I have not read Tolkien’s classic in many years, but recently a friend was reading it and asked me why I like it. That is hard to put into words without some effort, but here is that effort.
There are many reasons to like (or even love) Lord of the Rings. The beautiful descriptions of a pastoral age, and a simple medieval life take us away to a life we can only imagine. It is a fictional tale, but in many ways it represents a folk-lore of the English, and the life and courage of our ancestors from centuries ago. There are great tales of bravery, from the hobbits to the riders of Rohan. Tales of great loyalty, like that of Samwise Gamgee and Aragorn. There are many virtues exhibited by multiple excellent and complex characters. There are interesting and complex villains who are much more real and applicable in their life lessons than the cartoonish villains that are seen in most stories. But while all of those enhance the story, and make it much more rich and beautiful, they are not the primary reason Lord of the Rings is a great tale far beyond your typical fantasy novel. The Lord of the Rings is a story about how our individual struggles to overcome evil, and laziness, and greed are just as important as the great wars and councils of whatever age we live in.
At the council of Elrond, where the fellowship of the ring is formed, Elrond says, “This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” While Lord of the Rings is a grand tale about the literal fate of the world and its fall to an evil force, which involves huge armies, and massive wars, the true battle, the one that matters the most, is ultimately one that “small hands do… while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” That is Frodo’s attempt to carry the ring, and destroy it, without it destroying him. The battles with orcs, elves, and men are all interesting and make for galant tales of bravery and at times cowardice, but the battle that ultimately decides the fate of all is a battle that goes on in the heart of the smallest of people, Frodo Baggins. We all have battles inside of us to get rid of the ring, the ring of power, or laziness, or lust, or whatever it be, and that battle is every bit as important as the battles going on in the halls of power, if not for the fate of the world, as it was in Frodo’s case, at the very least for the fate of our own individual lives and souls.
What makes Lord of the Rings so great is that it pushes us to look at the absolute importance of these seemingly small individual battles we face. We often don’t get to decide our battles, but as Gandalf says, “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And that individual decision will be just as important as any decision in the halls of power or business. We may not be an Aragorn or a Gandalf, but we all at times will be a Frodo or a Sam faced with individual internal struggles, or struggles of our closest friends. At those times we will have to decide to destroy the ring in mount doom, or hold onto it. We have to decide to support our friends and family, even physically carrying them, or to continue to live our lives of quiet relaxation. Hopefully we can all choose as Frodo and Sam.