Revenge in Tolkien's The Hobbit: A Perilous Path

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The morality of revenge is often difficult to evaluate, and the struggle to determine whether it is the path to justice or evil subtlety permeates through J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. In the novel, the morality of vengeance does not fall into the clearly set lines between good and evil. This grey area is a hallmark of Tolkien's background, for his religion and academic studies have conflicting stances on revenge. His faith criticizes revenge and promotes forgiveness, yet he was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature which portrays revenge as the noble route to justice. Since these two aspects of Tolkien's life greatly influenced his writing, he did not eliminate the existence of vengeance from the minds of his indignant characters. Instead, the novel cautions against revenge and its inherent dangers, though there are exceptions in which revenge is carried out without harmful effects. However, in order to evaluate the various episodes where revenge is discouraged in the narrative, there must be a consistent criteria for analysis.

To begin, revenge is defined as:

A deliberate injurious act or course of action against another person, motivated by resentment of an injurious act or acts performed by that other person against the revenger, or against some other person or persons whose injury the revenger resents. Both motive (vengeful resentment) and injurious act must be present to constitute revenge. (Rosebury 451)

Although this definition is broad enough to include most cases of malicious retaliation in The Hobbit, there are acts of reactive violence that lay outside its boundaries. For example, Gandalf deceives the trolls into death and kills the Great Goblin, but he does not fulfill the criteria for revenge because thes...

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...ting factor, which gives rise to the significant influence Anglo-Saxon writing had on his literature. Though overall, Tolkien agrees with the Roman Catholic belief that revenge is likely to cause problems and should not be used to offset an injustice.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. New York: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2011. Print.

Mason, Elinor. "What Is Consequentialism?." Think 8.21 (2009): 19. Print.

Rosebury, Brian. "Respect for Just Revenge." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77.2 (2008): 451-471. Print.

Shippey, T. A.. The Road to Middle-Earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 19831982. Print.

Tolkien, J. R. R.. The Hobbit. London: HarperCollins, 2012. Print.

Wood, Ralph C. "Good & Evil in Middle-earth: the characters are mythic, but the epic sweeps across a Christian moral landscape." Christian history May 2003: 28-31.

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