The Smart Fool
I don’t know whether this is a quote from somewhere, or whether it has come to me with relative originality, but there is a line that has been going through my mind quite a bit lately: “There is no one quite so dangerous as a smart fool.”
“This is self-contradictory!” You might be thinking. But really, nearly all super-villains fall into this category. They are smart: they can hatch cunning plans and command armies, dictate nations — but they fail to realise what is truly important.
Smart fools are sprawled all over The Lord of the Rings: Sauron, Saruman, even Denethor…. They were all greatly learned people, and yet they gradually became deluded: they failed to realise what was right — and ultimately, what would prevail. They remained smart, even after their morals melted away; even after they tricked themselves into believing what was untrue. Indeed, in the case of Sauron and Saruman they could never have built up so much power had they not retained their cleverness. And yet, ultimately, they were fools.
Take the Harry Potter series. Tom Riddle was a very smart person: he was the Hermione of his day. He was prefect and then Head-Boy; he was able to delude all his teachers into liking him (except Dumbledore); he could perform very high level magic — magic powerful enough to terrorise the entire wizarding world in Britain. But he was a cold-hearted fool; he never understood the most important things in life: “Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”
Smart fools can be contrasted with stupid fools. Stupid fools can get into drunken brawls; they can bully – they can cause a great deal of harm and suffering. But they won’t achieve it on the same scale of the smart fool. The thug down the street may have killed one man before he was carted off to jail. Adolf Hitler, a cleverer man, killed six million Jews before he realised his empire was crumbling, and killed himself too.
Of course, the wise have the potential to be dangerous too. Gandalf cleared this up for Gimli:
Gimli said, “But you speak of him as if he were a friend. I thought Fangorn was dangerous.”
“Dangerous!” cried Gandalf. “And so am I, very dangerous … And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers … for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion. Certainly the forest of Fangorn is perilous – not least to those that are too ready with their axes; and Fangorn himself, he is perilous too; yet he is wise and kindly nonetheless.”
But the wise do not go around being dangerous for no reason. Gandalf — and Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli — while they are not ones to cross, are not a threat to the peace and well-being of society: rather they used their very dangerousness to enforce peace. Aragorn spent a great deal of time in the vicinity of the Shire — not to exploit the jolly, simple hobbits, but to protect them.
The reason smart fools are so dangerous is because they have the brains to conquer the world, coupled with the mindset that conquering the world is the best thing for them to do. They do not mind what they do to people, so long as they get what they want. So they are a terrible danger to all in their way.
Thus, beware the smart fool. (except when you’re trying to think up a worthy villain).