The splitting of good and bad characters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is just as pronounced as it is in the Harry Potter films. Hobbits in general are endearing and gentle creatures with some irritating quirks but no real malice in their nature; in particular, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are loyal and devoted friends who risk their lives for one another out of love.
Sauron, by contrast, represents pure evil and has absolutely no redeeming qualities. He has no ambition other than to dominate Middle Earth by any means within his power. Torture, cruelty and the inspiration of terror are his greatest tools. Those who serve him fear and often loathe him.
The maps from the Tolkien books, also used in the films, make the separation clear: a vertical line runs right down the center of Middle Earth, with Mordor to the right, walled off by a chain of mountains, and the lands of the free people to the left. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect visual illustration of the splitting process.
As a psychological defense mechanism, however, splitting is never so clear-cut: it never succeeds perfectly and can’t last. When love and hatred felt toward the same person move psychically closer, we may fear that destructiveness will overwhelm goodness. This destruction threatens both our loved ones and ourselves: particularly for small children who depend upon their parents, hurting their loved ones would be personally harmful as well. If hatred is strong, the failure of splitting may be felt as a psychic disaster.
Middle Earth confronts the same problem. For long years, since his defeat by Isildur, Sauron’s power was weak; while not completely destroyed, he led a feeble, disembodied existence, banished from Mordor and his stronghold of Barad-Dur. The men of Gondor kept vigilant guard on the borders and protected the unknowing peoples of Middle Earth from infection by evil. But now, evil has grown in power and Sauron has begun to take shape, first as a giant lidless and forever watchful eye. Evil begins to break through those borders: the split is failing. The most vivid image depicting this process is the clouds of darkness Sauron sends forth from Mordor toward Gondor as battle looms.
Will the good peoples of Middle Earth survive, or will the forces of darkness overwhelm them? Sauron’s victory is envisioned as a kind of eternal night. Will evil triumph and annihilate all goodness? The world depicted in the Harry Potter books and films confronts the same questions and tells a similar story. Voldemort was once shapeless like Sauron, but over the course of the books and movies, he slowly takes physical shape and grows increasingly substantial.
Will Tom Riddle’s destructiveness prove more powerful than Harry’s goodness? Will hatred triumph over love? In vivid fantasy terms, these sagas depict a conflict that lies at the heart of psychic development and human relationships.
The resolution of these Manichaen epics is usually either/or: either evil will triumph and eternal night will descend, or good will win out and we’ll live happily ever after (Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione putting their kids on the Hogwarts Express at the conclusion of The Deathly Hallows). The Lord of the Rings, however, presents a much more nuanced conclusion, one that brings it from the realm of fantasy and splitting into the world of reality, with so much to say about our own psychological development as we tame hatred and learn to tolerate ambivalence.
In my next post, I’ll discuss that conclusion in detail.