This article explores the journey taken by the One Ring across J.R.R. Tolkien’s Third Age writings. It employs a digital humanities approach to analyse linguistic patterns in Tolkien’s use of the word ring, across The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Specifically, the article employs corpus linguistic methods to track shifts in the quantities and qualities of the Ring’s appearance across these texts. It uses techniques of keyness and collocation analysis to trace transformations in these quantities/qualities, including: a) the Ring’s transition from a central to a peripheral place in the Third Age’s narrative arc; and b) the Ring’s progress from a magical to a burdensome device, via the evolving lexical fields within which Tolkien operationalised it. Cumulatively, these transformations point to the gradual disenchantment of Tolkien’s world, across his writings: with this world falling from a child-like state of mystery, adventure, and faerie, to one of darkness, hierarchy, and amnesia. These findings contribute to Tolkien studies, specifically, as well as to literary studies’ digital turn more broadly. Firstly, they uncover the hidden wiring of Middle-earth’s linguistic development – using computational readings to map Tolkien’s unfolding language use, in ways that build upon intuitive human interpretations. Secondly, they reveal possibilities of digital text analysis – demonstrating how statistical techniques might be used, alongside in-depth qualitative readings, to “pop the bonnet” on authors’ language choices/styles.


Author: Michael Livesey, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield, UK.



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