In what ways is The Lord of the Rings a typical quest narrative? In what ways is it not?
The hero at the center of Tolkien’s quest, however, is quite atypical—a far cry from Odysseus or Beowulf. Whereas archetypal epic heroes draw upon incredible strength and bravery in overcoming the hardships of their quests, Frodo is an ordinary fellow. There is no particular glory or great power associated with him; indeed, from the beginning, he is characterized as “weak.” He is shouldered with an epic task, but he is reluctant to accept it, wondering why the responsibility has fallen upon him. Furthermore, Frodo relies on strength of character rather than strength of arms to endure the hardships he faces. He does not feel the thrill of adventure and does not yearn for glory and recognition. Rather, he views the quest as merely a burden, and a seemingly impossible one at that. He maintains a bearing of great humility throughout the novel, and we sense that it is this very humility, along with his strength of character, that may enable him to succeed in the end.
The novel is full of songs, most of which are transcribed in full. Discuss the significance of these songs and the way in which they are presented.
The frequent appearance of songs in
Discuss Tolkien’s depictions of the natural world in the novel. How do the various societies of Middle-earth interact with the nature that surrounds them? Is nature a benevolent or malevolent force?
As the Fellowship travels throughout a number of different realms during the journey toward Mordor, Tolkien includes a wealth of descriptive passages about the changes in the surrounding landscape and its natural features. Despite the remarkable diversity of these landscapes, one common element is maintained throughout: the distinction between wild, untamed nature and domesticated natural landscapes in various forms. The Shire, the first setting to which we are introduced in the novel, is seemingly a model of harmonious interaction between society and nature. The landscape is domesticated, but gently and beautifully so; the Hobbits appear to have a clear and profound respect for nature. As we see later, Tom Bombadil and the Elves share this respect for nature: the grounds of Tom’s house, along with the Elven realms of Rivendell and Lothlórien, are beautiful and peaceful respites from the rigors of the quest. However, Tolkien implies that not all such domestication and harnessing of nature is beneficial. The Dwarves, for instance, appear to overstep their bounds in mining for the precious metal