Frodo Shrugged

[cross-posted at facebook]

September 2nd is the day that Atlas Shrugged begins. (We’re shown Eddie Willers seeing the date on a gigantic calendar in the first chapter. Several other important events in the novel happen on that date as well.)

September 22nd is the day that Lord of the Rings “officially” begins. (In fact we’re shown a few scenes from the days of preparation leading up to Bilbo’s birthday party, but it’s become customary to say that LOTR begins on that date.)

LOTR and Atlas are similar in their subversion of expectations. [SPOILER ALERT for both books.] LOTR is about a quest concerning a magical object that brings the wearer great power; but the goal of the quest is not to obtain the object but to destroy it. The climax of Atlas involves the villains torturing their hero; but their goal is not to get him to submit to them, but rather to get him to agree to become their dictator.

In short, both books are about the refusal of power.

Both books also arguably owe a debt to Platos Republic. In both LOTR and the Republic, a ring that grants its wearer invisibility but tends to corrupt its wearer is used as a metaphor for political power. But Plato’s and Tolkien’s solutions are different; in Plato we’re told that only the wise, the philosopher-kings, can be trusted with the ring; but in Tolkien we’re told that no one can be trusted with it and that the best course is to destroy it – a much more anarchistic moral (appropriately enough for an author who wrote “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy …. the most improper job of any man, even saints … is bossing other men”). Moreover, for Tolkien, if someone has to be trusted with the ring temporarily, it is safer in the hands of hobbits (corresponding to the craftsmen, the lowest and least trusted class in the Republic) rather than in those of wizards or kings.

As for the connection between Atlas and Plato’s Republic, I’ve written about that in Ed Younkins’ anthology Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion. Here’s the piece.

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2 Responses to Frodo Shrugged

  1. Roderick September 3, 2021 at 5:57 pm #

    Of course Wagner had done something similar. Both Tolkien and Wagner relied on Norse myths, but what they did with the symbolism of the ring is closer to Plato’s use (and to each other’s use) than to anything in the original Norse material. (Tolkien denied being influenced by Wagner, and he never mentioned Plato’s use of the ring afaik, but he was certainly aware of both.)

  2. Sachin September 23, 2021 at 12:48 am #

    Yeah!! both are about to refusal of power, but solutions are different. In Plato , the philosopher-kings, can be trusted with the ring but in Tolkien , no one can be trusted with it and that the best course is to destroy it/.

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