Pity and the Story

One of the books I am currently reading is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. The book moves the reader through hundreds and thousands of years of pre Lord of the Rings history and mythology in a matter of pages. Tolkien introduces the reader to more places and people than one could hope to remember. While the myriad detail often confuses the reader (myself included) the dramatic themes of good vs. evil, courage and cowardice, blessing and cursing, and many more fill the pages of this great book.

While reading the other evening I came across a passage that I found immensely profound and I thought I would share it with you all here. Before I share the quote I want to offer a brief bit of background in order for the weight of the quote to sink in. For those of you who are familiar with the Lord of the Rings, you know that the main antagonist is Sauron, the great dark lord. While Sauron comes into the scene here in there in The Silmarillion, “Morgoth” serves as the leading antagonist in The Silmarillion and Sauron is known as one of his leading commander. Nearing the end of the book Morgoth gains power over much of Middle Earth having destroyed most of the civilizations of the Elves and Men. One man, Eärendil, finds his way to Aman (the Middle Earth equivalent of Heaven). There he pleads for the help of the Valar (gods) in defeating Morgoth (also a god). The Valar show pity on Eärendil and the Men and Elves of Middle Earth and agree to sail across the sea and put an end to Morgoth once and for all. It is in this section where I read the following quotation:

For to him that is pitiless the deeds of pity are ever strange and beyond reckoning. (pg. 31)

The Valar (gods) showed pity on the Men and Elves of Middle Earth and agree to help them defeat Morgoth. Tolkien shares that this is never an idea that entered into Morgoth’s mind and Tolkien shows the reason why in the quote above. A pitiless person deems the showing of pity as weakness and thus cannot comprehend his enemies “weakening” themselves. Not only does Tolkien write this theme into the Silmarillion, the theme presents itself throughout The Lord of the Rings as well. Gollum’s entire plot line in The Lord of the Rings centers around the pity that Bilbo, Sam, & Frodo all show for him. In the end this pity destroys the ring when Frodo showed his incapability.

Tolkien does not get this theme from nowhere. This theme originates in the greatest story of all time: The Gospel. In some measure the Gospel tells the story of the blindness of Man’s enemy (Satan) to the pity of God. Satan cannot comprehend  a crucified savior. When Christ offered himself up Satan found it impossible to comprehend that the Christ was saving the world.

Pity is incomprehensible to the proud and pitiless. The power of this theme in story redounds to the glory of God!

Food for thought.

Michael

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