Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
J. R. R. Tolkien’s modern fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings is a massive novel, often called epic both for its size and scope and for its heroic theme. At half a million words, balancing scores of main characters and hundreds of minor ones (the index lists more than seven hundred personal names) and interweaving several plot strands, The Lord of the Rings was too big for one volume in its first publication, resulting in a three-volume version that was (inaccurately) dubbed a trilogy. The setting is Middle-earth, conceived vaguely as Northern Europe before the recorded history of humankind and before geological forces changed the shape of the land.
The unlikely hero of the story is a little hobbit named Frodo Baggins, nephew of Bilbo Baggins, the hero of Tolkien’s earlier and more child-oriented novel, The Hobbit (1937). The story opens with a party at which Bilbo hands over his estate to his nephew and leaves the Shire for good. With his estate, Bilbo leaves Frodo the magic ring that makes the wearer invisible. As Frodo receives it, however, the wizard Gandalf discovers this and reveals to Frodo, that the ring is in reality the One Ring that controls a host of other rings of power dispersed among the races of Middle-earth (three to the elves, seven to the dwarves, and nine to humans). Sauron, a mysterious power who has sought for millennia to control all people, now seeks the ring from his stronghold in Mordor. Holding...
(The entire section is 1197 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Lord of the Rings Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Twenty years of continued subcreation mark the difference in tone and design of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit’s paternal narrative voice is missing, so that almost from the opening of the trilogy the reader is aware that the issues of the novel are greater.
Tolkien’s trilogy has spawned dozens of multivolume quest fantasies using a medieval setting. They range from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy (1968-1973) to Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (1977) to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s extended Darkover series (1972-1988). Each of these authors, including Tolkien, incorporates a theological element into the adventure story. Most appeal to the audience Tolkien awakened, and each has captured a share of a growing market for such fiction. Yet few succeed in the task of subcreation. Tolkien offers readers that possibility for “communion with other living things” that he claims all humans desire, in a world in which differing races have well-documented histories, languages capable of a range of poetic expression, and differing cultural assumptions. To some extent, too, Tolkien succeeds because one can imagine life apart from adventure in Middle-earth.
The Fellowship of the Ring, like The Hobbit, begins in innocence. Although the Shire, Gandalf, and Bilbo reappear, almost immediately the story changes direction. Bilbo, sixty...
(The entire section is 1962 words.)