Who here had the great fortune to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as required reading in high school? I did! But I read the novels and some connected works several more times afterwards. And I realized what teachers say about The Lord of the Rings contradicts what J.R.R. Tolkien said about his masterpieces.
What Teachers Say About The Lord of the Rings – The Sorrowful Summary
Teachers have probably edited many great, adequate, and poor student summarizations to this 20th century masterpiece. And I cringe to hear the watered-down significance to this work, concerning both the plotline and the linguistics. However, the hastily-written summaries also help to explain the misapplied meaning behind the novels.
A summary from an uninterested literary student may read as follows: The Lord of the Rings is the fight between good and evil. Hobbits, elves, dwarves are on the good side. Orcs, wizards, and men are on the bad side. Some wizards and men can be good. There’s a ring that could destroy the world, so a group fights to destroy the ring. After a lot of fighting and traveling, the good guys win.
Terrible, miserable, and unacceptable! Anyone who writes such a summarization of J.R.R. Tolkien’s painstakingly detailed fantasy-world should fail the class. Yet, please consider, with this example now placed in mind, the wholly inaccurate meaning behind what teachers say about The Lord of the Rings.
What Teachers Say About The Lord of the Rings – The Made-Up Meaning
“The Lord of the Rings symbolizes World War II.”
No! Wrong! Have you read his second edition’s Forward?! J.R.R. Tolkien specifically stated within his 1966 Forward to The Lord of the Rings that his work symbolized something wholly other than World War II (WWII). Don’t believe me? Let me show you:
As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, ‘The Shadow of the Past’, is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
For those who grew up thinking J.R.R. Tolkien intended to symbolize WWII with his Middle Earth, please read the above carefully. This awe-inspiring author simply wrote for his own enjoyment. With the possible exception being….
What Teachers Say About The Lord of the Rings – The Untold Meaning
Far be it from me to say J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to symbolize God, the Devil, and Everything Inbetween. For this, I myself, at this point in time, struggle to see within the novels. However, based on an additional chapter within the second edition’s Forward, I can see where people draw this conclusion.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about how he had begun forming Middle Earth, and all its rich history, during his childhood. His childhood was war-stricken (from World War I) and desolate (from the London bombings). With so much destruction around him, it’s remarkable to see how this childhood genius made it into something wonderful.
With J.R.R. Tolkien’s text note in mind, I will continue to read The Lord of the Rings and lookout for similarities between his childhood beliefs and his adulthood beliefs compared to the text. Please join me on this journey. And, hopefully, we’ll reach the end before Amazon’s Middle Earth comes to our screens.