Last week was Tolkien Week, and as I always do, I spent it reveling in all things Middle-Earth. Tolkien Week might not be a big, official holiday, but it’s still one of my favorite times of year.
Something interesting occurred to me, though, as I was reading The Lord of the Rings–why are Men so important? Think about; of the four free peoples (five if you feel like including the Ents), Men are kind of unimpressive. They’re not immortal like Elves; they’re more easily corrupted than Hobbits, and they’re not as strong or sturdy as Dwarves. But at the same time there is something important about their presence in Middle-Earth. In The Silmarillion this is obvious; Iluvatar (the Elves’ name for God) forms Men with a desire for travel, for seeing what lay beyond the borders of their land. They are also given–well, the closest I can describe it is free will; they can shape their own destiny beyond the influence of the Music of the Ainur. And, of course, Men die of old age. The Elves refer to this as the Gift of Iluvatar because they know the burdens of immortality.
In Middle-Earth itself, Men are shown to have the potential for either good or evil in themselves much more frequently than you see with Elves. And have you noticed than when it comes to a company of mixed races, it’s normally the Men that are chosen to be the leaders? Why is this? What is so important about Men?
My thoughts is that this leads back to free will. The way this was phrased in The Silmarillion itself was, “…they [Men] should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else…” Men have a certain degree of freedom denied to other races. This makes them extremely special in all of Middle-Earth.
Why the specialness? Well, the Catholic in me is jumping up and down, waving her arms and shouting, “Because of the Incarnation! Because God became Man!” This may be part of the reason–Tolkien was Catholic, so the importance of the Incarnation wasn’t lost on him. However, I can’t say for certain this is a reason because, despite the fact Middle-Earth is supposed to be an older version of our world, we don’t know when the Incarnation would have happened in the Middle-Earth timeline. What we do know, however, is that Iluvatar intended for Men to join in the Second Music of the Ainur at the end of the world.
So perhaps it’s not important precisely why Men are so important in Middle-Earth. Perhaps all that matter is that Iluvatar loves them and plans for them to join him one day. The Elves may not know what waits for them at the end of the world, but Men do.