At the end of 2013, two researchers in the U.K. published a report suggesting a reason why good typically triumphs over evil in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy: vitamin D. Virtuous characters typically get a lot of sunlight, and villainous ones keep to the shadows, where ultraviolet light can’t help their skin produce the “sunshine vitamin,” the scientists argue. They back up their claim by evaluating characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” (the second installation of which is still kicking butt in theaters).
Although we admire these nerdy researchers’ efforts, we in the Newscripts gang were skeptical. So we once again turned to our resident Tolkien expert, Ty Finocchiaro. The following are his thoughts on the vitamin D-evil connection. He’s not buying it:
To think that a few hours of sunlight and a proper breakfast meant the difference between the Dark Lord Sauron’s victory and defeat at the close of the 3rd age is fairly preposterous. But that’s just what a curious paper entitled “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Deficiency” by Joseph and Nicholas Hopkinson hints at. While the article is a fine initial effort, I’d like to take a bit of time to point out a few inconsistencies and oddities in its methods and results as well as shed a bit of light on further discussion topics.
The study chose to concentrate on dietary vitamin D intake along with average sun exposure levels of the main races and a few dramatis personae from ”The Hobbit.” Seven were picked to represent the side of Good and four the side of Evil (see Table 1). The authors assigned a “Vitamin D Score” from 0 to 4 for each race or character.
Right off the bat I take issue with a few glaring omissions on the side of Evil. For one thing, where are the Wargs? The canine beasts are a huge part of “The Hobbit.” They hunt lead dwarf Thorin and the rest of his company after their time beneath the Misty Mountains and are a major player in the Battle of Five Armies. To leave them out of the study is quite suspect. They do not fear sunlight like the bulk of Evil’s minions nor live in total darkness. As such they will provide a noticable boost to Evil’s Vitamin D average.
On the other side of the coin, I’d be remiss not to add the Giant Spiders of Mirkwood to the Evil roster. They are quite numerous in the region and would likely have been present in some form when the White Council came for the Necromancer in Dol Guldor. These creatures detest light however, so they’ll drag the score down a bit. But, fair’s fair. This new list is a better representation of the Evil forces found in The Hobbit. Now it’s time to adjust some of the numbers that I believe to be inaccurate (see Table 2).
Good’s Vitamin D scores were pretty spot-on and only minor adjustments are needed. Dwarves are a bit more tied to their underground environs than the numbers suggest. There’s a reason not many people have ever seen a dwarf female. Dwarves prefer to remain with good solid stone above their heads and inhabit the twilight realms of mountain depths for most of their lives. So they dropped from a score of 3 to a 2.
Eagles were set at a score of 3. I bumped this up to a 4 as they pretty much live in the clouds and can range for miles to find the best meal possible.
Evil needed some serious retooling because I felt the numbers were more than a bit skewed. As mentioned earlier, giant spiders get no sun. However they definitely have deep stores of food strung up in their tangled webs. They eat just fine, so I went with a score of 1. Wargs can travel long distances to get a decent meal much like the eagles and are tolerant of life under the sun. I score them at 3.
Now for a large oversight. Smaug scoring a zero? Really? C’mon. The dragon very likely hibernates for long periods of time to conserve energy and has no aversion to light. Smaug is essentially the ultimate predator in an area with no equal among his kind during this Age. So he eats what he wishes and goes where he likes – whenever he desires. Smaug does not want for anything except perhaps some decent conversation. Solid score of 3.
I rescored trolls, too. They might not get any sunlight, but they’re large and muscular. Clearly, they’re getting plenty of nutrients. Maybe they even get their powers from the moonlight? They get a 2.
Goblins (or Orcs) are next. Goblins are not complete troglodytes who simply eat rocks as suggested by their score of 0. They are quite cunning and actually capable of designing clever machinery. Their grisly feasts of nutrient rich organ meat and common cave critters like fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and fungi provide enough to score a 1.
That leaves Gollum. Poor pitiful Gollum. He is indeed a creature who lives a life of total darkness, far, far away from the hated “yellow face” of the sun. But he has The One Ring! Well, at least he had it. While in possession of “the precious,” Gollum experienced a massively extended lifespan and longevity. So there is no doubt that the ring provided him with all the tasty nutrients he could ask for. After all, one of the ring’s main motivations is to keep the current bearer alive and healthy so it can get back to Sauron. Factoring in The One Ring boosts Gollum to a score of 2.
With these adjustments to Evil, the previous Vitamin D mean of 0.2 becomes 2.0! Quite a difference and not all that far off from Good’s Vitamin D mean of 3.4. As such I really don’t think there’s much weight to the Vitamin D argument. Especially if you expand the net to include Tolkien’s other works. I mean, Balrogs are made of shadow and kick plenty of butt. The Haradrim, Easterlings, and Corsairs of Umbar are all sun dwellin’, Vitamin D lovin’ men in Sauron’s service. Then there’e the prickly problem presented by the sun-resistant strains of Troll and Orc known as the Olog-hai and Uruk-hai.
Luckily, the forces of Good can rest easy knowing Evil’s flaw isn’t so much chemical or biological as a deep psychological issue. They are born into and live a life of slavery and fear. Goblins are oppressed under the cruelty of a whip and dragons under the weight of greed. As such they all require a master to drive them onward. Topple or manipulate the master, and it all crumbles away. Their weakness exposed, evil creatures make easy targets for the forces of Good to defeat, be it day or night.
Complicated plots to withhold Vitamin D sources from cruel Goblin Kings, argumentative trolls, prowling wargs, and devious dragons would probably just get the forces of Good snacked on. I don’t recommend it.
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