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Re: [mythsoc] Re: Re: Spotty Review

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  • David Bratman
    ... No, there s a fundamental difference between self-sacrifice and suicide. Doing something noble in the full expectation that you ll be killed is one thing;
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 1, 2004
      At 07:21 AM 2/1/2004 -0600, Trudy wrote:

      >No, if that had been necessary for the Ring's destruction, Tolkien would
      >have considered it self-sacrifice, not suicide. It would be akin to a
      >soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade to save others. "No greater

      No, there's a fundamental difference between self-sacrifice and suicide.
      Doing something noble in the full expectation that you'll be killed is one
      thing; killing yourself in the full expectation that the result will be
      noble is quite another. Part of the difference lies in the fact that in
      both cases you could be wrong. The soldiers of Rohan believe they will
      probably be killed both at Helm's Deep and at the Pelennor Fields: but in
      both cases some survive.

      >If Frodo had chosen to jump in even though it wasn't necessary (say, because
      >he felt he couldn't live without the Ring), that would be a completely
      >different situation--and suicide.

      But how would you know for sure whether it was necessary or not? This is
      what I find so artificial about moral dilemma problems of the "You have
      water for two people for two days and you're three days walk from the
      nearest oasis" type. In the real world, these figures would all be guesses
      or rough approximations, and the resulting uncertainty of whether a
      self-sacrifice would be either necessary or sufficient would play an
      irreducable role in the moral situation.

      >Tolkien gets into some speculation himself, on what might have happened if
      >Gollum hadn't been present. One possibility he mentions is that Frodo might
      >have been able to recover himself--for a moment--after the Ring's takeover,
      >and realizing that he wasn't able to throw the Ring into the fire would have
      >jumped in with it. This wasn't necessary because Gollum was
      >present--because of the mercy of Bilbo, Frodo and, finally, Sam. [I don't
      >have the Letters at hand, but IIRC it's in the later part of letter #246.]

      It is, but look carefully at what Tolkien writes. (It's on page 330.)
      "Frodo too would then probably, if not attacked, have had to take the same
      way: cast himself with the Ring into the abyss."

      Two things about this:

      1) Note the "probably": Tolkien has in fact written himself into a corner
      here, and there is no way out that he is comfortable with. Remember that
      these are unsent drafts of a letter: Tolkien is thinking aloud as he writes.

      2) Tolkien writes "the same way": the same way as what? Answer, the same
      way as Gollum, described in the previous paragraph. And look at what he
      says of what Gollum would have done with the Ring had he not fallen: "I
      think that in some queer twisted and pitiable way Gollum would have tried
      (not maybe with conscious design) to satisfy both [his loyalty to Frodo and
      his lust for the Ring]. ... 'Possession' satisfied, I think he would then
      have sacrificed himself for Frodo's sake and have _voluntarily_ cast
      himself into the fiery abyss."

      Note the wording here:

      "I think." Tolkien is still not sure, and not comfortable with any of this.

      "Some queer twisted and pitiable way." This is what Tolkien thinks of
      suicide as a self-sacrifice: he understands, but he does not approve.

      - David Bratman
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