I know you’re dying to know which two myths I’m talking about, so I won’t waste any time.
Let’s get started.
1. Lord of the Rings is NOT a trilogy
Let me repeat that. Not a trilogy.
If you know your stuff, this one’s obvious. Tolkien wrote it as a single book, but his publisher divided it into three volumes because it was so massive. One book, three parts.
The myth that it’s a trilogy likely comes from the trilogy of movies, but Lord of the Rings is a single story, broken into three parts. Like one of Shakespeare’s plays.
That was simple, right?
Now for the kicker.
2. Tolkien didn’t write Lord of the Rings as an allegory
Take a deep breath.
If you’re freaking out or wondering what the heck I’m talking about, don’t worry. Let me ‘splain.
The obvious question is, “If it’s not an allegory, what is it?”
At least, nothing intentional on Tolkien’s part.
An allegory implies a direct correlation between things in the book and things in the real world, as decided by the author. A few of the suggestions I’ve heard:
- The Ring represents the atomic bomb
- Sauron’s empire represents Hitler’s Germany
- Gandalf, or Sam, or Frodo—or all three—are pictures of Christ
At first glance, those seem like reasonable conclusions. One item has the power to cause terrible destruction. Gandalf fights a devil beast, descends into the abyss, and then rises again as Gandalf the White. Frodo bears a burden that will decide the fate of the world.
But those instances are nothing more than what we apply to the story from our perspectives. Just because we see a parallel between two things doesn’t mean an author purposefully wrote it that way.
Here’s a quote by Tolkien from the Foreword to the Second Edition:
“As for any inner meaning or ‘message,’ it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.”
Can’t get any clearer than that.
Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings in “the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or move them deeply.”
That was his goal, not offering an allegorical story on any specific issue, past or present.
In fact, Tolkien wasn’t fond of allegory, and he made a point of explaining his view of the story after describing why the war against Sauron didn’t resemble World War II:
“Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory;’ but the one resides in the freedom of the readers, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
While it’s true that there are obvious correlations, that doesn’t make Lord of the Rings an allegory.
Who are we to argue with the author?
Those are two of the more common myths I’ve heard associated with Lord of the Rings. Do you know of any Lord of the Rings myths? Please share your thoughts in the comments.