Understanding “The Lord of the Rings”

Tolkien was inspired by old mythology. His own Christianity shaped LOTR as he himself says- “A fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” We can see a hell lot of Christian imagery in LOTR, like there are heaven and hell, angels and demons, resurrection, etc. But this story is not to be seen as a Christian allegory, as, Tolkien did not like allegories, he rather favored history (real or fictional). He liked mythology especially fairy tales, in his own words; “They open a door on Other times, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside time itself, maybe.”
As one author commented, ” Exploring Tolkien’s world was not just interesting, it was not even just fascinating. It was sheer joy. For we knew that here we had touched truth. This book was a homecoming. This book broke our hearts. Here was a world that was real- in fact, more real, more solid than the one we left behind when we opened the covers of that book.”
And when Peter Jackson took the task to translate Tolkein’s world into the film, he approached it as actual history and not as a fantasy.
When we see Rohan we see a place resembling Anglo-Saxons to the closest, their music, themes, cultures, etc. When we see Edoras we see land on the brink of doom, it has lost all its Glory and spirit, and they spend the rest of the story reclaiming these virtues.
Theoden’s mind is corrupted by Saruman and now is nothing but a shadow of a man he once was. But even after Gandalf releases him from the spell, his spirit is not fully restored. He is still afraid of death. So, he retreats the people of Edoras to Helm’s Deep, hoping to keep them safe from danger in the giant fortress. It is, at the last moment, when he faces his and the death of his own people, that he gets his spirit back and decides to face doom with courage. But he achieves the real moral victory when he gives up the fear of death and the desire for glory and heads out to aid Gondor just because its the right thing to do.
Eowyn, when we meet her, she too, like Theoden, is trapped by fear, but she is not afraid of death, she is afraid of (metaphorically speaking) a cage. Her cage is to believe that real honor is only found in battle. As author Matthew Dickerson in the book (Following Gandalf) said- “While her uncle is so afraid of death that he becomes shameful, she is so afraid of the shame that she seeks death.”
She thinks that glory can only be found on a battlefield, and that’s why she feels attracted to Aragon who represents the heroism she admires. But he rejects her telling that what she loves is, “Nothing, but a shadow of what she loves.”
She takes part in the battle of Pelennor fields and finally when she slays the Witch-king, she achieves the glory she desired. During her recovery, she fells in love with Faramir, who shows her that there is no shame in pity, in his words, “Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart.” And to which she replies-
“I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” And thus she achieves her moral victory.
We can see characters dwelling on their moral choices from time to time, for example, in the cave when Bilbo had a chance to kill unarmed and unaware Golem, he is filled with pity and chooses not to kill him even though he had to put himself into greater risk because of it.
Let’s talk about Gondor, we see Mias Tirith, ‘the city of kings’, does not have a king for a long time. It is ruled by steward Denethor, who is only focused on maintaining his reign. He wants to protect his city at any cost, even by using the ring, the ultimate weapon of evil. In contrast to Denethor his son Faramir also wants to protect the city, but not at any cost, not at the cost of evil. He rejects the ring and shows the desire to face defeat for doing what is right.
Someone said it right, Tolkein seems to be asking this question to all his characters- “For what values are we willing to suffer defeat?”
This is a question we must be asking ourselves from time to time. It is a question to be considered. Hope this deepened your understanding a bit, that’s all for now.

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