A Jungian Interpretation of Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings

Pia Skogemann's book, Where the Shadows Lie, will be published in August 2009 by Chiron Publications. Here follows the introductory part of the book.

A Jungian  Interpretation of  Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings.

By Pia Skogemann


Pia Skogemann's book on The Lord of the RingsIntroduction


I have written this book for readers who love The Lord of the Rings, and for those who would like to read the trilogy, but don't know how to get started. My aim is to illustrate how C. G. Jung's theory of archetypes offers an important key to understanding the powerful imagery of Tolkien's masterpiece - and thereby a key to understanding ourselves.

This book is not a psycho-biographical analysis of Tolkien, and either is it a tracing back to the origins of the figures and motives in Tolkien's universe. His knowledge of ancient myth, legends and fairy tales was enormous, but he took all that material out of their old context and used them for a new purpose.

I understand The Lord of the Rings as a symbolic, not allegoric story. Instead of fx seeing World War II as an allegorical equivalent to The Lord of the Rings, the War, in my opinion, might rather be considered an example of how we are living in a world today in which the Ring has not yet been destroyed.

What interest me is first and foremost the impact of Tolkien's trilogy on the readers' minds. We might perceive the contents of the trilogy as a description of the collective unconscious of this Era. In the trilogy, we are not confronted with the troubles of a distant past, we are, indeed, presented with the issues of today. What Tolkien's trilogy offers to its readers are suggestions as to how some of these problems might be dealt with, and possibly solved.

Some readers never make it through the first seventy pages of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, no matter how hard they try. They simply fall asleep while reading the long introduction, while other readers devour the pages and fall in love with the book forever. Personally, I belong to the latter group of readers. During the thirty-odd years that I have read, re-read, and loved The Lord of the Rings, I have never succeeded in pinpointing any characteristic personality traits or common denominators that might help to define which readers could be expected to fall into which category.

I sense that the two general reactions - either falling asleep or becoming enthralled - divulge a fundamental truth about the very substance of Tolkien's trilogy: to an unusual extent, it activates the subconscious fantasies of its readers. In chat forums on the web, young readers reveal that they love to read The Lord of the Rings late at night, because it inspires them to dream their way into the Tolkien universe. All the while, the second group of readers, who are not able to connect consciously to the imagery in Tolkien's fantastic tale, is bored to tears and ends up falling asleep.

Archetypal symbols build a bridge to the collective unconscious; these archetypes are to be found in religion and mythology, in fairy tales, dreams, and fantasies. The Lord of the Rings contains all of these elements, which interact intensely with the psyche of its readers. I'll give you an example of how this interaction takes place in real life: one day, when Peter was thirteen years old, he sat in his room and heard his parents quarelling. At that very moment, Peter saw an orc come looming towards him, it struck him in the chest with a spear; he fell towards the frame of his bedroom door, sinking down onto the floor. A few moments later, his mother found him lying there, bruised and dazed.

It's not difficult to interpret the orc as a personification of the negative emotions that thirteen-year-old Peter experienced while his parents were quarelling, but which he was unconscious of at the time. Peter was - and is today - a perfectly normal and healthy young man.

At the time when his parents quarrelled, he responded to the attack of the orc by literally fighting back: he decided to start taking courses in martial arts, and became very proficient at his new sport. Generally, orcs symbolize negative and aggressive impulses. If they don't have specific enemies to combat, they immediately begin to quarrel, and quickly kill each other.

The Lord of the Rings is so full of archetypal figures that it would be relevant to speculate if Tolkien had been acquainted with the theories of Jung? We don't know if he was, but Tolkien would not have been able to write such a wonderful story by "constructing" his work with the use of a Jungian "recipe". While writing the script to his film Star Wars, the director George Lucas did actually try to create a Jungian universe, but in his first attempts to do so, he failed miserably. He then simply wrote a story - and later, when analyzing the completed script, he discovered that his story now contained all the archetypal figures that he originally had wanted to be represented in his film.

It would be relevant to ask: why have no Jungian analysts until now chosen to publish an interpretation of The Lord of the Rings? When I told this to some of my British and American colleagues, they all exclaimed, "Really! Hasn't that been done yet? But a Jungian approach would be so obviously relevant! That must be the reason that no one has done it yet ...the book is so unmistakably full of archetypes that you would expect a Jungian to have published an analysis of it long ago!"

While it is obvious that The Lord of the Rings is a story that invites a Jungian interpretation, the story itself is anything but obvious or banal. As Jung wrote: "Archetypal images are so packed with meaning in themselves, that people never think of asking what they really do mean. When archetypes appear in practical experience, they are both images and at the same time emotions. The archetype is not just an intellectual concept; only if the image is charged with numinosity, that is, with psychic energy, then it becomes dynamic."(1)     

This is clearly the case with The Lord of the Rings, the reader is filled with joy and dimmed with tears again and again. Furthermore, the archetypes are related to the patterns of human behaviour, so it's not surprising that one popular way of responding to the figures in The Lord of the Rings is participating in role-playing games.

To be honest, the Jungian approach to interpreting Tolkien's trilogy seemed obvious to me, but once I got to work on my interpretation, suddenly nothing seemed quite so clear; the material in the trilogy is truly profound and there are many layers to work with. I have chosen to interpret the tale at two psychological levels, according to the Jungian structural model of the psyche: the Shire represents consciousness and is the uppermost layer of the psyche. The four hobbits represent the Ego in all its different aspects and phases of life. As readers, we identify ourselves with them, and while the story is unfolding, we experience the world from the four hobbits' point of view: we travel with them, see, experience, and take in the world as they do.  The hobbits represent the type of people that we feel comfortable identifying ourselves with: they are good and sensible human beings. The Shire in which they lived was:


"...a district of well-ordered business; and there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle- earth and the right of all sensible folk." (1:17)


I clearly remember that the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, I felt that the Shire might easily be a description of Denmark, the country in which I live. It would seem logical that the human societies in Rohan and Gondor would feel more familiar to the reader, but this was not the case. Hobbiton seemed much more familiar and normal. The boundaries of the Shire constitute the borders of consciousness. This consciousness is totally ignorant of the world beyond. The Shire is a rather isolated and self-sufficient region; psychologically, the Shire represents a naive state of consciousness, threatened by dangerously overwhelming impulses from the collective unconscious. Although the Ego is extremely small and fragile at this stage compared to the vast kingdom of the unconscious, it is only through the reflecting and integrating activity of the ego-consciousness that a new psychological balance can be created in the individual. However, in order to achieve this goal, a dangerous quest awaits. For years, Frodo had been considering leaving the Shire to follow in Bilbo's footsteps, but he'd never gotten any further with his plans than daydreaming about it. Suddenly, Frodo no longer had a choice: he was being pursued by the Black Riders, who forced him to commence on his quest. The inner necessity of undergoing an individuation process typically arises from a situation in life that is being experienced as extremely threatening.

The transition from the safe, familiar world to the beyond, is marked by the meeting with Tom Bombadil in The Old Forest. Bombadil's kingdom is a frontier between consciousness and the unconscious. While Frodo and his friends are travelling from one destination to the next, they are often able to bring together what has been isolated and kept apart for ages. Foes become friends. Antagonists are reconciled, and not only do the hobbits make their mark on the world, the world certainly makes its mark upon them, too. Gradually, it soon becomes apparent that - like the Shire - almost all the different countries have been isolated, there is no communication between the countries. During the individuation process, the archetype of the Self is constellated, forming a stronger and clearer centre, which the Ego then creates a new relationship to. When Aragorn is crowned, he also reclaims the vast kingdom of his ancestors, in which the Shire is contained.

All four hobbits return home in a transformed state, and are now able to carry out whatever is necessary, in order to renew the Shire. In the end, a new set of boundaries have been created between the Shire and the rest of the world, prohibiting Big People to cross into the Shire, whilst enabling all hobbits to travel freely and safely, whereever they would like to go.

On the journey, we meet many archetypal figures. Their historical backgrounds, dimensions and meaningful correlations are either revealed or implied. Each of these characterise archetypal aspects of the human psyche.

Clearly the Ring is the strongest single symbol, and behind the Golden Ring lurks its maker. The Dark Lord, The Great Shadow, is the main character of the trilogy. Facing Sauron, the Spirit of Hatred, we have his strongest opponents, the Bearers of the Three Rings: Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf. Galadriel is a magnificent Anima Mundi- figure. She is a World Soul. It is only fitting that her granddaughter, Arwen, is the Anima partner of the young King Aragorn, whose father-in-law and stepfather Elrond represents the archetype of The Old King.

Gandalf is, of course, The Wise Old Man, The Archetype of the Spirit. He is the spirit that flies to and fro, the inspiring and enthusiastic initiator, who unites what the Evil Spirit seeks to disrupt. His Shadow Figure is the powerseeking Saruman, The Negative Spirit. Joined together, they could be compared to Mercurius Duplex, the patron spirit of the alchemists, at one and the same time subservient and poisonous.

Frodo is confronted with a much smaller Shadow Figure than Sauron and Saruman, he meets Gollum, who is more easily recognizable as the personal shadow of a human being. It would be tempting to identify the Bearer of the Ring as the main hero of the trilogy, but doing so would be to oversimplify the tale, for The Lord of the Rings contains so much more than a description of Frodo's individuation process. All the main characters undergo maturation processes and transformations. This offers the readers numerous possibilities of identifying with, or mirroring a number of characters of both sexes and of varying age. In addition to this, the readers can identify with many aspects of the characters. A friend of mine who is a political observer, feels that much of his work resembles that of the eternally travelling Gandalf, while another friend who works as a healer, mirrors herself in Gandalf in his capacity as a spiritual guide.

The Fellowship of the Ring is a central theme in the tale, but the true Brotherhood does not consist of the group of nine characters appointed by Elrond to accompany the Ring. Since leaving the Shire, the four hobbit friends had been inseparable, but among the five other travellers chosen by Elrond , the men Aragorn and Boromir, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, and Gandalf the Wizard , Boromir never really became part of the group of friends. When it comes to Gandalf, the situation is quite the opposite: through several hundreds of pages, we, the readers, are convinced that Gandalf has been killed in Moria, but in reality, he is in close pursuit of the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood of the Ring can be viewed as one entity: a symbol of the Anthropos archetype, the dynamic principle of the collective individuation process of mankind. Jung stressed the strong connection between this particular archetype and  quaternios and double quaternios.

It is a paradox that because of Boromir's betrayal, the Fellowship is broken up, but the friendships in the true Brotherhood are deeply strengthened, and smaller groups of travellers act synchronistically, until all of the eight members are united in Minas Tirith after the victory. The archetype of the Anthropos or the Brotherhood-on-the-Quest denominates the collective process of individuation.

A typical male fairy tale pattern begins: "Once upon a time there was a king who had three sons." At the end of the tale, the youngest son has typically won his bride and half of the kingdom. So the joyful new Era cannot commence until Aragorn has celebrated his wedding to Arwen. By the time Gandalf and Frodo leave Middle-Earth two years later, yet another member of the Brotherhood has married: Sam and Rosa have wed, thereby adding a female character to The Royal Quaternio and the Hobbit Quaternio. At this time, The Fourth Era, the Era of Man, has commenced.

 The Lord of the Rings is a story that reflects the male psyche. But for many reasons, it's not at all difficult for a woman to identify herself with the characters. Although there are not many female figures in the book, values often regarded as being feminine are highly estimated. The green Nature and a holistic world view is contrasted to the black, barren, poisoned Nature and a mechanic world view, compassionate relationships stand in contrast to cold intellectualism, and serving the community is in contrast to the lust for power. Galadriel rules at the centre of Middle-Earth, and might be interpreted as the feminine aspect of the Self, as well as representing the Anima archetype. The Shieldmaiden Eowyn, who slays the Nazgul captain, is a strong heroine figure. Frodo and Sam possess feminine traits; their devoted friendship allows them to kiss, to embrace, and even to falling asleep holding hands.

The inner and outer journeys are closely connected to each other. The fact that The Lord of the Rings contains a map is not an expression of Tolkien's pedantry. In the landscapes, we meet archetypes of transformation; they are not personified, but turn up in typical situations, locations, ways and means. When we are taught the subject of geography at school or when we look up a location in an encyclopaedia or an atlas, we are first and foremost presented with quantitive information. The country we have looked up contains so and so many square miles, has so or so many inhabitants and a gross domestic product that is so or so large. All the information that we can look up is based on numbers. In contrast to this, Middle-Earth is all charged with meaning; When Frodo climbs Amon Hen in his hour of destiny, Tolkien doesn't inform us of the height of the mountain in metres; instead, he describes The Seat of Seeing, The Hill of the Eye of the Men of Númenor.

Crossing a river is an irreversible choice. Entering mysterious forests always lead deeper into the unconscious, where there is magical help to be found. In order to reach a greater goal, a dangerous descent either to The Kingdom of Death, or down a dark and hidden path is necessary. Other typical and impersonal traits belong to the characteristics of the Self, especially the mandala elements. These are circular formations, often divided into fourths or eighths, or inscribed in a square, as the centre in the shape of the sun, a star, a flower a wheel ,or an eye,  often with a rotation or  a spiral movement. Within the mandala, squares of circular architecture- for example a castle, a city, or rows of tall trees reaching out from the centre like rays of the sun- are also symbols related to the Self, and before the hobbits are allowed to enter Galadriel's city or Minas Tirith, a symbolic circumambulation must take place. In The Lord of the Rings, we are presented to all of these symbols time and again.

The Shire itself is split up into quarters, and Tolkien has described the royal city, the Entmoot, and the city of Galadhrim in detail; they are all built in the structure of a mandala.

The forests are full of hidden resources, but like electric sparks, evil is generated from Tower to Tower. Frodo is fatally traumatized at the ruin of Weathertop, Saruman's tower, Isengard, is a perverted and degenerate place, and from The Dark Tower, Sauron's terrifying, lidless eye looks out, searching this way and that for his Ring. Even Minas Tirith is threatened by Lord Denethor's lust for power, and finally, by his madness. When the armies of Aragorn and the Riders of Rohan approach the besieged Minas Tirith, a moment of kairos takes place: the wind turns after three days and three nights where the world has seen nothing but Shadow, the rooster crows at dawn, and Light conquerors Darkness. On the very same day, Frodo and Sam succeed in escaping from the Tower of Minas Morgul, and they commence on their pilgrimage to Mount Doom.

The geography of Middle-Earth consists of an emotional and mental landscape,  determined by its inner meaning. The archaic and mythological world view which Western Society has long lost contact with has been recreated by Tolkien in an entirely new and psychological way. The importance of Tolkien's emphasis on the value and reality of the inner, archetypal world cannot be overestimated.

It has often been stated that originally, Tolkien had wanted to create a mythology for England. But what does that actually mean? According to Tom Shippey(2), one of  Tolkien's sources of inspiration was the Danish poet, visionary, theologian, and philologist, N.F.S. Grundtvig. What Grundtvig had succeeded in doing in the previous century in Denmark with his passionate interest in the sagas and epic litterature, was nothing less than re-creating the Danish national identity: he published several volumes of Nordic mythology and epic literature, but more important, through his lectures, speeches and sermons all over Denmark, he became extremely influential and  a spiritual giant in the history of Denmark.

As Shippey explains, "Nicolai Grundtvig, the Dane, insisted on the concept of  levende ord , "the living word". It is not enough for the philologist," the word-lover", to be scholarly. The scholar also has to transmit his results into the life and speech and imagination of the greater world."(3)

Another "link" between Tolkien and Grundtvig is the Epic poem Beowulf. The manuscript of the poem can be dated back to approximately the year 1000; its story takes place in the elder days of a Royal Court in Denmark that is very similar to The Golden Hall of King Theoden in The Lord of the Rings. Translating Beowulf into Danish as early as 1820, Grundtvig the philologist was actually the first scholar of Beowulf, and his detailed  knowledge of Old English would make him a kindred spirit to Tolkien and his famous 1936-essay on Beowulf.

But the affinity between Grundtvig and Tolkien goes deeper. In literature on Tolkien's work, it is often discussed at length why Tolkien always insisted  that his trilogy was "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work", which in his own opinion would explain why he had removed "practically all references to anything that might  resemble "religion", cults or practices, in the imaginary world."(4).

But how could there be any religious meaning in The Lord of the Rings, when the tale takes place in a seemingly pagan world and God is not mentioned?  Shippey, for one, is inclined to disagree with Tolkien’s own statements.(5)

Danish culture as a whole has been profoundly influenced by Grundtvig the Theologian, and to many Danes, a severance of the pagan world from the Christian world would simply seem unnatural. Pastor Grundtvig maintained that man has divine status simply by being created in the image of God, even without professing to the Christian faith.

On the background of this belief, Grundtvig the Visionary formulated his agenda: a "school for life," which materialized in the second half of the nineteenth century when Grundtvigian højskoler, ("folk high schools") and Free Schools were built all over Denmark. In these schools, reading, re-telling, and studying Nordic mythology, sagas, epic poems and folk tales was - and is to this day - an essential part of the syllabus. Christian teachings, however, were not. On the other hand, in Denmark in the 1950's, before the hippies discovered it, The Lord of the Rings was actually only read by Christian circles. Even today, I know many Danish parsons who love The Lord of the Rings and one parson even published a book on the biblical motives in LOTR to be used as teaching material when preparing young people for confirmation. So, when Tolkien wrote that “The religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism”(6); it seems perfectly logical from the “Grundtvigian” point of view.


Faêry, or the Collective Unconscious


As stated above I do not believe it essential whether Tolkien knew anything of Jung. Much more interesting is the fact that Tolkien's Faëry and Jung's collective unconscious independently seems to point toward the same area of the human mind.

In his article on fairy stories, Tolkien described "The Perilous Realm," which he also named "Faëry". According to Tolkien, both fairy tales and the legends of the Grail belonged to this realm, which did not include books like "Winnie-the-Pooh" or "Alice in Wonderland". To Tolkien, magic and mythology came from this layer of fantasy, and fairy stories were especially able to offer Fantasy, Recovery, Escapism, and Consolation. Jung wrote in his Memories:

"The stories of the Grail had been of the greatest importance to me ever since I read them at the age of fifteen, for the first time. I had an inkling that a great secret still lay hidden behind those stories...My whole being was seeking for something still unknown which might confer meaning upon the banality of life."(7)

What Jung in his early years called "The Great Secret," was later named "The Collective Unconscious": signifying the layer of the unconscious, structured by the archetypes. During World War I, while Tolkien was sitting in the trenches, working on his first attempts at inventing the language and mythology of elves, Jung was busy drawing mandalas and experiencing visions and fantasies, which he carefully recorded:

"First I formulated the things as I had observed them, usually in the "high-flown language," for that corresponds to the style of the archetypes. Archetypes speak the language of high rhetoric, even of bombast."(8)

Jung was not comfortable with this bombastic rhetoric style, it was as unpleasant to him as nails being drawn down a plaster wall. In spite of this, he took his visions seriously; he even transferred his fantasies to The Red Book, which he also illustrated beautifully. Jung's experiments were an attempt at aesthetic or artistic expression, the path that Tolkien finally took, while Jung utilized his fantasies as a basis for creating psychological theories.

The archaic and humourless style in Tolkien's Silmarillion is similar to the "style of the archetypes." It is a style which is often found in the products of  active imagination, a visualization technique which Jung developed. Tolkien invented a similar method for transforming psychological material into fantasies; he called his method "Escapism", and described to his son Christopher how he had discovered the power of imagination:

"I took to "Escapism"; or really transforming experience into another form and symbol with Morgoth and Orcs and the Eldalie (representing beauty and grace of life and artefact) and so on; and it has stood me in good stead in many hard years since, and I still draw on the conceptions then hammered out(9)   

While Tolkien enjoyed his fantasies and let himself be inspired and encouraged by them, Jung had more ambivalent feelings about his fantasies; as a psychiatrist, he associated mythological fantasies with psychosis. Only gradually did he come to view active imagination as a useful and healing technique. In retrospect, Jung came to almost the same conclusions as Tolkien:

"The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life - in them, everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarification of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime's work."(10)

Both Jung and Tolkien were convinced that mankind is in a crucial dilemma, and that transformation must come from the inner man.  In 1957, Jung commented on this:

"As at the beginning of the Christian Era, so again today we are faced with the problem of the general moral backwardness which has failed to keep pace with our scientific, technical, and social progress. So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of modern man. Is he capable of resisting the temptation to use his power for the purpose of staging a world conflagration?  Is he conscious of the path he is treading, and what the conclusions are that must be drawn from the present world situation and his own psychic situation? Does he know that he is on the point of losing the life-preserving myth of the inner man which Christianity has treasured up for him? Does he realise what lies in store, should this catastrophe ever befall him? Is he even capable of realizing that this world would, in fact be a catastrophe? And finally, does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the scales?"(11)

Tolkien let his characters express similar considerations during the discussions on The Ring and the fate of Middle-Earth at Elrond's Council. Elrond had clearly told Boromir that The Ring of Power could not be used as a weapon in the service of Good; only someone  already possessing great powers would be able to wield the Ring according to his will, but this would bring his soul in mortal danger, soon transforming him into a new Dark Lord. The only solution would be to destroy the Ring in the Fire of Mount Doom. Erestor asked the Council if it would even be possible to locate the fire; he feared that the solution of destroying the Ring would turn out to be "a path of despair or folly."

""Despair or folly?" said Gandalf. "It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubts. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity,  when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning."

"At least for a while," said Elrond. "The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. 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." (1: 257)

In 1957(12), Jung wrote that confronting the Shadow is not solely a negative experience. Through self-knowledge, we come upon the inner world of imagery, which contains great dynamic power. Whether the activation of these forces will tend towards construction or catastrophe, depends entirely on the attitude and capacity of the conscious mind.

Tolkien had a concept for this "construction": he called it "Eucatastrophe", and a main theme in The Lord of the Rings is unmistakably the confrontation with the Shadow. So how can this transformation come to pass? The spiritual transformation of mankind cannot take place from one generation to the next. Jung had modest expectations of the influence of psychotherapy, but he described how an individual with insight into his or her own actions, and therefore access to his or her unconscious, has an influence on others. This influence does not work through persuasion or preaching, but just takes place spontaneously and involuntarily. Another factor to be reckoned with is the unconscious Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Present, which compensates for our conscious opinions and precipitates changes that are yet to take place. Great art is often an expression of this Zeitgeist. Jung felt, however, that an essential factor was missing in contemporary art:

"Certainly art, so far as we can judge of it, has not yet discovered in this darkness what it is that would hold all men together and give expression to their psychic wholeness."(13)

Jung continued to explain that in his view, art must be an expression of the Collective Unconscious:

"Great art till now has always derived its fruitfulness from myth, from the unconscious process of symbolization which continues through the ages and, as the priordial manifestation of the human spirit, will continue to be the root of all creation in the future...We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos . the right moment- for a "metamorphosis of the gods" of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time , which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation, if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science."(14)

Only a few years before Jung expressed these thoughts, The Lord of the Rings had been published, and in my opinion, Tolkien succeeded in creating precisely what Jung had felt was missing in modern art. Furthermore, The Lord of the Rings describes the transition from one era to the next; this is a metamorphosis of the gods, where the old world must perish so that a new world may be resurrected. We mustn't be fooled by the fact that the tale apparently takes place in an undefined mythical past; all the appendixes, all the chronology and mythological background in The Silmarillion form the longest "Once upon a time" in the world.

In The Lord of the Rings, we are beyond time and space. As readers, we have been transported to a psychological universe, to the world of dreams and fantasies, to the vast kingdom of the collective psyche.  Tolkien associated Evil with darkness and void, goodness with Light and the Land of the Living. In addition to darkness and void, the Shadow is also characterized by terror, apathy, and despair, all psychological conditions. There is no division between "inner" and "outer" worlds. When Sauron is gaining strength, this is directly visible in the landscape, because at the same time, the Shadow is increasing.

Though Tolkien is not expressing himself in a psychological way, he does insist that fantasy is a legitimate part of human nature: ”AThe realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of the traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.”(15)


The Archetype of Consciousness: The Hobbits


Already in 1930, Tolkien gave a lecture entitled, "A Secret Vice," discoursing about the value of invented languages. At that time, he was busy creating his mythology and his Elvish languages. He asked his audience to bear with him, since these matters had only been created for personal use and enjoyment: "It's just a hobby."(16)

Some time later, Tolkien was marking student essays, and suddenly, without knowing why, he scribbled, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit," - the opening sentence of The Hobbit.

Understandably, there have been many speculations regarding the etymology of the word hobbit, since Tolkien was always so careful with his choice of words. But here, I simply suggest that the hobbit is the spontaneous personification of Tolkien’s hobby.

The hobbit  is the unexpected fruit of a synthesis between Tolkien's conscious and long-standing work on his invented languages and mythology, and a creative reaction from his Unconscious. Without the hobbits and their mediating function, there would simply never have been a story to tell. Hobbits represent essential human qualities which influence their environment wherever they go.

By the time we have read Tolkien's foreword, a long prologue entitled "Concerning Hobbits and Other Matters," and seventeen uneventful years following Bilbo's birthday party have passed, Frodo has turned fifty, Sam thirty-five, Merry thirty-two, and Pippin twenty-eight. Hobbits are not considered to be adults until the age of thirty-three, and they often live to be one hundred years old.

Each of the four hobbits have their own goal of individuation within the trilogy: Pippin and Merry are transformed from young boys to men, Sam develops from being a young man to becoming a mature individual with the capacity to marry and have a family, and finally, Frodo experiences a mid-life crisis, culminating in an acceptance of mortality. These three stages are aspects of an archetypal Ego- model, with Frodo as the dominating figure at the beginning of the tale.

Each of the hobbits has a numinous experience, which activates the beginning of their individuation process. For Frodo, this happens as he understands the special qualities of the Ring. Sam's individuation process is activated by his first encounter with the Elves. Meeting Treebeard is decisive for Merry and Pippin. In each case, a special contact with a symbol of the Self alters the consciousness of the hobbits.

In Volume One, all of the events are experienced through the eyes of Frodo, from the time where Bilbo has left the scene, to the last pages of the first volume, where Sam follows Frodo across the River of Anduin.

In Volume Two, the Fellowship is broken up, first in three, then in four groups, and the Ego-consciousness is now shared between all four hobbits. Sam's consciousness becomes active and begins to alternate with Frodo's consciousness, and on the long journey to Mordor, we increasingly follow Sam's thoughts and feelings, and his observations of the suffering that Frodo is going through. At the end of Volume Two, after the dramatic battle with the giant monster-spider Shelob, Sam's consciousness takes over definitively. By Volume Three, we no longer experience the story from the inside of Frodo's mind.

Remarkably often, a chapter or a passage ends when one of the hobbits falls asleep or faints and/or a new chapter begins by one of them waking up to a new situation. Old Man Willow casts a sleeping-spell on Frodo, and later, he is over-powered by the barrow-wight: "Then a grip stronger and colder than iron seized him. The icy touch froze his bones, and he remembered no more." (1: 140)

He also loses consciousness while confronting The Black Rider on Weathertop on the 6th of October: "At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy. A shrill cry rang out in the night, and he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder." (1: 192)

-- and again, after crossing the ford at Rivendell:

"Then Frodo felt himself falling, and the roaring and confusion seemed to rise and engulf him together with his enemies. He heard and saw no more." (1: 209)

In the next chapter, Frodo wakes up comfortably in the House of Elrond (1: 301). Here, he experiences a far more pleasant version of the dissolution of consciousness in the unconscious after a banquet in honour of his own healing. After the meal, the party retires to the Hall of Fire, where the Elves sing and play:

"At first, the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elventongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for his pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep." (1: 224)

Bilbo explains to Frodo that staying awake in the Hall of Fire can be difficult, until you get used to it. (1: 228) Tolkien is here describing a psychological state where the consciousness approaches deep layers of the unconscious and its imagery- forming activity, which is so similar to the state of dreaming that Frodo falls asleep.

By the time Frodo is struck unconscious by the sting of Shelob at the end of Volume Two, the reader no longer experiences this attack from the inside of Frodo's mind. In Volumes Two and Three, other parts of the Ego-consciousness either wake up or loose consciousness on important thresholds.

The consciousness of Pippin wakes up while Merry and he are being carried away by orcs. (2: 56) Merry faints in Minas Tirith following his confrontation with the Nazgul King:

"Help me, Pippin!  It's all going dark again, and my arm is so cold." (3:163)

Pippin faints, looking into the Palentir: "Suddenly, the lights went out. He gave a gasp and struggled; but he remained bent, clasping the ball with both hands. Closer and closer he bent, and then became rigid; his lips moved soundlessly for a while. Then with a strangled cry he fell back and lay still."(2:175)

And once more, on the Morannon during the last battle, "blackness and stench and crushing pain came upon Pippin, and his mind fell away into a great darkness... and his thought fled far away and his eyes saw no more." (3: 150)

Sam is the last to wake up. Hurling himself against the gates to The Tower of Cirith Ungol at the end of Volume Two, he is struck senseless and doesn't wake up until several hundred pages later: "Sam roused himself painfully from the ground. For a moment he wondered where he was, and then all the misery and despair returned to him." (3: 151)

This is a miserable moment for Sam, but later, it is Sam who wakes up to joy and delight in the land of Ithilien, under the green beech trees. (3:284).

The hobbits tend to loose consciousness when the story has reached a point of  "no-way-out", a situation where the plot is apparently stuck, while awakenings set a new scene.

The pattern described above is so striking that I feel it reveals how Tolkien struggled to get on with his story. According to Tom Shippey, Tolkien struggled along with his hobbits through many years. It seems that the final version of  The Lord of the Rings as we know it, is very different from the many drafts that Tolkien worked out. When the Riders of Rohan suddenly appear on the plain, this seems just as surprising to the author's mind, as to his readers. This is a way of working that strongly resembles active imagination, the dream-like but conscious state where the unconscious is allowed to become active, and where conscious and critical reflection is first applied later, just like the way Tolkien described the realm of Fairy-story:

“And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.” (17)

A way to look at the hobbits as an Ego- model is to use Jung's psychological typology. Consciousness is primarily oriented by four basic, psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. All four functions are to be found in every human being, but Jung felt that one of these functions would normally be more differentiated and conscious, two of the functions could become partially conscious while the fourth function would always remain unintegrated, and primarily unconscious.

The four hobbits could respresent the four psychological functions: thinking (Frodo), intuition (Pippin), sensation (Merry) and feeling (Sam). If we now view the waking-up-and-falling-asleep sequences from this angle, we see that the introverted thinking function in the beginning is dominant, and after some time the extraverted intuition and to some extent the sensation functions become active. This sequence is to be expected in the normal course of a psychological development, where consciousness is integrating more of former unconscious contents. The first and most differentiated function will be supplemented by the second and third. But then something very unexpected happens: The feeling function (Sam), which represents the fourth and therefore normally the most unconscious function, in the end becomes dominant in the ”hobbit-consciousness,” while the thinking function disappears altogether into the collective unconscious as Frodo sails away from Middle-earth.

In my clinical experience such a pattern only occur if the man in question from Nature’s hand was disposed as a feeling type. In Western societies there always was - and to this day still is - a strong pressure on boys to adapt to the ”normal” masculine gender role. A boy who is disposed as a feeling type, i.e. who is oriented towards values and relationships, will automatically be pushed in the opposite typological direction. If he in addition loves books and words and is highly intelligent, he will be perceived as a thinking type, and may well end up as a professor in Old English at Oxford, although he does not really “fit in”(18).

To man like that it may happen later in life - as it often does during an analysis - that the repressed feeling function, which is related to his most healthy and creative qualities, will emerge during an individuation process. This is what seems to have happened to J.R.R. Tolkien as he travelled along with his hobbits for many long years, and his travail resulted in a wonderful gift to us all - The Lord of the Rings.


Copyright Pia Skokemann 2003.

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Pia Skogemann has a private practice in Denmark, and this is her eleventh book. Earlier Works include books on feminine psychology, Archetypes, Scandinavian fairy tales with female leading characters and dreams. The books have been translated into German, Polish, Swedish and Norwegian. Pia Skogemann is co-founder of The C.G. Jung Institute Copenhagen and currently its director of studies.


(1) CW 18, ' 589
(2) J.R.R. Tolkien - Author of the Century. p xv
(3) Ibid, p xxiv
(4) Ibid, p. 175
(5) Ibid. p. 174
(6) ibid, p. 175
(7) Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p 189
(8) Ibid 201f
(9) Letter 73, "Letters of J.R.R.Tolkien"
(10) MDR s 225
(11) CW 10, ‘586
(12) CW 10, '582
(13) CW 10, '584
(14) CW 10, '585
(15) On Fairy Stories, p. 109
(16) Tolkien’s own title for this lecture was "A Hobby for the Home."
The Monsters & The Critics p. 3
(17) On Fairy Stories p. 109
(18) See Valedictory Address (1959), in The Monsters & The Critics p 226:
"But I am, as I say, an amateur. And if that means that I have neglected
parts of my large field, devoting myself to those things that I personally
like, it does also mean that I have tried to awake liking, to communicate
delight in those things that I find enjoyable".