Torture in Tolkien

I’m rereading the Lord
of the Rings
, which I do every couple of years.

I’m at the house of Tom Bombadil right now. Thanks to Kate
Nepveu’s reread
on tor.com,
I’m enjoying the verse Tom Bombadil speaks in — I knew he had his
own rhythm, but I’d never noticed the rhyme scheme before.

So far, the only other thing that’s struck me as new this time
is thanks to the political debate on torture.

In the second chapter, The Shadow of the Past, Gandalf says to Bilbo:

What I have told you is what Gollum was willing to tell – though not, of course, in the way I have reported it. Gollum is a liar, and you have to sift his words. For instance, he called the Ring his “birthday-present”, and he stuck to that. He said it came from his grandmother, who had lots of beautiful things of that kind. A ridiculous story. I have no doubt that Sméagol’s grandmother was a matriarch, a great person in her way, but to talk of her possessing many Elven-rings was absurd, and as for giving them away, it was a lie. But a lie with a grain of truth.

The murder of Déagol haunted Gollum, and he had made up a defence, repeating it to his “Precious” over and over again, as he gnawed bones in the dark, until he almost believed it. It was his birthday. Déagol ought to have given the ring to him. It had obviously turned up just so as to be a present. It was his birthday-present, and so on, and on.

I endured him as long as I could, but the truth was
desperately important, and in the end I had to be harsh. I put
the fear of fire on him, and wrung the true story out of him,
bit by bit,
together with much snivelling and snarling. He thought he was misunderstood and ill-used. But when he had at last told me his history, as far as the end of the Riddle-game and Bilbo’s escape, he would not say any more, except in dark hints. Some other fear was on him greater than mine.

The emphasis is mine.

I had never before noticed that Gandalf had tortured Gollum,
using much the same rationale as the Bush administration.

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