Friday, 1 January 2010

Always look on the dark side of death.

Over this Christmas period, I have watched a few DVD's of an escapist nature - the new Harry Potter, and last night, the first Lord of the Rings. Her indoors asked me what the plot was for Lord of the Rings, and I said (after giving it some thought for a few seconds) "Everyone's trying to get hold of a ring." She asked if that was it, and - after a few more seconds of thought - I said "Yes."

Tolkein himself strongly denied that the story was an allegory for the advance of the Nazis and Hitler in the late 1930's, and insisted instead that it was the age-old story of the fight between good and evil - light against darkness. After having watched a few of these well-engineered film adaptations, I began to wonder why all the evil ones in fiction seem to prefer an extremely uncomfortable and hostile world where it never gets properly light, and their servants and closest allies are invariably hideously ugly or just downright dangerous - or both - with either green saliva dripping from their permanently open jaws, or fire coming from every orifice.

In reality, of course, the Devil is beautiful and evil is utterly banal, as demonstrated by the handful of ordinary gentlemen who sat trial in Nurenburg at the end of World War Two, and most of the unspeakably hideous atrocities committed against mankind took place in broad daylight, if not bright sunshine.

The platoons of henchmen employed by the Evil One are, after all, only carrying out orders, so we cannot hold them entirely responsible for their actions. Hate the crime, not the criminal? The same goes for the evangelists - they too are only carrying out orders, albeit from a different entity. Both parties expect unconditional and undying loyalty, and rightly so - you cannot win a war with a fickle and perfidious army.

But what about us objectors? When I go to bed at night, I do so in the knowledge and belief that - unless there is a catastrophe of astronomical proportions - the sun will rise again in the morning like it always does. Similarly, I don't panic when the leaves go brown and fall off the trees every autumn, because I believe that they will re-grow again in the spring and, so far, they always have. Is there a monstrous annual battle between the forces of light and dark - the underworld and the heavens - going on all winter which I am not aware of? Am I being too simplistic? Will I burn in Hell? Whatever happens, I am relatively untroubled by demons and nightmares in this world, and the ghosts that I encounter are - in the main - utterly charming and entertaining. My only regret is that I don't see enough of them.

All the sensible theologies readily acknowledge the dark side of nature, and encourage individuals to acknowledge the dark side in themselves. If you don't let those demons out, they fester and swell, then burst out when you least expect it - the middle of the night, when you are asleep for instance. The more political and social power you acquire, the more important it is to acknowledge the dark side in yourself, as it is not just your personal life that it will poison or corrupt. The religious parades in Tibet used to include groups of demons made up of possessed monks, who ran around like maniacs, swearing at and ridiculing the Dhalai Lhama. Medieval, Japanese Shinto priests were composed of two distinct groups - the black and the white. They were sworn enemies of each other.

That's the trouble with it really, it's hardly ever a case of black and white, unless it is simplified by ritual and symbolism. Jung almost got to grips with it, when he allowed psychology to have a spiritual as well as a sexual nature, unlike his old teacher, Freud. I've never met a wholly good person, simply because they don't exist - that's what makes Desmond Tutu and the Dhalai Lhama so lovable - they are ordinary humans with modest aspirations, in a situation of power. I've never met a wholly evil person either, for the same reasons.

About an hour into Lord of the Rings last night, I began to wish that I had directed the film so I could have got Frodo to do the following scene, ending the movie abruptly and prematurely:

FRODO: "Oh, fuck this! This bloody ring is more trouble than it's worth! Look at you all! You're all bloody power-crazy. Well, I'll soon put a stop to that!"

(he strides toward a small, ornate cupboard in the corner of the great Elvin hall and opens the door. Inside there is a white, porcelain toilet. He throws the ring into the bowl, and - before anyone can stop him - pulls the chain. There is the sound of flushing water, and the assembled group of wizards, elves, fairies, hobbits, dwarves and Orcs stare in disbelief and dejection. Slowly, the Orcs shamble away in the direction of Mordor, and everyone else goes to the pub.)


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