July 2nd 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY CFA dispute may end up burning Victorian Labor electorally

CANBERRA OBSERVED July 2: Independence Day or Groundhog Day?

EDITORIAL Expect shockwaves as Britain votes on EU exit

CLIMATE CHANGE Coral bleaching way overdone by reef saviours

EUTHANASIA Victorian report closer to truth in dissenting voices

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump v Clinton race revealing of state of U.S.

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgenderism and the triumph of marketing

EDUCATION Deconstruction and other rot at school

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS Two heretics: Hilaire Belloc and R.H. Tawney

FREE SPEECH From disagreement to discrimination: section 18C

LITERATURE Tolkien, Golding and Hell

SOCIETY New lease on life for freedom machine

MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT Talent shows grind down singers, grind out drivel

CINEMA Puppet people pull the plug: Me Before You

BOOK REVIEW HOMOSEXUALITY, MARRIAGE AND SOCIETY

BOOK REVIEW Friendship under fire

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LITERATURE
Tolkien, Golding and Hell


by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, July 2, 2016

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the creature Gollum, originally named Smeagol, murders his only friend Deagol to obtain his heart’s desire – the beautiful golden Ring of Power.

Phone home.

Driven away by his people, “weeping a little for the hardness of the world”, he follows a stream under­ground into a cave, and gradually becomes a complete monster, alone in the dark on an island rock, desperately clinging to the Ring, living a kind of half-life in the empty night, filled with self-pity.

He and the Ring eventually destroy one another. Tolkien said The Lord of the Rings was ultimately about “death and the desire for deathlessness”. It is this power, ultimately, beyond all the Arthurian adventure of the story, that the Ring symbolises.

In William Golding’s book, Pincher Martin, a World War II temporary naval officer sets out to murder his only friend Nathanial, who has become engaged to the woman Martin desires obsessively.

Martin is Officer of the Watch when his destroyer, an Atlantic convoy escort, heads north to send off a radio signal without betraying the convoy’s position.

Nathanial, like Martin, has joined the Navy and is on the same ship. Unlike Martin, he has remained an ordinary seaman. A mystic, he escapes from the crowding of the foc’sle by taking himself to the destroyer’s stern-rail, where he prays or meditates.

It is night, and the moon rises in the east, silhouetting the destroyer from the port side.

Martin sends the port lookout off on an errand, telling him he will take over the sector it is his duty to watch. He plans to pretend to see a torpedo track and order the ship to turn violently to starboard, so Nathanial will be thrown overboard. Not only will he be rid of Nathanial, but he will also be the hero who saves the ship.

But he has been a little too clever. As he gives the order, the ship – which he has blinded on its most vulnerable side – is hit by a real torpedo, and it is Martin who is blown overboard.

All this is gradually revealed in flashbacks.

The story opens with him struggling in the water. He swims to an island rock, based loosely on the desolate mid-Atlantic pinnacle of Rockall. He climbs above the reach of the waves and collapses.

“Where in Hell am I,” he asks as he comes to his senses.

He catches water in an oilskin raincoat and eats limpets and mussels, lays out a sign in seaweed to be seen from the air, and names the various features of the rock. He dreams of being rescued and promoted.

At first, the story seems a straightforward tale of courage, ingenuity and survival against impossible odds. But gradually through flashbacks the reader realises Martin is very far from an admirable hero. He is utterly selfish and had “eaten” and destroyed anyone of use to him. The planned murder of Nathanial, which has brought his own disaster, was only the last act cutting him off from humanity.

He has brought his fate upon himself in more ways that one. However gifted he has been at manipulating people, he could not relate to them, and seems so lacking in fellow-feeling that he cannot even understand that they might resent him. When he was called up for the Navy, despite his pleas none of his “contacts” lifted a finger to help him get out.

Filled with self-pity, he cries: “I’m so alone!”

A terrible thing happens: he sees a red lobster swimming in the sea, but then remembers that only cooked lobsters are red. What can this mean?

He tried to convince himself that his sufferings have driven him mad (“poor mad sailor on a rock”), rather than face the even more terrible truth: he is dead, and in Hell indeed; or, rather, furiously rejecting any form of supernatural grace and mercy, this is the best effort he can make at creating a Heaven.

At length the rock, sea and his own awareness disappear in an Uncreation, leaving nothing but his ravenous Will, and lobster claws, the last vestige of his personality. He is said to have kicked off his sea-boots on the first pages when struggling in the water, but when his body washes ashore in the Hebrides, it is still wearing them.

Atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously said: “Hell is other people.” The answer from these two writers within the Christian literary tradition is: “Hell is the self alone.”




























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