Recently, as much from curiosity and nostalgia, I did something I usually don’t do. I reread books from childhood that I actually didn’t like very much, even back then. I read both The Hobbit and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. About both, I have some thoughts.
For all practical purposes, the narrator might as well be the same kindly, old English professor. The voice of the narrator in both is so similar and so condescending to the reader and the characters – looking away at key emotional moments, and passing judgment on the happenings of the book from a position of omniscience – that it is very easy to lose sight of the actual events from the perspective of some of the “enemies” of both books.
The Goblins, who are presumably *EVIL*, are minding their own business when their mortal enemies show up well-armed at their doorstep. Then, their king is murdered. Then, more goblins are murdered. Then, there’s this battle of five armies where the goblins come out of the mountain to fight against the people that presumably assassinated their king quite suddenly and unexpectedly! The Goblins didn’t seem to do anything more evil than defending themselves and eating some horses, which is something that is actually done quite a lot in this world by lots of people. Even the dragon, though he is certainly not a good figure having conquered and defeated an entire kingdom to claim as his own golden horde, does seem to be doing what it is that dragons do, as these things are done. From Smaug’s perspective, all that happens is an unfortunate incident of thieves and troublemakers rising up against him and his claimed territories. I doubt he would describe himself as evil, only as draconic. At least, because he is an usurper and because he seems to be be a physical embodiment of the greed and avarice that plagues the dwarven hearts as well, I am less inclined to see Smaug as anything but the embodiment of a vice. As he is not truly a fully-realized character, to me, as much as he is an avatar of dwarven avarice, I can see Smaug, at least, in a certain metaphoric light, as an *EVIL* character. Still, the book is nominally about a nice, homely fellow embracing his true calling to be a burglar that instigates a war. As an adult, reading this text, I am not impressed by the morality and ethics, so to speak, in that the larger questions of the actions present in the text are ignored as if there is simply no question at all regarding the wickedness of the wicked, and the goodness of the good.
In fact, goodness seem to be a predestined thing. Characters are “good” at the moment of creation, and their failings of morals, like when Edmund eats the Turkish Delight or when the King of the Dwarves refuses to make peace with the elves and humans that were a huge help to him. They can be redeemed; of course they can. They are on the side of good, even if they have their momentary failures. But, no matter how noble or good the work and leadership of an orc or a wolf, there is no place for them in the future of the world, where their kind must be wiped away to make room for the good. This is empire’s ideology: A Christian tract for children that would see no redeeming qualities in the force that is deemed to be with the enemy; a epic retelling of a lost people (the dwarves were inspired by the Jewish people, who wandered the earth without a home in this time before Israel’s formation) that always presumes that some peoples are simply too monstrous to be permitted. Who inspired the orcs, I wonder? What race of man or beast inspired these goblins of the mountain? They speak, they have society, and they are no better or worse than elves, in their own fashion. Do they deserve the revulsion and destruction heaped upon them? The text presumes that enemy races are completely “Other” and will never reach the level of redemption that even Narnia offers her lost boys and trees. Evil is predestined. Once the text renders judgment upon you and your kind, whether goblin or spider or dragon, you are never permitted the possibility of redemption or power in a world that is designed for the wicked to be overthrown.
It is hard to think about that, and how these books are handed to every child in school, and there is still so much racism in our society, and our drones are dropping bombs on hospitals in a nation that is apparently full of the enemy and the enemy’s people and no one else.