In many cultures and eras there is the hero myth – tales of a hero who decides to fight evil and win freedom. In the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic regions, we know the sagas of King Arthur, the knight Parzival and the myths about Siegfried, who slays the dragon.
A more modern tale that takes up the hero motif is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. In it, the author depicts the poignant and remarkable struggle of the protagonist Frodo for liberation from coercion, power and violence, symbolised by Mordor, the Ring of Power and the antagonist Sauron. In contrast to the numerous dystopian scenarios of our time, Tolkien optimistically presents a way to overcome darkness and bondage forever. In doing so, he allows inner principles and aspects of the human being to appear in the book as acting characters in a symbolic way. When we see the timeless and symbolic in the story, the events in it suddenly seem very real and current.
Out of the Shire
The story begins with Frodo living in the Shire, inhabited by the people of the Hobbits. This place is symbolic of cherished habits and adaptation to our comfort zone, in which we have settled and feel safe. The word „hobbits“ is related to „habits“.
Frodo receives a golden ring from his uncle Bilbo, which will determine the further course of the plot. It symbolises the dark forces of seduction to power madness and imperiousness. The ring has the power to destroy everything that is good, true and beautiful.
Part of the ring inscription reads:
One Ring, to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
In possession of the one Ring of Power, Frodo is destined for a significant and difficult mission, for if the Ring falls into the hands of the dark lord Sauron, it will lead to the enslavement and downfall of all Middle-earth. Frodo and his companions take on the task of destroying the Ring. They leave the Shire and set out on a hardscrabble journey via Rivendell, Lorien and Rohan to Mordor, to finally destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. In the process, the Ring becomes a heavy burden for Frodo. Together with his companions, he experiences many dangers and is severely injured several times and almost killed in the process. The temptations that the Ring exerts drive him into inner conflicts.
Here we recognise the motif of sacrifice, as a prerequisite for liberation and fulfilment.
In addition to the motif of sacrifice, the aspect of guilt also appears in the story. The former king Isildur, one of the ancestors of Aragorn (one of Frodo’s companions, later king of Gondor), had the task of destroying the Ring in prehistoric times. But he refused and succumbed to the temptations of power. Later Isildur is killed and the Ring is lost for a time until it passes into the hands of Smeagol, who lives with it in dark caves (later called Gollum) and then comes to Bilbo and Frodo.
As the plot progresses, Aragorn, as a descendant of Isildur, asks the spirits of the dead to fight Sauron in the fields of Pelennor so that they can be redeemed. We recognise in this the aspect of repayment and forgiveness of guilt as a prerequisite for transformation.
Frodo keeps his eye on his goal, experiences severe hardships and overcomes opposition. His most important companion is Sam. He supports Frodo and is always at his side. Sam symbolises courage, loyalty and confidence. The freedom seeker should never lose his confidence in a good ending, no matter how dark and threatening the situation may be.
Another motif for positive transformation is compassion and mercy. By showing compassion to Gollum through Frodo (and Bilbo before him), he is able to survive and lead the companions to Mount Doom. In his own way, Gollum contributes to an unforeseen end to the Ring.
Light and dark forces
For Tolkien, his work is also about the nature of good and evil. The light forces (symbolised by the wizard Gandalf, the elves Galadriel and Elrond, and the eagle Gwaihir) help, support and open up unexpected perspectives of freedom. They cannot, however, relieve Frodo of the hardships of the path. When the companions take leave of the elves in Lothlorien, Galadriel gives Frodo a vial of light. It gives the bearer courage and confidence in moments of greatest need. Galadriel speaks to Frodo: “It (the light of the vial) will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” 
Tolkien describes the elements that can lead to positive transformation as:
– Confidence, courage and optimism
– Devotion, sacrifice and loving support
– Grace, compassion, forgiveness of guilt
– Determination, perseverance, self-conquest
The dark forces in Tolkien’s work target personal weaknesses and seek to tempt. A particular characteristic of the Ring is to distort and amplify the powers of those who possess it. It also offers the possibility of acting in secret. The Ring (when worn on the finger) not only renders Frodo invisible, it also isolates him from the human community and makes him visible to Sauron’s Eye as well as to the Ringwraiths who serve him. Tolkien describes the Ring as a magical artefact to which the will and power of its creator have passed. The power of the Ring symbolises a separation from the All-embracing. Sauron has become the ruler in the limited; split off from the depth of his own being, he is subject to the separating and deceiving elements. On the one hand it isolates and on the other hand it opens and creates protective living spaces for everything that finds entrance in it – including the abysmal.
The ring symbolises the seduction by a certain concept of freedom, corresponding to the idiosyncratic desire: “I can do what I want”. This impulse suggests infinite possibilities and leads from the experience of unity further and further into conflict and splitting off from the original creative source. The spiritual-soul system of the human being turns when the temptation is yielded to. A consciousness of separation from the higher spiritual being develops, as well as the illusion of lack, worry and fear. From this germinates the desire for possessions, power and control to remedy the lack. This desire collides with the aspirations of others, creating conflict and struggle. The results are guilt, projection of guilt (“the others are responsible”), laws, judgements and punishments. In this way, man is finally led into total ignorance and into forgetting his true nature. Like the domino effect, a chain reaction develops – when the first stone falls, so do all the other stones. The first stone was the seemingly harmless thought of being able to do what one wants.
The magic of the ring is strong. Even a companion of Frodo’s falls for it:
“Ah! The Ring!” said Boromir, his eyes lighting. “The Ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt because for so small a thing? Such a little thing!” 
(to be continued in part 2)
 J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, HarperCollins ebooks 2005, part 1: The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 50
 Op. cit., p. 376
 Op. cit., p. 398