrote forever ago in a pathetic attempt to fill space on this site.  I could’ve done this forever ago, but my memory sucks.

Once upon a time, I (yes, I) had the privilege of conducting a mini-interview of sorts with Dr. Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor, who makes the best Tolkien/Lord of the Rings related podcasts this side of the internet–and the other side of the internet too.

It was just a chat, really, back when Middle-earth Network was still very much in its infancy.  Our social website was still in beta–its URL only in its first (or maybe even second) iteration out of the many it would be (I think it was “mymiddle-earth.net”?)–Middle-earth Network Specials were known as “The Bird and Baby Podcast”, and we were just an all around smaller community, which made such interactions with “famous types” easy.  It started as me copying the IM conversation, cleaning it up for presentation purposes, and sharing it with my friends as a Facebook Note.  Then our old news director decided she loved it and offered to share it on Middle-earth News.  I thought, “Heck yeah.  Great opportunity.”

And here we are.

The whole discussion centered around the infamous How Lord of the Rings Should have Ended–which is not in the actual news article, despite being in the original note (could’ve sworn it was, but whatever):

The summary is I enjoyed the video, I thought it was funny, but it bothers me that there are people who seriously see this as a major undoing of the entire story.  And I think that is flat out wrong.  I had my own thoughts on the matter but I wanted to see what Dr. Olsen had to say.

Also, I’m immature and want validation from a scholar, so I can go “haha” or something.

But I loved the major point the professor brought up: in wanting the great eagles to fly Frodo and the Ring to Mordor, people have stopped thinking about the story and are trying to circumvent it with their own.  It’s not the story Tolkien wanted to tell, it wouldn’t have actually worked (haha), and above all, it circumvents everything Tolkien’s mythos was about.

See, the great eagles were spirits, and the servants of the Manwë, chief of the Valar.  The Valar rarely intervened in the affairs of Middle-earth, and forbid Gandalf and the Istari from simply fighting the war against Sauron for the Free Peoples themselves.  As Dr. Olsen mentions in the interview:

If the Valar wanted to help in the destruction of the Ring, heck, they wouldn’t even need the eagles.  They could have just vaporized the Ring, or whatever.  […]  When people are thinking only “what would be easiest?” they are not really thinking of the story at all and as I said, that isn’t easiest anyway.  “God unmakes the Ring, destroys Sauron, and undoes all evil everywhere in the blink of an eye” is really much easier still, and simpler.  But that isn’t the world that we live in or that Tolkien wrote about or that anyone would actually want to read about, either.

Making a similar remark as the one I make later in the interview, for the intents and purposes of Tolkien’s mythos: asking why the eagles don’t fly the Fellowship to Mordor is like asking why doesn’t God snap His fingers at eliminate all evil forever?  The two are connected and if you ask for one, you may as well be asking for the other instead.  Yet the eagles always manage to appear in dire situations.  To that end, they are a physical representation of divine providence within Tolkien’s mythos–the Eucatastrophe: the “good catastrophe”.  That sudden, happy turn in a story that comes unhoped and unlooked for, which is set up in the Ainulindalë, the creation myth in the history of Middle-earth, with Melkor’s first defiance of Iluvatar, and which pervades throughout the mythos afterwards:

Then Iluvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Iluvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done.  And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.  For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’ (The Silmarillion)

Which is a fancy way of saying that since before even the thought of rebellion crept into Melkor’s mind, Evil would lose.  Anything bad Melkor could do would only be ultimately turned around in victory and glory of Good.  The irony of the One Ring’s power, for example, is that everything it did to get back to Sauron was its undoing.  It betrayed Isildur to his death, made Smeagol kill Deagol, slipped from Gollum to the hands of Bilbo, and got Frodo to take it to Morder… to its destruction.  Quite the dichotomy.

For all intents and purposes it had already lost before it started.  The eagles represent a piece of that in a great, unwinding tale, not instant gratification from which there is no struggle, triumph, or ultimately tale.

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One Response to Past Blast: My Mini-interview with the Tolkien Professor

  1. theviking says:

    mymiddle-earth.net “because we believe in – and stand for gramatical accuracy!” Ah…those were the days. 🙂
    But yeah, the way people tend to react to HISHE is very…mechanistic. I was actually talking to my brother about this a while back and when I explained basically what you just did his theology degree kicked and he got. Huzzah for rational argumentation!

    Like

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