Although The Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950s, Tolkien insisted that the One Ring was not an allegory for the atomic bomb, nor were his works a strict allegory of any kind, but were open to interpretation as the reader saw fit.
A few critics have found what they consider to be racial elements in the story, generally based upon their views of how Tolkien's imagery depicts good and evil, characters' race (e.g. Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, Southron, Númenórean, Orc); and that the character's race is seen as determining their behaviour. Counter-arguments note that race-focused critiques often omit relevant textual evidence to the contrary, cite imagery from adaptations rather than the work itself; ignore the absence of evidence of racist attitudes or events in the author's personal life, and claim that the perception of racism is itself a marginal view.
The opinions that pit races against one another are likely to reflect Tolkien's critique on war rather than a racist perspective. In The Two Towers, the character Samwise sees a fallen foe and considers for a moment the humanity of this fallen Southron who, just moments before, is shown to be a man of color. Director Peter Jackson considers Sam this scene in the director's commentary of the scene and argues that Tolkien isn't projecting any negative sentiments towards the individual soldier because of his race, but the evil that's driving them from their authority, These sentiments, Jackson argues, were derived from Tolkien's experience in the Great War and found their way into his writings to show the evils of war itself, not of other races.
Critics have also seen social class rather than race as being the determining factor in the portrayal of good and evil. Commentators such as science fiction author David Brin have interpreted the work to hold unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure. In his essay "Epic Pooh", science fiction and fantasy author Michael Moorcock critiques the world-view displayed by the book as deeply conservative, in both the "paternalism" of the narrative voice and the power-structures in the narrative. Tom Shippey cites the origin of this portrayal of evil as a reflection of the prejudices of European middle-classes during the inter-war years towards the industrial working class.
Other observers have cited Christian, specifically Catholic, themes in The Lord of the Rings.
The book has been read as fitting the model of Joseph Campbell's "monomyth".