Why Earth is better than Middle-Earth

I recognize there might be a danger in titling this blog thusly.  I’m hoping I don’t find an angry group of LOTR fans armed with swords and bow & arrows in my driveway tomorrow morning as I leave for work.

Note: I’ve written this blog based mostly on the storyline from the movies.  I have a tiny bit of background knowledge of the Silmarillion and books, mostly from friends who read the series and loved it.  But this blog is nearly all based on the New Line Cinema movies, which I know about.

As crazy a fan as I was when the LOTR series came out by New Line Cinema, and as much importance as the movies had in my life, there was something that always bothered me about the third movie.  Because I am usually an extremist in what I like–and used to be even more so–I wanted the movies to be totally perfect.  But there was something about the ending in the third that I could never exactly resolve to perfection in my mind.  As though there were rows and rows of check-off boxes for everything I liked about the movie, there was this important box that I could never successfully check off.  When I tried, it always came back to bother me later on.

It was something about Frodo and the ship.  Something about him sailing away always bothered me.  It was a let-down to me.  I always wanted a different ending.  It wasn’t that Frodo had to live, but sailing off in a ship for the Undying Lands (the ‘heavens’ of Middle Earth to me, though there is another heaven Tolkien readers will know about that more ordinary ?good? beings get to go to) just didn’t seem right to me.  There was something frustrating about it, something that seemed defeatist in his giving up of life, but also a disturbing, What are the heavens of Middle Earth question, or, to be more pointed, What is the Middle Earth Heaven?

There was no satisfaction for me in him disappearing in a land far away with very little, if any description–but it has become more than that.  Before today I could never have phrased it, but it is, What, exactly, did Frodo do to earn Heaven?

But before we try to answer that . . let’s try to answer the opposite of that question by looking at the most vile, malevolent creatures of Middle-Earth.  Do they go to the Undying Lands (or any heaven at all)?  Well, surely not.

As Elrond boards the ship, he doesn’t say he hopes the orcs won’t be so bothersome in Heaven.  They aren’t planning for more war.

Everyone that I know assumes certain characters will not make it to the Middle Earth Heaven, such as: Sauron, Saurumon, the orcs, the urak-hai, the goblins, etc.  And, to be honest, I doubt anyone thinks Gollum or Grima make it, either.

So let’s try to answer the opposite of the question we first posed, which is, What did (Sauron, Saurumon, the orcs, Urak-hai, Gollum, Grima) do to NOT earn Heaven?

I think Sauron is an obvious one.  He doesn’t make it because he’s the whole initial cause of the evil.  He’s the instigator.  All right, fair enough.  Let’s move on.

Who’s the next most evil character?  Well, that depends on who is measuring evil and what their objective measure of evil is.  To me, subjectively, the next most evil would have to be the Goblin-King (of the Hobbit) and the Mouth of Sauron.  Looking at the Mouth of Sauron (since he’s truly in the series and the Goblin-King is only in the prequel), why do I think he wouldn’t make it to Heaven?

Most of all, because he talks about enjoying the torture (although it is a lie) of Frodo.  For that reason, I’d say he doesn’t get to heaven of any sort.

What about the next tier of evil characters?  I’d say probably (and subjectively), for different reasons, the Wraiths, Saruman, Gothmog, and the orcs who torture Gollum.  The Wraiths, especially the Witch-King, are black magic ghouls of horror.  Saruman really should know better than to be so evil, as Tree-Beard points out.  He has so much knowledge of good, and yet he sells out for wickedness and he kills children.  Gothmog (the orc leader in the underground invasion of Gondor) cuts off the humans’ heads and throws them over the city wall.  The orcs who torture Gollum are doing it at the bidding of their master, but still, it’s awful.

The next tier down?  Grishnakh (the orc who wants to eat Merry and Pippin’s legs), Lurtz (the Uruk-hai who keeps shooting the wounded Boromir), the weird orc with the skull on top of his head, etc.

Now, I could go on and on, but here’s the point I want to make.  At some tier down, however far down, you have to include evil characters who you might be less comfortable including, such as: the innkeeper who tells the wraiths which room the hobbits are lodging, Frodo who betrays Sam and gives in to corruption by the ring, Boromir who tries to kill Frodo, and, actually, all the hobbits, men, elves, ents, and dwarves who sit complacently while a bloody war goes on outside their doors.

And, actually, if you keep going, what about Pippin, whose foolishness and carelessness cost Gandalf greatly and places the quest in peril more than once, and Merry who is kind-of a goof-off though most of the series, and King Theoden who doesn’t always act humbly or wisely, and Aragorn who shirks his responsibility as royalty for so long, and Legolas and Gimli who both have unjust prejudice against the other, and Faramir who places the quest in peril through his wrong motives, and . .

So where exactly do you draw the line?

Someone might say, “You are being ridiculous!  How could you compare Frodo’s giving in to temptation after he bravely fights it for so long to, for example, Gothmog?”

But wait a minute, wait a minute.

What if we asked Gothmog about that?

He could say, “Hey, I know I was evil, but I was raised that way!  I grew up abused and never knew any better.  What’s more, the whole reason I am an orc and not an elf is because my people were tricked by a wizard and after months of torture succumbed to evil.  My ancestors withstood a lot more than Frodo did before we gave in.  What’s more, if I didn’t act evil, my own kinfolk would have torn me to pieces and eaten me.  That’s the world in which I live.  And besides that, I was not as evil as I could have been.  I want to point out, for example, that when Gondor’s captain lay at my feet critically wounded, I could have done horrible things to him.  I didn’t.  I stabbed him straight through with a spear.  Sure, I did the dirty work, but Frodo caused just as many problems as me–and maybe more–and he had a beautiful childhood.  I would have given anything to have had even one person love me, and Frodo had a whole village.”

Do you realize you could do that exact same thing for nearly any two characters in LOTR?  Nearly all of them, to one degree or another, are fallen (which is another word for wicked).  Galadriel is obsessed with power, Gandalf is short-tempered, Elrond isn’t even sure he wants to engage in the war, Sam is bitter about and short-tempered with Gollum, Eowyn is hostile, and even Arwen falters in knowing what the right thing is to do.  The only characters who might be claimed to be innocent that I can think of are those who have little time in the movies and we get to see very little of their actual lives.

So, What, exactly, did Frodo do to earn heaven?

Why should Frodo go to heaven and Gollum not?  What separated them, but that one fell over the cliff into the lava and the other did not?  Why should Elrond go to Heaven and not Denethor?  What separated them, but that Elrond’s daughter made the right choice in spite of his unwise council and Boromir did not?  Even if Denethor is more responsible because of other poor decisions he made, that doesn’t excuse Elrond from even one poor decision he made.

If it’s a game of outweighing each other, then who makes it and who doesn’t?  Does Grima?  He caused the deaths of children, but he was Saruman’s pawn.  Should Grima make it and not Saruman?  But Saruman was Sauron’s pawn.  So should he make it, too?

The first reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

Heaven isn’t real in Middle-Earth; Heaven is real here.

Heaven can’t be real in Middle-Earth.  There is no reason to it.  The Heaven of Tolkien’s world is madness.  It rests on no foundation; when the characters sail away to it, we can have no assurance where they are going or who will be there when they get there.  Does Boromir get to be there, because he was sorry?  Denethor was sorry, too.  Should he be there, too?  What about the men from the southlands who, as Faramir point out, are deceived into going into war?  Do they make it?

As much as I have dearly loved the movies, I hate Tolkien’s Heaven.  I would have rather Frodo died in Mordor and have left it to the reader’s imagination what happened next.  A Heaven with no foundation is worse than no Heaven at all.  To think that you might get there, or might not, depending on who you are compared to–and depending on who is judging–and depending on just how much evil you are allowed to commit and still be there . . that is depressing.  No wonder the ships sail away and my heart sinks.

The second reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

Since there is no standard for Heaven in Middle-Earth, there is no reality of good or evil there, either.  But we have a standard for Heaven here, and a reality of good and evil.

In the end, Bilbo is just as culpable as Lurtz.  They certainly carry different burdens of guilt, but they are both guilty–and how can we say who is more guilty?  Bilbo had a life of experiencing goodness and a family and friends who loved him.  Lurtz certainly did not.  He was brought out of the mud in evil, and it was all he knew his whole life.  Maybe it is less evil that he killed Boromir than that Bilbo brought on the multiplication of millions of orcs, the torture of Gollum, the corruption of his own dear nephew, and, really, the death of hundreds of humans and elves, because he held onto his idolic ring without telling anyone for so many years.  He should have no more assurance he is sailing away to Heaven than Lurtz should have had the last moment of his life.

Really, if you carefully think about it, all the characters in Lord of the Rings should, for one reason or another, be punished for their actions, BUT

Because there is no involved Creator in the Lord of the Rings, ACTUALLY

ALL of the characters should experience the same fate.  There is no ultimate authority.  The only god ever mentioned in the movies is phony Grond, the god of the orcs.  If there is a real god, he is uninvolved and not present.

Without God’s presence, everything is ambiguous.

It may turn out that Sauron is just as heroic a character as Aragorn.  Like Hindi philosophy, Who is to say what is good or evil?  Do we go by Gandalf’s word about what is good or a cave troll’s?  (If it’s about the majority opinion winning, well, all Saruman needs to do is keep factory-birthing the Urak-Hai.)

The danger of the LOTR is that it strongly suggests themes of good and evil without having any right to do so, leading someone to believe that if you live a “relatively” “good” existence in Middle-Earth, you can get to Heaven . . which is exactly what many people believe in this world.  But what is relatively; where is the line?  And what is good, who decides?

If there was a Creator in Middle Earth, and he was a good Creator, he would not allow Frodo into Heaven.  His justice would not permit it.  In order for him to punish any evil, he would have to punish all evil.  Otherwise, it’s a slide scale where nothing makes sense.  You cannot arbitrarily say Denethor should be punished for, by his delusion, nearly murdering his son Faramir but Bilbo should not be punished for, by his delinquency, nearly causing the death of his nephew, Frodo.  You cannot arbitrarily say that Grishnakh should be punished for his prejudice against hobbits but Legolas should not be punished for his prejudice against dwarves.  Either all evil is punished, or no evil is punished, because all evil is either really evil or it isn’t.  There is no in between.

It would not be a victorious ending if Frodo, Gollum, Lurtz, Grima, Pippin, Saruman, and Gandalf were all banished forever from the presence of goodness because their evil did not permit them in.  But, if the series did have a good Creator God, that would be their fate at the end.

There would be no ride away in a ship to a beautiful land.

There would be only regret, sorrow, and darkness for all of them because their life choices made all of them evil.  They may have been sorry for their evil, and they may have tried to change, but ultimately all of them were evil, because you cannot dabble in evil and step back out: you are in it for good once you choose it, and the consequences of your choice cannot be undone.  Because Frodo wavered in throwing the ring into the cauldron of Mount Doom, more men died in battle.  Those men had families of their own.  The course of history was forever changed by Frodo’s choice, and someone has to pay for those consequences if there is to be any accountability for anything.

And this brings us to the third reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

There is no possibility for redemption on Middle-Earth.

When evil isn’t really evil, it cannot be paid for or forgiven.  When everything is relative, rescue is impossible. When there is no real line between good and evil, there can be no delight in good or salvation from evil.  When nothing is good, there can be no love.  And when there is no identification of sin, there can be no redemption.

The fourth reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

No one can choose to be redeemed on Middle-Earth. 

Not Lurtz, not Aragorn.  Not Gollum, not Frodo.  Not Saruman, not Gandalf.  Not Grishnakh, not Merry.  Not Boromir and not even Sam.  No one can choose to be redeemed because there is allegedly nothing to be redeemed from in a world where good and evil do not exist in reality.  There is no heroism, courage, or truth.  There is only the meaninglessness of vague ships headed to nowhere.

But we do know good and evil exist.  And the LOTR series succeeds to the extent that we impose good and evil on it, even if the infrastructure fails to provide it.  We want to see Frodo redeemed.  We want Boromir, repentant Boromir, to be released from his sin and carried into Heaven.  We want Faramir to have another chance.  We may even wish there had been salvation for Grima at the end of his life.

But here is the best reason why Earth is better than Middle-Earth:

There is no redeemer for Middle-Earth; we have a Redeemer.

While many of the characters try to be good, none of them are good.  They all react in disappointing ways at times.  All of them need a hero who is desperately absent in LOTR . .

They need a redeemer.

At different times, different characters in the series try to play this role.  Arwen tries to save Frodo’s life by giving him her strength.  Sam tries to redeem the quest by carrying Frodo up Mount Doom.  Aragorn tries to draw Sauron’s eye away from Frodo and onto himself.  But none of the characters are truly able to protect each other, because none of the characters are truly good.

There isn’t a solution for this in LOTR.  There isn’t a character who pays the penalty for Frodo’s sin, or who steps up to suffer the consequences of Grima’s poor choices in his stead.  There isn’t a character who calls Lurtz to repentance or shows mercy to Gothmog.  There isn’t a character who saves Boromir by taking every ramification for his betrayal in his own flesh.  And there isn’t a character who makes perfect restitution for the wake of Denethor’s error or the ruin of Gollum’s lust.

There isn’t a redeemer for the LOTR.  And so they are left, at the end, with an unraveling cord of good and evil, parting ships, and nonexistence.  We say goodbye to them, and we wave sadly to them as they disappear into the emptiness of relativity, and as Middle-Earth fades from our vision, we turn to look at what we have in our world.

We see the permanent Law of God, the truth of His Word, and, off in the distance either far or near, the Day of Judgment and the eternal existence of our souls.  We have an accountability we might have liked to not have had.  We cannot, like Gollum and Lurtz, hope for an unconscious realm where nothing matters when we die.  And so at first, we might envy our friends (and enemies) from Lord of the Rings.  There they are, with no wrong or right credited to them–and, as we watch, they vaporize into the nothing that their morality dictates.

As we look again at our world, we see once more the accountability we hold, and the fear of justice quivering inside us . . but then we see something that not one character in the Lord of the Rings ever saw.

And now we must not envy them, but grieve in pity for Sam and Frodo, Grima and Gothmog, and all the others, for we see what they can never have:

We see the Savior.  We see the Redeemer.  We see the GOD who gave Himself as the penalty paid for our sin.

We see Jesus.

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

(John 1:29b, NIV)


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