Good and Evil in Middle-Earth. The Fantasy World of J. R. R. Tolkien

Bachelor Thesis, 2013

34 Pages, Grade: 1,0











[The author is not a native speaker of English. Smaller errors might occur in the text.]


So much is said about Tolkien and his fantasy novels, but who really was the man who wrote the “bible of fantasy” and what about his beautifully designed world of Middle-earth?

Aim of this work is to present the problem of good and evil in Tolkien's output. His work contributed to a number of fantastic novels, films and computer games in which we can find the motif of darkness and light.

The first part of my work I will dedicate as a whole to fantasy genre. I will present a bibliography of the outstanding English philologist and writer. I will explain the importance of the fantasy genre and discuss the origins of his works, and how these books impact on other writers. This chapter will also contain the impact of fantasy on our dreams and what we really obtain while reading fantasy literature. Youth living in modern times, longing for mystery and mysticism. Fantastic works are the answer for this longings, because young people will always look for secrets in the fantasy, this impact on humans will be covered in my diploma paper.

In the second chapter I will start with Tolkien's biography. Then I am going to characterize the world which Tolkien presented in his works. Every character has to complete specified mission and some of them are hero's. I will discuss major characters based on hero's journey the term coined by Joseph Campbell. Relations between them remind relations in the real world although distant. Tolkien created in his novels everything from geography, flora and fauna, human and superhuman races to complete histories, beliefs and traditions.

In the third chapter I will analyze two concepts of the world of Middle-earth that Tolkien has created in his novels, good and evil. They fit in the literature's mainstream with universal messages, except that, all of considerations are a part of the fantasy genre convention. There are presented common problems which bothering us, real people. There is eternal struggle between good and evil, we got also human passions, conflicts and ways to resolve them as well as the need of simple happiness of life. I will also examine the case of Gollum. Is he really an evil character? Each of these elements has many meanings in the works of Tolkien and acts as a symbol like the One Ring which will be fully described in my work.

Work will be based on public bibliographic materials, thematic websites that contain specific information about Tolkien's work, on Joseph Campbell’s term, hero’s journey coined in his The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Also, J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter, the author who actually met Tolkien and the biography which is originally authorized. To write this paper I will also use illustrations from films, but the most importantly fantasy novels by J. R. R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.



The first point is to define fantasy as a genre. In its roots, the word “phantasia” which comes from Latin means our imagination. Fantasy is often described as an escapist genre, fantasy literature actually tries nothing less than to engage our reality in new and surprising ways. When the fantasy story opens, we find out that this alternative world is not different at all from our own. The failures and victories, heroic deeds, true love and suffering, all somehow correspond to the reality of who we are.[1] For example, Encyclopedia Britannica defines fantasy:

as imaginative fiction dependent for effect on strangeness of setting (such as other worlds or times) and of characters (such as supernatural or unnatural beings). Examples include William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Science fiction can be seen as a form of fantasy, but the terms are not interchangeable, as science fiction usually is set in the future and is based on some aspect of science or technology, while fantasy is set in an imaginary world and features the magic of mythical beings.[2]

Fantasy novels may be romantic, historical, full of action or all three, but the element of magic is what sets this genre apart from all the others. Something magical is almost always a part of fantasy and magic is an important part of the plot. It is necessary for the whole fantasy genre. For us it is unreal. There are many attempts to define fantasy not only as a genre, but also as literary trend. Another example of fantasy genre, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms defines fiction as “a general term for any kind of fictional work that is not primarily devoted to realistic representation of the known world, describes imagined worlds in which magical powers and other impossibilities are accepted.”[3]

The fantasy genre contains many entertaining elements which allow the reader to dive into an imaginary world where you can experienced amazing adventures by being a beautiful elf, strong and careless dwarf or a powerful dragon, through identification with a hero from the fantasy that can be a dream which comes true. Walls and misty mountains or across a new unexplored world that is created by force of author’s imagination. Brian Stableford said that: fantasy is the faculty by which simulacra of sensible objects can be reproduced in the mind: the process of imagination. The difference between mental images and the objects themselves is dramatically emphasized by the fact that mental images can be formulated for which actual equivalent exist; it is these images that first spring to mind in association with the idea of fantasy, because they represent fantasy at its purest.[4]

One of the most important features of fantasy characteristics is the main character, leader, has a quest to find an object or something which could be a treasure or for personal advantages. In the The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien which is strictly connected to my thesis, a fantasy text is based on a quest to find the stolen treasure under the mountain by the evil dragon named Smaug when he was raiding the lands where the dwarves were living in their peaceful place. This is one of the songs that dwarves sang about the given dragon:

The mountain smoked beneath the moon; The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom; They fled their hall to dying fall; Beneath his feet, beneath the moon; Far over the misty mountains grim; To dungeons deep and caverns dim; We must await, ere break of day; To win the harps and gold from him.[5]

Song which simply tells part of the story in their songs. On the other hand in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the quest is about destroying The One Ring. In the following chapters there will be more about the elements of plot in Tolkien’s presented world named Middle Earth.

Tolkien himself gave us the clearest definition of the fantasy genre in his On Fairy-Stories. [6] Tolkien puts his theory of inner consistency to reality in the Secondary World into practice by showing elements of good and evil. He also shows that the forces of good win over the forces of evil. Because of these aspects of reality, the reader can enter the Secondary World and experience the thrills of fantasy created by Tolkien. A fantasy world is given by the author, but the reader assumes control upon entering it, for another sub-world which is created according to the reader’s own imagination. Tolkien sees two elements operating here. First, the creation of the second compatible world and use of magic and enchantment.

The definition is simple because fantasy has branched into so many sub-genres. As a curiosity, fairy story is defined as “a children’s tale about magical an imaginary beings and lands.”[7]


There are many views on how the fantasy genre is divided but most of fantasy researchers like Marshall Tymn in Fantasy Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide( with Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, 1979) or Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales(1976) claimed that there are two major sub-genres high(also referred to as an epic) and low fantasy. According to The Encyclopedia of Fantasy the definition of the first one is “fantasies set in Other worlds, specifically Secondary Worlds, and which deal with matter affecting the destiny of those worlds.”[8] The world in high fantasy is a secondary world. Wizards, elves, trolls etc., are natural living beings of these worlds, sometimes they are even allies to humans. The use of magic is as natural as us using mobile phones. On the other hand, the second definition is “ […] Low Fantasy as an antonymic description of fantasies not set in Secondary Worlds, nor elevated in their literary style.”[9] The world in low fantasy is the original world where mythical beings do not live among us – humans. When something supernatural appears, there is no explanation for it, because magic is not a natural thing here.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is a common example of epic fantasy. Middle Earth is full of many different creatures from both sides, good and evil ones, from hobbits, dwarfs, elves, orcs and many more. Whole hard life during the War of the Ring, dreadful times for good side, reflects hard life in reality. However for low fantasy Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. In this work the plot takes place in our world the original one like I mentioned before, which is not threatened by any evil force or any other kind of creature. There are vampires, mythological creatures, which are hiding their real identity from humans. Some people know about them and they are the main connection in conflict with our nature. Fantasy genre keeps developing every day and it is the reason why it is hard to build proper definition. More non-official sub-genres is forming from the main fantasy genre and these two which I mentioned before.


History begins with The Hobbit, first published in 1937, book so productive that its author J. R. R. Tolkien, was asked to develop his work. For many critics The Hobbit was too childish, not for adults. Then he wrote more, but it was until 1955 when The Lord of the Rings Trilogy came up. It was published in three volumes named The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. LOTR [10] brought new elements to The Hobbit fantasy novel and heighten to an epic quest with well- developed emotional characters. That four books was just a beginning of the project – the whole world of Middle-earth with whole languages, variety of inhabitants and many more.

Afterwards, The Silmarillion four years after Tolkien’s death edited by Tolkien’s son Christopher. It consist of five parts but published as one work like Tolkien wanted. The Silmarillion shows times before The Hobbit and LOTR, it is a bundle of tales where mythology combines with early history of the young world. Because of Tolkien’s death, Christopher had to collect materials from his father’s output to fill out the book.

The Unfinished Tales of Middle-earth and Numenor from 1980 is a collection of tales and essays by Tolkien that were never fully completed through his life, but were ended and edited like The Silmarillion by Christopher Tolkien, his son, and published. Unfinished Tales offers more detailed information about events, characters and places mentioned in The Lord of the Rings their beginning of life in Middle-earth world.

History of Middle-earth is a twelve volume series of books published between 1983-1996 that contain J. R. R. Tolkien unfinished materials, again edited by Christopher Tolkien. The series demonstrate the development of Tolkien's ideas of Middle-earth as a fictional place with its own people, languages and history to growing stories that pull together The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Some of the works consists of early versions of already published works, while other are a brand-new materials. Extremely detailed cycle of books which shows mightily crafted fantasy world, Middle-earth, by human mind – Tolkien’s mind:

Tolkien’s contribution to the genre of fantasy […] he didn’t just write for those who already read the genre. The universal appeal of Tolkien’s fantasy may well be an important reason why there is now a plethora of fantasy books […] in any bookstore. Terry Brooks, a popular author of many fantasy stories, was asked about Tolkien’s influence on him. ‘I don’t know if we can measure Tolkien’s impact. Every writer of modern fantasy was influenced by Tolkien to some degree.’ […] ‘He was the premiere fantasy writer of the last century, and all of us writing today own him a huge debt.’ Tolkien inspired new creative writers and demonstrated that there was a market for their work.[11]

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is a genius and a visionary of fantasy world. Tolkien writes with a passion and literacy that few achieve and many authors refer to his writings up till now.


Fantasy literature can be seen as one of escapism. By creation of another world, the reader surrenders to the illusion that this world is real. The person who reads, “escape” into a totally new and different environment. Reading fantasy we are willing to believe that in the old times even magic could happen. The biggest impact fantasy has on our dreams. By developing our imagination of what we want to survive and see. A dream of many people especially young people is to break away from reality. So for example, escape to the Tolkien’s fantasy world, created by genius force of imagination can give people a lot of fun. Also a dream to become someone else can comes true. Therefore we can say that good fantasy like Tolkien’s output gives people what they want from nice rest and good entertainment to thoughts and works on whole languages which Tolkien created by himself, from basics.

Fantasy for children since two world wars has provided a rich literature dealing with universal problems to human race and issues especially connected with childhood and time of growing up as a teenager.

Finally, the classical model of moral education stresses the importance of developing good ethical habits or dispositions - in short, moral virtues, such as honesty, courage, diligence, generosity and responsibility. Virtues, in the classical tradition, are admirable states of characters, settled habits of appropriate moral response, that enable persons to lead happy and fulfilled lives of sustained moral excellence. Virtues play a crucial role in the moral life. In early moral education, they enable children to do what is right long before they understand why it is right.[12]

Given genre gives children a good lesson about complications of our existence like life, death, time, space, good and evil. Main characters in fantasy novels are faced with epic challenges, journeys and battles in given world on which great importance is placed. By placing this efforts in an alternative world, the actions of the child are given adult importance. It will help children to face problems which are inevitable in everyday life sooner or later they will be forced to cope with them.



The second chapter of my diploma paper is devoted to fantasy world which is presented in Tolkien’s work. While I was writing this chapter I based on J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hero with A Thousand Faces.[13] Firstly, brief biography of Middle-earth’s genius. Secondly, the chapter is about characterizing the world which Tolkien presented in his works. Every character has to complete specified mission. Relations between them remind relations in the real world although distant. Tolkien created in his novels everything from geography, flora and fauna, human and superhuman races to complete histories, beliefs, traditions and above all, the whole languages. Using hero’s journey, the term coined by John Campbell, this chapter shows what major characters experienced on the pages of Tolkien’s books.


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3rd of January in 1892, in Bloemfontein to English couple. For his father’s work purposes the whole family lived in South Africa. In April of 1895 year, Ronald, his mother and brother came back to England. Father, Arthur stayed in South Africa with a view to join his home when the time will let him to. It never happened because bad news came about Arthur’s death. After Arthur had died, the family rented a house in Sarehole Mill in Birmingham. Tolkien had many happy years there. When Ronald was four years old, his mother started teaching him how to write and read. In 1899, he tried the exam for King Edwards School. He failed to get a place. He tried to pass the exam one year later, was accepted. He learned Greek, Latin and the history of English language, over all of his years at King Edwards School. At the age of twelve, his mother died because of diabetes. Father Francis Morgan, their mother’s friend with whom Ronald lived quiet a time, took care of Ronald and his brother. Tolkien got to know Edith Bratt, the woman who became his wife, in 1908. He spent all of his free time with her, stopping to care about his studies, but Father Francis banned them from seeing one another. Year 1911, Tolkien started his studies at Oxford University. Tolkien and Edith stayed isolated until Ronald reached 21st year of his life in 1913. He wrote her a declaration of his love in which he asked her about marrying him. She totally agreed. Then they were married on 22th of March in 1916. It was really hard for the young couple because Tolkien was in the army. He was sent to France because of the first World War. He remained on the front line in combat until October in 1916 when he got “Trench Fever”. He was sent back home to recover from the illness. In 1917 when John Francis Reuel Tolkien was born. From this day Ronald started to work on The Silmarillion, which was not published during his life but after his death. Next son, Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien was brought to life in 1920. He was followed by Christopher Reuel in 1924 and finally by their daughter Priscilla Mary Reuel in 1929. In 1933, Tolkien firstly started telling a story to his children of a humorous character named Bilbo. Tolkien got the idea for The Hobbit from these stories. In 1936, he completed the book. One year later, The Hobbit was published and be so successful. Tolkien moved to Merton College in Oxford in 1945. He became Merton College Professor of English Language and Literature. Tolkien retired in 1959, from his professorship at Oxford. In 1968, Tolkien’s family moved to Poole near Bournemouth. His wife died at the age of eighty-two from an inflamed gall bladder. After Edith’s death in 1971, Tolkien returned to Oxford. J. R. R. Tolkien died on 2nd of September in 1973. His death did not end the Middle-earth for readers. After Ronald's death his son Christopher tried to complete his father's life output.


Tolkien in his works has shown us the world of Middle-earth, the world he created himself. This is certainly the most completely designed world in history of world literature. On the map of Middle-earth we find many countries and provinces. Shire full of green elements located in Eriador between the river Baraduina and the distant Hills inhabited by Hobbits. Lothlorien the forest kingdom of Elves in which houses were like hammocks. Moria the capital city of Dwarves called also Khazad-Dum. Dwarves forged there gold from the beginning of the First Age. This city was well-known because of it’s amazing architecture. Sadly, Dwarves woke up the sleeping demon named Balrog who banished them from their mines. Rohan where Rohirrims bred horses on beautiful fields with big amount of space. Fangorn named because of the guardian whose name was Fangorn. He was the oldest Ent big tree which is moving and talking. Next Mordor very important place to the plot because of Mount Doom where the One Ring was destroyed. It was capital city of evil side where Sauron had his fortress called Barad-dur. After the destruction of the One Ring, Sauron's fortress collapsed, and the whole Mordor was devastated by an earthquake. Elves, dwarves, humans and dragons, this and other races you can find in every fantasy book but only Tolkien placed them all in the one world. He also created new once like Ents and Hobbits about which people never heard before. Hobbits are the most humorous and suprising race:

Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt [...] They possessed from the first art of disappearing swiftly and silently [...] Their height is variable, ranging between two and four feet of our measure [...] They dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green [...] but they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair, much like the hair of their heads.[14]

Dwarves were very brave, combative and hard-working. They usually lived in caves and tunnels where they built huge strongholds and palaces. They were strong and husky. They were the best at crafting and finding mithril, very tough and fine metal, but they easily started to be angry. Elves were the purest and the oldest race in Middle-earth. They were pleased about their immortality. They generally were high and really beautiful. They used to make amazing items, had abilities like magical powers and they were strongly connected with nature so it’s why they lived in forests. Now weak humans, race with many problems like pride, avarice and stubborness. They didn’t like to go far away from their lands because of their lazy lifestyle but many brave people came off human race. Orcs. Breed of evil forces. Opposite to Elves and made from them by really cruel experiments. They were characterized by their stupidity. They cannot opposed their lord.



[2], 13.12.2012, hour 18:24.

[3] Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, Oxford University Press Inc., New York 2001, p. 95.

[4] Brian Stableford, Historical Dictionary of Fantasy Literature, The Scarecrow Press Inc., Oxford 2005, p. 7.

[5] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit or There And Back Again, HarperCollins Publishers, London 2012, p. 19.

[6] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader, Ballantine Books, United States of America 1966.

[7], 13.12.2012, hour 19:36.

[8] John Clute and John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, Orbit Books, London 1997, p. 466.

[9] Ibid, p. 597.

[10] Lord of the Rings.

[11] Mark Home, J. R. R. Tolkien, Thomas Nelson Inc., United States of America 2011, p. 119-120.

[12] David J. Baggett, Gary R. Habermas and Jerry L. Walls, C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty, InterVarsity Press, United States of America 2009, p. 252.

[13] cf.: Humphrey Carpenter, J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, George Allen & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd., Great Britain 1977; J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, HarperCollins Publishers Limited, London 1998; J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit or There And Back Again, HarperCollins Publishers, London 2012; J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: one volume edition, HarperCollins Publishers, London 1995; Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, New World Library, Novato California 2008.

[14] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: one volume edition, HarperCollins Publishers, London 1995, p. 1-2.

Excerpt out of 34 pages


Good and Evil in Middle-Earth. The Fantasy World of J. R. R. Tolkien
English Philology
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
625 KB
The author is not a native speaker of English. Smaller errors might occur in the text.
Tolkien, Good versus Evil, Middle-earth, Fantasy genre, Bachelor's thesis, Hero's journey
Quote paper
Łukasz Gołąbek (Author), 2013, Good and Evil in Middle-Earth. The Fantasy World of J. R. R. Tolkien, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Good and Evil in Middle-Earth. The Fantasy World of J. R. R. Tolkien

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free