Sexless Tolkien?

I recall one other objection that has been leveled against Tolkien’s work, which is that the allure of power symbolized by the Ring is not very convincing since, unlike in the case of Wagner’s Ring for example, it does not seem to procure any of the finer things desired by the higher passions, love for example. This certainly reflects better on Wagner’s tragic heroes than on Tolkien’s villains, but in a sense I think that that is partly the point. I think the evident misery of those who covet the Ring, like Gollum, and maybe even Sauron himself (who at the very least certainly enjoys the misery of others), and in fact the sheer disorientation of scale whereby ultimate power is invested in a little nothing, an ordinary gold ring, is meant to cast the their greed in a somewhat ridiculous as well as distasteful life. The joke really is on them, who cannot or do not enjoy the great green world around them but have desire only for that tiny little ring. And in the end that is all that they will have even if they do possess it–a ring. That might from a distance not seem a very compelling temptation, but consider this passage from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in which he marvels at how madly the Byzantine emperors coveted and fought to occupy the throne for a few short, unhappy and suspicious years before (very often) meeting the same fate they had dealt to their predecesors:

“The observation, that in every age and climate, ambition has prevailed with the same commanding energy, may abate the surprise of a philosopher; but while he condemns the vanity, he may search the motive, of this universal desire to obtain and hold the sceptre of dominion. To the greater part…we cannot reasonably ascribe the love of fame and of mankind…Was personal happiness the aim and object of their ambition? I shall not descant on the vulgar topics of the misery of kings, but I may surely observe, that their condition, of all others, is the most pregnant with fear, and the least susceptible of hope.”

It is true that of the sins greed and pride occupy a much bigger place in Tolkien’s universe than lust, but his presentation of the essentially unsatisfying nature of power, so often accompanied by jealousy and suspicion, shows that he had the same mixture of perception of mixed with incredulity at the persistent force of its attraction.

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