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Luther 1 Meaghan Luther Dr. Enright English Literature II 12 November 2010 The Corruption of Power "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Baron John Acton said this in a letter to a friend more than one hundred years ago and today it is still a phrase that is commonly known, used, and remembered as a defining moment in our culture. The corruption of power has been a theme in literature since Beowulf, and was brought to life in Shakespeare’s plays more than four hundred years ago. It is still a common theme in British literature today, as I will demonstrate by using J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings and a few of Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues. It is not only the possession of power that corrupts; more specifically, it is the misuse and abuse of that power that makes the wielder fall victim to its corrupting potential. The corruption of power theme in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is prominent in all three books; the most obvious symbol of that power is the One Ring: Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. (Tolkien, “Fellowship” 81) It is quickly apparent at the beginning of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring that the
Luther 2 hobbit, Frodo, has that very ring in his possession and it is the pressing matter of destroying it that dominates the plot of the trilogy. How then can I be speaking of power corrupting when the “good guys” seek only to destroy it? I have only to mention the pitiful character of Gollum to demonstrate the corrupting power the One Ring has. Smeagol, as Gollum used to be called, was once a hobbit too, a nasty one yes, but a hobbit all the same. So powerful was the Ring’s allure that Smeagol went so far as to murder his friend to possess it. “Power is initially instigated by a new energy source, the Ring, which has no limiting force, and the power of the Ring increases uncontrollably” (Weeks 1). Over the years the poison of the Ring’s power mutated Smeagol into the creature Gollum, because “under the torment of his lust for the Ring, every aspect of his hobbit nature is distorted to parody” (Zimbardo 105). Gollum is only one of many victims of the One Ring in this story, and not the most tragic. The power of the Ring also corrupts the wizard Saruman the White, once Gandalf’s close friend, and Boromir of the Fellowship. Gandalf and other political figures seek to destroy it because it is their belief that “the power of the ring will ultimately ruin anyone who has access to it, and everyone around the person who has it” (Weeks 2). This is also the reason why they refuse to use the power themselves to overthrow Sauron, the Dark Lord; they fear its corruption of even the

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