Rutledge, Fleming. The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in The Lord
of the Rings. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. 2004.
Fleming Rutledge takes a deep dive into the religious undertones behind Tolkien’s masterpiece. This was especially written for Tolkien readers who look at The Lord of the Rings as pure fantasy, totally unaware of the religious dimensions of the story. The author accomplishes this by taking a parallel analysis of the events as they unfold in the book. With scholarly expertise, Rutledge shows the theological themes that drive every action in the story, thus proving the profound presence of religion in the sub-narrative.
In his introduction, Rutledge writes the following:
Nonetheless, because I have come to the work entirely without expectations, I am presumptuous enough to believe that my delayed, untaught encounter with the Ring saga – combined with my knowledge of Scripture, theology, and the Church – had afforded an opportune glimpse into Tolkien’s deepest intimations. (2)
In another chapter, Rutledge writes about Bilbo’s behavior,
If there were any doubts about the lasting effects of the ring even on the most innocuous individuals, the next sequence dispels it. … In the great Hall of Fire after dinner, Frodo is reunited with Bilbo. Of course Frodo is overjoyed to see his beloved relative, mentor and friend once more; it has been the greatest desire of his heart. But when the subject of the ring comes up between them, an appalling change creeps over Bilbo. He asks, in a rather too sniveling a voice if he can see the Ring once more… The change in Bilbo is revolting… The implication is clear. One more close encounter with the Ring and dear, cuddly, beloved Bilbo will be on his way to becoming another Gollum.
West, John Garret, et al. Celebrating Middle-Earth: The Lord of the Rings As a
Defense of Western Civilization. Inkling Books. 2002
This volume is a collaboration among six writers who each explores the place of The Lord of the Rings in the modern Western world. Each of the authors present
In John West’s preface, he says,
Tolkien was both a devout Christian and a dedicated scholar of the Western intellectual and literary traditions, and his love for Christianity and the West stand at the core of this narrative. Far from being simple escapism or blind nostalgia, Tolkien’s saga actually confronts many of the idols of modernism and post-modernism. (10)
Another writer, Kerry Dearborn maintains,
Tolkien’s faith was deeply important to him, and it is something woven into the fabric of his stories, but something which must be deduced or worked out…Although Tolkien reflects vivid belief in and experience of the world’s depravity, his faith correlates more closely to Christian traditions that would affirm a vestige of the divine in creation and the imago dei (the image of God) in humanity rather than total depravity. (95-96)
Towards the end of the book, West writes,
We are free to a point. We are free to accept our calling or reject it. The most inspiring thing about The Lord of the Rings, for me, is its heroes’ monumental struggle to fulfill the mission that fate had ordained for them… Nothing could make them abandon their mission… Whereas the good characters all submit to authority outside of them, the bad ones recognize no authority higher than their individual will.
Bassham, Gregory and Bronson, Eric. The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One
Book to Rule Them All. Open Court Publishing. 2003.
The author of this book is chairman of the philosophy department at King’s College. This book takes a philosophical view on the lessons on life and living that the Lord of the Rings presents. Particularly, the authors distill lessons about morality and ethics, the power of choice, and the corruptive nature of power.
Bassham writes the following,
…Gollum is the more fascinating character… He represents the good gone bad, something which is always intriguing for those who are struggling to stay with the first. Sam represents the good that stays good even under temptation. Both Gollum and Sam want the same thing: to be happy. Both work hard at it. But only one of them succeeds: Sam reaches his goal and Gollum ends in disaster. Why? This is the momentous philosophical question, because it concerns the nature of the good life, the life of happiness. We need to answer it because in answering we can perhaps also learn something important about how to achieve happiness for ourselves.
In the book, the authors make the following points,
So St. Augustine and Tolkien agree that nothing is completely and utterly evil, because such a thing could not even exist because existence itself is good. (103)
In another chapter, the authors further,
In an epic tale of good and evil such as The Lord of the Rings, it is a virtual necessity that the characters representing good and evil can be identified as such by the reader. One way for them to be identified is through their actions. Another is though the character traits from which those actions proceed.
There may be different literary reasons for preferring one approach to the other, but when the characters are given personalities that exhibit virtues or vices, the moral lesson is clearer. The lesson is clearer because right actions may be performed for wrong reasons, or, alternatively, wrongful acts may be performed for the right reasons. So just looking at what people do may be less morally instructive than considering who they are. (110)
Lobdell, Jared et al. A Tolkien Compass. Open Court Publishing. 2003.
This book is basically a compilation of reflections to the places and characters in Middle-Earth. This book is intended to use Middle Earth as a guide to our own life’s journeys. This volume traces the journeys of some of the main characters in Tolkien’s story, their inner struggle and transformations, and cull lessons that we an use as we face life’s many uncertainties.
Walter Schepes writes in his essay,
It is important to note that most of the distinctions between good and evil in The Lord of the Rings are generic distinctions, and the forces of evil are often immediately recognizable as such from their place of origin, their color, or their manner of speech. (44)
The author furthers,
These major characters seem to fall into groups of three. First, there are three already wholly corrupted by the desire for power – Sauron, the Ringwraiths, and Gollum. Second, there are the three who belong to an earlier time and have removed themselves from the world to such a degree that the power of the Ring means nothing to them – Shelob, Fangorn, and Tom Bombadil.
Third, there are three, The Great, who would have the strength to wield the power of the Ring if they did obtain it – Saruman, Gandalf, and Galadriel. Fourth, there are the three men of Gondor to whom the Ring offers special temptation in their threatened land – Boromir, Denethor, and Faramir. And fifth, there are the three who for differing reasons obtain heroic stature in the story – Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn. (57)
Curry, Patrick. Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity. Mariner
Curry focuses on the different social and political systems that existed in Middle Earth and how these various structure worked together to ward off an evil that threatens all of them. The author maintains that Tolkien’s masterpiece is a spiritual work meant to enlighten those who read it with an open heart. This book also analyzes the symbolic battle of nature against a highly mechanical, modern world and how Tolkien presents us with a cautionary tale about the abuses of technology.
The following is an excerpt from the book:
However, although Tolkien drew on the tiny corner of the world that is the West Midlands of England, readers from virtually everywhere else in the world connect the hobbits with a rustic people of their own, relatively untouched by modernity – if not still actually existing, then from the alternative reality of folk and fairy tale.
Chance, Jane. Tolkien the Medievalist. Routledge. 2003
This book puts Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in the context of the Medieval Period. The book provides an in-depth analysis of the elements of Tolkien’s stories and relates them to the literary characteristics that were in effect during the Middle Ages. This book will be useful in studying how the elements of Catholic beliefs of good and evil influence Tolkien’s famed The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
However, aside from the comparison with the literature of the Middle Ages, this volume offers an interesting perspective on how the trilogy came to be and to what extent did the existing circumstances, particularly the looming world war, affected Tolkien’s value system and how he wrote the book.
A relevant quote from the book goes like this,
In September of that year John Ronald Tolkien, then a 22-year old student at Oxford awaiting military call-up, wrote a fairy tale poem titled “The Voyage of Earendel,” about a celestial mariner who sails west to seek peace for Middle Earth. It was the beginning of his invented mythology. (26)
Isaacs, Neil David et al. Understanding The Lord Of The Rings: The Best Of Tolkien
Criticism edited by Neil David Isaacs. Houghton Mifflin Books. 2005
This volume compiled and edited by Isaacs is the definitive collection of literary criticisms on The Lord of the Rings. The books compile essays from the time The Lord of the Rings was first published up until the renewed interest in Tolkien after the release of the Peter Jackson’s film. This book is valuable because it presents a variety of perspectives and arguments without diluting the beauty of Tolkien’s masterpiece.
In Edmund Fuller’s essay, he makes a point about the theme of good and evil in The Lord of the Rings,
As to the inherent meaning, we are confronted basically by a raw struggle between good and evil. This contest offers a challenge and demands decisions of several kinds. The power of evil is formidable and ruthless. The initial decision, in which many of the characters participate, is whether or not to attempt to resist at all…
So great and discouraging are the odds involved in resistance that the possibility of surrender, terrible than the fight – unless the deciding element is the moral choice of rejecting evil regardless of consequence. (19)
Porter, Lynette. Unsung Heroes of The Lord Of The Rings: From The Page To The
Screen. Praeger/Greenwood. 2005
Porter’s book presents a fresh take on heroism as defined by the minor characters on the book. Most criticisms on The Lord of the Rings are about the central characters, often overlooking the fact that the ones in the background have struggles and heroism in their own lives as well.
Here is Porter’s take on Pippin,
Pippin’s value as a hero cannot truly be measured using the typical definitions of a literary hero. The importance of his character lies not in his ability to serve as a classic literary hero preordained for greatness, but in his ability to overcome his fear and self-doubt to grow up and into a heroic young adult. Pippin is truly the everyperson hero who, at least early in his life, might be voted least likely to do anything worthwhile for others, but who matures into a leader capable of heroic action in crises. (59)