The thought flashed across my mind the moment I saw the White House lit up in colors to celebrate the recent Supreme Court ruling about same-sex marriage.
The thought need not reflect any particular position about the wisdom of that ruling.
Or about the wisdom of the executive branch displaying the iconography of one side of a still-far-from-over social debate.
Or even about the aesthetic preferences for exterior home lighting.
But in my case, I know exactly what it reflected.
The thought simply occurred to me, quite apart from my choosing to call it up, because I had recently read the exact same words in Tolkien, in Gandalf’s retelling of his fateful meeting with Saruman.
“So you have come, Gandalf,” he said to me gravely; but in his eyes there seemed to be a white light, as if a cold laughter was in his heart.
“Yes, I have come,” I said. “I have come for your aid, Saruman the White.” And that title seemed to anger him.
“Have you indeed, Gandalf the Grey!” he scoffed. “For aid? It has seldom been heard of that Gandalf the Grey sought for aid, one so cunning and so wise, wandering about the lands, and concerning himself in every business, whether it belongs to him or not.”
‘I looked at him and wondered. “But if I am not deceived,” said I, “things are now moving which will require the union of all our strength.”
“That may be so,” he said, “but the thought is late in coming to you. How long, I wonder, have you concealed from me, the head of the Council, a matter of greatest import? What brings you now from your lurking-place in the Shire?”
“The Nine have come forth again,” I answered. “They have crossed the River. So Radagast said to me.”
“Radagast the Brown!” laughed Saruman, and he no longer concealed his scorn. “Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool! Yet he had just the wit to play the part that I set him. For you have come, and that was all the purpose of my message. And here you will stay, Gandalf the Grey, and rest from journeys. For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”
‘I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.By this point some of my readers may be starting to lose patience.
“I liked white better,” I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white,” said I. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
They are either asking “Why is he giving so much context?” or else “How dare he compare the White House and the white robes of Saruman?”
“After all, it’s not like our leader repeatedly lied for the sake of increasing his power—like Saruman.
“And it’s not like our world has nine black-clothed people whose power is all but impossible to overcome—like Ringwraiths.”
“And it’s not like, in our world, the leader joined the side of the Nine.”
OK, I could go on, but if you have now lost all patience, good!—that’s exactly how Saruman felt with Gandalf at this point.
“You need not speak to me as to one of the fools that you take for friends,” said he. “I have not brought you hither to be instructed by you, but to give you a choice.”That choice, as Saruman explained, was between joining him in the service of Sauron, or joining him to try and get the One Ring for himself, or becoming his prisoner. Gandalf choose imprisonment.
Let me here recognize something that may reassure some of you.
It really is the case that, despite their starting with the same English letters, the battle over Marriage Equality is quite unlike the battle over Middle Earth.
For example, those in favor of it are not necessarily in Sauron’s service. Nor, it should be said, are those who are against it.
And yet I recently read that one of my favorite actors, Ian McKellen—who plays Gandalf, of all people!—boasts about regularly ripping pages out of hotel bibles whose contents are not to his liking.
This response to those with whom one disagrees is not what I used to expect from typical liberals. (At least he doesn’t do it, or boast about it, with the Koran.)
When McKellen was asked what he would like to ask Tolkien, he said this:
“Would he be the sort of Catholic who wouldn't understand why someone like me would be openly gay and think myself God's creature as he was?”
Seriously? Not one Catholic I know (or know about, save in someone’s fantasy world) would have any trouble at all understanding the things McKellen mentions, either separately or together.
The idea that being openly gay undercuts being equally God’s creature is a projection, entirely of some people’s own making.
And the suggestion that merely believing that certain sexual choices are wrong commits one to believing the above idea is a lie from the pit of hell.
Which brings us back to our story.
I know we might see our nine, not like Ringwraiths, but like the chosen nine in the Fellowship of the Ring. Perhaps the four conservatives are like hobbits, the two remaining men like humans, and the three women like an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard (though one of the men already thinks he’s the wizard).
OK. Fine. But even those nine were tempted with a lie from the pit of Mordor…