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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Seven: Tolkien's Moral Universe


"I Do Not Deal in Absolute Evil"

This paragraph comes from a long essay that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in response to W. H. Auden's enthusiastic reaction to The Return of the King, published in the New York Times Book Review of January 22, 1956. Tolkien had mixed feelings about Auden’s article. He was impressed that a brilliant poet and scholar had taken his novel so seriously, but he thought that Auden had failed to fully appreciate the book's philosophical and religious core.

In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any "rational being" is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell before Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible . . . he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit. In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about "freedom," though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true God, and held worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious, he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world . . .

(from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin, 1981, pages 243–244)

Unit Seven Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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