Fascination with J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is at an all-time high following the release of Peter Jackson’s widely acclaimed film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring. A new generation of devotees is immersing itself in the fictive world of Middle-earth to find fantasy, wonder, and enchantment. And hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards once again people the imaginations of readers revisiting this classic story of sacrifice, loss, and redemption.
In One Ring to Bind Them All, Anne Petty shows that when viewed through the combined methodologies of Joseph Campbell, Vladimir Propp, and Claude Lévi-Strauss a folkloristic/mythic structure is seen to underlie Tolkien’s epic work. The Lord of the Rings is 20th-century mythology manifested in the familiar pattern of the three-stage hero quest made popular by Campbell—departure, initiation, and return—and in the elemental motifs of folktales, as discovered by Propp and expanded upon by Lévi-Strauss.
This cross-disciplinary analysis shows that Tolkien presented to modern readers and other writers a rich array of reinvented mythic archetypes and icons: the desperate quest (good vs. evil); a magical object that embodies or initiates the quest (the ring); the wise wizard who oversees or aids the quest (Gandalf); the reluctant hero, an ordinary person with untapped abilities (Frodo); the hero’s loyal friend and supporter (Sam); the warrior king whose true identity is hidden (Strider/Aragorm); the goddess figure (Galadriel); and so on.
Petty asserts that through The Hobbitt and The Lord of the Rings Tolkien created a fully realized world that evokes a sense of authentic history and is imbued with clarity and a beauty of linguistic expression, a world that continues to draw new audiences to the myth of Middle-earth.