What Makes Lord of the Rings So Good
This tale of orcs, elves, and hobbits is truly a story about the human spirit.
If I asked you what you thought of when someone mentions Lord of the Rings, you’d probably say something along the lines of “Oh, that book about the hobbit and the ring.” You’d be right to say that, but such a description is lacking in so many ways that it would be hard to know where to start. The Lord of the Rings has given generations of fans, readers, and everyone in between a classic story of good versus evil where the human spirit shines.
If there was one franchise to rule them all when it comes to its lore, it would hands-down be the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s story is set in Middle Earth, a land where all types of human-like creatures and the exploits of magic exist. The races of elves, dwarves, and hobbits were all brought into modern usage and made popular with Lord of the Rings. With each of the different peoples in Middle Earth having their own mythology and backstories, Tolkien set up a world rich with lore. They seem to fill in the color wheel of Middle Earth. Their different characteristics add a significant amount of detail as each character is substantially different from the next. In addition, the wizardry and magic of the story help give the story a more mystical tone, allowing for a remarkable depth in the story. The mysticism in the story creates an intrigue which draws the audience in further.
How the Story Works
In the story, the forces of good and evil are at constant war with each other, between the different sides of the conflict and within the minds of characters. While setting up the story, Tolkien paints the picture which is both burdened and enlightened by the various creatures and characters of Middle Earth. By intertwining the diverse characters with a deeply malevolent force of evil in Sauron, Tolkien sets up the quintessential story of Good versus Evil. The story draws you in through its introduction of a peaceful Middle Earth with Frodo Baggins. The Shire is immediately shown as a place of good, one that is untouched by the outside world. Its inhabitants are happy and lively, living simple yet full lives. The wholesomeness of the shire sets up perfectly for the outside world which is quite the opposite. As Frodo is burdened by the weight of carrying the ring, it becomes clear that the lively and happy tone of the story is just as burdened. Down the line, Frodo realizes that his life will never be the same as he carries the weight of salvation for Middle Earth on his shoulders. Gradually, the wholesomeness of the shire is ripped out from the minds of Frodo and the rest of the hobbits. The force of good that is present in Frodo and the Shire that was first presented in the story comes in direct contrast with the representation of evil in the story.
Smaller details in the representation of the different races of Middle Earth help set up the struggle between good and evil. For example, Elves are portrayed as a force of purity. On the flip-side, orcs of Middle Earth are speculated to be enslaved Elves who have been tortured and turned into grotesque monsters. This purity is stripped away and turned into something truly monstrous and malicious. Similarly, the combination of the nature of men and the presence of the rings sets up a deep struggle within the characters of the Fellowship, especially Boromir. Initially in the story, men are described as easily swayed and greedy. The presence of a ring, one that compels its wearer into an almost trance-like state is in stark contrast with the men who are working to dispel its influence. Such details throughout the story really add to the contrast between good and evil. This dichotomy adds to the stakes of the story as the protagonists have everything to lose if they were to fail to be victorious against Sauron and his army.
Why the Lord of the Rings Matters
Beyond the scope of a fantastical story about good and evil, the Lord of the Rings is about something more. There have been stories about good and evil which incorporate elements of wizardry and bizarre creatures, but none have compared to the scale and influence of Lord of the Rings. As much as the different creatures of Middle Earth add to the story’s complexity, the story itself is about humanity. While the protagonists of the story are not all human, they absolutely portray human qualities. Hobbits themselves are essentially humans except smaller. The story sees its human characters fall to the lowest of lows but then transcend to the highest of highs.
The characters of Boromir and Aragorn are the two humans enlisted to help Frodo in his journey to destroy the ring. Their stories start the same, but end in very different ways. Boromir’s story sees greed consume him and turn him against Frodo. He is always at odds with the Fellowship’s purpose and consistently creates problems. However, when he dies, he expresses his regret and sorrow in his behavior while part of the Fellowship. He expresses his admiration for Aragorn and asks for forgiveness. In return, Aragorn promises that he will not let Gondor fall. The two characters express their solidarity, not as members of the Fellowship, not as warriors, but as men. Aragorn takes this newfound vigor with him throughout the story, now having purpose in his quest to bring down Sauron. By the end of the story, he transcends to King of Gondor. The story sees its characters, human or not, take on new identities throughout the story. Arcs of redemption, pain, and triumph all intertwine to form an extremely deep narrative which underscores all the things it means to be human.
In the final act of the story, the story’s themes truly come out. As Aragorn and his army fight on one front, Frodo and Sam struggle to throw the ring into the fires of Mordor. The struggle against evil becomes real in this very moment. The protagonists have finally come into contact with the very force that they have been working against throughout the story. This is also when the story becomes the most human. Our heroes have no super powers. They have no magic wand. They have no hyperspace drive. No deus ex which descends from the heavens and wipes out a legion of orcs. Just our heroes and their spirit. The Lord of the Rings is a story about the hearts of men fighting against insurmountable odds. A story about how the force of good doesn’t always prevail, but nevertheless a story about how it must never die. In the film version of Return of the King, Aragorn gives a speech which epitomizes this very theme:
Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A 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. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand! Men of the West!
Furthermore, the journey of Frodo and Sam presents an allegory about the fight between Good and Evil. The task that they are given with sees them go to the depths of Mordor to throw the ring into the fire where it was created. Their accomplishment casts forth the idea that evil must be confronted where it is most profound in order to be destroyed. Although Tolkien himself has said that the story of Lord of the Rings was not intended to be an allegory, I believe that unconsciously or not, Tolkien wrote a story layered with thematic elements, ones that hold meaning in our lives.
The Lord of the Rings has provided millions of fans with an inspiring story that has the potential to invigorate the humanity within all of us. Its lore and brilliantly written story structure provide the support for the themes which it carries. With the last release of any major Lord of the Rings material being 2003 with the Return of the King film, it should be good news for many fans that Middle Earth will make a return to entertainment in the form of a television series sometime next year. Until then, I guess we can watch Tiger King.