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Pity, Power, and Tolkien’s Ring

To Rule the Fate of Many

Literature & Literary Criticism, Recent Releases, Tolkien, Lewis, and Inkling Studies


Illuminating the central struggle in The Lord of the Rings to deepen understanding of the whole of Tolkien’s legendarium

In this remarkable work of close reading and analysis, Thomas P. Hillman gets to the heart of the tension between pity and the desire for power in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. As the book traces the entangled story of the One Ring and its effects, we come to understand Tolkien’s central paradox: while pity is necessary for destroying the Ring, it cannot save the Ring-bearer from the Ring’s lies and corruption.

In composing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien explored the power of the Ring and the seeming powerlessness of pity. All the themes his mythology had come to encompass—death and immortality, fate and free will, divine justice and the problem of evil, power and war—took on a new dimension in the journey of Frodo Baggins. Hillman’s attention to specific etymologies and patterns of words used in the text, complemented by his judicious use of Tolkien’s letters, earlier drafts of the novels, and Tolkien’s essays, leads to illuminating and original insights. Instead of turning his interpretation to allegory or apologetics, Hillman demonstrates how the story works metaphorically, allowing Tolkien to embrace both Catholic views and pagan mythology.

With this fresh understanding of familiar material, Pity, Power, and Tolkien’s Ring will ignite new discussions and deeper appreciation among Tolkien readers and scholars alike.


Thomas P. Hillman is a retired scholar and teacher of classics whose work on J. R. R. Tolkien has appeared in Tolkien Studies and in presentations at Mythmoot and other conferences.