The Lord of the Rings

by J. R. R. Tolkien
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Is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy a hopelessly sad story as Tom Shippey stated, or can it be considered a happy one? If so (either), please explain why.

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Tom Shippey, author of J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, characterized the Lord of the Rings series as "deeply sad, almost without hope" in his book Roots and Branches. It's important to note first that Shippey is an ardent fan of the series, as his other books make clear in title alone. Second, Shippey is a professor, and analysis is at the heart of the way he sees most literature he reads.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an adventure series which, to quote Walt Whitman, "contain[s] multitudes." It is about family, friendship, honor, bravery, diversity, and strength as much as it is about heartbreak, death, and failure. There are moments of celebration and joy alongside moments filled with, yes, sadness.

Shippey is not wrong. In fact, his statement is profoundly correct. The books are deeply sad, but only almost without hope. In truth, each desolate moment is matched with one of triumph, or, at least, solace. Even the ending, which seems bleak for Frodo after he has completed his harrowing journey only to find his home desecrated and ruled by Sauron, has hope for the future. Frodo knows the story is not over even though his part is done. He leaves room for Sam's story. Hope can be taken by looking at Sam as a character. He changed significantly in the time he spent with Frodo, and through Sam we're left with hope that others can grow and change into the heroes Middle Earth needs to survive.

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