It is important to remember when reading a work like The Lord of the Rings that it is meant to evoke something in us. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a great set of stories, and he put them in a beautiful universe that I think I will only be able to visit if I somehow make it to New Zealand. However, these stories have meaning because they make sense in my world as well as in his created world.
What if Middle Earth did not look anything like our world? What if nobility was frowned upon and seen as the most undesirable trait in the world? What if love was actually evil, and self-interest was more valuable than sacrifice?
We would certainly not recognize that world. I know that some people might read this and immediately respond to that all of these things are only subjectively good. There is no objective basis to ground the goodness of love on, so really, love is not meaningfully good whatsoever. We might call it good, but we really have no reason for that.
To people who respond in that way, I would first of all appeal to human nature much in the style of C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man. Why does it seem to be the case that so many unrelated societies developed very similar moral codes? There were obviously differences, and there are things that were okay in the ancient world that are not okay today. However, there are also many significant similarities that humanity has agreed on seemingly since the beginning of recorded history. It has never been a good thing to murder. It has always been a good thing to love other people.
Our world simply seems to have objective truths, and those truths carry over into Middle Earth. We recognize that moral compass of Middle Earth, and we respond to that truth. If Middle Earth did not work like our world, these stories might be meaningful but in an entirely different way.
Dystopian novels are meaningful because they show us a world that we do not want to descend into. We don’t want to find ourselves in such a dark place that we do some of the things described in 1984, for example. We don’t want to find ourselves putting children in the arena as we see in The Hunger Games. Those stories are meaningful because they again appeal to the sense of right and wrong that we have. We understand that things are wrong, so we want to avoid them.
I would like you to keep that in mind as we look at this story. It is meant to be triumphant in my opinion, and it is meant to cause us to aspire towards something greater. It is not just about what we want to avoid. Because I recognize the moral compass of Middle Earth, I recognize that the same compass is valuable in my world, and I want to apply what is good about Middle Earth to do good on my planet.