The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Novel Review

Categories: Novel Plot

When J.R.R Tolkien published the first book in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, in 1954 he broke ground and paved the way for fantasy all the way to the twenty-first century -- a century that still holds Tolkiens works on a glorious pedestal that stands far and above those in his shadow. The complexity of Tolkiens writing rules out a detailed overview of the entire heros quest through what is called Middle Earth. The essence of Tolkiens trilogy can be found in this epitaph:

Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie,

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

In the prequel to the trilogy, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds the ring to bind them.

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He stole this ring from Smeagol who has carried the ring for 500 years; all the while, the dark power of the ring has transformed him from a hobbit into a creature of the dark who cannot bare the light. It is the dark power which is connected to Gollum that makes him a pivotal character through out the whole trilogy. In the ending of The Hobbit, Bilbo passes the ring onto his heir, Frodo. At the beginning of The Fellowship of the Rings, the first book in the trilogy, Frodo departs, accompanied by his friends: embarking on the journey to destroy the ring by casting it into the Crack of Doom in the land of Mordor as he promised Bilbo.

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The second half of this book, all of The Two Towers, the second book, and the first half of the final book, Return of the King, are the details of sub quests that need to be overcome to get to Mordor. In the climax of the trilogy the ring is destroyed, freeing Frodo and his surviving friends to enjoy life. The journey home is filled with cheers and praise for Frodo, whom his surviving friends have now dubbed hero. But what is a hero? (I, II, III)

In the midst of creating this entirely new, self-containing world with seven intelligent races, Tolkien still prevailed in capturing the essence of the archetypal hero in both Frodo and Aragorn . Larger than life heroes are rare in twentieth century literature; they do not fit comfortable in an age, which seems preoccupied with the ordinary (Flieger 41). With this in mind, Tolkein has still managed to create the extraordinary hero along with the ordinary hero.

The term archetype has been documented back as far as Plato, but not until the early part of the twenty-first century in the works of Carl Jung, the founder of modern analytical psychology did the term gain academic respect. Jungs work is largely influenced through J.G. Frazer whose work, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, is cited in Jungs Psycology of the Unconscious (Rupprecht 1).

Jungs original definition of Archetype is term to describe the universal figures arising from the deep structures of the psyche; a psychological and mythological motif common to all peoples at all times, which manifests itself recurrently in dreams, mythology, religion, and mass culture (Potts 4). He later added that while the conscious representations of archetypes may vary from culture to culture, and individual to individual, the basic template remains the same (Potts 4). While Jung succeeded in bringing the archetypal theory into the collective eye of academia, it was Northrop Frye, a Princeton professor, who showed the value of the archetypal theory in the more specific area literary criticism with his work Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. If someone were to compare the cycle set out by both Campbell and Jung that someone would see that thought each cycle differs slightly they maintain the same structure. Jungs hero is found over and again in tales and folklore very much in this form:

A heros miraculous but humble birth, his early proof of superhuman strength, his rapid rise to prominence or power, his triumphant struggle with the forces of evil, his fallibility to the sin of pride, and his fall through betrayal or a heroic sacrifice that ends in his death (Potts 5).

Campbell defined the Hero as the man of self-achieved submission (Crowe 6). Campbells cycle is also much more elaborate and also contains stiffer guidelines to meet than Jung but the archetype of the hero is not something that you strive for but rather something that just happens. What sort of place could fantasy take us without the extraordinary man to give the epic a sweep of great events, and the common man who has the immediate, poignant appeal of someone with whom the reader can identify (Flieger 41)?

Tolkiens larger than life hero, Aragorn, is what is called a Ranger; Rangers are excellent and instinctive fighters with an innate ability to track . Aragorn first shows up in the trilogy at the service of Frodo, and immediately the reader identifies him as the humble yet, noble hero (Crowe 7). Aragorn is humble because he chose to keep his ancestry a secret. The reader is aware of it only because the narrator told them. His shyness and desire to keep those secret is admirable. He is referred to as Strider for quite sometime keeping his true identity concealed from most until the time comes to reveal that he is Aragorn, son of Arathorn (I). His quest is for a kingdom that was lost, that of Minas Trinith , and he must join Frodo to attain this kingdom. The kingdom was lost because it just withered away and Aragorn is all that is left. In joining Frodo, Aragorn has crossed the first threshold. Aragorn is depicted as the leader and the fighter, above the common herd. We are not like him and we know it. We can admire him but never will we identify with him. (Flieger 41) We find that while his road of trials is obvious and so are those who aid him we must search for his supernaturalism. The Return of the King lays out Aragorns ancestry such as this:

Aragorn and Arwen represent a branch of the half-elven. They are descended for two brothers Elrond and Elros, grandsons of Idril, an elf, and Tuor, a man. Elrond, the father of Arwen, stayed with the elves. Elros chose to go with men, and became the first king of Numenor. Elros descendants through many generations were Elendil and Isildur, whose descendant and heir is Aragorn. (III 314)

BY giving this information, the narrator has given Aragorn the immortal ancestry necessary to be hero in the readers eyes. The fact that Aragorns immortal ancestry is played down is consonant with Tolkiens practice of providing realistic bases for what in a true medieval narrative would seem supernatural (Flieger 44). Aragorns atonement with the father comes in the triumph at the siege of Gondor, and challenges the father figure of Minas Tirith (Potts 7). Also at Minas Tirith that Aragorn truly becomes the Hero through Campbells definition,

.the sword edge of the hero-warrior flashes with the energy of the creative Source: before it fall the shells of the Outworn. For the mythological hero is the champion not the things become but of this becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past. (Campbell 337)

As Aragorn moves on toward his kingship through battle and inner struggle, his own personnel climax comes with the planting of the White Tree, a symbol of life renewed with is roots deep in the soil of Aragorns fathers, and a sign of the Numenorean numen, the Duendains bond to the divine will of Eru (Potts 7). At this life renewing point he becomes the master of not only the material world, in totally accepting his kingship, but of the spiritual by strengthening the aforementioned bond with Eru (Potts 7).

Frodo is our ordinary hero. He is the character we can relate with. While Aragorns quest is into the light, Frodos is into the darkness and then out again. He goes not to gain something but to throw something away and all the he holds dear in the process (Flieger 42). Frodo seems to be our immature hero at first, concerned with such things as shelter, food, and companionship. But Frodo must also go through warrior trials such as being captured on the way to Cirith Ungol , and his near death at the encounter of Shelob, the spider queen, yet he manages safe escape from his underworld.

From a Jungian perspective this immature hero should be a Trickster, who uses guile and deceit to make his getaway (Potts 7). Frodo and Aragorn are on the same path near the trilogies beginning but at the separation of the company Frodo begins his own Road of Trials. Frodo meets his temptress in the form of Galaldriel. Who imposes a test or temptation of mental proportions dealing with wit and guile rather than strength and honor as one might expect for Aragorn (Potts 8).

Frodos ending is only partially Campbellian. He has a magic flight, a sudden travel from Cirith Ungol to somewhere a few miles from the border of the land of Mordor. Returning him he crosses the return threshold and now has the freedom to enjoy life, yet Frodo has not discovered the bliss within him; he is not at peace with himself. Frodos achievement of his quest came at too great a personal cost. Tolkein explained this failure to a fan in a letter stating it can be observed in history that some individuals seem to be placed in sacrificial positions: situations or tasks that for perfection of solution demand powers beyond their utmost limits, even beyond all possible limits for an incarnate creature in a physical world in which a body may be destroyed, or so maimed that it affects the mind and the will. (Crowe 8)

More simply, Frodo has given up his mental and physical well being to that middle-earth may thrive once more, as he tells Sam Gamgee I have been to deeply hurt . . . . it must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them (III 309). Thus his ending is not perfectly in-tune with Campbells hero, but a hero nonetheless.

Tolkien spent his life creating and dominating the world of fantasy and the world of high fantasy is the last bastion for the true hero (Crowe 5). Many more heros are to be found in the world of middle earth, but with our larger than life Aragorn, and the ordinary Frodo, two of the main heroes have been identified through the use of Jung and Campbells archetypal theory. Tolkien created these heroes because they work, because they move the reader and put him in touch with what is timeless. A modern use of these motifs reaffirms their value as a vital part of literature (Flieger 41).

1. Hero receives call to adventure 2. Hero refuses the call 3. Hero receives supernatural aid 4. Hero crosses the first threshold 5. The belly of the whale or underworld 6. The road of trials 7. Meets goddess, or is tempted BY woman; sacred marriage 8. Atonement with father, or recognition BY divine father 9. Apotheosis of hero 10. Hero receives ultimate boon, sometimes BY stealing bride 11. Begins return, after refusing IT 12. Magic flight 13. Rescue from without 14. Crosses the return threshold 15. Becomes master of two worlds (spiritual and material) 16. Enjoys the freedom to live. (Potts 11)

Other names synonymous with archetype and the heros cycle are Vladimir Propp and Lord Raglan. (Potts 4).

Updated: Feb 19, 2024
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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Novel Review. (2024, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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