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The Masculinity Message in ‘The Lord of the Rings’


Tolkien’s classic explores not only the conflict between good and evil, but also the best qualities of manhood

Having read numbers of classic books, my friends are often surprised to hear that I had never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

“You have to read it,” numerous individuals—many of them males—exhort.

This fall, several of my friends—also male—took the bull by the horns and gifted me a beautifully bound edition of the work as an encouragement to get going on reading it. And as I’m doing so, I’m beginning to realize why “The Lord of the Rings” is the book most often recommended by the men around me. The series is masculinity at its finest, describing the types of actions that cause men to thrive, increase in strength and valor, and rise to the occasion.

Male Depictions in ‘Lord of the Rings’

For starters, “The Lord of the Rings” depicts a quest; a mission or a goal—a responsibility, if you will—to keep the ring from the forces of evil and to eventually destroy it.

In this quest, the male characters in “The Lord of the Rings” are always working their way toward Mordor. They don’t get to take the easy way there; instead, they must rely on their wits and be willing to take risks in order to make it—to be heroes—even if it means losing their lives to do so.

Solid male friendship is also a strong, if not subtle, aspect of “The Lord of the Rings.” There are no women on the quest that the nine males set out upon, meaning that none of them have to compete with each other for female attention, nor do they have to expend energy fulfilling the natural instinct to protect the opposite sex.

Eating also plays a large role in “The Lord of the Rings.” Sometimes there are great feasts, where the characters stuff themselves until they can’t think of eating more. Other times, they are rationing their food, denying their appetites, and surviving on small bits of the miraculous Elven bread. Regardless of how big or small the portions, Tolkien always ensures that his characters are fed, suggesting the importance of sustenance and the caloric intake men need to pursue and fulfill their missions.

At first blush, some may think these observations offensive, a suggestion that “The Lord of the Rings” is full of male stereotypes, and that all the men who seem to hold this classic work as one of their favorite reads are the knuckle-dragging thugs of toxic masculinity that are anathema in today’s society. But I don’t see it that way. Instead, I think “The Lord of the Rings” gives us a glimpse into the type of men we need in society, while simultaneously giving us clues on how to encourage such masculinity.

Men on a Mission

Just as the team of males in the quest to destroy the ring had a mission, so men today need responsibility. They need space to be heroes, to take risks, make mistakes, and get up and try again. What they don’t need is women taking away that responsibility, claiming that men are inept and not up to the task.

“For men, there’s nothing but responsibility,” Jordan Peterson notes in one of his lectures. Take away that responsibility, that meaning in life, and the male is unmotivated to do anything, resulting in listless, emasculated men and frustrated, overwhelmed women who wonder why men never step up to the plate.

Camaraderie

Today’s men also need friendship. And their friendship needs aren’t like the girly chats that women hold in coffee shops. No, their friendship is much more action-oriented, and often plays out in teams, author Anthony Esolen explains.

“Boys and men fight, in teams. Without such teams, forget about civilization; human survival itself would not have been possible. The hunting party is a male team. The defenders of the village are a male team.”

Unfortunately, we have done a lot in recent years to destroy these male teams, discouraging male-only clubs or activities and insisting upon equality and the inclusion of females. In so doing, we destroy something that C.S. Lewis referred to in “The Four Loves” as something “biologically valuable.” If we want today’s men to thrive, then we must strongly encourage activities that promote brotherhood or comradeship, which effectively means that we must also stop insisting that everything be absolutely fair and equal between the sexes.

Mind and Body

Finally, it’s important to recognize that men and women are different not only in their friendships and motivations, but also in their eating habits and nutritional needs. For instance, men’s bodies burn calories far easier than women’s do, while women have greater need for vitamins and minerals.

Should men eat their vegetables and be careful about what they consume? Of course. But such care and caution don’t mean they must live on Quinoa salads and meatless meals. Nor does it mean that “the manly consumption of meat is irreversibly damaging the world,” as one Huffington Post article alleged a few years ago. What it does mean is that women should be cautious and considerate before they nag and force men into their own female nutritional mode.

I haven’t yet completed “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, so I can’t say for sure where this masculine-minded story leads, but I would wager that the quest is successful. Which leads me to wonder: Would we see more of today’s men stepping up to the plate, being more responsible, heroic, successful, and satisfied if we enabled them to practice some of the masculine characteristics that are displayed in Tolkien’s classic tale?

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is a cultural commentator hailing from America’s heartland who loves classic books, architecture, music, and values. Her writings can be found at Annie’s Attic on Substack.



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