Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die
So begins The Lord of the Rings, “Nine [Rings] for Mortal Men doomed to die.”
In years long ago, some suggested that Power or Domination was the central theme of The Lord of the Rings. In an April 1956 letter, Tolkien wrote in answer to that very suggestion, “I do not think that…Power or Domination is the real centre of my story. It provides the theme of a War, about something dark and threatening enough to seem at that time of supreme importance, but that is mainly ‘a setting’ for characters to show themselves” (Letter 186).
Yes, it is “a theme” but not “the theme.” According to Tolkien himself, power is a theme that necessarily provides the setting in which Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, et al. may reveal themselves.
But if Power is not the central theme of Tolkien’s epic work, what is? Tolkien answers that question for us in the very next sentence of the same letter:
“The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult [than Power or Domination]: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete” (Letter 186).
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