What does the president of the United States have to do with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit?
Well, in an article titled “Trump makes it official: U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” Washington Post reporter Brady Dennis ended with this Trump quote:
“I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. I’ve made that wealth come alive,” Trump said during a news conference this summer in France. “I’m not going to lose that wealth — I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills.”
The quote put an exclamation mark on the fact that Americans can’t rely on the current administration for climate policy. It also turned my thoughts to Middle Earth and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Granted, that’s not hard to do; I’ve been an active consumer of Tolkien’s works and Peter Jackon’s cinematic portrayals for nearly 20 years. I’ve often thought of climate change through the lens of Middle Earth. Sauron and his armies represent a warming planet while the reluctance of men, hobbits, elves, and dwarves to join forces embodies, well, the inability for the world’s nations to do the same.
But this Trump quote – especially the line “I’m not going to lose that wealth – I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills” – brought my mind specifically to this scene from The Hobbit.
A little context
In The Hobbit, Thorin (the long-haired dwarf in the video) and his band of dwarves just lead a treacherous campaign across Middle Earth to battle the dragon Smaug and reclaim a mountain filled with gold. You know, that old story.
On the journey, Thorin receives help from elves and men. In return, he promises to restore the land to its former greatness with the reclaimed wealth. However, when the mission proves successful, Thorin reneges on his promises due to obsession over the gold called dragon sickness.
Sound like anyone you know? Maybe a certain president whose campaign owes money to cities across the country?
Thorin’s refusal to share the wealth leads to a deadly and destructive battle between five armies. Only on his deathbed does Thorin realize how meaningless the gold and violence were. In fact, in is dying breaths he tells Bilbo (a perfect representation of a sustainable being): “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Now what does The Hobbit have to do with climate change?
The easy metaphor here is that Trump is Thorin and oil is gold. Oil is the “wealth under America’s feet” that Trump mentions, and a primary means of industry despite its dangers. In Middle Earth, digging too deep and amassing too much wealth invites dragons and other nasty creatures. It’s really not that different on planet Earth, as oil spills and carbon emissions cause smoke, fire and violence.
Through his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Trump has shown that he values temporary wealth – at least for a select few – above the long term well-being of the planet and humankind. (Note: I realize that this isn’t a groundbreaking revelation).
The metaphor continues as Thorin’s dragon sickness invites Sauron’s legion of orcs (climate change) to reclaim the mountain and eventually turn Middle Earth into a burnt crisp. As the battle ensues, Thorin hides away in the mountain and refuses to join the fight, leaving elves, men, eagles and his fellow dwarves to fight a battle that he started.
The way I see it, this is currently where we’re at in the battle against climate change right now. And I hate to say it, but the United States, with Trump in office, is the one cowering away in a mountain while everyone else fights our battle.
Since The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have been available for 60+ years, I’m not going to feel bad about spoilers. Here’s the good news: Thorin snaps out of his dragon sickness, joins the battle and helps defeat the wave of orcs. Now here’s the bad news: that was just a battle. The war against Sauron is many, many times greater; and so is the war against climate change.
I could continue to spin this metaphor for pages on end (and I will, upon request) but here’s the bottom line: The sooner America snaps out of its dragon sickness and faces climate change head on, the better.
In Lord of the Rings, Sauron’s armies fester and grow to the point that they are unconquerable except by dropping a magic ring into a volcano. In our universe, there is no magic ring and there is no volcano. We need to leave the gold in the mountain, band together, and fight this war.