Depicting Evil The Lord Of The Rings English Literature Essay

This essay aims to analyse the use of language and literary devices in depicting evil in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy by specifically identifying and analysing the use of language, imagery and dialogue in incorporating the omnipresence of evil into characters such as Sauron and his Orcs, symbolic artifacts such as the One Ring, and description of settings such as the Black Gate, the stairs of Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul compared to its previous appearance as Minas Ithil, and Mount Doom.

Evil is a concept whose importance has not been diminished through time, and Tolkien’s representation of it can still be analysed and interpreted today through the language, imagery and dialogue used. The theme itself is one of the most commonly explored in literature, in both older and more modern pieces of work, a motif frequently used to enhance plot, character and setting.

The scope of this study is limited to analysing specific examples of literary devices, primarily language, imagery and dialogue in respect to the characters, artifacts and settings listed above, to allow for effective analysis with regard to the concept of evil within the specified word limit.

Investigation was undertaken by locating specific examples where Tolkien employed the use of language and literary devices to depict the theme of evil, and analysing selected examples to portray the omnipresence of evil throughout the novel.

This essay concludes that through the characterisation of characters including Sauron and his orcs, as well as description of setting such as various landmarks in the region of Mordor and artifacts such as the One Ring, enhanced via use of language techniques and literary devices including imagery, colour, symbolism and dialogue, Tolkien is able to successfully portray the theme of evil throughout this trilogy.

Word Count: 292

Table of Contents

Introduction 5

Main Body 7

Conclusion 18

Reference List 19


Throughout his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings consisting of three novels: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and the final novel, The Return of the King, J.R.R Tolkien uses a variety of language techniques and literary devices in order to adequately depict the theme of evil. Words he uses in context display in-depth meaning, and accepting the meanings of his writing simply at face value would thus deny the reader the opportunity to appreciate this trilogy as a whole. One part of his work is his exploration of the concept of evil, a concept which is as important in modern society as it was when The Lord of the Rings was written. First published nine years after the conclusion of World War II, certain critics see Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as a reflection of the political situation during the war. Since this trilogy was written during and following the aftermath of the Second World War, it is likely that occurrences that took place during that timeframe would significantly impact the author’s perception of evil. In today’s society, cultural diversity plays a significant role in a person’s interpretation of evil, and although circumstances define evil in a slightly different context, its representation can be associated with older forms of literature, such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The theme itself is one of the most commonly explored in literature, ranging from classical tragedies like Oedipus the King, to religious centric literature such as Psychomachia to inner evil conflicts like that explored in Heart of Darkness, and classical literature where evil is explored in more apocalyptic forms like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The gripping image of evil that Tolkien presents entices readers of varying ages. The omnipresence of evil throughout the trilogy is one of the many compelling ideas Tolkien has incorporated into his work, fundamental to character and plot development. The use of language and literary devices in depicting evil in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is representative of his interpretation and depiction of evil, through the characterization of Sauron, as well as the characterization of his servants, the orcs. Evil is not only depicted in the form of characters, but also in the form of artifacts, such as the Ring of Power, and setting such as the region of Mordor.

Main Body

Tolkien uses many characters to illustrate manifestations of evil in his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Orcs are one example of this. Orcs, misshapen warlike humanoid creatures, are servants of the lords of the Black and White towers: Sauron and Saruman. Once elves, they were tortured and deformed till they became loyal servants. The word “orc” is derived from the Old English word ‘demon’ and is used by Tolkien to describe these fiends. They are also referred to as ‘Yrch’ by the elves. The word itself is derived from the Elvish word “ruk”, meaning fear and horror; referring to a demon. Their skin is darkened, as if burned. Fire represents intensity, severity, passion and torment, indicating the nature and character of this particular creature. Flames can also be seen as a representation of evil, in reference to hellfire, a punishment of sorts for the crimes that they commit, whether by their own will or not. In biblical terms, fire is used for utter destruction, as ‘Sodom and Gomorrha were destroyed by fire and brimstone and are now set forth as “an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Through various names and interpretations, hell has come to be interpreted as an abode for evil in the afterlife, and thus a representation of the essence of the evil it contains. Tolkien’s portrayal of orcs displays this essence of evil in their appearance, as well as their character and conduct. Orcs are initially described by Tolkien as having “a huge arm and shoulder, with a dark skin of greenish scales, was thrust through the widening gap. Then a great, flat, toeless foot was forced through below.” Portrayed as large creatures in comparison with other characters present in the trilogy, their size indicates both power and greed. In fantasy, evil characters are often depicted as huge in size in order to accurately depict their evil and power. They also appear deformed. Their natural form has been spoiled and disfigured; modified to suite their functions. This is indicative un the use of the colour green and relates to its symbolism of nature, and the image presented of its distortion. The darkness of the skin represents evil in itself. It alludes to the colour black, which is a mysterious colour, denoted with strength, and aggressiveness. Tolkien’s descriptive language and use of colour imagery and fire to portray the orcs’ appearances in the trilogy serves to enhance their the depiction of their evil.

The aggressiveness of the orcs is portrayed in their dialogue, as well as their actions. Although occasionally falling into their own tongue, they mostly use Common Speech. An example of this is demonstrated during Pippin’s initial conversation with an orc that captured him and Merry: “I’d make you squeak, you miserable rat.” A rat is a long tailed rodent that resembles a mouse in appearance, but is also a word used to describe “a despicable person, especially one who betrays or informs upon associates.” The use of the word shows the orc’s attitude towards creatures he feels are inferior to him. This remark is punctuated by the orc showing his yellow fangs and a jagged black knife. A dull shade of yellow symbolises decay and sickness, alluding to the moral decay commonly associated with the definition of evil. Large knives, such as the one mentioned, signify power. Designed to be used in combat, knives such as this are lethal tools of destruction. A jagged edge also causes more damage than a smooth one, even though smooth edges are sharper. His remark indicates that he still might carry out his threat, regardless of his orders. His harsh words also signify a lack of love and compassion. In certain aspects, evil is considered any act that defies the laws of human morality. Hate and aloofness are characteristics that are (depending on the circumstances) considered immoral, and thus contribute to an individual’s perception of evil. Orcs are not portrayed as evil in their own right, but rather as tools of evil; objects used by others such as Sauron and Saruman to gain power. Orcs are bound in servitude to the lords of the black and white towers, Sauron and Saruman. Having little free will of their own, they are forced to perform the tasks they are ordered to carry out. Their actions, as well as their manner of speech, serve to reinforce the omnipresence of evil in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The theme of evil is also depicted through the characterization of the trilogy’s main villain, Sauron. As lord of the Black Tower, he is deemed as the Enemy of the free people of Middle Earth. His name is derived from the Elvish word “thaura” meaning detestable, and literally means “the Abhorred”. Originating from the English word “abhor”, and meaning “to regard with horror or loathing”, Sauron is an appropriate name for his character. Nowhere in The Lord of the Rings does Tolkien provide a detailed description of Sauron; in the third age, he never even manifested in pure physical form. However, the image most connected to Sauron is the “Eye”, located at the top of the tower of Barad-dur in Mordor. This eye is first described by Tolkien in a vision Frodo has while gazing into the Mirror of Galadriel. “The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.” An eye is an organ of vision, associated with attention. In this context, it represents Sauron’s attention; with it, he is able to see events of interest across Middle Earth. His vision however isn’t perfect, being obscured by Elven magic, nature and secrecy. Fire represents a powerful intensity, as well as punishment. Although intense, the fiery Eye lacks liveliness. Naturally, the glaze of the Eye would affect the clarity of Sauron’s vision. The colour of this eye is a dull yellow, similar to the colour of a cat’s eye. This particular shade of yellow represents decay, caution, sickness, and jealousy, giving the readers an indication of Sauron’s nature. He craves power and control, hence the reason he created the One Ring, and would presumably be jealous of any other who holds power he has no access to. But the Eye isn’t fully yellow; it also contains a pupil, described as a “black slit”. Black normally presents a negative connotation, referring to evil, mystery, and death. It also indicates perception and depth, and in anatomical terms, the pupil of an eye is black in order to allow light to pass through. The possible passage for light is an indication of hope in the despair that Sauron instigates upon the majority of the “free” population of Middle Earth. A pit is a reference to “a miserable or depressing place or situation”. It is also an allusion of the Hellfire, highlighting the extent of Sauron’s evil. Throughout the plot of The Lord of the Rings, not once is there mention of Sauron ever engaging in any sort of dialogue or activity in the traditional sense of a character engaging directly with other characters and events in the novel. His eye simply follows events of interest occurring around Middle Earth, and yet a simple mention of his name or place of residence is enough to invoke fear in others. “Do not speak that name so loudly!’ said Strider” in response to the name of Sauron’s stronghold being mentioned. The language and description Tolkien uses to characterise Sauron, some of which mentioned above, provide a detailed and compelling depiction of the concept of evil.

Symbolic artifacts are also fundamental in reinforcing the concept of evil throughout this trilogy. The One Ring, also called the Ruling Ring, is an example of this. The One Ring, forged in Mount Doom, is the source of Sauron’s power, but also, ironically, his greatest weakness. The Ring feeds off lust and desire. All those who succumb to its power did so because of their want of wealth and power. During the Council of Elrond, Boromir suggests that the One Ring should be taken to Gondor and used against Sauron. To this, Elrond replies:

“We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we now know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil. Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. Consider Saruman. If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would then set himself on Sauron’s throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear.”

Called the Ruling Ring due to its ability to rule above the lesser rings, the One Ring can only be manipulated by those possessing a great will and power enough to counter Sauron’s evil. But this, as Elrond says, contains a great risk as well, for should the desire for power and wealth corrupt them, they would, as Elrond says, “set himself on Sauron’s throne.” A ring is an object of great value, as well as a token of oath. The One Ring appears to be a simple gold band, and when heated, an Elvish inscription appears. “It looked to be made of pure and solid gold.” During the early Roman Republic, gold was preserved for people who held a high status in the community. Therefore, it is also a symbol of power, in this case, Sauron’s might. A throne, in a literal sense, refers to a chair occupied by a person of power. However, since Sauron does not have a body at the time, the concept of the throne simply refers to Sauron’s power and status. A simple desire to supplant this evil tyrant through the power of the Ring could easily turn any living thing towards evil. The events throughout the novel suggest that men are especially susceptible to it. That is one of the main reasons that lust is considered as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. A lust for power then gives rise to other qualities that eventually lead a being to evil and darkness. Therefore, lust is considered as a basis of evil. The Ring is a symbol of that lust, and Sauron, its master, is as much under its control as its controller. Thus, by portraying the One Ring as a symbolic artifact through the use literary devices such as imagery and language, Tolkien is able to successfully convey the theme of evil to readers.

Evil is not only depicted through characterisation or use of artifacts in The Lord of the Rings. Setting also plays an important role. Mordor, the realm of Sauron, is an example of this. Inhabited by Orcs and other evil creatures, Mordor is a land of darkness and evil. The name of Mordor is enough to invoke fear in the free people of Middle Earth, meaning “black land”. Black is a colour symbolic of evil, and can also be seen as a representation of power and treachery. It is also a recurring motif throughout the text, especially in relation to Sauron and his stronghold. The frequent recurrences of the colour black serve to further reinforce the perception of evil. Aragorn warns against saying the name of Mordor during their journey to Weathertop. “Do not speak that name so loudly!” Fear of the name only serves to highlight the evil of Mordor. “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” There are only two known ways to enter into Mordor: through the Black Gate, or through Minas Morgul. The main entrance into Mordor is the Black Gate, a great barrier made of iron. Iron demonstrates “great hardness or strength,” and is a silver/grey coloured metal, a colour normally associated with loss and depression. Alternatively, a barrier represents a limit. The entrance of this land can be likened to a heart that is filled with darkness. Taken from a psychological point of view, barriers interfere with a being’s true potential. Barriers are also associated with failure. Mordor, being a small, enclosed area compared to the rest of Middle Earth, is divided by a barrier that essentially separates evil from good. Originally, the evil of Sauron stemmed from Mordor, and the Black Gate, although serving as an entrance, hinders the spread of evil throughout the land. The Black Gate also proves to be an indication of the superiority of good over evil (given the large size difference, as well as the location). The creatures inside the realm of Mordor have power, authority, and strength, but as their power grows, as does the void in their heart; the loneliness, the despair they feel inside. The Black Gate can also be seen as a gate that locks out virtues such as friendship and love. This presents a contrast between evil and good; evil containing the antithesis of anything good. Good contains qualities such as light, friendship and love while evil contains their opposites: darkness, enmity, and hate. Hence, Tolkien uses the imagery of the Black Gate and the language used to describe it to further reinforce the concept of evil throughout the novel.

The other entrance, the stairs of Cirith Ungol climb through the Mountains of Shadow, and translates to “the path of the spider.” A spider can also be interpreted as a symbol of alarm and a future threatening danger, especially in dream interpretation. “The steps were narrow, spaced unevenly, and often treacherous: they were worn and smooth at the edges, and some were broken, and some cracked as foot was set upon them.” Paths that cut through mountains are usually quite narrow, and dangerous. Tolkien’s use of the word “treacherous” here is interesting though. Defined as “marked by betrayal of fidelity, confidence, or trust,” the word describes more than the intimate danger of the path of Cirith Ungol. It also foreshadows later events that happen along this path; the death of many orcs at the hands of Shelob, as well as Gollum’s betrayal. The stairs are described as “worn and smooth”, showing that they have been used many times in the past before the events of the novel take place. Cracks demonstrate the age and use of the path. The path links the Dark Tower to Minas Morgul. The valley changed dramatically once the Nazgul conquered it. “Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing.” This description provides a very vivid contrast between Minas Ithil and Minas Morgul. Minas Ithil, described as “fair and radiant”, is depicted as a source of light, goodness. In contrast, Minas Morgul is depicted as a source of evil and darkness, “a light that illuminated nothing.” The image of death and decay is also presented here, describing a once lively and beautiful place fallen into ruin and evil. Described as “ailing”, “pale” and “corpse”, an image of sickness and death is portrayed; the destruction that evil has left behind. The imagery and language used to describe the stairs of Cirith Ungol and contrast Minas Ithil and Minas Morgul serve to further articulate the theme of evil in this trilogy.

Another place of importance in Mordor is Sauron’s stronghold, the tower of Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower, a fortress of great power, surrounded by gates of steel, and made of iron, and clouded in a shadow cast by Sauron. The tower is black in appearance, and very tall, with many walls and battlements. Upon the highest peak was the Eye of Sauron. Steel is a hard, durable metal alloy, naturally grey in colour, although is normally coated with rust and other matter. Its true nature is covered, hidden from the world, as is the entire realm of Mordor, shrouded in a dark veil. Its secrecy displays a sense of evil and wrongdoing. ‘…rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of Barad-dûr…’ The repetition of the colour black reinforces its significance to exploring different concepts in The Lord of the Rings such as the theme of evil. An image of contrast is also presented, indicating that the tower is in fact darker than its surrounding area. Its pinnacles are described as “cruel”, a trait often associated as evil. An “iron crown” is also mentioned. Iron is a metal of a dark grey colour, and is also associated with strength, hardness and control. The description and portrayal of the tower of Barad-dur via colour, contrast, imagery and depiction of mystery serves to further enhance Tolkien’s depiction of evil.

The most significant place in Mordor however is Mount Doom. Mount Doom is a volcano, where the One Ring was created and destroyed. Grey slopes ran along the volcano, ragged and broken, and covered with ash and burnt stone. “Ever and anon the furnaces far below its ashen cone would grow hot and with a great surging and throbbing pour forth rivers of molten rock from chasms in its sides. Some would flow blazing towards Barad-dur down great channels; some would wind their way into the stony plain, until they cooled and lay like twisted dragon-shapes vomited from the tormented earth.” The word “anon” is often used in poetry, and refers to another time. “Ever and anon” thus refers to a long period of time. “Furnaces” are enclosed spaces where a very hot fire is made, and as mentioned before, fire can be interpreted as a tool for evil and representative of Hell. Tolkien’s description of the lava flow also creates an image of power, and the resulting image, “twisted dragon-like shapes vomited from the tormented earth,” demonstrates pain and suffering. A dragon can be observed as a symbol of strength, which serves to further amplify the images of pain and suffering. Out of the crater blew smoke and fumes, as well as molten lava. During the day of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, darkness erupts from the mouth of the volcano, and covers the lands of Gondor and Rohan. Darkness is a representation of evil, as well as a direct link to Satan, who is also known as the Prince of Darkness. Darkness is also a representation of wickedness and error, reflecting the evil of Sauron. Once he is destroyed, much of the region falls into ruin. Mount Doom is no ordinary volcano, but one enhanced with Sauron’s sorcery and magic. The chasm within the mountain upon which the One Ring was forged by Sauron is called “the cracks of doom”, which is a modern English term for “Ragnerok”, the doom of the Gods, a reference to a series of events that end with the spread of fire in each direction that will eventually cause all the worlds to burn and become destroyed. Then, a new world will be born, void of pain and suffering. Essentially, the Ragnerok signifies destruction and the beginning of a new age. Destruction is a common representation of evil; however it is also necessary for rebirth. It demonstrates the extent of the evil of Sauron, as well as the superiority of good over it.


The use of language and literary devices in depicting evil in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy presents this theme in a variety of ways. Imagery and description used by Tolkien convey to the reader a compelling sense of the omnipresence of evil throughout the novels, one of the many things that make this trilogy so intriguing, even more so because the good vs. evil debate is one quite famous in classical literature. By using characterisation of characters such as Sauron and his orcs, as well as description of setting such as various landmarks in the region of Mordor: the Black Gate, Minis Morgul, Barad-dur, and Mount Doom, and artifacts such as the Ring of Power, Tolkien is able to successfully enhance the depiction of evil throughout his epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

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