J.R.R. Tolkien on the death of Osama Bin Laden

‘It seemed to Frodo then that he heard, quite plainly but far off, voices out of the past:

What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!

Pity! It was Pity that stayed his hand, and Mercy: not to strike without need.

I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.

Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.

“Very well,” he answered aloud, lowering his sword. “But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him.”’

– J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘The Taming of Sméagol’, in The Lord of the Rings (London: HarperCollins, 1995), 601.


  1. I don’t see the death of Ben Laden as murder, as really a military action of the goverment! (Rom. 13:1-4, etc.) And goverments.. the USA and Great Britain as somewhat Under God! Though the Brit’s are loosing their Judeo-Christian heritage quickly it appears!


  2. There is no “arrogance” in the death penalty, but the law and purpose and order of God! How about justice for those who have been perpetrated personally by the offense, and of the law? This gets lost just too often! God is a God of Law also.


  3. Well, yes and no.

    The state isn’t the church, and thus I don’t expect it to stay its hand in every circumstance. I expect states to act appropriately and not unilaterally in this world. But, after all, in principle it does not bear the sword in vain (even if in reality we often see its vanity).


  4. Unless I’m missing something, the wisdom in Gandalf’s words has nothing to do with the right/authority of the state to ‘bear the sword’, but instead speaks to how we are to feel and think about the death of our worst enemies and the ‘grace’ of those who, like Bilbo, show pity to them. Gandalf says quite explictly that Gollum deserves death, but warns Frodo not to despise Bilbo’s pity.


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