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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
1. corruption (Gollum)
2. greed (Smaug)
II. Characters, Christian and anti-Christian
1. Comparing to Christ
b. The Ring
III. Power of the Imagination
A. Creates secondary belief
B. Escape through imagination
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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