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The Undefinable Shadowland

"I dislike Allegory - the conscious and intentional allegory - yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth and fairy tale must use allegorical language" (Letters 145). These are the words of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. After the publication of his best selling fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings in three volumes in 1953 and 1955 1, many allegorical interpretations were produced. Some of them were quite innocent while others took on the most preposterous theories. Tolkien refuted all allegorical inclinations. Instead he gave three reasons for the creation of his vast and almost complete mythology. His philological interest, which he had had ever since early childhood, was one of them. Very early he started to invent languages of his own. As time went by they became complex languages with grammatical rules and a wide vocabulary. He had to give them a history in which they could develop. This history he named The Book of Lost Tales2 , which later developed into the final version that we know as The Silmarillion3 . In this complex piece of work, we are told about the creation of the universe, the establishment of Middle-Earth (the known world), and the progress of its inhabitants; elves, dwarves, men, hobbits, orcs, dragons, etc.

Another reason for this mythology was his poetry. He lacked a medium where he could express his innermost feelings without making them seem out of place. He started to weave his poetry into this imaginary world, thus it made sense, not only to him, but also to the people who read it. Thirdly, he was of the opinion that England lacked a mythology of its own:

Do not laugh! But once upon a time . . . I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairystory - the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths - which I could dedicate simply: to England; to my country (Carpenter 1978: 97).

England had no stories of its own as the Greeks, the Scandinavians, the Celts and the Finns had. They had a historical documentation, but not a mythological one. He had his good reasons for this imaginary world, but they were never allegorical. This is important to know for further investigations and interpretations of his works.

The theme of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, is a familiar and often used one. The constant fight between Good and Evil. The hopeless struggle of the small and weak against the endless power of Darkness and its inhuman advocates. The hobbit, or halfling, Frodo Baggins has come into the possession of the One Ring, forged by the evil Sauron in the early years of the Second Age of the world; Middle-Earth. Into this ring Sauron has put much of his power to be able to conquer the known world. With it he will be able to rule over the wills of the masters of the lesser rings, i.e. the elves, the dwarves and men. During the Last Alliance between men and elves, the Ring is cut off Sauron's finger and later vanishes into the depths of River Anduin. There it lies for many long years "and passe[s] out of knowledge and legend" (LR 66), until it is found again, and comes into the possession of Sméagol, a being of hobbit kinship. Little by little, the Ring turns Sméagol into an evil and wretched creature, later known as Gollum.

It is from Gollum that Bilbo Baggins comes into possession of this powerful ring, as told in The Hobbit or There and Back Again. To him it is only a harmless, magical ring that makes you invisible, and when he passes it on to his nephew Frodo, Bilbo has not become aware of the evil powers it occupies. Now, conscious of its reappearance, Sauron is searching for it again with the aid of the feared Black Riders, the Ringwraiths. The only way to destroy it is to throw it into the fires where it once was forged: "to find the Cracks of Doom in the depths of Orodruin, the Fire-mountain, and cast the Ring in there" (LR 74). This is the task that Frodo Baggins, of an obscure and forgotten people, must carry out. With the help of his trusted friends, and the wizard Gandalf, he must save the world from eternal darkness.

Along this perilous journey they make contacts with various characters, creatures and peoples, some good, others evil. On the surface it is all black and white. Two powers fighting each other, one to conquer the world, the other to liberate it. Consequently, the people and creatures involved in this war are either good or bad. By choosing sides, as people many times are forced to do in times of war, their fate is signed. Fighting for Sauron means that you are of evil origin, and accordingly, fighting for the White City of Minas Tirith4 means that you are of good origin. Luckily, or unfortunately, this is not so, depending on how you look at it. In Tolkien's world we find a third category. In my opinion, it is the most complex and interesting of the three. Within fantasy literature this category is labelled "the Neutrals", "they who are not sure" or "they who do not care". It would be wrong to use this label for the category I intend to investigate because that, in turn, consists of sub-categories where some cannot be considered as Neutrals. As an overall name for this category I choose "the Undefinable", not with the implication that their alignment cannot be defined at all. Indeed, there are characters/groups who are difficult to define, the Neutrals, but there are also characters that used to belong to one side or another and now have changed alignment. Most of these belong to the group who once were good but, in one way or another, have been enticed to the dark side. There are characters that are bad to start with but grow on you, and in the end can be considered as good. Unfortunately that concerns only minor characters in the plot, and as such, they are not interesting enough to study for the purpose of this essay. Consequently, I will not look into that category.

My intention is to show that Lord of the Rings is not only an epic picturing the classic struggle between good and evil, but also a story about the people in between. Those who do not really have a choice, or those who make the wrong/right one. This concerns peoples as well as individual characters. I will show that reviewers like Edmund Wilson5 and Edwin Muir6 both are wrong when they claim that the distinctions in Lord of the Rings are only seen in the light of black and white. Wilson argues that there are no serious temptations, very few major problems and: "[ Lord of the Rings] is a simple confrontation . . . of the forces of Evil with the forces of Good" (Spacks 82). According to Muir, the theme of Lord of the Rings is a simple dualistic one. There are only strictly good people and strictly evil people: "[Tolkien's] good people are consistently good, his evil figures immutably evil; and he has no room in his world for a Satan both evil and tragic" (Carpenter 1978: 222). I will also make a more thorough analysis of the creature Gollum, who is the most interesting character of them all, and one of many pieces of counter-evidence to Muir's statement.

Continue to: The Neutrals

or go to the Table of Contents

1. The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers were published in 1953, and The Return of the King was published in 1954.

2. Posthumously published in two volumes in 1983 and 1984, edited by his son Christopher Tolkien

3. Posthumously published in 1977, edited by Christopher Tolkien.

4. Minas Tirith is the capitol of Gondor, a country bordering to Sauron's Mordor. It is in this city that the forces of the Good defend themselves against Sauron's forces, in one of the last crucial battles in the War of the Ring.

5. "Oo Those Awful Orcs!" The Nation, CLXXXII (April 14, 1956).

6. Review in The Observer, (August 1954).

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