J.R.R Tolkien’s work of fiction The Lord of the Rings, have with the advent of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation brought the series to newfound heights of fame. As with many works of it’s kind, The Lord of the Rings depicts a battle between good and evil, with the main characters in the books striving to thwart evil’s plan. In many other works, the author’s personal belief system or worldview drives the narrative, with the message being paramount and the characters the vehicles of conveyance for the point of the story. C.S Lewis, a friend and contemporary of Tolkien’s, is a prime example of this. Lewis’ popular series The Chronicles of Narnia is an allegorical work, teaching Christian principles through the use of fiction. While raised as a Catholic himself, Tolkien does not explicitly promote his religious background, nor does he engage in allegory. However, Tolkien’s views of morality can be found throughout the work, specifically in the way in which evil is portrayed, the use of power and moral freedom of choice. Randel Helms writes in his book, Tolkien’s World, “Tolkien’s particular myth parallels his Christianity, … positioning a malevolent and corrupting outside influence, spiritual and probably eternal, against which man is doomed to fight, but which he has no hope of conquering” (67).
One of the ways Tolkien’s worldview is scene in his writing is in the total freedom of choice each character enjoys. Contrary to the Victorian era’s obsession with depicting good and evil two dimensionally, Tolkien imbues his characters with three-dimensional properties, allowing for all of his characters to choose. At a council meeting Elrond states “Nothing is evil in the beginning” (The Fellowship of the Ring 351). This belief is fundamental to Catholicism and appears many times throughout the books. Sauromon, through his study of the dark ways, chooses to change his allegiance. Likewise Frodo, arguably the main character, chooses to begin the quest to destroy the ring. While there is in Tolkien’s writing evidence of a master plan, or fate, each character is free to choose whether to act or not. In her doctoral thesis Fate, Providence, and Free Will Helen Lasseter wrote,
In some respects, Tolkien’s characters have little control over their world because circumstances force them into specific roles. Tolkien’s Middle-earth does not mimic the fated world order of the Norse precisely because Tolkien introduces a greater degree of free will, and thus responsibility, for his characters. Yet, such an increase in freedom also makes Middle-earth’s history more tragic than the Norse mythology. History could have been different had characters used their free will wisely in service to others rather than foolishly in benefit only to themselves. (37)
The Christian teaching of free will is evident throughout his writing. Moreover, Tolkien’s view of free will manifests itself almost exclusively as an action tied directly to the character’s inner self. The choice...