When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, I went back and re-read the novel (that is, the trilogy — essentially it’s a single novel), which I hadn’t read since the ’60s. It’s a classic, no question. It will be in print for hundreds of years. And yet, it left me oddly dissatisfied. After a while I made a list of things that were conspicuously missing from the book. This is a big topic, and I reserve the right to add to this essay. Missing, for starters:
The Lord of the Rings. Missing from The Lord of the Rings is the Lord of the Rings. The title character of the novel never appears in the novel!
Good orcs. After the battle of Helm’s Deep, the victors stride out among the defeated enemy host. They give the humans among the bad guys the opportunity to switch allegiance and become good guys. But they simply slay the orcs. There is never any question of allowing orcs to switch allegiance. In Tolkien’s simplistic moral scheme, orcs are purely evil, and incapable of redemption.
This is rather troubling. For one thing, we can’t help being reminded that the Nazis had exactly that attitude toward the Jews. Tolkien, of course, was a Good Briton, not a Bad German, but the fact that he could set up this kind of moral scheme without, apparently, giving it a second thought can only suggest that the Nazi mentality is part of our universal human heritage. It’s a moral failing that we all need to be on guard against.
Religion. Nobody in the novel prays to or worships any invisible deity.
Wild animals. One gathers that Tolkien was a city boy. In his entire portrait of Middle Earth, there is exactly one living wild animal, a fox who, early in the story, observes the hobbits traveling through the forest and then goes on his way. Much later in the story, Gollum catches “a brace of coneys” — that is, rabbits — but they’re dead by the time we see them. We also hear about packs of wolves coming down out of the north and menacing villages, but the wolves never appear on stage, and in any event we’re dealing with packs of them, not with wolves as individuals. At the end, there are some eagles, but again they appear in a group, and they’re magical beings, not wild birds.
During the course of the novel, the characters tramp across hundreds of miles of wild terrain without ever once spotting an animal. Gimli waxes rhapsodic about jewel-lined caves, but on the subject of badgers and otters Legolas is mute. And when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter the ancient forest to try to rescue Merry and Pippin, they worry that they will run out of food. Think about it — here we have a keen-eyed tracker and a crackerjack archer in a forest that has not been inhabited by humans in hundreds of years. Yet there’s no wild game for them to hunt!
Bilbo’s gold. The hobbits of the Shire are under the impression that Bilbo must have brought piles of gold home from his adventures. Tolkien portrays this as a silly and baseless rumor — but the hobbits clearly knew more about what was going on than Tolkien did. After Bilbo’s birthday party, Frodo lives in the Shire for seventeen years (shortened in the movie to a couple of days), during which he does not labor for his bread. He’s a country squire, a hobbit of leisure. Yet Tolkien gives us no indication that Frodo is the landowner to whom the other hobbits pay rents. The conclusion is obvious: Frodo could only have supported his lifestyle for seventeen years by spending some of Bilbo’s hidden treasure.
The other wizards. Early in the novel we meet one other member of Gandalf’s “brotherhood,” a term that one would think indicates the existence of a whole guild of wizards. And of course Saruman is a prominent character. But during the entire struggle with Sauron, the other wizards are conspicuous by their absence. Evidently they’ve decided to sit this one out and then pitch in their lot with the winners.