The more I learn about Tolkien, the more I realize that the accepted narrative about his work extant in geek culture is chock full of bullshit.

Recently, a friend of mine tried to convince me that The Lord of the Rings is a story of good versus evil, a simplistic fable of light triumphing over dark, and that Tolkien liked to write in black and white morality. This is a deep misunderstanding of morality and the nature of conflict in Tolkien’s storytelling: in fact, the pull toward loss and catastrophe is far stronger than the certainty of victory, and the world of Middle-earth is always on the edge of a fall into darkness.

Beyond Good and Evil: The Complex Moral System of Tolkien’s Middle-earth

18 thoughts on “The more I learn about Tolkien, the more I realize that the accepted narrative about his work extant in geek culture…

  1. Once you get fandom on a mass scale, people simplify — like, in a big way. And you repeat that simplification enough, well, people start to accept it because it’s easy and widespread. I just read a different article on Tolkien’s religious framework within the world of Middle Earth. It’s not the simple Christian allegory people seem to think.

  2. Hmm I never finished the books (7th grade me couldn’t pick up the rest after the slog of Fellowship), but I’ve seen the movies a ton. I never considered them as hard black-and-white. Even the elf queen shows her dark side quite early.

  3. There’s a fair share of just plain evil characters.

    The good guys are the ones who keep struggling to be better, against the pull of the whole damn world, and the horrible choices they have to face even trying to do good.

  4. just plain evil characters. The good guys are the ones who keep struggling to be better, against the pull of the whole damn world, and the horrible choices they have to face even trying to do good.]]>

  5. Jesse Cox A great point the Tolkien Professor makes is that evil is always created or imposed in ME. Even Melkor is not evil at the very start, but becomes so. So, I feel like there really aren’t a whole lot of inherently evil characters. Everyone — even the orcs — were good once, but have been corrupted.