In his essay, Asimov gives a quick overview of the Lord Of The Rings narrative and its struggle between good and evil. He then poses the question, "What does this struggle represent?" Asimov briefly points out the obvious fact that the LOTR books were written in the 1950's, in the years following the horrors of W.W. II. Tolkien had lived through 1940, when Great Britain alone stood against the forces of Nazi Germany. Asimov writes that the Hobbits of the Shire can be read as an idealized representation of the Britain and its inhabitants; behind Sauron is the dark shade of Adolf Hitler.
"But then, too, there are wider symbolisms. Tom Bombadil is a mysterious character who seems to represent Nature as a whole. The treelike Ents characterize the green forests, and the Dwarves represent the mountains and the mineral world. There are the Elves, too, powerful but passe, representatives of a time passing into limbo, who will not survive even though Sauron were destroyed."
He then inquires rhetorically, 'what does the One Ring represent?' In the books, it is powerful, controls the other rings, inspires an almost overwhelming urge to possess it, and it will utterly corrupt the person who does. Even the wise and powerful wizard Gandalf will not touch the ring and it is left to a small and weak Hobbit- Frodo- to bear its burden. In the end it corrupts him, too and Frodo is unable to bring himself to destroy the ring: "He has become the One Ring's slave. (And in the end, it is Evil that destroys Evil, where Frodo the Good fails.)"
"It is the lure of technology; the seduction of things done more easily; of products in greater quantity; of gadgets in tempting variety. It is gunpowder, and the automobile, and television; all the things that the people can't let go once they do have them."
He questions whether we would ever be willing- or able- to give any of these things up, whatever the cost in pollution, land ruination, and even human lives (pointing to the high mortality rates from car accidents alone). He also mentions the problem of our oil depedency, of which we need more than our own western countries produce: "We obtain it from lands that hold us in chains in consequence and whom we dare not offend. Can we diminish our needs in order to break those chains?"
According to this view, our dependency on technology is destroying us, and there's no Mount Doom to toss it into; Asimov's next questions are: "Is all this inevitable? Has Sauron won? Have the Shadows of the Land of Mordor fallen over all the world?" His conclusions may surprise you, given the rather bleak nature of his interpretation of Tolkien so far. I will discuss them in my next post as well as give my thoughts on Asimov's essay.