J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings strikes a cord with almost everyone who reads it. Its popularity has not waned with the passing of time, nor is its appeal centered on one age group or generation. Book sales would indicate that The Lord of the Rings is at least as popular now as it ever was, if not more so. Some estimates put it at the second highest selling work of all time, following only the bible.
While it is certainly an exciting and well written work of fantasy, which cannot help but grip the imagination, all this would be for naught except for the poignancy of the themes which serve as its backbone. Foremost of these is Tolkien’s determination to show the natural world as the measure of all things. His world revolves around nature, and his character’s affinity to it determines their place in Middle-Earth.
The structure of the history of Middle-earth is based on the natural cycle of life. Tolkien’s chronicle, stretching back through the various ages of the world, is at its heart a simple story of good vs. evil. The balance of power does not swing chaotically however. Tolkien sets the world on a cyclical system. As Gandalf says, “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.”(Fellowship, 76).
Additionally, the world is also divided into various ages, declining in their greatness as time passes. The First age for instance, is filled with greater beings, both good and evil, who inevitably clash, often eliminating themselves in the process. In earlier days the elves were still numerous, the dwarves ruled their great holdfast of Moria, and evil beings such as Sauron and the Balrogs were but servants to the great dark lord Morgoth.
As the ages wind down, these figures and their great works are inevitably destroyed or exiled, replaced by pale imitations. In previous ages the Valar, god-like beings of great power, intervened directly into the affairs of men with cataclysmic effect, but in the failing days of the third age, they merely send agents such as Gandalf to gently nudge the world in the right direction.
These declining cycles can be linked to a dwindling of the natural world. Once, great swaths of mighty forests like Fanghorn covered much of Middle-earth. Now Treebeard, a personification of nature if there ever was one, rarely wanders far, preferring to stay within his dwindling refuge. Just as warm summer cedes its place to icy winter, so too does evil eventually ascend over good. The inevitable resurgence of summer will never be quite as bright nor quite as wonderful as the one that preceded it however, a product perhaps of the destruction wrought by the previous conflicts. The best and the brightest have been culled, and their successors can only move on as best they can.
In Tolkien’s poem “Mythopoeia”, he champions the natural world as the ultimate expression of and inspiration for art in an effort to counter the...