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Welcome, as always.
Have you ever wondered what Middle Earth would have been like if the Fourth Age had begun on a calendar written by Sauron?
That of the Third Age was hardly a democratic paradise: a king rules Rohan, a stand-in for king rules Gondor. Elrond and Celeborn/Galadriel behave and are treated like royalty and Thranduil, as we learn from The Hobbit, is the king of Mirkwood. The dwarves have hereditary rulers. Only the outliers—communities like Bree and the Shire and the earlier inhabitants like Tom Bombadil and Fangorn—appear to be completely independent. (The Shire even has elections and a mayor, although the actual government, except for the shire reeves, appears to bemostly token—you wonder who’s running their seemingly-efficient postal service.)
This is not surprising, not only for an author born during the later years of Victoria,
but also for someone powerfully influenced by the medievalist interests of everyone from Scott
to William Morris.
(We might add that the world of fairy tales, full of princes and princesses, queens and kings, was also a powerful influence at the time—and not only on story-tellers born in monarchies—after all, even Oz is ruled by a queen—
Yet, after Smaug—who could better be a medieval fantasy villain (especially with the voice of the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch attached)?
—something changed in Tolkien’s world. In fact, something changed in the whole outside world. With the end of World War One, monarchs toppled all over Europe and beyond, from:
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
to Mehmed VI, last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
In place of the former, there appeared the always-troubled Weimar Republic, full of good intentions, but badly crippled, not only by the war which had sapped its manpower and resources, but by all kinds of social unrest and then by the Crash of 1929, which notoriously destroyed the value of its currency.
As early as 1919, there had been clashes among the forces of different ideologies—
And, amidst all of the unrest, there was a failed coup attempt in 1923 by the man in the overcoat in this picture.
He, of course, was only following the footsteps of this man, who had pushed his way into power the year before—
to be followed, in turn, by the man on the left, from the mid-1920s.
That first man, having failed at obvious violence, tried again through more complicated means (although still employing violence, if it suited his purposes) and succeeded in 1933.
He was, so we are told, a riveting public speaker, but, if the newsreels we’ve seen are evidence, we guess you would have had to have been there.
Some people thought the style exaggerated in the 1930s and caricatured it even then.
He had a definite social agenda, which he outlined at length and often, although concealing certain of the most horrible aspects. And he liked big words and big concepts, like:
It would have been impossible for someone as intelligent and generally well-informed as Tolkien not to have been very much aware of this man and all of the other like men, busy oppressing as much of the world as they could. And this would have been especially true in a time when radio and film were changing how people received news—and how those interested in influencing others might shape what people saw. As early as 1911, the British government was using newsreel film to show the might and reach of its empire (2/5 of the globe was in their hands) when the king, George V, and his wife, Queen Mary, visited India.
Not to be outdone, Kaiser Wilhelm II encouraged a grand—and filmed–event in 1913, for the wedding of his daughter, Victoria Louise—and some of the film was even in color.
It would be easy to imagine, then, that the weight of such public figures might have influenced Tolkien in his depiction of late-3rd-Age villains. We can see it in Saruman’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade Gandalf to join him:
“ ‘He drew himself up then and began to declaim, as if he were making a speech long rehearsed. ‘The Elder Days are gone. The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. 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.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
Thus, unlike the script of Jackson’s version, there is no plan to wipe out men and replace them with orcs. Instead, men are to survive: to be ruled—perhaps under what definitely sounds like it should be a translation from something written in Fraktur—the fake Gothic script favored by the Nazis–
“ ‘We can bide our time,’” says Saruman, “ ‘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…’ ”
Such abstract, but somehow menacing, words sound like a translation of something from Hitler’s Germany: Kenntnisse, Herrschaft, Ordnung. They do not sound in the least like Gandalf’s goals, ever, and he, in fact, replies by implying that not only are they not really Saruman’s words, but that Saruman is foolish for believing them:
“ ‘Saruman,’ I said, ‘I have heard speeches of this kind before, but only in the mouths of emissaries sent from Mordor to deceive the ignorant.’ “
As really the words of Sauron, however, they give us an idea of what to expect in a world under his control. Knowledge would be for Sauron alone, we suppose, perhaps after regaining his lost ring? Certainly he wouldn’t share it with Saruman, whom, it will become clear, he never trusted. As for Rule and Order, the world would be a place full of rules and those watching that they be obeyed. And here we can remember Sharkey’s Shire, with its “by order of the Chief” signs—and its gangs of human enforcers. As well, we can think of its grey, industrial character, as we’ve discussed in a previous post, a universal Mordor, devoted to production. To this, we can add the Mouth of Sauron’s recitation of surrender conditions, delivered to the allies before the Morannon:
“ ‘These are the terms…The rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies shall withdraw at once beyond the Anduin, first taking oaths never again to assail Sauron the Great in arms, open or secret. All lands east of the Anduin shall be Sauron’s for ever, solely. West of the Anduin as far as the Gap of Rohan shall be tributary to Mordor, and men there shall bear no weapons, but shall have leave to govern their own affairs. But they shall help to rebuild Isengard which they have wantonly destroyed, and that shall be Sauron’s, and there his lieutenant shall dwell: not Saruman, but one more worthy of trust.’ “ (The Return of the King, Chapter 10, “The Black Gate Opens”)
In keeping with the influence of current events in this world, we might see this as being a parallel with the 1919 Versailles Treaty, in which Germany was to be forced to make huge territorial concessions, to disarm almost entirely, and to pay massive amounts in reparation to the victorious allies.
Such terms as Sauron offers would also destroy Rohan as an ally and set up a permanent garrison between it and the north. We might also expect the restored Isengard to be a staging area for an assault upon Fangorn and the ents, to their ultimate destruction. As well, “west of the Anduin” is a very vague expression—does it include Gondor, as well as Rohan?
Religion in The Lord of the Rings has always been the subject of debate: how much or how little? Of what kind? Tolkien is quoted as saying that it was monotheistic, although, when attacked by the Mumak, Faramir’s men called on the (plural) Valar. There is no mention, in what is often extremely detailed landscape description, of any kind of temple or shrine, however. Nevertheless, we would like to conclude with an eerie thought about religion in this alternative Fourth Age. The Mouth of Sauron, aka, The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dur, is described as:
“…a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Numenoreans; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron’s domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge.”
Could we imagine that, in this other Fourth Age, a new and horrible religion might have appeared, one dedicated to the worship of Sauron—and to that Knowledge which Saruman finds so important? What do you think, dear readers?
As always, thanks for reading.