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What overall meaning or message, if any, was Tolkien trying to convey with each of his books (The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, LOTR)?

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    welcome to scifi.stackexchange.com, i flagged your question because it seems to be primarily opinion-based, extremely broad, and possibly even off-topic. – Math chiller Dec 16 '13 at 19:11
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    Well, we read The-Hobbit in my high school English class, and the teacher said the author was trying to convey a message about greed and selfishness. I'll have to look at the preface or forward for The-Hobbit as I don't know if it states the authors intentions. Didn't know if the LOTRO or Silmarillion were similar. But if it's just a story then it's just a story. – Glyph Dec 16 '13 at 19:38
  • @Glyph i didnt say the question is a bad one, just that it doesnt belong here. – Math chiller Dec 17 '13 at 14:18
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    A question that has an answer doesn't belong on this site? No guidance as to where it does belong? That's too legalistic for me. – Glyph Dec 17 '13 at 14:26
  • I'd say "don't be a dick", although I can provide no other canonical reference to this than the fact that all selfish dicks end bad or worse in ME. – user24069 Jun 24 '14 at 15:16
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Tolkien says in the very introduction to LoTR that he has no "message", and that he hates allegory:

As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.

...

But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations... I think that many confuse "applicability" with "allegory"; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

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    Also Letter 208: "As for 'message': I have none really, if by that is meant the conscious purpose in writing The Lord of the Rings, of preaching, or of delivering myself of a vision of truth specially revealed to me! I was primarily writing an exciting story in an atmosphere and background such as I find personally attractive". My interpretion: "here's a story, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it". – user8719 Dec 16 '13 at 19:56
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    I upvoted this answer (and Jimmy's comment as well) but I'm going to hold the contrarian opinion that the author cannot be trusted in this case. I'm fairly certain Tolkien did have a message, even if not an entirely direct one. And he may not have been entirely conscious of the message himself. But I hold with Moorcock's opinion that Tolkien's "message" is that of the value of simple, rural life, and a strong sense of conservatism and anti-industrialism. – Andres F. Dec 16 '13 at 21:12
  • (Note: even though I agree with Moorcock in his, let's say "ideological" analysis of LotR, I do not agree the actual style is poor or the books not enjoyable. I am definitely a big fan of LotR in spite of its conservatism. I was simply saying that in my opinion there IS a message in LotR). – Andres F. Dec 16 '13 at 21:15
  • @AndresF. I agree with your point, but the question here is asking about Tolkein's intentions. Since he plainly stated those, this answers the question as asked. His books have been analyzed in all manner of ways to find themes and messages, and a separate question asking about those has potential. – user1027 Dec 16 '13 at 21:44
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    I agree with Andres on this, quote from Christopher Tolkien in The Silmarillon's foreword: "...became the vehicle and depository of his profoundest reflections. In his later writing mythology and poetry sank down behind his theological and philosophical preoccupations: from which arose incompatibilities of tone." That said, I don't know if the Hobbit and LoTR can be considered "later writing", but The Silmarillon yes. – Joel Dec 17 '14 at 22:42
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Whether or not he was trying to convey a message, he did so. In fact, Tolkien's work is full of meanings and messages, he just didn't like to admit what those meanings and messages were. We can identify at least a few of them without much difficulty.

In a letter to his publisher, Milton Waldman, Tolkien admitted to inserting meaning and messages into his work:

Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth... but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary "real" world.
-Tolkien, Letter #131

In the same letter, he also says that he is having difficulty keeping the letter brief, because when discussing his work,

"...the egoist and artist [in me] at once desires to say... what (he thinks) he means and is trying to represent by it all".
(ibid)

Obviously, there is meaning, there are messages, and they are intentional. We will have to work out for ourselves just what they are, however.

There is the obvious message of good triumphing over evil, and the virtues of humility, courage, resolve, determination, selflessness, perseverance, loyalty, love, and so on.

On a deeper level, he glorifies simplicity and rural life, and the common people who live in little farming villages and keep to themselves. Samwise Gamgee exemplifies this ideal, and was considered to be the "chief hero" of the story by Tolkien himself.

This pastoral idealism is contrasted with the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and modernization. Progress is not a good thing in Tolkien's works. In The Hobbit, Tolkien even goes so far as to say that most of the modern weaponry that allows for the massacring of large numbers of people in a short period of time were probably invented by Orcs. And in "The Scouring of the Shire", one of the many crimes committed by Saruman/Sharkey is the expansion of the mill and the resulting pollution of the river and surrounding lands.

All of the above is summed up well in Peter Beagle's preface to the American version of The Lord of the Rings.

And Tolkien's themes are undeniably Conservative in nature - the heroes are striving to reestablish the old monarchical order, and defeat the ruthless mechanical evils that beset them.

Tolkien usually shied away from acknowledging his intended messages and meanings, but occasionally gave us a few glimpses of such things. Again, from the same letter:

I dislike Allegory – the conscious and intentional allegory – yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language. (And, of course, the more 'life' a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate allegory is made the more nearly will it be acceptable just as a story.) Anyway all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. With Fall inevitably, and that motive occurs in several modes. With Mortality, especially as it affects art and the creative (or as I should say, sub-creative) desire which seems to have no biological function, and to be apart from the satisfactions of plain ordinary biological life, with which, in our world, it is indeed usually at strife. This desire is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it. It has various opportunities of 'Fall'. It may become possessive, clinging to the things made as 'its own', the sub-creator wishes to be the Lord and God of his private creation. He will rebel against the laws of the Creator – especially against mortality. Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective, – and so to the Machine (or Magic). By the last I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised.
-Tolkien, Letter #131

It is worth reading the whole letter, because this is about as close as Tolkien comes to openly discussing the meanings and messages in his work. You can read it here.


Note: It appears that Tolkien uses the term "the Machine" in the sense of the Ancient Greek dramatic concept of "Deus Ex Machina", or "God from the Machine". This used to have a more literal meaning - in plays in Ancient Greece, actors portraying gods would be lifted above the stage by cranes (i.e., machines), to deliver monologues that would conclude the play or resolve plot points. In modern parlance, it refers to a plot device by which a formidable problem is resolved by sudden intervention by new characters, forces, or an unforeseen turn of events. Wikipedia describes it as follows:

The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.

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    I'm leery of starting in on a literary analysis of Tolkien's works; these messages certainly exist, but absent a grounding in Tolkien's intentions (whish is not the same as his opinions), it turns into the sort of long-form discussion that SE isn't a good place for – Jason Baker Jun 8 '15 at 4:32
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    @JasonBaker - I think you have a point, in regard to the conservatism part of my answer, but the other points I raised have some basis in Tolkien's letters, as well as the introduction to Lord of the Rings by Peter Beagle. I didn't pull the ideas out of thin air. I would argue that an official introduction to Tolkien's books is as close to canon as you can get without actually being canonical. – Wad Cheber Jun 8 '15 at 5:04
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    @JasonBaker - I would also argue that there is an enormous difference between Tolkien's intentions and the intentions Tolkien was willing to admit to. I doubt that anything of real significance appears in Tolkien's works by accident, but he seems to expect us to believe that everything of meaning in the story is there by pure happenstance. – Wad Cheber Jun 8 '15 at 5:14
  • @JasonBaker - now that I'm reading The Silmarillion, I can back up my argument with actual quotes from the man himself. – Wad Cheber Jun 10 '15 at 1:57
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    @WadCheber +1 I agree with this answer and with your comments as well. I think there is too much meaning in Tolkien's Middle-earth stories for him to pretend there is none. That's why I think this is a case where the author's claims cannot be trusted. Yup, it's a literary analysis of Tolkien's works, and might be outside the scope of this site, but I still hold to my views. – Andres F. Jun 10 '15 at 2:10

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