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Concerning Middle-Earth, and Other Matters

British professor and novelist J.R.R. Tolkien once said that If more
of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be
a merrier world ('J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes' 1). Perhaps it would; Tolkiens
own Middle-Earth, particularly the Shire, is exactly that way. Hobbits
are quiet folk, enjoying their drink and food and daily routines and
ruing the day when that routine is interrupted. This down-home
philosophy stems from many of Tolkiens own experiences in life and
his appreciation for the small things, which are themselves shaped by
his Roman Catholic faith and the daunting tasks of fighting in World
War I. WWI only increased his love of home and set his heart longing
for better times, past times, when life was good and less complicated.
These ideals weave themselves into the tapes-tries that call
themselves Middle-Earth, heavily affecting the development of its
world order, the interracial relationships among Elves, Dwarves,
Hobbits, and Men, and the ethical implications of Middle-Earth for past,
present, and future readers.
The world order, fundamental to the continuing development of
Middle-Earth, holds deep roots in and distinct parallels to Tolkiens
Christianity, something he feels goes hand in hand with creating the
ancient annals of Arda. Tolkien creates the All-God figure, Ilvatar, as
the divine head of all of Middle-Earth, and creator of all living things.
Early on, he creates the Ainur, or archangels, who use music to sing
the universe into existence. Keepers of the Flame Imperishable, the
Ainur bear many similarities to Christian archangels, such as Michael or
Gabriel, as well as the Holy Spirit, embodied in the eternal flame.
Discord, however, enters the picture with Melkors (the highest of the
Ainur) insistence on mak[ing] his own theme. After corrupting both
the first and second themes of Ilvatars music, Melkor becomes so
noisy during the third theme that the other Ainur cannot be heard.
After the Ainur are granted the world their song has created, MiddleEarth (or Arda in their own tongue), Melkor descends there in hopes of
ruling the new creations of Elves and Men, who have been created in
secret by Ilvatar during the third theme. Ilvatar intervenes only
periodically in life on this New World, but as he does, he reshapes the
corruptions of evil to make his plan not only ultimately work out, but
also to create something entirely better than the original. (Birzer 5355) This paradoxical story resembles the biblical creation story in many
ways, with the fall of Lucifer from the heavenly realm and his continual
attempts to drag to the depths any humans that will go with him, as
he plans to attempt an overthrow of the Godly government when the
time is right.

Governmental interpretations proceed to vary quite a bit

throughout Middle-Earth, ranging from Gondorian stewards to Rohirric
Kings of the Mark to familial rank and Thain-ship in the Shire. An
appointed station until the death of Anrion brother of Isildur, the title
of Steward of Gondor is passed to the descendants of Hrin, Steward to
Anrions son King Minardil. Act[ing] as Kings in all but name, they
maintain such a position until the return of King Elessar (Aragorn), before resuming their old capacity of hereditary counselors and nobles of
the Realm. (Tyler 412)
The Rohirric Kings, or the First Marshals of the Mark (Foster 286),
occupy positions similar to that of the Stewards of Gondor. Rohan and
Gondor often make treaties with each other, such as omers renewal
of the Oath of orl with King Elssar following the War of the Ring
(Foster 158).
Thain-ship and family rank, as best viewed in the Shire, vary
greatly from the norm expressed in Gondor and Rohan. The role of
the Thain [is] that of a Chief Executive appointed to hold the Kings
authority, as well as to call a Shire-muster (an assembly of arms in
the Shire) and Shire-moot (an emergency meeting of all landed
Hobbits) if necessary (Tyler 436, 466). The Tooks are preeminent in the
Shire, prestigious but sometimes seen as downright unusual: their
adventurous streak is abnormal for hobbits, and to some they are not
quite respectable (Tolkien, The Hobbit 3). But they are rich, and that
perhaps solidifies their rank more than anything else. They are
unknowingly aided by the Rangers of the north (Tolkien, The Lord of
the Rings 146), and the combination of the two makes for very
pleasant living in the Shire; its inhabitants love peace and quiet and
good tilled earth (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 1). Shire-folk rarely
interact with Big Folk, with the unique exception of four admirable
hobbits who, in conjunction with two Men, a Dwarf, and a Wizard,
succeed in saving Ilvatars Arda from Melkors protg Sauron. An
unbreakable bond of friendship, love, and trust is forged betwixt the
nine members of the Fellowship, and interracial relations are forever
changed as a result of these remarkable characters.
It is evident through the preliminary development of angelic and
world creation that Tolkien draws heavily from his own faith as he
writes. Though The Lord of the Rings is not allegorical and Tolkien
would be the first to say that it is in no way so (Tolkien, The Lord of the
Rings xvii) many characters and ruling systems manifest distinct
parallels to figures in Christian and pre-Christian literature. Ilvatar and
Melkor are the most evident, with the former a Godly manifestation,
and the latter a devilish manifestation. The two characters are quite
opposite in nature, Ilvatar as the all-good and Melkor being corrupted

into evil; however, Melkors power, like Satans power, can never
overcome the power of Ilvatar, who is able to turn all bad into all
good, regardless of location within E (the collective term for Arda and
the heavens, animated by the Secret Fire, and bound by the
principles of matter, space, and time [Foster 130]). Ilvatar is the
omnipotent God figure, working all things into his theme and producing
more beautiful verses as time goes by.
With the influence of Tolkiens faith on the one hand, however,
come the effects of World War One on the other. Names, ideas, and
thoughts take root in Tolkiens mind as he occupies a small place in the
trenches of the Somme (Garth 187), and only when he catches trench
fever are his ideas allowed to develop unhindered; he sees this wouldbe ailment as a lifesaver (Garth 200) and a perfect opportunity for
writing, including making further progress in the Elven language of
Quenya (Garth 212). The horrors of war become entrenched in
Tolkiens mind, and make their way first into the tale of The Fall of
Gondolin, which appears in The Silmarillion and is held to be one of his
most sustained accounts of battle (Garth 218). Other WWI
embodiments include the monsters of The Lord of the Rings, which
closely resemble memories of the tanks Tolkien saw in the Battle of the
Somme (Garth 221), and even Melkor, who anticipate[s] the
totalitarianism that lay just around the corner, with his dreams of
world dominationspies...vast armies...industrial slaves, and his spell
of bottomless dread (Garth 223). The Lord of the Rings is Tolkiens
attempt to justify Gods creation of an imperfect world filled with
suffering, loss, and grief (Garth 255), something the author was forced
to see firsthand in the First World War. Tolkien, in his seventy-plus years
of life, has seen both great good and great evil in the world, and Lord
of the Rings is a reflection of that. His having experienced firsthand the
grace and love of God may explain the great goodness in The Lord of
the Rings; his having also experienced some of the significant battles
of World War I may explain the sense of great evil surrounding the
momentous battles in Tolkiens epic works:
The tank-like dragons in the assault on Gondolin strongly imply
[the central role of battles in his stories]. So does the strategic
importance of timing. The failure of units to coordinate their
attacksparallels a fatal problem in the Somme offensive. The
last-minute intervention of a fresh force to save the day, a staple
of military engagements in Middle-[E]arth, may seem less
realistic and more escapist, but this was the part his own
battalion played in the taking of Ovillers and the rescue of the
Warwickshires, when he was present as a signaller.
(Garth 298-99)

Tolkien is struck by the tragedy that so many of the men that die
during WWI are young, in the prime of life he knows that it is not
their time to die, as they have so much more of life ahead of them.
This is marked in Tolkiens development of the Elves as forever in the
prime of adulthood: immortal (with but few exceptions), the Elves do
not experience old age, and, unlike so many men that died, are
symbols of timelessness in a twentieth-century epic about loss (Garth
A halfway point between the influence of Tolkiens faith and the
horrors of war is the incorporation of Tolkiens views of European
governmental systems, not the least of which the British Empire. The
writing of The Lord of the Rings is, for Tolkien, a celebrat[ion of] the
linguistic and cultural roots of Englishness, but also a reaction to
imperialism within his homeland, a system he strongly opposes (Garth
230). Perhaps this is why Tolkien creates a gentle monarchy in the
Shire: it has a much more profound impact on readers in this age of
ever widening state expansion, and equally compelling is his vision of
a wise king in distant Gondor, content to rule from afar and[who]
knows and loves the Shire, but is content to leave it in peace, free
and untaxed (Elkins 1). Such a system has yet to exist in our world,
but it enhances the readers view of the Shire and perhaps increases
ones appreciation for its sheer difference from any common system
that exists today. However, much in Tolkiens world is unlike what
exists in the world today; interracial relations are no different. The
various members of the Fellowship hold a unique bond that runs
deeper than racial lines. These nine companions have come a long way
from the Council of Elrond, when each race was a little afraid of the
other, but taking comfort in the presence of a Wizard. Only he that has
outlived them, Gandalf, unites them: Dwarf, Elf, Man, and Hobbit. This
is a rare feat, to bring them all together; indeed, by the time the Ring
has been destroyed, Dwarf and Elf are inseparable, and Hobbit and
Man maintain a close-knit relationship as they progress through the
ages. In cultivating these interracial relations, Tolkien teaches readers
that biological differences do not have to be a barrier. Rather, they
may even be a blessing.
Dwarves and Elves must come a long way, however, before
realizing this lesson; with a long history of bitterness between them,
Gimli and Legolas are at first wont to be friends: the Dwarf freely
admits that he would rather be dead than see the Ring in the hands of
an Elf (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). But by the
end, the two have realized that it is not such a bad thing to fight side
by side against a force that is stronger than either of them. What is
truly important has become clear: when life as Middle-Earth knows it is
threatened by a great force of evil, race no longer matters; but saving

Middle-Earth for themselves and their people does matter, and thus an
opportunity presents itself to overcome the past.
Hobbits are likewise reticent of growing friendships with
members of other races; though once they, along with Elves and
Dwarves, interacted relatively freely with Men, the years have
separated the races, and many see interaction with the Big Folk as
awfully suspicious. The Halflings have mastered the art of
disappearing, particularly when large folk whom they do not wish to
meet come blundering by. [] [T]heir elusiveness is due solely to a
professional skill that heredity and practice, and a close friendship with
the earth, have rendered inimitable by bigger and clumsier races
(Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 1). The passing of time has decreased
trust and likely decreased hope among some as well, that the wide,
wide world still notices the smallest of folk, those who appear as
children in the eyes of Men. The Hobbits would take heart, however, if
they knew that Rangers often protected their lands and allowed them
to live at peace amidst nature and family. Though the Rangers only
rarely visit the Shire and indeed only travel as far as Bree they
[bring] news from afar, and [tell] strange forgotten tales which were
eagerly listened to; and yet, the Bree-folk [still do] not make friends
of them (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 146). This reticence is held for
long years, evolving along with the Hobbit fondness for the familiar,
and suspicion of the unknown. The quest that the Fellowship embarks
on, however, solves this problem, at least for a few Hobbits and their
friends; likewise with Men and their acquaintances and relations.
The Fellowship is a unique blend of races in a unique position
within Middle-Earth: the five races are forced to interact together in
ways not of their own choosing, but emerge from it a band of brothers,
as it were. Upon them the fate of Ilvatars Arda rests, and if they
stray but a little, it will fail, to the ruin of all. But hope remains while all
the Company is true (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the
Ring). And, to their credit, the Fellowship does remain true, despite
many trials and tribulations: Gandalfs delay and non-existent arrival at
Bree; the introduction of Strider; the fall of Gandalf into Moria; the
death of Boromir, and many others en route to Mordor, not to mention
the breaking of the Fellowship and the subsequent pursuit of other
routes to Mordor and the culmination of the War of the Ring in ways
that few likely expected. The breaking of the Fellowship, however, has
positive aftereffects that many likely do not foresee: Saurons eye is
distracted long enough for Frodo and Sam, two small Halflings, to enter
Mordor unseen; one may go so far as to suggest that the success of
Frodos quest could not have succeeded without the perennial battle at
Pelennor Fields. The interaction of the five intertwining races produces
an optimal solution that is likely beyond what any could imagine. It is a

re-forging of ancient friendships (if one delves deep enough into

Middle-Earths history, s/he will find that in the First and Second Age,
Elves and Dwarves are friends and even borrow words from each
other; and Dwarves and Men exchange work for food) (Martinez 1).
Though relations disintegrate as years pass, the linguistic histories are
[still] imprinted with the shared ideas of the various races. [] [A]
culture never truly forgets what it has learned, even if old wisdom falls
into disuse (Martinez 2). The Elves and Dwarves remember great good
and great evil as they recall their interactions with the other, and only
on the Fellowships Quest do they re-forge a friendship full of great
Tolkien uses these inter-racial relations, along with remnants of
both past and present worlds, legends, and myths, to create a truly
universal mythology one that holds a great number of ethical
implications for the reader today. Though Tolkien creates Middle-Earth
with England in mind, no reader is left out in its effects on society,
whether American or English, Japanese or Russian. Tolkiens morals and
beliefs seep out from every corner, as he exalts friendship even a
cursory glance at the members of the Fellowship and their relationship
throughout The Lord of the Rings would reveal that immediately.
Boromir dies defending Merry and Pippin; Legolas and Gimli become
inseparable by the end of The Two Towers; Merry and Pippin provide
not only comic relief but a stunning picture of unselfishness and true
love between (figurative) brothers, as do Sam and Frodo. The ties
between the various members of the Fellowship remind the reader that
despite biological differences and old feuds, many things can be
overcome, if the persons involved are willing.
Tolkien also teaches the reader of honor, love, and self-sacrifice.
Characters show their honor in different ways; whether it is Faramirs
honor in not taking the Ring when he encounters Frodo and Sam in
Ithilien (I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were
Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the
weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory [Tolkien, The Lord
of the Rings 656) or Aragorns honor as a wise and just (albeit
uncrowned until the end of The Return of the King) king and leader,
one who remains more or less unaffected by the presence of the Ring
and who is willing to put himself at risk to save other members of the
Fellowship ('The Lord of the Rings Character List' 1).
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli prove their loyalty both to each other
and to the Hobbits as they pursue Merry and Pippin, who have been
captured by Orcs, and the trio does not rest until they have found them
(which, ironically, does not come until after they have encountered the
resurrected Gandalf, and Isengard has been flooded, with the help of

the Ents). Loyalty is also shown among the Hobbits, as Sam resolutely
follows his master Frodo to the fiery chasms of Mount Doom, despite
Frodos orders for Sam go home.
Another significant virtue expressed by other members of the
Fellowship is self-sacrifice as they attempt to further the cause of
getting the Ring to Mordor, such as Gandalfs fall in Moria. He knows
that he lacks the strength to resist the pull of the Balrogs whip, so he
frees the Fellowship to continue without him. Readers know, however,
that Gandalf returns to the Companions at the turn of the tide; he has
forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I
had forgotten (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 484). Gandalfs original
self-sacrifice allows him to return to the Fellowship stronger and
smarter, as it were, and able to help them in more ways than his
previous state allowed. Boromir, however, is not as lucky; his selfsacrifice while saving Pippin and Merry is permanent, and the loss is
deeply felt by all, though they are also grateful for what he did.
These virtues of honor, loyalty, and self-sacrifice are made
known throughout Tolkiens trilogy, and many others abound alongside
them, including hope, vocation/calling (and its fulfillment), heroism,
and the eternal quest for truth. Tolkiens trilogy is rich in virtue and
depth, enlightening readers with each re-read. With aspects that
remind many readers of places close to home or far away, and
elements that remind them of time long past and ages long forgotten,
Tolkiens story surpasses any age limits or racial barriers, capturing
readers by this enchanted world replete with comedy and tragedy,
history and future.
What, then, does this imply for the reader? For surely Tolkien
desired his work to be more than something read once and put back on
the shelf; rather, it is a work that is to be interacted with, studied, and
influential in the readers life. Exactly how that is to happen, though, is
left to the readers interpretation. Much like the Bible though Lord of
the Rings is not a sacred work this 600,000+-word epic sounds a call
to all who would hear it and respond in kind. Another horn of Gondor
sounds throughout The Lord of the Rings, beyond Boromirs desperate
call for help: this time, though, it is Tolkien reminding the reader that
there are virtues in this world that surpass the tests of time, context,
and social standing: love, honor, truth, justice, and more. Whether one
is a Foreign Service officer in Russia, social worker in Dallas, or sheik in
the United Arab Emirates, these qualities ought to be striven for in
every situation. Though positive results may be slow in coming, they
indeed shall come, all in good time; meanwhile, the practice of such
ideals often proves the character of the person who takes the time to
use them in every situation. The pursuit of honor and justice in the

midst of international peace talks confers respect upon the members

involved who agree that such things ought to be earnestly sought
after; showing love to ones child tells that child that s/he is cared
about and belongs in that family. Tolkiens virtues are not restricted to
Middle-Earth; nor are they strictly Tolkiens virtues. Indeed, they belong
to all humanity, but the task of the worlds population is not simply to
possess grace, or possess physical or internal beauty, or know s/he is
of noble standing instead, it is to routinely practice such virtues and
put them to use. They are of no use when sitting on a virtual bookshelf;
they are to be used, highlighted, underlined, and expanded upon, as
well-loved books often are. It is not the acknowledgment of a virtue
that makes someone noble; it is the continual act of practicing said
virtues that confers this characteristic upon someone. Though no easy
task by any means, its rewards are far greater than its drawbacks; for
courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that
something is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever
but the cautious do not live at all as Prince Eduard Renaldi told his
daughter in the movie The Princess Diaries (dir. Gary Marshall, 2001).
Though there is often great evil, there is also great good in both
Middle-Earth and our world, and it is this great good that wins in the
end. As Sam Gamgee so eloquently phrases it,
It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really
mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And
sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could
the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it
was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a
passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day
will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant
something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I
think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those
stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They
kept going. Be-cause they were holding on to something. []
That theres some good in this world, Mr. Frodoand its worth
fighting for.
(The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
This, truly, is what The Lord of the Rings is about; it is the message
that Tolkien saw and couldnt help but share with the world that there
is some good in this world, in both worlds. Tolkiens method of sharing
began in the sentence In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit
(Tolkien, The Hobbit 1); this opening line in his best-selling childrens
book The Hobbit is the start of a nineteen-year journey to the fiery
chasms of Mount Doom and the publication of The Return of the King.

Tolkien fought for the good in this world for close to twenty years, and
his journey has been passed on to millions of readers world-wide.
No other writer has been able to create such a convincingly real
separate world, replete with histories, languages, and appendices, as
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Shaped by but not overwhelmed by the
events around him in the world during the first half of the 20th century,
Tolkien drew upon those things that mattered to and/or influenced him
most family, faith, friends, language, history, war, and much more
to develop a mythology for his native country of England, which he
loved so dearly. Though the country was wracked by war, Tolkien
graced it with a work that healed and united it, reminding readers of
what was and still is truly good in the world, and that the hand of God
is never gone from our lives. The Lord of the Rings aided Tolkiens
healing processes during and after the Great War and it has
undoubtedly spurred many others on towards healing as well. The
virtues and values expressed in the greatest novel of the 20th
century could even heal relations on a more global scope as well;
successful in Middle-Earth, what hinders success in the world today?

Works Cited
Birzer, Bradley. J.R.R. Tolkiens Sanctifying Myth. Wilmington: ISI Books,
Elkins, Jeff. Tolkiens Libertarian Vision. December 2002. 31 October 2004 .
Foster, Robert. The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth. New York: Del
Rey/Ballantine, 1978.
Garth, John. Tolkien and the Great War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
The J.R.R. Tolkien Quotations Page. 2004. 20
November 2004.
The Lord of the Rings Character List. 2004. 6
November 2004.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson.
Perf. Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen. New Line, 2001.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah
Wood and Ian McKellen. New Line, 2002.
Martinez, Michael. Walking With Ents. April 2004. 24
October 2004.
The Princess Diaries. Dir. Garry Marshall. Perf. Julie Andrews and Anne
Hathaway. Walt Disney, 2001.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Del Rey/Ballantine, 1996.
_ _ _. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Tyler, J.E.A. The Tolkien Companion. New York: Gramercy Books, 1976.