Tolkien’s Elves and r/K Selection Theory

Update 10/15/17: This is an erroneous article: it uses a disfavored theory of r/K selection, and falsely conflates the Dionysian Overman with an Apollonian spiritual disposition. I have kept the article because of the useful discussion in the comments regarding r/K selection theory. 

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The Ubermensch as an Archetype


The Ubermensch or Superman of Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra appears as a goal towards which humans in their present state are supposed to evolve. However, I suggest that the Ubermensch is something much more deeply embedded in the human consciousness. It is literally the goal that we internally understand we must evolve towards, an archetype which reappears over and over again. A video I link to here briefly summarizes Nietzsche’s Ubermensch as having the qualities of the self-creation of values, independently thinking, strategic selfishness, pagan values, lack of resentment of other’s success, acceptance of suffering, recognizing their strength have gentleness towards the weak, and delight in their own abilities. Watching this video does not replace reading Nietzsche, of course, and there are other minor characteristics of the Ubermensch which I have not listed here, but the ones I have listed are sufficient to show, in the following examples, that the Ubermensch is not just a reality we are destined towards, but some innate, perhaps divine, idea implanted in our consciousness guiding us to become who we are.

Let us first take for example self-creation of values, which is a recurring theme of Nietzsche’s worldview. We should all consider the fact that none of us are truly free until we grasp the self-creation of values. This is perhaps the centerpiece of a (dare I say) Aryan (i.e. free or noble) worldview. It can clearly be seen in the character of Thranduil from The Hobbit, whose values are not swayed by the opinion of others. Instead, he independently forms opinions regarding the situations and persons he comes in contact with.


Thranduil’s self-creation of values remains a constant theme from his imprisonment of Thorin to his declaration of war on Erebor, and eventual respect for the deceased dwarf Kili. Over the course of the entire narrative, however, this self-creation of values usually manifests itself through another characteristic of the Ubermenschstrategic selfishness. Thranduil is selfish, but not in a rash, unorganized manner. He systematically uses his own power to prevent Thorin from entering Erebor and obtaining gems which belong to him (see this video). Once Thorin manages to enter, he strategically attempts to reclaim his gems in the mountain through trading the Arkenstone (which fails). Then when orcs attack Erebor, and he must ally with the dwarves, after much futile fighting he wishes to recall his forces from the battle and let the dwarves die to save the blood of his elven kin. However, Thranduil also has a compassionate side; his gentleness towards the weak, in fact, appears twice; first, when he supplies the impoverished former residents of Laketown with food, and when he comforts Tauriel after the death of Kili. Thranduil also seems to delight in his own abilities; his skill at sword fighting is superhuman, and one almost gets the sense that he enjoys slicing the heads off of orcs.

To match this, his speech is almost always poetic and has the same well-honed effect of his physical sword. It is clear from these attributes that Thranduil and perhaps many other elves who show similar qualities at times (all elves are by nature superhuman), such as Galadriel, are outward manifestations of the Ubermensch, a deeply buried archetype, which is here expressed through Tolkien, and the film contributors associated with Peter Jackson.

The archetype of the Nietzschean Ubermensch does not only spring up in Western, Indo-European cultures, however. An example from Japanese anime, Haruka Nanase (Haru) of Free! , exemplifies many of the attributes of this archetype. Like Thranduil, Haru constantly exercises the self-creation of values. From the time he is a child he insists on only swimming free and continues to resist being held to external standards up to the time that he takes up swimming as a career. He clearly lacks the strategic selfishness of Thranduil, and this helps to make the character more ‘cute’ and child-like. However, he exceeds Thranduil at not resenting the success of others. Thranduil is obviously resentful of Thorin’s power, yet Haru is never resentful of the success of his rival Rin Matsuoka. Even when Rin beats Haru in a race and brags about it to Haru’s face saying he will never have to swim with Haru again, Haru does not become angry or resentful. Instead, he is very calm and controlled, and thus amazingly exemplifies one of the softer qualities of the Ubermensch, gentleness towards the weak. Later when Rin’s unstable psychological state causes him to swim very poorly in a race, Haru recognizes the emotional weakness within Rin and does what he can to help Rin overcome his emotional burden by inviting Rin (against the rules) to swim in a  relay with him.

Haru also shows some traces of pagan values in his personality, for instance, he has an animistic view of the water in which he swims, and wishes to interact with it as though it were a conscious entity. Pagan values are a recurring theme in Free!, being set in Japan, where Shintoism is a strong part of the culture.

If you watch all the episodes of Free! including the movie Starting Days it seems clear that Haru’s persona as a “superman” is quite evident to the other characters. One character in Starting Days, Asahi Shiina, is so impressed with Haru’s talent at swimming that he even has trouble believing that Haru is a normal human, capable of dying if someone tried to kill him, until one day Haru passes out from low blood sugar. Another character in this movie, Ikuya Kirishima, seems to see Haru as an Ubermensch in much the same way I describe the archetype here, as someone to emulate, or a “guide” or blueprint for the development of a more advanced self.

There are many more manifestations of the Ubermensch as an archetype than the ones I have described above. These two, however, demonstrate the somewhat universal, cross-cultural, nature of this archetype, which dwells in the depths of our consciousness, constantly pushing us, and our biological kin, towards arete, excellence in every sense possible. Thus, though Nietzsche proclaimed “God is dead”, he seems to have supplied us with an eternal God, as real as the evolution of life in the universe, and the universe itself.