Aladdin, Alexandre Dumas, Barad-Dur, Chateau d'If, Edmond Dantes, Elba, French Revolution, Galadriel, Harad, Hitler, Jinghiz Khan, Louis XVI, Morannon, Mordor, Napoleon, Nazgul, Ring Wraiths, St Helena, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, Toulon, Umbar, Waterloo
Welcome, readers, as always, and, if it’s part of your culture, Happy New Year!
We’ve recently been reading a book about Napoleon
and his first fall, in 1814. He was forced to abdicate,
thereby losing the massive empire he had built up in the early 19th century.
His many enemies had a number of possibilities as to what to do with him. They could, for example, have imprisoned him, as Edmond Dantes is in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (serialized 1844-46), in a fortress like the Chateau d’If.
Or, more radically—but certainly very effectively—they could have permanently removed him by the same means by which revolutionary France removed his predecessor, Louis XVI.
Instead, they allowed him not only to live, but even to continue to be a kind of monarch—although only of a tiny island, Elba, off the west coast of Italy.
They thought they’d seen the last of him, leaving him to spend the rest of his life as a sovereign of a ragged collection of fishermen and farmers.
For Napoleon, however, who always saw himself as destined for only the greatest things, being king of Elba must have felt to him rather like the way the genie in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) expresses the contrast in his life–
That being the case, Napoleon lived on Elba for less that a year before he planned and accomplished his escape.
Back in France, he was welcomed by the very soldiers sent to stop him,
raised new armies,
marched north to deal with his nearest enemies, Prussia and England, and was finally—and permanently—defeated at Waterloo, 18 June, 1815.
This time, his enemies, having learned their lesson, sent Napoleon as far away from Europe as they could and to a much less hospitable place, the island of St Helena, in the South Atlantic,
where he died in 1821.
From his first success, at the siege of Toulon in 1793,
Napoleon had climbed and climbed until, by 1801, he was the real ruler of France (as “First Consul”)
and then, in 1804, Emperor.
And yet, it was never enough, which reminds us of so many of the “great conquerors” of history, from Alexander,
to Jinghiz Khan and his successors,
In every case throughout history, no conqueror has ever had enough and, if we move out of this earth to Middle-earth, we find Sauron, a figure in many ways like all of these earthly conquerors, who, although defeated by an alliance of Elves and Men in the past, has returned and, in time, reacquired immense power. To begin with, he has the entire realm of Mordor.
He has also somehow gained the means to create giant fortifications (sometimes based upon older constructions), like the Barad-dur
and the Morannon and all of the other inner and outer works of Mordor.
He also controls the Nazgul,
massive armies of orcs,
as well as allies from the Harads and Umbar.
All of which he has done, it seems, by whatever innate powers he possesses—without the Ring. And this made us wonder: what is it that the Ring actually does for its wearer that Sauron wants it back?
Certainly, the only power Gollum appears to have gotten from the Ring is that of invisibility (and the side-effect of longevity).
This is true for Bilbo, as well,
and for Frodo–
although, when Frodo puts on the Ring on Weathertop, he is plunged into a kind of alternate dimension, seeing the Nazgul as they really are
and, again, on Ammon Hen, he is put into direct contact with the Ring’s real owner.
Does this suggest that the Ring’s power is only as powerful as the Ring’s current wearer? Galadriel confirms this when Frodo asks her about the other rings: “why cannot I see all the others and know the thoughts of those that wear them?”
To which she replies:
“Did not Gandalf tell you that the rings give power according to the measure of each possessor?”
(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)
This then accounts for Gandalf’s almost violent explanation when Frodo offers it to him:
“’No!’ cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.’ His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. ‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great, for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.’” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)
Or when Frodo offers it to Galadriel:
“You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)
Sauron has been able to accomplish so much without the Ring—what would happen should he ever wear it again? In “The Shadow of the Past”, Gandalf tells Frodo that it controls the other rings—even the three long-concealed from Sauron:
“The Three are hidden still. But that no longer troubles him. He only needs the One; for he made that Ring himself, it is his, and he let a great part of his own former power pass into it, so that he could rule all the others. If he recovers it, then he will command them all again, even the Three, and all that has been wrought with them will be laid bare, and he will be stronger than ever.”
And, just as important—maybe even more so—Sauron has based his place of power and refuge, his sure foundation in Middle-earth, upon it, as Elrond tells the council:
“Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed. His Ring was lost but not unmade. The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
So, then, just as Napoleon, exiled on Elba, could plot and accomplish return, given the Ring, Sauron, defeated before, could return and, with a greed for conquest as insatiable as that of the French emperor, reappear again and again in Middle-earth, where there was no St Helena to keep him for good.
Thanks for reading!