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Lord Of The Rings: Picked Apart Essay, Research Paper

Imagine yourself in a pre-industrial world

full of mystery and magic. Imagine a world full of monsters, demons, and

danger, as well as a world full of friends, fairies, good wizards, and

adventure. In doing so you have just taken your first step onto a vast

world created by author and scholar John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Tolkien

became fascinated by language at an early age during his schooling, in

particularly, the languages of Northern Europe, both ancient and modern.

This affinity for language did not only lead to his profession, but also

his private hobby, the invention of languages. His broad knowledge eventually

led to the development of his opinions about Myth and the importance of

stories. All these various perspectives: language, the heroic tradition,

and Myth, as well as deeply-held beliefs in Catholic Christianity work

together in all of his works. The main elements of Tolkien?s works are

Good versus Evil, characters of Christian and anti-Christian origin, and

the power of imagination.

In Tolkien world, evil is the antithesis

of creativity, and is dependent on destruction and ruin for its basis.

Conversely, goodness is associated with the beauty of creation as well

as the preservation of anything that is created. The symbolic nature of

these two ideologies is represented in the Elven Rings, which symbolize

goodness, and the One Ring, which is wholly evil. A main theme of “The

Hobbit”, then, is the struggle within our own free will between good will

and evil. “Early in the (Lord of the Rings) narrative, Frodo recalls that

his uncle Bilbo, especially during his later years, was fond of declaring

that? there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs

were at every doorstep, and every path was it tributary.” (Wood, 208)

Bilbo, the main character of “The Hobbit”,

often displayed his goodness throughout Tolkien?s novel. One example of

this goodness is when he decides to let the evil and corrupt Gollum live,

out of pity for him, in the dark caves under the mountain. Bilbo could

have easily slain the horrid creature mainly because of the ring, which

he was wearing at that time, gave him the power of invisibility. Instead,

he risked his life to let the Gollum live by quickly jumping past the evil

creature, thereby escaping death of either character. Gandalf, in a later

narrative, lectures Frodo by praising Bilbo?s act of pity upon Gollum.

Gandalf?s words were, “Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and

Mercy; not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded Frodo.”

For Gollum, later in the novel, saved Frodo from becoming possessed by

the Ring of power. “Many that live deserves death. And some that die deserve

life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death

in judgement?” (Wood, 208)

Another form of goodness that is displayed

throughout “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” is Bilbo and Frodo?s

actions of self-sacrifice. In “The Hobbit” there are two instances in which

villains caught the dwarves, Bilbo?s fellow adventurers. Instead of fleeing

their enemies, Bilbo risked his life to save the dwarves from the clutches

of evil. One instance of this is when a clan of unusually large spiders

captured Bilbo?s companions and planned to eat them. Bilbo then devised

a plan to distract the spiders away from their victims and then silently

backtracked to his companions. He then cut the dwarves from the sticky

spider webs with which they were tied and, together, they fought their

way to safety. Also, Frodo, in “The Lord of the Rings” was challenged with

the destruction of the all-evil and corrupting One Ring of power. In doing

so, Frodo sacrificed his life. “We should also remember that Frodo?s self-sacrifice

is not only for the defeat of evil; it is also for the good of society,

for the whole community of created beings. This suggests, in turn, that

in the mind of the fantasist, society is worth saving.” (Evans, 481)

As opposed to the good deeds and morals

portrayed by Bilbo and his companions, there are many foul and unholy creatures

that lurk in the pages of Tolkien?s works, which commit horrible acts.

One of the most horrid of the acts in “The Hobbit” was the corruption of

Gollum. Gollum was not always the slimy, cave dwelling, dangerous monster

that he became. He was once a Hobbit, not unlike Bilbo himself, named Smeagol.

However, one day he and his brother, Deagol, were by a riverbank. Deagol

found the ring of power. Then, Smeagol, who soon became the Gollum, killed

his brother to attain the Ring of power for himself. This Ring, “the Ring

to rule them all”, had the power to corrupt any person who possessed it.

Whether it was the Ring?s overpowering magic or simply Gollum?s lust for

the ring, the corruption that overcame Smeagol drove him to commit the

ghastly murder of his brother. Another evil in “The Hobbit” is an evil

that is much more familiar to any reader, the evil of greed. This trait

is most prominent in the character of the gigantic dragon Smaug. Even though

Smaug has no use for great amounts of gold and jewels, he covets and guards

his stolen fortune to the death. Tolkien had created the dragon to be born

with the desire to plunder towns and kill the innocent to gain his utmost

desires, treasure of any and all sorts. Tolkien may very well have created

this monster in the light of many monsters of our world, the “primary”

world. However, these monsters do not fly on wings like that of a great

bat and spat fire from their nostrils. These monsters usually wear a suit

and tie. Like the fictional Smaug, some greedy human beings feed off others

of lesser power or social status to attain their financial goals of excess.

Even though Tolkien claims that “The Hobbit”

and “The Lord of the Rings” were not written in the light of Christianity

or as an allegory, there is a great presence of religious symbolism throughout

his epic. Urang agrees in his statement, “The Lord of the Rings, although

it contains no ?God?, no ?Christ?, and no ?Christians?, embodies much of

Tolkien?s ?real religion? and is a profoundly a Christian work.” Tolkien,

whether by mistake or purposely, seems to relate the adventures and acts

of his characters Bilbo and Gandalf closely to the acts of Christ in the

Bible. In the “The Hobbit”, Bilbo often acted as Jesus would in the Bible.

Confronted with the possession of the evil Ring of power, Bilbo was often

tempted to use the Ring in excess and for wrong reasons. However the strong

willed hobbit never succumbed to that evil power, much like when Jesus

resists the temptation of Satan in the desert in Matthew 3:16. In short,

the passage explains how the Lord, after fasting for forty days and forty

nights, resists the temptation to create food and feast. He then is tested

by Satan to call upon his angels to save him from deadly leap off of the

highest point of a high precipice. Jesus simply turns Satan away again.

Also, one of Bilbo?s descendants, Frodo, was burdened with the temptation

of the Ring. Frodo knew of the power that the Ring held and knew that he

could either be a great evil power himself, or that this great evil thing

must be destroyed. The end of the “Lord of the Rings” results in the destruction

of the Ring and, along with it, the death of Frodo. “Frodo learns- and

thus teaches- what for Tolkien is the deepest of all Christian truths:

how to surrender one?s life, how to lose one?s treasure, how to die, and

thus how truly to live.” (Wood, 208)

Another Christian-like manifestation of

Tolkien?s creative imagination is the character of Gandalf, the good wizard.

“Gandalf, the Christ-like wizard who lays down his life for his friends,

knows that he is an unworthy bearer of the Ring ? not because he has evil

designs that he wants secretly to accomplish, but rather because his desire

to do good is so great.” (Wood 208) Gandalf is an important pawn and advantage

to the hobbit and dwarves in their adventure. He often guides, gives advice,

and overall helps the adventurers along in their great journey. Believers

of Christianity also believe that Christ is with them, guiding and showing

the way to salvation, throughout their day. Although Gandalf, in Tolkien?s

novels, never cured a blind man or leper with a touch of his hand, he compares

to Jesus in the miracles of his magic and spell casting.

Not all the characters that Tolkien depicts

in his novels are Christ-like or overall good-natured characters. There

are plenty, if not as many, evil doing entities. Saruman is a wizard much

like Gandalf. However, they contrast in the respect that Saruman uses his

miracles and spell casting powers to do works of evil rather than good.

He is utterly undone by the lure of total power. In the New Testament,

Judas, believing Jesus to be the long awaited and prophesized king of the

Jews, wanted to speed the earthly rule of Jesus. He delivered him to the

Romans in thoughts that he would perform his miracles and prove that he

is, in fact, the king of the Jews. Like Judas, Saruman is impatient with

the slow way that goodness works. He cannot abide the torturous path up

Mount Doom; he wants rapid results.

Also, the ring is a symbol of power, evil

power. It is the part of nature that continually strives to destroy a person?s

ability to exercise free will. In essence, the power of the Ring is the

exact opposite of freedom. The purpose of the Ring is to destroy, through

deceit and corruption, anything good in the world. Another way to show

the evil nature of the ring is to say that it represents the omnipresence

of evil. Its very existence, because it contains the evil will of its creator,

Sauron, has the power to tempt, corrupt, and, in doing so, destroy. Another

way in which the evil nature of the Ring can be depicted is in the way

it has seemingly powerful animate abilities as an inanimate object. In

order to understand this, one must realize that if the Ring is evil in

itself, then it must also have the ability to work evil. It cannot necessarily

create evil ideas on its own, but instead it can take advantage of any

opportunity that presents itself to the Ring. Specifically, whenever Frodo

actually uses the Ring, the Ring has a chance to work its corruption on

him. In this way, the Ring is advantageous, and the stronger the presence

of evil, the easier it is for the Ring to work on the bearer. For example,

in “The Lord of the Rings,” the presence of the Witch-king is a tremendous

evil; the Ring takes advantage of this, and convinces Frodo to use it in

order to escape. Although Frodo is not permanently corrupted at this point,

the Ring is slowly eating away at him, and its power over him grows each

time he uses it.

When Tolkien created the “The Lord of the

Rings” and its prelude, he created an entire imaginary world full wonder

and adventure. In reading his books you fall deeper and deeper into its

detail and depth, which makes his fictional world very believable. In a

way, it eventually mutates your sense of reality and creates what is called

“secondary belief.” “Knowing that an imaginary world must be realistically

equipped down to the last whisker of the last monster, Tolkien put close

to 20 years into the creation of middle earth, the three-volume ?Lord of

the Rings,? and its predecessor, ?The Hobbit.?” (Time) Even after his four

masterpieces were finished and published, he continued to build upon the

fictional reality that he created with his next two books “Simarillion”

and “Akallabeth,” which told the early history of middle-earth. Tolkien?s

power to command secondary belief in his readers is real. History comes

alive in the characters and events because he creates speeches and actions

that have the “inner consistency of reality.” (Evans, 481)

Reading the “Lord of the Rings”, for some

people, is a great way to get away, or escape, from reality. In the time

of the publishing of “The Hobbit” the United States was at war. “Perplexed

by our nation?s carnage in Vietnam and by the ultimate threat of a nuclear

inferno, a whole generation of young Americans could lose themselves and

their troubles in the intricacies of this triple-decker epic.” (Wood 208)

By the use of his amazing imagination,

as well as mastery of language and knowledge of myth and Christian principles,

Tolkien created his characters who were the epitome of good and evil. It

would seem the Ring itself had the power of the devil. However, the virtues

of the Christ-like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins destroyed the all-consuming

evil for the purpose of the common good. It is the Christ ethic that is

the force that conquers evil. Tolkien?s writings mesmerize the reader,

creating a spell bounding “secondary reality” for all that reads it.


Thesis: The main elements of Tolkien?s

works are Good versus Evil, characters of Christian and anti-Christian

origin, and the power of imagination.

I. Good vs. Evil

A. Good

1. Pity

2. Self-sacrifice

B. Evil

1. corruption (Gollum)

2. greed (Smaug)

II. Characters, Christian and anti-Christian

A. Christian

1. Comparing to Christ

a. Bilbo

b. Gandalf

B. Anti-Christian

1. Satan

a. Saruman

b. The Ring

III. Power of the Imagination

A. Creates secondary belief

B. Escape through imagination

Works Cited

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Hobbit.

New York: Ballantine, 1982.

Wood, Ralph C. “Traveling the one road:

The Lord of the Rings as a “pre-Christian” classic.” The Christian Century

Feb. 93: 208(4).

“Eucatastrophe.” Time September. 1973:


Evans, Robley. “J. R. R. Tolkien” Warner

Paperback Library. 1972: 23-4, 41-2, 202

Urang, Gunnar. “J. R. R. Tolkien: Fantasy

and the Phenomenology of Hope” Religion and Fantasy in the Writing of C.

S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and J. R. R. Tolkien. United Church Press,


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