Similar Vision, Essential Difference: Mass Violence in Tolkien and Le Guin

Jamie Campbell Martin


J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin put forward similar visions of the good society. Tolkien’s Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings and Le Guin’s Athsheans in The Word for World Is Forest each model a community that is peaceful, nature-loving, and non-expansionist. Yet Tolkien’s belief in the need for just war contrasts with Le Guin’s pacifism. In 'The Scouring of the Shire', a final chapter of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien argues that to flourish, the Shire must be willing to employ violence in self-defense and to accord a lesser moral status to outsiders. Peaceful without being pacifist, the Shire reaches a stable equilibrium, safe from any invaders. To the Le Guin of the Vietnam era, in contrast, only true pacifism is stable for Athshean society. The Athshean demotion of their invaders to lesser moral status, undertaken in self-defense, nonetheless brings about a downward spiral that suggests future indiscriminate war. 


Tolkien, J.R.R.; Le Guin, Ursula K.; ‘Scouring of the Shire’; Word for World Is Forest; just war

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