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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
Table of Contents

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 dragons, 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.

Table of Contents


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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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