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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

The events in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place
in the imaginary world of Middle-earth, which is inhabited by
fantastic people and animals, such as elves, wizards, and
2dragons, who are rather human in many ways. Some people
say that since the works are set in a world that could never
exist, they have no relevance to our own. However, many
authors have used invented settings to make telling points
about the real world. Some well-known examples are Gulliver's
Travels by Jonathan Swift and Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Furthermore, according to Tolkien, Middle-earth is nothing
more than our own world in the remote past. The name Middle-
earth itself is actually an archaic word for the earth. Although
wizards, elves, and dragons may no longer exist, the principles
ruling Middle-earth are still in effect today.



Tolkien tries to draw you into his fictional world by creating
the impression that Middle-earth is a real place. He describes in
detail the landscape, filling it with the familiar plants and
animals of Earth. The books, on one level, are a tour through
Middle-earth. You learn the names and background of different
landmarks. You also meet the inhabitants of Middle-earth and
learn something about their customs and histories. You'll
probably enjoy these details, even though most are not essential
to the plot. But all this information can also be confusing. In
the index at the end of The Lord of the Rings you will find the
names of people, places, and things. At the beginning of each
volume you will find maps to help you follow the action
through Middle-earth. Also, a brief history of Middle-earth is
given in the end of this guide.

The setting forms a very important part of the story. Places
such as the Shire, Rivendell, and Lorien are different forms of
utopias, presenting some of Tolkien's thoughts about the ideal
society-for example, that humans should live in harmony with
nature. Evil is often associated with particular locations, such
as Sauron's stronghold in Mordor. It is also associated with
mountains and barren landscapes; compare the Desolation of
Smaug, for example, with the wastelands around Mordor.

Encounters with danger in Tolkien's books often occur in
mountains or in a forest. A character's passage into an
underground place or into a dense forest can be interpreted as a
descent into the person's subconscious. In other words, the
danger that the character faces is symbolic of an internal
struggle. So, for example, when Bilbo meets Gollum in the
underground lake, he's actually meeting a part of his
subconscious. In other words, the episode with Gollum may be
interpreted as Bilbo confronting the potential for evil within
himself. Tolkien disliked such interpretations, however, and
insisted that his books be taken at face value.

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