The Rings of Power, the Harfoots and the Babylonian Exile

What’s the point of living if we aren’t living good?

Malva Harfoot, Rings of Power.

A lot of people make fun of Rings of Power. But we compare it with the past. We don’t see how it leads into the future. We think Rings of Power echoes Lord Of the Rings. But it is nothing like Lord Of the Rings. It is something new. And to those who say this is just monopoly capitalism at work, then what do you think lay behind the original film series, or the contracts for Tolkien’s books? A lot of the time we criticise what is merely a step toward the future. We use a kind of Marxism to defend conservatism, and attack liberalism. But we never face the future. The best kind of futurity, nonetheless, draws on history. The present depends on a complex balance between these temporal poles.

Exile or captivity: The inhabitants of Jerusalem travelling to forced containment in Babylon.

In Rings of Power, a predecessor society to the Hobbits of Tolkien’s world is identified as the Harfoots. They inhabit the Southlands before the Dark Lord Sauron industrialised this agricultural paradise and turned it into Mordor. They are forced to flee their home. They are not like other societies: the Harfoots are not dragonslayers or kingmakers. They just keep going out of a sense of community and belonging. So when they are uprooted, their entire identity is called into question. For what is a society divorced from all specificity to space and time?

Indeed, this has happened before. The Babylonian empire was centralised and powerful like the Assyrians with whom they alternated domination over the near East in the pre-Persian world. And like the Assyrians, they had a brutal attitude to difference and deviation from imperial unity. Unlike the Romans they did not have a policy of toleration that drew on, rather than suppressing, diversity at scale. In 596 BCE, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were expelled from their home and scattered across the Mediterranean. Thus began the story of the society that survived statelessness through ingenuity and community. But above all, the intellectual and moral education bequeathed by that first city to the first society that still exists in the western world today laid the foundations for societal survival. As it was, in the beginning — now and forever.

For unlike C. S. Lewis’ Narnia, which is often said to be consumed by Christian ideas from the New Testanent, Tolkien’s world and the worlds which grew from it are more in tune with the realism of prophecy and its consistent survivability. And that is not found in the new world, but the old. The new remains but a mask on the old. And beneath the veil of novelty lies the reality of prophecy. Let it be.

Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?

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