The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
“Frodo and his Companions of the Ring have been beset by danger during their quest to prevent the Ruling Ring from falling into the hands of the Dark Lord by destroying it in the Cracks of Doom. They have lost the wizard, Gandalf, in a battle in the Mines of Moria. And Boromir, seduced by the power of the Ring, tried to seize it by force. While Frodo and Sam made their escape, the rest of the company was attacked by Orcs.
“Now they continue the journey alone down the great River Anduin—alone, that is, save for the mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go.”
The Two Towers begins with the death of Boromir and the capture of Merry and Pippin, two hobbits who are the kinsmen of Frodo. The remaining members of the fellowship—Aragorn a Man, Legolas an Elf, and Gimli a Dwarf—set off across the plains of the country Rohan—also known as the Riddermark—in pursuit of the Orcs who captured Merry and Pippin. Several days into their journey, they encounter Éomer, the nephew of the king, and the men of his household, who have been in pursuit of the Orcs on horseback. Aragorn declares his kingly lineage, shows his famous sword, and explains that he is searching for “Halflings,” which are creatures of legend to the Men of Rohan. Éomer responds with this observation:
‘All that you say is strange, Aragorn. . . . Yet you speak the truth, that is plain: the Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived. But you have not told all. Will you not now speak more fully of your errand, so that I may judge what to do?’Book 3, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan.”
This has always been my very favorite quotation from The Lord of the Rings. It contradicts conventional wisdom, and yet I believe that it’s true—or if it isn’t true in the case of every honest person, it should be true. The question then becomes: Why is it true?
As The Two Towers unfolds, we see that the honest characters are ones who value the truth. They don’t lie, and they also accept the truth, even when it is uncomfortable and requires them to do things that will make life more difficult. A character later in the book, Faramir, has such a high regard for the truth that he would not deviate from it to fight a creature that is completely corrupt and certainly would not have any qualms about using lies to destroy him
One of the characters who has been deceived and made comfortable with lies of the traitor Saruman is the king of Rohan himself. He imprisons Éomer after Éomer threatens to kill the king’s corrupt counselor. Once the king accepts the help of Gandalf, he realizes that Éomer has been the trustworthy counselor all along. Once Théoden, the king of Rohan, sees and accepts the truth, he makes the decision to lead his people to war against Saruman, even though he knows that this will take all of the strength their country has and that many will die.
Tolkien’s honest characters are not easily deceived because they have such a high regard for truth that they recognize it when they encounter it, but it’s more than that. As I observed briefly in my last post, Tolkien’s characters recognize the good—or in this case the truth—as much by feelings as by observation. Faramir tells the hobbit Sam that his heart is astute and more discerning than his eyes. Honest, good characters have this extra sense that helps them avoid being deceived.
Moreover, in Tolkien’s world, truth is stable. Truth is good, and good is always good, and evil is always evil. It isn’t a matter of mere perception, it is what’s real. The more firmly the characters anchor themselves to what is true and good, the stronger they are in the fight against evil and the wiser they are in making difficult judgments. When Éomer must decide whether to obey his country’s law and take Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to the king, or to let them finish their search for Merry and Pippin and trust them to report to the king of their own volition, he admits the complexity of the situation:
‘It is hard for me to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! 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.’Book 3, Chapter 2, “The Riders of Rohan.”
In this modern day and age, we too may say that “the world is all grown strange” and wonder how to “judge what to do in such times.” Even in the most complex situations, one thing is always true—God is real. His definition of “good and ill” never changes, and He will help us discern them. He doesn’t lie, and He can’t be deceived. As our perfect, loving Father, we can always trust Him.