What “The Lord of the Rings” teaches about the difficult but necessary art of forgiveness

I don’t know if you have the same perception as I do, but for some time now it seems to me that each day it becomes more difficult to live as human beings and not as machines. Let me explain: until recently, I thought that, as has always been said in the Western tradition, “to err was human”. Today it is no longer. Forgive then? There is no question.

Trying to find an answer to the question of how we got to this point, I came across, once again, “The Lord of the Rings”, which seems to me to be one of the most necessary readings in these times of everything or nothing, this or that, black or white, light or shadows.

Give me the impression that Tolkien wants to tell us that, between one thing and another, the limits are neither clear nor precise, that what truly exists, between everything and nothing, between white and black, is life as it is : a long, nuanced spectrum of color, light and shadow.

Magicians like Gandalf or Saruman are people we often meet in companies, schools, offices. Prudent, sensible people, with correct advice and who, from time to time, fail, become arrogant, think that they have the king in their belly and that they end up becoming perfidious, but that they could perfectly well return from that place of shadows and be closer to the light.

Men like Aragorn or Faramir maybe there will be few, but there will be many like Boromir: hardworking, fearless, arrogant, daring, full of certainty that they will do good and that, in the end, with the best of good intentions, they practically ruin everything and lose their own lives.

Finally, hobbits like Frodo or Sam or Pippin we find almost everyone the days: normal, quiet people, with homely tastes and who, suddenly, due to a change in life circumstances, are called to perform a task they had never thought of, that they would never have wanted, that is far beyond their strength and which, even so, they end up taking care of.

Villains and heroes

Who is the villain and who is the hero i? It’s a question that becomes recurrent in the film “Life in Itself”, starring Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde and Antonio Banderas, and directed by Dan Fogelman. Is it really that simple to separate people and put them, once and for all, in the Good (the Hero’s) or the Evil (the Villain’s) box? Isn’t it more right and more human to think that we are what we do?

Sometimes we do things right and others wrong, sometimes we are better people and sometimes we are worse. We are people, not cinder blocks or mathematical equations. I remember a poem by Fernando Pessoa:

Life is earth and living it is mud.

Everything is way, difference or way.

In everything you do, just be you,
In everything you do, be all of you.

I always thought that Pessoa described the beauty of imperfection. That spoke of me, of all of you, of all human beings, small, ordinary, imperfect like the hobbits.

And I’ve always been afraid of the rigids and the Cathars.


Since its origin, there by the twelfth century, the Cathars were the personification of the pure, the perfect, those who would definitively fix men, women and the whole world. If they had stayed in that Middle Ages, that was fine. But not; this desire to impose perfection in any way and at all costs unfortunately reappears here and there in history.

And today the Cathars are increasingly acting with greater force, not least because social networks make it much easier to its “purifying and perfect” activity. It will have to be perfect whether you like it or not. It’s as if we weren’t convinced of Pessoa’s advice: “Living is slime. Everything isway, difference or mode.”

For the Cathars of all times it is none of that. There is only one way to be and live. There are neither ways, nor differences, nor ways. One can only live in the right way, in the perfect way, in the way that the Cathars dogmatize from above their power.

This is a fallacy. And it is also about the arrogance and cynical pride of the “agents and authors of Perfection”, those I have already called members of the “League for Justice and Good”.

The deepest reality of being human is not perfection, but imperfection. The most human thing was that reality captured by Tolkien, not the Cathars of the moment. All human action is simultaneously marked by greatness and misery, by infinity and finitude, by virtue and error. Through the earth and through the mud, as Fernando Pessoa warned.

Dirty hands

If we decide to do good, we will inevitably be tarnished with evil. If we are willing here and now to live on land, we will end up dealing with the slime and our hands will end up getting dirty. And that’s why we all need forgiveness and we all need to forgive.

The greatness of “The Lord of the Rings” is not that it spoke of a realm of good and evil. Its greatness is precisely in insisting on the idea that the only thing that will save this world, that can bring a ray of light in the middle of the dark night that surrounds us, that can give birth to a new dawn is precisely the awareness that, in this Middle-earth where we live, there is no one absolutely good, nor absolutely bad.

Neither Gollum, nor Saruman, nor the specters of the Ring, nor even the Lord of Mordor are people “who are hopeless anymore ”, perverse and cruel beings “who need to be eliminated”. And neither Bilbo, Frodo, Boromir or the dwarf Gimli are so good and so pure and perfect that they don’t have their small or big imperfections.

Tolkien tells us of a world of created beings and not of one world of gods. A world of beings with imperfections, even if they are mages, hobbits

, elves or trees that talk and walk. Beings, after all, who are neither good nor evil, neither good nor bad. They are beings that do good and bad things, according to the character of each one, with the strength to overcome their own weakness, to resist the attraction of power.

Tolkien tells us about a world where it is necessary to open the door to mercy and forgiveness, which are the other name for hope: the hope that whoever is in front of us can, in fact, change and become someone better. And the hope that, for that, I need to forgive him. And he needs to forgive me.

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