Symbolism in the Lord of the Rings
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The Lord of the Rings is a highly regarded work of fiction that has inspired people and continues to do so. Known to be the second best-selling novel ever written, it is a compelling story that has been analyzed and discussed for numerous years. A fantasy story with multiple meanings, symbolism is prevalent throughout the book. Common instances of symbolism are the following in Lord of the Rings:
- Any symbol surrounding water
- The ring
- Mount doom.
There is more to each of these than meets the eye.
The Symbol of Water
Water is symbolic of life preservation of those who are good-natured. Several characters’ lives were spared via the intervention of water, either as a means of providing an escape route or as a lifesaver in the literal sense. The ring itself has several meanings of its own; however, it is particularly symbolic of power, especially power over others. Those who possess the ring have a great deal of power; likewise, those who give into the temptation of the ring grow weak, another indication of power. Finally, Mount Doom could be interpreted as being another representation of power. After all, this was where the ring originated and ultimately the only way it could be destroyed. However, relinquishing the ring to Mount Doom would also mean relinquishing individual power, a desire that even those pure in heart wish to posses, as the book suggests. The symbolism encourages book lovers to read between the lines.
In Tolkien’s novels, magic rings are divided among the Elves, the Dwarves and mortal men, with the most powerful ring belonging to the Dark Lord, Sauron. In spite of their powers, these rings ultimately drain away the good from their wearers and eventually reduce the wearer to little more than a ghost. The instant lust for the ring’s power is apparent when the “good” characters, Bilbo, Frodo and even Galadriel, are tempted by it. Sauron is intent on getting possession of the ring of power, which has ended up in the keeping of the hobbit Frodo. The only way to destroy the ring, and with it the power of all the rings, is to take it back to Mount Mordor, Sauron’s kingdom, where it was created. Frodo, along with three other hobbits, and a company of Elves, Dwarves, and Men, make the treacherous journey, and eventually destroy the ring. With its destruction, however, it is clear that the old age (the Third Age of Middle-Earth) is at an end, and the Elves, who are the most godlike of its inhabitants, will soon leave for the Grey Havens, making way for an age of Men.
Nazism and The Lord of the Rings
Given the time frame when The Lord of the Rings was written, it would be easy to view it as a parable of the struggle of the free world against the horrors of Nazism. Tolkien explicitly denied that this was the case: “It is neither allegorical nor topical” (Tolkien, “Foreword: The Fellowship of the Ring”). Still, the core of the books’ meaning seems to be the triumph of courage, love and honor over the forces of lust and greed. At times, the allegory seems to veer close to Christian doctrine, especially in the last stages of Frodo’s ordeal, when he seems a Christ-like figure in his own terrible Gethsemane. The difference, of course, is the faithful service of Samwise, who, unlike the sleeping disciples, selflessly attempts to preserve his master while supporting the dangerous mission.