Prose Header

Analogical Meaning in Lord of the Rings

by Mark Murdock

part 5 of 6

Remember: The Lord of the Rings is your story.

Inside each of us lurks the menacing land of Mordor.

It is the alien origin of all fear and the seat of masculine power. We are raised from children under its watchful eye, and it controls us. But this is not our true self. This is not who we were born to be...

Its power has spilled over and infected our feminine nature, corrupted and poisoned it. The feminine lies beneath it, buried under layers of fear: Helms Deep. We can never, never know our true destiny unless we free her. As we meet these fears, we reawaken something deep inside us: the primordial Goddess.

From time immemorial, it was the Goddess that bestowed kingship. The Goddess reveals our true destiny, not our false ego. The return of the King is the return to our true nature, our true Self. It is the Middle Earth way, the middle way, the balance between masculine (sword) and feminine (land).

The battle for Middle Earth has begun. It is time to become who we were born to be.

To recap Tolkien’s steps thus far:

  1. Recognize that we possess a ring of power and refuse it.
  2. Journey out from our false comfort zone to face our deepest fears.
  3. Find strength in new-found internal guidance and serendipity.
  4. Breakdown, defend against worldly fears, meet our shadows and suffer doubt.

In real life, it might look like this:

  1. The world is a mess and I am the problem. I reject it; I reject my false self.
  2. I am leaving the job that I hate to go in search of something more authentic.
  3. I feel guided, and I am having the most amazing experiences and encounters...
  4. I feel terrible. Everything is a mess, chaotic. I am unsure and confused and frightened.

It is always darkest before dawn. The breakthrough is arriving. Something is stirring deep within us despite the near hopeless mess we see outside of us.

As we prepare to face the most indomitable foe — that of death itself — qualities like honor and courage rise to strengthen us. These values become more important than life itself because we realize that our lives mean nothing without them. We have been living meaningless lives.

Something flashes in our souls — the beacons of Gondor have been lit! We ride to fight again.

And why is it that these values are not being respected and revered in today’s technological world? Where did we lose sight of them? When did we become mere Stewards of Gondor?

To answer this question, we turn to Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig searches for the origins of something he termed quality through the pages of philosophy and history itself. He traces it back to pre-Socratic Greeks, before literacy, before the advent of science, and the mind-matter split.

In the days described by Homer, the Greeks valued arête above anything else, translated as ‘excellence’, or ‘virtue’. What drove the ancient Greek to acts of heroism was not a sense of duty to others, rather a duty to himself. He strives to become a better man.

(It is no surprise that these early Greeks worshiped the goddess.)

Let’s see how these values return in The Lord of the Rings.

Sauron unleashes the final assault on Minas Tirith. His greatest weapon is the fear of death itself, and it is massive and seemingly indestructible. His numbers are almost limitless. How can anyone escape it? We cannot. We are doomed to it.

But it cannot take something greater than our lives. It cannot take our honor.

It is true that Elrond reforges the sword of Elendil, but it is only by the will of his daughter, Arwen, the royal maiden. Aragorn’s kingship is bestowed by Arwen, the goddess. His courage and acts of bravery and betterment have made him a worthy king by her rights.

He is given his destiny, the sword. He now is king and possesses the power of redemption. He travels into the mountain to redeem the lost souls of his ancestors, those who ran in fear and failed to uphold their oaths of a bygone battle. Without honor and virtue, we are lost souls. With it, we can marshal the forces of the spirit world.

But Sauron too can unleash dark spiritual forces. His ultimate weapon is the King of the Nazgul, the Witch-King whom no man can destroy.

The hubris of the masculine! For the Witch-King meets not a man but a woman in battle. Here we see one embodiment of the goddess in Eowyn as she defends her king. This is the starkest of reminders that man does not rule over woman, but man may only rule by her wish.

And Eowyn slays the greatest warrior of Sauron’s death forces. The Return of the Kingmaker is the Goddess. And her Kings take the day on the battlefield.

The decision is made to make an assault on the black gate of Mordor to help Frodo. This is a suicide mission, for the numbers of Sauron’s forces still outnumber those of Men. In a very stunning visual, we see Sauron’s Orcs form a ring around the feminine circle of Aragorn’s army.

The masculine imbalance is still overpowering. The fate of our souls is in the hands now of Frodo alone, i.e. in our attempt to destroy the ring of our own ego.

Frodo surmounts obstacle after obstacle in his journey to Mt. Doom. He suffers death by the sting of the spider Shelob only to be reborn again. The spider is a feminine symbol of destiny and weaving of fate, and this scene is a powerful foreshadowing of the events to come. It is Frodo’s destiny to suffer death, but it will not be final.

The climatic scene in Mt. Doom is as complex as it is illuminating about the nature of our quest.

Frodo fails to destroy the ring willingly as Isildur did ages ago. He places it on his finger and sees himself as the most powerful Hobbit King that ever lived (book version). But the goddess has not bestowed Kingship to Frodo — he is the ring bearer.

Why did Frodo consciously fail in his mission at this last decisive moment? What risk do we face?

Could it be that we cannot reject any aspect of ourselves? To reject something is to give it power over you. To reject the ring of power is to imbue it with even more power. Could our mission to destroy the ring be impossible?

It is the actions of Gollum that help us answer this.

Gollum represents the shadow, and we spend our lives rejecting the qualities that create our shadows. To gain a greater wholeness, we must integrate our shadow; realize that it is a part of ourselves.

But Sam clearly rejects Gollum. He first wants to kill him, and continually badgers and torments him. Gollum is a stark shadow figure for Sam, representing character traits that he despises. Frodo however shows compassion and view’s Gollum’s suffering as his own.

But the integration is somehow incomplete. We see Gollum returning again and again to struggle with Frodo and Sam. He cannot be destroyed like the Balrog. We cannot continue to project our shadows onto others.

I contend that this failure of Frodo (and Sam?) to fully integrate the shadow prompts his final dramatic act. And it is at this moment that Gollum leaps onto his back. The two are symbolically one in this last struggle, and it is this greater whole that can now fulfill the appointed destiny.

The masculine imbalance is symbolic here again as the two teeter to the brink of the abyss. And now our true mission comes into focus.

What we are destroying is not the ego but the ego’s masculine dominance over the feminine. Power does not fall with Sauron, but is transferred to the new King. The ring transmutes into the crown placed on Aragorn’s head. A right balance between masculine and feminine has been restored.

So our quest begins to destroy the ring of power we each possess, and ends with the realization that we cannot destroy any aspect of ourselves that we dislike. We must integrate it, and in so doing, we discover the true source of power in our lives — our goddess-bestowed destiny.

Sauron’s phallic tower and all-seeing eye collapses to the feminine earth, and his minions are swallowed up into her darkest depths...

Proceed to part 6...

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Murdock

Home Page