User:Turiannerevarine/The Long Defeat

From Tolkien Gateway

The Long Defeat refers to a concept present in Tolkien's work regarding the nature of the struggle of good against evil. Essentially, the whole of history is a long decline from perfection to a state of destruction wherein the forces of good win only occasional and incomplete victories against those of evil. These victories are small and only serve to temporarily offset the decline, though depending on their scale they may reverse it for a time. Yet in the end, the world moves on inevitably downwards. However, this is not permanent. Eventually, one day the ultimate eucatastrophe will happen and good will inevitable triumph over evil, vanquishing it once and for all. When that day will happen, however, is unknown to all except God, or Eru in the works of Tolkien.

In The Lord of the Rings[edit | edit source]

LOTR presents this theme in a microscopic scale. Small victories such as delivering the Ring to Elrond or winning at Helm's Deep are offset by the knowledge that Sauron will always have another army ready to command and that if he secures the Ring, then defeat is assured. The Ring is sent to Mount Doom with only a small hope that it will actually arrive there. Indeed, there are many times where Frodo and Sam are almost discovered or killed and saved only by someone else's timely arrival or something set up earlier in the story. For example, the Phial of Galadriel is given in Chapter 8 of Book Two, and is not used until chapter 9 of Book Four, where Frodo and Sam had seemingly forgot about it, and indeed the reader himself may have forgotten. Yet all of the times where they are able to pull through would have been undermined at Mount Doom, where the Ring finally gains control of Frodo. If not for the timely eucatastrophic intervention of Eru via Gollum, even this fools hope would have been pointless. But the Ring is destroyed, and Frodo and Sam saved. Yet even this great victory is only temporary. Tolkien himself saw this when he began to write the New Shadow, wherein only a few hundred years have passed and already Gondor is beginning to decline. And in a meta-sense, the kingdoms of Gondor, Arnor, and Rohan fade away. Hobbits eventually hide completely from the sight of Men, Elves lose their bodies and become Wraiths, the line of Elessar eventually is diluted and forgotten by other Men who forget everything they once knew of Numenor or the Valar. While there are no more Dark Lords, there are no more Gandalfs either. It would not be until Eru Himself comes into the world that the ultimate eucatastrophe would occur.

The concept itself is talked about at least twice, both times by people who know of what they speak.

Elrond[edit | edit source]

"I have seen three ages in the West of the world, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories." - Elrond, Council of Elrond

Elrond had lived through the War of Wrath, the Second Age, and the Third Age. He had seen every time when they believed the Shadow destroyed only to rise again. Indeed, he seems to be rather cynical about the cycle of victory and decay:

"Fruitless did I call the victory of the Last Alliance? Not wholly so, yet it did not achieve its end. Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed. His Ring was lost but not unmade. The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure."

I do not believe Elrond himself has given into despair, but it is not hard to imagine this from an Elrond who had. After all, living long enough to witness the return of the same Dark Lord three times (once during the second age, another time after the fall of Numenor, and a third time during the third age) would probably be enough to make anyone jaded. I believe Elrond has resigned himself to knowing that evil will never be wholly destroyed while the world lasts. Yet Elrond is willing to trust the fate of the world to a Hobbit from the Shire. A more jaded person might instead be tempted to use the Ring to try and defeat the cycle himself. But Elrond is not completely hopeless. He is certainly not under any illusions, but he is willing to put faith in one last desperate throw of the dice.

Galadriel[edit | edit source]

"He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat." - Galadriel, Farewell to Lorien

Galadriel is another character who has fought what she knows is a losing battle, yet she does not seem to be jaded. She knows full well that even if the Ring is destroyed, then her own realm of Lorien will fade. That does not stop her from aiding the Company and fighting Sauron. Indeed, she sends the one thing that would allow Lorien to survive away from her, knowing that she will lose in the long run. She stays in the rules of the game, as it were, and while Lorien is no more, she is forgiven her past opposition of the Valar as a result of her choice. She is allowed to return to Valinor.

Yet at the same time, she is in this situation in part due to a past refusal to accept the natural order. The exact reason as to why she left Aman seemed to change with every passing year, but in the published Silmarilion it is in part due to a desire to have a realm she can call her own. IN addition, her own elvish ring is the result of an attempt by Celebrimbor to halt the Long Defeat as much as he could.

Celebrimbor and the Elvish Rings[edit | edit source]

Celebrimbor and Feanor have some similarities. Both are the premiere craftsmen of their day. Both create seemingly magic items of great power. While Celebrimbor on the whole avoided many of the follies brought on by Feanor's fiery spirit, his own failure was more subtle. Sauron was able to tempt Celebrimbor by appealing to a desire to have a realm of his own, though while not in direct defiance of the Valar like his grandfather, it was still a sin of pride. In essence, Celebrimbor sought to reverse the decline of the Long Defeat by changing the rules, as it were, of the world via his Rings of Power. It is never made clear if the Rings really can halt the flow of time in their realms, but at the very least they seem to be able to slow it. Both Nenya and Vilya are used in such a way. Presumably, Cirdan could have used Narya in the same way, though I do not know of any recorded instance of him doing so. In some of his writings, such as letters he sent in the *Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien*, Tolkien expressed a disapproval of this. It would be akin to an architect making a building and then vacuum sealing it off so no one could use it.

While not an overtly evil act, this is an act of vanity. There comes a time when things must be allowed to pass from the world. The world is in constant entropy, and while we are commanded to be good stewards, it stops becoming stewardship and starts becoming pride when we refuse to let things die in their time. Celebrimbor's rings allowed some Noldor to do this.

That does not mean that Galadriel should allow Lorien to be destroyed by the enemy, or that Elrond should neglect to maintain Rivendell. I daresay both characters had a duty to maintain their realms. However, both also knew that it was time to let go. Accepting a temporary loss, they both have hope that one day they will be recompensed in the Last Victory that Eru must someday win.

The Silmarillion[edit | edit source]

The Silmarillion also has elements of the concept of the Long Defeat, though of course it is never actually called that to my knowledge. Nonetheless, the gradual decay from Arda Unmarred to the state of the world today, and the sometimes drastic though temporary reversals, still are consistent with the decay seen in the Lord of the Rings.

Since there is no real POV character in the Silmarillion, I will instead focus on the larger scale of the plot.

Note that I am referring primarily to the 1977 version by Christoper Tolkien and generally not HoME, a series of which I have only a cursory knowledge.

Arda Marred[edit | edit source]

Morgoth's destruction of the Two Lamps forever damages the very shape of Arda, creating a vast gulf and throwing the once symmetrical landmass apart. This creates a rift so grievous that the Valar never try to repair it, and the light of the Two Lamps is removed forever from Arda. It is is essentially the point of no return for Arda and forever after damages the world.

Starlight[edit | edit source]

Yet all hope is not lost, for of this evil some good does result. Varda is eventually moved to create newer and brighter stars that awaken the Elves. On their behalf, the Valar are moved to go to war and bring them and Morgoth back to Aman for a time. Thus the Elves are exposed to the "holy light" of Aman that they would not have been otherwise, and they gain insight into the ways of the world and of works of skill. But for the fate of the world, the more important thing here is that the Elves come back to Middle-earth, where they meet Men.

There were no Valar to meet Men at their awakening, which was caused by the Sun. Indeed, it seems that Men went astray far sooner than any of the Elves. Yet they followed the Sun across Middle-earth to the west, where some tribes came to Beleriand and met the Noldor. The Noldor are able to teach Men regarding art and skill with the world around them, as well as correct cosmology regarding the true nature of the Valar and Morgoth. These men become the Edain, or Elf-friends , surpassing other Men much how the Eldar surpass those who never went to Valinor.

Earendil[edit | edit source]

This meeting of Elf and Man eventually leads to Earendil, who brings the defining eucatastrophe within the legendarium: the War of Wrath that banishes Morgoth forever. In a real sense, evil suffers a permanent loss with his exile into the void as no one could ever hope to be as powerful as he was. Yet as is typical of any story under the long defeat, much good is lost too. Many of the Eldar leave Middle-earth forever, and the Edain are given the land of Numenor, where they in bliss for a time, though eventually they too come under the Shadow.