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This essay is from Austin Johnson
Published on November 21, 2002

Frodo and the Force:
A Comparison of Modern Epic Stories

The Rings of Jung and Tolkien

A closer examination of the heroic journey of Frodo Baggins reveals that the Lord of the Rings is actually a much deeper story than meets the eye.

According to Jung, the circle, or the ring, is a symbol of self. To illustrate this, let us take look at symbolic rings that are common in real life. The wedding ring is given from husband to wife on his wedding day. In the Jungian context, this could symbolize the giving of one's self to another, in accordance with the Biblical saying "I am my Beloved's and he is mine." Another example is the purchase of a class ring, symbolizing self-discovery.

In this Jungian context, Bilbo's discovery of the Ring of Power in the abyss of his heroic journey emphasizes the death and rebirth of the hero by giving him a sense of self-discovery. Bilbo then conquers the fears of his inner self with the help of his newly discovered Self, the Ring.

Frodo's journey however takes on a much darker tone in this context. The Self is already discovered. In fact, Frodo's quest seeks the ultimate destruction of self in the form of the Ring. But perhaps self-destruction is not the proper term for his quest. Let us consider for a moment, Tolkien's religious background. JRR Tolkien believed firmly in all aspects of the Christian ethic. One of the main tenets of Christianity is self-denial. Consider the words of Jesus himself, when he said "If any man comes after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Or consider the life of Christ, one long exercise in self-denial, from the crib to the cross. Indeed, the Cross was the ultimate in self-denial. Christ denied himself in that he refused to save himself from death and humbled himself to die as a human. No Greek or Norse god would dream of doing that. His death paved the way for all of humanity to be saved.


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