On the Nature of Shadow
“Out from the Dark Tower there crept the veils of Shadow that Sauron wove about himself.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
The Shadow as described by Tolkien in his master work, The Lord of the Rings, represents all that is evil in Middle-earth and this Shadow emanates from the darkness within Sauron. This personification of evil literally kills all things within it’s radius, as can been seen when Frodo and Sam travel across the Dead Marshes, endure the Dagorland, and finally when they enter Mordor and cross the pitiless plain of Gorgoroth.
Out from the Dark Tower there crept the veils of Shadow that Sauron wove about himself. But far worse then all such perils was the ever-approaching threat that beat upon them as they went: the dreadful menace of the Power that waited, brooding in deep thought and sleepless malice behind the dark veil about its Throne. Nearer and nearer it drew, looming blacker, like the oncoming of a wall of night at the last end of the world.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Mount Doom’
I have often been asked, why did I choose Mordor? Why would I put so much time and effort into the evil side of Tolkien’s world? That has not always been an easy question to answer, though I have thought about it a great deal.
As a boy I was always fascinated with monsters. The Wicked Witch of the West, the mighty King Kong, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I was inexplicably drawn to the Universal Monsters, the movies, the models, the monster magazines. My brother and I created Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory in our barn, complete with a stuffed dummy of the monster on an old sled rigged up with ropes so we could raise it up to the loft. We used to play-act scenes from Dark Shadows and the Hammer Films, dressing up as Dracula and Van Hellsing. We used to make haunted houses in the basement. I ordered monster make-up kits from the back of comic-books to make myself into a werewolf. And once, I bought a costume to become a gorilla from The Planet of the Apes for Halloween. Remember though, those were the days when we had only 3 TV channels and that was about it!
This photo to the right is not me, but it looks just like my room when I was a kid. I even had that same haircut!
My brother and I never missed an episode of Dark Shadows, which came on TV every afternoon at 4:30. I’m sure my parents worried about their young impressionable boys watching all of those horror movies, TV Shows and reading monster magazines, the social consensus at the time was that such rubbish would ‘rot your brain!’ But I think it did just the opposite, it fired my imagination and has opened creative doors for me throughout my life.
I became a fan of horror and sci-fi at a young age and still love it today. When I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it was always the goblins, wargs, orcs and Ringwraiths that grabbed my attention. Of course like all Middle-earth fans, I was captivated by Tolkien’s prose, the timeless story of the struggle of good against evil, when even the smallest person can change the course of the future. Reading the books filled me with wonder and a love for his fantastic world.
Still the question remains… why would anyone be interested in this evil… this darkness… this Shadow, that the heroes of Middle-earth fear and yet struggle so valiantly against? A Shadow that wants only to dominate and destroy all that is beautiful and loving in Middle-Earth. Why in heaven, would you create a site about Mordor… the Land of Shadow? There is a quote I found in my travels, that I think offers a clue as to what it is that intrigues about evil.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
I have always been fascinated with the idea of ‘the monster.’ in film and literature. The dragon that must be slayed. The creatures… the monsters… the evil Dark Lords are infinitely more interesting, I think because they are always hidden in shadow. Lurking on the edges of the story or prowling in the dark of night on film. In movies like King Kong, you know the monster has to die in the end and somehow this always made me feel sad for the hapless creature that did not understand its own monstrousness. Though I related to the hero in these stories, it was the monster that I always wanted to know more about. I think as I a child, I subconsciously I wanted to dissect the meaning of the monster and so make my fears understood.
As I grew older I began to understand that monsters don’t have fangs, or claws or horrible ugly faces. In fact most monsters look just like you and me. It is the terrible things that humans do to each other, that is truly monstrous. Parents tell their children that monsters don’t exist, but that is a lie because in truth they do, and it’s not always easy to see one, even when they are standing right next to you… and that is a truly frightening thought.
In my quest to slay the dragon, it was the realization that we all have the capacity for evil within us, that has drawn me to study it. In the right circumstance, under the right conditions anyone can commit an act of evil, though we like to tell ourselves we are not capable of such things. I believe we are in fact made up of equal parts light and darkness, and it’s in our nature as human beings to try and survive at all costs. In one moment this might bring out the heroic within us and yet in another it can illicit barbarous acts of evil. We have seen this again and again throughout human history.
It’s my belief that if you hide from this darker half of ourselves, you give it the power to destroy. It is the unexplored self that can oftentimes be the most dangerous, where acts of evil are committed by the so called innocent. As story tellers, we are always inclined to draw our monsters with a broad pen, ugly and dangerous looking. However, the desire to do this comes from our deepest fear the we are all capable of being monsters, and so we make the evil in our myths unrecognizable, so that we can maintain the belief in our own innocence.
No one is perfect in this world. To suppress the darkness within, is to deny it’s presence in ourselves and so give it power. This is a dangerous course to take both personally and as a culture. It manifests it’s self as anger and hatred, which is projected onto others out of fear and ignorance. It creates a system of thought that believes we are better than others and the we are righteous, which can lead to the expression of the idea that ‘the ends justify the means’, but in my thinking ‘the end NEVER justifies the means’, because the end has no meaning, if it’s achieved at the cost of our own humanity. This wrong thinking creates an environment were dominance and control over others, in order to save ourselves, becomes acceptable. It’s only through checking ourselves and being open to the fact that we too, are capable of evil and have the capacity to commit wrongful acts, that we can begin to steer ourselves on a path of compassion, forgiveness and love of all people, yet at the same time, except no acts of evil perpetrated by others.
The Ring represents the evil manifested by Sauron, who in Tolkien’s fantasy is not redeemable. The Ring was created out of fear, which in turn created a need to dominate and control others. Infused with this sickness of power, the Ring is capable of bringing forth evil within those who use it, even if they do so out of a desire to do good. Frodo does not hide the Ring, give it to someone else or cast it aside, he accepts the responsibility of destroying the Ring at the cost of losing everything. He is changed in the process, and must give up all that he has and so become something greater. Without darkness, there could be no light. Gandalf describes Frodo in this way, “He is not half through yet, and to what he will come to in the end, not even Elrond can foretell. Not to Evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.”
I see this also, as a quest in my own life. Not to turn from evil in fear, but to walk openly toward it and seek the enlightenment that comes from facing the Shadow and overcoming it.
Now… I must admit, that I find evil in literature and film fascinating. Lilith… Grendel… Dracula… Kong… Vader… and yes Sauron, all fascinate. I think that through myth and storytelling, we are able to face evil and destroy it, which I believe is what each of us as humans is doing each day of our lives in small little ways.
In the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when Galadriel asks Gandalf ‘why the hobbit?‘ His answer sums up much of what I believe about confronting evil.
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.Why Bilbo Baggins? I don’t know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
So again, why Mordor? I find the darker characters in Tolkien’s world, to have a unique power and beauty all their own and so I decided to make that my focus, which for me is an expression of the joy of reading & entering Tolkien’s world. I have received any number of responses, both good and bad from within the Tolkien Community. From disdain to outright mistrust, anger and fear to a genuine appreciation for the journey I have undertaken. What I did not expect, was to find a community of like-minded people, who for reasons of their own have decided that they too relate to and embrace Mordor… the Land of Shadow. Together we are on a quest to discover what lay within the Shadow.
That has been the real joy of this experience.
Ring Lord ~ The Dark Lord of Mordor