The fantasy of safety through power: the psycho-political philosophy of ‘The Lord of the Rings’



                Across the world, reactions to Bush’s [‘Axis of Evil’ speech] ranged from surprise to consternation to alarm...  One [Foreign Office] official recalls: "We all smiled at the jejune language. It was straight out of Lord of the Rings."     (John Kampfner, Blair’s Wars.)


What explains the enduring and quite vast appeal of ‘The Lord of the Rings’? How and why is this book -- recently made into three fabulously-successful and (in my view) deeply-impressive films -- able to touch parts that other epics cannot reach? [1] What does this epic have with which to teach us about our own time, our minds, our politics?

            My answer to these questions will be that part, at least, of the answer is that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ carries off a profound exploration of a psychological, political and philosophical issue of almost incalculable importance. I suspect that most of Tolkien’s readers and (still more so) most viewers of Peter Jackson’s film-trilogy know this. The ‘reading’ that I will essay here of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is I think a reading that captures and makes explicit a major dimension of this great story that will strike most readers and viewers as indeed having been an important part of their experience of the work, even if they had not exactly realized so prior to reading my essay.


            The briefest way to sum up my reading of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is as an allegory of madness. Especially, an allegory of the mutually-reinforcing character of paranoia and of the withdrawn and ‘split’ state of ‘schizoid’ consciousness, attended and mutually reinforced by anxiety and depression. I believe that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is an investigation of these, and particularly of the way in which schizoid withdrawal, while promising to enhance one’s safety-levels, actually tends to fuel one’s fears until one reaches prodigious levels of anxious dread.

            It may seem absurd to credit this ‘children’s book’ with such an ambition. All I ask is that you give this interpretation a try. I am going to claim that (especially) Jackson’s films [2] actually do succeed astoundingly well in deepening our understanding of the phenomenology and the mechanisms of serious ‘mental illness’, precisely because they are not in the slightest didactic. They work as metaphor, as allegory, in the way I am urging, precisely because they lead one to experience vicariously the motivations for and dilemmas of madness, ‘the paradoxes of delusion’,[3]without insisting that they are doing so. ...Much as the person who finds themselves descending into madness does not know that that is what is happening to them; although they usually think that it perhaps is, which becomes in itself an important part of their condition, their problem. In other words, in a riff on Catch 22, if you are quite certain that what is happening to you is simply a mental disturbance, then it need not worry you that much. The deeper terror of the person going mad is that they are not going mad, but that this is really happening. Ergo, a phenomenologically-effective imagining one’s way into madness must not be too knowing. A film explicitly about madness could never effectively capture the experience.

            I believe then that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ not only expounds but genuinely extends our understanding of those dynamics of human thought which are ‘psychopathology’. It has certainly extended mine.


            Let us start our exploration (of what I allege is Tolkien’s and Jackson’s exploration of these matters) with a near-truism about ‘The Lord of the Rings’: that the Ring is power, that power corrupts (unless perhaps it is founded in tradition, integrity, honesty, and ‘democratically’-earned respect) and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is often supposed to be the teaching of Tolkien. But how does power corrupt? Merely because you can do more of ‘whatever you like’, the more powerful you become? No; that is true, but shallowly so. Also, and more crucially, because -- as your power grows -- so the fear others have of you grows, and so their incentive to rein you in or overthrow you grows, and so your sense of vulnerability grows and your sense of your security -- your reliable, felt power -- shrinks. Personal power is therefore like a drug -- larger and larger quantities of it are required, just to keep you at the same level of security. And eventually even the largest possible quantity is not enough. (We shall return to this analogy.)

            The deep truth in the truism that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely then is that there is an in-built tendency in (what we know as) power to corrupt the mind. Power held in the hands of an individual breeds in its possessor[4] a corrosive sense of lack of sufficient power.

            The One Ring is apparently an apotheosis of power. It stands thereby to stand as a metaphor for the truism about power and corruption that we have been discussing. And it does. But we might start to wonder if that is the whole story, in looking a little closer at the texture of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, by asking about what powers the One Ring actually has.

            It undoubtedly has the power to make the wearer invisible. This power, which is the one power of the ‘Ring of Gyges’ in Plato’s fertile myth, is a wonderful seeming-guarantor of safety to the wearer, and a possible jumping-off-point for the wearer to seem (at least to himself) to move beyond good and evil. One can hit people and run away, etc., without being caught and perhaps without being subject to shame. There is at least no apparent rise in colour in the cheeks of one who is invisible.

            The interesting heretical question I want to raise about the One Ring in ‘Lord of the Rings’ is whether it actually has any OTHER positive powers than this one. In the films, for instance, we seem to see it effecting some real, magically-violent power only in the distant semi-mythic past, on Sauron’s hand, just before it is cut from him by Isildur. (And even this power is far less than (e.g.) the magic wielded by Gandalf on the battlefields of the Deeping-coomb and of the Pelennor Fields.)

             The only clearly demonstrated power of the One Ring is its wonderful power to make the wearer invisible. To allow him to retreat from the consensual world.

            The Ring thereby protects its wearer; that much we know. But what happens when the wearer protects himself, by withdrawing from the consensual reality of those around him, by becoming invisible?

            He enters a twilight world, a lifeworld devoid of life, except for the threat of the half-life that lurks there. For here is the strange thing: when one seeks safety, when one has a gaining idea of where one wants to be that one is not right now, when one seeks inviolability -- withdrawal from harm -- through the power of the One Ring, one finds it at best only very temporarily.[5] The desire for absolute safety leads in fairly short measure to the desire to take off the Ring, and even to give it away to the evil monsters who seek it -- because it is awful ‘there’, in what one thought (what one desperately hoped) would be a safe ‘place’.


            The process that leads one to put on the Ring, and the process that follows once one has done so, are a speeded-up version of the subtle but deeply-corrosive and addictive dynamics of power discussed above. Or, I shall suggest, a speeded-up version of the descent into psychosis that results from the kind of splitting and re-splitting that R.D. Laing characterized as a main mechanism, through schizoid withdrawal, of schizophrenia.[6]

            Or (and it is deeply-interesting that this comes to much the same thing as both of the above), a real-time version of the vicious and more-or-less psychotic circle that can very rapidly result from extreme cases of anxiety-overwhelm, of panic. It is not so much that Frodo puts on the ring when he is in a panic, though that is indeed true; it is more that the entire process of wanting to put on the Ring and of finding that after a while it doesn’t help -- in fact, the reverse -- is panic. Panic squared, to the point of psychosis.

            When you put on the Ring, you do not (except very briefly) achieve what you want, namely safety. A place where you can be lord and master. Where you alone rule. (Not coincidentally, this is the security and alone-mastery that the philosophical solipsist longs for.[7]) For sure, you are no longer in the world with people. But it is not that you have neatly withdrawn from that world to another place, or to private seclusion within it. Your whole world changes. The change is not a coming to have a power that you formerly lacked, in the same old world; nor is it finding a hiding-place in that world. Rather, the very form of your being-in-the-world is fundamentally altered.[8] As one can deduce from the phenomenologists, and as Jackson vividly brings to life, the twilight existence of ‘Ring-world’ is qualitatively and not merely quantitatively different from our own.

            We see and feel all this because the power of cinema shows us this entire very different world. A world which is ex-hypothesi available only to the ring-wearer is shown to us, and by no means exclusively through point-of-view shots. We see Frodo in this world, a world ex hypothesi only visible to him. (I shall return shortly to the importance of this paradoxical point, and how to understand it.)

            So: what happens rapidly to one in ‘Ring-world’ is that one comes to feel much less alone than one had hoped to be by escaping from the gaze and scrutiny of others. Crucially, this world is a (non-)world beset almost instantly with paradox. Frodo comes to feel powerfully and horribly watched. There is a gaze upon him even in the would-be-utter privacy of his place of retreat, his place of great power, a monstrous gaze that grows and grows, until it threatens to pin-point and utterly know and presumably destroy him. His feeling increasingly unsafe in the consensual world prompted a flight to a place of invisibility, but he quickly feels even more unsafe there even than he felt in the (dangerous) situation that he was in in the real world.

            This is I think an extremely powerful and even (painfully) beautiful allegorical depiction of the actual nature of schizoid withdrawal, even to the point of paranoid schizophrenia.

            As understood psychoanalytically: Sauron is the return of the repressed in spades. He is the vengeful father who will condemn the relatively tiny and powerless you for what you are, in the innermost core of your being. The further you retreat, the less of you there is and the more of him.

We might add that He is your conscience, alienated from you by yourself and set over against yourself to condemn you. For if you condemn yourself, you are at least inoculated against disappointment in the sense that you cannot fail in any difficult quest or task worse than you have already condemned yourself for failing.

He is the ultimate nightmare of madness, the never-so-rational fear that God might turn out to be malevolent. What if there was an all-powerful all-seeing being who was consumed with malice toward you? There might be one; so you had better invent Him now, before He takes you unawares.

            Or as understood roughly after the fashion of the innovative post-psychoanalytic psychologist, Louis Sass: Sauron’s ferocious, merciless gaze, that unstill Eye with no eyelashes or eyebrows,[9] is the product of excess thinking, not of a turn away from Reason. The product of (self-defeating) attempts to find safety and power through giving up on ordinary safety and power and trust, through withdrawal into the self. Such that, to quote one of Sass’s patients, "In my world I am omnipotent, in yours I practice diplomacy".[10] The withdrawal leads to a loss of reality, and a self-perpetuating and multiplying sense of unreality. If one finds the voices one hears and the eyes one feels real, that’s because they seem at least as real as ordinary people etc. in the consensual world seem -- that is, sadly, not very. In the world of the Ring-wearer, everything somehow flickers, and is not quite tangible.

            According to Sass, the mechanisms of deep neurosis and (still more so!) of psychosis are ‘rational’ mechanisms. The world of the ‘mad’ is mostly not a world of Dionysian abandon, nor of primitivity or regression (as many psychoanalysts would have it), but nor is it a simple product of cognitive deficit and defect (as many contemporary cognitive psychologists and psychiatrists would have it). It is a cold, dead, hyper-scrutinized [11] world where all that is alive is powers of death and morbidity. It is a world of thinking and observing and fearing without check. Alone in this world, it is all-too-easy to dream up the worst of possible companions, or to speculate that one’s own all-too-tiny and puny and fragmentary finite self can hardly be the foundation of all these experiences -- maybe they are being offered to one by a powerful and malign demon.[12] In this world, as one retreats to what is comforting or certain, and tries to blot out the rest, it is all-too-natural to try to scrutinize oneself, too, to catch signs of infection, invasion, illness, or badness, and for this scrutiny endlessly to try to catch its own tail. As one feels watched by an alienated part of oneself, naturally, one keeps trying to retreat further -- unless one manages in time to take off the Ring, and to return to the fears and perils and reliefs and banalities of ordinary life.[13]


            How exactly does all this get shown on film? For, as admitted above, it is not as if we see all this from Frodo’s point of view, literally. The answer is, I think, this: the most effective way usually of showing the mind on film is not to show what the mind in question is perceiving, but to show the face, to show the body. We naturally empathize/identify with the person shown, at least if the film (and the acting) is good enough. (And Elijah Wood does a fabulous job of giving us Frodo’s lovely and tortured -- familiar -- mind. Our mind.[14] ) We naturally enter into Frodo’s world, which is the mental world we learn most about in ‘Lord of the Rings’ -- even (in fact, especially) when we are being shown Frodo, rather than what Frodo sees and experiences.

            This is an important pointer toward what is I think a terribly important (Wittgensteinian, counter-Cartesian) philosophical point: we are NOT typically stuck in our heads, isolated definitively from one another. When we ARE, that is in itself pathological.

            In the key scene at Weathertop in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, when five of the Ring-wraiths almost win the Ring from Frodo and almost turn him into a wraith himself, we see events (once Frodo has put on the Ring) mostly from a 3rd-person vantage point, but as if we are wearing the One Ring, which is of course quite impossible.[15] We see what it is like to be in the world of the Ring-wearer. This is the way the language of film works.[16] And -- because? -- this is the way that human beings (normally) work.


            It is important that the overwhelming odds in the fight scene on Weathertop give one a sense of hopeless dread. The four pitifully-prepared and tiny hobbits are rapidly encircled by the five huge, demonic and powerfully-armed and utterly-ruthless -- completely-focused -- Ring-wraiths. There is no chance for the former. It is important that one feels this -- one is then feeling what they start to feel, and what precipitates the dash to some desperate psychic safety. Frodo’s donning of the Ring shows us and gives us a sense of a kind of instant and very serious (and quite reasonable) Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder. (This effect is only multiplied as the films go on. The scene on Weathertop in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ anticipates the scene at Helm’s Deep in ‘The Two Towers’ where the awesome and merciless Uruk-Hai army -- now, a whole army of incipient death and complete destruction -- stands arrayed before Helm’s Deep, surely destined (as they almost do) to wipe out this race of Men. That scene in turn anticipates the scene at Minas Tirith in ‘The Return of the King’ wherein the incalculably-vast army of Mordor threatens inexorably to overwhelm the remnants of Gondor. The orc leader surveys Minas Tirith and remarks, satisfiedly; "Fear. The city is rank with it." At the wonderfully-ironic order, "Release the prisoners!", his soldiers begin the terrifying assault by releasing the decapitated heads of Faramir’s cavalry troops as cannonballs onto the city. Things go from worse to worst as the Ring-wraiths arrive once more, this time on their ghastly flying-steeds, screaming in a way that invades the mind, dealing death and terror left and right, especially horrible in their tactic of picking up men and hurling them to their deaths as great human cannonballs, with those ‘cannonballs’ thus taking several others within the city with them as they die. These scenes, I am suggesting, are successively ratcheted-up [17] evocations of dread, of a fear that starts to free-float into hopeless terror that can dream only of an inner escape. The kind of escape enacted by Denethor in the relatively (!) ‘ordinary’ fashion of semi-psychotic denial of the facts, and by Frodo either through putting on the Ring -- or (as especially at Osgiliath) through the tempting yet potentially yet-more-disastrous expedient of simply giving the Ring to the enemy. (Actually, Denethor’s method is in a key respect structurally the same as Frodo’s. Denethor resists disappointment by moving fairly directly to the outer reaches of disappointment. He assumes that Faramir is a failure. He assumes later that Farmir is dead, despite evidence of life in the latter. He assumes that "Rohan has deserted us.") I shall return to the full meaning of these expediencies -- and to the full meaning of the retreats within the structures of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith ordered by their anxious rulers -- below.)

            We see as Frodo when we are shown Frodo in the grip of the Ring, in ‘Ring-world’. And we see that you put the Ring on for safety -- and what you find is a deeper terror, a world of obsession and terrifying loneliness, a world where, alone with yourself, you are merciless watched by an Other, and thus a world where it’s harder to breathe even than it was in the terrifying situation you have just left behind.

            We get a strong sense of what it is like, too, as Frodo’s journey nears its end. As, in climbing Mount Doom to rid himself of the Ring, he is so under its power that he barely exists any more. (It is almost as if he is now already wearing the Ring, even before he gives in and grandiosely claims it for himself and puts it on, inside the volcano.) Sam tries to remind him of the Shire, to bring him back. Sam asks Frodo if he can remember the taste of strawberries. Frodo’s rasping and increasingly terrified reply; "No, Sam. I can’t remember the taste of fruit, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. [I’m] Naked... There’s nothing. No veil between me and the wheel of fire.[18] I can see Him...with my waking eyes."


            The Ring has prodigious ‘negative’ powers -- the power to make you mad with craving or with terror (we see this personified in the Ring-wraiths; they are fully corrupted by the craving for the ring(s) of power; all they do is seek;[19] they are craving[20] ) and/or the power to make you mad with fear.[21]  Does it have the positive powers alleged for it (except for that symbolically-essential power of rendering invisible to the ordinary eye)? We never see any of them, at least not in the present of the action of the story.[22]

            Is ‘Lord of the Rings’ then about power and its corrupting effects; ...Or is it about the fantasy of achieving safety through power, and about the self-defeating effects of that fantasy...

            If the latter, and that is what I am suggesting, then we might hazard that ‘Lord of the Rings’, superficial appearances notwithstanding, is not in the first instance about (political) power and its corrupting effects. It is about psychopathology. It is about the former largely only through being about the latter. It is about the pathological effects of the desire for absolute safety, which are found macroscopically in the political realm but which can easier be dissected microscopically, in the psychological realm. The desire for absolute safety is found in a pure form in some ‘mental illness’. It is found in a structurally-identical but weaker form in the desire for (total) personal power in politics, and in the desire of states for (total) power over others. (Except of course in those cases where it looks like the two are truly inseparable, such as perhaps in Hitler.) 

            The ‘Lord of the Rings’ is about kings and prime-minister and presidents and rivals and subjects and terrorists through being about ‘mental illness’.


            Let us go further into how ‘Lord of the Rings’ is about madness: Through Jackson’s fine-toothed investigation, for instance, of the character of Gollum. Gollum embodies -- or at least seems to (we shall return to this point) -- the loneliness and corruption yielded by the obsessive and addictive lust for power. Gollum never wanted to rule any kingdom; but he wanted the Ring of Power for himself, and was prepared to go to very violent lengths to get it.

            Jackson’s films provide a marvelous portrayal of the split mind that results from a no-holds-barred push for such power, such possession of what is most ‘precious’. (What is most precious? What that you could seemingly have and control could be more precious than security for you and yours? Love might be more precious; but love cannot be guaranteed. It depends on another. But can’t one’s own security at least be guaranteed? Interestingly, ‘Lord of the Rings’ suggests that, if one goes down this path, one will reify one’s security into the ultimate security-blanket, the One Ring, which Gollum loves and even feels loved by, and which he of course treats as if it were a person. And that one will not then feel secure -- Gollum is ‘for instance’ deeply-haunted by Sauron’s gaze.) We see Gollum’s quasi-multiple-personality vividly portrayed in his private dialogues with himself. And we see him, like Sauron,[23] feeling incomplete without the Ring. The second of these is more classically schizoid, more like what we discussed earlier with reference to what one’s experience is like once one puts on the Ring. The first, dissociative kind of ‘split’ (‘dual personality’), we should now integrate into that discussion.


            ‘The Two Towers’ fundamentally centres upon Frodo not giving up on Gollum, and Gollum not giving up on himself. Why is this so important? Because Frodo has to believe that even Gollum could ‘come back’. That even Gollum could recover.

            There is a historical parallel worth exploring here at a little length. It is with various ways of ‘touching bottom’ that are profoundly feared by humans, as perhaps has been most vividly visible in the cruel laboratory of the concentration and extermination camps. Take the following remark of Primo Levi’s, "I must repeat -- we, the survivors, are not the true witnesses. This is an uncomfortable notion, of which I have become conscious little by little, reading the memoirs of others and mine at a distance of years. We survivors are not only an exiguous but also [an] anomalous minority: we are those who by their prevarications or abilities or good luck did not touch bottom. Those who did so, those who saw the Gorgon, have not returned to tell about it or have returned mute, but they are the ‘Muslims’, the submerged, the complete witnesses, those whose deposition would have a general significance. They are the rule, we are the exception." [24] How can and should we further imagine the ‘musselmann’?

Not, surely, as one reduced to a chosen moral nihilism, to a reflective and self-aware complete moral cowardice or amorality. For such as person could still be a self-conscious human, and could still speak.

 Possibly as one reduced to what might be termed an unconscious moral nihilism, a desperate, completely self-centred social-Darwinian existence.

 Most often, in the testimonies of Levi and others, we see the musselmann not as a human reduced as it were to self-conscious biology, but rather to unselfconscious biology. A lassitude descends; even the spirit of bare life has gone from the ‘person’.

            Both the latter possibilities can be imagined as unspeaking, as varieties of human being reduced to mere biological life. All three possibilities, which can easily be envisioned as a kind of actually-existing spectrum of descending orders of awfulness, are reasonable objects of dread to the person contemplating them, and contemplating becoming them.

            The fear of oneself becoming any of these three ‘stages’ is (I submit) necessarily in part a fear of becoming stuck there, or becoming stuck on some descending trajectory. The fear is that touching bottom will lead with inevitability to becoming stuck at bottom. If one could recover, then it wouldn’t be so bad; but the thought of not recovering at all is the thought of losing oneself completely, to disintegration, death, madness or evil.

            Take this epochal moment, from ‘If this is a man’. Levi has just heard the last of the heroic crematorium-destroying Auschwitz rebels crying "I am the last one!" before being hung. He feels shame at having done nothing, and feels that this is the last man, who has just been killed: "Alberto and I went back to the hut, and we could not look each other in the face. That man must have been tough, he must have been made of another metal than us if this condition of ours, which has broken us, could not bend him. // Because we also are broken, conquered: even if we know how to adapt ourselves, even if we have finally learnt how to find our food and to resist the fatigue and cold, even if we return home." [25] Levi fears that he has become the moral nihilist, or the quasi-solipsistic Darwinian near-’Muslim’. He does not seem to have the support perhaps necessary to see that the very existence of his fears gives the lie to their content. The fact that he cares about and fears his current state (of inaction, of ‘failing’ to act in a ‘dignified’ manner, etc.) proves that he has not been utterly broken.[26]

            But his line of thought is, psychologically speaking, a pretty compelling one. If something is infinitely important, as one’s own existence or sanity or morality can easily come to seem to be, then one will be engrossedly concerned in and with ultimate threats to it. And one will risk self-fulfilling engulfment by such threats if one becomes hopeless in one’s engrossedness.


            On the surface, this dynamic is  explored in ‘Lord of the Rings’ primarily in moral terms: can one come back from losing one’s centre, one’s conscience (as Gollum is presumed to have done, in his possession by the Ring)? But, I submit, this is structurally no different from the very same dynamic explored in psychopathological terms, in terms of the loss of one’s sanity. I shall pursue both lines of thought together here, as I think that in fact both are -- simultaneously -- at play in the story.

            Why must Frodo believe that Gollum can come back from a state of insanity, or psychopathy? Because Gollum was once like him. Ergo, he could become like Gollum.[27] He feels the weight of the Ring, feels its pull getting harder and harder to resist. His rational fear shoots to the conclusion: I must believe that I could come back even from the worst imaginable excesses of madness or loss of self/conscience that this very hard situation that I am in might induce. Because if I think I could not, then this will be an object worthy of my infinite fear (Of dread). And, given that I am already feeling anxious and unstable, it will be impossible not to focus fearfully on this fear: I will then be launched on a self-fulfilling journey to madness. (This negative self-fulfilling prophecy is again what the Ring yields, for one that enters deeply into its field of force.)

            You may have nothing to fear but fear itself -- but if it feeds on itself to the point of disabling dread, as it very easily can, then that’s quite terrifying enough, just by itself, to lose you everything. (At least, that’s what the fear says, when it is upon you.)  Fear of madness and plain dread feed on each other, and threaten rapid implosion to insanity, unless one believes that even insanity is not necessarily interminable.

            So Frodo allows himself to feel pity and even love for Gollum. In part, to save himself. Frodo fears he is becoming Gollum. Gollum represents -- he does not instantiate, but he psychically represents -- the human becoming in- and/or sub- human. He is -- to the eyes of humans who shy away from him, who withdraw from him, who leave him alone to fear and hate his own self -- the definition of a monster. As Levi fears he is becoming the very kind of hateful thing that the Nazis said he was. A worm, a selfish and unworthy sub-human.

            And my philosophical claim, then, is that in the sense in which Levi and Frodo and all of us fear touching bottom, our fear is groundless except as self-fulfilling. There is no compelling reason to believe that anyone cannot come back from the temptation to moral nihilism, from profound selfishness, even from a desperate or desolate withdrawal from life altogether. It is human to be appalled and terrified by the thought of becoming sub-human; as long as one has the capacity to have such a thought, one has not so become. Change their circumstances, and we have no reason to believe that anyone is eternally incapable of same. Not even the profoundly-oppressed, and not even one’s worst enemies.


            This I think symbolically explains also an apparent plot-flaw in ‘The two towers’ (at least, in the film version). Namely, the release of Wormtongue, after Gandalf’s dis-enchantment of Theoden. Wormtongue should have been killed or at least locked up, according to the warrior ethic of so much of ‘Lord of the Rings’. It was obvious that he would most likely go back to Saruman, and cause further murderous mischief. So he does: many of the men of Rohan die when he then cleverly urges Saruman to set the ‘wolves’ of Isengard on them, as they are en route to Helm’s Deep.[28]

            The irrational pity of Aragorn toward Wormtongue mirrors Bilbo’s pity towards Gollum (stressed to Frodo by Gandalf when they first see Gollum, in Moria), when he had the chance to kill him long before. The point of such pity is that one ought not to give up completely on any human being, or indeed on any hobbit.[29]

            You can give up on the enemy races and species -- and here is the danger of racism endemic to ‘Lord of the Rings’. (I shall try to remove the sting from that accusation later.)  But a key message of the trilogy is that you mustn’t give up on anyone recognisably human.


            It is of some interest that it is Aragorn, who I want to suggest is a kind of counterpart or alter ego for Frodo throughout Jackson’s trilogy, who orders the release of Wormtongue. I have suggested that ‘The two towers’ fundamentally concerns Frodo, and his pity for and fellow-feeling with Gollum. How then can ‘The two towers’ possibly work as a film? For it consists of 3 entirely distinct plotlines. The protagonists of these three plotlines never meet on screen, and indeed end up further from each other than when they started.

             And yet the film does work. Some viewers feel it even to be the best of the three. Why and how is this?

            The issue central to the ‘The Towers’ is found in its most focussed and condensed form in the Frodo-Gollum nexus, but it is also very present in the plotline involving Aragorn, Gandalf, Wormtongue, and Theoden. Compare Gandalf not giving up on Theoden, despite the latter’s deeply-sunken aged unreachability, his being possessed by Saruman as others are possessed by Sauron, his being deeply withdrawn to a place of ‘safety’ where he can be secure in his kingly ‘power’. (Perhaps Gandalf can only do this, because he (Gandalf) let go, because he ‘died’ and yet didn’t give up[30]. )

            The deft inter-cutting from scenes featuring Gandalf and Aragorn to scenes featuring Frodo in ‘The two towers’ -- cutting not present in the book, which is really a book of two or three different narratives stuck more or less sequentially together -- shows, I think, what I am speaking of. This is one film. The protagonists may be physically far apart. But they are as one in wrestling with how to keep faith in themselves, in others, in anything and everything.

            What of the third narrative, of Merry and Pippin? The same applies. How?

            Aragorn refuses to give them up for lost, but that structures his narrative, not theirs; for they outrun Aragorn’s efforts, and are eventually saved by Treebeard, and they then recommence their struggle, with him.

            Merry and Pippin are so small, and, though brave, are less committed to the quest than Frodo. They are genuinely tempted to give up, and retreat to the Shire as per Treebeard’s suggestion, when the Ents refuse to help them, refuse (at first) to recognise themselves as "part of this world".

            But Merry realizes that they can’t retreat; that the disaster will eventually come and find them there, too.

            The positive way forward in the psychological struggle that is at the heart of ‘Lord of the Rings’, and perhaps especially of ‘The two towers’, finds a macroscopic expression in Merry’s rousing of the Ents’ ecological conscience. The maneouvre of retreating to the Shire is the same as the manoeuvre symbolized by and shown in the Ring, in the putting on of the Ring.

            And such retreat is a giving up of the wholeness that is present in ecological consciousness, in an understanding of one’s groundedness in the Earth and one’s fellow-ness with one’s fellows (and ultimately, I will suggest, with all creatures). The Ents staying put in their paradise, the hobbits retreating to theirs -- these are fools’ paradises/paradoses, fallacies/fantasies of safe havens.


            And it is the same again with the retreat to Helm’s Deep. This time, not ecological wholeness but the construction of the false self and its overcoming is foregrounded. What do I mean? Gandalf calls on Theoden, recovered from his withdrawal, to ride out and meet the enemy in the open, on the plains. Theoden will not. So recently having ridden out of the recesses of his mind to meet the world again, his first instinct is to retreat once more... They recess to Helm’s Deep, to a fortress deep inside a ravine, with no exit. Aragorn calls on Theoden at least to send out riders, to seek aid from elsewhere. Theoden will not. He battens down the hatches. Marvellously, some aid comes anyway (Elrond’s Elves, who are roused twice in the story by Galadriel’s caring -- her recognition of all of our being-with-others -- to offer their aid to ‘the world of men’), though probably not enough.

            And there, in the form of the battle, we see a very vivid metaphor for the retreat and yet further retreat which is the lot of schizoid psychotics. The very structure of Helm’s Deep is a visual presentation of a mind seeking to find somewhere where it can reign supreme, and not have to confront monsters face to face. The inexorable retreat inwards does not help, however. It only prolongs the inevitable, and perhaps makes it worse.

            How does the tide of the battle turn? When, utterly improbably, the riders of Rohan ride out from the very keep of the castle, at last taking the attack to the enemy, out into the open of a dawn.[31]

            The three ‘separate’ stories of ‘The two towers’ are one. The skilful editing-work shows this, to those who have eyes to see it.


            Whose task is the hardest? Merry and Pippin’s, who pass through mortal fear at the hands of Uruk and Orc (and Fangorn) before going bravely to battle, in a seemingly-doomed cause, with the Ents, against Saruman’s very base[32] ?

            Gandalf’s and Aragorn’s, each of whom apparently die before going out (not in) to fight against inconceivable odds, against dread, against Saruman’s vast army?

            Frodo’s. Ordinary life, companionship and the building of trust (including, crucially, in oneself), achieved not through the more extraordinary version of these that is ideologically involved in being a warrior, is the hardest of all.[33] The ordinary semi-private task of not giving up where the not-giving-up in the face of great temptation is a daily -- almost continuous -- occurrence. And where one is deliberately going to face voluntarily one’s greatest terror.

            Not fighting, but giving up one’s weapon, is the hardest task of all. The Merry-Pippin-Treebeard and the Gandalf-Aragorn-Theoden plotlines are, in the end, roughly, metaphors for the Frodo-Sam-Gollum narrative. The first two conclude successfully, by the end of ‘The two towers’. The last continues, harrowingly and remorselessly, on into the third film, and with a ghastly unnamed threat now hanging over Frodo and Sam[34] ,through Gollum’s loss of faith in them.


            Why does Frodo’s task keep getting harder? By the end of ‘The two towers’ Gollum has fatally lost trust in him. But of course that isn’t all of the problem, or even most of it. We must look a little closer at the question of why in the first place the power of the Ring gets stronger, the closer one gets to Mordor.

            My suggestion is this: The closer one gets to destroying the Ring, to the genesis of it and its power that might also be its doom, the heavier it gets, because the closer you come to feeling fully safe in your ordinary existence, and thus to letting go forever of the method (the magical talisman) that promises you a special safety and dominion, the less safe you are tempted to feel... This is a paradox that one has to live through. The Ring connotes and promises the permanent possibility of invisibility, inviolability to blame and shame and punishment, a wonderful withdrawal. Giving up this refuge once and for all, which is inevitably the meaning of casting the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, is thus a weighty -- a terrifying -- prospect.


            Add to that, that the truly huge role of guilt and shame in much depression and anxiety -- and (sometimes devastatingly magnified) in psychosis -- has, in my view at least, not always been well-understood. Deep feelings of worthlessness, of one’s deservedness of being punished or annihilated -- Gollum perhaps enables us to understand these better than we did before. Gollum is always at risk of losing himself, even of losing his mind, through these. And so, by extension, is Frodo.

            If you give up on any human being, you give up on humanity. If you give up on humanity, you might as well not bother fighting or trying any more; you have already lost what you hoped to be defending. And in any case, if you give up on any part of humanity, you implicitly give up on yourself. As Donne might have put it: Ask not for whom the Ring shines: it shines for you. Frodo mustn’t give up on Gollum, or he may give up on himself, and the fear then is one of being lost in psychosis. As suggested above, this is a moral point on or near the surface of ‘The Two Towers’; I am suggesting that at a deeper level it is a psychological point, a deep observation about psychopathology, and about the possibility (and difficulty) of recovering therefrom. (A severe difficulty in recovering fully from psychosis is, I believe, the very great difficulty one who has so lost their footing as to have a psychotic episode has, understandably, in convincing themselves that they could cope if they had a worse one. Or even the difficulty in feeling confident that one has in reality recovered at all from the earlier episode. This is the true terror-horror of ‘flashbacks’: the thought/feeling that one never really emerged at all from the traumatic situation one thought was past. ‘Flashback’ is in fact therefore rather a misnomer, from an experiential or phenomenological point of view; ‘flashbacks’ are not terrifying through being a vivid reliving of a past experience; that wouldn’t be so very bad. Rather, one feels as if the experience in question is not past at all, and that it is unterrifying ordinary life which is a fantasy, or wholly in the past. The deep terror of ‘flashback’ is not that one is flashing back; it is that this is really happening.)

            When one feels close to losing all faith, in others and in oneself, then one is most vulnerable to feeling under threat from a powerful external agency. A loss of faith naturally leads[35] to the fear of ... not quite God. Rather, the devil as God.

            Or: not Satan but Sauron? In the godless and virtually-religionless world of ‘Lord of the Rings’, Sauron is of course the closest we get to God. An overwhelmingly powerful and malevolent external force. A malign genie who has gradually seemed to incarnate, to take physical form. Just such a malign being is one of the most important things that one fears/finds/encounters, at peak times on praecox or psychotic journeys. The desperate search for safety results in one being overpowered by an overwhelming dread at an overwhelming watching, judging, heartless and destructive external agency. The search for safety results in one seemingly being confronted by absolute nemesis, with no expectation of being saved by a benevolent force -- there is none as strong, or none that is willing, once is convinced. That God is onto me, and that ‘God’ is a malevolent demon -- just that super-Cartesian possibility is, I am urging, lived out at the deep dark heart of ‘Lord of the Rings’.

            To put it bluntly: Sauron and all his stand-ins (e.g. the Nazgul) are or at least might as well be the creations of the mind of Frodo, and the creations of the mind of the viewer of ‘Lord of the Rings’ just insofar as s/he can enter imaginatively into the mind of someone passing through a major psychotic episode (which, judging by the film’s success, might seem to be: surprisingly far). What it’s like is I think stunningly visually captured in the scene in ‘The Two Towers’ where Frodo, in the battlements of Osgiliath, is confronted by the lord of the Nazgul on his fell winged beast. With the Ring-wraiths near, Frodo withdraws. He goes into a state of quasi-schizoid withdrawal, leaving the consensual world half-behind as the power of the Ring is upon him. He starts to enter a private and almost silent ‘world’. He is tempted to put the Ring on; he stumbles toward the Nazgul lord; we see and are ourselves breath-stoppingly scared or awed by the silent confrontation of Frodo by this vast foe. Being before and ‘held by’ such a foe is just what being on the very cusp of a psychotic break can feel like. Frodo then wants to lose the burden of the Ring, and makes as if to give it to the king of the Ring-wraiths. Feeling undone by the overwhelming hostile external force that he -- that one -- does not realize one has oneself created, he seeks to be rid of it that way, too. 


            Saved on that occasion (from the compelling oscillation between the two compelling though in fact ineffective alternatives of putting on the Ring and giving it away) by Faramir, Frodo is allowed to journey on, the appalling nature of his burden now well-understood by Faramir, towards Mordor. Faramir agrees to let Frodo and his companions go on when he hears about how the Ring drove his brother Boromir mad (Frodo’s words), and when he sees this extraordinary image: Frodo with the Nazgul looming vast and terrible over him. He sees the way the Ring is too strong even for this determined tormented little man.[36]

            Faramir’s earlier speech before the body of a dead foe, just after he first captured Frodo & co. perhaps indexes, paradoxically,[37] the point about the non-existence, except as constructed by us, of the enemy who looms over us in our minds, who we fear and that we then (and self-defeatingly) seek power over: "The enemy? ...I wonder who he was, where he came from, and if he was really evil at heart." Faramir marvellously refuses to give up on this man who fought against them; and he asks whether what they are fighting is anything more than mirror-images of themselves. Other beings, seeking safety through violent power, just as we do. If they exist at all, if they are not paranoid creations of ourselves, then they are like us anyway. The only really-existing enemy is a being like us, who should not, by rights, be our enemy. We come to understand the men fighting against ‘the goodies’, we come to understand the brutalized orcs and uruks, we come to understand the wraiths, and Gollum, we come to understand Sauron, through Frodo’s (and Faramir’s, and Gandalf’s, and so on) powers of empathy -- and through his need to not be alone. But when the power of the Ring is upon you, then even if these ‘enemies’ do not exist, in your aloneness you will soon powerfully invent them.[38] When you put on the Ring, and become invisible, you become visible to your darkest fears -- the wraiths,[39] and God/Satan/Sauron.


            The Ring, and all it represents, naturally bring paranoia. We see this in Boromir, we see it in the depressed and withdrawn Denethor, we see it wherever power has sway and wherever retreat appeals. Frodo increasingly becomes a case-study in paranoia as he nears Mordor: in his lack of sleep, in his obsession with the Ring and his jealousy over it, and in his distrust even of Sam. Meanwhile Gollum, the weak threads of his trusting connection to Frodo fatally compromised by his harsh treatment at the hands of Faramir and Sam, has by now apparently given up on human being. He has never easily been able to think of human connection as anything other than the connection between a master and a slave,[40] and now his only real connection is ‘with himself’. His ‘good’ ‘Smeagol’ personality gleefully looks forward to taking "The Precious, the Ring, for me!" His ‘bad’, self-protective persona responds fairly forcefully, "For us". The ‘Smeagol’ persona replies, somewhat nervously, "Yes, that’s what I meant...". Gollum absolutely thinks of himself as two, while knowing he is one. This is the paradoxical nature of the schizoid or schizophreniform much more than are plain hallucinations or indeed than plain dissociations (e.g. the dissociations in identity found in ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’). The paradoxicality of such thinking is offered to the viewer constantly through Gollum’s peculiar language,[41] through the way especially in which he personifies the Ring and cannot really separate it from himself.[42] The Jackson films, in a moment of inspiration, even give us a number of point-of-view shots where the point of view is that of the Ring. This takes us into the mind-set of Frodo or Gollum far more effectively than any point-of-view shots through their eyes could ever do! And, once again, this is a clue toward how the Ring is more a metaphor for the fantasy of absolute safety through absolute power than for any real power. What ‘Lord of the Rings’ explores is how the fantasy of safety through power alienates a part of one from oneself, even to the point of inadvertently creating hyper-observation (of oneself etc.) by a part of oneself. (One can feel watched, in ‘Lord of the Rings’, by the Ring, by a mere piece of metal, a symbol.).  If I want to be able to watch without being seen such that I will be invulnerable, this inadvertently creates Sauron (or at least a super-efficient and hyper-present secret service) to watch over me... The same delusionary dynamic is visible in some of the most famous cases of paranoid schizophrenia, such as Schreber’s and perhaps Nash’s. (It is arguably present, too, in mainstream supernaturalistic or metaphysical monotheism, of which ‘Lord of the Rings’ can therefore be read as a devastating satire.[43] )

            As intimated earlier, then, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ concerns itself centrally with why it is so hard -- and so slow a process -- to recover reliably from deep depression or chronic obsession, and even more so from psychosis.

            Witness here Sam’s words to Frodo inside Mount Doom.[44] As Sam sees Frodo hesitating to cast the Ring into the lava, he wails out to him, in desperation, "What are you waiting for? JUST LET IT GO!" Once the Ring has fallen with Gollum into the lava, but has not yet been destroyed, Frodo hangs on by his fingertips -- and still feels the attraction of the Ring pulling him down to join Gollum. Sam’s words to him, as he leans down to offer Frodo his hands, to pull him to safety?: "DON’T LET GO! REACH!" Reach out, even with your bloodied hand. Here, in this movement from "Let go!" to "Don’t let go!", Sam is presenting to Frodo perhaps the only possible cure to the pathologies of humanity and of reason that are psychosis. In other words: non-attachment -- but not at the cost of one’s humanity. Not at the price of nihilism, and a loss of faith in that that one loves.

Witness here too how hard it is to live the cure, especially perhaps if one knows that one failed to live out the non-attachment part of it (Frodo did not let go of the Ring). Witness, that is, the deeply moving close of ‘Return of the King’: Frodo is convinced that he is too wounded to go on with ordinary life and to enjoy its pleasures as the other hobbits do. I am of course not denying that Frodo has gained some insights through his trip, his quest; I am not denying that it might just be easier for him to live the strange calm after-life of the elves rather than the frenetic ordinary life of hobbits, as a result. But there is tragedy in his felt inability to go on living in the old place that his successful adventure has saved.[45] He cannot stay in his idyll, ‘the Shire’. The meaning of Bilbo and Frodo leaving on the boat to be with the elves is that they are not recovered fully from their psychical journeys, or, at least, that they think they are not, which comes to the same thing. Sauron may be destroyed. But they can’t forget their frailness.[46]They don’t feel safe feeling safe. This is a profound understanding of profound psychological hurt and damage. (As Gollum once put it, "Once it takes hold of us [of the multiplicity that Gollum has become, and of those who are like Gollum in being viscerally subject to the Ring’s power?], it never lets go".)

            When everything says they are safe, they feel profoundly unsafe as a result. And after all, wasn’t it thought that Sauron had been destroyed once before? Might he not rise again, start taking form again? Hadn’t one better be ready for this, just in case?

            If one feels any of that lust that was the Ring, if one knows that one profoundly wanted the Ring for oneself, if one feels a sense of loss that one no longer has it (and it is important to note, as Bilbo travels with Frodo to the Grey Havens, that he (Bilbo) still feels this, too), then the Ring is not all gone. And still less is Sauron.


            This brings us back to the contrasting ways one can seek to resolve the dilemma of the Ring.

>>One can try to become the Lord of the Rings.[47]  That is, one can seize the Ring to oneself in megalomania, as Sauron hopes to, and of course as Frodo does in Mount Doom (much as Isildur was inclined to do, when he stood in the same spot long before).[48] The consequences of this are obvious: one’s imminent total (paranoia and) corruption is dramatized/vivified by the coming of Sauron’s minions rapidly to one, in such an eventuality.

>>One can simply try to hide through it, through putting it on, through withdrawal and seeking ‘safety’. We have seen how futile a strategy that is, through examining what Frodo’s world is actually like when he puts on the Ring (in the ‘Prancing Pony’, on Weathertop, on Amon Hen).

>>One can give the Ring away to the malign force one encounters when it (the Ring) is upon one. What would be the consequence? A temporary relief, and then a terror far worse even than that found in the withdrawal and paranoia etc. that visited Frodo when he put on the Ring. For one would be giving total power to the alienated part of oneself that one dreaded the most. This would magnify its power vastly, and would thus mean a seemingly terminal and appalling psychosis, a world that seemed to be nothing but the rule of darkness visible and triumphant.[49]

>>Finally, one can of course decide to go on a quest in which one confronts the demons of each of these three possibilities, as Frodo does, and overcomes them, as he does (Well, at least he overcomes the second and third, with a lot of help from his friends, as well as from himself. As discussed earlier, it is only the final chance intervention of one who is more obsessed with the Ring even than he is

-- Gollum -- which enables the quest accidentally to be successfully ‘concluded’, in the marvellous, unexpected (by Sauron) gesture of giving up the Ring voluntarily to dissolution.[50] ). One can attempt, that is, to find out who one is, by seeing if one has the mettle to confront one’s demons and to dissolve the haunting seductive power of the Ring completely away.


            My tentative philosophical suggestion is that we see the structure of human being laid open to us in ‘Lord of the Rings’: to be is to be open to the vicissitudes of anxiety. But that openness is, by a microscopic (utterly-easy, and quintessentially-hard) adjustment of aspect also an openness to tranquility, to life as lived heaven (or at least, as plain life), not lived hell.

            What makes the difference?

            In order to realize the last of the four possibilities, finally, one has always to have faith. Not the pathetically childish supernaturalistic version of faith -- namely, belief that a certain kind of super-person exists -- that is argued for and against in theology and in standard philosophy of religion. But rather, the kind of faith explored in a religious/spiritual context from Pascal [51] through Kierkegaard to William James, and (I believe) successfully de-divinized by 20th century philosophers such as Sartre and Wittgenstein. In Wittgenstein, in his ‘On Certainty’ for instance, and in Stanley Cavell’s work on ‘acknowledgement’, such faith is the unavoidable faith one has in other people, in one’s world, and so on. I say "unavoidable"; that of course does not mean that people have not tried to avoid having it -- the consequences of such attempted avoidance in philosophy are Descartes and the various threats of scepticism, and in psychological reality are the varieties of serious ‘mental disorder’, much as, I would suggest, explored by ‘Lord of the Rings’ (and by other philosophical movies such as for instance the Phillip K. Dick based works, ‘Bladerunner’ and ‘Total recall’).

            This faith (and its failing) is all over ‘Lord of the Rings’; there are many examples one would want to work through, in a fuller presentation. It is explored by Jackson powerfully in his presentation of Frodo and Gollum, as discussed above. Tolkien also famously places it in the friendships he depicts; notably, between Sam and Frodo. Take the end of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’: As Frodo rows across the river and away from Sam, he shouts to Sam, "I’m going to Mordor alone!" Sam’s reply, "Of course you are. And I’m going with you." The humour of this veils a profound truth to it. As Galadriel had said to Frodo, "To be a ring-bearer is to be alone". Only Frodo can bear (t)his burden. Everyone has to do it for themselves. Each one of us is Frodo, as we face the temptation to self-aggrandize, or to hide, or to give some power that we have away to someone else to do with it as they will. We identify above all with Frodo, as well we might. One might venture that the whole trilogy is in effect shot from Frodo’s point of view, even while in literal terms it quite obviously isn’t. (It is I think important that we discover at the end that Frodo is the author of a book called ‘The Lord of the Rings’...)  We are launched on a psychological voyage with/in him. As Frodo says, "You can’t help me, Sam. Not this time." Heidegger’s insight that each of us has to face death on our own, and that it is in that sense meaningless to speak of someone dying for us, is close at hand here.

            And yet, of course, Sam does help Frodo; In the end, Frodo couldn’t possibly have done it without him, neither practically nor emotionally.

            One cannot live without faith in others. Nor without faith in oneself. The Ring, through its promise of power and safety, seductively dangles before one a precious would-be-harvest, namely, the ability to do without these faiths; but reaping that harvest is reaping the whirlwind. It threatens implicitly simply to strip or to lacerate one of all faith, leaving one with nothing, or less than nothing. The deepest tug of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ on our minds and our affections is I think the pursuit of this battle (between faith and the lures of the Ring).

            Aragorn and Frodo, who together have the chance of repeating Isildur’s glory (of defeating Sauron), and both of whom -- as Aragorn is all too aware -- run the risk of being defeated by ‘Isildur’s Bane’ (Sauron’s weapon, the (temptations of the) Ring of power,[52] the temptations of safety and the consuming anxiety of self-doubt, partly consequent upon Isildur’s example and fate, about their adequacy to their task),[53] demonstrate what is it stake here and how one can find one’s feet nevertheless, in the marvellous scene on the great stairway on the way to the bridge of Khazad-Doom, in Moria. After all but two of the Fellowship have managed to cross the chasm that opens up on the stairway as the earth quakes with the indefeasible, demonic and deadly Balrog’s approach, Aragorn and Frodo stand alone on a great and cracked pinnacle of rock that sways slightly this way and that. It is simply too far to jump to safety, and they seem doomed. But Aragorn sees what to do, and so Frodo, with his help, is brave enough to do it too. "Lean forward", Aragorn says. They lean forward, and the terrifying chasm becomes smaller -- the huge pinnacle starts to sway in the direction in which they are leaning. They have altered its delicately-poised centre of gravity. Their calm faith in action is such that finally the leap to ordinary safety is in the end quite short. This step of faith is easily made, the chasm now being much less, and thus surmountable; as their weight leaves the pinnacle, it sways back slightly, just enough such that it doesn’t crush the company as it crashes down into the abyss below. This is a lovely literalisation of what Kierkegaard and James wrote about. The antidote to anxiety is faith. If you have the will to believe (and you do have the right to believe[54]), if you wager yourself, then your faith becomes part of the process, and itself influences the result. If you trust that you will not fail, you are far less likely to fail. This is the opposite of the mental processes set in train by and symbolized by ‘the Ring’, as discussed above. Aragorn and Frodo, the two who above all need not to become lost in anxiety, demonstrate at this powerful moment in Jackson’s film how faith in action can self-fulfillingly enable one to succeed in a seemingly hopeless circumstance. In a circumstance where there would be no hope, but for hope.[55]


            The would-be alternative to such faith is to dose up with the drug of the Ring. The Ring is the fantasy of power. It is a drug which promises such power that one will not have to accept the frailties and disappointments of ordinary faith in others any more.

            Gollum is more or less ‘hopelessly’ addicted, as of course are the Ring-wraiths. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ films show others in less severe but still deeply-problematic states of addiction and/or drug-withdrawal. For example, Saruman when he speaks to Sauron clearly needs his fix. Frodo of course when he starts to lose his grip, closer to Mordor, is addicted  (Sam sees this clearly, the way Frodo is changing for the worse). Boromir, when he tries to steal the ring from Frodo, too.

            Drugs that are addictive: what is their mechanism? They deliver apparent safety, feelings of great capacity and power, they enable one to be (to act) normal, or better-than-ever, they offer great pleasure, they blot out. One craves them, for one or more of these reasons. But one doesn’t want to be addicted. One doesn’t want to be a druggie. In fact, if one is hooked, one craves not to be addicted any more -- and, moreover, one fantasises, when one has recently inhaled or injected or whatever, that one is now just fine. The drug temporarily takes away one’s sense that one is what one is (at least, so long as one’s practices say that one is); namely, an addict. One only feels like an addict when one has not got the drug in one. When one craves the drug, ironically, one is paradoxically craving that one should no longer be (feel) addicted.

            The Ring is the perfect drug. You can have it forever -- it’s physical and lasting, not something temporary that will pass through your system and leave you wanting more. And it doesn’t deform you -- you can take it off. It’s not you, it’s not who/what you are.

            Only, of course, one doesn’t think of the possibility of losing it (or indeed of having it taken away from one). And one doesn’t think of it changing you, or of it ‘becoming’ (part of) you.

            One doesn’t think at first, that is, of its producing paranoia in you; nor of its corrupting you. One doesn’t anticipate the way that one’s craving for it will in a vicious loop produce spiralling effects of coming to feel less and less safe, the longer one has it. One craves the ‘drug’ or drugs so as NOT to have to face the shadow side of oneself, so as not to have to dwell in pain -- the outcome is that one is left facing it far more bluntly and terminally than one was before.

            ‘The perfect drug’ is a nightmare,[56] not a dream. ‘Lord of the Rings’ helps us to understand what a drug is in its essence, it helps us understand the drug of power, and it helps us understand the way in which (against one’s intentions) madness is surprisingly -- frighteningly -- addictive.


            This is partly why I stated at the opening of this essay that I understood the primary task of the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (the understanding of the dynamics of madness) to be psychological but also -- even, simultaneously -- political and philosophical in nature. My reading of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a philosophical reading that draws the psychological and the political close together.[57]

>>Philosophical, in that it is the whole nature of psychopathology that is at issue, not merely particularities of one or another form of it. Indeed, as I have implied, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ perhaps even gives us some reason to think that there will tend to be more of a holism to ‘mental illness’ than there is to the diverse set of things that are physical illnesses, and it helps us to understand the perhaps-inevitable and distinctive tendency of ‘mental illnesses’ to morph into one another. To understand, that is, how (e.g.) the dynamics of post-traumatic stress and schizoid withdrawal are very similar; to understand how both of these will almost inevitably involve cycles or prolonged episodes of depression and anxiety; and so on.

>>Political, in that the psychic struggles that (I have argued) sit at the heart of ‘the Lord of the Rings’ are importantly mirrored in the somewhat more obvious, surface dilemmas of power that feature in the work. Power renders one safe -- but, paradoxically, it also renders one vulnerable. Because others will want to achieve that safety. Power naturally breeds paranoia, and naturally breeds the corruption that comes of wanting to keep that power to oneself and to pre-empt any possible threat to it. It is little surprise, then, that, as I argued earlier, what happens when one puts on the Ring is an allegory simultaneously of the corrosive effects of power and of the desperate (and counter-productive) search for a safety that one can be certain of that is the mechanism of much ‘mental illness’.


            The issue at the heart of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is then of almost incalculable importance, because it is not only the (vitally humanly important) issue of the nature of madness, the nature of the awe-ful state in which a few of us find ourselves horribly ‘stuck’ and of which a lot of us find ourselves terribly scared, but is also and simultaneously the issue of the nexus of power, paranoia and terror which structures much of our contemporary political ‘choices’. The nearest equivalent in our world to Sauron and his minions is George Bush’s America (with Blair serving as Saruman). But the discourse of Bush and Blair themselves would, perhaps-laughably but in deadly earnest, far easier see figures such as Bin Laden or Saddam as close to Sauron than they themselves. This is the way in which paranoid thinking operates: it divides in Manichean fashion, and it sees a minute threat as vast, the more it retreats from dealing with others as an equal would. The more powerful the U.S. becomes, and the more it retreats from the world, the more terrified it is of any threat. Thus in Reagan’s dismal 1980s America, for instance, Nicaragua seemed like a dagger pointing at the heart of Texas...

            We must try to understand the Sauron of our contemporary world. We must try to empathize with it. If we do not love it, it will hate and fear more and more until it dominates and destroys the entire world, and then it will only ‘learn’ that its fears have been justified all along.

            And ‘The Lord of the Rings’ can foster such empathetic understanding. Not of course through what is on the surface Tolkien’s pitifully-inadequate resolution of the problem (namely, after the destruction of Sauron, the restoration of ‘the true king’). But through understanding that Sauron’s dilemma is also Gollum’s, and Boromir’s, and Frodo’s. We have failed in the imaginative task that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ sets us, then, if we fail to feel love for Gollum, and Boromir. (Much as Frodo’s quest almost fails -- Gollum almost becomes a temporary lord of the rings -- because of Sam’s and Faramir’s failures to entertain the possibility of love for Gollum, their failures to identify with him enough.)

            We should understand that Sauron is actually an alienated part of ourselves. He is the monster that we ourselves create, and turn over-and-against ourselves. He is Stalin, he is Saddam, he is Bin Laden, too, insofar as each of these was a reactive product of the fears and injustices of ‘the West’. He is our dreadful leaders in the contemporary West, who are the leaders we collectively deserve until we heal ourselves and can bear truly to look at ourselves.

            The clash of civilizations thesis is of course a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy, an inversion of cause and effect. The clash of fundamentalisms -- both sides fighting for "good" and against "evil" -- is by contrast alarmingly close to the truth. The fundamentalist’s credo is pathological, as is the (schizoid or schizophreniform) oscillation between feeling as if one is fighting for Good against Evil and the suspicion that this is only a pathology, but one that one is stuck in. But this deeply-unpleasant attention-grabbing dilemma of the schizoid is arguably closer to sanity than is a seemingly-total quasi-psychotic immersion in the mythic battle of Good and Evil. The schizoid is trying to figure out the strange character of his ‘world’; the fundamentalist has in effect passed through (our fantasy of) a psychotic break, and lacks doubt about the world. The ‘madman’ who worries about being mad is at least closer to giving up the feeling of stuckness than the madman -- the soldier or leader -- whose mind is never crossed by such doubts, whose delusional system seems complete. The ‘madman’ is closer to seeing: that you are fighting nothing (or, at worst, Nothing). That we’re all on the same side. This is the cure: not to fight but to lay to rest the Othering and the desperation for safety that caused one to start fighting in the first place (as with the primal scene of Smeagol and Deagol).

            The way ‘Lord of the Rings’ (especially the film trilogy) is usually seen, then, as a titanic military struggle between Good and Evil, is, on my reading, the very pathology it is trying to cure. One must not allow the swash and buckle to obscure from one’s view that it is essential not to take up and use the enemy’s weapon(s). The genius of those who saw what must be done with the Ring, including even men like Aragorn and Faramir who overcame themselves in order to see it, is the indirect route to peace. One must not try to gain peace (for that is the same logic as putting on the Ring); one must simply let go the weapons of war, completely. Frodo’s quest was an astounding one, never dreamt of by Sauron: to take the Ring -- to take (the fantasy of) non-co-operative and violent power as a solution to anything -- back to its starting point, and lay it definitively to rest. To dissolve it away. Then Sauron ceases to exist. This should be thought of not as killing him, but as dissolving him. As laying to rest a fantasy that we have set up over-and-against ourselves, a fantasy that is lived so long as one does not have the bravery to set it aside. Not to oppose it head-on -- that would be in the end quite hopeless, as Gandalf most clearly realizes. (The final, awful, hopelessly doom-laden titanic battle willingly undertaken against the forces of Mordor [58] is of course only a distraction to enable Frodo to achieve his quest. It will be hard enough for him to achieve it even without Sauron’s gaze upon him. They go to battle, this time, to lose, but, through distracting the enemy’s gaze, to win. To win, you must lose.[59] This might be best thought of as a metaphor for the Alexander technique, or for meditative practices that involve giving up the fantasy of self.) The answer is to dissolve the enemy’s weapon, by dissolving in the psychic fire that birthed it the fantasy of achieving safety through withdrawal from the shared common world and/or through coercive power against others in that world.

            The greatest task laid upon us by ‘The Lord of the Rings’, therefore, is not the pathetic, pointless and indeed hopeless effort (represented by Aragorn’s coronation) to achieve a benevolent despotism, an effort that will surely only lead to sequels eery bit as bloody as the War of the Ring. Much as Polanski’s deep and dark ‘MacBeth’ ends with a returning Donalbain hearing the witches’ siren call, and we know that the whole cycle of ambition and violence will recur, so the restoration of ‘the true’ or ‘good’ king in ‘Lord of the Rings’ has not solved the problem. It has not even much mitigated it. Frodo’s great effort, his supreme non-violent struggle to dissolve the violent power of craving for power, in which he succeeds (albeit in the end by accident; the Ring is too much for him, but fortune in the shape of Gollum’s craving for it leads to its plunge to destruction in Mount Doom), may have been in vain. Just as Donalbain the younger brother is liable to try to seize the throne in the future, according to Polanski’s MacBeth, so perhaps Faramir (Boromir’s younger brother, and the heir to the stewards of Gondor) might one day try to seize it from Aragorn. If and as Aragorn threatens perhaps to become a new Sauron, a new tyrant.[60] So long as the throne exists, and as long as violence is king, then the Ring in practice still exists.[61]

            No; the great task laid upon us by ‘Lord of the Rings’, a task Tolkien himself seemingly failed to understand, is rather the effort, through the non-violent consciousness of Frodo, through the ecological consciousness of Treebeard, and through the empathetic social consciousness partially-realized in Frodo and Bilbo and Gandalf and Aragorn -- and fully-realizable in Tolkien’s audience, in you and I -- to lay aside or at least to come to terms with and not be dominated by all that is represented in the Rings of Power. All that is felt by every king (‘true’ or otherwise), and lived out horribly by most madmen.


            If there are echoes here of the psychology and of the non-violent ethics of Buddhism, that is little accident. For the task that will take centuries, at least, and that will require that one day all the swords that we see wielded by the ostensible heroes of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ be turned into ploughshares, is a task that will most naturally come to seem pressing and possible in a world which has overcome the madness of (belief in or fear of) God and Lord/King alike. ‘Lord of the Rings’ then suggests a future path beyond that linked pair of illusions.

            In sum, it is then a spiritual work without being a religious (a supernatural) one. It seeks -- it offers -- philosophical, spiritual and (dare I say it) practical remedies to philosophical, psychological and political maladies.

            It takes the Hobbesian problematic in political philosophy -- the problem of mutual mistrust and mutual contract --, it shows the disastrous consequences of an attempted Hobbesian solutions -- a collapse of trust, paranoia, the possibility of a brutal war of all against all salved only by a brutal sovereign -- and it suggests a distinctly un-Hobbesian solution: unconditioned love, democratic and unconditioned mutuality, never to give up on anyone. And implicit in this is a key lesson of what I have called this allegory of madness: that there is no madness. That the only madness is to believe, as we are endlessly tempted and encouraged to do, that there is madness. That the only evil is to believe that there is Evil.[62] To believe that there are people -- mad people, or Evil people -- who must be wholly given up on. To believe that there are people who are not human beings.


            Finally, I must deal with one especially pressing objection. It will be claimed against my reading that I can hardly hope to find the emancipatory and loving message I see in and beyond ‘Lord of the Rings’, given that this is a racist text. How can it yield a post-Christian, quasi-Buddhist call never to give up on humanity, and indeed to overcome the myths of theism and even of monarchy and the like, if it is half-founded on a xenophobic hatred of the darker-skinned races, of the Eastern races, etc.?

            I have already hinted broadly at my answer. Yes, Tolkien’s text is unfortunately an allegory troublingly tinged, at times, with racism/speciesism, and yes, Jackson’s films fail to seize the opportunity to overcome this unfortunate legacy (Some tribes of the elves, for instance, could have been black, which might well have done the trick); but the counter-argument, the defence which my interpretation makes available, uniquely, against the charge of racism is this: Sauron and all his minions -- the Black Riders, the orcs,[63] and so on -- do not really exist. They exist only in Frodo’s mind, or in your mind and mine. This is what the insides of our minds sometimes look like (especially in the West): mostly inadvertently, we populate them with what are to us horrifying monsters.[64] With our own alienated selves, with fantasized unreachable others who must be given up on (which is what we fear that we ourselves are, or could become).

            The Ring-wraiths are neither alive nor dead; they are impossible phantoms. They are our nightmare, nothing more (and nothing less). Even the great armies of Saruman and Sauron are really just devices of dread.[65] None are totally lost; those that are, such as the wraiths, do not exist. When one retreats into one’s mind from a hostile world, one is still -- in fact, far more -- vulnerable to the awful vicissitudes of the non-existent: of ghosts, demons, wraiths. What you see powerfully reflected, when you come to understand your mind better -- and I am suggesting, following (or, if you prefer, anticipating!) Laing and other astute psychological commentators on this, that it is this self-knowledge that ‘Lord of the Rings’ gradually generates -- is your own alienated craving and destructiveness.

            Thus one need find no racism or speciesism in ‘Lord of the Rings’; rather, see the encounter with it as a meditative experience where you allow these wraiths and phantoms and ‘dark’ lords and goblins to come to you, and to pass away. (This is a positive -- therapeutic [66] -- alternative then to being caught up in these objects of fear -- that way, madness lies?...)  One doesn’t give up on any human, one doesn’t lose faith; and all that is given up on then are phantoms, fantasies.

            Nevertheless, one might venture here a step beyond Frodo and Gandalf, even. For, as suggested earlier, can’t we try to redeem even Sauron, too? Sure, Sauron can be let go of, as one let’s go of a fantasy; but what is psychically real is still in a way quite real. In all seriousness, Sauron just wants security, too;[67] like Bush or Bin Laden, he has his needs, and sadly they just haven’t yet been well met. Gandalf and Frodo let themselves empathize with Gollum; might we not empathize with Sauron, and his painfully restless wraiths, and the Uruk-hai born in pain, and in fact all his poor unhappy unloved creatures, too? [68] 

            In all seriousness then, the remaining task that none of the protagonists in ‘Lord of the Rings’ engages with is (then) surely this: to learn to love one’s inner Sauron, as a grandmother loves the children she watches over. And, further, to learn to listen to and not respond with violence to the inner Saurons of others. It might not be enough to dissolve the Ring to nothing. It’s only a piece of metal. If one does not embrace and thereby perhaps eventually dissolve to nothing the part of oneself that the Ring appeals to, then one will not surely have completed the quest. One needs to give up of one’s own accord the tendency to magical thinking that is represented by this bit of metal, the tendency to think that one can achieve something marvellous through paranoia and the like. One needs to smile at it, and let it dissolve into nothingness in the beautiful fires of oneself (and molten lava is so beautiful).

            The quest is for a wholeness -- a wholeness in and of oneself, and the wholeness (or oneness) in and with society that is its necessary flipside -- that is not dependent on the pathological wholeness of one who is not whole without the Ring.[69] And so long as the Ring exists -- and it’s existence, I am now suggesting, could hardly depend on the existence of one particular bit of metal --  any being that comes near it is not quite whole without it.

            We can now state my non-standard reading of ‘Lord of the Rings’ even more strongly than we stated it at the outset, when we considered the corrupting effects of power: it is not power that corrupts, but the desire for its achievement or continuance ... or, more precisely, the unstable nature of its always fantasized achievement. This is how psychopathology and politics are never more than a hair’s breadth from each other: the truth of the wish for conventional political power [70] -- the power in effect of kingship, of lord-ship -- is expressed vividly and clearly in the withdrawal and drive toward quasi-solipsism of most ‘mental illness’. Here is how Al Gore has put it recently, in one of his powerful denunciations of George Bush et al: "Dominance [the stated aim of U.S. neo-con foreign policy] is not really a strategic policy or political philosophy at all. It is a seductive illusion that tempts the powerful to satiate their hunger for more power still by striking a Faustian bargain. And as always happens -- sooner or later -- to those who shake hands with the devil, they find out too late that what they have given up in the bargain is their soul." [71] Sending your minions out to conquer the world is a kind of paranoid withdrawal. The drive toward total power, toward a fantasized complete overcoming -- a full spectrum dominance -- of the slaves who threaten one, is an all-too-human denial of contingency, vulnerability, intersubjectivity. It is a denial of the need to trust, and the willingness to expose oneself to what Tolkien calls "the world of men". It is soulless. It is insane.

            One should understand then that Sauron and The Nine wanted the Ring for the very same reason that Frodo and Gollum and Denethor and Boromir and even Faramir and Gandalf and Galadriel and Aragorn wanted it, for themselves

-- it is only human, to want, impossibly, such safety as it would seem to deliver.[72] If my reading is right, ‘Lord of the Rings’ might at last be absolved of the criticism of subtly or unsubtly fomenting racist hatred, through the defence that the objects of the hatred are merely psychical.

             And of course, it is in the end of virtually no significance whether my interpretation of the text is right. What matters is not what I say about the art that Tolkien or Jackson made; what perhaps matters is my analysis of politics and psychopathology, my philosophical and ethical claims. What finally matters, perhaps, is that -- to complete the cycle of overcoming hatred and violence -- one must embrace the part of oneself that hates, and lusts for power, and that one hates. We are one. Individually, and collectively. If one -- if we -- can thus become who one is -- who we are -- whole, then there is a chance for realizing the wholeness of all beings that perhaps lies at the base of the ecological vision of Tolkien, as of the Buddha. We are one.

 You and me and all of us, precious.[73]













[1] Needless to say, I am not making the claim that ‘Lord of the Rings’ is simply the greatest epic. Indeed, it has some evident inferiorities even to previous ring-epics, such as Wagner’s, and the folk-tales upon which his (and of course Tolkien’s) stories were based. I am only wondering whether the vast popularity of ‘Lord of the Rings’ today can be explained as other than it being a particularly good swashbuckling battle-adventure yarn in a (technically -marvellous) depiction of an alternative world. I think it can.

In a fuller presentation, I should wish to discuss these earlier epics, and indeed the reading of them (and the presentation of the ‘will to power’) in Nietzsche’s works, especially in Zarathustra and in his works on Wagner.

[2] There are frequent small but important differences of nuance and of detail between Tolkien’s epic and Jackson’s. Where they differ, I almost invariably stay closer to Jackson’s version. It more consistently yields I think the profound explorations and truths with which this essay is concerned. For all its swash and buckle, the Jackson trilogy usually enforces on us more of the troubling psychological journey which is to me the nub of Lord of the Rings. Indeed, one might venture that it is the overcoming of the swash and buckle, of the impulse to read the fighting literally, that is one of the film’s deepest messages. One learns most deeply from Lord of the Rings if one is successfully taken in for a while at least by its seeming-message of ‘emancipation through violent vanquishing of Evil’. As in Wittgenstein’s work: if one was never inclined to judge a nonsense, then one would miss out on the learning -- the know-how -- that comes with coming to (and learning how to) overcome that inclination.

[3] To use the wonderful term coined by Louis Sass in his book of the same name.

[4] As we shall see, the truth comes to be less that one possesses such power (‘the Ring) as that one is possessed by it. And here it is of no small interest to my argument that one is said to be (e.g.) “a man possessed”, if one is ‘mad’.

[5] The refuge is temporary only. Is this because any search for a permanent or at least indefinitely temporally infallible state or place of refuge is self-defeating, for reasons long understood by meditators and mystics? I submit that The Lord of the Rings is onto this deep spiritual truth, and tends indeed to extend one’s understanding of it: One must not go to meditation to escape, or for safety. If one does, one’s fears may be effectively repressed, but will then return, worse than before. One must instead use a method of bare attention, or some similar method. One must be ready and willing to sit with all that (one) is. True meditation is not a refuge; it is in fact a particular and indeed intense kind of attention to the world, (and) to ‘oneself’. One must not enter into meditation with the aim of achieving some inner peace, for instance  (If one does, one must then treat that aim as a topic, not as a resource

-- one must meditate on it, gently smiling at the reason why one is inclined to meditate, rather than (say) pursuing a programme of meditation governed by this reason). Such an aim is self-defeating. Rather, one must ‘aim’ to be the peace that one is tempted to aim for. True inner peace is to realize that one is never lost, and that there is no refuge, no attainment, no absence of peace, and no peace of the type that one was aiming for. Hope is far inferior to such faith.

These remarks are profoundly influenced, I hope, by the work of Shunryu Suzuki.

[6] I refer here to ‘The Divided Self’, not to Laing’s more ‘constructivist’, more anti-psychiatric, and generally less-sophisticated later works. Those later works are I think right that the person in psychosis can and should never be given up on; but they over-simplify and sometimes falsify the origin and nature of the corrosive self-defeating mechanisms that foster and maintain the psychosis in the first place.

[7] See again Sass’s brilliant discussions of solipsism, Schreber and schizophrenia, as diagnosed by Wittgensteinian philosophy.

[8] I am thinking here of Heidegger, and more particularly of those (such as Blankenburg and Sass) who have applied Heidegger most powerfully to the examination of psychopathology. I am also thinking of my own efforts to challenge this use of Heidegger, by means of exploring and challenging the metaphors of ‘different world’, ‘alien mode of being-in-the-world’, etc. -- see my “On interpreting schizophrenia via Wittgenstein” (Philosophical Psychology 2001); and “Incommensurability 2: World Changes” (especially the discussion of Kuhn’s doctrine of ‘one-and-a half’ worlds, on p.179), in my Kuhn (Polity, 2002, jt. with Wes Sharrock). Such a challenge implicitly informs my argument that the ‘world’ one then finds is only ever so in scare-quotes, below.

[9] ref. Culture and Value.

[10] ref. Madness and Modernism.

[11] The first monstrous words that Frodo loudly yet quite vaguely hears from Sauron, while wearing the Ring, are, “You cannot hide. I see you. There is no hiding from me, in the void. Death.

[12] Here as in a number of points elsewhere, I am implicitly suggesting that Sass’s analysis makes good sense of -- diagnoses -- the character of Cartesian doubt, and that ‘Lord of the Rings’ is legible as presenting us with the nightmare consequences of Cartesianism: namely, entertaining a being with incarnatedly-demonic powers and with something like the temperament of the Old Testament God on a very bad day . This is Cartesianism as logically resulting in ‘Panopticism’, to use Louis Sass’s resonant Foucaultian turn-of-phrase, from Chapter 9 of his Madness and Modernism. (One might follow the Foucault parallel here further; Foucault’s Surveiller et punir, a book which is perhaps more relevant than ever in this age where governments really do dream of total surveillance to prevent non-state terrorism etc., is crucially an argument that a perfectly-effective criminal justice system would not be a utopia but an utter dystopia. Foucault seeks to show the dystopian effects for instance of Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’ conception of the prison. The quest to achieve perfect justice and no crime would result in one vast prison, or (alternatively put) an imprisoned society. Similarly, use of the Ring (were it possible to use it) to impose a just order on the world via absolute power would founder completely, and result in the opposite of what one had set out to achieve. In Lord of the Rings, understanding this is very difficult for ‘the race of men.’)

[13] To avoid a misunderstanding: I am not simply urging that one should always stay in the consensual world. No; sometimes withdrawal, meditation, questing are a necessary PART of ordinary life. Indeed, the point of this paper is to unveil clearly an aspect of ‘Lord of the Rings’ indicating that the viewer’s experience of it is itself more like a meditation or at least a comtemplative quest than it perhaps was before, and I think this a good thing. Sometimes it is necessary to touch and face violence, whether real or ‘merely’ in the mind. Frodo in his nonviolence must nevertheless touch the violence that surrounds him. (See also n.   ;, below)

[14] Somewhat similarly: we naturally empathize with Leonard Shelby in the fine recent philosophical thriller, Memento. It comes as a genuinely shocking aspect-shift when we find at the ‘end’ of the film that even he is very far frombeing a ‘goodie’. Furthermore, the philosophical pay-off of Memento comes in large part from working back and forth between Shelby and ourselves to see how he is both more different from us and more similar to us than we had thought possible. As with Frodo (and Gollum, and Sauron, ...etc.)

For more on this, see my forthcoming paper written jointly with Phil Hutchinson on Memento.

[15] Now, it is true that the Ring-wraiths partly share Frodo’s ‘world’, and thus could be argued to be part of an inter-subjective setting (only one closed to the other hobbits). The wraiths, these former kings, are, arguably, nothing more than craving (for the Ring) -- on this, compare notes 18 & 54, below. But surely only Frodo is immersed in the necessarily solipstic ‘place’ that I have termed, in a deliberately-paradoxical turn of phrase, ‘Ring-world’. Only he has the Ring -- on --, and the point I am making is that the putting on of the greatest Ring of Power draws dread demons to one more than it empowers one against them. I am among other things suggesting that the demons who inter-subjectively inhabit ‘Ring-world’ with one are one’s own creations.

[16] I am drawing here on the thinking about film (on the thinking about the thinking that is (good) film) of James Conant. These thoughts cut against both Cognitivist film theory (which would probably explain what is going on here through ‘cognitive science’; that is, through speculative material concerning visual perception mechanisms and internal-narrative-script-creation and -comprehension) and ‘traditional’ [Continentally-oriented psychoanalytic] film theory (which would probably try to explain the duping of the audience here through alleged visual illusions and mental delusions that were conditioned by alleged widespread complexes and cathexes). One aspect of my account which I like to think sets it apart from and beyond these elitist and theoreticist rivals is that mine seeks to draw on (rather than simply to cite as examples) the thinking done by specific films themselves. In other words, my philosophy of film is partly drawn fromThe Lord of the Rings’ (and from other -- in some cases, still better -- films such as those that Stanley Cavell spends most time with), and not merely applied to it.

[17] And here we find a nice irony. Our spectatorship perhaps demands great and greater overwhelm, worse and worst odds, as the films go on. Is the audience to Lord of the Rings caught up deliberately by the films into an addictive spiral of power (and pleasure) which mirrors the very dynamic that I am urging the films expose? I suspect that it is, rather as Natural Born Killers is caught up in the very spectacle of violence-voyeurism that it satirically (and brilliantly) denounces. Perhaps this is in part because Lord of the Rings, after Tolkien, is itself split between its heroes, between Frodo’s non-violent dissolution of power and Aragorn’s violent possession of it.

But see the discussion of how we should construe Sauron’s (and Saruman’s) forces and their very existence, below.

[18] In this metaphor, I take it, the Ring itself and the Eye, whose pupil is formed by the fire around it, come together.

[19] In Aragorn’s words to Frodo: “They are neither living nor dead.” (We will return to this point). “They will never stop hunting you”.

[20] Here is one obvious point at which to bring in Buddhism to dissolve the problematics of ‘Lord of the Rings’. One might start by comparing the Nazgul to Buddhism’s ‘hungry ghosts’.

[21] And of course, we start to see now how potent the Ring is as a symbol for madness. For when one is alienated from oneself, one precisely thinks that it is something else that is doing this to one. One thinks that ‘the Ring’ or ‘Sauron’ or ‘God’ or ‘the CIA’ is to blame. The Ring of Power is so powerful a symbol for madness just because it is apparently not a part of oneself. On this, see the discussion of addiction, below.

[22] This is not quite true; there is one that we do see -- the Ring’s elixir-likepower to prolong life. This perhaps-Dorian-Gray-ish power is notably of a piece with the way in which the Ring gives one dominion in a (private) ‘world’. The Ring tantalisingly offers one a kind of seeming-immortality. In the persons of the Ring-wraiths, of course, we see what such ‘immortality’ likely actually means.

In other words: the power of the Ring to prolong life is not in teh end a positive power at all. It is a disastrous temptation, a gradually-loooming loss of self, a road to wraithdom.

[23] And eventually like Frodo.

[24] Levi, 1989 [?  ], 63-4. An analogy would be: ‘Lord of the Rings’ should be written by Gollum (or even by one of the Ring-wraiths?), not Frodo. Only, that might beg the question over whether even Gollum has touched bottom.

[25] 1979, [publisher?]155-6.

[26] It is very worth noting that the point here is internally related to the point discussed earlier about the deep unsatisfactoriness of films etc. that in a knowing way explore (or rather exploit) madness from the outside, and on films etc. necessarily not seeming to be (only or even primarily) about madness, if they are to count as successful explorations of madness from the inside. The difficulty then, a difficulty wrestled with increasingly in Levi’s work, and explored a little less satisfactorily in Agamben’s, is how one can come up with a criterion for what counts as an effective and accurate account of or depiction of the extreme experience of the camps -- or of madness -- without falsifying it. For it seems that an account of such existential conditions from the inside is in principle impossible. An accurate account must be from rock-bottom. If there can be any account at all from such a place -- which may seem unlikely, if madnes is the absence of a work, if being a musselmann means precisely not being able to give an account --, then at the least such an account will not seem to us to be an account of what we take the condition to be at all. An accurate depiction of madness will thus at best not seem to be about madness at all -- and thus its accuracy is hard to judge (for there are many many films that do not seem to be about madness at all!). An accurate depiction of the the musselmann will not seem to be about the musselmann at all -- the same difficulty follows. It seems then that at best we cannot identify a true witness to these things.

I explore and aim to resolve this serious difficulty, so far as madness is concerned, in my papers critiquing Louis Sass, in Philosophical Psychology 2001 and in Philosophy, Psychology, Psychiatry 2003. The line of thought I am tentatively pursuing in the present essay, broadly consonant with the line I took in those, places me in a critical relation even to Levi. I am committed to arguing, absurd as it may sound, that there is/was no musselmann, no moral nihilist, no human reduced successfully to something decisively sub-human. The figures of the madman, the psychopath, the pure addict, the musselmann, terrify us. But the terror is in the end of our own making. It makes no sense to think of humans as bare biological life with a rational/mental overlay, which can be stripped away to leave the biological animal substrate bare once more. Such a splitting of mind and body, of rational and animal, is a crucial part of the very pathologies and disasters which it claims to diagnose.

(The risk of my line of thought, of course, is that it is in effect a resilencing of ‘the madmen’, or of ‘the musselmann’. As Shoshana Felman puts it, in discussing the great debate between Foucault and Derrida over whether Descartes got the nature of madness right or not, the problem for intellectuals trying to give an account of madness is, “how to avoid repeating, in [one’s own] account, the very gesture of excluding madness which is constitutive of history as such.In other words, the historian’s problem is that of finding a language.” (“Madness and Philosophy”, Yale French Studies 52 (1975), 206-228). I hope the long, strong and sympathetic voice(s) actually provided by my essay speaks against the worry that this risk has too much been fallen into in my writing. I hope to have found a bit of a language for madness, in Middle Earth.)

[27] And Gollum (as perceived by those who do not know him) is the image of desperate total craving. The image, though not the reality -- the reality of Gollum is also the development of trust and community; this is the key plotline of ‘The Two Towers’. Including the community that comes from acknowledgement of shared plight. The plight of all Dasein that is vulnerable to the attractions of the Ring. (There but for the gaze of Sauron go I. Or as Gollum puts it, “Master [Frodo] cares [for Gollum]. Master knows [what it is like to suffer from the Ring].” “Once it takes hold of us, it never lets go.”  “So bright, so beautiful, our precious.”)

[28] And many more die when, on Wormtongue’s intelligence, the Uruks place explosives in the drain below Helm’s Deep, thus destroying one of its defensive walls. Is the point in part that Wormtongue is challenging and piercing Theoden’s withdrawal strategies, and thus (inadvertently) facilitating Theoden’s final wild and successful world-involving strategem, of going out to meet his deepest fears -- to meet what promises to be death -- head on, and vanquishing them, with the aid of suddenly-arrived previously-alienated kinsmen?

[29] Henceforth, I will include hobbits under the heading of ‘humans’.

[30] It is notable that much the same happened to Aragorn, on the way to Helm’s Deep.

[31] In fact again and again in Lord of the Rings, the suggestion is that any effective refuge through withdrawal, refuge of the kind most strikingly sought by Frodo, by Theoden, and by Denethor, can be at best temporary. The physical structure of Minas Tirith largely echoes that of Helm’s Deep, and, in Return of the King,  the effect of Denethor’s paranoid and immunizing-himself-against-disappointment-through-assuming-and-bringing-abut-the-worst retreat within it (and within himself) to a tomb of self-imposed death and denial is punctured only by the sending for riders (riders who have ridden out from Helm’s Deep, and out now, indeed, from Rohan) that Gandalf has managed to engineer, meantime.

[32] All Saruman’s grandiosity and megalomania before Wormtongue, and on the balcony then before his heaving army, is turned to dust. We see him running to and fro, pointlessly, in his refuge which is now a prison. He has become a prisoner in the tower that seemed to be the icon of his power.

[33] My presentation hereabouts is influenced by Tzetvan Todorov’s magnificant book, Facing the extreme: Moral life in the camps.

[34]  A threat suspected vividly by Faramir, whose level of trust in his relations with Frodo and Sam runs roughly inversely to Gollum’s. The question of trust, of acknowledgement, of shared plight and community, runs throughout ‘The two towers’, then; for of course, as argued above, the questions facing Treebeard, Merry and Pippin, and facing Theoden, Gandalf, Aragorn and the elves, are no different. This translates in the face of battle into the issue of one’s worthiness to be besides one’s forefathers, as Theoden puts it while dying on the field below Minas Tirith. When feeling the fear of proving -- of being -- inadequate, as Frodo and Aragorn and Theoden and all at Helm’s Deep do, over and over, the experience of dread is obviously pertinent: again, that is what those tremendous images of the vast enemy armies before Helm’s Deep and before Minas Tirith mean to us. Whereas Theoden, in dying, will not feel ashamed because, despite this dread, he chose to ride into battle, voluntarily, this time.  He chose to ride out -- not to withdraw. (Whereas the orcs lose their fight against the Rohirrim, because they fear, quake, take a step back, rather than leaning forward...)

[35] An important point implicit here is that theologically-standard ‘faith’ is therefore arguably unfortunately faithless. A true faith does not involve the fear of God. For God could not be something that one should so fear, and faith should trump any fear that bubbled up.

There could be a spiritual critique here of the whole of supernaturalistic theism. See later for more on this.

[36] Faramir thus overcomes rather better than Boromir did the vast temptation he feels to fall for the Ring. Appearances notwithstanding, Faramir is stronger of character than Boromir. Boromir is more like Denethor, wanting power without having to earn it; doesn’t Denethor in fact deliberately choose the son to represent him at the Council of Elrond who he believes more likely to fall for the Ring?

[37] For this enemy seems as concrete as can be. It is even a man, not an orc or some other monster. We might say that Faramir’s deconstruction of “the enemy” is, after Wittgenstein, a grammatical remark.

[38] If God had not been invented, it would have been necessary to have invented Him. God -- as the desperate desire for a guarantor of safety, of goodness, and/or as the terrifying apotheosis of vengeance -- is a psychologically entirely-unsurprising invention. It is only a bit surprising that the uselessness, absent a God-transcending faith, of a benevolent God has  not been more widely understood. If I have no guarantee that I will stay in Heaven, then it can so easily BE Hell. The wish for a guarantee that things will be fine, again, is self-defeating.

[39] Who are simultaneously mere echoes of and essences of men.

[40] Gollum’s mutual connection with Frodo in ‘The Two Towers’ as I presented it above could be profitably read through Hegel’s famous account of the ‘master-slave dialectic’.

[41] And through the non-linguistic consequences of that language. Take the wonderful scene earlier in ‘The two towers’ where Gollum (through a dialogue filmed as if between two people) succeeds in banishing (N.B.: not integrating) his ‘bad’ self, his selfishly-protective ego. In a stroke of genius, we see Gollum at the end of this scene looking slightly frantically around to see if ‘bad Gollum’ has really gone, or if he is still present... This is what it is like. As with the Ring; one concretizes the bad part, one alienates it into being; and then one can’t quite believe that things have got better, even when they have.

Or consider the opening of ‘Return of the King’, in which there is a powerful presentation of Gollum as suffering from alienation, (and) from the internalisation of the other’s image of one. As Gollum then puts it, in beauitful unconscious paradox: “We wept, to be so alone.” Knowing that one is one, one nevertheless exists as two.

[42] As suggested above; the Ring is part of Sauron; it becomes part of Frodo; it is brought into existence by being thought of as someting which is not in one’s power, and which indeed can come to have power over one (like Sauron). It thus has a necessarily paradoxical nature: it is both part of one and alienated from one. It must have this impossible dual nature, in order to be what it is.

Gollum, in Gandalf’s words, hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself.

[43] As of course can Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Incidentally, this is one respect in which Philip Pullman’s masterly epic death-of-God satire on monotheistic religion, ‘His Dark Materials’, is surely a reworking of Tolkien. Another, I submit, is the recently-mentioned lack of separateness between Ring and bearer or would-be bearer; Pullman’s ‘daemons’ are arguably benign re-renderings of Tolkien’s rings of power. (Compare the note above.)  The Ring is not separate from the bearer or the desirer of it. (A fuller examination of this would connect this with the nonpathological ‘interbeing’ of all humans and indeed of all creatures, as taught in Buddhism, in Co-Counselling, and so on. See the close of this essay for more on this.)

[44] Recall, this is just after Frodo’s desperately sad and empty paranoid-psychotic speech to Sam on the slopes of Mount Doom: "I can’t remember the taste of fruit, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. Naked and dark. There’s nothing. No veil between me and the wheel of fire.  I can see Him...with my waking eyes!" The nightmare is present in the daytime. This is a powerful expression of the typical, ‘rational’ hovering between fear of psychosis and psychosis itself.

[45] Did he perhaps feel broken by his taking the Ring for himself, within Mount Doom? As Levi felt broken, on comparing himself utterly unfavourably with the ‘last one’ of the Auschwitz rebels.

[46] ‘Darkness’ is only temporary, says Sam. We are holding onto there being some good in the world. But it is so hard to know this, once one has doubted it. Thus the delicate balancing act of holding on (but not to tightly) to the good, to community, etc., and letting go, that is, arguably, psychological health. The very fine balance of the sanity of each and every one of us, the utterly delicate ‘instrumentation’ of our minds.

[47] Compare my remarks on addiction in the films, below. Becoming a new lord of the rings can so easily seem as harmless as transcending one’s addiction -- through taking a hit of nicotine, or of heroin -- can seem, to the self-deceived (and in fact desperate) addict. On this, see also Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, whose epigraph, deeply-relevant to the present paper (for instance, to my points about how a deep film about madness has to not seem to be too much about madness), is this, from Kierkegaard; “The exact character of despair is this: That it is does not know that it is despair”.

[48] Here is a key parallel between the two otherwise very different top-heroes of ‘Lord of the Rings’, Frodo and Aragorn: they both trace their possible fate(s) back to Isildur. Aragorn, like Frodo, has a ‘power’ -- a role -- thrust upon him. And they share the same fear of weakness: They share the same dangerously self-fulfilling fear that they are not up to the task that has been given to them. Aragorn knows he is Isildur’s heir. And Frodo eventually fails at the very same spot -- deep inside Mount Doom -- where Isildur failed, millenia before.

In Aragorn’s case (and we shall return to this point), what is thrust upon him is the power of a king -- the paranoid power/non-power of coercive and hierarchical power. But this gives Aragorn in ‘The Return of the King’ a great weapon (the sword of Isildur’s that once was broken); and again, a weapon which (rather like Gandalf’s staff and ring) has magical effects, through mastering a devastating ghost-army, which in fact far exceed any ‘positive’ powers we actually see wielded by or through the One Ring.

[49] One might compare here the closing segment of Peter Greenaway’s ‘Prospero’s Books’, where the actors/characters can finally speak. Is this recovery/emergence from a semi-psychotic/solipsistic/schizy state which Prospero has been in? That is the natural reading of the film. But another reading is possible, against the grain; in this darker reading, the coming alive of these others is in fact the descent (or rather, our fantasy of descent) into full-scale and ‘irrecoverable’ psychosis. Prospero has tamed those he imagines want to overthrow him, but has simultaneously allowed these figments of his imagination to come alive and to populate the world, quite independently of -- alienated from -- himself.   To give the Ring to Sauron’s agents would be the same, only of course much worse; it would be increasing incalulably the malign powers of the dominant alienated part of oneself that one had set over and against oneself.

This brings out a point implicit in much of this essay: that we have a fantasy of madness. We fantasize that it involves becoming lost in psychosis, in an alternative identity or mode of being, etc. . Whereas actually, being very close to that fantasy is part of the tormenting questionning that is crucially present to much psychopathology: wondering if one ‘is’ mad, trying to make sense of one’s world; hovering or oscillating untenably between various possibilities, both living and not living a system of delusions, etc. . Only if one was irretrievably stuck in lostness -- and that, I submit, is not what human being is like -- would one be ‘mad’ in the way that the conventional image of madness would have it that people are.

In my earlier work on Louis Sass [ op.cit.], I believe that I over-stated the possibility of such lostness, and thus of a kind of unbridgeable gulf between sanity and serious psychotic cases. (See also note 54, below.)

[50] The scare-quotes mark that Frodo’s psychological quest continues upon his return to the Shire. The difficulty in recovering from psychotic states, again, is simply that it seems that one’s quest can never be truly over, or at least (and this comes to the same thing) that one can never be confident enough that it is, relative to the awfulness of the possibility that it isn’t. Thus Frodo cannot return to his old life.

[51] Pascal’s thinking in ‘‘The Wager’’ is, technically, quite compatible with faithlessness as defined in note 34, above -- or indeed with schizy belief in a malign demon -- as with a truer faith; in citing Pascal positively here, I am perhaps implicitly thinking more of Chomsky’s reading of Pascal -- a de-divinized reading in which the necessity of social hope for good social outcomes is elaborated -- than of Pascal’s original text.

[52] Aragorn to Frodo at Amon Hen, “Frodo, I have sworn to protect you”. Frodo: “But can you protect me from yourself?” And it is important that the hobbits are small, and thus relatively physically powerless. They thus stand for the sense each of us reluctantly has of our tinyness, our contingency

-- our near-helplessness -- in the world, in the universe.

This is what Frodo sees, wearing the Ring, on Amon Hen: “At first he could see little. He seemed to be in a world of mist in which there were only shadows: the Ring was upon him... // But everywhere he saw the signs of war. The Misty Mountains were crawling like anthills; orcs were issuing out of a thousand holes. Under the boughs of Mirkwood there was a deadly strife of Elves and Men and fell beasts. The land of the Beornings was aflame... // All the power of the Dark Lord was in motion... Mount Doon was burning, and a great reek rising. Then at last his gaze was held: ...Barad-dur, Fortress of Sauron. All hope left him. // And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down...”  (Emphasis added)  What as a small being you find when you touch the horror of the violence of the world, is also a despair, and a terror. If that despair and terror afflicts you enough, what you find rising up in and at you then in a vicious circle is an overwhelming malign force: and that IS the ‘Lord’ of the Rings.

(See also note 13, above.)

[53] It becomes entirely plain in ‘The Return of the King’ that this is the issue for and with Aragorn, an issue that it directly analogous to that which Frodo has faced throughout, and which everyone in the audience with eyes and ears is empathizing with. Aragorn enters through ‘The Gate of the Dead’, he goes inside, he journeys inside to meet his demons, the demons of failed power, the oath-breakers who in the past did not do their duty, did not fight, and if he is not mastered by his fear, if he does not fear it so that it spins out of control, then he can master these ghosts, these demons, and not in spite of but because of the fact that he is Isildur’s heir, he can lead them out, to fight against Sauron’s dread army (and then to their dissolution).

[54] Not of course in the existence of a supernatural person, but IN yourself, and others, and right, and being -- i.e. in God.

[55] This suggests a challenge to ‘Rational Choice Theory’ (and more generally to neo-classical economics), which pretends to analyse situations as they are objectively. If every human situation involves faith in the sense just discussed, then there will in the first instance be no human situations where the laws and maxims of Rational Choice Theory are applicable. Alternatively put: Rational Choice Theory is at best the very disease of which it takes itself to be the cure. It threatens to dissolve our sense of how what situation we are in is always in part a matter of our orientation toward that situation -- our hopes, our degree of faith (in ourselves, in others), etc. . If and when Rational Choice Theory is ever true, that is because people have wittingly or unwittingly renounced their freedom to transcend it; and the more that that freedom is renounced, and the more that people notice others behaving as if it is simply true, then (unfortunately) the more it tends to become -- self-fulifllingly -- true.

[56] And what one can be reduced to, in the nightmare, is being nothing but craving, for safety, for not having to feel (vulnerable) any more. One might compare here Stephen Mulhall’s reading of the ‘aliens’ in the famous film series as our nightmare of Darwinism, of intelligent life that yet is only a perfect device for its own perpetuation. (Closer still, perhaps, is the account of the desperate states of utter ‘animality’ (yielding only to utter lassitude) -- of mere life -- produced for instance in some concentration camps; compare the great analysis of this by Primo Levi (and also perhaps Agamben’s writings on the same), as discussed briefly above. ) The fantasy is that however far you retreat, you could still retreat further. (Thus at Helm’s Deep there is at the end talk even of retreating from the keep, back inside the very mountain.)  And in an way, this is phenomenologically true, as Laing’s early accounts of psychosis testify. But you are becoming thinner, shrouded in darkness. You will cease to be, or you will become mere life, and neither is what you hoped the strategy would achieve!

[57] Thus, as indicated in note 1, above, Tolkien’s creation is in important respects even closer to Plato’s “Ring of Gyges” and to some of Wagner’s Ring cycle than meets the eye. It is about being able to kill the king, and to become the king, both literally and in fantasy, and it is about how literal kingship / lordship is necessarily infected with the psychology of fantasy lordship. It is about wanting to be the lord of the rings, the lord of all, and of how one can seem to be that -- though necessarily not for long, in a private world (and in no other). For such a ‘private world’ is, I have implied, no world at all -- compare the work on this of John McDowell and Charles Travis (and see note 8, above).

[58] And here it is worth repeating -- as a further strand in the defence of my interpretation of The Lord of the Rings as a struggle to overcome the temptation to see life as a struggle between good and evil, with this ‘meta-struggle’ being ultimately a psychological struggle to understand that ‘evil’ is only lack, and to give up the desperate self-defeating longing for safe refuge from evil and power over it -- that serious ‘mental illness’ often feels to the sufferer like a titanic battle between good and evil. Just as Lord of the Rings often feels that way. To return to the criterion I enunciated much earlier: a really good film about madness must be a film that doesn’t seem to be obviously and definitely about madness, even though the threat of madness is somehow subtly yet powerfully present to it. (For even true fear of madness fears most of all that one is actually sane, that this is really happening.)  Whereas a really good film about overcoming the fantasy of evil must be a film that seems to be portray a titanic fight between good and evil. The experiences of dread in the film are temptations to fall into the trap of reifying evil. To feel oneself as engaged in a titanic struggle between good and evil is (at least akin to) psychosis. It is very human, natural, dangerous. One can feel thoroughly lost in this struggle, as one can feel thoroughly lost in psychosis.

I think that Jackson’s trilogy is a really good film(s), for both the above reasons. What the FCO official quoted in my epigraph called ‘Lord of the Rings’’s "jejune" confrontation of good with evil necessitates and mobilizes a personal and political examination of what is at sake in such felt confrontations, in the lived world of the ‘mad’, and in the lived world of political actors. Jackson’s trilogy does not ventriloquize Bush and Blair; it interrogates them.

[59] And this points strongly beyond simplistic versions of the warrior ethic that tend to dominate popular understanding of what ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is about. It is not about fighting and winning and defeating the enemy, not even in the battles.

That my interpretation of the story in terms of development of a soundly non-aggressive yet non-withdrawing cast of mind -- neither fight nor flight, one might say  -- is fruitful and maybe simply correct can I think be seen through the way in which as the story goes on the protagonists learn better and better to ride out to battle when it is needful, and care less and less about conventional victory.

Contrast the withdrawal within Helm’s Deep and the failure to reach out for support beyond Rohan with the wonderful (if desperate) riding out from the keep of Helm’s Deep. And contrast in turn the latter with the freely-chosen decision to go out to support the men of Minas Tirith, on the Pelennor Fields.

Similarly, contrast the unnecessary and useless assault on Osgilliath led by Faramir on Denethor’s insistence (there is not necessarily anything good about ‘riding out’, in the world of ‘Lord of the Rings’) with the freely-chosen, dignified and courageous decision of the warriors to go out and sacrifice themselves, one and all, “for Frodo”, before the Black Gate.

The riding out from the keep at Helm’s Deep and the journey to the Black Gate manifest the kind of character praised by Todorov in those who defended the Warsaw ghetto by attacking the Germans when they tried to liquidate it. By contrast, the pointless assault on Osgiliath insisted upon by Denethor is more like the militarily pointless Warsaw Uprising. One can conduct oneself with dignity even when victory is impossible. In the mythic world of ‘Lord of the Rings’, such dignified conduct is rewarded. Whereas pointless waste is not.

In roughly Todorovian terms: Theoden, Aragorn, the Elves et al are learning the ways of dignity and care and  courage as manifested by ‘heros’, by warriors; Frodo and Sam are learning and manifesting the ways of dignity and care and courage as manifested by ‘ordinary folk’. ‘The ordinary virtues’ in the end trump ‘the heroic virtues’, even for warriors.

[60] If we compare Frodo and Aragorn, paired protagonists in ‘Lord of the Rings’, at the end of the tale, they present a seemingly stark contrast: the one is unable to savour victory, unable to live in the ordinary paradise of the Shire; the other is utterly able to -- but at what future cost? On my reading of ‘Lord of the Rings’, the unsatisfactory political solution will lead to a return of the repressed -- we might say, of the Ring. The psychological will come to haunt the political. Book 4 of Tolkien’s saga might then be “The corruption of the King”, “The madness of King Aragorn”, or even “The return of the Lord [of the Rings]”...

[61] In a fuller examination here, other of Shakespeare’s plays should be included, perhaps particularly The Tempest (see n.47, above), with its deep investigation of the paranoiacs of power and the tenuousness of authority. I hope in future work to explore this aspect of The Tempest, which is in my view read in this way and aligned with the schizoid temperament quite superbly by Peter Greenaway in his film, Prospero’s Books. This future paper will seek to illuminate the ‘solipstic’ character of Prospero as envisaged by Greenaway along the lines intimated in the present paper; I will compare Prospero with Louis Sass’s and (in his My own private Germany) Eric Santner’s interpretations of Schreber, which emphasize (respectively) the psychological and political dimensions of Schreber’s desperate struggle for power over his life and understanding of his condition.

[62] Take the episode of the Haunted Mountain, the Dimholt, in ‘Return of the King’. “That mountain is evil”, say the Rohirrim. Of course, what we learn is that it ain’t necessarily so. The ghosts, the oathbreakers who inhabit it, regain their faith, by fulfilling their oath when Aragorn calls them to. (They, the non-existent, go on to defeat what I have characterised as also non-existent -- the forces of darkness -- at Minas Tirith.)  The Mountain is not evil. Only, its inhabitants are in need of redeeming themselves.

[63] A clear indication of the non-existence of the orcs and of Sauron’s other creatures and vassals, of their character as mere extensions of or toys of Sauron, who in turn is our fantasy, is the way in which they lose all direction, and are mostly swallowed up by the Earth, at the Ring’s dissolution and Sauron’s dissolution. Real creatures would not have reason to stop fighting just because their distant commander was struck down.

[64] To adapt Conrad’s Kurtz, a motto of what ‘Lord of the Rings’ is about might be: “The terror; the terror.” The point is the dread the story generates and reflects, and the working through it.

[65] When for instance the orcs -- extensions of Sauron, who is in turn a projection of Frodo (i.e.of you and me) -- fight the ghost-knights -- who are the demons of / projections of Aragorn --, then we have a battle fought entirely within the mind. Why do the orcs fight, otherwise? Why, indeed, do we sometimes see orcs and (especially) uruks engaged in acts of what are plainly (to the uncaptive eye) heroism? The only other answer can be the pure racist answer: because it is in their blood to fight. My suggestion is that it is not in the blood of any intelligent creature to fight: thus either these creatures do not exist, but are phantoms, fragments of a saner whole; or, if we must think of them as existing, we should aim to understand them. And indeed to help and love them. To see them as not forever lost.

[66] To watch with attention ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a kind of therapy. It is to participate in a humane, non-dogmatic, open-ended, green, philosophical investigation.

[67] A moment in ‘Return of the King’ where we powefully learn this is in the incident of Pippin looking into the Palantir. One looks into the Palantir: at first it is wondrous, but as it starts to seem to one that one is in its power, anxiety is likely to begin, and so then the Eye comes, and one is terrified then of being known in every particle of one’s body-self.

But actually, what you come to learn, in the cold light of day, with the gentle but firm assistance of a Gandalf, is that Sauron, if he exists as other than your fantasy of a judging omniscient figure, is much like you. He has exposed himself in the Palantirian ‘conversation’ as much as he knew you in that interchange. He fears the race of men beomcing stronger again. He fears a real threat to his would-be dictatorship. This is what Pippin et al learnt from what Pippin saw in the Palantir.

[68] My line of thought hereabouts is influenced by Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-violent communication (Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer, 2003 (2nd ed.), a challenge to contemporary ethics that I think twenty-first century philosophy will not be able to avoid.

[69] Again, why after all does Sauron want the Ring? Is it not for the same reason that we all do?

[70] For political power that is not entirely consensual, genuinely democratic, as power sometimes is within Quaker communities, and within ‘affinity groups’.

[71] Speech, May 26, from an email communication.

[72] By the same token, it would be a grave mistake to read this paper as predicated upon an othering of the ‘mentally ill’, the ‘psychotic’. I hope rather to have made perspicuous how the drive towards psychosis is entirely natural under certain ciscumstances, and further, that a human being who felt no temptation to madness would barely be human at all. ‘Mental illness’ is a constitutive or necessary possibilty of and within rationality.

[73] Deep thanks for help with this to Phil Hutchinson. Thanks also to Preston King, Emma Bell, Chris Cowley, Louis Sass, audiences in the Film Seminar, UEA, and the 2004 Public Lectures on Mental Health, UEA, and to my father, Graham Read.