Tolkien and the Developmental Need for Evil

Tolkien and the Developmental Need for Evil

Top Image: Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils, c. 1826, William Blake, Ink and Tempera on Mahogany


Yes, dark, shocking events may feel like an affront to our sense of rightness and our wish to see consciousness advancing in a perceivable way against ignorance, but we also need to recognize that these are ego judgments and the way of evolution is diverse and roundabout, a weird zig-zag path that confounds discernment.

From the point of view of the I Ching and Taoism, the universe is unfolding as it should, but its way of unfolding may not be perceived as satisfactory to the supervisory ego. Evolution seems to require evil as a developmental necessity and forces of darkness often paradoxically advance the light. The I Ching tells us that some things do not fully blossom or expand until they are fully compressed or oppressed.

Consider the following paradoxical example of the way of evolution. In the last twenty years the evolution of the marijuana plant as a psycho-active medicine has gone into hyper-drive. The marijuana of today is many, many times more psycho-actively potent than it was just a few years ago. There is alive today one man who is far more directly responsible for this evolution than anyone else. As a thought experiment stop for a moment and think who that could be.

The answer is Bush, the Father, the first President Bush. Counter intuitive isn’t it? Remember that the first Bush revved up the “War on Drugs” and among other actions sealed off the border with Mexico. Far less cheap Mexican weed was coming across, so prices went way up. This was a great boost to the home growing industry. Also, since penalties were assigned based on weight, not quality, cultivators realized that they took the same risk, but had a much greater profit margin by boosting the potency of their product. Also with greater profits, thanks to Bush, they had more money and leisure to get creative and hybridize strains and perfect their vocation. Darkness attempts to oppress this plant and instead it blossoms all the more, its evolution exponentiated in a short time.

For a much more thorough discussion on the evolutionary need for evil (individually and collectively) please read the last part of A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler  which discusses the need for shocks.

Tolkien’s mythology has many profound things to say about the nature of evil. In a very Taoist way, it recognizes that evil, like every other quality, is cyclic, it ebbs and flows, has seasons of advance and retreat. The individual has a role to play within these seasons, can resist darkness and seek to advance the light, but must also accept the macro historical cycle he or she is in:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I, said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.”

“For however the fortune of war shall go, may it not so end that much that was fair and wonderful shall pass forever out of Middle-earth?”

“It may”, said Gandalf. “The evil of Sauron cannot be wholly cured, nor made as if it had not been. But to such days we are doomed. Let us now go on with the journey we have begun!”

"Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule."

Tolkien was aware of the Perennial Philosophy (makes reference to it somewhere in his letters) and saw the world evolving through a cycle of great ages (see The Mutant versus The Machine—the End of the Iron Age and the Galactic Alignment of 2012). The Hobbit and the Ring Trilogy occur within a thin slice of time in Tolkien’s larger mythology (expounded inThe Simarillion and many other works pubilshed posthumously by Christopher Tolkien). The events of the trilogy constitute a great turning, a liminal space where we are on the cusp of the end of one age and the beginning of another. In the cycle of world ages of the perennial philosophy (gold, silver, bronze, iron) spiritual light decreases by one fourth as we go from gold to iron. Tolkien writes in the first book of the trilogy,

“Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever again be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime.”

Saruman also recognizes that they are at the cusp of a cycle shift:

“The Elder days are gone. The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning…”

When the dark principle has reached its point of maximum power there is a turning point, and the light principle begins to grow. This cycle shift is described perfectly by I Ching hexagram #24 called “The Turning Point” (for a fuller discussion of the hexagram go to Some things to Consider before an I Ching Reading. Related to the calenda,r this is the winter solstice where the nights have gotten as long as they can and now the daylight will begin to grow again. In the trilogy the turning point is identified with the resurrection of Gandalf as Gandalf the white. He appears like the white yang dot in the black yin of the yin-yang symbol, and his presence contrasts the growing forces of darkness orginating from Mordor/Sauron:

“We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned. Yes, I am white now…”

Near the end of the third book Gandalf proclaims,

“The New Age begins,”

The terms “New Age” and “Age of Aquarius” were coined by Carl Jung. There is considerable evidence from the collective unconscious that we may need an intensification of darkness to end the Iron Age, the Age of Pisces, and bring on the Age of Aquarius, a new Golden Age. Although the precession of ages is a recurrent cycle, the cycle is an evolutionary spiral rather than a circle where you end up exactly where you started. Each age is to some extent unprecedented:

…in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling, for they do not proceed from the past.

Although new ages involve the unprecedented, the difference between good and evil, Tolkien believes, is classical and constant:

“How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

“As he ever has judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

A classic aspect of evil is that it is often done by power-trippers who have a rationale, an end to justify their means, and this usually involves an urge toward bringing “order” to a chaotic world situation. In the Star Wars mythology, Darth Vader seductively entreats his son Luke,

“Join me, and together we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.”

Similarly, Saruman tries to seduce Gandalf:

“The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see….There is no hope left in Elves or dying Numenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power….the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”

In the Taoist quotes that I recently excerpted on the website (The Taoist Path) a very similar recognition occurs,

Such a person will threaten others, force his will upon others, and even murder others not out of passion but out of something much more deadly—rationale. He will justify his actions according to ideology, patriotism, religion, and principle.

The desiccated and reduced form of this evil appears in our world in the bureaucratic face of evil, the banality of evil as Hannah Arendt called it. To the extent that a Dick Cheney, or someone of that ilk, morally justifies what they do, it will usually come down to this “ordering” rationale. The more possessed may even claim that their order came from God. The lesser will claim that they were merely, “Following orders.”

The opposite of the power principle—Do unto others before they do unto you, are the principles of love and symbiosis. This is expressed by Treebeard,

"I am not going to do anything with you: not if you mean by that 'do something to you' without your leave. We might do some things together. I don’t know about sides. I go my own way, but your way may go along with mine for a while."

Finally, Tolkien recognizes the developmental need for evil. As a "subcreator” (Tolkien’s own term) he knows that to have a subcreated world, to have a story, the subcreator/story-maker must create evil. After all, what would the trilogy be about if not for Sauron, Saruman, Gollum, Orcs and Ring Wraiths? Hobbits going on dates with other hobbits? Tolkien recognizes,

There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall—all stories are ultimately about the fall—at least not for human minds as we know them and have them. So, proceeding, the Elves have a fall, before their ‘history’ can become storial.

Tolkien had a similar view of eschaton or end time as Terence McKenna. Rather than a doomsday, Tolkien spoke of a “eucatastrophy,” an anti-catastrophe where the divine would be restored to this fallen world. Terrance said that it was more rational to see a “big surprise” as coming at the end of a complexifying process rather than at the beginning as straight science does (the Big Bang). Tolkien, in his notes, referring to the God Figure of his mythology, Eru, says,

As may a master in the telling of tales keep hidden the greatest moment until it comes in due course. It may be guessed at indeed, in some measure, by those of us who have listened with full heart and mind.

Those who have listened with “full heart and mind” are the more intuitive people who have noticed the signals from the collective unconscious. (permutations of what I call the Singularity Archetype).

Tolkien’s view of the eschaton also has parallels to Teihard de Chardin’s Omega Point. (“Arda”) is Tolkien’s synonym for the earth,

…they say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end.

Dark events, especially apocalyptic events, may bring the Omega Point, a new Golden Age closer. Finally, according to the I Ching, the best way to deal with evil is not necessarily to fight it, which tends to sharpen its fangs, but to make energetic progress in the good.