• Harken Not to Wild Beasts: Between Rage and Eloquence in Saruman and Thrasymachus

    Dennis Wise (see profile)
    Plato, Rhetoric, Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892-1973, Literature--Study and teaching
    Item Type:
    J. R. R. Tolkien, Leo Strauss, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien studies
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    One major gap in Tolkien scholarship has been to miss how deeply Saruman answers the age-old antagonism between rhetoric and philosophy. Like John Milton, Tolkien cannot bring himself to trust rhetoric. It threatens the unitary truth of a divinely-revealed moral order and, ironically, Tolkien applies great rhetorical skill to convince his reader of rhetoric’s illusionary nature. In this matter Tolkien has been largely successful, since few readers (if any) question the de-privileging of Saruman’s perspective. In the process, though, I suggest that Tolkien has developed in his master rhetorician a new relationship between rhetoric (eloquence) and rage (thymos). The “wild beast” (LOTR III.10 563) in Saruman’s nature eventually overwhelms the Art of his Voice. Yet by examining Saruman in light of another “wild beast,” Plato’s Thrasymachus (Republic 336b), we begin to see how Tolkien has subverted the hierarchy first established by Plato between art and anger. Thrasymachus subordinates his rage to his rhetorical skills, but Saruman allows his skills to wane as his anger waxes. The example of Sauron, who needs no rhetoric, drives home to Saruman the (mistaken) lesson that rhetoric is superfluous. It belongs to the weak. Saruman thereby allows his anger freer rein. Following his defeat at the Battle of Isengard, Saruman’s rage overwhelms him completely, and that rage quickly turns to resentment (ressentiment). After Saruman escapes Treebeard’s watchful eye, a “new” Saruman emerges. Following Peter Sloterdijk’s Rage and Time, I then expand my argument to suggest that Sharkey’s Shire exemplifies the forces of rage and resentment in modern politics. Defeating Sharkey, though, comes at a high price for the hobbits of the Shire. Since the meek do not inherit the earth, rage and eloquence must be marshalled together to defeat their oppressor—a situation tragic to Tolkien because it finds no easy reconciliation with his Christian beliefs.
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    Journal article    
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    3 years ago


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