From Orthanc to Notre Dame

From a reader:

Reading both posts of yours on The Inflated One at Notre Dame, and Father Jenkins introduction, I recalled this from Tolkien’s The Two Towers, the chapter titled, ‘The Speech of Saruman’:

"Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell. For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spake to another they smiled, as men do who see through a juggler’s trick while others gape at it. For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled; but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away, and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them. But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it."

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  1. Rather Read says:

    I don’t get it. I have NEVER been mesmerized by Obama’s words, or Bill Clinton’s charm for that matter.

    I must be harder headed than most.

  2. TomG says:

    Rather Read,

    Maybe you aren’t but 52%+ of those who voted in the 2008 Presidential election did – and we have to assume only a minority of them were mental defectives.
    This business is deeply creepy at so many levels.

  3. Choirmaster says:

    Does anyone remember Fr. Z\’s post titled Gollum… Gollum?

    In the comments on that post, Thomas said this:

    The Ents and the Entmoot reflect the Church and her councils. The Church moves slowly and prudently, but when she makes up her mind she employs all her power and authority to often dramatic effect.

    As the story goes, it was the Ents who, being finally roused to action, destroyed Isengard (where Orthanc was located) and ended Saruman\’s effective power (they did not silence him, or break the stone of Orthanc, though), saving Rohan, and indirectly strengthening the forces of Gondor.

    Granted, the decisive battle in the War of the Ring was fought (and lost) in Frodo\’s mind amid the fires of Mt. Doom, and only won by accident–or design–due to Gollum, and the Shire still required Scouring, but the destruction of Isengard was a turning point!

    It\’s all in good fun :)

  4. Andrew, medievalist says:

    Makes sense. J.R.R. Tolkein was, by all accounts, a devout and tradition-loving Catholic whose novels are basically about the battle between good and evil.

    I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic and draw unfair comparisons, but I can guess at who within this eternal battle the tempting voice of Saruman represents.

  5. The chapter is actually called “The Voice of Saruman,” but never mind. It’s a damn good analogy.

  6. In other words, if you are not with Christ, truly, united with Him in good friendship, in sanctifying grace, if you not with Him, you are against Him, and are instead listening to the Enemy, even while thinking that one is not listening to him, laughing at but not praying for those who are listening to the enemy.

    There but for the grace of God go we all, especially those who don’t think so, those who congratulate themselves that they are above the fray. It is Christ who saves us. We don’t save ourselves.

  7. supertradmom says:

    I actually taught The Lord of the Rings many years ago in my Literature class at Notre Dame. When we looked at this section, we discussed the deceptive power of evil, almost the caricature of the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues on the first Pentecost and after. People think they understand and are moved, but the words are totally empty-and therefore, evil.

  8. daledog says:

    I have a political cartoon poking fun at 0bama on my office wall. I truly understand the “anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell”.

  9. Maureen says:

    Yes, we should thank the Holy Spirit. But frankly, the reason different people respond differently to Obama is more a matter of how God created us and where he put us. It’s primarily a matter of nature (some people are as easy marks for any oratory as I am for GE ads) and secondarily a matter of nurture (were you raised to absorb stuff unthinkingly, or to think about what you hear before deciding?). After that, it’s a matter of likes and dislikes, of education, of a thousand other things. (Which the Holy Spirit certainly takes a hand in.)

    Early in life, I had enough hard lessons to teach me certain instincts of suspicion to ward people who “feel foul and seem fair”. So yeah, I didn’t fall for Obama or Bill Clinton or a number of stars’ charisma. It wasn’t any merit on my part; there just isn’t any charisma where I am. But one of the hard lessons is this — there is always someone out there who can fool you, just as there is always someone out there who is smarter or faster than you. People do manage to fool me, and it’s a lot easier if I don’t trust my instincts on these things; but I’m sure there are people out there who wouldn’t set off my instincts, also. That’s just the way it is.

    But yes, if I have any wisdom about these things, it is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit. I’m not exactly a paragon of good judgment by myself. :)

  10. Peter Nelson says:

    Have hope! Tolkien’s era was chock-full of weasely politicians, too; like Orwell, he was well aware of their abuse of language. And there are other parallels with our time. See how Gandalf reacts when confronted with Saruman’s request for “dialogue.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but Saruman’s speech could have been given verbatim from the podium at a recent Catholic college commencement address.

    ‘ “A new Power is rising. [Saruman said in a coming nearer and in a softer voice] Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Numenor. This then is one choice before you. before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its cources, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”

    ‘ “Saruman,” I said, “I have heard speeches of this kind before, but only in the mouths of emissaries sent from Mordor to decieve the ignorant. I cannot think that you have brought me so far only to weary my ears.” ‘

    But never forget, there is an encouraging coda to it all…

    Saruman looked round at their hostile faces and smiled. ‘Kill Him!’ he mocked. ‘Kill him, if you think there are enough of you, my brave hobbits!’. He drew himself up and stared at them darkly with his black eyes. ‘But do not think that when I lost all my goods I lost all my power! Whoever strikes me shall be accursed. And if my blood stains the Shire, it shall wither and never again be healed.’

    The Hobbits recoiled. But Frodo said: ‘Do not believe him! He las lost all power, save his voice that can still daunt you and deceive you, if you let it. But I will not have him slain. It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing. Go, Saruman, by the speediest way!’

  11. Charivari Rob says:


  12. John G. says:

    That is a fantastic analogy! When President Obama stated very clearly
    that the abortion case was closed as far as he was concerned,
    one would think that Fr. Jenkin’s case for “dialog” would prove itself
    futile. I am not discounting the heart / mind changing nature of God’s
    grace – but our mere discourse divorced from that is rather insignificant.

    His introduction canonized the idea of dialog over the object
    of that dialog. As long as we’re engaging in dialog about abortion we
    are absolved of any public, concrete and definitive positions that would
    make us unpopular. That is so contradictory to the message of Christ and
    his church – two things you can not separate. We as Catholics were
    somehow expected to swallow this argument presented in a language which
    this analogy clearly illustrates. The “Catholic” applause spoke volumes.

  13. William says:


    Please comment on the scathing attack of the wife of the President of France against Pope Benedict. I hope you have seen that article.


  14. LCB says:


    I disagree.

    If there were solid catechesis, or if our education system still taught critical thinking, Obama would have never had a chance. Instead we have replaced Catechesis with pure emotion (and often pro-marxist propaganda, cf. A Generation Betrayed, Eamonn Keane), leaving people vulnerable to pure emotional appeals. We have replaced liberal arts and authentic education with pure emotion (and often pro-marxist propaganda, cf. Robert Carlson, Truth On Trial: Liberal Education Be Hanged), leaving people vulnerable to pure emotional appeals.

    The people, and the People of God, have been cheated of education. They do not know how to think, do not understand that words have meaning, that ideas have consequences, or that actions have consequences.

    And when a body politic is filled with individuals who allow their passions, their emotions and biological urges, to rule them, it is a body politic that will soon fail.

    It is an intentional failure of education, on behalf of those who knew that critical thought and clear reason was their enemy.

  15. Sawyer says:

    LCB, I totally agree with your comments about the sad state of education in our country today. I teach in a Catholic high school, and in my estimation many of our seniors graduate ignorant and illiterate about Catholicism and life in general. They are mostly incapable of analyzing a text or following an argument, and emotional appeals rule the day in their judgments.

  16. Mattk says:

    Tolkien Soup for the Soul!

  17. I love the trilogy. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that quote myself, thanks to the reader who pointed it out :)

  18. Kimberly says:

    “There but for the grace of God go we all, especially those who don’t think so, those who congratulate themselves that they are above the fray. It is Christ who saves us. We don’t save ourselves.”

    Thanks Fr. George I needed that.

  19. Kate M. says:


    Great analogy!

    “…and when it spake to another they smiled, as men do who see through a juggler’s trick while others gape at it.”

    – Have you ever watched Rahm Emmanuel as he watches Obama speak? Very fitting…

  20. Thomas says:

    Sweet sassy molassy! Another Tolkien post!

    Don’t forget how Gandalf later broke Saruman’s staff, removing his power and authority, and himself taking on the title of “The White.” The Church can’t break Obama’s staff directly, but She sure as Hell can break Jenkins’ staff – and should.

  21. Athelstane says:

    J.R.R. Tolkein was, by all accounts, a devout and tradition-loving Catholic whose novels are basically about the battle between good and evil.

    And fewer were more displeased than Tolkien by the advent of the new mass. I recall an anecdote by Tolkien’s grandson, Simon, who recalled attending mass with him as a child. Tolkien would recite all the responses, but in Latin – rather loudly:

    “I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn’t agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.”

    Not something I recommend, perhaps. But in his last years Tolkien could be quite curmudgeonly.

  22. Athelstane says:

    Of course, in fairness, let us not forget that Tolkien was the same man who could say this to his son in a letter:

    “Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”

  23. EDG says:

    Athelstane – What a reminder of how much things have changed! I remember that attending a poorly said or aesthetically unattractive Mass was often urged on people, especially “intellectuals,” as a mortification and also as a way of fight against a tendency to aestheticism and superficiality. Now, of course, one is often hard put to find a Mass that is not a mortification.

    In any case, as for Obama, I have never found him an attractive speaker in any way, and I’d be interested in knowing if perhaps believers in general have a higher rate of Obama-deafness than others. Perhaps our ears are stopped by the Holy Spirit and we cannot hear the siren call…

  24. Callin says:

    I wonder which real-life person, if any, provided the inspiration for writing that part of the book.

  25. mrteachersir says:


    Take your pick of spell-binding politicians. Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, FDR, all spoke rather well and to some extent wowed the masses into voting for them.


    When I taught in public school, I was shot down when I proposed a course in critical thinking and logic. The administration didnt’ feel such skills were necessary, nor did the guidance office feel that students would take such a class. As principal of a Catholic school, I am trying to change that.

  26. Hidden One says:

    I must reread LotR, now that I am older and Catholic.

  27. Joe from Pittsburgh says:

    My wife and I have a 16 month old son and he leaves us with almost no time to read, so I don’t know much about Tolkien’s books (I have read The Screwtape Letters).

    The truth is that BHO is a terrible speaker. He is good at reading the teleprompter and David Axelrod’s words. That’s it. Many young people fall for his bluster because American education is very good at making young people into dithering idiots. Pop culture contributes to that.

    Catholic education was bad decades ago. I went to a Catholic primary school for five years in the early to mid 1970s. Much of “religion” class consisted of what guitar songs we would sing when our class was scheduled to do so for the weekly Mass. No, we didn’t have daily Mass. Guitar songs, felt banners, no catechism – blech.
    It’s no surprise the school is now closed.

    The speakers that I have heard that had an impact on me were the ones who stir the intellect. Father Corapi, Ronald Reagan, even Sarah Palin’s speech at the GOP convention last year – they all had something to say that reached the heart and mind. In order to do that, one’s mind cannot be filled with pop culture garbage.

    BHO is an actor. He reads a script. This is enough for people who buy the crummy celeb magazines at the grocery store checkout line and watch E! TV and MTV.

    This is where we are now.

  28. LCB says:

    It really is sad what passes for rhetoric and good public speaking these days.

    All BHO does is read a script, and all his writers do is use psychological trigger words that are focus group tested to produce good feelings and yet remain highly ambiguous, allowing the listener to hear whatever they wanted to hear.

    mrteachersir, I would highly recommend the two books I cited above, especially “Truth on Trial.”

  29. mike hurcum says:

    You have it right. The greatest work of Evil,confusion and malevolent darkness in this world is the destruction of education and total devastion of intelligence. The world worships knowledge and too many lack the inteligence to use it for theirs and others benefit. Logic and thought has been thrown out with the bathwater and without Grace our intellects are withering and not one Churchman can understand the problem. Teach us, teach us Truth and we can and will stand up for justice and righteousness.

  30. Immaculatae says:

    Eerily accurate.

  31. jake says:

    “All BHO does is read a script, and all his writers do is use psychological trigger words that are focus group tested to produce good feelings and yet remain highly ambiguous, allowing the listener to hear whatever they wanted to hear”

    One may disagree with what he has to say, but Obama is an excellent speaker. He seems all the more eloquent when one compares his manner of speech and finesse with the English language to that of his predecessor…which I always regarded as an embarrassment for America.

  32. LCB says:


    He is an excellent reader, and for that I do commend him, but he is not an excellent speaker. He is not an orator.

  33. Maureen says:

    What finesse with the English language? His speeches are pure bafflegab. It’s not even good bafflegab. It brings to mind the famous review, “Tonstant weader fwowed up.”

    If Guy Smiley’s speechwriters ever manage a good line, I’ll let you know.

    Re: the lack of good education in logic in America

    I’m afraid that it wasn’t just the subversive crowd to blame. A lot of businesses would prefer their workers and/or consumers to have pliable wills.

  34. jasmine tea says:

    Wow, I thought of this same section on Saruman over the weekend.

    Tolkien certainly had a gorgeous writing style. ;)

  35. Widukind says:

    Someone once told me, “never trust the one who speaks the smoothest, but listen to the one who stutters”.

  36. Broadsword says:

    “…when one compares his manner of speech and finesse…”

    “Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.”

    The Inflated One says nothing, though sweetly he sings. Stalin, it is said, was also charming. The serpent too, most subtle of the beasts. Ulysses had his sailors plug their ears with wax, and tie him to the mast, so he could listen to the song of the Sirens.

  37. Papa Z says:

    An outstanding analogy!

    Many quotes from Tolkien can fit these circumstances.

    “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear,” says Aragorn, “nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men” (Aragorn to Eomer — The Two Towers)


  38. michigancatholic says:

    Tom G, au contraire. The distribution of most human properties takes the form of a bell curve. Average is about 50%. Probably we’re not looking at intelligence, but we’re looking at something. Wisdom? Common sense? Not sure. I’m glad I’m either below or above average, whatever it is. Average looks really gruesome.

  39. michigancatholic says:

    BTW, I don’t “get” Obama either. But then I don’t “get” Madonna, Brad Pitt or tv reality shows either. It’s a good deficit to have.

  40. Maureen says:

    Re: why people fall for scams — the UK government just came out with a massive report. Interestingly, people who know more about an activity involved in the scam are more likely to fall for it.

    Here’s a summary of the report and links to it:

  41. Fr K says:

    Saruman at Notre Dame; the Commentary by By Thaddeus J. Kozinski

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