The Lord of the Rings: An Exploration of the Films & Its Literary Influences

Course Overview

Units at a glance

The Lord of the Rings is one of the most well-known books of the past century and has been translated into many languages. Now that it has been made into a trilogy of major motion pictures, the story has gained an even greater following. In this unit, you’ll learn more about the author of the novel and how the book came into being. You’ll explore The Hobbit, which acts as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. In addition, you’ll explore the background of some of the major races and characters in Middle Earth and how they impacted the story, especially in The Fellowship of the Ring.

One of the elements that makes The Lord of the Rings so unique is the lengths to which the author went to create a world that seems real. One of the most interesting elements is the creation of the various languages used in Middle Earth. However, the creation of these languages is far more than an afterthought; it’s truly the foundation of Middle Earth. In this unit, you will learn more about these languages and about Tolkien’s role as a philologist at Oxford University. As we discuss the second part of the The Fellowship of the Ring, you will explore the role that language plays, not only in Middle Earth but also in your world.

The ideas behind The Lord of the Rings come from many literary sources, all of which were familiar to a classically educated English man living during the first part of the twentieth century. One of those sources was the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Even today, these stories play an important role in modern entertainment, as the number of related movies, television shows, and books demonstrates. A basic understanding of the legends of King Arthur helps to properly understand some of the concepts in The Lord of the Rings. In this unit, you will examine the basic Arthurian story and explore in depth the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a Middle English poem translated by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many great works of literature have been converted into movies over the past century. Great classic stories have an enduring appeal that translates well into multiple media. Converting a story to a movie offers a lot of advantages and often reaches a wider audience. But this transition also has disadvantages. In this unit, you’ll learn more about the way that The Lord of the Rings was converted into a film and how this change has affected the story.

Though Middle Earth is an imaginary world, its social and political structures are drawn from the ancient roots of Western civilization. In this unit, you will learn about some of these conceptual roots, particularly those that affect the changing views of war and heroism, such as the concept of the ancient epic hero and the medieval system of comitatus. You’ll also appreciate how these ideas are presented in The Lord of the Rings. In addition, you’ll learn about the more modern ideas that are expressed in The Lord of the Rings, such as conservation and ecology. Finally, you will explore some of the complex character relationships that are revealed in this portion of The Two Towers movie.

Before Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, he had already established a reputation as one of the foremost Beowulf scholars of his day. At that time, Beowulf was regarded mainly as a historical document that baffled historians by its fantastic references to monsters and impossible feats of heroism. Tolkien’s scholarship and landmark essay “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”  changed the way that the world viewed Beowulf. As a result, the story of Beowulf has gained significance in our age, even hitting movie screens in several recent adaptations. Tolkien also drew important lessons from his study of Beowulf, which greatly impacted his fantasy writings. In this unit, you’ll learn more about Beowulf and its influence on The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien and a few others of his generation became actively involved in creating fantasy worlds, complete with their own mythology and sets of rules. Now, fantasy worlds spring up on bookshelves on a regular basis. In this unit, you’ll learn more about the genre of fantasy literature and why Tolkien defended its use for a teen and adult audience in his famous essay “On Fairy Stories.” You’ll also explore the differences and similarities between fantasy and science fiction and discuss the advantages of fantasy literature as seen through the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien. In addition, you’ll learn more about the background material of the first half of The Return of the King.

In this unit, we will end our discussion of The Lord of the Rings. But first, you’ll learn how the ending of the book varies in many ways from the movie. You will trace the major themes of the movie and how they played out in the end. You’ll also discuss characterization in depth and discuss the elements of plot. And you’ll examine how the quest has affected many of the characters in the story since the beginning of the journey and where this journey took them in the end.

Course Highlights

Explore Tolkien’s writing, themes, and impacts.
Examine the fantasy genre and its place in Tolkien’s work.
Discover the challenges of adapting a book to the big screen.
Analyze influences such as the Arthurian legends on Tolkien’s works.

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