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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
Table of Contents

THEMES

1. STRUGGLE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL

The forces of good in Middle-earth are engaged in a continuing
struggle against evil. What will be the final outcome of this
struggle? Some readers think Tolkien indicates evil will
2prevail, while others say he's optimistic about the ultimate
victory of good.

Those feeling Tolkien thinks evil will win out note that it's left
to seemingly powerless individuals like Frodo to face the
overwhelming force of evil. These individuals must struggle on
with no hope for assistance from someone more powerful, and
with little hope for victory or even survival. Victory, when it is
achieved, comes only at great cost to the forces of good. And it
seems to win only a breathing space, barely enough time to
recover before evil again arises and threatens the freedom of
Middle-earth.



Other readers see a strong vein of optimism in Tolkien's works.
They point to the fact that the inhabitants of Middle-earth are
helped in their fight by a benevolent power. The workings of
that power are seldom visible to the individuals in the midst of
the action, but a larger viewpoint reveals a grand design. Even
evil deeds are turned to good purpose-for example, when
Merry and Pippin's capture by the orcs serves to bring them to
Fangorn in time to rouse the Ents against the evil wizard
Saruman. This seems to imply that good is stronger and more
lasting than evil.

Keep these two viewpoints in mind as you read the book. Look
for evidence to support one or the other, and decide which you
think better explains Tolkien's works.

2. DETERMINISM VS. FREE WILL

The question of determinism is only hinted at in the last
chapter of The Hobbit, when Gandalf suggests to Bilbo that his
adventures may have been managed for some higher purpose.
But in The Lord of the Rings it is repeatedly emphasized that
seemingly random events are part of some grand design. Each
of Tolkien's characters there has a big or small part to play in
that design. The actions of evil characters are turned to good,
against their will. The main weapon of evil-despair-is used to
turn people from their assigned tasks and so foil the designs of
good. These elements in the works make people seem like
puppets manipulated by opposing powers of good and evil.

Tolkien, however, also notes the importance of free will. His
characters are free to accept or reject possible courses of
action. The forces of good in The Lord of the Rings, such as
Gandalf and Galadriel, respect this freedom to choose. They
continually tell others that they not only can but must make
their own decisions. Not even the prospect of total defeat can
justify interfering with the free will of others. The forces of
evil, on the other hand, seek to destroy free will.

It may be argued that, according to Tolkien, free will is only an
illusion. Many times characters make important decisions
without knowing why they made them. Bilbo, for example, is
never sure just how he ended up leaving his comfortable home
to join the dwarves on their adventure. Do you think that such
decisions are truly free, or are Tolkien's characters being
manipulated without their knowledge? Keep this question in
mind as you read the works.

Table of Contents


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