Human Dignity in The Lord of the Rings


J. R. R. Tolkien’s great epic, The Lord of the Rings, contains far more than a compelling and inspirational story. A holistic worldview, rooted in a deep understanding of human dignity, pervades the entire world of Middle-Earth. Every defender of liberty and foe of oppression today should take the time to read this book—it powerfully illustrates the importance of individual action within the great struggle between good and evil.

At the beginning of the work, Tolkien describes the Hobbits of the Shire. Not far different from the English country folk whom Tolkien loved, they are, for the most part, simple, honest people leading simple, honest lives. They have few dealings with the wider world, and most Men view them as unimportant, as Hobbits are “neither renowned as great warriors, nor counted among the very wise.”

This quiet lifestyle, however, faces a grave threat from the Dark Lord Sauron, described by Tolkien in another book, the Silmarillion, as a fallen angel seeking to cover all lands with the shadow of his tyranny. In the face of this danger, a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins, who desired no part in a clash of world powers, steps up and actually volunteers for a dangerous mission to Mordor, the land of the Dark Lord himself, in order to destroy an evil Ring which would provide Sauron sufficient power to destroy all opposition. Along the way, Frodo receives help from several unexpected allies, but most especially from his loyal friend, Sam Gamgee.  Together, Frodo and Sam travel a torturous, roundabout route to Mordor, dodging numerous enemies. These two little Hobbits literally carry the fate of the world in their hands.

Tolkien powerfully illustrates the dignity and importance of human individuals through the humble heroism and Frodo and Sam. In the great struggle between good and evil, other characters, such as Aragorn, the rightful King, are called to take a visible stand and boldly defy the power of the Dark Lord. However, all their battle prowess and wise strategy against Sauron’s armies would have come to naught but for the willingness of two Hobbits to play their part. Even the smallest person has a role to play in the defense of beauty and freedom against an evil which seeks to destroy both.

So it is with us today. In modern America, few if any of us will be called upon to mount a white horse and lead a heroic charge in battle, but the principle of human dignity still applies. Our nation was founded upon it — the principle that all citizens, rather than a select few, have a role to play in their own government and in defense of their own liberty. We face an imperfect, divided world, and every citizen has a place in the struggle between good and evil, beauty and ugliness, virtuous freedom and dehumanizing tyranny. Each of us must stand up to defend the dignity of human beings if we desire to preserve the best of our heritage as Americans.

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