The Lord of the Rings

by J. R. R. Tolkien

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What major elements make The Lord of the Rings a fantasy work?

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The majority of fantasy works involve magic, mythical creatures, and evil personified, while being set in a fictional world that may or may not be similar to our own world. Additionally, magic is usually a heavy plot device.

Clearly, according to these limitations, The Lord of the Rings series falls under the umbrella of fantasy. There are multiple wizard characters, as well as others who can use magic in some form: Gandalf, Saruman, Tom Bombadil, Radigast, Sauron, Elrond, and Galadriel are all characters that are either wizards or have some propensity for magic, and there are plenty of others. There are also mythical creatures, including dragons, orcs, giant eagles, goblins, elves, and trolls. Sauron is essentially the physical embodiment of everything evil and is attempting to enslave the world. Magic is also used as a plot device: the One Ring holds magic that gives power to its user while corrupting them, and it has the power to return Sauron to strength. It needs to be destroyed to save the world.

All of these elements clearly show that it is a fantasy series.

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The Lord of the Rings trilogy is considered “high fantasy” or “epic fantasy”. This is actually a subgenre to regular fantasy. What makes high fantasy different than regular fantasy is that it is set in different or parallel worlds. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are two of the foremost writers in this subgenre. In Lord of the Rings, the action takes place in a fantasy world whose rules are different than the real world. In regular fantasy, the action usually takes place in the real (or primary) world and has rules with which readers are familiar. In high fantasy, readers may not be familiar with the rules and the rules will differ from the real world. High fantasy, however, does share the basic elements of fantasy – magic, heroes that are larger than life, heroes that are smaller than life (Hobbits), talking animals, inanimate objects such as trees, rocks and plants becoming animate, etc. Lord of the Rings takes place in the fictional world of Middle Earth. Tolkien himself called his work “mythopia” – integrating mythological themes and archetypes into fiction.

Allegory is also a part of fantasy and there are many elements of allegory in Tolkien’s trilogy, notably man’s evil, the evil of war, the triumph of good over evil, etc. I would say that the major element of fantasy in this work, however, is that it takes place in another world.

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