Am I Evil Because of the Darkness? Vitamin D Explains The Hobbit

A medical journal's scientific analysis of diet, sunlight exposure, and of the role of vitamin D in fantasy characters is excellent.

“Systematic textual analysis of The Hobbit supports our initial hypothesis that the triumph of good over evil may be assisted to some extent by the poor diet and lack of sunlight experienced by the evil characters,” write Dr. Nicholas Hopkinson of Imperial College London and his 15-year-old son Joseph Hopkinson in the current Medical Journal of Australia. They take advantage of the special Christmas edition of the journal to posit a physiologic contributor to a timeless duality at the core of fiction (and life), and why good characters tend to win:

A striking feature of fantasy literature has been the consistent victory of good characters over bad. While the consensus has been to attribute this to narrative conventions about morality and the necessary happiness of endings, we hypothesized that a major contribution to the defeat of evildoers in this context is their aversion to sunlight and their poor diet, which may lead to vitamin D deficiency and hence reduced martial prowess.

... Gollum, himself “as dark as darkness” lives in the dark, deep in the Misty Mountains. He does, however, eat fish, although the text describes these only as “blind” and it is not clear whether they are of an oily kind and thus a potential source of vitamin D. He sometimes eats goblins, but they rarely come down to his lake, suggesting that fish play little part in the goblin diet. Interestingly, these occasional trips to catch fish are undertaken at the behest of the Great Goblin, leading one to speculate that his enhanced diet may have helped him to achieve his preeminent position within goblin society. In due course, the Great Goblin is replaced by the Son of the Great Goblin. While simple nepotism is a likely explanation, we are unable to exclude an epigenetic process whereby the son’s fitness to rule has been influenced by parental vitamin D exposure.

Their analysis is also an opportunity to remember that evil people in your life may just have a garden-variety vitamin deficiency or hormonal imbalance. You don't have to be afraid of them. Are they evil because they live in a dark cave, or do they live in a dark cave because they are evil? Does it matter? Assume the best and offer a fish. If you get eaten, you get eaten.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In