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Course Hero, "The Lord of the Rings Study Guide," December 2, 2016, accessed July 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Lord-of-the-Rings/.

The Lord of the Rings | Themes

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Friendship

In The Lord of the Rings, friendships feature prominently, both between individuals and between races. The absolute loyalty of the friendship between Sam and Frodo is instrumental in furthering the plot. The friendly camaraderie of the hobbits—Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin—provides a casual and heartwarming counterpoint to the lofty, and more formal, alliances between Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, and other important players in the War of the Ring. Legolas and Gimli, beyond having their own bonds, also show that old rifts between races or nations can be healed through friendship. The nations of Rohan and Gondor, and the races of Elves and Men, also can be described as friendly, and bear witness to a long history of alliance between these groups.

Evil

The Ring, being thoroughly evil, cannot be used to achieve any good end. This point is made over and over: the Ring will corrupt the one who wields it, no matter what the wielder's initial purpose is. Galadriel points this out when Frodo offers her the Ring, noting she would, if she were to accept it, start out by fixing the things that are wrong in the world. However, even her great power and goodness would not be able to resist the temptation of the power it would offer; eventually she would claim it as her own and all her good intentions would be for nothing. Gandalf, too, refuses the Ring, for the same reason. The nature of evil is to undermine and destroy, to corrupt and exploit. This theme is underscored by the fact that Bilbo is said to have escaped relatively free from the Ring's corrupting influence because he did not seek to use the Ring to gain power.

The Good Fight

It is not necessary to be great and powerful, or even successful, to overcome evil. Fighting evil happens one step at a time, choice by choice. And no act of goodness, mercy, or bravery is too small to make a dent in the armor of evil. Bilbo's simple act of refraining from killing Gollum—motivated by pity—is ultimately shown to be an incredibly important choice. Frodo makes a similar choice. Merry's attack on the Lord of the Nazgûl doesn't kill the evil creature, but serves to set up the killing blow. Thus, the importance of making the right choice in the moment—no matter how seemingly insignificant—is emphasized time and time again.

There is also a sense that some tasks are appointed to certain people. Elrond perceives the task of taking the Ring to Mordor was meant for Frodo. Gandalf also has a specific task to complete—and he is even sent back from the dead to achieve it. The moral of the story is, when providence sets a task for someone, that person must try his best to complete it, even if he deems the task too big.

Ultimately, as Frodo's quest reveals, moral choices have a cumulative effect. A single bad choice, like Frodo's, does not counteract the string of good choices he had made prior to that moment. Therefore, Frodo's quest is successful, even if his final act is one of failure.

Storymaking

Stories—most often in the form of songs and poems—abound in the novel. While there are written records (Gandalf reading the writings of Isildur in Gondor, for example), important tales of those who lived long ago are passed down through oral tradition. The Elves know many of these songs, as does Aragorn. In addition, smaller stories, such as one hobbit's quest to destroy a dangerous ring, are just one part of a much longer and more complex story going back to the beginning of creation. As Sam says, "We're in the same tale still! It's going on." All actions, small or large—Sam's, Frodo's, anyone's—are woven into the never-ending story of history. When we are called on to act, we must answer and become part of the story.

Questions for Themes

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Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
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