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IN A LETTER TO NAOMI MITCHISON, J.R.R. Tolkien complained that "[s]ome reviewers have called the whole thing [The Lord of the Rings] simple-minded, just a plain fight between Good and Evil, with all the good just good, and the bad just bad" (Letters 197). However, most critics realize that Tolkien's idea of evil is far from simple-minded. On the surface, when the time comes to assign a name or an origin to the evil, it may seem simple, but evil, as a concept, is just as complex and complicated for Tolkien's characters to deal with as it has been for people of the world from the beginning of recorded history. Tolkien himself confirms that he does "not deal in Absolute Evil," but neither does he deal in a general, nebulous, or abstract evil (Letters 243). He increases reader interest by exploring evil through very specific and familiar channels, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, religious concepts that have been around since before Christian times and which were prominent in Roman Catholic theology during the Middle Ages and onwards. Moreover, whether consciously or unconsciously, Tolkien singles out one of the Seven Deadly Sins, lust, for a purpose that is neither ordinary, simple, nor conventional. The Seven Deadly Sins (mortal), early confused with the Cardinal Sins (chief, capital), have a long history (Bloomfield, viii, 43). Although by the "fifteenth and sixteenth centuries" a "general merging" of the two had occurred (157) in the minds of "individual theologians" and "laymen" alike (143), "they arose, in proto-form at least, in Gnostic speculations and Hellenistic astral science, in the centuries immediately preceding and following Christ" and were frequently countered by the Seven Cardinal Virtues (xiii). (1) Varying in number, order, and name, eventually the Seven Deadly Sins were incorporated into Roman Catholic theology where the number, seven, the order, Gregorian, and the name, Cardinal Sins, "finally won out" (46, 72, 74). (2) Still, the classification of "Deadly" remained a "popular preference" and often is a "more familiar [...] designation" (viii, 43, 157). According to the Gregorian order, luxuria (lechery, lust) claimed the number seven position, but "there has been a tendency in modern times to advance Lust in the order" (Fairlie 34). To support his claim, Fairlie cites Moral and Pastoral Theology by Henry Davis, a Jesuit, in which lust is moved to third in order. (3)

Professional & Technical
March 22
Mythopoeic Society

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