Ideas and Topics for Papers


1. How does Tolkien develop the nature of the Black Riders so that their identity as Ringwraiths does not come as a surprise?

2. Many characters convey pieces of information at the Council of Elrond-information about the history of the Ring, about events that have happened more recently, or about their own presence at the Council. What information is new to the reader?

3. What shows that the Ring has no effect on Tom Bombadil? What is later given as an explanation for this? Why is Gandalf unwilling to entrust the Ring to Tom?

4. When Frodo offers his Ring to Galadriel, she refuses it, as had Gandalf and Aragorn. Why does she refuse it? How do the three elven Rings, one of which she wears, differ from the other Rings of Power?

5. Pippin, Aragorn, and Denethor all use one of the palantiri. What happens in each case? What accounts for the different effects that the palantiri have on Denethor and Aragorn?

6. In the trilogy many characters and objects have powers beyond the “natural.” Such supernatural powers are part of the inner consistency of Middle-earth. The most pervasive of these elements are the Rings of Power, the palantiri, and Gandalf. Select three or four other supernatural objects or characters and show how they fit into Tolkien’s concepts of Middle-earth.

7. Tolkien often shows how evil can unintentionally work for good. How is this demonstrated by Grishnakh? By Grima?

8. After the Battle of Minas Tirith, Gandalf tells Pippin that if Elrond had not allowed Merry and him to come along “then far more grievous would the evils of this day have been.” What are the contributions of Merry and Pippin?

9. Although Galadriel and the other elves of Lorien are not part of the fellowship, they contribute to the success of the quest. Discuss their major contributions to the work and well-being of the fellows.

10. According to Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-stories,” evil should be recognizable because of its ugliness. How does this principle reinforce Tolkien’s portrayal of the orcs as evil characters?

11. Aragorn’s claim to kingship is indicated in many ways. What are the actions or circumstances which prepare the people of Gondor for Aragorn’s eventual coronation? Why are they significant?


1. Throughout the trilogy Tolkien uses foreshadowing and flashbacks to draw the scattered events of his narrative together. Select at least eight scenes and events in the trilogy (drawing from all three volumes) and show how Tolkien uses these techniques effectively.

2. Songs and verses play a major part in the trilogy, both artistically and structurally. Referring to sections from all three volumes, identify several different types of songs and verses and explain their relevance to the overall narrative and their function in the creation of settings and characters.

3. Even though Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf are the “heroes” of the trilogy, Samwise Gamgee is in many ways more “real.” Analyze the development of Sam’s character. How does Tolkien make him such an appealing character? How does Sam change during the quest?

4. Tolkien stated his preference for “history, true or feigned” as a subject for his writing. Among the “historical” devices incorporated into the trilogy is the set of appendices at the end of The Return of the King. How does “The Numenorean Kings” in the first appendix throw light on situations in the trilogy?

5. Select one of the places in Middle-earth (e.g., Mordor, Lorien, the Shire) and explain some of the laws or principles that operate there. Compare it with our world. What are the abilities which animate and inanimate beings have there, and what customs or situations are taken as a matter of course?

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