Lisa Hillis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

John Simpson


The epic world created by J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one in which secular and religious elements are intertwined and the relationship between the two is intentionally kept vague. Within this created world, known as Middle Earth, good and evil are apparent, but the standard by which they are determined remains undefined. The free creatures living in Tolkien's world appear to have an intuitive ability to discern between good and evil, and each being generally exercises its free will in pursuit of one or the other though some personalities do combine the qualities. This innate understanding implies a moral order at the instinctive level, characteristic of all living things. Aragorn, heir of Isildur, affirms this idea in his reply to Eomer, Third Marshall of the Riddermark, "Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house" (TT 50).

This moral standard common to all living creatures of Middle Earth necessarily implies a motivating force or creator capable of instilling such an instinct into that which is created. Tolkien remains vague throughout the trilogy in defining this powerful force, never committing himself to any traditional concept of deity and avoiding any reference to a "being" of any kind, but the undeniable force exists and exerts its power on behalf of good characters struggling against those which do evil. The author chooses to define this unnamed force through its modes of action, rather than by a description of its essence. The force does not appear to wield a visible and independent power, but works through the story's characters, using their moral decisions to achieve the desired outcome for good. Aid and guidance are given to good characters in subtle and covert ways which seek to control the story's overall action, while avoiding interference with any creature's freedom of choice.

I propose that by a study of the ways in which this unnamed moral force controls the story's action, the reader will more clearly understand that the ultimate victory over Sauron has been carefully contrived by a will more powerful than that of any of the story's characters. This powerful will or force subtly intervenes in the affairs of Middle Earth through events which appear to be chance occurrences or coincidence, instinctive impulses placed within all creatures which may influence judgment, and beneficial effects which result from evil deeds. By one of these three modes of guidance, the story's action is carefully directed toward the defeat of the evil embodied by Sauron. Using these methods of aid or direction, the reigning moral power seeks to direct Middle Earth's creatures in how they may salvage their world from an evil influence beyond their ability to overcome unaided. Success in this battle between the forces of good and evil rests in great part on each individual's responsibility to make right choices, but Tolkien's unnamed force is in control of all things and working toward a goal fully known only to itself.