A Christian Philosophical Examination of the Picture of Evil in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien

Dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1983)

The Christian religious underpinnings of the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien make his works especially rewarding to theological study. The thesis of this dissertation is that the picture of evil presented in Tolkien's novels is consistent with classical Christian understandings. In particular, this dissertation seeks to establish that Tolkien's aesthetic literary presentation of evil can best be described as a mythic portrayal of the Augustinian classical Christian view of evil. ;There are several identifiable aspects of the Augustinian picture of evil. These include an "aesthetic" view of evil which sees evil as being, from the ultimate standpoint of the divine, necessary to a completely good universe. Further, the Augustinian conception relies on a "free-will defense" for theodicy and for an explanation of the origin of evil. Finally, the Augustinian view of evil characteristically understands evil to be privatio boni. ;Chapter I of this dissertation is a biographical, cultural, and interpretive orientation to J. R. R. Tolkien, historical influence on his work, and interpretive approaches to his writings. Chapter II examines the aesthetic of fairy story which guides Tolkien's work. Principal areas of content in this section include Tolkien's conception of the relation of fairy tale and myth, his view of the function of fairy story, and his perspective on the relation of fairy story and Christian truth. ;Chapter III describes the myth of the origin of evil as portrayed in The Silmarillion, highlighting Tolkien's emphasis on the doctrine of the Fall and his reliance on a free-will explanation of the origin of evil. Chapter IV delineates the nature of evil as dramatized in The Lord of the Rings. Attention is focused on elements of Tolkien's myth which demonstrate a privatio boni motif in depicting the nature of evil. ;Chapter V surveys the nature of the good, including the moral qualities of the good characters in Tolkien's novels, the importance of free-will in the defeat of evil, the role of providence in the history of Tolkien's mythical world, and the nature of eschatology in the novels. Chapter VI summarizes the arguments pertaining to the thesis of this dissertation, assessing their cumulative strength and offering a critical evaluation of Tolkien's aesthetic picture of evil
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