Kayla SnowFollow




College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in English (MA)


Karen Prior

Primary Subject Area

History, European; Literature, English; Literature, General; Religion, General


Agrarian, Chesterton, Distributism, Health, Place, Tolkien


English Language and Literature | European History | Literature in English, British Isles


This thesis explores the way in which J.R.R. Tolkien's develops and expresses his nuanced sense of place through his major literary works--namely, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien's sense of place, as expressed through his fiction, encompasses both metaphysical and geographical relational structures that are operative at both the local and global levels. As Tolkien develops his sense of place in his fiction, he draws from the Distributist principles--largely informed by Catholic social policy of the late nineteenth century and popularized by G.K. Chesterton--to build the economy in Middle-earth. The resulting economy resists industrialization and centralization of power and prioritizes diverse local communities as a means for promoting healthy global economies. While developing a thorough sense of local placed-ness among the diverse races in Middle-earth, Tolkien also suggests these local communities depend upon one another for health, thereby showing the inherent and complex interconnectedness of the human experience. Boundaries, limits, private property, and individual ownership--Tolkien establishes an economy in Middle-earth that esteems each of these things as necessary for health within any economy; yet, he simultaneously suggests that these estimable aspects of the economy do not exist in individualistic isolation, but rather depend upon community. Thus, Tolkien suggests that, in a healthy economy, individuals belong to a local community--agrarian or otherwise--where they might take pleasure in seeing the place where their own garden meets their neighbors'. Likewise, in a healthy economy, those local communities invest themselves in maintaining the health of that community, but not at the expense of a neighboring community or at the expense of the global community. Rather, each community stewards what has been placed under its stewardship, and thereby contributes to the health of the whole.