When The Lord Of The Rings was published in 1954, some readers suggested that its story echoed that of the Second World War, then still fresh in the minds of many. The onslaught on the ill-prepared Allies by an evil and heavily militarised Enemy; the victory, almost against hope, of the Allies; and the subsequent passing of many things, both evil and good.
The author. J. R. R. Tolkien, was quick to puncture this idea. If the book had its roots in a real war, it would have been the First World War, in which Tolkien had been an active participant (as amply documented by John Garth in his masterful Tolkien and the Great War), not the Second. In addition, Tolkien declared an antipathy to allegory, as opposed to ‘applicability’:
‘ … I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.’ [p7 of The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd Edition, 6th Impression, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971].
With all this in mind, I cannot help but give myself license, as a Tolkienist and one interested in the way the winds blow, to see many parallels between The Lord of the Rings and the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia. At risk of cherry-picking, the parallels are clear to see. Applicability, if not Love, is All Around.
Let’s see –
- The steady rise and rise of a great power in the East, while the powers in the West are in decline, mostly oblivious, and disunited.
- The corruption of leaders in the West by disinformation from the East – witness the use of ‘seeing stones’ by the Dark Lord Sauron to feed misinformation to potential adversaries such as the wizard Saruman, and Denethor, Steward of Gondor;
- The appearance of Sauron’s representatives, as seeming fair, but ultimately deceitful;
- The use by Sauron of large numbers of frankly not-very-good troops, while Sauron himself stays at home in his bunker — whereas many of the Leaders of the West, notably Aragorn, fight in the front line.
I shall not insult your intelligence (any further) by drawing explicit parallels between the events in Middle-earth with those in the real world. I’m sure you can make these connections yourself, and, no doubt, think of more. And there are of course many differences. McDonalds, for example, has not, so far as I know, set up any branches in Mordor.
But what inspired me to think along these lines was a reported statement by
Sauron Putin to the effect that he’d rather see Ukraine totally destroyed than be allied with the west, with the subtext that he hankers for the Good Old Days of the Soviet Union. This immediately made me recall the speech by Denethor, the Steward of Gondor corrupted by Sauron, who found himself reluctant to admit that Aragorn, a hitherto unknown (and somewhat unkempt) Ranger from the North, might be the rightful King. ‘I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity’, he declares to Gandalf.
‘What then would you have,’ said Gandalf, ‘if your will could have its way?’
It was Denethor’s response that struck a chord with me:
‘I would have things as they were in all the days of my life,’ answered Denethor, ‘and in the days of my longfathers before me: be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated.'[ p130 of The Return of the King, 2nd Edition, 16th Impression, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1988].
Not long after this speech Denethor commits suicide by burning himself to death. The applicability of this event to the real world is still in question.
It seems I am not alone in making the connection. I have seen Russian soldiers referred to as ‘orcs’ at least twice. And then there was this map, in which applicability has definitely become allegory.
If you can’t read the tiny writing, Kyiv has become Minas Tirith; Kharkiv is Osgiliath; Donetsk and Lukhansk have become Minas Morgul; the Dnipro is the Anduin; Lviv is Edoras, and Moscow is Barad-Dur. Sadly I can no longer retrieve the name of the map-maker.