"The sweet and the bitter": Death and dying in J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings"

Amy M. Amendt-Raduege, Marquette University


Death and immortality are, by Tolkien's own admission, central themes in The Lord of the Rings. This dissertation examines the interpretation of death in Tolkien's work from three principle perspectives: the philosophical necessity of death, the ways in which individual characters meet their deaths, and the cultural conundrum represented by the necessity of dealing with the dead. No work, however, exists in a vacuum; thus the opening and closing chapters show how The Lord of the Rings was influenced by and exerts its influence upon the real world. The opening chapter therefore sets Tolkien's work in biographical and historical context. The next three chapters discuss the interpretation of death as it is depicted in the story of Middle-earth: chapter two examines Tolkien's depictions of the forms of immortality and their potential consequences for human life, while chapter three focuses on the impact of that philosophy for eight of the character deaths depicted in The Lord of the Rings, four representing the medieval ideals of the "good death" and four representing the various incarnations of "bad" deaths. Chapter four is concerned with the commemoration of the dead, both in their physical locations within the graves and cemeteries of Middle-earth or in the verbal cenotaphs of song and story. The fifth chapter returns to our world and demonstrates the ways in which real people are or might be using his magnum opus as a means of consolation for the inevitability of death. While death exists within a complex web of interconnecting and often opposing viewpoints, the final analysis reveals that Tolkien's conception of death as the Gift of God to humankind remains consistent throughout the story.

Recommended Citation

Amendt-Raduege, Amy M., ""The sweet and the bitter": Death and dying in J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings"" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263802.