Friday, May 5, 2017

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

The individuation process is a spiritual process that all humans undergo to become complete beings. Jung explains that this “is my term for ‘becoming whole’”. At the heart of this process is the unification of the component parts of the Self what LeGuin explains as separate from the ego and “transcendent, much larger than the ego; it is not a private possession, but collective—that is, we share it with all other human beings” (58). The steps to reaching the true Self, the collective identity of all humanity, is through individuation. It tends to revolve around a journey of self-knowledge, exploration or acknowledgment of the collective unconscious, and a confrontation with shadows.

The Shire may be paralleled with the conscious mind, the ego. It is ignorant of the wider world. As the prologue explains hobbits “heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved […] They forgot or ignored what […] made possible the long peace of the Shire” (5). The Shire is closest to what Jung calls the collective conscious. Each hobbit is involved in the trivialities of life, whether that is a good smoke or an abundance of food. Regardless, the peace of the Shire is an illusion. The hobbits are ignorant of the darkness that has grown in Mordor. Le Guin explains that Jung’s collective conscious is the “lowest common denominator of all the little egos added together” it “lacks real communion or real sharing” by not “identify with its own deeper regions” (58). So long as the hobbits ignore the outside world that maintains the peace, they cannot take the steps needed to unite with the greater Self. Indeed, their ignorance and their false sense of security allow an outside force of dominance like Saruman to subjugate them with little effort. Jung explains that “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” (59). Since the Shire exists in ignorance of its shadow, that shadow grows until it forces itself to the surface. In order for the Shire to confront its Shadow in the form of Sharkey, the hobbits much first find and tackle their personal shadows. By seeking out the personal shadow, the hobbits come into contact with the greater shadow, the culmination of all the baser traits of humanity.

Once the hobbits leave the Shire they have begun the process of individuation. Before they can recognize their shadows, the hobbits must first undergo a process of self-recognition. Like a child, who is still very much in the surface consciousness the “ego and shadow are both still ill defined” (60). Le Guin further explains that before self-knowledge is accomplished, the adolescent finds that their “shadow often appears as much blacker, more wholly evil, than it is”, and so they must accept the shadow “as part of the self. The ugliest part” before the journey to self-knowledge come to fruition (61). 

One can see this awakening in Samwise when he is confronted with the “death” of his master. He was always the follower to Frodo. Frodo is older and wiser. His personal relationship with the Ring imparts upon him a greater understating of the collective unconscious shadow. Sam had no clear vision of his own, that is until Galadriel opened his eyes to himself. It is not a coincidence that a mirror was used to show Sam visions. He saw the inevitable future when his master would be removed from him and he would have to face the darkest corners of Middle Earth alone. The mirror was reflecting a future when Sam would have to recognize himself, a distinct self that does not shadow Frodo. As he says “‘What? Me, alone, go through to the Crack if Doom and all’” after all “‘I’ll be sure to go wrong: that’d be Sam Gamgee all over’” (732). For Sam to come into adulthood and become separate from Frodo he must face his own shadow, delve into the dark on the “journey of self-knowledge, to adulthood, to the light” even if that means he makes mistakes along the way (61).

This journey to self-knowledge is always covered in missteps, these are unavoidable yet Sam reproaches himself for making one. “‘I got it all wrong!’ he cried ‘I knew I would. […] Never leave your master, never, never: that was my right rule’” (741). Yet, if Sam had not left Frodo to the orcs, there would have been no war over the Mithril coat. Without this conflict, Cirith Ungol would have been teeming with orcs that would have quickly dispensed of our two main characters. Sam becomes acquainted with himself, but cannot leave Frodo for they represent a duality. At his heart Sam is humble, he cannot face the collective unconscious alone and must reunite with Frodo so that the individuation process can be completed. Frodo represents the ego that must merge the conscious and unconscious mind, he depends on Sam to prevent the great shadow from overcoming him in the end.

Frodo faces three distinct shadows in his journey through Middle Earth. Gollum holds many similarities with the human shadow, the manifestation of all the personal traits beneath the surface. Gollum is Frodo’s potential. If he were to fail in his quest, Gollum would be his future. Saruman is the shadow of the hobbits. He is the manifestation of all the traits opposed to the hobbit collective i.e. harsh intellect, technology, industrialization, and pride to oppose the peasantry, natural, relaxed, and humble qualities of the hobbits. Greater still, Sauron is the manifestation of the shadow in its entirely, or the “Great Shadow”. Sauron is dominance and corruption in the physical. Frodo must face each of these shadow archetypes in order to succeed in his individuation. Gollum, he accepts as part of him. Frodo tells Faramir, “this creature is in some way bound up with my errand. Until you found us and took us, he was my guide” (686). Frodo realizes he relies upon Gollum, as ugly as he is, Gollum is vital to the individuation process.  Le’Guin elaborates, “the shadow is the guide. The guide inward and out again; downward and up again” (61). Gollum acting as the shadow guide takes Frodo to the greatest depths of the collective unconscious, where the collective unconscious shadow manifests itself.

It is here that Frodo merges with the great shadow by accepting the ring as his, “I will not do this deed. The Rind is mine” (945). Frodo cannot destroy the source of the collective shadow for that would hinder the individuation. First, he must merge with it before mastering it. Yet no one ego can face the shadow of the collective unconscious alone, it can only be conquered by the Self, the collective. Sam saved Frodo from the clutches of the orcs and carried him up the summit of Mount Doom, and Gollum separated Frodo from the source of collective unconscious shadow, the Ring. Both characters were driven by different desires (protect Frodo or seize the Ring), but their actions aided a common cause, the individuation of the Frodo and the realization of the Self.


p.s. I do not mean to say the Frodo was right to claim the ring as his own, merely that this would be necessary if The Lord of the Rings was an individuation process. Le Guin mentions that the truth children must learn is that great evil is in everyone. For Frodo to successfully unite the unconscious and conscious collectives he must first understand this great evil by assimilating it into the Self. 

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.
K., Le Guin Ursula, and Susan Wood. The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and
Jung, Carl Gustav, Michael Fordham, and Herbert Read. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. London: Routledge & Paul, 1993. Print.
Science Fiction. New York, NY: Berkley, 1985. Print.
"Carl Jung: Individuation Process." Mindstructures. N.p., 15 July 2015. Web. 05 May 2017.
"Jung and His Individuation Process." Journal Psyche. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.


  1. How did Tolkien write this story, are you thinking? My sense is that your analysis works best if Tolkien didn't mean it--otherwise the story becomes allegory--and yet, I am persuaded that the hobbit elements of the story may be read in this way. What do you make of the Elvish and Mannish elements of the story, from this perspective? RLFB

  2. In contrast to the psychological interpretation (given here very well), our discussion in class recently of the purpose of the Hobbits’ journey as an awakening not to themselves but to the world seems relevant to the points offered above. While it is true that Sam, when confronted with the supposed death of his master, finds new meaning for himself (regardless of Tolkien’s authorial intentions) it seems from our conversations in class that Tolkien would emphasize from this event what Sam learns of the world. Connecting the Shire in its naivety to the ego, which is ignorant of the wider world, more easily lends itself to this line of thinking – the purpose of the struggles and adventure of these characters is not that the ego may discover itself, but so that it will come to understand the world outside of it. Even the shadow of the Hobbits offered by Saruman offers itself as another example of Tolkien’s desire to make his characters pay attention to their own world. The Hobbits take the Shire for granted – each of the four Hobbits who leave their homes represent different degrees of attachment and nostalgia for the Shire along the way – and in their confrontation with Saruman, who is a kind of foil, they are inspired not so much to understand themselves but to pay attention to what was around and outside of them.