J.R.R. Tolkien created what many believe to be the pan-ultimate high fantasy world with his novels and short stories based around Middle Earth. Tales of men, elves, dwarves, goblins and dragons abound as Tolkien wove such fantastical storylines into a much deeper narrative. Beyond the scope of adventure, mountains filled with treasure or the sheer size of Middle Earth; his stories were meant to be models of the world that we today actually live in. Now I know what you're thinking, "how is my life anything like that of Bilbo Baggins, Aragorn of Gandalf's?" Well you need to look past all of the fantasy and at how Tolkien structured his characters and their plots. His universe and Middle Earth that lies within it is filled with beauty, strife, chaos and the contention of good versus evil. Yes in the end good ultimately triumphs over evil but in many instances the good people of Middle Earth spend a good amount of their time in pain and uncertainty.
At the heart of Tolkien's Middle Earth is the ongoing battle between good and evil. The forces of Morgoth; that being all of the orcs, goblins, spiders, dragons etc against the forces of Eru (the creator of the universe). Morgoth, or as he was first known as Melkor, who at the beginning of creation was Eru's most gifted child was ever in discord with his fellow god-like brothers and sisters, the Valar. Instead of working together with his siblings to the harmonious music that Eru was creating, he decided to instill discord in the world. This representation is akin to Christianity's own relationship between God and Satan. satan, or as he was formally known as Lucifer, was God's brightest angel and the bringer of dawn. Yet Lucifer had his downfall when God introduced his plans for the creation of man and placed man high under his authority. Lucifer was outraged at that pronunciation and believed that since he was made first he should be held higher than man. What resulted was a war in which a third of the host of heaven was cast down from the sky and Lucifer falling like a lightning bolt; forever to be known as Satan and creator of sin and chaos in the mortal world. Melkor was Eru's most gifted creation, yet what he desired most was the ability to create life with the "secret fire" that only Eru knew and possessed. Melkor was jealous of the awakening of the elves and then was even more resentful after the awakening of men. Through this hatred of Eru's creations he would be named Morgoth, or cursed one, he would create all of the enemies and disfunction in Middle Earth.
Having the Catholic background shaped Tolkien's work immensely, as seen with the relationship between Eru/God and Morgoth/Satan. It goes even further than the battles between good and evil, light and dark. While the forces of elves, men and dwarves are constantly at war with those of orcs, wars and dragons, Tolkien explored deeper stories and themes within the Bible. One of the major themes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was that of Aragorn and his own pursuit to reclaim the throne of Gondor. Aragorn throughout the storyline was the calming, stout and wise presence of the Fellowship and the right man to reclaim the throne. He is modeled after that of Jesus Christ, who was to be the redeemer of the world. Jesus was to repair the connection between God and man, forgive humanity for Adam's original sin and rule over the new Kingdom of Israel (which was to be Heaven). The Kingdom's of Judah and Israel would be reunited into one cohesive nation. Just as Jesus triumphed over death, rebuked Satan's temptations and endured unfathomable punishment, Aragorn spends his life defending and protecting the free people's of the north against the evil of Sauron. He faces his own doubt during the quest of the ring, questions his own leadership but remains steadfast through outnumbered odds and triumphs over the forces of Sauron. After the defeat of Sauron, Aragorn reestablishes the reunited Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor.
Quite possibly it is Tolkien's characters who represent the real world trials and tribulations that we face everyday. His characters face adversity both big and small, question themselves constantly and have their pitfalls. That is the beauty of his Middle Earth universe, there is at least one character throughout all of his stories that a person can relate to. There is never a perfect person in any of his books, everyone has their faults and shortcomings. The Noldor elves, mostly Feanor and his sons, are vain, selfish and vengeful. While they do stage a valiant resistance against Morgoth in the First Age and Sauron in the next two ages, it is that vanity and vengefulness that almost brings upon their complete downfall and destruction. The kings of Numenor become covetess and jealous of the elves who lived in Valinor and increasingly sought passage to the Undying Lands, even though it was restricted to them. The end result was the downfall of their last king and the destruction of their island home. Even these mighty people whose ancestors fought against the evil of Morgoth and were awarded with long life and a home of their own could become corrupted. No one was fully immune to the powers and reach of evil, which makes Tolkien's stories feel so much more real. Even the best in society could be brought down from their lofty positions and made "human" (so to speak). The good did not always win all of the time, evil does exist and it can conquer the world that we live in. There were long periods of time when the evil would triumph, great cities would fall and be destroyed and magnificent heroes would be brought down.
His greatest gift in the massive volumes of work that he created was that even the smallest of things could win over in the end. This was one of his main representation of the hobbits within his stories. Hobbits lived simple lives of cheer, food, family and merriment. They were not interested in the quarrels of kings, the jewels of the dwarves or even the plight of the elves against Morgoth/Sauron. The hobbits represented the lives that Tolkien believed we all should be living, one that was not concerned with war and politics (remember that Tolkien served during World War I). His hobbits though diminutive in stature proved to be some of the biggest players in the history of Middle Earth. It was Bilbo Baggins who helped Thorin and his company defeat the dragon Smaug and reclaim their home in Erebor. His nephew Frodo would carry the One Ring all the way to Mount Doom with the help of his gardener Samwise Gamgee. Their friends Peregrin Took and Merryiadoc Brandybuck would help out the kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan respectively. Tolkien wanted to show that good works and salvation could come from the most unlikeliest of places; whether it be a hobbit, a wizard from the Undying Lands or a woman disguised as a male soldier.
The world of Middle Earth has never lost its luster and continues to be a major fan favorite in the fictional universe. But it is the everyday lessons that are hidden within each story that can aid us in our lives everyday. J.R.R. Tolkien taught us that no problem was ever too difficult or impossible, even if that meant slaying a dragon or defeating a god-like spirit. He taught us that even though we all come from different races, creeds, countries and genders, we are all able to live cohesively in this world. Everyone one of us faces the same troubles and evils everyday and the only way to defeat such evils is by doing so together. To which I will now leave you all with a quote by one of the most indelible characters from his stories, Gandalf the Gray. "He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."