Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality : the cultural pervasiveness of The Lord of The Rings

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Billy D. Cruise (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
Web Site:
Janet Ellerby

Abstract: The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, is considered by many to be the definitive work of epic fantasy. Many critics have even gone as far as to declare Tolkien one of the primary authors of the Twentieth Century. The scope and depth of meaning contained within the pages of his trilogy, which consists of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, have touched millions of readers, especially as evidenced by the way the works have garnered a broad and fanatical audience within the United States. Although the trilogy has maintained a consistently high degree of popularity and acclaim worldwide since the first publication of the books in the 1950s, certain periods of history have witnessed a marked increase in attention given to Tolkien’s work. This has been particularly apparent during times in American history when the nation has been faced with internal strife or external conflict such as terrorism or the prospect of war. Recent periods of history, which have exhibited these cultural characteristics and which are the focus of this study, are the counterculture era of the 1960s, the Reagan administration’s efforts to restore a sense of nationalism in the 1980s, and the era of fear and uncertainty that began with the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. Focusing primarily on the facets of American society that find a shared cultural relevance within the pages of Tolkien’s epic, this study traces many of the possible causes for this resurgence in popularity of The Lord of the Rings. Hence, the cultural theories of Stuart Hall, Edward Soja, and Michel Foucault are applied within, as well as Sigmund Freud’s writings on the nature of the collective subconscious, and the repression of trauma. The application of these critical approaches to the tendency of American culture to turn to fantasy in times of strife enables an examination of the socio-political interaction between the themes inherent in The Lord of the Rings and the characteristic traits of American culture that has embraced Tolkien’s fantasy.

Additional Information

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
Language: English
Date: 2009
Tolkien J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel) 1892-The Lord of the rings--Criticism and interpretation, Fantasy in literature, Reality in literature
Fantasy in literature
Reality in literature
Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892- The Lord of the rings -- Criticism and interpretation

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