A Senior’s Journey to Middle Earth

Gandalf at the Shire

– image from Ben Wootten

For Senior English Majors looking forward to graduation, there is one last task they must accomplish: the Senior Thesis.  And for Kate DeVantier, writing her honors thesis means stepping into the magical world of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings:

This semester, I’m dedicating (what feels like) the majority of my time to my honors thesis, which is taking a closer look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  More specifically, my thesis examines morality, the relationship between fate and free will, and the role of the hero in a book that looks very much like an epic adventure.  Many criticize Tolkien’s work for being morally absolute and too “simple,” that it’s just the “good” guys versus the “bad” guys with little complexity in a novel of over 1000 pages.  but I don’t think that’s true.  Instead, Tolkien gives us a world that is wonderfully complex, where there aren’t easy answers and the lines of “good” and “evil” are blurred upon closer look.  I argue that the world isn’t made of black and white dichotomies, and that this foundation means there cannot be a hero in Tolkien’s universe: heroism.

I’ve always been a big fantasy fan. My childhood was spent reading the myriad series my two uncles had left on their bookshelves and my love grew from there. In addition to Tolkien, I’m a Harry Potter fan, of course, but my interests branch out to other series: David Eddings’ The Belgariad, Weiss and Hickman’s The Dragonlance Chronicles, Paolini’s Eragon, Martin’s Game of Thrones, etc. I’ve always been interested in mythology and magic and moments bigger than ourselves. The books I love take place in a thousand different worlds with a thousand different characters, but they all have common themes: sacrifice, the power of love and brotherhood, the unlikely individual doing marvelous things. The stories I love explore the vulnerability of human nature and how even in the face of overwhelming despair and destruction, there is always a place for hope.

I’ve always had high expectations for myself, and so trying to write a paper that is the culmination of my time at Wittenberg has sky-rocketed those expectations – it’s terrifying but exhilarating at the same time. It’s a piece of which I want to be proud, of course, but I also want to do justice for all of the people who have gotten me to this point. I always brag that the English Department faculty is by far the best that Wittenberg has to offer, and while my classes have sometimes been grueling, I’ve never regretted my choice of major. I’m lucky to have the parents I do, and I’m doubly lucky that I have an advisor/boss/professor/thesis director who is willing to meet with me frequently and listen to me complain and stutter about how much I don’t know. But I’m also very, very lucky to have the fantastic English community that I do – be it professors or peers – who have helped me to create a home during my four years at Wittenberg… and for many years to come.

– Kate DeVantier

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