JRR Tolkien’s great work, The Lord of the Rings, continues to be prescient and relevant to our present situation.  Through the vehicle of a secondary world, Tolkien explores universal questions of the human person’s place in a world of contesting forces.  Tolkien examines the control of external, hostile forces over the human person and to what extent the person has freedom to respond.  Tolkien masterfully responds both to the modernist elevation and exultation of human autonomy and the postmodernist devaluation of the same by presenting a strongly Christian understanding of free will and the human person’s inherent dignity and worth.


Because of the length and richness of the text, we are closely reading Tolkien’s central work, The Lord of the Rings in three courses.  In the Fall of 2021 course we focused exclusively on The Fellowship of the Ring. Spring 2022, we examined The Two Towers.  Now, in Fall 2023, after a year’s hiatus, we are continuing the journey with The Return of the King.  We will continue discussing how Tolkien’s work directly addresses modernity’s paradoxical elevation and diminishment of the human person.  Tolkien rejects the modernist concept of the individual but embraces the essential importance of the person within proper community to achieve the good. 

In this final seminar, we will focus on and discuss closely how the power of friendship achieves the Ring’s destruction.  Within this discussion, we will look at the extreme limitations of the individual acting alone against superior physical and spiritual forces; the unseen hand of Providence coordinating the consequences of many characters’ choices; the despair that results from the modernist claim to autonomy.

Questions we have asked in previous seminars and continue in this final one:  What is the role of the person before overpowering evil?  Does human freedom exist and to what extent?  How does Tolkien’s presentation of friendship and community counter our present postmodern view of the isolated individual?  Why is the Christian God not made explicit in Middle-earth?  How is God both nowhere and everywhere to be found in Middle-earth?  Why does Tolkien’s work continue to resonate with contemporary readers?  How does Tolkien’s story offer hope amidst the cultural and religious despair of his own generation but also our own?

It is not required that a fellow have taken the first two courses on The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to enroll in this final course. However, if a fellow has not read Tolkien’s work prior to this course, then it is expected that he/she will have read (not simply watched!) both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers prior to beginning the course on The Return of the King. You may also seek access to the archived video seminars of the first two courses.

Required Texts: Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999, 2002, 2005.

Suggested Texts: Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. . . ... Humphrey Carpenter, Editor. Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. . . . . The Silmarillion. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Given the difference in pagination of editions, I list below the reading requirements from The Return of the King based on the universal divisions of The Lord of the Rings.

October 3: Book V: Chapters 1-2 “Minas Tirith” and “The Passing of the Grey Company.” “Gathering Darkness and the Light of Fidelity.”

October 10: Book V: Chapters 3-4 “The Muster of Rohan” and “The Siege of Gondor” “Heroic virtues of Loyalty, Courage, Prudence, and Sacrifice.”

October 17: Book V: Chapters 5-8 “The Ride of the Rohirrim” “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields” “The Pyre of Denethor” and “The Houses of Healing” “Théoden versus Denethor: bravery and cowardice, self-sacrifice and selfishness, hope and despair.”

October 24: Book V: Chapters 9-10 “The Last Debate” and “The Black Gate Opens” “Responsibility for the Present: The extent of human freedom to control the future and the need to choose properly in the present moment.”

October 31: SKIP

November 7: Book VI: Chapters 1-2 “The Tower of Cirith Ungol” and “The Land of Shadow” Sam and Frodo’s Descent into Hell: Friendship’s Power to Counter Evil

November 14: Book VI: Chapters 3-5 “Mount Doom” and “The Field of Cormallen” “No Greater Love: Frodo’s complete sacrifice of self, his final failure before greater evil spiritual powers, and the revelation of Providence’s ultimate control over all events, including the Ring’s destruction”

November 21: Book VI: Chapters 6-7 “The Steward and the King” and “Many Partings” “Temporal Rewards as Foretaste of Eternal ones: Good wins out over evil and friends are honored for their virtue.”

November 28: Book VI: Chapters 8-9 “The Scouring of the Shire” and “The Grey Havens”: Homecoming “Homo Viator: We have no earthly home.  The effects of evil come to the heart of Middle earth; Friends must part and experience separation in this “Vale of Tears”; life and love continue in this world amidst the shadows.”

About Instructor

Helen Freeh

Helen Freeh received her B.A. in Politics and Masters in American Studies from the University of Dallas. After working in the business world, she entered Baylor University’s graduate program and earned her Ph.D. in English, writing her dissertation on fate, providence and free will in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. She has worked at Baylor University Press, taught at Baylor University, McClennan County Community College, Hillsdale Academy and Hillsdale College where she met her husband, Dr. John Freeh. She is a contributor to Tolkien Among the Moderns, edited by Ralph Wood, an occasional contributor to The Catholic Thing, and a Senior Fellow at Albertus Magnus Institute. She and John are co-founders of Kateri College of the Liberal and Practical Arts in Gallup, NM, and are traveling around the country in their missionary motor home, “Tekakwitha,” promoting and fundraising for the College while fulfilling their primary vocation of raising and educating their three children, Theresa, Joseph and John Paul.

3 Courses

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Course Includes

  • 8 Lessons
  • Course Certificate