Tolkien: Archetype and Word
by Patrick Grant
The Lord of
the Rings embodies
an "inherent morality,"
as Tolkien calls it, which derives largely from the
traditions of Christian and epic poetry. Yet the trilogy is not
explicitly religious, and is neither allegorical nor doctrinal. Tolkien well knows that the Dantesque form of Christian epic,
wherein history effortlessly assumes
the framework of dogma, cannot be successfully imitated in post-Romantic
times. In Milton's Paradise Lost the sacramentalism
fundamental to Dante's vision is already transformed. The true
center of Milton's epic is a "paradise within," and the
doctrinal framework which supports the poem is idiosyncratic, as we
discover from The Christian Doctrine.
For Milton, subjective experience, not
a doctrinal formula of words, is the key to faith, and Mediaeval
"realism," which assumes the participation of words in the
extramental reality they signify, is not part of the consciousness
which produced Paradise Lost.
What remain in
Milton are, in generalized form, the great themes of the
Christian epic: first, and most important, that true heroism is
spiritual; also, that love is
obedience and involves freedom; that faith and hope are based on
charity; that providence directs the affairs of the world. The
reader is repeatedly challenged to
establish an attitude to these issues, and the vast shifts of time
and space—heavenly, infernal, past, future, pre-lapsarian, post-lapsarian—are means of pressing
the challenge upon his attention. In no other Christian poem does
the real (inner) meaning so energetically parody the canonical
orthodoxies of the external form.
By the time of
Blake (who, significantly, saw Milton as a noble spirit except for
his doctrine) the "paradise within" has found
expression in language even further removed than Milton's from
canonical orthodoxy. The Romantics primarily inherit Blake's vision,
and so, basically, does Tolkien, essentially a post-Romantic like
his friends C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles
Williams. One consequence is that the principles of Christian epic
are experienced in Tolkien not explicitly but as embodied themes, a
map of values as in Paradise Lost, and without the
traditional dogmatic theology which Milton's great poem is already
in process of casting off. The trilogy is, significantly, set in the
essentially inner realm of Faery, close to the world of dream and
myth, where, Tolkien tells us,
"primordial human desires "
are met and interpreted.
flavor of Tolkien's description of Faery, together with his
dream-like settings in Middle-earth, have readily evoked among
critics the language and mind of Jung,
and, in a historical context, Jung is certainly a prime
example in the twentieth century of the "interiorization"
of spiritual experience so characteristic of post-Romantic religion.
In this the psychoanalyst complements the writer of fairy stories,
and, because he faces similar problems in similar language, Jung can
also offer particular insights about the structure of Tolkien's
work. The Lord of the Rings can be read, with surprising
consistency, as an interior journey through the psyche as Jung
describes it, and archetypal structures in the trilogy will be a
central concern of this essay. Yet I wish to establish from the
outset that a purely Jungian approach has limitations, for Tolkien
at all times evaluates the archetypes, however implicitly, in light
of the literary conventions of Christian epic. The Word, in a
Christian sense, is a primary archetype which for Tolkien both
spiritualizes and revalidates for man the extramental world of
history and material extension. Only in carefully observed physical
reality can the subcreation of Faery achieve, for Tolkien, its real
enchantment, and open into the truth which he describes, in the old
language, as Eucharistic.
The great pains taken with the historical background to
Middle-earth are not without point. They save the book from becoming
allegory, or a thin fantasy of "interior space," and in his "eucharistic"
view of history and of the Word, Tolkien addresses again the key
problems of the Christian epic in modern times: the possibilities of
sacramentalism, and the relation of the archetypes of inner vision
to Christian ordinances and heroic themes.
The group of
friends to whom Tolkien first read The
Lord of the Rings, the so-called
Inklings, found Jung temperamentally
attractive, though they also regarded him with a certain suspicion. C.S. Lewis avows that he is
"enchanted" by Jung, and has, on occasion, "slipped
into" a Jungian manner of criticism.
He admits that Maud Bodkin, the pioneer critic of
Jungian archetypal patterns in literature, has exerted considerable
influence on him.
Owen Barfield praises Jung
for understanding the spiritual nature of consciousness and its
evolution: the Jungian
"collective unconscious" and appeal to myth are
much-needed antidotes to twentieth century materialism which
threatens to make an object of man himself.
On the negative side, Lewis thinks that Jung's
explanation of "primordial images" itself awakens a
primordial image of the first water: Jung's limitation is that he
uses a myth to explain a myth.
Barfield feels, more important for this argument, that
in Jung the "Spiritual Hierarchies"
have withdrawn from the
world, and exist, interiorized, within
the individual will and too much cut off from the extramental world.
It is important not to put the words of Lewis and Barfield into
Tolkien's mouth (he was difficult to influence as a bandersnatch,
according to Lewis),
yet Tolkien at least shared the interests and
temperament of his friends.
Certainly, the reader of his essay on fairy stories
cannot easily avoid the Jungian flavor of several of Tolkien's key
theories. He describes Faery in relation to dream, stating that in
both "strange powers of the mind may be unlocked" (13). He talks of
the encounter in fairy stories with "certain primordial human
desires" (13), and claims the stories are "plainly not
primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability"
(40). He talks of a "Cauldron of Story" which waits
"for the great figures of Myth and History" (29).
These are added like fresh pieces to a stock which has been
simmering from the beginnings of story-telling, that is, of the
human mind itself. In the essay on Beowulf, Tolkien
especially appreciates the balance and "opposition of ends and
beginnings, the progress from youth to old age in the hero, and the
satisfaction that comes from perceiving the "rising and setting"
of a life.
We can easily
enough feel here the typical Jungian insistence on dream and
the theory of a collective unconscious which (like
Tolkien's cauldron) contains archetypes stirred into activity by the
artist, and the theory of transformation in the individual psyche,
whereby beginnings and ends are balanced in a successful human life.
But more important, Tolkien's theory finds full embodiment in The
Lord of the Rings. The trilogy is set in Faery, in this case the
imaginary world of Middle-earth, at a time near the beginnings of
man's ascendancy in the history of the world. Middle-earth is often
dreamlike: a world of shifting contours and of magic, of nightmarish
fear and exquisite ethereal beauty. Helpful and treacherous animals
work for the powers of good and evil, and landscapes become sentient
embodiments of human fears and desires. It is a short step to the
appearance of nature spirits, like Tom Bombadil, or to the magic of
the Elves, and, as we move closer to those who possess more than
human wisdom and power, the contours of time and space themselves
begin to blur. Although controlled by the narrative art and by basic
structural oppositions such as those between light and dark, good
and evil, the story moves basically in a world where forms and
images blend and flow and interpenetrate, and where the eye of the
beholder determines fear and terror, beauty and glory. All this has
the very quality of that "interior space"
which Barfield names as Jung's special province.
certainly, fairy stories and dreams are characteristically inhabited
by helpful and treacherous animals and monsters, and landscapes,
especially when they involve woods and mountains, are favorite
representations of the unconscious.
Jung also talks of a common figure, the "vegetation numen,"
king of the forest, who is associated with wood and
water in a manner which recalls Tom Bombadil. Magic too is
important, and Jung explains how "the concentration and tension of
psychic forces have something about them which always looks like
He stresses also a "contamination" of images,
by which he means a tendency to overflowing contours—"a melting
down of images."
This, says Jung, may look like distortion and can be
terrifying, but can also be a process of assimilation and a source
of great beauty and inspiration. His perception applies precisely to
the viewpoint technique of The Lord of the Rings: "The
melting process is therefore either something very bad or something
highly desirable according to the standpoint of the observer."
Jung also points to certain characteristic formal
elements in dreams and fairy stories, such as "duality," "the
opposition of light and dark," and "rotation (circle,
but insists that they should not be considered apart
from the complex flowing energy of the psyche. Moral choices are not
simply a matter of black or white. Jung stresses "the bewildering
play of antinomies"
which contribute to higher awareness. Good may be
produced by evil, and possibly lead to it. This process, which Jung
is also of central importance in the art of Tolkien: a
broad opposition of light and dark, and of good and evil, becomes
confused in the trilogy as we enter the minds of individuals in
process of finding their way on the quest. Though Gollum bates light
and loves shade, Frodo's relation to Gollum is extremely complex,
and throughout the trilogy the minds of the men in particular are
That Jung and
Tolkien isolate such similar motifs from fairy stories, dreams,
fantasy, and myth, need hardly be surprising, but in The Lord of
the Rings the inner drama corresponds also with particular
fidelity to the details of the psychic process which Jung calls
"individuation." This is, basically, the "realization
of the whole man"
achieved in a balanced and fulfilled life when
"consciousness and the unconscious, are linked together in a
The process involves a journey to the Self, which Jung
describes as "not only the center" of a person's psyche
but also "the circumference which embraces both conscious and
Characteristically, the Self is represented in dreams
and mythology as a mandala—a square within a circle, or circle
within a square, or in figures which are spherical or contain the
idea of quaternity,
Jung insists that individuation, or Selfhood, is not mere ego-consciousness. As the short-sighted ego responds to the demands of inner growth, the way is indicated by representations of archetypes, those primordial and recurring images in human experience which express the basic structures of the psyche, and which become increasingly numinous, impressive, and dangerous as they emerge from the deeper levels of the unconscious. First, and nearest to the surface, so that we can become aware of it by reflection, is the shadow. The shadow is the "personal unconscious" and, among the archetypes, is the "easiest to experience." It represents the elements which a person represses as incompatible with his chosen ideal—"for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies." The shadow is ambiguous—it contains morally reprehensible tendencies, but can also display good qualities, such as normal instincts which have been repressed but "are needed by consciousness." In dreams, it is represented as a figure of the same sex as the dreamer, and, in accord with its ambiguous status, may be a threat which follows him, or a guide. It turns dangerous when ignored or misunderstood. 
Further from consciousness is the anima/animus archetype. These are representations of the feminine side of a man's unconscious, and the masculine side of a woman's, respectively. The anima (the more important for Tolkien) is, like the shadow, ambivalent. She is both the nourishing and the destructive mother. On the one hand, she is Dante's Beatrice, the Virgin Mary, the Muses who inspire man to create, the dream girl of popular fantasy and song. On the other hand she is a witch, poisonous and malevolent, or a Siren who, however beautiful, lures a man to his death and destruction. For Jung, "the animus and the anima should function as a bridge, or a door, leading to the images of the collective unconscious." 
More profound, and often presented with the anima as friend or protector is the archetype of the hero. He is often represented in a dangerous situation or an a difficult quest, which "signifies the potential anticipation of an individuation process which is approaching wholeness." The hero often has an aura about him of the supernatural, which offsets his vulnerability, another essential trait, for he is both semi-divine and child. "This paradox . . . runs through his whole destiny like a red thread. He can cope with the greatest perils, yet, in the end, something quite insignificant is his undoing." The hero archetype is often accompanied by strange and numinous events: "dragons, helpful animals, and demons; also the Wise Old Man . . . all things which in no way touch the boundaries of everyday. The reason for this is that they have to do with the realization of a part of the personality which has not yet come into existence but is still in the process of becoming." 
archetype on the journey towards the Self is the figure Jung
mentions above in relation to the hero, namely the Old Wise Man, a
helpful figure who, "when the hero is in a hopeless and desperate
situation . . . can extricate him."
He is the magician, the Guru, a personification of
wisdom. He seems not to be bound with time, and is strongly endowed
with numinous power, for instance, of magic. Also, "apart from his
cleverness, wisdom, and insight, the old man" is "notable for his
But he, like the other archetypes, is also an ambivalent
figure. He is like Merlin,
and in him the enantiodromia of good and evil can appear
In The Lord
of the Rings the theme of a quest involving a ring, symbol of
binding and wholeness which must be
preserved from the powers of darkness and evil by the powers of
light and goodness, suggests the beginnings
of a typical journey towards individuation: the promise of a "true
conjunctio" which involves the threat of dissolution, or "false
conjunctio." Within the quest, Frodo, at the beginning, is
childlike, and must. endure the terrors of monsters, dragons, and
the underworld. Aragorn, his companion, who equally undergoes such
trials, is of strange and royal origins, protector of a noble
lineage, and a semi-divine figure with the magic power of healing.
Frodo and Aragorn represent different aspects of the hero—Frodo
his childlikeness, Aragorn his nobility and power, and each must
support and learn from the other. The Hobbit, for good reason, as we
shall see, receives foremost attention, and the story is in a
special sense his. As it proceeds, Frodo puts off more and more the
childlike ways of the Shire, and assumes the lineaments of heroism,
acquiring, at the end, a truly numinous quality. Moreover, as his
understanding deepens, Frodo moves through a process equivalent to
Jung's individuation, which is charted by the main action of the
book. He encounters the shadow (Gollum), anima (Galadriel), and Old
Wise Man (Gandalf). Each archetype has a good and bad side, the good
leading to understanding and fellowship, the bad to death,
isolation, and the loss of identity or Self. So Galadriel is opposed
by Shelob, the heroes by the Ringwraiths, and Gandalf by the evil
magician Saruman. Gollum is, by nature, ambivalent. He is the
shadow, or personal unconscious, and we will deal with him first.
beginning, Frodo does not realize his shadow personality, or that he
is being pursued by Gollum. He knows only a vague uncomfortable
feeling which increases as the story develops. As the fellowship
sets out for Lothlorien, Frodo feels "he had heard something, or
thought he had. As soon as the shadows had fallen about them and the
road behind was dim, he had heard again the quick patter of feet."
The others do not notice. Soon after, Frodo is startled
by "a shadowy figure," which "slipped round the trunk of the tree
and vanished" (1,360). Again, he alone sees Gollum who has been
pursuing the ring, moving in the dark because he fears light.
Gollum is of the same race and sex as Frodo, which, for a shadow
figure, is appropriate. He is a hobbit, fallen into the power of the
ring and debased to a froglike, emaciated, and underground creature
of primitive cunning and instinct. He is certainly a threat, and one
which Frodo must learn to acknowledge as representing a certain
potentiality in his own being. To ignore the shadow, as Jung
indicates, is to risk inflation of the ego.
The relationship between Frodo and the repulsive Gollum
therefore must become one of mutual acknowledgment, even if
disapproved by others. Sam, to his own consternation, sees the
peculiar link between the two: they "were in some way akin and not
alien: they could reach one another's minds" (II, 225). So Frodo
insists on unbinding Gollum and trusting his promise, and the
shadow, ever ambivalent, becomes a guide, though without ceasing to
be dangerous. Gollum leads Frodo first to Shelob's lair, but also
saves him at the last moment from a fatal inflation of pride which
would mean the destruction of the quest: "But for him, Sam, I could
not have destroyed the Ring. . . . So let us forgive him!" (Ill,
confronted Gollum before the party arrives at Lothlorien, but only
after the encounter with Galadriel can he bind and release the
shadow. The meeting with Galadriel is an overwhelming experience for
the entire company and not only for Frodo. Although she deals more
with him than with the others, she is not bound to Frodo in such a
particular way as Gollum. Her significance is less in terms of the
personal unconscious than the collective unconscious. She is a
striking representative of the anima, a figure which, Jung says, is
often "fairy like" or "Elfin,"
and Galadriel is, indeed, an Elf. She is also a bridge
to the deeper elements of the psyche, and can reveal hidden contents
in the souls of the company. "None save Legolas and Aragorn could
long endure her glance" (1,372) as she shows to each one the dangers
of the quest and the personal weakness each brings to it. In her
mirror she shows to Frodo "parts of a great history in which he had
become involved" (1, 379), and he responds with awe and terror. The
numinous power characteristic of the anima almost overwhelms him, so
that he even offers her the ring. Galadriel replies in words which
clearly indicate the dangers of fixation on the anima, and warns of
the anima's destructive aspect:
You will give me the
Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And
I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and
the Night. . . . All shall love me and despair! (1,381).
instead must use Galadriel's knowledge and wisdom to further the
quest: she is a bridge to the darkness of Mordor, to which the hero
must still journey. So Frodo carries with him the influence of
Galadriel's fairy-like, timeless, and magically radiant beauty, and
it serves to protect him. Symbolically, she gives him a phial of
light to bear into the darkness. The light not only shows Frodo the
way, but helps him against the Ringwraiths, and, most important,
enables him to face Shelob.
If Galadriel is the anima in its beneficent aspect, Shelob the spider-woman is the destructive anima who often poisons to kill. Gollum talks of a mysterious "she" who may help him win back the ring, and he means Shelob—"all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness" (II, 332). As Frodo meets her, he holds up the light: "‘Galadriel!’ he called, and gathering his courage he lifted up the Phial once more" (II, 330). Galadriel's light and Shelob's darkness, the principles of life and death, of nourishment and destruction, contest for Frodo who must meet them both—the anima in both aspects, beneficent and malevolent.
figures throughout The Lord of the Rings present a similar
appeal to that of Galadriel. Mainly we think of Arwen,
another Elf, whose "loveliness in living thing Frodo had never seen
before nor imagined in his mind" (1,
239). She is destined to marry Aragorn, and their Limon represents
the ideal union of anima and animus in which, says Jung,
"they form a divine pair."
The Self is often represented by the marriage of such a "divine,
royal, or otherwise distinguished couple."
Less fortunate than Arwen, however, is Eowen, whose love
for Aragorn cannot be reciprocated, with the result that she becomes
the victim of her own animus. When Aragorn leaves her, as he must,
Eowen becomes, in disguise, the warrior Dernhelf, who "desired to
have nothing, unless a brave death in battle" (IV, 242). Eowen, in
Jungian terms, is possessed by the negative animus (often
represented as a death-demon)
which in this case drives her towards suicide. Such a
possession often results, says Jung, in "a transformation of
personality" which "gives prominence to those traits which are
characteristic of the opposite sex.
Only through the love of Faramir does Eowen change—"or
else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and
the sun shone on her" (III, 243).
figures of The Lord of the Rings are, as we have said,
Aragorn and Frodo. One is a king in exile, preserver of a noble
lineage, who passes through the paths of the dead, fights a crucial
turn in the epic battle, and proclaims a new dispensation. The hero,
as Jung says, is a "greater man . . . semi-divine by nature," who
meets "dangerous adventures and ordeals,"
and encounters the Old Wise Man. Significantly, the
numinous quality of the semi-divine hero is not immediately obvious
in Aragorn who appears first as the ranger Strider, suspected by the
party and by us. Only when we pass more deeply into the quest do we
learn of his noble lineage, of his destiny and his power of healing.
He grows in our minds in stature as he looks into the magic palantir,
passes through the paths of the dead, and is received, finally, as
king. Aragorn is very much the traditional quest hero, but we
observe him, primarily, from the outside.
his birth is peculiar among hobbits, is not a born hero like Aragorn,
and we observe him more fully from within, often sharing his point
of view. As the story opens, we find in Frodo the vulnerability of
the child which, according to Jung, often compensates the hero's
powers. But Frodo gradually develops away from his early naiveté,
from the diffident hobbit wondering why he was chosen and thinking
to destroy the ring with a hammer (1, 70). Growth into higher
consciousness is painful, yet, as Frodo carries the burden his power
increases, and as he passes through the dark experiences which lead
to the Council of Elrond, the numinous aura and magic of the hero
archetype adhere increasingly to him. He finds he can see more
clearly in the dark. In Galadriel's mirror he sees the depths of the
history in which he is involved, and becomes the bearer of the magic
light into the perilous realms. Slowly he acquires wisdom and a
nobility comparable to that of Aragorn, so that, as we accompany
Frodo's development and participate in it, we come to understand
Aragorn himself more fully. As the tale ends, Frodo has achieved a
heroic sanctity verging on the otherworldly.
throughout The Lord of the Rings are opposed by the
Ringwraiths. As each archetype has a negative aspect, so the hero,
says Jung, is especially threatened by dissolution "under the impact
of the collective forces of the psyche." The characteristic
challenge is from "the old, evil power of darkness"
which threatens to overwhelm the hero and the
self-identity he is striving to bring about. The power of Sauron the
Dark Lord is exactly such an old and evil force, and in The Lord
of the Rings his representatives, the negative counterparts of
the heroes, are the Black Riders. The menace they present balances
perfectly the power that emanates from the heroic Aragorn, while
their dissolution in Sauron's old and evil darkness, representing
the loss of Self, is indicated by the fact that the black riders
have no faces.
The heroes must
resist such loss of Self and grow towards wisdom, a spiritual
quality represented by the profound archetype of the Old Wise Man.
He appears in the trilogy primarily as Gandalf. More mysterious than
the heroes, Gandalf's part in the quest is often beyond the reach of
the story, and his knowledge remains unfathomable. When we first
meet him, he seems more an old clown than a powerful magician. The
interpretation of wisdom as foolishness is a traditional error of
fools. In this case, it reflects the naiveté of the comfortable
hobbits: Gandalf's "fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill
with fires, smokes, and lights. . . . To them he was just one of the
'attractions' at the Party" (1, 33). But Gandalf, like Aragorn,
grows in stature as we, like Frodo, learn more about him. He is
continually ahead of the quest, exercising a strange, almost
providential control. He reproves Frodo for many mistakes, and seems
to know the whole story in detail, even though it happened in his
absence. "You seem to know a great deal already" (I, 231), says
Frodo. We do not question Gandalf's knowledge, but believe simply
that its source is beyond our ken.
Gandalf has a
knack also for appearing when he is needed. At the ford he sends a
flood in the nick of time as Frodo's will fades. His wisdom leads
the armies to Mordor, and circumvents the trap set by the enemy who
possesses Frodo's clothes. His eagles rescue Frodo and Sam at the
last moment, and in the final episode of the story he makes sure
(though we do not know how he knows) that Merry and Pippin will
accompany Sam on his ride home, after Frodo departs for the Havens: "
‘For it will be better to ride back three together than one alone’
" (III, 310). Here Gandalf provides, as he does throughout, for the
deeper need, and there is a touch of magic in his doing it.
For Jung, the
Old Wise Man, as we have seen, appears especially when the hero is
in trouble: "In a situation where insight, understanding, good
advice, determination, planning, etc., are needed but cannot be
mustered on one's own resources."
He often, moreover, adopts "the guise of a magician,"
and is, essentially, a spirit archetype.
Thus, the Old Man is sometimes represented by a " ‘real’
spirit, namely, the ghost of one dead."
Tolkien, interestingly, has described Gandalf as
and we are to believe that he really died in the
struggle with Balrog, reappearing as Gandalf the White, as embodied
spirit, and a figure of great numinous power. Also, the Old Wise Man
"gives the necessary magical talisman,"
which, in Gandalf's case, is the ring itself.
The Old Man,
however, has a wicked aspect too. Just as Galadriel has her Shelob,
and the heroes their Ringwraiths, so Gandalf has his antitype, the
magician Saruman. They meet on equal ground, and between them the
great struggle for self or dissolution of self is once again fought:
"Like, and yet unlike" (II, 183), says Girnii, pointedly, as he
observes the two at Isengard. Their contest is based on a symbolism
of light: Saruman is at first White, and Gandalf, as the lesser
magician, is gray. But Gandalf becomes white as Saruman falls to the
powers of darkness and his robes become multi-colored, "woven of all
colors, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the
eye was bewildered" (1, 272). Saruman's multi-colors, like the
facelessness of the riders, indicates a dissolution of identity.
White is whole: fragmented, it is also dissipated.
The final, and most elusive, archetype is that of the Self. Perhaps Tolkien's trilogy as a work of art which is more than the sum of its parts is the most satisfactory representation of this archetype, for the whole meaning is activated within the reader, who alone can experience its completeness. But the most effective mediator between the ordinary reader and "whole" world of Middle-earth, the character who is in the end closest to ourselves and who also must return to ordinary life, is Sam Gamgee. Sam has become, in the process of the story. Samwise, but he is less removed from ourselves than Frodo or the other characters. As he leaves, Frodo says to Sam: "You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do" (III, 309). The commendation of Sam's wholeness, and the directive to return to the ordinary world, bearing that wholeness with him, is also a directive to the reader: ripeness is all. But such wisdom as Sam achieves is not easily come by, as the entire book indicates, and there is no case for critical denunciation of Tolkien on the grounds that his hobbits are simplistic or escapist. The shire is not a haven, and the burden of the tale is that there are no havens in a world where evil is a reality. It you think you live in one, you are probably naive like the early Frodo, and certainly vulnerable.
patterns which we have examined indicate the extent to which the
trilogy can be read as a contemporary exploration of the "interior
space" analyzed in such novel terms in this century by Jung. Like
Barfield and Lewis, however, Tolkien assumes a firmer stance before
the archetypes than Jung. Lewis's criticism, that Jung offers a myth
to explain a myth, can be met only by assertion: there is a myth
which is true, and fundamental. Following such a line of thought,
Tolkien insists that successful fairy stories give a glimpse of
truth which he describes as eucharistic. The typical "Eucatastroplie,"
the "turn" at the end of a good fairy story, has the sudden effect
of a miraculous grace and gives a "fleeting glimpse of Joy,"
a momentary participation in the state that man most
desires. This joy, says Tolkien, is "a sudden glimpse of the
underlying reality of truth" (71). In this sense, the Christian
story has "entered History and the primary world," and in it the "desire
and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of
Creation. The birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history.
The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the
Incarnation" (71-72). In Western culture, the Christian story has
thus contributed, and also transformed, the Cauldron of Story which
Tolkien has discussed earlier in his essay. The basic Christian
ingredient substantially alters the flavor of the entire simmering
There are two
significant implications in Tolkien's theory. First, the Christian
influence on great poetry is profound, and particularly on the epic,
which addresses itself especially to the values by which men should
live. Tolkien's essay on Beowulf indicates his appreciation
of this fact. Second, the insistence on an ideal eucharistic
participation of the fantasy in the real world leads to a view of
art analogous to the Christian Incarnation of the Word. In the
greatest story, history and archetype interpenetrate. So in the
fairy story, which typically activates the archetypes, historical
verisimilitude is of the utmost importance. We must accept that the
land of Faery is "true" before it can fully affect us.
The Lord of
therefore, as a fairy story based on these premises, is more than
the inner psychodrama which a purely Jungian interpretation
suggests, in which outer object is offset by inner, and in which a
fairy tale typically depicts, as Jung says, "the unconscious
processes that compensate the Christian, conscious situation."
For Tolkien, the fairy tale participates, if it is good,
in the Christian, conscious situation, and in the primary archetype
of the Word made Incarnate from which that Christian consciousness
derives. Tolkien faces, therefore, the crucial problem for the
Christian writer—the problem faced first by Milton in a modern
context—of formulating a vision in which Christian assertion,
history, and imagination can coinhere. For Tolkien, the "paradise
within" must, ideally, be raised to fulfillment in the primary world
of history, and this implies a sacramental, if non-doctrinal, view
of reality. But it does not imply any simple reversion to medievalism: Tolkien does not write allegory, which assumes a
corporate acceptance of dogmatic formulae based on a "realist"
epistemology. The morality of his story is, as we have seen,
implicit. His theory does, however, help to explain the inordinate
pains spent on the appendices, the background history, the
landscape, names, traditions, annals and the entire sense of a "real
world" of Middle-earth. History and the "primary world" are more
fully rendered in Tolkien than in Milton, and, essentially, they
mark the difference between a eucharistic and a non-sacramental view
of the world. Yet the great themes of the Christian epic, as we have
named them for Milton, remain implicit as a map of values in much
the same form in The Lord of the Rings as in Paradise
Lost. First, and most important, is the concept of Christian
heroism, a spiritual quality which depends on obedience rather than
prowess or personal power. Second, heroism is basic to the meaning
of love. Third, charity, or love, is the foundation of faith and
hope. And last, Providence directs the affairs of the world.
Tolkien first broaches the question of Christian heroism in the essay on Beowulf and in the "ofermod" appendix to The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son. Echoing a tradition of Christian thought as old as Augustine's De Doctrina, Tolkien points out that Beowulf's fame is "the noble pagan's desire for the merited praise of the noble." Consequently, his "real trust was in his own might," and Beowulf does not understand heaven or true "fame" in the eyes of God. This attitude leads only to excess, and drives Beowulf towards chivalry by which, when he dies, he hopes to be remembered. The possible ill consequences of such chivalry are also evident in Beorhtnoth, "hero" of the Battle of Maldon. In allowing the invading Northmen to cross the ford for a fair fight when they were in fact trapped, Beorhtnoth "was chivalrous rather than strictly heroic." The most grievous consequence of his action was that he sacrificed "all the men most dear to him" in his own desire for glory. The truly heroic situation, says Tolkien, was that of Beorhtnoth's soldiers. "In their situation heroism was superb. Their duty was unimpaired by the error of their master." Consequently, "it is the heroism of obedience and love not of pride or willfulness that is the most heroic and the most moving." 
distinction between true and false heroism is thus already at work
in Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon, and certainly in
Milton's Paradise Lost true Christian heroism based on
obedience is at odds with mere glory won in deeds of arms. The feats
of war in Paradise Lost, especially the War in Heaven, are
best read as a parody of the futility of epic battles. The true
heroism depends not on the acclaim of men, but on the love of God,
as Adam must discover. The theme is central also in The Lord of
the Rings, and it helps to explain why we are closer to Frodo
and Sam than to Aragorn. The hobbits are more purely heroic, in that
there is nothing chivalrous about them, and their heroism of
obedience burns brightest because it is often without any hope of
yielding renown or good name among men. Aragorn, true, is heroic,
but he is chivalrous as well, and his fame is significantly
reinforced by the acclaim of men. In total contrast is Sam Gamgee,
whose part is least publicly acclaimed of all, but who, in the sense
in which we are now using the word, is especially heroic. His
unfailing devotion to Frodo is exemplary, and here, again, Sam is a
key link in bringing the meaning of the book to the reader, the
everyman who admires great deeds but wonders what his own part might
be in important events which seem well enough wrought without him.
interpretation of heroism is the most significant Christian
modification of the epic tradition, and contains in essence the
other motifs which we have named. Their presence in The Lord of
the Rings will therefore be indicated more briefly. First, if
Tolkien is careful to show his most moving moments of heroism in
context of obedience to transcendent principles, he is also careful
to point out that the most binding love derives directly from such
obedience. The marriages at the end of the trilogy are clearly
possible because the quest has been faithfully completed. Also,
among the company, the strongest fellowship develops from a shared
dedication to the quest, and obedience to directives from the higher
sources of knowledge. The ensuing fellowship is strong enough to
break even the age-old enmities between Dwarves and Elves, as
displayed for instance by the intense loyalty the Dwarf Girnii feels
for the Elf Galadriel. The fellowship breaks only when the bond of
obedience is also broken, as it is by Boromir, whose pride and lust
for personal power are the epitome of false heroism.
The love of Sam
for Frodo is the most consistent, and the most heroic, of all such
relationships in the trilogy, and in it the ancillary theme that
love subsumes faith and hope, becomes plain. Though Frodo does not
waver in faith until the very last moment at the Cracks of Doom, as
he and Sam face the plain of Gorgoroth, Frodo loses hope: "I am
tired, weary, I haven't a hope left" (III, 195). Soon after he
states, even more defeated: "I never hoped to get across. I can't
see any hope of it now" (III, 201). Finally, Frodo's hope dissolves
entirely, and he tells Sam: "Lead me! As long as you've got any hope
left. Mine is gone" (III, 206). Gradually, Frodo's physical power is
affected and Sam carries him on his back. The story is, at this
point, almost allegorical, as Sam's charity sustains his master's
hope and faith. And there is no doubt about the contribution of
Sam's heroic love to the success of the quest.
In the last
resort, heroic obedience based on love of God and fellow man must
also involve faith in God's providence, so that events which may
appear undeserved or random can be accepted as part of a greater
design. The wiser a man is, the more deeply he can see into that
design. So Gandalf, for example, knows that Frodo and Gollum may
meet. He also guesses that Aragorn has used the palantir, and his
knowledge, more than coincidence, depends on his perception of the
design in events. On the other hand, those characters who are less
wise are more at the mercy of unexplained events. Merry and Pippin,
for example, do not at all know that their "chance" meeting with the
Ents is to cause the offensive which overwhelms Isengard. Early in
the story, we are directed to the importance of the complex
relations of chance and providence by Frodo's question to Tom
Bombadil: "Was it just chance that brought you at that moment?" Tom
replies, enigmatically: "Just chance brought me then, if chance you
call it. It was no plan of mine, though I was waiting for you" (1,
137). Examples could be multiplied, but Tolkien plainly enough
indicates throughout The Lord of the Rings that on some
profound level a traditional providence is at work in the unfolding
of events. And in a world where men must die, where there are no
havens, where the tragedy of exile is an enduring truth, the sense,
never full, always intermittent, of a providential design, is also a
glimpse of joy.
This essay has been centrally concerned with the analogy between Tolkien and Jung, but it is not simply an "archetypal" assessment of The Lord of the Rings. That the trilogy seems to correspond so fully to the Jungian classification certainly redounds to the mutual credit of Tolkien the teller of tales that he should intuit the structure of the psyche so well, and to Jung the analyst that he should classify so accurately the elusive images of the poets. For both, man participates in the spiritual traditions of his culture, and in a period of history such as the present the Christian expression of such a participation must be an especially private and "inner" one. Tolkien, in his theory, is aware of this, and an explication of the trilogy in terms of Jung provides some insights about the structure and dynamics of Tolkien's epic of "interior space." Yet Tolkien believes that his "inner" world partakes of spiritual truth which has found a special embodiment in history: the Word, as Archetype, was made flesh. Consequently, Tolkien insists on the "real" truth of Faerie, and his eucharistic understanding of literature causes him, in The Lord of the Rings, to expend great pains on the historical and linguistic background to Middle-earth. We must believe that it is true, and its truth must involve history, as well as the great themes deriving, in literature, from the fundamentally important Christian story which is basic as both archetype and history. We find the morality of the story not in doctrinal formulations which are the staples of allegory, but in the traditional and implicit motifs of Christian heroism, obedience, charity, and providence. Just as, historically, the simmering stock in the cauldron of story is substantially flavored by the Christian ingredient, so are the archetypes in The Lord of the Rings
J, R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories," The
Tolkien Reader (New York: Ballantine, 1966), p. 16.
Many critics notice the
point, though there is no systematic analysis. See J. S. Ryan, Tolkien:
Cult or Culture (Annidale, New South Wales: Univ. of New
England, 1969), ch. X, "Middle-Earth and the
Archetypes," pp. 153-61
Stories," pp. 14, 68.
and Literary Criticism," ed. Walter Hooper, Selected
Literary Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969),
pp. 296, 297.
Also, "Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem," Selected
Literary Essays, p. 104.
Appearances: A Study in Idolatry
(London: Faber, 1957), pp. 133-34
Comes of Age
(Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1944), pp.
Letter to Charles
Moorman, 15 May, 1959, ed. W, H. Lewis, Letters of C. S.
Lewis (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1966), p. 287.
There is a good deal of
Barfield in "Fairy Stories," for instance the passage on
the emergence of adjectives, with the criticism of Max Muller (p.
21), and the insistence on "Participation" (p. 23).
The Monsters and the Critics," ed. Donald K. Fry, The
Beowulf Poet: A Collection of Critical Essays (New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 1968), p. 34.
Tolkien stresses more
firmly than Jung the distinction between fairy-story and dream:
they are connected, but the story-teller is in conscious control
of his narrative. See "Fairy Stories," pp. 13-14.
Romanticism Comes of
Age, p. 193.
of the Spirit in Fairy Tales," ed. Sir Herbert Read, Michael
Fordham, Gerhard Adier, trans. R. F. C. Hull, The Collected
Works of C. G. Jung. Vol. 9, pt. I, pp. 231, 233, 235.
Mysterium Conjunctionis, Works,
vol. 14, p. 325.
the Nature of the Psyche," Works, Vol. 8, p. 203.
 "The Spirit in Fairy Tales," Works, Vol. 9, pt. I, p. 239.
"On the Nature of
Dreams," Works, Vol 8, p. 292. 24,
Jolande Jacobi, The
Psychology of C. G. Jung (London: Routledge, 1962), p. 102.
Two Essays on
Analytical Psychology, Works,
Vol. 7, p. 175.
"On the Nature of
the Psyche," Works, vol. 8, p. 266.
Man and His Symbols,
ed. C. G. Jung (New York:
Dell, 1968), p. 178.
Psychology of the Child Archetype," Works, Vol. 9, pt.
I, p. 166.
"On the Nature of
Dreams," Works, vol. 8, p. 293.
vol. 9, pt. I, pp. 217-18.
and Religion: West and East, Works, vol. II, p. 341.
Man and His Symbols, p. 191; Jacobi, The Psychology of
C. G. Jung, p. 117.
Man and His Symbols, p. 216
Rebirth," Works, vol. 9, pt. I, p. 124.
"On the Nature of
Dreams," Works, vol. 8, p. 293.
Rebirth," Works, vol. 9, pt. I, pp. 146-47.
"The Spirit in
Fairy Tales," Works, vol. 9, pt. I, p. 216.
Edmund Fuller, "The
Lord of the Hobbits," ed. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo,
Tolkien and the Critics (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame
Press, 1968), p. 35.
Spirit in Fairy Tales," Works, vol. 9, pt. I, p. 220.
Stories," p. 68.
"The Spirit in
Fairy Tales," Works, vol. 9, pt. I, p. 251.
The Monsters and the Critics," p. 44.
 The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son, in The Tolkien Reader, p. 21
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