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Fantasy Fliers: Lord of the Rings

Posted 03/03/2008 by Sinjin Jones

The popularity and importance of this classic novel is reviewed.

by Sinjin Jones

Cover - The Lord of the Rings.JPG Predating science fiction writing by centuries, the fable genre is literature that has long been adored by millions. It has since evolved into modern fantasy fiction, a niche that appeals especially to teens. The popularity has become somewhat of a phenomenon among academicians, and much of today’s published literature falls within this genre. This series will examine why and, for those interested in fantasy, recommend further reading.

     The J.R.R. Tolkien classic Lord of the Rings has gained a massive amount of popularity, spawning a corresponding series of movies, action figures, and a fan base that rivals any other. The unequivocal response to this novel shows that there is something about it that people like. So, what is it?

     Lord of the Rings follows the journey of Frodo Baggins and his friends (Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Legolas, Aragon, Gimli and others) on their quest to destroy the ancient Ring, a source of great power and great evil, and thereby save Middle Earth from destruction by the evil force Sauron and his minion Saruman, leader of the Order of Wizards. This epic tale pursues the Fellowship of the Ring (Frodo and his friends) as they confront the unlikely task of saving the world.

     Tolkien utilizes the classic form of fantasy novels with precision and skill. His series includes a defined source of evil, The Ring, along with it’s mystical “hand”, The Ringwraiths. With the force of The Ring, Tolkien shows his overwhelming belief about evil: that it is both something independent and something that resides in the hearts of everyone. Using this idea, the novels grasp that part of every human brain that wants the “good guys” to win. The Shire, the place where Frodo and many of his compatriots live, is the Eden of Middle Earth, with its inhabitants being threatened by both the evil outside and the evil within. And there is a portion of every human that wishes for the human spirit to triumph over its darker side.

     A strong theme in the novels is the distinction between reality and appearance; a theme that has appeared in many literary novels from Shakespeare to C.S. Lewis. And, like Lewis, Tolkien was heavily influenced by his Catholic theology to create the themes in his novels. Religious themes, such as the battle between light and dark and corruption of the soul are very prevalent in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf notes that, though he is a wizard and great in appearance, it is actually the small ring possessed by hobbit Bilbo Baggins that is the key to saving Middle Earth from Sauron. The Necromancer Sauron was, interestingly, based upon Gilles de Retz, aid of Joan of Arc and convicted murderer and rapist, as he is portrayed in The Black Douglas, by S.R. Crockett. This adds to the idea that reality is not always as it seems.

    The passing of ages is another such theme that serves to develop the plot. This theme is a product of Homer, Sophocles, and Celtic history that Tolkien experienced through his life. The series takes place at the end of the Third Age after which the Age of Men is to begin. In this theme, the Elves represent the transition. They must physically leave Middle Earth in order to pass on and they are ready to accept this. They recognize that nothing can last forever. However, with the humans – the inheritors of Middle Earth – transition is much more difficult and they fight it. Our world is much the same; we as humans are creatures of habit and resist change at all costs.

     One could argue that the themes and metaphors serve to keep readers interested by providing depth of plot and ideas for one to grasp and ponder while perusing the pages. Honestly speaking though, the principle reason for most readers is merely the magnificent, moving, and skillful plot that Tolkien weaves into the world of Middle Earth. It is no easy task to create a story that spans three novels and manages to retain it’s fan-base to the conclusion. Lord of the Rings has manifested itself as a phenomenon second in popularity only to Harry Potter himself. An easier foray into the fantasy realm would be C.S. Lewis’ classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Jungle Book, or the illustrious Harry Potter series but those that are interested in an epic novel of the fantasy genre need look no further than here. And, for those who are new to the genre, this would be a great starting point.