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Nietzschean Philosophy as
Background to an
Examination of Tolkien’s
The Lord of the Rings
Friedrich Nietzsche
• “God is dead.… And we have killed him”-Nietzsche  no absolute truth, no clear
moral code. All is relative, depends upon
one’s perspective.
•Nietzsche (along with his contemporaries
Freud, Darwin, and Marx) brought
attention to the deep and burgeoning
cultural shift perceived in Europe, already
prior to WWI.
• Nietzsche is one of the philosophers and
thinkers who sets the stage for the
movement known as Existentialism.
Nietzsche and Nihilism
Absolute freedom to create our own values.
Creates a loss of orientation and results in
nihilism, i.e. values emptiness.
2 kinds of nihilism:
-Passive nihilism longs for the return of the morality
and values.
-Active nihilism accepts the value vacuum as a form
of emancipation.
Crisis: How do we create meaning in the moral
Mortality and Anxiety
Human consciousness of death creates
 Death is a state of nothingness, of nonbeing.
 After WWI, fear not only of individual
death, but of the death of entire cultures 
       LOTR.
The Ugly Truth
The truth that life is meaningless, purposeless is too ugly for
us to bear. “Good” and “Evil” do not exist in any measurable
form, and any “objective” morality is pointless and unnatural.
Doing “good deeds” because we believe that God assigns moral
value to these things, is merely lying to ourselves.
Science led us to nihilism, and only art can distract us
from that terror.
Beauty will save us from truth. Artists affirm life in the
midst of great suffering and pain.
Technology is dangerous  denies imagination and
creativity, alienates us from who we really are (from our
Nietzsche’s Theory of
The Will to Power
 Reality is the Will to Power. It
is seen in the struggle for
survival between species and
men, in the exercise of power
over others.
The highest level is seen in
power over oneself, in the selfmastery of artists and geniuses.
Domination over another
confesses an inability to
dominate one’s internal
Master Soul / Slave Soul
Two types of modern men:
1) The Slave, made up of the masses = the wretched and
the botched, who assign blame and seek sympathy for
their suffering. The masses are frightened by the death of
God, since it places responsibility for creating values on
them. The Slave denies the will to power, invent
2) The Master, or noble man = humans capable of
overcoming their mere humanity, of honestly facing and
accepting the meaninglessness of life, of assigning to it
whatever values or purposes the Master finds
acceptable/responsible. In this way, one can become the
mythical hero (Superman, or Uebermensch). The Master
affirms the will to power. The superior individual
assumes this responsibility without fear and also utilizes
fear to achieve what they believe is right.
Master / Slave (continued)
 Slave morality states that the good is
the meek and humble, and the bad is
the prideful.
is suitable to weak persons who
should obey the strong.
but Western morality (Christianity)
imposed it on the strong as well as
the weak.
 a plot of the weak to dominate
the strong
 stems from an unconscious
resentment of the weak against
the strong.
From “Beyond Good and Evil”
Noble man/Superman does
not require others’ approval
Helps the unfortunate  not
out of pity  out of an impulse
generated by his immense
power and generosity
Has power over himself (selfwill)
Takes pleasure in subjecting
himself to great severity and
Nietzsche, Myth, and Modernism
Every vital society has a unifying myth,
but rationalism has destroyed every such
myth in the West.
The rebirth of the West from its present
nihilism requires a new myth:
The Superman lives dangerously,
risking himself, renouncing security,
exhausting his health in heroic effort.
One should die with one’s boots on.
One should stride forth and embrace
one’s fate (amor fati).
In other words...
A Master/Superman asserts a continual effort of their
free will to be virtuous in a world without objective virtue.
– In more existential (and modern) terms, a Superman
chooses the difficult or impossible, but fundamentally
virtuous answer to problems, over the easy and personally
satisfying solution.
– In Tolkien’s world they do so by personal choice based on
compassion, pity, preservation: essentially the conscious
pursuit of common good. Together we stand, divided we
fall. On the personal level, resistance to temptation and
indomitable endurance are key concepts.
Memory and Forgetfulness
Memories can come upon us unawares, and lead
either to joy or anguish. All memories are not
always accessible to us, and memory is therefore
beyond our control, beyond our will.
Because some memories hurt our ability to live a
full and useful life, Nietzsche believes that many
humans tend to run from memory, by keeping
active and never stopping to think or allow
thoughts to come naturally. We flee from our
past, which can haunt us, and make us inauthentic
beings. (Make connection to Freud’s id.)
We should strive to remember the positive, but
forget the harmful, that which will keep us from
living an authentic life.
History as Memory
Nietzsche differentiates three attitudes
toward history:
1. “Geschichtlich” (historical): memory is
needed to our survival. We need history
to remember the past and stabilize our
identity. Remember who you are.
2. “Ungeschichtlich” (unhistorical): But
if it is necessary, we must be able to
forget the past for our happiness. Forget
what weakens you.
3. “Uebergeschichtlich” (superhistorical): history is cyclical, we live our
lives over and over againthe past can
teach us the meaning of the future and
anticipate the future.
Authentic vs. Inauthentic Life
Inauthentic Life: Lived by people who never seriously
question themselves or whether or not they are simply being
led around by the institutions designed to help them; Are
they genuine, or merely acting a part? If humans never
know who they really are as individuals  lead a zombie
kind of existence. They forget who they are.
Authentic vs. Inauthentic Life
Authentic Life: Lived by people who
recognize and dissolve the artificial
chains that bind us, and that come from
outside forces, such as religion. Nietzsche
concludes there is no originating force
that creates a man, and that this fact
"alone is the great liberation" (65). To
break free of imposed restraints is to
accept responsibility for one’s fate, and
to affirm life, even in the face of great
suffering. A person who leads an
authentic life remembers who he/she is.
This all leads to Existentialism
A) Existence precedes essence (hence the name
“existentialism”): there are no or pre-existing
conditions that guide or determine man’s
behavior or essence.
B) Leads to the “absurd condition”  man seeks
meaning in a meaningless world (universe
unconscious of our existence).
C) Man is condemned to be free. Leads to
modern despair from man’s overwhelming
sense of responsibility and recognition of his
fundamental aloneness in an indifferent
D)The artist/existentialist achieves meaningful
happiness by facing the pain and still
affirming life.