On the goodness of evil

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Gorgorotterath

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« on: June 02, 2017, 11:36:14 am »
I had a cursorily read to the foreword "On the goodness of evil" as published on the Grimdark Magazine anthology (it is visible for everyone to see on the Amazon preview). I do not want to address the core of the argument, but mostly the misinterpretation of Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings metaphysics of evil,  offered as a prop to sustain Bakker's argument.

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Sauron is evil in the absolute sense.
This is false, as stated by Elrond in the Council and asserted by Tolkien in many of his Letters. There is no quest to destroy "evil" in any absolute sense, and Elrond affirms this as well when referring to the destruction of Thangorodhrim at the end of the First Age. Not all means are allowed to fight Sauron and his servants, and if anything Tolkien tries to stage a Quest where the enemy is not defeated through Power but renouncing to Power. This probably is not completely successful, but the use of strength is limited to the natural capabilities of each character and some unavoidable fantastic help.
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Orcs can be killed by the thousands, but no Orc can be murdered, simply because murder is intrinsecally immoral, and to destroy evil is to do good in Middle-earth.

While it may be true that no Orc can be murdered (Tolkien could not make up is mind on whether his Orcs had souls or not and mostly sticked on them being soulles [see Morgoth's Ring]), saying that "to destroy evil is to do good in Middle-earth" is false.
Faramir said to Sam "I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood" (TT, Book IV, Chapter 5), and I think reasonable infer from that that he would not kill an Orc either if not for self-defense. Faramir is the character Tolkien identified with most. Somewhere else, in Morgoth's Ring I think (I will check on this later), it is stated as well that Elves would not kill an Orc just for being an Orc, and if taken prisoners the would treat them with dignity even if with duress. Tolkien wrote himself in a corner with Orcs I think, and there is room for ambiguity here. Many characters do not show mercy for Orcs, but there are not the ones considered Wise. The topic is quite complicated, but just the same the absolutistic view described in few words by Bakker is misleading, and to verify this it is sufficient to read The Lord of the Rings alone.
So I wonder if this misreading is intentional to further an argument, or if it just underlies a lack of understanding of Tolkien's worldview

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« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2017, 12:37:17 pm »
I certainly lack a real scholarly, full understanding of Tolkien's world-view, having only actually read LotR once and none of the Similarion.

However, while it does factor to me that Bakker's characterization of "evil" in Middle Earth is rather simplistic, I am unsure that your argument on why that is incorrect leaves me convinced that Bakker demonstrably wrong.  As you say, "Tolkien wrote himself in a corner with Orcs I think, and there is room for ambiguity here."  The issue of Orcs is that it is very difficult, at least for me, because they are such caricatures.  Or at least, so it seems from my shallow reading.  I am unsure if an Orc would ever charactarize itself, or it's kind as good.  Perhaps they would, but that would certainly be a different version of "good" from any we would humanly consider it.  I mean, cursory looks at Orc's origins point to them being "all identical in their hate for everything that Ilúvatar and the Valar had constructed (including themselves) to resemble the hate that lay within Melkor."

It's a tough sell to even point to perspective here as a driver of such a dichotomy, when one group is driven only by hate and envy.  I mean, it even points to Orcs hating themselves, which again seems to imply that Orcs would not even regard themselves as actually good.

As for Sauron, again, I must plead some ignorance on the deeper subject, but the Quest being not the destroy evil doesn't really point to Sauron not being evil.  The quest, of course, is to destroy the Ring though, right?  So, indeed, while not specifically to "destroy" evil, the Quest is set to deny evil it's greatest weapon?  (Perhaps an overstatement, but the sentiment being to deny it an instrument of evil.)  If Sauron wasn't actually evil, why is there a need to be rid of the Ring at all?

Again, I do lack a real deep understanding of Tolkien though, so any further elucidation is much appreciated.
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira

Gorgorotterath

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« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2017, 02:06:10 pm »
Sauron isevil, no doubt on that. But Sauron is not absolutely evil. He may be irredeemably evil, at least within the framework of The Lord of the Rings, but he remains a creature God (in Tolkien's secondary world).
Tolkien does not explain away evil (otherwise he would be the ur-grimdark author!). The existence and persistence of evil is a core theme of his legendarium. However, Tolkien does not explain evil either, or if it attempts an explanation that is done in mythological terms (i.e. Ainulindalë).
Upon rereading LotR two years ago after decades, I was actually surprised to notice how the Dark Lord figure is quite relativized. There are many other evils, in Middle-earth and competing interests, and possibility of Falls that could turn good characters (Boromir, Galadriel, Gandalf) to evil.
What I contest is that you can reduce the Tolkienian treatment of evil to a pure "Us vs. Them" dichotomy, or reducing evil in his work as a pure matter of perspective. It has be done, notably in a few rewritings, but you end up with something rather different from LotR at its kernel.

Sorry, maybe I am murking things even more. I guess you're right, it would require a way longer discussion to conclude that Bakker is wrong. I have to give up on Orcs, the matter is really convoluted and there would be too much to write. On one hand they are born of hate, but on the other Tolkien stated and restated that "the Shadow cannot make only mock".  I add two quotes on their nature, that could help to further the discussion.

From Letter 153, Tolkien's Letters
Quote
[Eru/God] gave special 'sub-creative' powers to certain of His highest created beings: that is a guarantee that what they devised and made should be given the reality of Creation. Of course within limits, and of course subject to certain commands or prohibitions. But if they 'fell', as the Diabolus Morgoth did, and started making things 'for himself, to be their Lord', these would then 'be', even if Morgoth broke the supreme ban against making other 'rational' creatures like Elves or Men. They would at least 'be' real physical realities in the physical world, however evil they might prove, even 'mocking' the Children of God. They would be Morgoth's greatest Sins, abuses of his highest privilege, and would be creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad. (I nearly wrote 'irredeemably bad'; but that would be going too far. Because by accepting or tolerating their making — necessary to their actual existence — even Orcs would become part of the World, which is God's and ultimately good.) But whether they could have 'souls' or 'spirits' seems a different question; and since in my myth at any rate I do not conceive of the making of souls or spirits, things of an equal order if not an equal power to the Valar, as a possible 'delegation', I have represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing real beings on whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodelling and corrupting them, not making them.

And this, about how to deal with them according to the "Wise" (Myths Transformed, section VIII, in Morgoth's Ring):
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But even before this wickedness of Morgoth was suspected the Wise in the Elder Days taught always that the Orcs were not 'made' by Melkor, and therefore were not in their origin evil. They might have become irredeemable (at least by Elves and Men), but they remained within the Law. That is, that though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they must be fought with the utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty or treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost.* This was the teaching of the Wise, though in the horror of the War it was not always heeded.

Tolkien wrote a lot of controversial statements on the origin and the nature of Orcs, and he could not find a proper solution that fit with his worldview. So there is room for ambiguity, but to insofar as to state they are outside the Law (of Eru/God).


« Last Edit: June 02, 2017, 04:11:25 pm by Gorgorotterath »

Wilshire

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« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2017, 02:09:03 pm »
Just checking out your argument, let me know if I'm not understanding you.

Quote
Sauron is evil in the absolute sense.
This is false, as stated by Elrond in the Council and asserted by Tolkien in many of his Letters.
I'm not sure being stated once in the text absolutely invalidates the claim. Definitely a point against it, but maybe something that could easily be overlooked?

There is no quest to destroy "evil" in any absolute sense, and Elrond affirms this as well when referring to the destruction of Thangorodhrim at the end of the First Age.
There not being a quest to destroy evil doesn't address whether or not Sauron is a swell guy. I'm under the impression that LOTR is all about stopping Sauron, and it's not because he's making life better for everyone.

Not all means are allowed to fight Sauron and his servants,
I think this is addressed in the 'no orc can be murdered bit', which you address later, and at best can fairly be interpreted either way.

and if anything Tolkien tries to stage a Quest where the enemy is not defeated through Power but renouncing to Power. This probably is not completely successful, but the use of strength is limited to the natural capabilities of each character and some unavoidable fantastic help.
I don't follow this regarding the argument for whether or not Sauron is evil. Lots of people/things have power in LOTR, from hobbits to Gandalf to Sauron. Power isn't the question here, its evil.

So I wonder if this misreading is intentional to further an argument, or if it just underlies a lack of understanding of Tolkien's worldview
I think the dichotomy you just laid out here is as bad or worse than what you describe above. Why are the only two options intentional falsehood or idiocy? I think it equally likely that there are plenty of arguments for his interpretation, but it seems you've dismissed any outright already, so what's the discussion happening here?

Don't get me wrong, your arguments seem reasonable. I don't know enough about LOTR to really make a stance either way. Both you and Bakker seem reasonably assured of yourselves, but I'm not going to call you out as a liar or a dullard for having a different view.

Perhaps you didn't intend to be as critical in that last sentence as it came off to me. If not, I do apologize, and would ask for some further clarity. Is it not possible that another option rather than stupidity or evil-intentions is at play here?
One of the other conditions of possibility.

Wilshire

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« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2017, 02:21:14 pm »
Oops, you posted just before I did. Going to have to double post to address :)

Sauron isevil, no doubt on that. But Sauron is not absolutely evil. He may be irredeemably evil, at least within the framework of The Lord of the Rings, but he remains a creature God (in Tolkien's secondary world).
I read the first sentance and thought "I don't get it, what's the difference", but then the next sentence:
Really? (read: as one generally astounded by new information. Not to be read as incredulous)
That's something I never once considered. If that really is the case, and its clear elsewhere in LOTR, then I begin to understand where you're coming from.

Tolkien does not explain away evil (otherwise he would be the ur-grimdark author!). The existence and persistence of evil is a core theme of his legendarium. However, Tolkien does not explain evil either, or if it attempts an explanation that is done in mythological terms (i.e. Ainulindalë).
This seems to conflict with the above. Isn't mythological evil the kind of good/bad dichotomy Bakker is pointing out? I've not read Silmarillion, btw.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2017, 02:24:18 pm by Wilshire »
One of the other conditions of possibility.

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« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2017, 02:41:00 pm »
I think this discussion requires two things of me, the first being a reread of that into by Bakker and the second being the full use of the good portion of my brain (i.e. the smaller part).

Let me see if I can remedy the first, then possibly direct the second.
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira

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« Reply #6 on: June 02, 2017, 03:47:28 pm »
Sauron is evil, no doubt on that. But Sauron is not absolutely evil. He may be irredeemably evil, at least within the framework of The Lord of the Rings, but he remains a creature God (in Tolkien's secondary world).
Tolkien does not explain away evil (otherwise he would be the ur-grimdark author!). The existence and persistence of evil is a core theme of his legendarium. However, Tolkien does not explain evil either, or if it attempts an explanation that is done in mythological terms (i.e. Ainulindalë).
Upon rereading LotR two years ago after decades, I was actually surprised to notice how the Dark Lord figure is quite relativized. There are many other evils, in Middle-earth and competing interests, and possibility of Falls that could turn good characters (Boromir, Galadriel, Gandalf) to evil.

I think we might be differing on what absolute means here though.  Bakker's point about LotR is that evil on Middle-Earth is pretty objective, that is, expressly not a matter of perspective.  In fact, the quote you give later seems to speak directly to this, since Sauron's transgressions are violations of Eru's design?

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In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants, by a triple treachery: 1. Because of his admiration of Strength he had become a follower of Morgoth and fell with him down into the depths of evil, becoming his chief agent in Middle-earth. 2. when Morgoth was defeated by the Valar finally he forsook his allegiance; but out of fear only; he did not present himself to the Valar or sue for pardon, and remained in Middle-earth. 3. When he found how greatly his knowledge was admired by all other rational creatures and how easy it was to influence them, his pride became boundless.

-The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 183 Notes on W. H. Auden's review of The Return of the King (Which I found here.

Domination, violation of allegiance and pride are his sins.  While I guess you could make a case for this being something of a perspective issue, it really isn't much of one.  The rules of Middle-Earth are pretty clear on who is evil and who isn't though.

What I contest is that you can reduce the Tolkienian treatment of evil to a pure "Us vs. Them" dichotomy, or reducing evil in his work as a pure matter of perspective. It has be done, notably in a few rewritings, but you end up with something rather different from LotR at its kernel.

Do you mean can't in this sentence?  "What I contest is that you can reduce the Tolkienian treatment of evil to a pure "Us vs. Them" dichotomy."  If not, I think you are misunderstanding Bakker's point in bringing up LotR.  He is making the point that in Tolkien's world, evil is clear and certain.  There is no perspective issue at all.  The bad guys are bad, plain and simple.  Even the Orcs are not confused by this and no one ever thinks to question which side they are on.  It's all a moral certainty, an objective certainty.

Sorry, maybe I am murking things even more. I guess you're right, it would require a way longer discussion to conclude that Bakker is wrong. I have to give up on Orcs, the matter is really convoluted and there would be too much to write. On one hand they are born of hate, but on the other Tolkien stated and restated that "the Shadow cannot make only mock".  I add two quotes on their nature, that could help to further the discussion.

From Letter 153, Tolkien's Letters
Quote
[Eru/God] gave special 'sub-creative' powers to certain of His highest created beings: that is a guarantee that what they devised and made should be given the reality of Creation. Of course within limits, and of course subject to certain commands or prohibitions. But if they 'fell', as the Diabolus Morgoth did, and started making things 'for himself, to be their Lord', these would then 'be', even if Morgoth broke the supreme ban against making other 'rational' creatures like Elves or Men. They would at least 'be' real physical realities in the physical world, however evil they might prove, even 'mocking' the Children of God. They would be Morgoth's greatest Sins, abuses of his highest privilege, and would be creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad. (I nearly wrote 'irredeemably bad'; but that would be going too far. Because by accepting or tolerating their making — necessary to their actual existence — even Orcs would become part of the World, which is God's and ultimately good.) But whether they could have 'souls' or 'spirits' seems a different question; and since in my myth at any rate I do not conceive of the making of souls or spirits, things of an equal order if not an equal power to the Valar, as a possible 'delegation', I have represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing real beings on whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodelling and corrupting them, not making them.

And this, about how to deal with them according to the "Wise" (Myths Transformed, section VIII, in Morgoth's Ring):
Quote
But even before this wickedness of Morgoth was suspected the Wise in the Elder Days taught always that the Orcs were not 'made' by Melkor, and therefore were not in their origin evil. They might have become irredeemable (at least by Elves and Men), but they remained within the Law. That is, that though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they must be fought with the utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty or treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost.* This was the teaching of the Wise, though in the horror of the War it was not always heeded.

Tolkien wrote a lot of controversial statements on the origin and the nature of Orcs, and he could not find a proper solution that fit with his worldview. So there is room for ambiguity, but to insofar as to state they are outside the Law (of Eru/God).

Indeed, you end up in a place of asking the question of how can there be evil from a good god.  Which is a whole different can of worms though and one that is probably best left closed here for now.

I do think though, if I am reading your post correctly, that you are misunderstanding Bakker's position.
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira

Gorgorotterath

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« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2017, 04:09:53 pm »
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Do you mean can't in this sentence?  "What I contest is that you can reduce the Tolkienian treatment of evil to a pure "Us vs. Them" dichotomy."  If not, I think you are misunderstanding Bakker's point in bringing up LotR.

Sorry, I was getting confused. I meant exactly what I wrote. I will have a more careful reread of the essay and your posts later after work to better comment or correct myself I got Bakker wrong. Thanks for the replies!
« Last Edit: June 02, 2017, 04:14:18 pm by Gorgorotterath »

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« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2017, 04:14:51 pm »
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Do you mean can't in this sentence?  "What I contest is that you can reduce the Tolkienian treatment of evil to a pure "Us vs. Them" dichotomy."  If not, I think you are misunderstanding Bakker's point in bringing up LotR.

Yes, sorry I did mean can't. I will retcon that. It completely reverses what I was saying

OK, so your position is that one can reduce the evil in LotR to simply a matter of perspective?
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira

Gorgorotterath

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« Reply #9 on: June 03, 2017, 11:55:24 am »
I've had a reread of Bakker's essay, and I admit I was probably inferring too much from the text, on the wake of a personal bias on the subject, I guess. This attenuates my objections, and I must admit that the latest sentence of my first post was carried on the wake of the reading. Upon rereading I appreciated also how he identifies in demythologization one of the main tools used by Grimdark authors, and its limitations as well as the limitations of mythologization.

Tolkien and Bakker are my favorite authors, anyway.

I still maintain that Tolkien's message and the metaphysics of Middle-earth (or Eä if you like)  is quite distorted, to my understanding. Saying that "no orc can be murdered" is wrong; orcs are murdered in fact in the book itself, consider the killing of the unarmed and wounded Gorbag by Shagrat. That is a scene charged with a moral content. The reader is made to realize that Shagrat's act is "evil", even according to the Orcs'  moral yardstick (Shippey has written something on that, I think in JRR Tolkien, Author of the Century). The fact that no man/elf/good guy murders an Orc is accidental, not fundamental. It would happen, should a "good guy" kill an Orc in his sleep for instance. [This I suspect, happens in the Lay of Leithian, possibly] So I see an inversion of cause and consequence here.

Quote
I think we might be differing on what absolute means here though.  Bakker's point about LotR is that evil on Middle-Earth is pretty objective, that is, expressly not a matter of perspective.  In fact, the quote you give later seems to speak directly to this, since Sauron's transgressions are violations of Eru's design?

Evil is objective in Middle-earth, but this does not simplify the problem evil represents. The Quest is much more than a mission to destroy Sauron as the absolute embodiment of Evil. It is also a mission for to preserve the goodness of the good guys, while trying to thwart the Dark Lord. Many possibilities of temptations are offered, of easier way to "destroy evil doing evil" (to Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel, Aragorn, Boromir, Denethor, Sam himself). I some or all cases it may just have been a trick of the Ring to reveal itself to Sauron, but there is evidence for the contrary at least for the Wizards. So in "The Lord of the Rings" there is the awareness that the quest to "destroy evil" could turn good people to evil as well.

Quote
OK, so your position is that one can reduce the evil in LotR to simply a matter of perspective?
This is interesting. Evil is not a matter of perspective, but possibly the irredeemability of evil is a matter of perspective. It is not in the powers of Man or Elves (and possibly of the Valar as well) to redeem the Orcs (and Sauron as well), but it would not be beyond the powers of Eru at the very least. Or maybe beyond the powers of Melkor if he had repented after being freed my Manwe (one of the reasons Manwë decided to trust Melkor was indeed that his help was needed to heal the world from the evils he had started). But here maybe I am philosophizing a bit too much.


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« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2017, 11:29:59 am »
I've had a reread of Bakker's essay, and I admit I was probably inferring too much from the text, on the wake of a personal bias on the subject, I guess. This attenuates my objections, and I must admit that the latest sentence of my first post was carried on the wake of the reading. Upon rereading I appreciated also how he identifies in demythologization one of the main tools used by Grimdark authors, and its limitations as well as the limitations of mythologization.

Tolkien and Bakker are my favorite authors, anyway.

I still maintain that Tolkien's message and the metaphysics of Middle-earth (or Eä if you like)  is quite distorted, to my understanding. Saying that "no orc can be murdered" is wrong; orcs are murdered in fact in the book itself, consider the killing of the unarmed and wounded Gorbag by Shagrat. That is a scene charged with a moral content. The reader is made to realize that Shagrat's act is "evil", even according to the Orcs'  moral yardstick (Shippey has written something on that, I think in JRR Tolkien, Author of the Century). The fact that no man/elf/good guy murders an Orc is accidental, not fundamental. It would happen, should a "good guy" kill an Orc in his sleep for instance. [This I suspect, happens in the Lay of Leithian, possibly] So I see an inversion of cause and consequence here.

Well, I do agree in part here, the statement that "no Orc can be murdered" is far too polarized, even if I do agree with Bakker's point, in principle, about how Tolkien's world certainly evokes a moral certainty.  The "case of Orcs" as you point out in your earlier post is problematic when you dig down into it, because on the one hand, they are demonstrably evil (with little to no redeeming qualities, even by their own measure) yet, of course, they are living beings.  Additionally, the fact that no one murders Orcs, at least, that we see, actually also speaks to the "moral certainty" of the "good guys" because even in the face of clear evil, they remain uncompromised.

Quote
I think we might be differing on what absolute means here though.  Bakker's point about LotR is that evil on Middle-Earth is pretty objective, that is, expressly not a matter of perspective.  In fact, the quote you give later seems to speak directly to this, since Sauron's transgressions are violations of Eru's design?

Evil is objective in Middle-earth, but this does not simplify the problem evil represents. The Quest is much more than a mission to destroy Sauron as the absolute embodiment of Evil. It is also a mission for to preserve the goodness of the good guys, while trying to thwart the Dark Lord. Many possibilities of temptations are offered, of easier way to "destroy evil doing evil" (to Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel, Aragorn, Boromir, Denethor, Sam himself). I some or all cases it may just have been a trick of the Ring to reveal itself to Sauron, but there is evidence for the contrary at least for the Wizards. So in "The Lord of the Rings" there is the awareness that the quest to "destroy evil" could turn good people to evil as well.

Right, good point, that the objective nature of evil doesn't necessarily mean it is not complex.  In the end though, to my limited understanding of LotR, evil is clear on Middle-Earth, even if it is complex in nature.  Good is the same way, to some extent, which could be why temptation is always something that hovers around.  As I've said though, I lack a real scholarly knowledge of the extended Tolkien world, and it's even been a dog's age since I read LotR.

I think that is the main thrust of Bakker's position, that when one reads LotR, it is unlikely that one comes away with any feelings of "those poor Orcs" or "man, Sauron is just really misunderstood."  Now, of course, like any actually good writing, the deeper one digs, there is a certain level of complexity that accompanies these characters and tropes which lead to a more "realistic" feeling to the world.

Quote
OK, so your position is that one can reduce the evil in LotR to simply a matter of perspective?
This is interesting. Evil is not a matter of perspective, but possibly the irredeemability of evil is a matter of perspective. It is not in the powers of Man or Elves (and possibly of the Valar as well) to redeem the Orcs (and Sauron as well), but it would not be beyond the powers of Eru at the very least. Or maybe beyond the powers of Melkor if he had repented after being freed my Manwe (one of the reasons Manwë decided to trust Melkor was indeed that his help was needed to heal the world from the evils he had started). But here maybe I am philosophizing a bit too much.

Hmm, I don't know if Sauron really is irredeemably evil or not, honestly.  I think you are well beyond my shallow Tolkien knowledge.  I think though, that in any decent work of fiction though, no one would ever really be irredeemable, but of course that is contingent on them actually seeking redemption.  Sauron doesn't really strike me as being one to submit to such a thing, which, of course, part of why he is as evil as he is.
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira