Middle Earth as figurative reality

At some point in our lives, each one of us will be confronted with the question: Who am I, and what is my purpose?

These questions are fundamental to the nature of humanity, which J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy literature strives to answer.

In both "The Hobbit" and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien aims to recreate our human reality within the folds of Middle Earth.

Through the experiences of the hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, readers are swept into a journey of peril and unforeseen dilemmas that test their hope and faith.

These fantastical characters are a reflection of the human person, in all their oddities and shortcomingsThey are burdened with purpose and must fight against the same temptations and struggles that characterize humanity.

Like our mountains of homework and tiresome jobs, the adventurers in Tolkien’s literature find that the journey at times is more than they can bear.

They find themselves questioning the purpose of their quest and doubting whether they possess the strength or the courage to press onward.

It is these perilous moments which bring out the greatest of each of the characters' capabilities.

Take for instance the showdown between Ian Mckellen's Gandalf, the courageous wizard, and the evil Balrog. Gandalf protects the Fellowship in their greatest time of need but leaves them without a sufficient shepherd.

Hope has seemingly been lost and the party is still far from reaching the end of their quest. They are weary of travelling, and their hearts are heavy with the loss of their guide, until Aragorn assumes the role as guide of the party.

Though he admits that he knows little of the dangers that lie ahead, his courage and willingness to step beyond his limited mortal capacities suggests a deep faith. He cannot predict what will happen, but he knows that he must be strong for the sake of the party at large.

Aragorn implicitly acknowledges that he is merely a single agent within a reality that is greater than himself.

Tolkien emphasizes this concept with each and every character, recognizing the importance of each individual within the greater quest.

In Tolkien literature, each individual character is tasked with a purpose. Some tasks bear more weight, such as Frodo’s willingness to carry and dispose of the ring, which represents the destruction of ultimate, unfettered power.

Frodo does not carry this heavy burden alone. His friends accompany him on the journey, and he receives assistance from unforeseen sources at various points along the way.

Much like the individuals in fictional Middle Earth, we have a role to play in shaping the fabric of humanity. Every person is equipped with different strengths and gifts that sustain us in our journey on this earth.

In the scope of a greater reality, each individual is a stitch in the proverbial quilt. We are each free to strengthen or weaken that structure.

Renowned fantasy literature expert Michael O’Brien said: “Tolkien shows us that life itself is the greatest adventure of all — charged with mystery and beauty, all of which has meaning. He shows us that no one's life is too small to change the world.”

Embracing this reality enables us to go forward, confident that we are one body, unified in purpose.


Reach the columnist at mrrich2@asu.edu or follow him @cshmneyrichard


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