University of Notre Dame

Politics and Literature: J. R. R. Tolkien

Course Number: POLS 13181-2
Instructor: Mary M. Keys

This seminar introduces students to the study of political philosophy, through the literary narratives of J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic works. We read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, together with the first part of The Silmarillion, paying special attention to the many political problems and themes that come to light: power and wisdom, justice and mercy, war and peace, leadership and citizenship, patriotism and humanism, individuality and friendship, freedom and sacrifice, fear and courage, despair and hope, death and life. An overarching theme of the course is the interrelation among ethics, politics, philosophy, literary culture, theology, and university education. We also study some of Tolkien’s poems and letters, together with selections from works of philosophers and theologians who influenced Tolkien’s view of the world, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. After we finish each part of The Lord of the Rings, students will view and discuss the corresponding Peter Jackson film. Students will write several short papers and a final research paper. They should be ready and willing to participate regularly and thoughtfully in seminar discussion, and to shoulder the course’s consistently heavy reading load—lightened of course by the joy of Tolkien.