• 0 thru 9
    694
    Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings seems to have undercurrents and bits of different philosophical, spiritual, and historical ideas running through it. At least enough to provide enough for an interesting discussion. What ideas presented in the novel seem most relevant to you, both personally and regarding any current world situations that may be applicable? The general idea of this discussion would be examining LOTR by comparison/contrast with philosophical tradition and modern "reality", and vice versa. (That is just the intent of course, discussions have a way of being whatever they need to be).
  • Barry Etheridge
    349
    Oh dear. Seems to? How quickly they forget!

    The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. - J. R. R. Tolkien
  • 0 thru 9
    694

    Lol! You caught me! I generally like to throw in words like "seems, perhaps, maybe, possibly" especially on this forum lest someone challenge me to "prove it!" :D

    But yes, that quote from Tolkien shows that his vision about LOTR evolved from decidedly not allegorical to what he called "fundamentally religious and Catholic". But, to me, it still has a broadness and universality of interpretation. More so than for example, C.S. Lewis's Christ-figure Aslan. At least Tolkien didn't telegraph meanings so broadly that he gave a character the initials J.C. or something.
    Though in the film, Aragorn has got a warrior-Jesus vibe going on. The second coming of the king? Perhaps more Christian than i had thought...
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    At the same time, Tolkien hated when his works were labeled Catholic fiction. No one denies that LotR has Christian symbolism, but it would be a mistake to label it, as you say, too broadly, as Tolkien himself doesn't do that.
  • Real Gone Cat
    86
    I must be terrible at recognizing symbolism - I have never seen Catholicism in Tolkien's work, other than in the broad sense that both conform to aspects of myth-making. I've always seen his works as being more English (country not language) than anything else. His main theme in both The Hobbit and LotR seems to be the triumph (and tragedy) of the common man who must break free of his respectable, parochial life when faced with a world-shattering challenge. Remember that Tolkien's worldview was forged by the two great wars fought by England in the 20th century which dragged that country into the modern era.

    Just as a fun side-bar, who do you think is the "true" hero of LotR? My brothers and I figured it out in our late teens, and many years later it was verified to me when I read a letter Tolkien wrote to his son shortly after WWII in which he explicitly mentions who he meant the true hero to be. You can find it in his collected letters edited by Humphrey Carpenter. Any guesses?
  • 0 thru 9
    694
    Many things to consider about the Ring, its meanings to those who cross its path and to those whom it affects. And the the ethics that invariably come into play for those in the path or power of the Ring.

    So being called The Lord of the Rings, the "one ring" is at the center of everything that happens. It is in fact one of the main "characters" of the story, since by its very nature it is more than mere possession. In being forged by Sauron, it contains much of his life force. In considering the One Ring, it is helpful to compare it to the other rings of power.

    (From Wikipedia)
    [Tolkien's essay "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" in The Silmarillion gives the background of the making of the rings.[1] At the end of the First Age, Sauron evaded the call of the Valar to surrender, and fled to Middle-earth. Midway through the Second Age he came in disguise as Annatar ("Lord of Gifts") to the Elven smiths of Eregion, who were led by Celebrimbor, and taught them the craft of forging magic rings. Tolkien writes that the Elves made many lesser rings as essays in the craft,[2] but eventually with Sauron's assistance they forged the Seven and the Nine. The Three were made by Celebrimbor himself without Sauron's assistance; they remained unsullied by his touch.

    The Three were called Narya, the Ring of Fire (set with a ruby); Nenya, the Ring of Water or Ring of Adamant (made of mithril and set with a "white stone"), and Vilya, the Ring of Air, the "mightiest of the Three" (made of gold and set with a sapphire).[9]

    Before the sack of Eregion, Celebrimbor gave Vilya and Narya to Gil-galad and Nenya to Galadriel. Gil-galad later gave Narya to Círdan, and gave Vilya to Elrond.

    The Three remained hidden from Sauron and untouched by him. During the Third Age, after he lost the One, they were used for the preservation and enhancement of three remaining realms of the Eldar. Vilya was used by Elrond in Rivendell, Nenya by Galadriel in Lothlórien, and Narya by Círdan in Lindon. When the Istari, or wizards, arrived about T.A. 1100, Círdan gave Narya to Gandalf, who bore it until the end of the Third Age.

    During the period of The Lord of the Rings, the Three were borne by Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf; but until the end of the book their rings are not seen. Only Frodo, the bearer of the One, sees Galadriel's ring, and only when she draws his attention to it. At the end of the book, these three take their rings, now visible and powerless, over the sea to the Undying Lands.]



    It seems the three Elven Rings, since they were the only ones untouched by Sauron, were the only ones that didn't corrupt their wearers. And perhaps it was also their strength, intelligence, and goodness that protected Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf. The humans do not fare well at all. The nine rings of power given to men bring their owners to ruin, becoming the ghastly Ring Wraiths. The One Ring leads to the demise of many, including Boromir and Isildur, Aragorn's ancestor. Aragorn seems to know that it beyond possessing, the Ring would become the possessor. It seems to represent the saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely". No wishing or bargaining would change that.

    The character of Tom Bombadil alone seems totally immune to its power. He didn't want it, nor turned invisible when wearing it. The reason Elrond didn't give the ring to Tom to take to Mordor, seems to be that he felt Tom might lose interest and toss it away. So as far as humans go, the Buddha-like Tom Bombadil and the long suffering Aragorn might be an expression of Tolkien's hope for the race.

    The hobbits and Elves could be role models for ethical behavior, as well. The two races seem to represent something the humans have left behind, and perhaps something they cannot do without. The hobbits could symbolize the innocence of childhood, or the sustainable simplicity of tribal people. The Elves might represent an ancient wisdom and power driven away by the quest for power. In any event, Tolkien places these "non-human" beings in a place of extreme importance for the continued existence of humanity.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    Who is the Hero of LOTR?

    Just as a fun side-bar, who do you think is the "true" hero of LotR?Real Gone Cat

    I haven't read Tolkien's letters, so I have only the text to go on. I would choose Frodo as the hero, for the reasons that Frodo:

    Was an ordinary person--very strong, good, honest, etc. but was no super-hobbit.
    Did not seek out the ring.
    Did not perform selfish, evil acts with the ring while he possessed it
    Found the ring very burdensome
    Did not have any supernatural powers (such as simultaneously existing in Middle Earth and the Undying Lands at the same time, or lived an extremely long time, if not forever, or had magical powers like the wizards.
    Suffered grievously for the role he fulfilled

    Sam was cut from the same extra fine cloth as Frodo, and while he bore the ring briefly, he didn't sacrifice as much.

    Aragorn, Tom Bombadil, Elrond, Galadriel, various of the Elves, Ents, hobbits and Rohirrim, various Men of the West associated with Minas Tirith, dwarves, etc. -- all had their significant virtues. But some couldn't be heroes because they had supernatural powers: Tom, Elrond, Galadriel, or elves.

    I would rate Aragorn (Strider) as the first runner-up hero. Arwen merits a special mention, since she gave up immortality to stay in Middle Earth with Aragorn, whom she married.

    But it is Frodo who bore the wounds inflicted by, or on behalf of the Ring. Bilbo also suffered, but more with advanced Ring-associated befuddlement, rather than agony.

    Frodo is the Christ figure, willing to sacrifice himself to take away the undying threat to Middle Earth. Even if he stumbled at the last moment and claimed the ring, (shortly to lose it when Gollum bit off his ring-bearing finger and then fell into the Crack of Doom.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    I must be terrible at recognizing symbolism - I have never seen Catholicism in Tolkien's workReal Gone Cat

    I can't think of anything peculiarly "Catholic" in Lord of the Rings, but I'm not Catholic, so maybe I'm missing something obvious.

    Tolkien drew upon a lot of resources with which he would have been familiar to give his plot texture, interest, color, profundity, the tragic and the comic, and so on, many of which were pagan.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    I like Tom Bombadil. He's not one of the main characters, but does save the group from the barrow-wight. He is kinda of an enigma, impervious to the power of the ring and able to see Frodo even when Frodo has the ring on. Perhaps a character that Tolkien planned to develop in other stories. I think that he and other writers see paths/possibilities open up while they are writing stories, paths they leave open for another occasion.

    Tolkien address this character:
    I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war.

    Old Tom didn't make it onto the silver screen, his character was not deemed intergral to the plot. I didn't go crazy over the movie.
  • 0 thru 9
    694
    who do you think is the "true" hero of LotR?Real Gone Cat

    Have to say Boromir, based on the sheer number of internet memes starting with "One does not simply..."
    X-)
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k

    @Bitter Crank
    There are a lot of themes in Tolkien ripe for philosophical discussion- the nature of friendship is a large one. One major theme is that of power and control. The One Ring can represent many traditionally negative traits- greed, lust for power, control over others, deception, etc. Tom Bombadil is significant in that he was, as someone explained earlier a "Buddha-like" figure in that his disposition was such that he did not seek out control or power and thus the Ring meant nothing to him. Of course, this also brings up the question, "Is one naturally inclined to seek power, domination or is it free will?" Certainly, there are "personality-types" that "naturally" take control due to the ability to coordinate, charisma, and otherwise.. Bombadil had wisdom, but no desire to use this for the coordination of others- unless one happens upon his dwelling near the Brandywine River. So perhaps it was always in Bombadil's nature to be free from the will's desire for desire as that was just his nature.. This in a way makes him not a heroic figure as simply an ideal.

    This can be compared with Gandalf, who seems to have more choice in his use of immense power. He is a Maia, and had much power from the Undying Realm to cause things to happen- to control things to his Will, even if it was meant for good. Instead, he chooses, even possibly against his own better judgement, to allow others to make their choices and not control them directly with is power, which presumably he could have utilized in much greater strength than he chose to. This in a way, makes Gandalf a hero in that he is able to cajole and convince, and allow others to make choices, but does not directly force the outcome.

    There is another theme in Tolkien of knowledge, and greater awareness of self, "Know Thyself!" as the Oracle of Delphi might say. The Hobbits, for all their innocence, lacked the deeper knowledge of Middle Earth's history and great struggles of present and past. They indeed lived an idyllic if somewhat petty society. However, for living in a bubble, they gave up agency in the greater world that surrounded them, to the point that they were not even aware of their immanent destruction. Bilbo, and later Frodo along with the other hobbits of the Fellowship, were some of the only cross-overs who understood the idyllic life, but they also became aware of the greater depths of the Earthly realm as they ventured further into Middle Earth and met with more peoples and regions. They were able to understand more about their world, how it worked, what kind of people were out there, even some of the more hidden aspects. They dared to step out of their comfort zone, but they lost their innocence. Indeed, they had gained greater awareness about themselves and their world than any other hobbit of The Shire. Thus, there is a sense that though one may stay in the slumbers of domesticity, one loses the wisdom of depth and participation in the greater world, if one does not choose to learn and experience new things. The hobbits were not beyond reproach when it came to the Ring, they were not like a Tom Bombadil who, by his very nature is incorruptible. If they do not learn and experience the world, they too may be victim to their own desire for control.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    760
    I find Balrogs and the Ringwraiths interesting, myself.

    It's interesting Tolkien and Lewis knew each other and both chose to flaunt, as it were, their Christianity in realms of fantasy. But I credit Tolkien for being far more subtle about it than Lewis.
  • 0 thru 9
    694

    Thanks for the excellent insights. Most appreciated. The hobbits indeed could be somewhat petty now and then (the Sackville Bagginses!). And the Ring had a certain power over Bilbo, though he escaped Gollum's fate. I think Smeagol started as a hobbit-like creature as well. Gandalf seems like a cross between a human and an elf. He is the voice of reason mostly, though a little cranky sometimes. The contrast between him and Saruman is striking. Is it quite a portrait of intelligence and power gone bad. Saruman shows that intelligence without any compassion degrades into mere cunning. I love the scenes in the films with Saruman and Gandalf. What a great voice Christopher Lee had. He played a similar character (King Haggard) in the animated The Last Unicorn. The bad guy gets what is coming to him, in fiction and movies at least! :D
  • Real Gone Cat
    86
    Who is the Hero of LOTR?Bitter Crank

    Of course, there are several characters in LotR who might merit consideration : Gandalf, Aragorn, certainly Frodo. But I think it is someone else, and Tolkien apparently did too.

    It's Sam.

    Consider the evidence :

    1. It is Sam who completes the quest. Sam wounds and drives off Shelob, rescues Frodo from the Cirith Ungol, and literally carries Frodo (and thus the ring) much of the rest of the way.

    2. It is Sam who restores the Shire - a very important act in the books. In fact, the entire last chapter is really about Sam.

    3. Sam is the only mortal (the godling Bombadil doesn't count) who rejects the ring of his own free will. Even Gandalf is afraid to handle it.

    4. It is Sam and his descendants who inherit the new Middle Earth. The elves, Gandalf, even Frodo leave Middle Earth soon after the quest is completed. And although the kingdom of men is restored, Aragorn is the last of his line, which ends upon his death.

    As far as symbolism goes, Sam represents the working-class man who began to assert himself as WWI and WWII brought the old class system in England to an end. Suddenly merit and enterprise were more important than who your parents might be. (Remember, Frodo is upper class as far as the Shire is concerned. And Frodo's time is coming to an end.)

    Peter Jackson completely missed the importance of Sam - which many others do as well. I realized this as soon as Galadriel failed to give Sam his gift toward the end of the first movie. I have never watched any of the movies that followed.

    Yikes, I must seem like the worst fan-boy. It probably sounds like I live in my parents basement surrounded by posters of dragons. "Mom, bring me a soda. I'm busy talking to my internet friends."
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    Yikes, I must seem like the worst fan-boy. It probably sounds like I live in my parents basement surrounded by posters of dragons. "Mom, bring me a soda. I'm busy talking to my internet friends."Real Gone Cat

    So, how old are you now and how old were you when you first read the trilogy? I'm 70, and first read the Tolkien trilogy (and The Hobbit) (plus the Silmarillion, and some other bits and pieces).when I was around 30. Over the years I've re-read the trilogy...I don't know, 10 times, at least. I also read Lewis' 3 novels (and some of his non-fantasy books). Tolkien is clearly the better fantasist. As I recollect, (after 35 years) Lewis' stories didn't catch fire the way great books do. There are very good chapters in Lewis's works, but not great books. (I only read the Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, but I didn't like it.)

    Your case for Sam being the hero is very well supported. It gives me pause about putting Frodo forward as the hero.

    As far as symbolism goes, Sam represents the working-class man who began to assert himself as WWI and WWII brought the old class system in England to an end. Suddenly merit and enterprise were more important than who your parents might be. (Remember, Frodo is upper class as far as the Shire is concerned. And Frodo's time is coming to an end.)Real Gone Cat

    Sam is, as you note, working class, Frodo upper class, and the industrialism and empire which had sustained the ruling class of Britain was reaching its end. Coal, for instance, had been a huge contributor to Britain's trade surplus, and the volume of exported coal was huge. The minors had been trying for years to alleviate their wretched lot, and gain sustained power. WWII left Britain pretty much spent. (Of course, the ruling classes didn't disappear, and neither did the working classes, on up to the present 15 minutes.)

    I took sam to be a very loyal servant, really devoted to Frodo. Clearly, his affection and commitment went above and beyond. Frodo couldn't shake Sam, even when he tried to give him the slip.

    So, I'll give way here, and change my runner up hero from Aragorn to Sam. You are right: Sam's role was critical from beginning to end, and particularly in the last hours of the tale, Sam saved the day. But still... Frodo put up an extraordinarily valiant effort to succeed in destroying the Ring, while carrying damnation around his neck and paying a steep price for his physical and psychy's wounds. The poisoned blade wound of a Nazgûl, Shelob's sting, and the baleful influence of the Ring. Sam, Hobbits, and Man inherited the world that Gandalf, Aragorn, Elrond, Galadriel, and the Elves had preserved and defended.

    Where do you put the Dwarves in all of this? And Gollum?
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    bring me a sodaReal Gone Cat

    Your use of "soda" rather than "pop" or "coke" probably places you either in the northeast US, St. Louis area, or southwest US. You could be in eastern Wisconsin, which is also the western limit of Inland Northern pronunciation, which has it's roots in the northeast region.

    http://www.popvssoda.com
  • Mongrel
    3k
    I'm disturbed by the fact that the enemy is hell-spawn, so our heroes can get their slaughter on without worrying about killing somebody's father or brother... somebody's son. It's just a monster. That's not how it really is.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    That's not how it really is.Mongrel

    But that IS how it really is in the reality check fictional work. Do you need a support group to process your feelings about this? Besides, what about all the fathers, sons, and brothers who were killed by the hell-spawn? No feelings about them? Not even a teensy bit of sympathy? Is there no end to the usual and customary PC nettles--even for the (marginalized/stigmatized) Orcs?

    When do you want to schedule sensitivity training for hell-spawned diversity?
  • Mongrel
    3k
    Well look at the pacifist now.. all hawk when it comes to the poor orcs who can't help being evil... like Germans.
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    Faramir has always been my favorite character. Like Sam, he fulfills the good when it is needed most, and carries himself humbly, but not weakly.

    I'm also wary to agree that there's a single primary hero in the the books. Everyone is needed in the narrative, in my eyes. To make a list of more important/less important would to make certain characters diminish in influence, which would be imprudent.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    The only good Orc is a dead Orc.
  • Real Gone Cat
    86


    I was born and raised among civilized folk who said "soda". I now live in "pop" country. Bumpkins.
  • Mongrel
    3k
    I think they're already dead.

    þanon untydras ealle onwocon
    eotenas ond ylfe ond orcneas
    swylce gigantas þa wið gode wunnon
    lange þrage he him ðæs lean forgeald
    —Beowulf, Fitt I, vv. 111–14[7]

    Thence all evil broods were born,
    ogres and elves and evil spirits
    —the giants also, who long time fought with God,
    for which he gave them their reward
    —John R. Clark Hall tr. (1901)[8]

    The compound orcneas is designated "evil spirits" above, but its accurate meaning is uncertain. Klaeber suggested it consisted of orc < L. orcus "the underworld" + neas "corpses"
    — wiki
  • Real Gone Cat
    86
    So, how old are you now and how old were you when you first read the trilogy?Bitter Crank

    I first read LotR in the 1970s. Yes, I'm that old.

    Can't stand Lewis - a terrible story teller. Have you ever read the last book in his series? A bizarre book to begin with (an ape gets a donkey to impersonate Aslan), but then toward the end we discover that the human characters have all been ghosts or something from the beginning and that the whole thing was a dream. Very disappointing.
  • Marchesk
    2.2k
    Just as a fun side-bar, who do you think is the "true" hero of LotR? My brothers and I figured it out in our late teens, and many years later it was verified to me when I read a letter Tolkien wrote to his son shortly after WWII in which he explicitly mentions who he meant the true hero to be. You can find it in his collected letters edited by Humphrey Carpenter. Any guesses?Real Gone Cat

    Gollum, because he saved Middle Earth by biting off Frodo's finger with the ring on it at the last moment.
  • Aleksander Kvam
    213
    and what about the 6 million dwaves who was incinirated by smaug!
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    Dwarves Wharves! I'm a Smaug Denialist. Fortunately, I don't live in a European country where Smaug Denialism is a crime. Clearly the death of 6 million dwarves is a filthy lie sponsored by anti-dragon moral midgets. There were never 6 million dwarves to begin with, so droves of dwarves couldn't have been fried. And further, if some dwarves had been scorched to death they deserved what they got, since they had broken into the mountain home of His Most Esteemed Hotness and had swiped some inventoried items.

    Smaug's death is a tragedy that will, some day, be adequately avenged.

    So watch your step, Kvam!
  • 0 thru 9
    694


    What (to you) does the Ring symbolize? Both within the story, and perhaps more interestingly, in our own world?
  • Mariner
    305
    I'm disturbed by the fact that the enemy is hell-spawn, so our heroes can get their slaughter on without worrying about killing somebody's father or brother... somebody's son. It's just a monster. That's not how it really is.Mongrel

    This issue also bothered Tolkien. When he began to write his stories, in his teenage years, the bad guys were modeled after the bad guys in his beloved old myths, i.e., there was no sympathy or concern for their underlying humanity. But in his late years (cf. Morgoth's Ring, Volume X of The History of Middle Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien) he grew unsatisfied with the then-canonic (inside-the-tale) "version" of the origin of Orcs as being corrupted Elves. (This version is what ended up in the Silmarillion).

    Tolkien wrote about how this version was hard to reconcile with the idea that the Elves and Men (and later Dwarves) were endowed with free will by Ilúvatar (=God). And he was inclined -- in his late years -- to ascribe the origin of Orcs to the corruption of non-free beings, namely, animals. Orcs would then be "vicious beasts", endowed (by Melkor) with the capacity to mimic the free beings (by talking, planning, cunning, etc.), but not really free to repent and therefore to be the objects of pity by the good guys.

    Note, also, that the idea that the enemy is 'hell-spawn', even in the published works, is not really applicable to other enemies than Orcs and Trolls. Sam has an important moment of compassionate reflection about the possible blamelessness of the "Southron" that he sees getting killed by Faramir's troops. Along the Tale of Years (Appendix B of LOTR) there are diplomatic efforts between Gondor and hostile nations -- something that belies the idea that they are not to be reasoned with. Etc.
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