Lord Of The Rings As A Metaphore

For Ww2 Essay, Research Paper

The Lord of the Rings, a Metaphor for World War II

Joe Shmoe


The book The Lord of the Rings (which the author originally intended to be one book) resounds with symbolism and metaphor which reflects the era in which it was written. Although the author claims this story has no “inner meaning or ‘message’” and that the story is merely a story to be told, it would take a far stretch of the imagination not to find the ideas of the book as metaphors for the real world around it. The very essence of the characters and plot lends the book so completely to the idea of its metaphorical representation of World War II, it is obvious why the author would deny the relation.

The story begins with Bilbo leaving the Shire after his 133rd birthday. He gives the Ring, which is the source of limitless, corrupting power to Frodo, Bilbo’s adopted heir. From this point, Gandolf, the almighty and mysterious wizard, helps lead Frodo and a band of other Hobbits and heroes on a quest to destroy the one ring in order to keep it out of the grasp of Sauron, who is the representative of all evil in the world. While this at face value may not seem to have a relationshiop to WWII, the very nature of metaphor, the comparison of two unlike thing to express a meaning, allows these two ideas to coexist and create an entirely new idea.

The Ring in the story represents the center of power and action throughout the novels. The Ring was created by Sauron in an earlier age, along with eight other rings, in order to increase his power. The Rings all represented greater power but were tainted by the forging and the forger. The Ring which Sauron made for himself, is the ultimate source of power, the power of hate. The Ring is a metaphor for hate. It makes the wearer of it invisible to prying eyes. Through the use of hate, a person can mask his true character from those around him. Also with the Ring, any wearer is granted the power of invisibility, but only specially trained people can harness its true power, which is to alter the world around it. So is true with hate. Only those who are truly masterful in the art of speech can use hate to its full potential and extreme. Also, the Ring has a side effect: it corrupts that which is good to evil and distorts those who use it to hide from others. This is true, too, of the power of hate. Those who begin with the best intentions commonly cause more harms than that which they originally intended to solve. As a person uses hate to disguise him from what he fears the world sees them as, he becomes what they fear the world sees him as being. Such is the case of the character Smeagol.

The character of Smeagol, as told by Gandolf, began life as a perfectly nice Hobbit. But after his cousin Deal discovers the Ring while fishing, Smeagol murders him, steals the Ring, and uses the power of invisibility to steal form his fellow Hobbits. Eventually he is twisted by the power of the reign and becomes a hideous creature, afraid of the light of the sun. In this context, Smeagol can be seen as a metaphor for the German people before and after the popularization of the ideals of the Nazis. The Ring maintains the meaning of the power of hate, but this time it is welded by a power outside of its wearer. In the story of Smeagol is an invisible hand, the hand of Sauron. He guides Smeagol down the path of evil in order to convince him to return the Ring to him. This is also true with Hitler and the German people. He used the power of hate to corrupt the German people to the point where they would stand aggressive war and grievous crimes against humanity– things which they would never have imagined doing before hate was brought into the equation. The Ring was given its corruptive qualities by its master and creator Sauron.

Sauron enters the novel as the representation of pure evil. Sauron never actually talks nor directly participates in any of the novels, but without him there would have been no story. Sauron is most clearly Hitler’s parallel in the scheme of things. They both sought to use hate to gain power over those around them. They both fell to the flaw of hubris. Hitler thought that Germany could not lose, the Aryan race would rule the world, and the thought of this not happening never crossed his mind. Sauron, in the same vein, could never understand the idea of his enemies not using the Ring against him in order to defeat him. In his great arrogance, he assumed the enemy would see that the quickest way to victory would be by using the Ring to bring an end to him. This is where the character of Gandolf sees the possibilities of the Ring. In a conversation with Frodo, Gandolf tells Frodo (after Frodo asks him why he does not simply use the ring to destroy the armies of Mordor and kill Sauron), that if he had even touched the ring, he would have been so greatly drawn by its power that he would not have been able to control himself. He says that in the beginning it would be for the good of the people, but in the end he would be as evil as Sauron ever was by the corruption of ultimate power thereby giving Sauron victory in his defeat. This is the power of hate. Even when originally used for the best intentions, it always ends up hurting the ones who use it, despite of any good they originally intended.

The character of Gandolf is the metaphor for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Gandolf is the guiding hand and the sage who sees through the challenges and hurtles of leading the hobbits through to the end and the destruction of the Ring. Throughout the books, Gandolf acts as a mentor and sage who gives moral support if not always actual assistance. Such was the role of Churchill. Through his savvy and understanding of the world around him, he kept the British people out of the traps of hubris and blind hatred which were used by the Germans in order to bring themselves to the standing of world power. This is the same with Gandolf and his refusal to use the ring against Sauron and his sacrifices in order to defeat the greater evil. Gandolf, the patron of the Shire and the sage of the Hobbits, would have been nothing without his people-the Hobbits.

The Hobbits, an unassuming peaceful folk, are the best metaphor in the novel for the British commoner. The Hobbits begin the novel as a quiet farming people who are no less concerned about the goings on of the world around them. They took their enjoyment by drinking at the local pub and eating as many meals a day as they could afford. As the novel progresses and so as the war progresses, the Hobbits becomes more and more aware of the world around them and matures as a race. So is true of the British people. Through a baptismal of fire, the British people pulled together through some of the darkest hours of modern history in order to be able to prevail in the end over hate and discrimination. At the end of the novel, Saruman invades the Hobbits’ country, The Shire. In this event, they go through their final coming of age, as did the British people in the terror bombings of London and other towns and cities.

The character of Saruman is not as much representative of any one specific person, but can more identified as betrayal at the offer of power. His closest parallel in World War II is the Viche Regime. The Viche government was established in France as a Nazi puppet government and was led by former patriots who, at the offer of greater power in the future, betrayed their country and sided with the Nazis. The same is true with Saruman. Saruman was the leader of the Council of Wizards as the Chief of Order, in charge of maintaining balance in the world. He went over to the side of Sauron at the offer of greater powers through the Ring, but later betrayed Sauron in order to capture the Ring and obtain the powers for himself. His original intentions, as were probably those of the signers of the surrender agreement between France and Germany, were good. He sought to capture the Ring and bring greater order to the world, but he fell victim to his own lust for power and became what he had originally sought to destroy. This is true of the Viche government. It wanted to save the French people from the Blitzkrieg of the Nazis, but in the end became little more than puppets of Hitler and the Nazi regime. Saruman was defeated in his fortress of Isengard by the overwhelming power of the Ents.

The Ents are a race of giant, thinking, mobile trees. The Ents, despite their immense power and wisdom, are ever cautious about any actions they wish to take. When several of the Hobbits get lost in the woods of Fangorn, the home of the Ents, and when they run across Fangorn, the leader of the Ents, they tell him of the great evils of Saruman and the threat which he poses to Fangorn and to the rest of Middle Earth. Fangorn tells them that he is well aware of the threat of Saruman and that a moot, a meeting, had already been called several weeks earlier and that he is on his way to the moot and invited the Hobbits to come along. At the moot, even though all of the Ents agreed that something had to be done about Saruman, it took many weeks before any action was actually taken. Once it was, it was swift and effective. In this, the Ents draw a perfect corollary to the Americans in World War II. FDR, who is Fangorn, knows the threat of Hitler, but does not immediately act upon it. He only acts upon it after a long, drawn out process. Once America has decided to enter in to the war, it does so in grand style. The Ents, after defeating Saruman, hold him captive in the central tower of Isengard. When one of the Hobbits asks the Ents why they do not kill Saruman, they say that they cannot bring themselves to kill anther living thing, and later allow Saruman to escape because they could not bear holding a living thing captive. While this is not exactly true of the Americans in WWII, it does reflect upon our na vet in the dealing of the world around us during that time period.

The characters in any novel serve as the mode of transportation for the meaning of the novel, and this story is no exception. While the characters are not the only metaphor the players in WWII, they are the most evident and easily described. Because the very nature of metaphor, any two elements can be drawn together to form a metaphor. It is the job of the enlightened reader to interpret both the author’s meaning of the metaphor and his own personal meaning of the metaphor. The very power of the metaphor is its ability to transcend specific eras and cultures. While saying something is red may mean one thing to one person and a completely different thing to anther person from another culture, saying something is a rose gives it not only depth of meaning but also a more universal understanding. So is true for this series of novels. While history can be taught and read in a literal sense, it is better understood to an enlightened thinker through the translation of metaphor; the literal lacks the essential character of depth, which gives metaphor its very power of communication.


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