The Faerie Queene

On the Nature of Evil: Comparing the Villains of Spenser and Tolkien College

Despite the wide range of worlds occupied by different fantasy series, a universal theme of the genre is the presence of evil forces working in opposition to a band of heroes. Most often the band of heroes is embarking on a quest to vanquish evil and naturally said evil forces are trying to stop them. No different are the fantasy works of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Both sagas feature villainous sorcerers operating in direct opposition to the heroes: Spenser’s Archimago, an old sorcerer, and Tolkien’s Saruman, the onetime head of the Wizarding Council. But despite this parallel, the two authors create characters who drastically differ in methods and motivation, revealing the fundamental difference in how Spenser and Tolkien view the nature and influence of evil. For Spenser, evil is the absence of righteousness and a rejection of religious obedience, whereas Tolkien views evil as the corrupting influence of power and selfishness which originates from within. Examining how the authors write their villains and understanding the context in which they wrote provides evidence for their respective interpretations on the nature of evil.

Archimago is one of the principal villains in...

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