Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Dec 2, 2005

The Lord of the Rings

Yesterday and today I’ve been watching the extended version of The Return of the King on DvD and I was reminded of what wonderful movies the trilogy contains. Tolkein’s books were good, but the movies are excellent, the extended version is, if anything, better than the theater version.

Whenever I’ve seen the movies or books discussed the people involved always focus on the plot, characters, style, or supposed symbolism, but I’ve never seen anyone articulate the theme of the story, so I decided to take a stab at it: the theme of The Lord of the Rings is “Fortune favors the Brave”.

All right, so it’s a bromide, but it is the theme. Although the characters are purposeful and driven, most of the events in the story are largely the result of chance encounters, almost coincidences. In fact, the story is only possible because of the enormous coincidence of Bilbo Baggins finding the One Ring.

Tolkein’s genius, however, lies in the fact that the coincidences are themselves a product of his characters convictions. While they may not have ultimate control over the situation, had they not followed their convictions and stood for their beliefs unto the very last they would not have been in a position to take advantage of any good fortune. His novels are the benevolent universe premise in action.

It seems likely that Tolkein himself believed in some sort of consciousness or benevolent force at work undermining the evil, but this does not, in my mind, detract from the value of his books or the movies that are based on them. Reality is always undermining and working against the evil, but because they have set themselves against its requirements. It is simply a matter of the automatic workings of the universe, it is not directed by any consciousness.

All things that are definitely worth remembering.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Tolkien DID believe in a "benevolent universe"---he was a very devout Catholic. He himself said of his major work: "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work". As a result, the notion of Fortune as you present it would not have been on his mind. A more accurate theme (if one wants to boil it down), would be: "God favors the efforts of the brave, self-sacrificing, and humble who seek to do good" (after all, the orcs are brave too in battle). The characters of Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf are "types" of Christ: suffering servant; returning king; and high priest. Galadriel is a "type" of Mary; the lembas is the Catholic Eucharist. Anyway, I mention this not to be insulting or provocative, but to let you know that you're off-track, possibly because you might not know much about Tolkien and what his worldview was. I'd suggest a biography by Joseph Pearce called "Tolkien: Man and Myth" because he gets into detail about what Tolkien believed and how it came out in his writing.

Jennifer Snow said...

I decided to allow this comment by Anonymous even though I think it's essentially pointless; if you need to read a biography of the author to understand a work of art, it is not a good work of art.

Tolkein himself may have believed that God is the source of good fortune, but this does not change the theme of his books in any essential way.