The theme of “the long defeat” is a well-established concept in Tolkien studies. First explicated by Tom Shippey in his book The Road to Middle-earth and based on a lament by the elf queen Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings (“Through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat”), the long defeat represents the ongoing, seemingly vain struggle of good against an apparently endless tide of evil, where even the occasional victories of the heroes are often fruitless or short lived. Throughout its five seasons, the television series Angel (1999-2004), a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, likewise explores the theme of doing good in the face of relentless evil – of “helping the hopeless,” as the motto of the Angel Investigations team puts it. This paper will explore the similarities between Tolkien’s concept of the long defeat and the persistence in “fighting the good fight” in Angel. It will also explore the contrasts of the differing approaches and beliefs of these works’ respective creators, particularly Tolkien’s Catholic outlook, which pointed to an ultimate divine victory, and Whedon’s existential viewpoint, which suggested a more nihilistic (though not necessarily less purposeful) outcome. We will spend roughly equal time on each author’s work, first analyzing Tolkien’s use of this theme, tracing its development, and citing prior research in secondary literature, and then applying this analysis to Angel to demonstrate how its message and worldview both conform to and differ from those espoused in The Lord of the Rings.



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