The Shadow Archetype In The Lord Of The Rings Ⅰ

by Literature

An exploration of the shadow.

                    Much has already been said about the Middle Earth trilogy and Tolkien himself, therefore details of the series, including the breadth of its success and impact on culture, shall not be mentioned in the introduction of this article. The basis of this essay will be formed around a Jungian Perspective, that is, an emphasis on the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious and the archetypes (patterns of behaviour) contained within man’s psyche and how it relates to the LOTR. Before beginning, we shall not directly correlate Tolkien, the man, to the subjects due to be discussed, but rather call upon him when needed. This is due to an adherence more to the subjects of the work itself rather than merely correlating any personal ties of the content back to the author (Tolkien is Frodo, the war is WWII, etc).

This article will be split into two parts: the first will contain an introduction to the topic at hand, with an exploration of the Hobbit characters and functions of the Ego/Shadow archetype mainly discussed. The second part will focus on further examples of the Shadow and the key ways in which it is portrayed within the Lord Of The Rings. Let us start by laying out the groundwork of the story itself.

       The Shire is, what many would call, the “idyllic land.” Paradisal may be far reaching, for paradise implies a space of sectioned divinity1, whereas the shire is corrupted after Sauroman’s establishment of machinery at the end of The Return Of The King. A paradisal land is more so the Undying Lands, located to the western shores of Middle Earth. Nevertheless, the Shire exemplifies an environment of simple living where the inhabitants, creatures known as Hobbits, live simply in all of the bells and whistles of comfort (cheese, wine, community, pubs, farming, story telling, smoking, etc). This can be agreeably understood as an environment that breathes the Good Life for those who live within it.

      Hobbits have garnered a wide range of interpretations through the many formal essays published over the last half a century, but for the purpose of this essay we shall condense our understanding of them to the form of Ego. For the uninitiated, the Ego is the centre of consciousness. Who you know yourself to be, is Ego. “I am”2. The Shire and Hobbits share a boundary aspect akin to the notion of the Ego and its place within consciousness, for what’s known outside of the shire is mysterious (unconsciousness) and the “folk” that dwell beyond are not to be trusted (the shadow/archetypes of the collective unconscious).

      Of course, this is an obvious notion to anyone familiar with the structures of storytelling3.

      Instead of focusing on those structures, we shall put our attention towards the manifestations of the shadow archetype within the LOTR and what this means to the grand telling of the story. Let us keep the Shire and Hobbits in our minds as the centerpieces of Ego, including all of the Hobbit characters. The Hobbits are structured as creatures of habit, by the way their homes are holes in the ground, a perfect abode for storing their many goods in fashion of rodents and their dens. This exemplifies the conservatism implicit within their culture; they keep away from paths untrodden and hold tight to the idiom of “stick to what you know.” 

      Gollum, the corruption of a Hobbit, is an example of the Shadow; as the Shadow is the aspect of Man that is rejected, feared and loathed by the personality because of its reality within the self, it is also the mediator between the Ego, Personal Unconscious and Collective Unconscious that, when integrated into understanding, completes the task of individuation by the integration of unconscious contents into the personality. This then results in the centering of the “Self”4. We shall further explain the implications of the shadow portrayed this way, but we shall first explore how Gollum represents the shadow. 

      Gollum’s relationship to Frodo (and a lesser degree to Bilbo) captures the behaviour of the shadow quite effectively. The corrupted personality of Smeagol is the fate presented to Frodo and Bilbo in relation to the madness induced by the possession of the ring, as the shadow presents to Man the potential of his dark nature as compensation towards psychic equilibrium. It is necessary to have Gollum with Frodo throughout the journey of the ring, otherwise the opposites would not come to their destined conclusion: Gollum perishes with the ring in hand and Frodo ebbs away into the undying lands, to be with Bilbo. 

      Gollum maintains the values of conservatism implicit within the Hobbits, but only towards the Ring. The Ring, as may be argued to be merely the “macguffin” or “trinket” of the story to some, is key to the understanding of the relation between the Ego and The Shadow throughout the narrative. Small though the ring may be, the power and scale of its might stretches to all borders of Middle Earth, making it an attractive possession to any who look upon it. What is strange about Gollum and how the ring is used by him is that he ignores the power it promises and instead keeps it for the sake of possessing it. 


‘He hated it and loved it, as he hated and

loved himself. He could not get rid of it. 

He had no will left in the matter.’5


           This brings forward a nuanced idea of corrupted obsession: the base trait of conservatism (or any value held by humanity) can be swayed into the path of darkness and tethered by a dominion of idol worship, whether that be in the form of a figure, time, place or object. The manifestations are relative, what matters is the power that creates them. 

     The presence of Gollum has an ancestral relevance to the story, as the shadow is carried along with unconscious elements that stem much further past the personal unconscious (Frodo) and into the collective (Bilbo/middle earth’s history). The left behind contents are those corresponding to the deeds of Bilbo that have passed on to Frodo, making the quest of the ring and its destruction a feat of both personal integration and communal integration of the Self, or the Collective Self, especially due to the inlore relevance of the Ring (the prevention of Sauron from destroying Middle Earth).

     Indeed, ancestry plays a vital role in the Lord of The Rings. If we maintain the ideas of selfhood and integration mentioned above of Gollum and the Hobbits, we can begin to understand the many manifestations of the shadow present within in the story and how they correlate with the cosmic selfhood. The first introduction of the ring into the third age comes from Degol’s discovery of the ring within the river of Anduin and his murder by the hands of Smeagol. Many years later, Bilbo encounters Gollum, the corrupted personality of Smeagol, within the Misty Mountains. It comes to pass that Bilbo swipes the ring from Gollum, taking it as his true treasure till the events of the fellowship transpire. 

     To begin, Bilbo was appointed as a thief to reclaim the Arkenstone, but his true purpose as a thief was achieved when he found the ring. Everything to do with Smaug and the five armies is irrelevant or perhaps more so only serving towards the surface level of a more important cause (more of this to be discussed in part ⅠⅠ). Indeed, the most unlikely place for the ring of power to be after over two millennia was found within the dingy, wet cave of a deformed hobbit. The ring lay in wait within Anduin before Degol’s discovery and seems to correlate towards forgotten or perhaps repressed contents of consciousness that are vital in understanding towards the individuation process.

      The Shadow manifests itself in many ways within the psyche in order to make conscious what the subject is unaware of about themselves. To bring the Ego and Shadow together in harmony, the psyche is constructed on the basis of wholeness, whereby all contents are made to be conscious of, that is, to fulfill achievement of individualisation or self hood. This means that if we take the ring as the proxy between these contents of the psyche, then the actions of the Ego (journey to Mordor) and the Shadow (reclaiming of ring from Hobbits) are the justified ways in which wholeness can be achieved. 

      The Nazgul are another manifestation of the shadow, though this time perhaps a more faithful construction of projection. As they are mobile and constantly searching for the ring, they are an inevitable force the fellowship must face throughout their quest – they are indeed the aspect of the shadow that has been repressed too much, beginning to gain power over consciousness and manifest in reality. Though they are themselves the servants of darkness, the Nazgul are actually no different in intention to the fellowship, as they both share the need in delivering the ring back to Mount Doom ( Amon Amarth ). 

      Of course, the intentions differ from the wraiths and the fellowship, but so do the intentions of the Ego and the Shadow, causing the disturbance within the psyche in the first place. Though the Hobbits may think that the many wars and bloodshed of Middle Earth are unrelated to their existence, exemplified in the figures of the corrupted kings turned servants of the dark lord, seeking to reclaim their masters most horrible weapon in order to revive his power and lay waste to all life, is in fact the canals of dark history which must be integrated into the Hobbits (Ego) by way of the cross section between two distant worlds: the realm of comfortable Hobbiton and the fiery land of Mordor. When these forces finally meet, the complete destruction of the Ego and Shadow takes place in fashion of Ragnarok – what was is now not and what is shall be. The ring brandishes Frodo forever and causes him to transcend past himself, only because of the meeting of the polar opposite forces of the psyche and their marriage in accordance with the Self. 


More of this topic shall be explored in Part ⅠⅠ.

Click Here for Part II




   [ + ]

1. Paradise, late Old English, “the garden of Eden,” from Old French paradis “paradise, garden of Eden” (11c.), from Late Latin paradisus “a park, an orchard; the garden of Eden, the abode of the blessed,” from Greek paradeisos “a park; paradise, the garden of Eden,” from an Iranian source similar to Avestan pairidaeza “enclosure, park” (Modern Persian and Arabic firdaus “garden, paradise”), a compound of pairi- “around” (from PIE root *per- (1) “forward,” hence “in front of, near, against, around”) + diz “to make, to form (a wall).” The first element is cognate with Greek peri “around, about” (see per), the second is from PIE root *dheigh- “to form, build.” Quoted from
2. “We understand the ego as the complex factor to which all conscious contents are related. It forms, as it were, the centre of the field of consciousness; and, in so far as this comprises the empirical personality, the ego is the subject of all personal acts of consciousness. The relation of a psychic content to the ego forms the criterion of its consciousness, for no content can be conscious unless it is represented to a subject.” [Carl Jung, Aion, Chp 1, Para 1]
3. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” [Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.23]
4. “As an empirical concept, the self designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man. It expresses the unity of the personality as a whole. But in so far as the total personality, on account of its unconscious component, can be only in part conscious, the concept of the self is, in part, only potentially empirical and is to that extent a postulate. In other words, it encompasses both the experienceable and the inexperienceable (or the not yet experienced). It is a transcendental concept, for it presupposes the existence of unconscious factors on empirical grounds and thus characterizes an entity that can be described only in part.” [“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 789]
5. [J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of The Ring, chp.2]