Tolkien on Revenge

Discussion in '"The Hobbit"' started by Arcs, Jun 2, 2017.

  1. Arcs

    Arcs New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2017
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Colorado
    First of all hi I hope I'm welcome on these forums, I looked a while for a place to post this I thought woudl be conducive to good feedback and discussion.

    When I was in middle school I read The Hobbit for the very first time and fell in love with it, my English teacher who I still regard as one of the best I've ever had really loved the part about Bilbo going into the mountain and his conversation with Smaug. He actually was suffering from MS and so would forget we covered that part and so we actually went over it like 5 times. But his words were always striking and one thing he would say every time is how the Dwarves wanted revenge, and how ill things always happen to those who want revenge and that all stories of revenge tended to end in tragedy. I'm in a stage of my life where revenge is a hot topic, or at least their feelings, and as I've always done I turn to great minds and authors for solace. It occurred to me I have never had a conversation about this before and I couldn't find much online linking revenge to the story of the Dwarves, but it does fit in my view.

    First you have the Dwarves, they lost something and without loss there's no reason for revenge, even if that loss is as small as status, or your mood and in this case we have their entire homeland was lost and way of life.

    Then you have them always wanting to reclaim their homeland and kill Smaug who was responsible for it all. I think it's pretty clear that they want revenge.

    The debate would be if there is one, how much a story of revenge is it and does the ill things that happen to their company have anything to do with the motivation of revenge itself, or other ones such as greed? In general in western culture revenge is thought of as something villains do, but there are plenty of hero stories even so that are revenge stories and you even celebrate their successes. The Dwarve's revenge, if we wish to call it that, isn't out of momentary anger either it is planned and calculated for years.

    Given too that Gandalf is seen as a guiding figure in Tolkien's works, or at the very least very wise and rarely misguided, would him putting the expedition together mean in some way he okays revenge or at least is willing to harness it's motivation for other ends?

    In it all comes a debate too of whether one should fight for things or let things go, and when it is ok to do either, if ever. Norseman for example would let others pay money to someone's family as deterrent for them taking retaliation to them killing someone in their family out of revenge, and Christian ideology preaches turn the other cheek. My favorite things about stories is they navigate the complicated moral landscape and behind it all you can learn, observe, or even reject an author's way of thinking.

    I hope this isn't too long a post or the topic is welcome here, I've loved tolkien since I first read the Hobbit so yah, this is the kind of conversation I always longed for with other Tolkien fans.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
    CirdanLinweilin likes this.
  2. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

    Joined:
    May 13, 2016
    Messages:
    720
    Likes Received:
    350
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Writer
    Location:
    Mission Viejo, California
    All I can think of is that, because of Tolkien's background, he would very much dislike the idea of revenge. He was Catholic, after all, and a devout one at that, and being against revenge is a big teaching for him and I.
    In Thorin Oakenshield's case, sure, Smaug got shot, he got his kingship, and he got his home. Didn't he though, turn into a big jerk afterwards? At least for a little bit? Granted, he became better in the end, but revenge did create some ill. I will say, Revenge is very popular in these myths and tales, and seems a big driving factor for many of the characters. The Dwarves, understandable, they lost their home and kingdom (I still don't think the end ever justifies the means. That's me though.)

    Then you get Feanor from The Silmarillion, who in his lust for his Silmarils and his revenge against Morgoth, he kills many of his own kind!(The Three Kin-slayings) And that cycle continues with his sons (Maedhros and Maglor) until one of them commits suicide ( Maedhros throwing himself and the Silmaril into a fiery fissure) and the other in his despair casts the Silmaril into the ocean (Maglor). I think The Professor wanted to illustrate with Feanor and his sons that it isn't always the best course of action and it could lead to a lot of evil and heartbreak.

    So, I would agree with your teacher.

    I hope that this textual evidence from Tolkien's works helps in some way.

    Great topic! I was waiting for someone to bring this up!

    CL
     
    Arcs likes this.

  3. Arcs

    Arcs New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2017
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Colorado
    Thank you so much for referencing those stories I want to reread them now that you mentioned them.

    For the Hobbit, Thorin was corrupted by the wealth, as I understand it. I forget if it was a curse dragon's put over their gold, or as in the movie a gem that warps the owner and warped his father. The wealth itself attracted the dragon in the first place though. It isn't impossible to draw a line then to the quest for revenge. But it's not just Thorin and company that suffer losses, but the surrounding people in Laketown too. Thorin himself loses his life in part defending that wealth and many references to his greed are made every step of the way ever since they reclaim the mountain and it's a lot clearer to draw a line to greed. Their quest overall however, ends in a lot of tragedy, and that's why it's more cloudy to me as a result of a lot of the bad things that happen is greed, but the quest took place due to revenge, in other words to retake what was lost and retaliate against what took it from them. They even blame the elves for not helping them all those years ago and in a way wish retribution and revenge upon them too.

    So I guess it gets complicated but I don't know what the scholarly stance on it is.

    "I will say, Revenge is very popular in these myths and tales, and seems a big driving factor for many of the characters."

    I agree, I think a lot of stories about revenge exist but depending on culture and time period and even author it is either glorified (especially if the revenge isn't for the protagonists own purpose but say a fallen loved one) or condemned. Heroes in stories often have many people preventing them from doing revenge, where as Villains do it freely. However it is refreshing in the Hobbit that, there's no blocking their quest for revenge and you see out their quest to completion, and yet they are the heroes of the story. Of them going, Bilbo is really the only one who doesn't have a stake in it for revenge, only wealth and adventure and he arguably ends up better than most the company.

    I agree that Catholic teachings would sternly condemn revenge, but people don't always agree with a teaching, or practice it, so I'm curious what Tolkien himself thought and I think those Silmarillion stories will say a lot.

    So an update of sorts I did finally find an essay on it but it seems the completed version was taken off the internet (even taken off the internet archive and google cache). Another site grabbed an incomplete version of it and I can at least post that:

    Revenge In Tolkien's The Hobbit: A Perilous Path


    The morality of revenge is often difficult to evaluate, and the struggle to determine whether it is the path to justice or evil subtlety permeates through J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. In the novel, the morality of vengeance does not fall into the clearly set lines between good and evil. This grey area is a hallmark of Tolkien's background, for his religion and academic studies have conflicting stances on revenge. His faith criticizes revenge and promotes forgiveness, yet he was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature which portrays revenge as the noble route to justice. Since these two aspects of Tolkien's life greatly influenced his writing, he did not eliminate the existence of vengeance from the minds of his indignant characters. Instead, the novel cautions against revenge and its inherent dangers, though there are exceptions in which revenge is carried out without harmful effects. However, in order to evaluate the various episodes where revenge is discouraged in the narrative, there must be a consistent criteria for analysis.

    To begin, revenge is defined as:

    A deliberate injurious act or course of action against another person, motivated by resentment of an injurious act or acts performed by that other person against the revenger, or against some other person or persons whose injury the revenger resents. Both motive (vengeful resentment) and injurious act must be present to constitute revenge. (Rosebury 451)

    Although this definition is broad enough to include most cases of malicious retaliation in The Hobbit, there are acts of reactive violence that lay outside its boundaries. For example, Gandalf deceives the trolls into death and kills the Great Goblin, but he does not fulfill the criteria for revenge because these murders were not motivated by resentment. His exact motive for providing assistance to the dwarves is not officially stated in The Hobbit, but Thorin and Gandalf's dialogue in "The Quest of Erebor" illuminates Gandalf's intention; he did not want Smaug to ally with Sauron, for the outcome of this alliance would have grave effects on Middle-earth. Gandalf's injurious acts are performed in a consequentialist mindset because the total amount of suffering would have been just as great or greater if there was no resistance (Mason 19). He can accurately estimate when violence and killing is necessary because he is prudent, always “looking behind” and “looking ahead” (Tolkien 52). Furthermore, he trusts that divine providence ensure that the following events turn out for the best, admitting that his success in leading the troop through the mountains was due to “good management and good luck” (133). As a result of these virtues, Gandalf's retaliation against evil is heroic and does not sink to the level of vengeance, unlike other creatures in Middle-earth.

    The dwarves' quest to get even with Smaug for taking their gold substantiates the underlying message warning against revenge. From a superficial point of view, the dwarves seem...​

    And that's where it ends, it seems it originated on brightkite and was taken down maybe after this other site that sells essays was found having it I don't know.

    It is bad luck it's cut off just as it gets to the part about the dwarves and their quest for revenge if anyone by chance has the full essay I'd love to read it. Taking from the title though I think the author's stance was going to be that the outcome of the journey itself and what befell many of the dwarves (death, lost friends, lost family), can be interpreted as a lesson in itself, even if greed was another lesson in the story and theme. Maybe one could even say revenge is in a way related to greed. As both are wants, desire, when we could be perhaps happier letting those desires go.

    It's not from the Hobbit either, which is what I'm most interested in for his subject however it does shed light on Tolkien's thoughts, this quote:
    [​IMG]t is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing. - Frodo of the hobbits' desire to kill Saruman for enslaving them
    I'm also reading Revenge and Moral Judgement in Tolkien, which is a journal so typically you have to pay a lot of money, a subscription or be enrolled in a school with free access to read it, or would if sci-hub didn't exist. I'll share some key parts later with my thoughts if anyone is interested.

    Alright no further interest but I will post this just in case. I read the full journal of
    Revenge and Moral Judgement in Tolkien by BRIAN ROSEBURY

    And this is the shortest summary I can come up with for it:
    Tokien didn't believe in eye for an eye, but he did believe in something called consequentialism. This can be seen in Lord of the Rings more clearly:

    When the Warden of the Houses of Healing laments the injuries of war and hints at a criticism of the Gondorian élite, Éowyn replies that, “It takes but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden . . . And those who have not swords can still die upon them”

    This implies, not a defence of revenge, but what moral philosophers call a “consequentialist” or utilitarian argument: the total quantity of human suffering would have been just as great, or greater, if Gondor and Rohan had opted for non-resistance. It is a classic anti-pacifist argument, omitting only the implicit claim (which the reader can take for granted) that there is a chance of reducing total suffering if the aggressor can be defeated and future aggressors deterred. …

    When she goes on to insist that it is not always evil to die in battle, Éowyn again makes no mention of vengeance—rather (we infer from the context) her motivation is a matter of honour and an obligation of service to her people.
    There's a ton of examples of this, and when retaliation is taken against someone the heroes tend to think about it long and hard, such as the entmoot before they march on Isengard, or Thrain pulling his beard and waiting seven days without food before deciding "this cannot be borne!"

    Villains however, like Sauramon, often cite eye for and eye "one good thief deserves another... one ill turn deserves another."

    For how this relates to the Hobbit, there is one phrase: "We came over hill and under hill, by wave and wind, for Revenge". However this can be seen as a farce, since Bilbo is trying to fool the dragon. I've found other academics that seem to disagree with Brian Rosebury, but he at least feels there is little conversation earlier to say that the dwarves are motivated by revenge, but rather to recover their lost wealth.

    His view is pretty nicely concluded with these two excerpts:
    I believe Tolkien was a rational writer, to whom the concurrence and co-operation of reason with the right kind of emotion was important.

    Where emotion leads to the abandonment of reason, as in the cases of Fëanor or Ar-Pharazôn, the results are generally calamitous.
    There's a lot more I could go over but I encourage you to read the full journal if you wish to know more.

    I did want to quote a bit one person who does disagree for a more balanced view this is taken from From Naughlath to Durin's Folk: The Hobbit and Tolkien's Dwarves by Gerard Hynes.

    Basically, dwarves and how they are and behave changed between some of Tolkien's works. Dwarves oldest iteration and in their older tales are much darker, such as being much more mercenary than based on honor, and were actually villains in Tolkien's legendarium and even in more modern tales it's hinted that Dwarves that still ally with goblins and orcs exist. Tolkien's earliest dwarves actually were
    "misshapen", enamored with gold and seeks vengeance through curses.
    This doesn't really reflect the Hobbit though, but there are other phrases and moments that are pretty crucial that the other Journal by Brian Rosebury doesn't contemplate such as:
    When the dwarves part Laketown the narrator comments "there is no knowing what a dwarf will not dare and do for revenge and the recovery of his own".

    When Bilbo assures Smaug that they had come for revenge, he may still be riddling but he is telling the truth (H, xii, 203).

    Thorin also promises to avenge himself on anyone who withholds the Arkenstone from him (H, xvi, 240).
    Most of the revenge of the dwarves, such as against Azog is considered justified however.

    So in conclusion, I do think The Hobbit had definite themes of revenge, though the recovery of wealth seems to be the more central focus. The dwarves too can be vengeful in nature, but any considered a hero will take Tolkien's more Consequentialist views and it is never presented as good or wise to retaliate or defend oneself due to emotion alone. There are many examples given of this in Brian's work, I can leave you with one of the more famous moments in the Lord of the Rings:

    What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!

    Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.

    I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.

    Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death.

    And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.
    I'll leave you to spot the consequentialism in it, though Brian did talk extensively of this example.

    TL;DR

    Yes, The Hobbit has themes of revenge. Tokien supports consequentialism but not revenge in the sense it is retribution, or eye for an eye, or even driven mostly by emotion.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2017
    CirdanLinweilin likes this.
  4. Will Whitfoot

    Will Whitfoot Mintmaster

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2017
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    18
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Licensed minter of Middle-earth coinage
    Location:
    Springdale Arkansas USA
    Home Page:
    If I may bring up THE SCOURING OF THE SHIRE from the Return of the King.... Frodo is obsessed about keeping the Hobbits from falling into vengeance. This was the part of the tale that touched my heart more than any other. It was with great disappointment that I watched Peter Jackson's film leave the Scouring entirely out of the tale! Of all the (many) minor failings in that film adaptation, the failure to grasp that the Scouring is perhaps the most important chapter in the entire series is nigh unforgiveable.
     
    CirdanLinweilin likes this.

  5. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

    Joined:
    May 13, 2016
    Messages:
    720
    Likes Received:
    350
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Writer
    Location:
    Mission Viejo, California

    Darn good point and I agree. After reading that chapter, I dearly wish it was in the films. It really illustrates how the four Hobbits have grown. I do love Frodo constantly telling his fellow Hobbits not to enact revenge. He really learned something from Gandalf and Gollum!

    CL
     
  6. BalrogRingDestroyer

    BalrogRingDestroyer Member

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2018
    Messages:
    154
    Likes Received:
    16
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Hobbiton
    I do think that not killing Gollum was how the Hobbits succeeded while the dwarves and Elves failed as that was the very thing that turned the tide of Middle Earth at the end.


    Also, if I may say so, Bilbo not killing Gollum and also not giving into greed (Smaug tried to get him to turn on the dwarves by suggesting that they used him and knew he couldn't bring back the wealth to the Shire, and, though it annoyed Bilbo, he didn't try and get back at the dwarves for perceived injury.) Also, because he was willing to part with his own share of the gold to try and redeem Thorin and the others (I think he could have, in theory, used the Ring to save his own skin if it came down to it.) Indeed, Thorin's last words commended Bilbo for caring about what mattered rather than material possessions and said that the world would be more merry if more people were like Bilbo.

    Because of these things, Bilbo was the only one to go with the Ring for about half a century or more and still be able to WILLINGLY give it up. In fact, of the all the Ring Bearers, other than Sam, who, other than Deagol (who actually probably wouldn't have willingly gave it up), was the one that had the Ring for the shortest period of time, Bilbo I believe was the ONLY one that gave it up WILLINGLY. Sauron, Isildur, Gollum, and Frodo had to have it taken from them or lose it.
     
    CirdanLinweilin likes this.
  7. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2005
    Messages:
    789
    Likes Received:
    328
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Occupation:
    salt miner
    Location:
    Consigned to the salt mines of Núrnen…
    Home Page:
    There is a very important shade of difference and meaning lurking in this thread, and in modern Western thought. Because we have ceased to study our ancient religion, Christianity, we no longer see the distinction, and become confused. Since Tolkien was a devout Catholic, let us use that as a starting point. And by the way, I’m not a priest or a lawyer, so if there are any rabbis, priests, or lawyers in this thread, feel free to criticize.

    To take revenge is a bad thing; to avenge someone or something is done to accomplish justice, and is a good thing. Vengeance is something God withholds for himself: humans are not to attempt it.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2302, says,
    Now I’m going to quibble with my Catholic brethren: The correct translation of the Hebrew into modern English is not, “You shall not kill,” but “You shall not [commit] murder.” The King James Bible was translated during the life of William Shakespeare, which is (1) why Shakespeare and the King James Bible sound so similar, and (2) why people confuse citations from the two, especially since modern “educators” no longer teach either of them.

    Rabbis and Christians alike (since Christians inherit their interpretation from Judaism) recognize three circumstances in which killing is justified: as due consequence for crime; in warfare; of an intruder in the home: that is, defense of self and family. Killing another person by accident is not murder, but the killer cannot leave the scene or the locale until the incident has been thoroughly investigated: an accident killing isn’t murder, it isn’t justified, either, and an accidental killer must suffer exile. That is the gist of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), long ago incorporated into the common law that still underlies jurisprudence in countries that once were Christian, and it pretty much remains the written law of statute today.

    The idea behind this is that, “Man is created in the image of God.” If you deliberately kill another person (outside capital punishment, warfare, self-defense, or by accident), then you have committed a direct offense against God. That’s murder.

    Back to Tolkien. In the Battle of Azanulbizar, Azog the Goblin kills Nain, then Nain’s son Dain Ironfoot leaps forward and kills him. Dain is justified because (1) the Dwarves are at war with the Orcs; and (2) Dain is avenging the deaths of both his father and Thrór, whose murder at the hand of Azog began the war in the first place.

    Now think about Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug. Bilbo tells Smaug, “[G]old was only an afterthought… We came … for Revenge,” whereupon Smaug proceeds to proclaim his invincibility.

    And with invincibility, revenge and avenge get complicated.

    Tolkien was a philologist, a person who studies languages, their history and texts. Tolkien’s world of Elves and Men and Dragons is his own personal philology laboratory, and he’s really good! Look at these ideas from their root formations:

    The root here is the Latin vindex, “defender, protector”; vindex in turn comes from two Proto-Indo-European words, vis, “strong, forceful”, and *déyḱti, “show, point out, assert”. The verb vindicare comes from vindex and means “to defend or protect”.

    To vindicate someone is to prove that he is right, reasonable, or justified. Vengeance, from an old French derivative of vindicare, is retribution or punishment for a wrong you incurred. To take revenge is to impose vengeance upon someone on your own behalf: for example, “You insulted me, so I whack you in the head.” Smaug’s implication (an “implication” I something interpret: Smaug didn’t say exactly) that he was invincible means that no one was capable of imposing vengeance upon him.

    But to avenge is to get justice for someone else, not yourself. When a prosecutor goes to court to charge a man with murder, and a (fair!) judge holds a (fair!) trial, if the man is found guilty and put to death, then the person whom he murdered is avenged. But neither the prosecutor nor the judge is permitted any stake in the trial or its outcome: neither can be related to the murdered person or the accused murderer, there must be no conflicts of interest, and in our system of jurisprudence, the prosecutor is required to reveal any exculpatory evidence. (Exculpatory evidence is evidence on behalf of the accused, that might show or tend to show his innocence, especially if he could not otherwise discover it).

    In the case of the murder trial, the murdered person is avenged, his family and friends are also avenged, and justice is done. However, if his family and friends kill the accused especially before any trial, and most particularly if the accused was found innocent! then they took revenge, and they are themselves guilty of murder.

    Aragorn lands his fleet in Minas Tirith at the height of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and Éomer tells him, “You come none too soon, my friend. Much loss and sorrow has befallen us,” to which Aragorn replies, “Then let us avenge it, ere we speak of it!” Then he and Éomer and Imrahil go and literally execute justice upon the armies of Sauron.

    If you take revenge, you take revenge for yourself. Your own emotions and your own faults and flaws necessarily cloud your judgment (unless you’re God, and you’re not), so there’s no way you can be sure you’re doing the right thing or not. If you avenge someone else who has suffered a wrong, then at least you’re at arm’s length mentally and emotionally, and the further removed you are from the person who has been wronged, the more likely you are to be able to do the right thing: you can still mess up, but you’re less likely to.

    Revenge might not always be wrong, but it is always morally dangerous, whether or not you believe in God. (Tolkien did.) If you believe in God, Who says, “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay,” then if you take revenge you steal something that belongs to God, and you’re in trouble. And I think that’s where Tolkien is coming from.
     
    CirdanLinweilin likes this.
  8. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

    Joined:
    May 13, 2016
    Messages:
    720
    Likes Received:
    350
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Writer
    Location:
    Mission Viejo, California
    Very well said! This Catholic appreciates your post!

    CL