The Lord of the Rings – A short comment on Allegory

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien; narrated by Rob Inglis
Anyone who cares knows what Lord of the Rings is about, so I’ll skip the summary here. What I will say is that among my favorite narrations of audiobooks, Inglis’ narrations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are among my favorites. He not only reads the book perfectly, but he sings all the songs! I would listen to these books over and over again. 

Lord of the Rings is a difficult book to write about because so many have already written so much. Some critics hate it as cult literature which has few (and flat) women characters and a too-black-and-white contrast between good and evil; worst of all, it’s escapist literature. Others praise his allegories – attributing themes such as nuclear war, the Passion of Jesus, and anything in between. 

Tolkien’s strong religious beliefs – and his own admission that The Lord of the Rings was a deeply spiritual work – support the Savior allegory. And there is no question that Tolkien was strongly impacted by his experience in WWII – enough that his writings would most certainly reflect his thoughts on war. But I think it’s also important to remember what Tolkien himself thought about allegory: 

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

I think this is a beautiful quote. Although I grew up believing that all good books are allegories, I appreciate what Tolkien is trying to say. Allegories, in his mind, are very specific messages that the author is trying to convey. They can often be stuffed down the readers’ throats. When the reader is left with the freedom of interpretation, then the book is so much more alive and meaningful. And that meaningfulness is what is so special about The Lord of the Rings

I propose to call The Lord of the Rings a parable – a story that has meaning and applicability, but is left open for interpretation. 

2 thoughts on “The Lord of the Rings – A short comment on Allegory

  1. this is a very insightful post Rachel. I really like the word “parable” to describe The Lord of the Rings.

    I never really thought about the differences between allegories and and other types of stories that may be similar to allegories, but not true allegories.


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