Saturday, 19 March 2016

"Merciful to peril..."

Ted Nasmith's dramatic rendering of the duel between Morgoth and the Gnomish King Fingolfin.

Before I was interrupted by ghosts of past resentment and foiled hopes I had a mind to complete my series on Death. I contributed to the thread over on Fr Anthony's blog. I can't imagine that Fr Anthony consciously did so but in his response he actually laid the foundation for this very post, which is to bring in some Tolkien. I don't know either way what Tolkien thought of capital punishment as it existed on the law books for most of his lifetime. There is nothing in his letters that broaches the subject, albeit there are many discussions of mortality. I am inclined to believe that he supported it, in principle, because, together with outlawry (for another post?), it is presented in his works as quite normal. We see this in the execution of Maeglin's father Eöl in Gondolin. But for the murder of Aradhel, his wife and sister of the King, he might have obtained mercy; but the next morning, plain his guilt and obstinacy in evil, he was taken to the walls of the city and cast over a precipice of black rock and, so ended. "And to all in Gondolin it seemed just," says the chronicler. You might say this is a "cruel and unusual punishment," to be thrown over a high precipice, with death coming either of shock or a broken body, but since the Gnomes are presented as the highest, noblest and the wisest of the two kindreds, this may go some way to understanding Tolkien's view of capital punishment. Having said that, this execution took place in the context of a grievous war, and under the shadow of Morgoth. This is very important relative to what Fr Anthony said of disincarnate beings exerting an horrible influence on the living. I shall come back to Eöl and his son later.

The execution of Eöl. Maeglin turns away in the foreground.

We also see the death penalty in the ultimate fate of Morgoth himself. "Morgoth," for those of you who don't know, is Tolkien's Diabolos, the primeval "dark lord" and spirit of rebellion and strife, who is presented as a terrible tyrant and master of evil magic. In antient days the Valar, that is the angelic host faithful to the will and purpose of God, made war on him, captured him and brought him perforce into the West for judgement. There are conflicting accounts of this. Connoisseurs will no doubt have read the first account given in chapter four of The Book of Lost Tales, which, in my view, is the best of all. It contains a very moving account of Melko's [an antiquated name for Morgoth] trial:
"Now is the court set upon the slopes of Taniquetil and Melko arraigned before all the Vali great and small, lying bound before the silver chair of Manwë. Against him speaketh Ossë, and Oromë and Ulmo in deep ire, and Vána in abhorrence, proclaiming his deeds of cruelty and violence; yet Makar still spake for him, although not warmly, for said he: ''Twere an ill thing if peace were for always: already no blow echoes ever in the eternal quietude of Valinor, wherefore, if one might neither see deed of battle nor riotous joy even in the world without, then 'twould be irksome indeed, and I for one long not for such times!' Thereat arose Palúrien in sorrow and tears, and told of the plight of Earth and of the great beauty of her designs and of those things she desired dearly to bring forth; of all the wealth of flower and herbage, of tree and fruit and grain that the world might bear if it had but peace. 'Take heed, O Valar, that both Elves and Men be not devoid of all solace whenso the times come for them to find the Earth,' but Melko writhed in rage at the name of Eldar and of Men and at his own impotence. 
"Now Aulë mightily backed her in this and after him many else of the Gods, yet Mandos and Lórien held their peace, nor do they ever speak much at the councils of the Valar or indeed at other times, but Tulkas arose angrily from the midst of the assembly and went from among them, for he could not endure parleying where he thought the guilt to be clear. Liever would he have unchained Melko and fought him then and there alone upon the plain of Valinor, giving him many a sore buffet in meed of his illdoings, rather than making high debate of them. Howbeit Manwë sate and listened and was moved by the speech of Palúrien, yet was it his thought that Melko was an Ainu and powerful beyond measure for the future good or evil of the world; wherefore he put away harshness and his doom was this. For three ages during the displeasure of the Gods should Melko be chained in a vault of Mandos by that chain Angaino, and thereafter should he fare into the light of the Two Trees, but only so that he might for four ages yet dwell as a servant in the house of Tulkas, and obey him in requital of his antient malice. 'Thus,' said Manwë, 'and yet but hardly, mayst thou win favour again sufficient that the Gods suffer thee to abide thereafter in an house of thine own and to have some slight estate among them as befitteth a Vala and a lord of the Ainur.' 
"Such was the doom of Manwë, and even to Makar and Meássë it seemed good, albeit Tulkas and Palúrien thought it merciful to peril. Now doth Valinor enter upon its greatest time of peace, and all the earth beside, while Melko bideth in the deepest vaults of Mandos and his heart grows black within him." The Book of Lost Tales, Part I, Chapter IV.
Without discussing in too much detail the discrepancies between this old account and that given in The Silmarillion, there are themes common to both: Manwë's clemency and trustful character, the somewhat impetuous Tulkas, whose character typifies "righteous anger," which may countenance apparent evils (such as war) in the eschewing of moral compromise; and so on. But in neither account was Manwë's clemency any help. In fact, his clemency was an inherent fault and his judgement against the common voice. "Would that he might be slain," were Oromë's words, and neither Ulmo nor Tulkas were deceived by Morgoth's pledges of truce and friendship. It's said that Manwë could not see to the depths of Morgoth's heart and believed that his evil was cured. It's tempting to view this fault as mere naïveté but it behoves us to remember that Manwë was the greatest spirit of wisdom and prudence in Arda, and that in his beginning Morgoth had been even as he. Manwë hoped, against hope, for peace and amity in the end, and as for trying to understand Morgoth, who on earth could? He remained fixed in a monstrously potent will to withhold his mind, which, physically expressed, took shape in the darkness and shadows that surrounded him. Only Fëanor is said to have "looked upon [Morgoth] with eyes that burned through his fair semblance and pierced the cloaks of his mind." His sojourn in the duress of Mandos was for his meditation, reclusion, and in earnest of true repentance. Manwë's judgement, as it afterwards proved, had been "merciful to peril."

Cosmogonical music and violence. God and the Devil.

After ruining the bliss of Valinor and stirring rebellion among the Gnomes, Morgoth escaped the vigilance of the Valar, destroyed the Two Trees, murdered the Gnomish King, stole the jewels at Formenos, and fled back to his old strongholds in the north of Middle-earth. The Gnomes waged a long and grievous war upon Morgoth to avenge the King and recover the jewels, but came close to annihilation. When at last the Valar intervened by supplication of Eärendil and unroofed the pits of Hell, we are told in The Silmarillion that he was: "thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void." This is incomplete and actually gives the false impression that this was some rather hasty dispatch. Connoisseurs might again like to consult The History of Middle-earth, wherein it states:
"Morgoth was thus actually made captive in physical form, and in that form taken as a mere criminal to Aman and delivered to Námo Mandos as judge - and executioner. He was judged, and eventually taken out of the Blessed Realm and executed: that is killed like one of the Incarnates. It was then made plain (though it must have been understood beforehand by Manwë and Námo) that, though he had 'disseminated' his power (his evil and possessive and rebellious will) far and wide into the matter of Arda, he had lost direct control of this, and all that 'he,' as a surviving remnant of integral being, retained as 'himself' and under control was the terribly shrunken and reduced spirit that inhabited his self-imposed (but now beloved) body. When that body was destroyed he was weak and utterly 'houseless,' and for that time at a loss and 'unanchored,' as it were. We read that he was then thrust out into the Void. That should mean that he was put outside Time and Space, outside Eä altogether; but if that were so this would imply a direct intervention of Eru (with or without supplication of the Valar). It may however refer inaccurately to the extrusion or flight of his spirit from Arda." Morgoth's Ring, Part Five, p.403.
Morgoth was executed because the previous policy of mercy, of imprisonment and hope for rehabilitation, had been both dangerous and futile. To invert the Beatitude, he was without mercy and so obtained none. But leaving aside questions of whether certain deeds merit punishment by death in Tolkien, what is important here is the state of the immortal soul prior to death and the fate of the soul after death. Morgoth was thrust out into the Timeless Void, but that was only the "terribly shrunken and reduced spirit," or what was left in his incarnate self. The greater part of his native spirit had passed into the physical stuff of earth. Treebeard called this "the Great Darkness," and alluded to regions of Fangorn in which that had never been lifted. Morgoth's execution was therefore an end to "Morgoth," in one sense, but not an ultimate end. Morgoth's "shadow" would remain to guide his servants, wheresoever they might be, and to influence those already apt to evil. The Númenóreans come swiftly to mind, but don't let us forget Eöl the Dark Elf and his son Maeglin. Maeglin, whose mother was a Gnome of the House of Fingolfin, was by birth under the Doom of Mandos, a doom of strife, dispossession, treachery and suffering. But the evil of his father was of another kind. Eöl was a Sindarin elf of a high kindred of the Teleri. He hated the Gnomes, despite his "mixed marriage," and shunned the sunlight, preferring the company of Dwarves to his own kind. He also appears to have been skilled in enchantment so that when Aradhel, his wife, became lost in the woods, he set his bonds about her so that she could not find the way out. He lived a lonely, ascetic life in the woods. His malice can only be explained by "the Great Darkness." Like that of Saeros in Doriath, who was contemptuous of Túrin Turambar, or later of Hardang in Brethil, who would fain have put Húrin to death in his sleep. As Manthor said to Húrin: "Of one thing I must warn thee, though it may not please thee. Hardang is a lesser man than his fathers, but I saw no evil in him till he heard of thy coming. Thou bringest a shadow with thee, Húrin Thalion, in which lesser shadows grow darker."

Eöl welcomes Aradhel to his abode.

They all died, of course. Some were murdered, some took their own lives. Eöl was executed; Maeglin was cast out over the walls of Gondolin, as his father had been. A fitting end. But what became of their souls? I have written before about necromancy in Tolkien here and here, so I will not go into too much detail. Fr Anthony raised a very cogent point about the mediums. At the point of death, I believe that some souls resist the summons of God and the Devil and remain pain-ridden, haunting the wilds, coming up through fissures in the earth, and shrieking with the voices of death. Many inpatients and outpatients under psychological care could be easily described as possessed by devils, and doing the will of Satan in spite of themselves. These are people already apt to evil from birth. Some have committed very grievous crimes, and are dangerous to even speak with. I once watched an interview Ted Bundy gave shortly before his execution. It was a chilling experience, and I was almost deceived. But then I remembered that he just lied through his teeth and that his bewailing his crimes, and blaming them on violent pornography, was just a last, cynical attempt to preserve his life. Should he have been put to death in that evil mood? What became of his soul? One would think it were Hell-bound, but who knows? It is perilous, indeed forbidden, to contact the dead, and so many people who attempt this have already fallen in some way; from Christianity to paganism, for example. I don't think we should rule out the possibility that the spirits of evil men exert influence on the living, having found no rest in God and violently resisting the current of Hell. Having said that, the world must be better off without such people and, in my opinion, maintaining their lives is merciful to peril.

Art: Ted Nasmith.

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