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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fantasy as an expression of human consciousness : good and evil in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Spry, Gweneth Avis


When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings”, he states he did so in response to two things: humankind's unwitting disposition to evil, particularly the evil associated with the desire for power; and, the dearth of myths and legends indigenous to his beloved England. This dearth, he felt, contributed to the failure of the English to recognize, or differentiate between good and evil. Humankind, Tolkien observed, sits "chained in material cause and effect" and no longer thinks in mythic terms, and this dissociation between the material and the mythical, he implies, deprives folk of a most valuable form of knowing. Accordingly, in an effort to provide redress, and to refocus twentieth century consciousness on the properties of good and evil, Tolkien constructed a fantasy that, using the mythic patterns and symbols of Celtic and Northern myths, presented good and evil as concrete and recognizable properties. The unexpected initial success of “The Lord of the Rings” suggests that Tolkien's creation did indeed resonate with his readers, and the ongoing and recent renewal of interest in his novels indicates that the mythic elements he built into the narrative have not lost their impact. This thesis, therefore, examines the way in which Tolkien's traditional mythic representations of good and evil as oppositional and conflicting properties, provide a means of focusing human consciousness on the reality of these distinct categories. In conjunction, this thesis also examines the way in which Tolkien emphasizes the pivotal role of myths and legends in providing not only an understanding of such existential issues as good and evil, but also the importance of this understanding in developing a moral sensibility.

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