Freedom in Film and Fiction: A New Cascade Series

Great truths come to life through great stories. Some of the best arguments in favor of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity are found in works of literature and art. A good plot will stay with you when you’ve forgotten a good essay; a vibrant scene will convince when arguments fail.

So, please join us periodically for an exploration of themes of freedom and timeless truths from works of art you already may know―and some you may have missed. And if you have suggestions for reviews, please e-mail me.

Let’s begin with a recent Cascade guest review of the novel voted “the greatest book of the 20th century.” An epic story by a perceptive critic of the modern world, J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings illustrates the battle between overweening power and personal freedom. Totalitarianism depersonalizes the individual, undermines self-government, and corrupts community and civilization, destroying life, beauty, and virtue in its path:

Perhaps the most profound insight of [The Lord of the Rings] is that self-government requires governance of self. Freedom is not license. To be free you must exercise control over your own will, which often means doing what you would rather not and expressing your individuality in solidarity…. read more


About Kathryn Hickok

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director, Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon, and Development Coordinator at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon's free market public policy research organization.
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2 Responses to Freedom in Film and Fiction: A New Cascade Series

  1. Neil Huff says:

    I first read Tolkien in the late 1960s when I was in my mid 30s. Since then I believe I have read everything he wrote and seen the filmed versions of these same novels. I believe Tolkien originally wrote these stories for the entertainment of his own young children. At some point, perhaps at the urgings of his family, he expanded on his original theme of a magical earth and produced “The Lord of the Rings”. Obviously his original works were written for educated, intelligent children, his own. He may even have been shocked to discover that his fairy tales, intended for children, ended up becoming incredibly popular with adults.

    Trying to interpret Tolkien’s novels in the manner written above doesn’t work for me. Perhaps others can read into his very complex, layered stories ethical and moral lessons. Unless repulsive physical appearance (Orcs) is invaribly linked to evil, and goodness associated with beauty of person I find other moral teachings in his works very obscure.

    For me reading deeper meanings into Tolkien’s actually very bloody fairy tales is akin to looking at an abstract painting by, say, Jackson Pollack and finding in the generally pleasing blots and splatters some profound message never intended by the creator. Tolkien is hugely entertaining, but for true morality tales give me Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.

  2. Lauren Hickok (The Author) says:

    Hello Neil,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    Tolkien was fascinated with a lifelong project of developing “a mythology for England” that became a sprawling tapestry of the history, legends and tales of Middle Earth, many of which were collected in “The Silmarillion”. “The Hobbit” was first written and published in complete form as a children’s story when the history of the Third Age of Middle Earth (the times of “The Lord of the Rings”) was not yet fully developed in his mind. After its success, he originally pitched “The Lord of the Rings” to his publisher as a sequel, “another tale about hobbits”, but as he continued to think and write, this work became an epic drama steeped in the culture and history of Middle Earth that went far beyond the maturity of his earlier book in both style and content.

    As you say, Tolkien would never have considered his writing a morality tale, nor did I intend to present it as such. In fact, he was very insistent that his writing not be taken in any direct allegorical sense. However, the idea of “mythology” for Tolkien meant much more than a fantastic story, as the word is often used in modern parlance. For Tolkien, a myth is a story that is truer than the facts of the story itself, a way that human beings express something true or beautiful about the world, not explicitly and perhaps not even consciously, by weaving a story around it. For example, “Cinderella” may be a morality tale in that the nasty stepsisters lose and the patient girl is rewarded, but “Beauty and the Beast” is a myth to the extent that people identify with various truths about human relationships embedded in the story.

    A many layered work of fiction beloved by as many people as “The Lord of the Rings” will hold many themes and subthemes that are each more apparent or more important to different readers (as well as the writing itself being engaging and the storycraft brilliant and, as you say, entertaining). I would never represent that freedom is the only theme in “The Lord of the Rings”. In fact, I might even contend that self-sacrifice and the power of weakness in the hands of grace are more dominant themes, to those who identify with them. The genious of fiction is that its themes are not explicit, which means they can have a more powerful effect on the reader directly through the story than they would if you try to express them explicitly in an essay.

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