The Shadow Archetype in The Lord of The Rings ⅠⅠ

by Literature

An exploration of the shadow.

Click Here for Part I

      We shall continue on in this part with an obvious, yet paramount definition that must be understood: the shadow is not evil. Though in dark dreams, visions and thoughts one may consider otherwise, the function of the shadow is to present the personality aspects of itself that it is not consciously aware of. Normally, this is presented in vulgar manifestations to gain our undivided attention, though the intensity ultimately depends on the degree of unconsciousness within the subject’s condition and the willingness to accept such unknown contents of the personality. Evil, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether.

      Within the case of the Lord Of The Rings, evil is most definitely portrayed as corruption. Corruption quite literally comes from one of the many sources of its etymology, the Old English word reofan (“to break, tear”). This would give corruption its significance as a deterring from some moral whole, or perhaps in the meaning of the word sin “to miss the target”, that is to fall from the righteous path. We see that this concept comes from ultimately the greatest conception of Mankind’s corruption: the Fall.

      We need to explore and develop the notion of corruption in relation to the Fall (both in Christianity and Tolkien’s interpretation) and discover how its intrinsic meaning is at the heart of Middle Earth’s darkness.

      Let us begin with a definition of evil. It could be agreed that evil simply means the absence of good, as darkness is determined to be the absence of light. In the absence of good, evil prevails towards its own path in defiance of the good, taking itself wherever it pleases in spite of the good. Let us take this definition a step further by bringing in both what the Christian faith interprets as evil as well as that of Tolkien’s mythology represented in the Silmarillion : evil is the willful turning away, and cursing, of God.

      We read in Milton’s Paradise Lost that Satan formed a band of angels to rival God’s majesty as a direct challenge of authority.

❝ .. what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
He trusted to have equaled the most High,
If he opposed; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Raised impious War in Heaven and Battle proud
With vain attempt. 1

      In the Silmarillion, we see the exact same motif play out with Morgoth/Melkor and his later servant Sauron. From the creation of the Ainur by the hands of Ilúvatar came Melkor, the greatest of the Ainur, who began to displease his maker and his music from a conspiracy he held: that the One, Eru, hid from Melkor the True Fire and that Melkor had the power to make greater things than Eru, greater things that only Melkor could create.

❝ came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar, for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren. 2

      A begrudging of goodness seems to arise from an arrogance of power – that is, both Milton’s Satan and Tolkien’s Morgoth are driven to dethrone their God in an attempt to imitate their great power alone. All of the other qualities of God are not considered in their passion, for all they can see of God is the dominion that rules over them, the roof of the house of their father, and that angers them greatly because they cannot submit themselves, kneel to their glorious maker.

      These parallels may also be set to the wicked servanthood that both Beezlebub and Sauron have with their dark masters. But the comparisons shall come to a stop, otherwise, this article will become diluted and drab. We will now explore within the narrative how the idea of evil presented above affects the narrative in its psychological basis of the shadow.

      Fundamentally, if we are to consider the shadow as the unknown part of the personality, then we must render the motives of the whole personality into view. If Sauron’s evil stems from his motive to rule middle earth, including the passed down motif from his master to “revenge against Eru”, then quite clearly the aspect of the personality that is corrupted is the desire to “benefit the world and others”. 3

      This stems from a Socratic notion that evil is the by-product of misguided judgment and not intentional action. Socrates argued that humanity knows too well what harms them and what gives them pleasure, as their existence is based around their self interest; no one will then willingly commit evil and know it is evil, but instead commit evil out of ignorance and know not that it is evil.

      Evil doers justify their actions based on incorrect judgments they created on what the good means to them. The kings of Men during the second age, the nine who were led on to become the Nazgul from their acceptance of Sauron’s rings, became mighty in prestige, wealth and power before they became the dark lord’s servants. The shadow aspect of a king is mighty, as the archetype has both an enormous redemptive power but also a terrible savagery that consumes a ruler into a tyrant or, in the case of the Nazgul, slaves to a darker force.

      Theoden, son of Thengel and the seventeenth king of Rohan, had his shadow projected into the figure of Grima, the servant of Saruman, who had begun to “steadily poison him” and have the kingdom of Rohan slip from his hand. This could be the manifestation of a ruler who does not know what to do with their dominion and falls into the shadows of confusion, where corrupted wisdom (Saruman) begins to worm into the minds of those who are weak. Instead of a tyrant possessed of bloodlust, Theoden is rendered a lifeless puppet just as the Nazgul, leached of dignity and glory simply because the judgements he made were not correct. He did not know the good nor the evil and he paid dearly for it. The king had become corrupted.

      The orcs and Uruk-Hai are another example of corruption, whereby the fairest species in all middle earth, The Elves, were “corrupted” into the hideous beasts that are known as orcs or goblins: Uruk-Hai are the “blending of men and orcs” that only furthers the corruption motif. Saruman! The wisest of the Wizards, corrupted by his lust for ring lore into the servitude of Sauron. Or, perhaps more closer to the truth, Saruman was not the wisest of all the Wizards, for the wise live an “examined life” in the language of Socrates, meaning Saruman had what little ignorance he possessed molded by the dark lord into a consumptive yolk that dictated his judgment.

      One of the culminating themes within the whole scope of Tolkien’s mythology that represents corruption best is the machine. When the machine takes away excess labor of the Man, in Tolkien’s mind that is the robbing of the Man’s creativity and greater yet his freedom, for as is so demonstrably the case throughout history, once the machine takes its place as the superior faculty, men rely less on themselves and more on their tools. Tolkien summarised the machines’ influence upon men as the increase of efficiency to one’s “will”.

This desire is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it. It has various opportunities of ‘Fall’. It may become possessive, clinging to the things made as ‘its own, the sub creator wishes to be the Lord and God of his private creation. He will rebel against the laws of the Creator – especially against mortality. Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power for making the will more quickly effective, – and so to the Machine (or Magic). By the last I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of developments of the inherent inner powers or talents – or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bull-dozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognized. 4

This theme is spoken of from Saurman to Gandalf:

We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means. ❞ 5

      Thus is the concept of corruption a misleading of our judgement into what is best or what is good from our sheer ignorance of morals. The Shadow is stemmed from a form of inferiority present within the personality that seeks to have those contents integrated into conscious understanding – the emotions that brew from this weakness are autonomous in character and can be projected into the world from the unconscious. If the darkness is not met within the subject then they remain ignorant of their self, thus rendering judgement skewed of what is good or bad to them because they do not “know thy self “.

      We now turn to the conclusion of this article. From the hobbits to the land of Mordor, a very real philosophy and psychology is taking place within the story that makes it the remarkable tale that it is. This is also but two short articles of a great mass of literature – there is more to be discussed of Tolkien’s opus. A mention of Gandalf and the encounter of the Balrog was going to be written in, but the subject deserves more discussion than a mere mention. Let us be mindful of ourselves first before we enter the world, for we, along with it, are shaped by our actions. Careful consideration should always be administered to each and every step we take, or we could end up going to where we never intended.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. 



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1.  (John Milton, Paradise Lost, chp. 1, lines 36 – 44)
2.  (J.R.R Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Ainulindale)
3.  “The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem: that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others – speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans – is a recurrent motive.”  (J.R.R Tolkien, Letter to Mlton Waldman)
4.  (J.R.R Tolkien, Letter to Mlton Waldman)
5.  (J.R.R Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring)