torsdag 9 augusti 2012

Fall, Mortality, and the Machine: Tolkien and Technology

Writing to a friend in 1951, when The Lord of the Rings was nearly completed, J. R. R. Tolkien commented that though his book seemed to be largely about power, and the corruption of power, there were other issues more strongly in his mind: "Anyway all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine," and with power only as it relates to those three large themes. What did he mean by "the Machine"?
By the last I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents -- or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised. . . . The Enemy in successive forms is always 'naturally' concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines.
The idea that technology ("the Machine") is a kind of magic, or at least deeply related to magic, is one that Tolkien shared with his close friend C. S. Lewis, who argued that, in the early modern period, "The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve." Science, Lewis continued, "is no doubt contrasted in our minds with that of the magicians: but contrasted only in the light of the event, only because we know that science succeeded and magic failed. That event was then still uncertain. Stripping off our knowledge of it, we see at once that [Sir Francis Bacon, one of the founders of experimental science] and the magicians have the closest possible affinity. . . . Nor would Bacon himself deny the affinity: he thought the aim of the magicians was 'noble.'"

So it makes sense, then, that the chief exponents of technology in The Lord of the Rings are a demonic figure bent on world domination (Sauron) and a wizard (Saruman). Treebeard, the Ent or tree-shepherd, says of Saruman, "He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment."

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