Fate, providence, and free will: clashing perspectives of world order in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.




Lasseter, Helen Theresa.

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Through the medium of a fictional world, Tolkien returns his modern audience to the ancient yet extremely relevant conflict between fate, providence, and the person's freedom before them. Tolkien's expression of a providential world order to Middle-earth incorporates the Northern Germanic cultures' literary depiction of a fated world, while also reflecting the Anglo-Saxon poets' insight that a single concept, wyrd, could signify both fate and providence. This dissertation asserts that Tolkien, while acknowledging as correct the Northern Germanic conception of humanity's final powerlessness before the greater strength of wyrd as fate, uses the person's ultimate weakness before wyrd as the means for the vindication of providence. Tolkien's unique presentation of world order pays tribute to the pagan view of fate while transforming it into a Catholic understanding of providence. The first section of the dissertation shows how the conflict between fate and providence in The Silmarillion results from the elvish narrator's perspective on temporal events. Chapter One examines the friction between fate and free will within The Silmarillion and within Tolkien's Northern sources, specifically the Norse Eddas, the
Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, and the Finnish The Kalevala. Chapter Two shows that Tolkien, following Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, presents Middle-earth's providential order as including fated elements but still allowing for human freedom. The second section shows how The Lord of the Rings reflects but resolves the conflict in The Silmarillion between fate, providence, and free will. Chapter Three explores the extent to which a person can respond before powers of fate, such as the Ring and also deterministic circumstances. The final chapter argues that providence upholds the importance of every person by cooperating with his or her free will, not coercing it; however, providence reveals its authority over all things, including fate, by working through the person’s final failure before fatalistic powers.


Includes bibliographical references (p. 224-226).


Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Ruell), 1892-1973. Criticism and interpretation., Myth in literature., Middle Earth (Imaginary place), Christianity and literature --- England -- History -- 20th century., Christian fiction, English -- History and criticism., Christian ethics in literature.