The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All

The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All

The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All

The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All


Culls dozens of life lessons from the pages of J. R. R. Tolkien's epic tale,xamining the author's treatment of such issues as happiness, morality, andhe search for ultimate truth.


J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has been a publishing and literary phenomenon for half a century. Since its publication in 1954–55, Tolkien's fantasy epic has sold more than fifty million copies, and has been voted the greatest book of the twentieth century in several recent readers' polls.

With Peter Jackson's blockbuster film version of the great Quest, Tolkien's magical tale of cheerful hobbits, snarling orcs, and short-tempered wizards garnered millions of new fans. The day before New Line Cinema released The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers nationwide, The New York Post ran a full-page article with a front-page teaser: “Lord of the Rings for Dummies.” Toy stores are crammed with Aragorn action figures, Legolas trading cards, and other Lord of the Rings paraphernalia. The movie's theme of pursuing a magical ring was used as the theme for the 2002 NBA playoffs, and even parodied in Comedy Central's notorious South Park.

But not all Tolkien devotees are happy about this sudden surge in popularity. After The Two Towers was released, websites were awash with anger over the sometimes substantial variations between the book and the movie. As debates erupted over the Internet (sometimes in elvish), the old empire struck back. On the official Lord of the Rings website, one old-timer disgustedly called a Rings neophyte a “complete idiot” for not knowing that a wizard's power comes from his staff.

To satisfy everyone, it appears that we need more than a “Lord of the Rings for Dummies.” We need a “Lord of the Rings for Smart People.”

With this in mind, we've assembled a distinguished cast of seventeen erudite philosophers and other academics, (all of them devoted Lord of the Rings fans) and asked them to help out with some of the deeper philosophical questions raised by the books and movies. Can power ever be wielded for good, or is it always corrupting? Should death be seen as a “gift”? Can . . .

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