Professor’s Comment: This student was very wise not to summarize Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The student’s primary intention was to describe the ethical themes that can be found in the book. The first part of this essay describes Tolkien's view on the nature of good and evil, while the second part deals with his ethics of individuals. Excellent work!
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, has been called by some one of the greatest books of all time and has recently earned the claim of "greatest book of the 20th century" in a poll by Britain's Channel 4 (O'hehir). Yet at the same time scholars have often dismissed The Lord of the Rings as a fanciful children's story. While the validity of either claim can be equally well disputed, the The Lord of the Rings and related works by Tolkien nevertheless embody a very clear and consistent set of ethical themes. These themes define good and evil in terms of nature and provide a framework on which the ethical decisions of individual characters in Tolkien's stories are based.
Good and Evil
Good and evil in Tolkien's work are, to put it simply, that which is natural and that which is unnatural, respectively. That is, what is left alone to follow the cycles of nature is good. Any time that the cycles of nature are disrupted (such as the felling of a forest or the enslavement of a free people), there is evil. There are constant references to this in Tolkien's stories, as when Bilbo Baggins' neighbors remark on his mysterious vigor and extreme old age, "It isn't natural, and trouble will come of it" (21). Or when Sam Gamgee says of the Gandalf the wizard, "Don't let him turn me into anything unnat...
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...ase one's decisions, it is nevertheless interesting to see how they play out in Tolkien's novel. If there is anything that can be said of The Lord of the Rings in general, it is that it displays an amazing amount of consistency in every aspect of the tale. This consistency extends even to its ethics, a rare phenomenon in a book of "fantasy/sci-fi." One may not agree with Tolkien's view of technology or fellowship, but the ideas are well thought-out and well developed in the story. They make the book worth reading whether you consider it a fanciful children's tale as some do, or a masterpiece of its genre, as do I and many others.
O'Hehir, Andrew. "The Book of the Century." Salon.com 4 June 2001. 29 May 2002.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. 3 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1994.
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