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Venerable or vulnerable: ageing and old age in JRR Tolkien’s The lord of the rings
  1. David B Hogan1,
  2. A Mark Clarfield2
  1. 1Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  2. 2Department of Geriatrics, Soroka Hospital, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr D B Hogan
 HSC-3330 Hospital Dr NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 4N1; dhogan{at}


An underappreciated aspect of The lord of the rings (TLOTR) by JRR Tolkien is in how the author dealt with death, longevity and ageing in the work. During his early years, Tolkien endured first the passing of both parents and then the deaths of most of his friends during the First World War. It was not surprising that a search for the meaning of life and death became a preoccupation of Tolkien. Tolkien’s Roman Catholic faith underpinned his thoughts about mortality. He also found solace in Northern myths that held that there was intrinsic worth to courage in the face of our inevitable demise. Along with his colleague, CS Lewis, he took an opposing stand to JBS Haldane, Olaf Stapledon and other precursors of transhumanists, who felt that bioengineering would allow us to extend human life span virtually without limit. Although Tolkien acknowledged the urge to try to escape our mortality, TLOTR is a story about accepting the need to let go with all of the attendant regrets and sorrow.

  • TLOTR, The lord of the rings
  • JRR Tolkien
  • ageing
  • longevity
  • death
  • mortality

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  • Competing interests: None declared.