Skip to comments.'Lord of the Rings' a fairy tale but can teach lessons of life
Posted on 12/28/2003 5:44:24 PM PST by Chi-townChief
The final installment of Peter Jackson's magisterial adaptation of The Lord of the Rings has sparked a lot of discussion about the meaning of J.R.R. Tolkien's story.
Incredulous that an Oxford don would devote the better part of his life to thinking and writing about an imaginary world filled with elves, dragons, sorcerers and the like, many readers suppose that in the guise of a fairy story, Tolkien is talking allegorically about something more "serious," something such as World War II (where Sauron is Hitler), nuclear weapons (where the ring is the atom bomb), or the like.
Tolkien, never an admirer of allegory, even in the writing of friends such as C.S. Lewis, flatly rejected any allegorical interpretation.
The value of a fairy story, in Tolkien's view, lies in the fact that it helps us to create and then participate in the life of an alternative world. We become creators, as well as heroic participants. In a good story, and The Lord of the Rings is about as good as fairy stories get, the sense of being part of that other world is complete.
And yet, paradoxically, the more complete the illusion of that world -- the more real it feels to people of this world -- the more the story speaks to us as part of this world. That's the essential power of myth. That is also why allegorical (mis)interpretations sometimes seem plausible.
As an imaginative (as opposed to didactic or allegorical) exercise, a good fairy story has no point, no moral. It is not reducible to a sermon. (When was the last time, for example, you were inclined to sit through a 3 1/2-hour sermon?)
In this respect, too, it seems real, for that's how life is. Life is more complicated and more interesting than any of the platitudes to which moralists and theologians are inclined to reduce it. This does not mean that one cannot derive lessons from a fairy story. One can, and they may even be good lessons.
Our present administration might do well to heed Gandalf's caution that there is no way to defeat evil militarily. Good lesson. What makes that lesson meaningful, however, in Tolkien as in life is coming to such a realization not through preachment but through experience, even if the latter is only vicarious in the case of stories.
Hopefully, we emerge from our experience in fairy land not armed with ready sermonettes, but, like the hobbits on their return to the Shire, wiser for having had an adventure and returning to tell about it.
Ed Firmage Jr. is a fine-art photographer based in Salt Lake City.
Not a real brilliant conclusion but The Ring as allegory always fascinated me.
I always saw Gondor as Germany and Mordor as the USSR with Minas Tirith/Morgul being East and West Berlin; the War of the Ring is the great east/west confrontation resulting from the long-awaited Warsaw Pact blitz into Western Europe that never happened.
But the Ring itself is still the wildcard and what always struck me as odd is that Richard Wagner's Ring, 100 years earlier, always seemed more representative of the atomic holocaust than does Tolkien's.
Except that the West of Middle Earth would have been overrun long before the Ring was destroyed if not for military power. What a shallow, self-serving lesson to take from The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf was no pacifist and councelled anyone who would listen to resist with all their capabilities. It was only because Sauron was so much stronger that they couldn't defeat him militarily, not because "violence is wrong".
Does the author of this piece think that we can defeat Osama Bin Laden by destroying his ring?
Indeed. Gandalf was the keeper of the elven ring Narya the Great, the ring of fire. It has always seemed obvious to me that the power of this ring was to keep hope burning in the hearts of the Free Peoples. Gandalf has been moving against Sauron for (if I rememeber correctly) 2000 years and he is no pacifist. He worked to destroy the dragon Smaug -- because Sauron might have used Smaug in the coming War. Gandalf urged the White Council to drive Sauron from the fortress of Dol Guldur, and he awakens Theoden to fight against Saruman, and urges Denethor to prepare for war against Sauron.
Pacifist! Hmmmphhh! The wizard burns with the desire for Freedom.
Did you like the first two movies of the series?
The author is an idiot. What Gandalf meant was, in their world there exists a magic ring with a mind of its own; military might wasn't the only thing that was going to defeat Mordor. They could slaughter all the orcs they wanted, and Mordor and its evil would still be around as long as the ring existed.
Gandalf, who had no problem fighting in battles himself, obviously didn't mean that we shouldn't use military might when necessary. How the heck else are you to save yourself from evil at your doorstep?
Note to author - The Lord of the Rings is not a fairy tale. Tolkien was creating a myth for England, a pre-history. That is not the same thing as a fairy tale. You might want to actually read the books.
This probably explains a lot.
"I see in your eyes, the same fear that would take the heart of me! The day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day." "This day we fight." --Aragorn
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