Opinion » Bill Cope

After the Ring

How Strider lost his mojo


I've just finished reading the fourth book in the Lord of the Rings tetralogy. You didn't know about that one, did you? It's called Trashing the King, and as the story goes, the manuscript was left in one of those oaky Oxford pubs by a besotted editorial assistant and didn't resurface until after J.R.R. Tolkien's death. (Tolkien had tried to re-create it from memory but soon gave up and dedicated the rest of his life to penning The Silmarillion, possibly the most boring book ever written.)

The book's release was further delayed for another two decades because of a bitter legal dispute between the publisher, who insisted on retitling the volume Aragorn vs. the Yucky Uglies, and Tolkien's estate, which was adamant about using the author's preferred title, The King's Discontent. A fellowship of Tolkien champions continued pressuring the publisher to get the book into print, but it took the revived interest in Tolkien's work that came with Peter Jackson's movies to get the two sides to compromise on the title.

The book's sales have been dismal. As news spread about how depressing it is, even Tolkien's most ardent fans have refused to read it, arguing they don't want their memories of the first three volumes sullied by the fourth and even a brief synopsis would show how that could well happen.

You see, not all of the orcs and goblins and black-blooded scum met their end when Mount Doom went kerplooey. More than enough of them were left to stir up trouble with phony "grass-roots" agitation and crocodile outrage, all orchestrated by a cabal of neo-Uruk-Hai and Mordor collaborators. Even Sauron the Dark Lord was not quite dead. With the aid of unholy elvish magic that kept his heart beating, the monstrous, all-seeing Eyeball refused to put a lid on it, spending whatever political capital remained to him trying to justify why he promoted such horrible, murderous behavior throughout what became known as "The Age of Criminal Incompetence."

The very day after that glorious coronation Middle Earth threw for Aragorn at the end of Return of the King, those faithful to Sauron went about their dirty work, intent on undermining the popular leader. They spread a vicious lie he was not a real Gondorian, that in fact, he was born in the wilderness from whence came those savage Oliphaunt jockeys--even that he was in truth an Oliphaunt jockey, himself, who secretly hated the civilized men of Middle Earth. Every single thing he tried to accomplish for his people was met by sneaky Orc resistance. The disgusting vermin disguised themselves in human costumes and protested that Aragorn was forcing un-Gondorian ways down the throats of his countrymen. They even ridiculed his queen, calling Arwen a pointy-eared Balrog. Conducting this chorus of deceit was Wormtongue, who had escaped justice by convincing the gullible and slow of mind that he was the only fair and balanced voice left in Middle Earth and not the honorless and traitorous fox he had so often proven himself to be.

At first, only the most stunted of Middle Earth's residents accepted these scurrilous lies. Excluding brave Samwise Gamgee and Merry, the entire Southern Shire came to believe the Wormtongue filth. As we recall, Hobbits were never the sharpest blades in Middle Earth's scabbard, anyway. Even the impetuous Pippin Took started complaining about how Aragorn should be doing things different, how this wasn't the course he had thought he was cheering for when Aragorn was crowned ... even though he hadn't really given it much forethought at the time.

Under this onslaught of treachery and untruth, more men wavered and turned against Aragorn, blaming him for conditions that had developed long before his ascension. Sauron and his beastly minions had left behind so much desolation, ruination and corruption that Middle Earthers from Minas Tirith to the Buckleberry Ferry had few options for gratification or even gainful employment. The Nazgul ring-wraiths, those walking-dead, dragon-master kings of industry who had kept Sauron in power, had hitherto loaded many of Middle Earth's best opportunities on pirate corsairs and sent them permanently into the Western Sea, all to avoid awarding fair compensation or the benefits of a physician's care. Moreover, the villainous wizard Saruman had so thoroughly befouled Middle Earth's forests that Ents were staggering into Lower Rohan drenched with the vile ichor that had fueled Mordor's fires. Volunteers did their utmost to cleanse the poison from the poor creatures but thousands succumbed, leaving behind a throng of demoralized Ent-huggers.

Two years into Aragorn's tenure, and his agenda was in trouble deeper than the mines of Moria. Gandalf and the Baggins boys (Frodo and Bilbo) rushed back from Elrond's Retirement Village in which they had been sharing a gopher hole, but there was little they could do to help. As the book sadly illustrates, when impatient, unreflective and frightened men enter willingly into the fantasy that an era of criminal incompetence can be set entirely right within such a small count of days, they are perfectly capable of looking for answers within the same black arts that had brought them to such woe. Most people, concludes Tolkien, are like Gollum at heart, eager to believe that even the most self-destructive of paths is "Precious."

So, as you can see, Trashing the King is undoubtedly too disheartening for those who relished the hope Tolkien wrote into the rest of his opus magnum. But in the end, it's just a work of fiction, yes? In fact, I made it all up. There is no such book as Trashing the King. You can do that now, in this lesser age ... say anything you want. Who's to stop you?