The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring
The Fellowship of the Ring: Comparing the Text and the Film
Tolkien’s colourful world of Middle Earth has been a place of escapist adventure in the minds of many since its humble beginnings in the mid-1950s. Ever since his novel The Fellowship of the Ring debuted, it has inspired minds with its epic tales of unheard bravery, touched hearts with its scenes of sacrificial love and graced people’s souls with its deeper philosophical comments who we are as a society and as individuals. It was the responsibility of carrying these elements into a new medium that Peter Jackson gladly received in 1997 when he won the rights to begin producing a film adaptation. Although under much pressure to recreate the world of The Lord of the Rings accurately, Jackson excelled, creating a film which reflects the book almost seamlessly and is a classic in its own right. Effective casting, award winning soundtracks and captivating film techniques are all used to enhance Jackson’s detailed and accurate retelling of a timeless story. Readers of the novel connect emotionally with Tolkien’s characters, and creating a consistency in the movie required the casting of appropriate and effective actors.
Characterisation is always a major aspect in any adaption from one form media to another. The way that characters are portrayed in order to meet previous expectations of readers is a pivotal element of any successful adaption. Actors were chosen in The Fellowship of the Ring to reflect the appearances, mannerisms and personalities of the original characters. Jackson went to great lengths in order to cast actors who effectively fulfilled their characters, and one clear example of this dedication is found in the casting of the character Aragorn. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn is a confident, knowledgeable, and strong character. His rough appearances are somewhat deceptive, as he is actually an heir to the throne, and this regality becomes increasingly evident throughout the novel. After Stuart Townsend’s offer to play the role was declined, Viggo Mortensen was chosen; because of his commanding presence, older appearance, and his capability to demonstrate the concerned yet confident personality of Aragorn. The main character throughout the film and the movie is Frodo Baggins, an inexperienced, knowledgeable and somewhat introverted hobbit with whom the duty of destroying the Ring is bestowed. In casting this character, a young adult was required who could portray the immense emotion experienced by Frodo in the novel while also playing the role of a happy, carefree young man found in the opening chapters. Elijah Wood was extremely successful at developing the dynamic characterisation that is found in the literary character, and his wealth of acting experience; in both comedy and philosophical drama, made him appropriate for the role. Due to the fantasy nature of the novel, makeup artists and visual effects were utilised in order to match appearances with the characters dwelling within the imaginations of readers. These attempts at creating characters which reflected the comprehensive descriptions from Tolkien were award-winning, with the film being receiving Academy Awards for ‘Best Makeup’ and ‘Best Visual Effects’. The cast of The Fellowship of the Ring film successfully reflect the characters in readers’ imaginations, seamlessly bringing them to the silver screen. However, other elements of a novel must also be considered when transferring a story from one medium to another.
Iconic scenes are one such element, and as they are etched in the memories of readers, great care must be taken to successfully retell in another medium. Tolkien’s novel is filled with iconic scenes, masterful strokes of detailed narration, which provide the reader with vivid visuals of the environment, characters and actions that take place. Due to the time constraints imposed on films, however, many scenes must be shortened or omitted. Straight omission often leaves readers dissatisfied, and not all scenes can be shortened. For these reasons, Jackson combined several scenes, retaining the meaning and significance of the original scenes whilst shortening the time taken to portray them. One such scene is present when the Fellowship is introduced to the Ringwraiths. Various cinematic techniques are deployed in order to bring tension and a sense of innate horror to the scene. As they are travelling down a forest path, the sound of horse hooves is heard, and they quickly dive off the path, aware that they are being chased. They take refuge beneath a large tree root, and all ambient bird noise ceases. The camera pans low, looking up through the undergrowth at the hiding hobbits and the Ringwraith above. This low angle gives a sense of vulnerability, and vilifies the Ringwraith immediately, showing its immense power and evil intent. The sharp, angular iron armour that he wears provides strong connotations of cruelty and strength. The next camera angle positions the hand of the Wraith directly above the hobbits, revealing how close he actually is. Insects and worms then squirm out of the soil around the hobbits, showing the repulsiveness of the Wraith, that even nature is repulsed. At this point, quiet, eerie music rises, deepening the tension and providing an element of suspense. The evil presence of the Wraith begins to overpower Frodo, and he goes to place the Ring on his finger. The soundtrack’s volume increases, signalling the importance of this action, and close-up shots of the characters convey their emotional reaction. The Wraith is then distracted and leaves with a hideous shriek. The Foley used for the shriek utilities various animal-like noises to create a terrifying sound effect which reflects the book. Tolkien writes, “darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death”, and this is accurately depicted in the film. This timeless scene is a result of combining two pivotal experiences from the book. In one, Frodo “threw himself down in a patch of long grass behind a tree”, with the other hobbits hiding in a dip off the side of the road. The second scene in the book describes how the Hobbits “had no time to find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the trees.” In this scene, they hid behind a tree trunk, and Frodo cautiously crept towards the road to view his enemy. The clever mixture of these two scenes retains the scenery and actions of characters, as they hide behind a tree from an unknown enemy. It also conveys the intense fear and horror of the Ringwraith which is present in the novel. This scene in the film uses multiple semiotic codes in order to successfully meets reader’s expectations and convey the concepts present in the book.
When successfully utilised, Semiotic Codes provide deeper meaning and understanding to viewers of a film, better recreating aspects of a novel in a movie. Howard Shore’s musical composition for The Fellowship of the Ring is extremely clever in the way that it utilises the musical device of leitmotifs throughout the film. This technique involves assigning a musical score to a particular group of people, or a place, and creating variants of that score to mirror the tensions throughout the story. One especially effective leitmotif is that of the Fellowship. This simple tune is played with varying instruments, in different keys throughout the movie, revealing the emotions of the group of hobbits. Initially, it is played with a single French horn, in a happy major key. In the following scenes, two additional French horns join the ensemble, representing the growing nature of the Fellowship. When enemies begin chasing the group, a timpani drum beat signals a sense of urgency. Much later in the movie, the score is played in a minor key, as they are overcome by dark forces. Finally, in the closing scenes of the movie, and entire brass band and orchestra play the tune loudly, providing a sense of joy and accomplishment. The musical score compliments the book excellently, conveying the same emotions and tensions that are found in Tolkien’s novel. Whilst composing the score for the film, Shore is recorded saying, “Tolkien spent fourteen years writing The Lord of the Rings. And now you’re writing a musical image, creating a musical mirror, if you will, to his writing. “Jackson had similar thoughts when selecting a composer for the film. He stated, “I wanted the music to reflect Tolkien. I wanted the music to also bring the world of Middle Earth to life.” Music is one aspect which aided the adaption greatly, and contributed to its overall success, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. However, not all aspects of the adaption are this successful.
For instance, many scenes and characters are overlooked in the film, and this has a major impact on the film due to preformed expectations from readers of the novel. One such character and his corresponding scene is completely omitted from the film, to the dismay of many readers. This character is Tom Bombadil, the whimsical, benevolent and generous man who saves Frodo and Sam before inviting them into his home. This scene was omitted in order to reduce the length of the film, and also to avoid overcomplicating the plot. However, this scene is also a place of great character development, and by removing it from the film, significant characterization and plot structure is lost. Tom Bombadil is the first and only person that the Hobbits meet who is not affected by the power of the ring, and this development reveals to them that there is a greater, stronger good in their world than the evil which seems ever-present. This provides much needed relief to the plot, and gives Frodo and Sam a sense of hope, and strength to continue their journey. The omission of various scenes, including Tom Bombadil’s, which aid characterization in the book conflicts with the preconceived ideas of the readers. However, effective casting, visual effects and makeup, combined with semiotic codes, supplement characterization, reflecting Tolkien’s text accurately.
Peter Jackson’s adaption of The Fellowship of the Ring from novel to film is very successful, despite several omissions of characterization and plot structure. Appropriate casting and makeup enabled the viewers of the film to recognize and relate Tolkien’s characters. Howard shore’s musical composition employs various leitmotifs, cleverly weaving a musical and thoroughly emotional response throughout the film, bringing an additional element and another level of accuracy to the storytelling. This musical brilliance is present in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, when the Hobbits first meet a Ringwraith. This scene epitomises the utilization of cinematic techniques and semiotic codes which are present throughout the duration of the film, each mirroring certain aspects of the original novel. Peter Jackson has masterfully created a classic film, which captures the heart of Tolkien’s novel, and brings it to an even wider audience than ever.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as an Epic
From within the Shire, an unlikely hero arises. Equipped with a golden ring forged from the fires of Mount Doom, assigned an adventerous quest to save Middle Earth, and accompanied by clumsy yet loyal gardener Samwise Gamgee, young hobbit Frodo Baggins assumes the role of ringbearer, journeying through various wordly realms in order to destroy an ancient evil force and restore peace to the land. Through the extraordinary and often unpredictable endeavors of Frodo and his companions, the Lord of the Rings films reveal numerous criteria essential to an epic, exemplifying the tendency for good to thrive in the face of evil. Crucial to their success as an epic, the iconic films depict a quest of grand importance. With origins explained in the opening scene of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the trilogy portrays a continuation of a past conflict, wherein “a master ring to control all others” was created by the dark lord Sauron, and re-emerged years later as the cause of Frodo Baggin’s journey.
This backstory is the first epic criterion to present itself in the films, mimicking the thorough description of past events that is common to the genre, and first presenting the malicious force to be confronted in the expedition. Continuing in this vein, Sauron, as the main antagonist and root of Frodo’s mission, exemplifies the good versus evil element vital to an epic quest. Ruler of the flame-encompassed land of Mordor, occupied by ghastly orcs, Sauron stands in stark contrast to the benevolent and mild-mannered Frodo, a humble hobbit who has been chosen by the Council of Elrond to defend Middle Earth from corruption. Not only is this aspect of the quest essential in that it depicts conflicting forces of morality and maliciousness, but it also shows the vast importance of Frodo’s mission. Upon pushing the creature Gollum and the One Ring into to the flames of Mount Doom, Frodo ends a war that would have most likely brought about the death of his friends and allowed Sauron to assume control of Middle Earth, proving the extreme significance of his assigned task, and displaying the eternal triumph of good when faced with evil.
Frodo’s adventure, featuring an extensive back-story, moral individuals battling a spiteful force, and a paramount task, excellently fills the criteria of an epic quest. Yet alongside Frodo, characters such as Aragorn, Legolas, and Samwise present themselves as important defenders of good throughout the trilogy; each individual, in his actions and attributes, represents qualities essential to an epic hero. Frodo and Samwise, two righteous hobbits, Legolas, a wise elf, and Aragorn, a brave human, all display the values of their societies through their endeavors, a popular aspect of epic heroes. As the only individual out of the Council of Elrond capable of carrying the One Ring without experiencing corruption, Frodo exemplifies the good-nature of the hobbit species, and also reiterates the epic quality of good versus evil as he is a pure individual. This idea also presents itself in the actions of Aragorn, who represents the leadership qualities possessed by humanity as he guides Frodo and his friends away from the Nazgûl, servants of Sauron. Moreover, each of these characters is known to perform extraordinary feats in order to defend goodness, another essential quality of an epic hero. During the final movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Samwise attempts to help Frodo accomplish his journey to Mount Doom, exclaiming, “I can’t carry [the ring] for you, but I can carry you!” Thus, Samwise, a small hobbit, is able to carry Frodo up a mountain so that he may finish his task and save Middle Earth, displaying both an act of tremendous strength as well as a success of good despite discouragement from evil.
With an intriguing storyline, colorful characters, and a notable setting, The Lord of the Rings trilogy has found success as one of the most influential and popular film series of all time. Although unique in creation, many of the trilogy’s prominent aspects are deeply rooted in historical literary tradition. As the endeavors and ideals of Frodo and his companions unfold throughout the films, it becomes apparent that this series depicts qualities essential to an epic, and instills within the viewer the eternal message that in the face of evil, good will always be victorious.
Temptation in The Lord of The Rings
Temptation is a central theme in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. Many characters throughout the novel are tempted to use the power of the Ring to change the world as they see fit. Some seek to use its power for selfish, personal gain, while others, out of ignorance, believe they can accomplish great acts of good with the power of the Ring at their disposal. Regardless of their intentions, the Ring is able to influence people in mysterious ways, making them lash out or act abnormally. Tolkien did an excellent job demonstrating the perils of temptation in The Lord of The Rings; and as temptation is a major theme in Christianity and Tolkien a devout Catholic, there are parallels between how temptation is portrayed in his work and how it is presented in Christianity.
Tolkien’s mother was a Catholic convert and a single mother for much of his childhood. His father had fallen ill and died in South Africa leaving his wife to care for Tolkien and his brother in the UK. Tolkien’s mother worked very hard to maintain her family but sadly passed away while Tolkien was still a child, “Overworked and isolated for her Catholicism, she died not long after Tolkien’s First Communion, but not before assigning guardianship of her sons to a priest and friend at the Birmingham Oratory, Father Francis Morgan, who continued their instruction in the faith (they celebrated Mass with him each day before their studies)” (How Did J.R.R. Tolkien’s Catholicism Influence His Writing?).
Tolkien remained a devout Catholic for the rest of his life. In a 1953 letter to a friend and priest, Father Robert Murray, Tolkien explained how religion affected his writing, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
Tolkien’s Christian upbringing has undoubtedly affected the subjects and themes of his writing. One of the most noticeable being the struggle against temptation. Featured heavily throughout his writing in The Lord of The Rings, it is also large aspect of Christianity. In The Oxford English Dictionary temptation is described as “The action of tempting or fact of being tempted, esp. to evil; enticement, allurement, attraction” (“Temptation”). The struggle against temptation not only is a constant throughout The Lord of The Rings but is also very prevalent throughout the Bible. “No evils shall happen to him that feareth the Lord, but in temptation God will keep him, and deliver him from evils” (Sirach 33:1) and “Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.” (Corinthians 10:13)
Being vital to the story, Tolkien made sure to establish the allure and temptation of the Ring early within the first chapter. Directly after Bilbo’s speech and disappearance, he headed back to his home to prepare for his departure. Gandalf came in shortly after and began conversing with Bilbo concerning his future plans, and more importantly, to ensure Bilbo left the Ring according to their prior agreement. At first Bilbo comes across as somewhat hesitant and annoyed at the prospect of giving up the ring, yet still compliant. He tells Gandalf, “‘I don’t like parting with it at all, I may say. And I don’t really see why I should. Why do you want me to?’ he asked, and a curious change came over his voice. It was sharp with suspicion and annoyance” (The Fellowship of The Ring 41). But then as Gandalf proceeds to explain to Bilbo the truth of the matter Bilbo becomes visibly angry and hostile towards the prospect of losing the Ring.
“Bilbo flushed and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. ‘Why not?’ he cried. ‘And what business of is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things? It is my own. I found it. It came to me.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ said Gandalf. ‘But there is no need to get angry.’ ‘ If I am it is your fault,’ said Bilbo. ‘ It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious'” (The Fellowship of The Ring 42).
However with some persuasion from Gandalf, Bilbo is able to overcome the temptation of the Ring and leave it behind. This scene is especially significant as it is the first time the Ring’s influence and power over people is alluded to in the story. Tolkien is able to set a sort of precedent for how the Ring is to affect characters throughout The Lord of The Rings and establish the threat it poses to those who possess it.
Not everyone is resilient enough to resist the temptation of the Ring, and those that are able to resist are by no means immune to its allure. Tolkien demonstrates what becomes of those who succumb to the Ring in Chapter 2 when Gandalf is explaining to Frodo the history of the Ring. Gandalf tells Frodo of how Gollum was overcome by his desire for the Ring and murdered his friend Deagol. “…he caught Deagol by the throat and strangled him, because the gold looked so bright and beautiful” (The Fellowship of The Ring 62). The Ring consumed Gollum and he paid dearly for his weakness. According to Alberto Mingardi, “The Lord of the Rings is the epic journey to destroy the One Ring, which symbolizes power – and this is very clear when you understand that the Ring not only confers power but also imposes serfdom on the wearer. The man who wears the Ring becomes a slave at the same time as he is made supremely powerful.” This idea is later reinforced when Gandalf says “It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things” (The Fellowship of The Ring 65). So the Ring doesn’t entice people to take control as much as it ensnares them with lust for power. The idea that one is tempted and ensnared by sin appears frequently within the Bible. One such example was used in reference to the worship of idols, “Therefore there shall be no respect had even to the idols of the Gentiles: because the creatures of God are turned to an abomination, and a temptation to the souls of men, and a snare to the feet of the unwise” (Wisdom 14:11). According to the Bible, giving into the temptation of sin will result in one becoming an abomination in the eyes of God.
Bilbo himself was tempted by the Ring once again in Chapter 1 of Book II. Frodo encountered Bilbo during his stay in Rivendell and after a brief but happy reunion Bilbo immediately began to inquire about the Ring. “‘Have you got it here?’ He asked in a whisper” (The Fellowship of The Ring 244). Hesitantly, Frodo allowed Bilbo to look at the Ring. Bilbo put out his hand. But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring. To his distress and amazement he found he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands” (The Fellowship of The Ring 244). Luckily Bilbo was able to resist the temptation once more and told Frodo to put the Ring away.
The Ring’s temptation doesn’t always come in the form of malice. Many mistakenly believe they can use the Ring’s power for good. Gandalf himself refused to touch the Ring because he was well aware of its ability to corrupt even those with good intentions. Initially Frodo didn’t want to bear the burden of the Ring and offered it to Gandalf. “‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good” (The Fellowship of The Ring 71). Similarly in the Bible it is mentioned how temptation isn’t necessarily born out of a place of malice and even people with noble intentions and a strong will can be ensnared. “Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak” (Matthew 26:41). Boromir was also tempted to use the Ring’s power for good. “For you seem ever to think only of its power in the hands of the Enemy: of its evil uses not of its good… It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him” (The Fellowship of The Ring 414). After ranting on about his plans to use the power of the Ring against Sauron he came to the realization that Frodo would not give up the Ring willingly and attempted to take it through force. “‘For I am too strong for you, halfling,’ he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.” Frodo was able to escape Boromir by putting on the Ring and becoming invisible. Boromir later came back to his senses, realizing the Ring’s power had tempted him. Here Tolkien has shown that individuals who wish to do good are still at risk of temptation by evil just as how it was described in Mathew 26:41.
As the Ring’s temptation was a constant throughout the Lord of The Rings it plays a pivotal role in the climax in Return of The King. Frodo and Sam had traveled very long and far to destroy the Ring once in for all in the fires of Mt. Doom. The destruction of the Ring was the sole purpose of their quest and they had resisted it’s temptation thus far. However, when confronted with the opportunity to destroy the Ring once and for all, Frodo hesitated.
“Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls. ‘I have come,’ he said. ‘But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!’ And suddenly as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight” (Return of The King 223).
After resisting its allure for the majority of The Lord of The Rings, Frodo finally gave into the temptation of the ring. Luckily for the sake of Middle Earth Frodo wasn’t the only one to give into the temptation of the Ring on Mount Doom. Gollum attacked Frodo, bit off his finger, and wrestled the Ring from him. “‘My Precious! O my Precious!’ And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped to far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone” (Return of The King 224). Ultimately Gollum’s lack of self control and enslavement to the Ring were his demise, but at the same time his weakness inadvertently saved Middle Earth and accomplished Frodo’s quest during his time of weakness. Thus proving that those unable to break free from the Ring’s grasp and resist temptation will ultimately be brought to their doom. The concept that giving into temptation will ultimately result in loss and suffering can be seen in the Bible as well. In the story of Eden, Eve gives in to the temptation to eat the fruit and pays the price when she and Adam are cast out of the Garden of Eden. “This temptation and punishment is paralleled in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, those who are tempted and take the Ring may get what they want, but in the end they pay a price just like Eve did” (Temptation and the Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring). Gollum never truly gave up his desire for the Ring and paid with his life when he snapped on Mount Doom. Frodo fell into the Ring’s temptation as well, and he did not escape unscathed as his inaction during the moment of truth ultimately cost him his finger.
The temptation of the Ring plays a major role in The Fellowship of The Ring, both driving the plot forward and forcing characters to confront and resist the urge to use its power as they see fit. Furthermore, witnessing how different characters deal with the Ring plays a vital role in character development. Tolkien was able to draw upon lessons taught during his Catholic upbringing and apply this aspect of temptation as a driving force behind his novel.
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Mingardi, Alberto. “Tolkien v. Power.” Mises Daily. Mises Institute, 21 Feb. 2002. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.
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Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings Part Three: The Return of The King. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings Part Two: The Two Towers. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. Print.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The True Lord of the Rings
There is little doubt that J.R.R. Tolkien has become, in his short reign within literary fiction, nothing short of legendary. His stories, while only recently presented in blockbuster films, have ensnared and enthralled thousands of readers around the world. While many “cultured” critics still scoff at this work, the effect Tolkien has had on everyday readers is nearly as profound as the control he had over Middle Earth in his novels. Tolkien, while certainly a master of all elements of fiction, displayed unquestionable proficiency in the areas of character and setting.
Ann Charters defines character simply as “any person who plays a part in a narrative” (Charters 1045). Charters also defines flat characters as those which are, “simple, one-dimensional, unsurprising, and usually unchanging,” and round characters as those who are, “complex, full, described in detail, often contradictory, and usually dynamic,” or changing (Charters 1045). The interesting part of Tolkien’s work is that there are absolutely no flat characters. The world of Middle Earth is changing and all the creatures within it change as well. Tolkien’s ability to control the fates of the hundreds of characters in his novels may be the single most important aspect of his novels. It is with these characters that readers identify, and this identification moves the readers from a detached, on-looking relationship to an involved, personal experience within the world Tolkien creates. His development of characters seems to focus on one main character at a time, shifting purposefully from one to another.
Specifically, Tolkien shifts from Bilbo to Frodo Baggins. In developing these characters, the author teaches his readers much about the world of Middle Earth and characters that populate it. In the first chapter of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien introduces Bilbo Baggins and seemingly focuses entirely on him. An observant reader will, however, notice that we are given insight into the personalities of dozens of characters. For instance, Ham Gamgee, “The Old Gaffer,” tells other hobbits, “Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you” (Tolkien 24). When no one objects to this statement, readers are enabled to understand the general character of all hobbits. While Ham Gamgee may play only a small part in the rest of this story, readers also learn about the background of Sam Gamgee through this and other quotes from his father. It is this background that gives Tolkien’s characters the depths into which readers may delve. By telling us not only what a character is like and how he or she changes throughout the story, but also why and how he or she became a certain way within Middle Earth society, Tolkien gives his readers a sense of personal attachment, as if they really know the characters intimately. Tolkien, even while introducing minor parts, never fails to develop specific traits. Even Radagast the Brown, a wizard who is mentioned briefly on no more than two occasions is no exception to this rule. Tolkien tells his readers where Radagast used to dwell and explains his relationship with Gandalf, the only character with whom Radagast interacts (Tolkien 250). Glorfindel, the Elf-Lord whose horse Frodo rides across the ford to Elrond, is also a well developed-character, as Gandalf explains his nature and background to Frodo after their arrival in the House of Elrond at Rivendell (Tolkien 217-218). Through these descriptions of all the characters in his novels, Tolkien provides an emotional connection with Middle Earth and makes the story seem less fiction and more like a detailed dream in which readers are completely immersed.
This immersion, while an exceptional accomplishment, is only one part of what brings readers into Tolkien’s world. The characterization makes readers feel as though they actually know the creatures in the story, while the setting makes readers feel as though they are walking alongside these characters on their journey through Middle Earth. When these two are combined, readers feel that they have become an integral part of the story. In her essay, “Master of Middle Earth,” Alina Corday stated that Tolkien’s, “penchant for perfectionism slowed his progress mightily” while writing his novels (Corday 3). She also mentions that Tolkien found it necessary to learn how to stew a rabbit before including such an event in his novel (Corday 3). This perfectionism is evidenced greatly in his development of the setting. After the prologue and before the first chapter, Tolkien includes a detailed map of The Shire. At the end of the novel, he includes six additional maps, all of which are drawn in great detail and depict parts of the world he has created. Charters defined setting as, “The place and time in which a story’s action takes place” (Charters 1051). This simple definition is certainly fulfilled nowhere better than in the maps and, perhaps, a dozen exceptional pages of the novel. Charters does not, however, end her definition there. She goes on to state that setting includes “the culture and ways of life of the characters and the shared beliefs and assumptions that guide their lives” (Charters 1051). Tolkien even goes so far as to explain what hobbits smoke in pipes, the history behind the practice, and where the best “pipe weed” is grown (Tolkien 7-9). As the story progresses, detailed descriptions are given of every area through which the story takes us. In fact, Tolkien often presents background on parts of the setting before they are formally introduced to his readers. For instance, The Old Forest through which the Hobbits pass upon leaving The Shire is discussed in detail before the party even decides to travel through it. It is described as a dark, treacherous place, and is obviously a place that the Hobbits fear (Tolkien 104-109). Because they have this background, readers are able to experience the feelings of apprehension, surprise, and wonder in the same way that the characters experience them.
In his obsession with perfection, Tolkien created an entirely new world, complete with customs, languages, races, songs, and countries. He also created a plethora of individuals through whom his story is conveyed and with whom his readers identify. While he created this world and everything in it, he could not stray from the characters and lands he crafted. Because of this, he had little control over the events once he set them in motion. Tolkien, like the Lord of the Rings in the novel, became unable to govern actions beyond himself. He could only set obstacles and helping hands before the characters and allow them to play out the story as they would, as if they were, in fact, real people in a real world that began in one man’s mind and now exists in the minds and hearts of thousands of readers.
Norse Influences on Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a testament to the man’s passion for mythology. As was also the case with his zeal for philology, Tolkien utilized elements of mythology to reinvent the past, creating a living, breathing, nearly palpable world through great depth of detail and breadth of material. One of the manifestations of these interests can be found in the character Galadriel in the first book of his trio, The Fellowship of the Ring. In it, Tolkien infuses Galadriel with facets of Norse mythology, namely the goddess Freyja with her power, beauty, and magic crafts, and the all-knowing Norns. The influence of the Norse goddess Freyja on the creation of Galadriel suffuses her (Galadriel’s) character with an aura of authority and supremacy among all other elves. One apparent manifestation of this power is in the names of Freyja and her twin brother Frey, which respectively translate to “Lady” and “Lord” (Sturluson 52). This title undoubtedly reflects the prominent status of both of these deities, with Frey called “an exceedingly famous god” (52) and Freyja “the most renowned of the goddesses” (53). Celeborn and Galadriel are also referred to as “the Lord and Lady” (Tolkien 338) of the fabled Lothlorien, which Legolas describes as “the fairest of all the dwellings of my people” (326). Galadriel and Celeborn have clear supremacy in this land, as do Freyja and Frey amongst the pantheon of gods and goddesses. The environment of Lothlorien itself is similar to Freyja and Galadriel. The mythical land is depicted as a place where “no shadow lay” (340) and “no blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lorien there was no stain” (341). The ability to ward off evil, combined with this idea of “no blemish,” reflects the description of Freyja with Freyr and Galadriel with Celeborn as simultaneously “beautiful and powerful” (Sturluson 52) / “grave and beautiful” (Tolkien 345). Power and gravity are demonstrated in the way both Freyja and Galadirel use their dwellings. Freyja allows one half of humans slain in battle to sit in her hall, where warriors are soothed by her enchanting music and loveliness until they are reunited with their wives (Anderson 186), while Galadriel invites the fellowship to Lothlorien for similar respite. “I feel as if I was inside a song, if you get my meaning,” says Sam while traveling to Lothlorien, to which Haldir knowingly replies “You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim” (342). Additional traits common to Freyja and Galadriel are their gift-giving and their affinity for jewelry. Freyja is known for craft, and a few of her alternate names – particularly “Gefn” (Giver) and “Syr” (Sow) – affirm this talent (Sturluson 59). One example is the magical “cloak of bird feathers” she makes that allows the wearer to disguise himself as a bird (Cotterell and Storm 192). Galadriel also creates enchanted gifts, including cloaks described as “light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need” and could provide “great aid in keeping out of sight of unfriendly eyes” (Tolkien361). Freyja’s greatest treasure is a necklace likened to “a constellation of stars in the night sky” which she acquired by sleeping with four dwarfs, but for having “debased her divinity” she must “stir up war in Midgard” as punishment from Odin (Cotterell and Storm 198, 187). Galadriel possesses a ring that “twinkled as if the Even-star had come down to rest upon her hand’ (Tolkien 355) and is tempted by another “Great Ring,” but she admits that taking it would have yielded destruction just as Freyja’s greed stirred up war: “Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning. Stronger than the foundations of earth. All shall love me and despair!” (Tolkien 356). Freyja’s magic art of seidr resembles Galadriel’s powers. Seidr, “an ecstatic kind of sorcery… [in which] it seems the mind can be sent forth” (Dobat 166) allows Freyja to see and affect the future. She introduces the art to the Norns, nearly omniscient beings said to “shape the lives of men” by predetermining their destiny (Sturluson 44). Galadriel can also tell the future, as when she predicts the arrival and blindfolding of the fellowship before the arrive: “It seems that the lady knows who and what is each member of your company” (Tolkien 341). She also admits to “knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be” but insists she “will not give… counsel, saying do this, or do that. For not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail” (348). Water is another theme that runs through these stories. The Norns preserve Yggadrasil, the tree on which everything lives, using healing water from the spring of Urd (translated as “destiny”) where they reside (Sturluson 45); Galadriel uses a well as a mirror to “show things that were, things that are, and things that yet may be” (352), which helps Frodo and Sam accomplish their quest to save the world. Also, water in both places has curative powers. The spring of Urd is said to be so sacred “that everything that comes into the spring becomes white as the film that lies within the eggshell” (Sturluson 46), while one crossing the curative river Nimrodel in Lothlorien “felt that the stain of travel and all weariness was washed from his limbs” (330). Tolkien uses Norse mythology not simply for cultural reference or comparison but as material with which to construct his new kind of folklore. By drawing upon the characteristics of Norse deities Freyja and the Norns to create Galadriel, he infuses her with history and authenticity that would be absent from a character totally invented. Tolkien’s use of myth extends well beyond Galadriel, and scholars continue to scour the trilogy for new evidence of this significant, but often subtle, influence. Works CitedAnderson, Rasmus. Norse Mythology. 4th. Charlottesville, VA: S. C. Griggs and company, 1884. Web.Andren, Anders, Kristina Jennbert and Catharina Raudvere. Old Norse Religion in Long Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes and Interactions. Nordic Academic Press, 2006. Web.Cotterell, Arthur and Storm, Rachel. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology. London: Anness Publishing, 2008. Print.Keary, Annie. The Heroes of Asgard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1871. Web.Sturluson, Snorri. “The Deluding of Gylfi.” The Prose Edda. Ed. Jean I. Young. Berkely: University of California Press, 1992. Print.Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.
Reconciliation with the Past in Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy
Reconciliation with the past is a major theme throughout Tolkien’s trilogy, and the gap between the powerful, undying beings of the past and the mortal men of the present and future is starkly evident when the characteristics of the ancient domains are held up against the kingdoms of men. In the first book of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien creates a rhythmic fluctuation between pleasure and disquietude, which gives the novel an almost serial quality as the characters go back and forth from imminent danger to homely safety. As the story progresses beyond the breaking of the Fellowship in the next two novels, however, the distinction between peril and safety becomes increasingly blurred. The havens of western Middle Earth described in The Fellowship of the Ring are maintained by ancient, well-established beings like Tom Bombadil, Elrond and Galadriel whose power is strong within their own respective lands, but these figures of the past are only remnants of a dying age. Bombadil is at the extremity of natural history while Elrond and Galadriel represent the original adversaries of the Enemy, and the preeminence of all three, especially the elves, is destined to fade with the coming of the Fourth Age, the Age of Man.When the Fellowship is intact, the elder havens that provide respite from their perilous journey are undisputed strongholds which no evil can penetrate, but the bastions farther east that the broken Fellowship encounters are much more unstable and guarded by mortal men rather than the ancient, powerful beings. At this point, the story enters fully into the world of men, where elves are viewed with suspicion and the balance between good and evil is in perpetual physical contention. The two great kingdoms of mankind, Gondor and Rohan, are susceptible to the evil powers of Middle Earth as their rulers, Denethor and Theoden, are indirectly influenced by Sauron and Saruman respectively. Compared to the Eden-like Lorien and Rivendell, “the Last Homely House east of the Sea,” (I, 272) the bastions of man seem pitiful, but they are to be the bulwarks of the new age. The relative inactivity of the archaic guardians is indicative of the fact that the past must be left behind so that the men of the future can forge ahead unfettered by atavistic nostalgia.Tom Bombadil is the self-proclaimed eldest denizen of Middle Earth, “Mark my words my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn,” (I, 168) and his power is demonstrated by his ability to compel Old Man Willow to release the hobbits and the fact that he is unaffected by the Ring. At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf explains that Tom’s unique place in history does not give him power over the Ring, it is just that, “the Ring has no power over him,” (I, 318). Since Tom existed before the forging of the Ring, and even before Sauron himself, he is essentially a remnant of a long forgotten past. Even Elrond must jog his memory to recall the many names of the cheery creature who never took part in the wars against the Enemy. Bombadil provides an element to the story that goes back farther than the Elder Days, and he is, therefore, not an active participant in the War of the Ring, as he only helps the four hobbits while they are within the borders of his land. After Tom leaves the hobbits, they find themselves pursued by the Nine Riders, and protection from this danger comes at Rivendell, which is protected by the aged half-elven Elrond.Elrond, who is one of the select few beings to have faced Sauron directly, is ancient by any mortal measure, but he is not primeval like Bombadil. Having already taken part in a physical assault on Mordor in the Second Age, Elrond’s place in the War of the Ring is as an advisor, not a fighter. His years on Middle Earth have given him a Ring of Power and the ability to maintain a bastion against evil in the shadow of the Misty Mountains, but his power beyond his domain goes only in the form of advice. Despite his extensive wisdom and prowess, when asked if he or any of the other Elf-lords have the strength to withstand Sauron, Elrond’s response is, “I have not the strength…neither have they,” (I, 319). These powerful Elf-lords, who had defeated Sauron and his master in the past, are no longer able to contend with him directly, because the age of their power is passing and the future is in the hands of men and the little men as Elrond states, “This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the great,” (I, 324). Galadriel, whose haven and power is even more lustrous than Elrond’s, is still in essentially the same position as the half-elven.Tolkien’s descriptions of Galadriel’s Lorien on which “no shadow lay” (I, 413) make it a veritable Eden, “a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness,” (I, 415). Frodo’s observations are not wholly accurate, however, as he himself recognizes the fact that this land is from the distant past, “it seemed to him that he had stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the Elder Days, and was now walking in a world that was no more,” (I, 413). With her ring and ancient knowledge of the Eldar, Galadriel is able to preserve the unstained glory of the forest, but the Ring-bearer’s ominous perception hints at the fact that the blissful stasis of Lorien is doomed to fade with the destruction of the One Ring. Even though her power is comparable to Sauron’s, Galadriel herself knows that Frodo’s quest signifies the end of her forest kingdom, and she accepts this fate with dignity, “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel,” (I, 432). After this last and greatest haven, the Fellowship breaks and the survivors go their separate routes into the precarious kingdoms of men.A noble kingdom over 500 years old, Rohan has endured for a long time in the eyes of men, while to elves like Legolas it has been “but a little while,” (II, 132). Although Wormtongue impedes the muster of the Riders of Rohan, once Theoden’s army is fully mobilized, it is a force to be reckoned with and probably outclasses any other army of men besides that of Gondor. From the vantage of the ancient elves, a culture and kingdom were established only a short while ago that gained ascendancy almost immediately. The slow progression of elvish time is already giving way to the short lives and generations of mankind. With a powerful army, Theoden is able to hold Helm’s Deep against Saruman’s larger army, but the mortal man is unable to bar evil from his kingdom like Bombadil and the Elf-lords. Men, who are destined to rule Middle Earth with the passing of the elves, cannot isolate themselves like the ancient beings and must directly face the elements of their environment be they good or evil. While Rohan is young in elvish time, the men of Gondor can trace their lineage back to the Numenoreans at the beginning of the Second Age, which precedes the initial forging of the Rings of Power.When Pippin first sees the inner circles of Minas Tirith, he is overawed by its splendor, but the impressionable hobbit does not realize that the city is depopulated and “in truth falling year by year into decay,” (III, 25). The men of Gondor, under the shadow of Sauron’s growing power, desperately cling to their noble past and heritage that is now in the ancient past. Faramir expresses his own patriotism with nostalgia for the past, “I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return…The city of the men of Numenor…I would have loved her for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty,” (II, 331).Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that Gondor will never be what it once was, because the past is irrecoverable, and as Gandalf says, “Whatever betides, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known,” (III, 24). Since the memory of Numenor reaches almost as far back as the Elder Days, it is doomed to fade with the passing of the other ancient elements and beings of Middle Earth. The Numenoreans were the last men to form an alliance with the elves, and this close relationship ties the fate of the men of Westernesse in with this archaic race.Although Aragorn plants a new sapling from the White Tree and brings glory to Gondor with his kingship and victory over Sauron, it is a glory of the present triumph over evil, not a longing for the grandeur of the past. The reign of King Elessar stretches across Middle Earth with an overarching influence that had not existed in the past. Soldiers of Gondor and Rohan protect previously dangerous roads, and the two kingdoms themselves form an alliance that was impossible in the suspicious environment of the past. As a further sign of the changing times, Galadriel, Celeborn and Elrond leave their dominions for the first time in an Age in order to greet the new king.Aragorn is able to expand and change the nature of his kingdom, because he looks toward the future, while Bombadil, Galadriel and Elrond were simply holding on to the remains of what were once vast and powerful domains. Slowly fading and shrinking, the Old Forest, Rivendell and Lorien must give way in the end to the new, expanding kingdom of men. Even though Aragorn’s kingship is ensured by his ancient heredity, the wise king does not rely on the past for legitimacy as he almost immediately begins to administer his kingdom justly, which gives him prestige through merit. As wise, benevolent beings, the Elf-lords know that their time has passed and depart from the Grey Havens into the West with quiet dignity. Remembrance of the past is important to all of the cultures and races of Middle Earth, but an excess of nostalgia like that of Gondor before Aragorn is detrimental to the progress of the present and future. Heritage contributes to the richness of life, but one must not live in the past or else the present will be lost. Tolkien ends his epic with the future generation sitting on Sam’s lap, and little Elanor Gamgee is a view of hope towards an unknown future built on the foundation of the past.
Parallels Between Gandalf and Saruman: Good and Evil
The relationship between Gandalf and Saruman in J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy The Lord of the Rings is not only a depiction of good versus evil, but a depiction of the corruption of magic and power. Gandalf and Saruman are two incredibly powerful wizards, both of which are looked up to by many throughout the novel, in both admiration and in fear. Gandalf and Saruman began their journeys as wizards on the White Council together, using their powers for the greater good. However, once greed, jealousy, and a fierce desire for power set in, Saruman started to use his magic for evil, and began plotting to take over Middle-Earth by joining forces in an attempt to unleash the Dark Lord, Sauron. It can be debated who the stronger, or more powerful wizard is between Gandalf or Saruman, thus why Tolkien demonstrates the pair of wizards as a juxtaposition to represent both the good, and the evil side of magic and power. Despite their obvious physical similarities, Saruman can be seen as a representation of Gandalf’s ‘evil twin’ who willingly turned into a villain once he submitted to the temptation of greater power, supremacy, and domination.
In The Lord of the Rings, there are only two sides — good and evil. Those who are depicted as good side with Gandalf, fighting for morality, ethics, and overall peace among all the hobbits, elves, dwarves, and free people. Those who are depicted as evil coincide with Saruman, and share a severe desire for power in order to control or take over Middle-Earth. On two completely opposite sides of the spectrum, Tolkien uses Gandalf and Saruman to illustrate extreme good and extreme evil. Gandalf and Saruman are a juxtaposition, as they both possess a great deal of power and prestige as wizards, yet use their powers so drastically different, as they have two completely opposite motives.
Both Gandalf the Grey — protagonist and noble member of the Istari — and Saruman of Many Colours — antagonist and tainted leader of the Istari — were sent by the Valar to stop Sauron’s upheaval. Saruman’s attraction to Sauron’s ability to dominate and control all of Middle-Earth resulted in him joining forces with Sauron in an attempt to rule Middle-Earth himself. In the same way that Saruman allies with Sauron to gain power, he allies with Gandalf prior to turning evil. Saruman sought out Gandalf as an ally; however, once Gandalf surpassed Saruman as a wizard, out of bitterness and resentment, he joins forces with Sauron to gain even greater power. It was noted by Gandalf that, “Saruman has studied the arts of the enemy himself” (Tolkien, 63). Although Saruman obtains a great deal of power, he recognizes that he is not powerful enough to conquer Middle-Earth on his own. Saruman studies his enemies, in order to become stronger than those who are a challenge or threat to him. As a result, Saruman’s choice to join force with Gandalf and Sauron was a strategic move to further assist himself in increasing his powers so that he would soon be able to take over Middle-Earth.
The temptation of power, corruption, and evil is an incredibly powerful notion throughout this trilogy. The power that comes to the possessor of the One Ring, for instance, is something that many may desire, but are unwilling to submit to as a result of the evil ramifications that come with such power. In the same sense that Gollum is unable to resist the temptation and powers that come with the One Ring, Saruman is unable to resist the temptation of using his powers to help unleash Sauron and rule Middle-Earth. One of the many reason’s why Gandalf is so admired and sought after as a wizard is because he uses his powers for the greater good of humanity. Gandalf shares the same powers and capabilities as Saruman, yet he does not use his powers as a means of command. Saruman has the same, if not more potential to be a great and noble wizard like Gandalf, however he chooses to use his powers for evil, which ultimately secures his defeat. If Gandalf and Saruman had joined forces and fought against the Dark Lord together, they would be an unstoppable entity and potentially rule the Middle-Earth together as White Wizards. Saruman’s decision to betray Gandalf and join forces with Sauron ultimately led to his demise.
In order to create literary symmetry, it is necessary for Tolkien to illustrate Gandalf and Saruman as equal binaries that are also enemies fighting against one another. Gandalf is such an incredibly powerful and noble wizard that in order for the story to progress, there needs to be a threat. Sauron is not a threat on his own if he does not have the One Ring, but the threat of Saruman joining forces with Sauron in an attempt to put the power once again back into his hands to conquer Middle-Earth is what makes The Lord of the Rings both a captivating and compelling trilogy. Gandalf and Saruman are both powerful enough on their own, that if they had remained allies, Sauron would be unable to rise back into power, the One Ring would destroyed, and Middle-Earth would remain in harmony. Saruman is an essential character in this trilogy, even more so than Gandalf because he creates conflict by challenging Gandalf and puts Middle-Earth into a state of turmoil, thus creating a profusion of climactic elements.
Tolkien chooses to represent Saruman and Gandalf as pairs, because they are both highly skilled and knowledgable wizards that possess similar powers and capabilities, yet have taken two different paths with their magic. In a trilogy full of temptations and evil — such as the One Ring — Tolkien allows us to see the repercussions of power in the hands of evil, as it leads to a desire of even greater power and corruption. Saruman and Gandalf are both incredibly powerful, however, Gandalf is able to control himself and use his powers for the greater good, while Saruman uses his powers in order to deploy his control over others. Saruman’s decision to turn evil, and of ‘many colours’ serves to further highlight Gandalf’s noble status and allows him to be recognized as an upstanding, virtuous wizard to a greater extent. Tolkien’s representation Gandalf and Saruman as not only enemies, but as a pairing is integral to the story, as it stresses that they are supreme equals to one another. Despite Gandalf symbolizing a Godly figure, and Saruman symbolizing a Satanic figure, the two serve to inexplicably compliment one another as a pairing.
“I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back… and I will:” An Analysis of the Development of Frodo and Sam’s Relationship in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, author J. R. R. Tolkien creates a relationship between Frodo and Sam that people struggle to define in modern parlance because of its depth and complexity. Neither lovers nor merely friends, the essence of Frodo and Sam’s relationship cannot be captured by contemporary words because they oversimplify the nature of the relationship. At the beginning, their relationship is reciprocal as both Frodo and Sam benefit from one another, however their reciprocity develops into codependence throughout the course of the novel. At the conclusion, Frodo and Sam’s relationship evolves into an altruistic one in which they are able to let each other go at a cost to themselves because they want to benefit the other. There is no contemporary all-encompassing definition for Sam and Frodo’s relationship because it is not one sole thing as it evolves over time and eventually reaches the pinnacle of Agape, demonstrating that their love for each other is true.
The suggestion that Frodo and Sam are actually homosexual lovers is a common conjecture about the characters’ relationship in today’s popular culture as a result of “the enormous outpouring of fan fiction” after the Peter Jackson film adaptations (Smol 949). Many people began to write alternate origins and endings of Sam and Frodo’s relationship, “the majority [of which] incorporate a sexual element as an expression of a strong, romantic love between the two males” (Smol 970). Frodo and Sam exhibit “an intimacy that includes emotional attachment and gestures of physical tenderness” (Smol 955). Suggesting that Frodo and Sam are homosexual simplifies the depth and complexity of their relationship. Sam and Frodo share “a love beyond that of a traditional male friendship” and “raise questions about the role of male friendships” that people are unfamiliar with in todays society because of homophobia (Madill par. 12; 14). “Homophobia is a strategy to police and regulate masculinity for males” and so the phobic language that exists today is insufficient in describing the male intimacy present in Lord of the Rings (Madill par. 11). The fan fiction about Frodo and Sam’s homosexual relationship proves that there is an intensity between the two male characters, however contemporary culture struggles to discuss strong emotional bonds between men. The response of the fans with this fiction shows the need for a more nuanced description of their relationship.
Frodo and Sam’s relationship at the beginning of the narrative is reciprocal as both Sam and Frodo benefit from one another at no personal cost to themselves. Sam Gamgee works for Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and tends to their garden. Sam is a curious hobbit who “has more on his mind than gardening” and dreams of the world outside of the Shire filled with Elves and Tree-men (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 60). Sam’s only resources to learn more about legends and tales are Bilbo and Frodo, and Sam “listens because [he] can’t help [himself]… he love[s] tales of that sort… and believe[s] them too (Tolkien, FR 84). While the other hobbits dismiss Frodo and Bilbo as being “cracked,” Sam’s longing for knowledge about the world outside the Shire strengthens (Tolkien, FR 60). He is unlike the traditionally happily ignorant hobbit and Frodo’s stories provide him with the knowledge he craves. When Sam is invited to go away with Frodo, he “spring[s] up like a dog invited for a walk” and “burst[s] into tears” (Tolkien, FR 85). He acquires knowledge and experience from Frodo, which is something he cannot get from anybody else in the Shire. He is elated to discover that he, too, will get to travel with Frodo and see all of the legends he believes in.
In his own way, Frodo benefits from having Sam accompany him on the journey. At first, Frodo is terrified of the journey that lies before him, crying that he is “not made for perilous quests… wish[ing] [he] had never seen the Ring!” (Tolkien, FR 81). He fears the quest bestowed upon him and as he speaks to Sam he “realize[s] that fleeing from the Shire [will] mean more painful partings than merely saying farewell to the familiar comforts of Bag End” (Tolkien, FR 84). Frodo’s pain at the idea of leaving home suggests the comfort and safety both Bag End and Sam provide for him. It would be very tough for Frodo to leave the Shire on his own and conquer the quest by himself. Sam is a necessary element of Frodo’s journey as he provides Frodo with someone he “can trust, and who [is] willing to go by [his] side — and that [Frodo is] willing to take into unknown perils” (Tolkien, FR 83). Sam follows through with all of these requirements and proves to be the most loyal and daring companion Frodo could have on the quest. Sam and Frodo’s reciprocal relationship at the beginning of the quest is beneficial to both of them without either character having to sacrifice anything, but it does not stay at this point of reciprocity for long.
The transformation of their relationship along the journey complicates the nature of Sam and Frodo’s relationship as the pair become increasingly codependent. At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo decides to continue the quest on his own because he sees the dangers of war that lie ahead of the Company. However just as he is about to leave, Sam stops him and is appalled that Frodo would continue “all alone…without [Sam] to help [him]” (Tolkien, FR 534). Sam cries out: “I couldn’t have borne it, it’d have been the death of me,” demonstrating Sam’s dependency on Frodo and his need to serve him (Tolkien, FR 534). Sam’s insistence that he would die if Frodo left him behind shows his dependency on Frodo and his need to stay with him. Sam needs to go with Frodo on the quest because they depend on one another. Their relationship is no longer just reciprocal, but rather intensifies to a codependency. Later on, Frodo collapses under the weight of the ring on the way up Mount Doom and even though Sam knows the road is dangerous and “would dearly like to see Bywater again, and Rosie Cotton and her brothers, and the Gaffer and Marigold and all” he still insists that he “said [he’d] carry [Frodo] if it [breaks his] back…and [he] will!” (Tolkien, Return of the King 225; 233). Frodo heavily relies on Sam for survival and the success of the quest. Sam helps complete the task of the Ring-bearer and Frodo would likely die if not for Sam’s help when climbing Mount Doom. When compared with the early stage of their relationship on the quest when it was just beneficial to have one another, the relationship is now necessary for both characters. The nature of their relationship evolves as they depend on each other more and more.
At the end of the series Frodo and Sam’s relationship becomes even more intense as it transforms into an altruistic relationship. After their return to the Shire and the scouring of the Shire, one would expect Sam and Frodo to live happily ever after in a blissful friendship, however “Tolkien is much too honest to end with such a pious fiction” (Auden 98). Over the course of the quest Frodo is “wounded with [a] knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden,” and “though [he] may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for [he] shall not be the same” (Tolkien, RK 290). Frodo endures the most physical and mental pain on the quest and returns to the Shire as a completely different hobbit who is unable to reintegrate into society. Sam transforms into a leader with great potential and the knowledge he longed for and more before they left for the quest. Sam is capable of reintegrating into society and settles down to start a new life, however, “Frodo’s presence is an unsettling reminder of the disruptive force of war that hampers Sam’s full return to ordinary life” (Smol 967). Frodo knows that he is “wounded” and that “it will never really heal” but that Sam is “meant to be solid and whole, and [he] will be” (Tolkien, RK 333; 335). As hard as Frodo tries to heal in the Shire by living with Sam and his wife Rosie, he knows he cannot heal here and that Sam is “torn in two” between his year away with Frodo and his new life in the Shire (Tolkien, RK 337). Frodo decides to depart for the Havens and leave Sam as the heir to everything he has. Frodo does not ask Sam to come with him, even though he can as a Ring-bearer, because he knows Sam will be “as happy as anyone can be” staying in the Shire with his family in Bag End (Tolkien, RK 338). Leaving Sam behind and giving him everything he owned is an entirely selfless act as Frodo could have easily asked Sam to come with him. However, Frodo wants what is truly best for Sam, demonstrating an ultimately altruistic love. He sacrifices his desire to keep Sam in his life because he loves him so truly.
Similarly, Sam understands that Frodo no longer belongs in the Shire and as much as it pains him to see Frodo leave as “tears started in his eyes,” he returns to his family and acknowledges his spiritual wholeness and return to the Shire, holding his child and saying “‘Well, I’m back’” (Tolkien, RK 337; 340). The development of the relationship is illustrated by Sam’s tears. As mentioned earlier, at the beginning of the quest Sam bursts into tears because he is so happy he will get to leave the Shire to see all the legends he hears about. In this instance, his tears are out of happiness for himself and the benefit he derives from his relationship with Frodo, demonstrating their originally reciprocal bond. As Frodo leaves, however, Sam’s tears are not for himself but rather for Frodo and the loss of his friend. The difference of the feelings behind the tears at the beginning of the novel and at the end show the development of their relationship from a reciprocal one to an altruistic one. Sam sacrifices his relationship with Frodo and understands why he must leave. As much as Sam wants Frodo to stay in the Shire, he lets him go because he knows it is what will heal Frodo. Both Sam and Frodo endure a major loss by parting ways, but by letting each other go they know they are benefiting one another, demonstrating Agape love. Agape is neither erotic or brotherly, but a description of a self-sacrificial love with the purpose of benefitting another. By the end of the novel, Frodo and Sam reach the epitome of Agape when they let each other go selflessly for the benefit of the other.
Frodo and Sam develop a deep and complex relationship over the course of the novel that evolves so intensely that it cannot be defined by just one word. While the relationship they share begins reciprocal, it quickly intensifies into a codependency where the two need each other to survive. Their self-sacrifice at the conclusion in order for the other to heal exhibits Agape and demonstrates the depth and complexity of their relationship. This type of close male intimacy is foreign to people in contemporary society because of the insufficiency and phobic nature of today’s language, and therefore no single modern word is able to accurately capture the true essence of Frodo and Sam’s relationship. Tolkien creates a complex relationship that is too nuanced to be described by one word. The evolvement of Frodo and Sam’s relationship, eventually reaching a peak of Agape, the highest form of love, cannot be described by any single word because it is not just one thing — it is deep and complex as true love often is.
On the Nature of Evil: Comparing the Villains of Spenser and Tolkien
Despite the wide range of worlds occupied by different fantasy series, a universal theme of the genre is the presence of evil forces working in opposition to a band of heroes. Most often the band of heroes is embarking on a quest to vanquish evil and naturally said evil forces are trying to stop them. No different are the fantasy works of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Both sagas feature villainous sorcerers operating in direct opposition to the heroes: Spenser’s Archimago, an old sorcerer, and Tolkien’s Saruman, the onetime head of the Wizarding Council. But despite this parallel, the two authors create characters who drastically differ in methods and motivation, revealing the fundamental difference in how Spenser and Tolkien view the nature and influence of evil. For Spenser, evil is the absence of righteousness and a rejection of religious obedience, whereas Tolkien views evil as the corrupting influence of power and selfishness which originates from within. Examining how the authors write their villains and understanding the context in which they wrote provides evidence for their respective interpretations on the nature of evil.
Archimago is one of the principal villains in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. He is a master of deception and disguises, relying on his magic to seduce others away from the straight and narrow path by manipulating emotions and reason. The allure of his brand of evil is to forsake Godliness and religious obedience, instead giving in to indulgence. We meet him in the first canto, at which point he immediately starts causing trouble for the band of heroes, consisting of Redcrosse the knight, Una the Lady, and a dwarf. The resulting trickery exemplifies Archimago’s character and methods.
First, he attempts to disturb the integrity of the trio by tempting the chastity of Redcrosse with a lusty dream from Morpheus, God of dreams, and a sprite-imitation of Una:
“Who all this while with charmes and hidden artes, Had made a Lady of that other Spright, And fram’d of liquid ayre her tender partes So lively and so like in all mens sight, That weaker sence it could have ravish quight: The maker selfe for all his wondrous witt, Was nigh beguiled with so goodly sight: Her all in white he clad, and over it Cast a black stole, most like to seem for Una fit.” (Canto 1, p19-20)
This Una-imitation will go on to try and tempt Redcrosse to sleep with her, thereby dishonoring his chastity. Note that Archimago does not rely on convincing arguments for his purposes, but instead relies on “charmes and hidden artes” i.e. his magic. Granted, the imitation-Una tries to talk Redcrosse into fornication, but since she is a conjured façade, we can argue that she is merely an extension of Archimago’s magic. This is a prime example of Archimago using his magic to manipulate existing feelings in his targets, such as the lustiness he has instilled in Redcrosse via Morpheus’s dream.
It is also interesting to note that Archimago targets chastity with his deception. Chastity was one the most valued rules in the Christian practice in Spenser’s time period, providing evidence that Spenser believed evil to mainly be rooted in disobedience to God’s law. However, Redcrosse proves to be too staunch in his obedience to the chivalrous knight’s order and the law of chastity. In his next showing of deception, Archimago manipulates Redcrosse’s strict obedience to divide the heroic trio by taking the imitation-Una and another sprite disguised as a young squire and placing them “in a secrete bed, Covered with darkenes and misdeeming night, Them both together laid, to joy in vaine delight” (Canto 2, p.24). This time the ruse is successful and Redcrosse abandons Una in anger. Again, Archimago did not need to use persuasive arguments, but instead relied on his magic to accomplish is evil objectives.
Archimago’s methods are in stark contrast to those employed by Saruman, as seen in the latter’s attempt to persuade Gandalf to join him. Gandalf has ridden to Saruman’s home, Isengard, in search for answers and wisdom to the rumors of the nine ring-wraiths and what to do with the Ring of Power. However, it soon becomes apparent that Saruman has abandoned the good side in favor of the rising evil forces and is intent on Gandalf joining him.
The resulting encounter is remarkably more tamed than in Peter Jackson’s film adaption, where there is a great battle of magical strength involving mighty staffs and spinning wizards. Instead, the written scene does not involve any use of magic, such as Archimago might use, but rather a speech by Saruman. He opts to persuade Gandalf with an intellectual argument: “The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see” (p.259). The power Saruman is referring to is the might of Sauron in Mordor. Sauron represents absolute evil, but Saruman is more interesting in that his brand of evil is more seductive and subtle.
Saruman’s speech to Gandalf boils down to the classic argument that the ends justify the means:
“the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means” (p.259).
He proposes that by riding the coattails of Sauron, a far easier strategy than fighting Sauron, they can eventually control his power and achieve an ultimate purpose of knowledge, rule, and order. This seductive argument for gaining power is repeated later in the series, first by Galadriel and then by Boromir when he attempts to take the Ring from Frodo. It can even be found in other series outside of the Lord of the Rings universe, as in Star Wars when Darth Vader attempts to persuade Luke to join him in overthrowing the Sith Lord to rule over the galaxy or also in the Harry Potter series, when Grindelwald tries to persuade a young Dumbledore into setting up a Magician’s empire over muggles.
In all cases, the approach is to appeal to the intellectual side to rationalize evil deeds. As Saruman tells Gandalf, “We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf” (p.259). This brand of evil does not deceive with magical illusion, like Archimago’s methods, but rather through rationalizing the pursuit of power for a greater good. By tapping into the natural selfish desire for power, evil can cause even those who initially stand for good to be misled into darker paths. Tolkien portrays a far more sinister version evil that is able to harness inner desires in other wise good characters to accomplish nefarious purposes. This seduction of power is far more nuanced and imitative of real life than Archimago’s magical deceptive methods.
This difference in Archimago and Saruman’s methods can be traced back to the motivational factors for each of the sorcerers. Combing through the first four cantos of The Faerie Queene does not reveal any immediate motivator for Archimago’s trickery. When the heroic trio happen upon his abode, he seems to merely delight in meddling with their affairs by going to extreme ends, such as sending sprites to Morpheus and going through the trouble of conjuring up fake Una’s. Spenser does not provide us with any backstory to Archimago nor is there a rehearsed speech as in Saruman’s case to clue readers in to his objectives.
Looking at the results of Archimago’s trickery, one could infer that he desires Una for himself. This would explain why he is so intent on driving Redcrosse away from Una. Further support for this can be found when Archimago disguises himself as Redcrosse to trick Una into thinking she has been reunited with her companion: “But now seemed best, the person to put on Of that good knight, his late beguiled guest…And when he sate upon his courser free, Saint George himselfe ye would have deemed him to be” (Canto 1, p.26). Choosing Redcrosse as his disguise must have been a deliberate choice, so perhaps Archimago harbored some jealousy against the knight when he beheld Una. This choice would have been reinforced when Una was almost overly ecstatic to have found Redcrosse supposedly.
While this explanation might be plausible, a stronger argument can be made that Archimago as a character is far more symbolic in nature than the dynamic player that is Saruman. Archimago seems to serve more as a generic tempter’s snare rather than a nuanced villain. His trickery with Redcrosse indicates that his main goal is to get the hero to fall by the wayside in sin. This supports Spenser’s interpretation of the nature of evil as a rejection of righteousness and its allure as mainly temptation for indulgence, which in this case is the breaking of the law of chastity.
Understanding the context in which Spenser wrote The Faerie Queene provides us with further insight into Archimago’s symbolism and purpose in the text. Spenser wrote this series in the late sixteenth century, after the Protestant Reformation had swept through England. The smattering of not-so-thinly-veiled references to the Catholic Church throughout the first few cantos indicate one of the main purposes of at least the first book, which is to criticize Catholicism and praise the virtues of Protestantism. When we are first introduced to Archimago, he is described as wearing “long blacke weedes” and on “his belt his booke he hanging had” and “all the way he prayed as he went, And often knockt his brest, as one that did repent” (Canto 1, p.14). As seen in the footnotes, these descriptions are attributes of a Roman Catholic clerical. It is also interesting to note that Una is a modification of the latin word “unus,” which means unity and truth while the red cross that Redcrosse is name for is a symbol of the Anglican church. With this in mind, one could interpret Archimago as Catholicism trying to separate truth from the Anglican church. This provides another take on Spenser’s view on evil as being the absence of truth or Godliness.
While Archimago is more of a static character of a symbolic nature, Saruman’s motivations are more easily defined. He selfishly desires power for himself, which he tries to disguise as concern for the common good and as something he would share: “Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.” But, as Gandalf replies, “only one hand at a time can wield the One, and you know that well, so do not trouble to say we!” (p.260) The main motivator of Saruman’s sort of evil is to gain power, an end for which all deeds can be rationalized.
This gives readers a sense of Tolkien’s interpretation of the nature of evil. Saruman was once the head of the wizarding council and proponent of good, fighting off Sauron many a time. Tolkien uses Saruman’s betrayal to show that evil does not simply exist as an Other, but rather has roots even in the best of us. It preys on the selfish desires for power that inhabit all people and parades under the pretense of righteous control to rationalize evil deeds. This is the very nature of the Ring of Power; it feeds on existing selfishness and paranoia within characters, blooming into monstrosity. It helps to remember that Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings in 1955, when the memory of World War II’s atrocities was still fresh in public memory. The ease with which ordinary citizens condoned and even committed heinous crimes against humanity must have had a significant influence on Tolkien in his treatment of evil in this series, especially having fought in World War I and lived through World War II. To Tolkien, evil was not a shadowy figure foreign to man, but rather a shadow that continually exists within.
The portrayal of Saruman and Archimago reflect the interpretations of the nature of evil by Tolkien and Spenser, respectively. Spenser seems to support a black-and-white version of good versus evil, in that there isn’t a persuasive argument to be made for evil. Instead magic and deception are required to get heroes to turn away from good. Additionally, since Archimago lacks convincing motivation for his evil deeds (besides just wanting to watch the world burn), this supports the interpretation that Spenser views evil as a force whose mere existence is motivation enough for its nefarious actions. On the other hand, Tolkien views evil as a force that comes from within people and is allowed to nourish when characters prioritize selfish desires over everything else. This interpretation is found in the corruptive manner the desire for power – as embodied by the Ring – has on Bilbo, Frodo, Galadriel, Boromir, and especially Saruman. Understanding how Spenser and Tolkien view evil not only enriches readings of the respective texts, but also allows readers to heed the parallels and warnings the authors wish to impart for their own world.
The Two Faces of Nature
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings, the natural environment plays an important role as a tool for characterization and personification of the natural world. Readers who have studied Tolkien and know of his respect for nature might assume that he would depict the environment purely in a positive light, but in fact he shows it realistically as a source of good and as a potentially dangerous force. To create this view of nature, Tolkien presents many parts of the natural world as magical in nature; this empowers nature in hidden and surprising ways, both for good and for evil. In this author’s work, nature is not simply a passive background for the plot; instead, nature appears as a character and even seems to have a mind of its own at times. The magical elements in The Lord of the Rings serve as warning that even though it may appear that nature can be controlled and manipulated by man, ultimately it asserts its authority and can work for our good or strike back.
The natural environment is a key to characterization in this novel. Nature’s beauty and lush vegetation reflect the essential moral goodness of the inhabitants, such as the Shire and the Hobbits. In contrast, environments that are barren and ugly express the spiritual death and decay of characters in that portion of the tale, like Mordor and Saruman. There are several examples of the ways in which Tolkien is able to provide characterization through the use of setting to help the reader understand the connection between characters and the natural world. On one hand, the characters with positive personal characteristics are at ease and happy in a beautiful, uncorrupted setting. For instance, when we first meet the Hobbits, we learn that they are a peaceful, non-aggressive, and gentle folk who revel in the beauty of the Shire where they live. In one scene, Bilbo and Gandalf are sitting inside Bag End looking out on Bilbo’s garden. The description of their feelings towards the garden, and towards the Shire in general, is a reflection of their essentially good characters: “The late afternoon was bright and peaceful. The flowers glowed red and golden… ‘How bright your garden looks!’ said Gandalf. ‘Yes,’ said Bilbo. ‘I am very fond indeed of it, and of all the dear old Shire…’” (Tolkien 25). In another scene, the Elf Legolas praises the beauty of the woods where his people live; his appreciation of nature is a reflection of his goodness as a character. He says to Aragorn, “‘There lie the woods of Lothlórien! … that is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land…my heart would be glad if I were beneath the trees of that wood’” (Tolkien 335). Neither the Hobbits nor the Elves attempt to manipulate nature or change it to serve their ends. They respect nature. By characterizing the Hobbits and the Elves as nature-loving beings, Tolkien establishes their positive personalities and identifies them this way as protagonists.
On the other hand, characters with negative personal characteristics not only have no respect for nature but manipulate and corrupt it for their own benefit. One example is revealed in Treebeard’s comments about Saruman: “‘He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment. And now it is clear that he is a black traitor’” (Tolkien 473). Later as Treebeard is talking to Pippin and Merry, he explains how Saruman’s evil attacks on nature have caused the Ents to be ready to fight back: “‘Indeed I have not seen them roused like this for many an age. We Ents do not like being roused; and we never are roused unless it is clear to us that our trees and our lives are in great danger’” (Tolkien 485). These passages demonstrate Saruman’s wickedness as it relates to his complete disrespect for the natural world. This establishes him firmly as the antagonist. The Orcs are also characterized as malignant characters because of their total lack of concern for the trees and for their cruel wastefulness of the natural resources. Speaking of Saruman and the Orcs, Treebeard says, “He and his foul folk are making havoc now. Down on the borders they are felling trees… Some of the trees they just cut down and leave to rot… many had voices of their own that are lost for ever now. And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves” (Tolkien 474). Treebeard objects to the cutting of trees for any reason but especially when it is done maliciously by the Orcs. We learn a great deal about characters in this book based upon their view of nature and their interaction with it.
Critics who support this view include Ina Habermann and Nikolaus Kuhn, authors of “Sustainable Fictions – Geographical Literary and Cultural Intersections in J.R.R. Tolkien’sThe Lord of the Rings.” They propose the idea that the natural environment depicted in this work is a strong literary indicator or reflection of the characters in that section of the story. They specifically discuss “benign natural forces and the contrasting industrialized forces of evil” (Habermann and Kuhn 263). Like Habermann and Kuhn, Alun Morgan’s article, “The Lord of the Rings–A Mythos Applicable in Unsustainable Times?” examines the way that characterization is accomplished in Tolkien’s work. In agreement with the other authors, Morgan contends that a character’s respect towards the environment reflects similar emotions towards his fellow man and is linked to moral and spiritual growth. Similarly in his article, “Tolkien’s Imaginary Nature: An Analysis of the Structure of Middle-earth,” Michael J. Brisbois expresses many of the same ideas. For example, Brisbois notes that in this novel, the complete disregard and disrespect for nature and the pursuit of monetary gain or power can only result in chaos and failure, as we see in Sauron’s ultimate fate. Brisbois says, “Saruman’s involvement in the story is a cautionary tale for the reader…and his development of industry and militarism are intertwined in such a manner that the message becomes clear” (Brisbois 200). Clearly, Tolkien is able to create characterization in a subtle way through the use of the interaction of nature and the character.
The Lord of the Rings contains personification at numerous points. For example, Treebeard is a rounded character that expresses clear thinking, reasoning, and emotions. He is not a passive prop in the setting but is a fully engaged character. This is true of several of the other Ents in the story who have human characteristics. For example, Treebeard expresses sadness at the disappearance of the Entwives and yearns to be with them again; he says, “Long we called, and long we searched; and we asked all folk that we met which way the Entwives had gone…but nowhere that we went could we find them… Our sorrow was very great…we believe that we may meet again in a time to come” (Tolkien 476). In Cynthia M. Cohen’s article, “The Unique Representation of Trees in The Lord of the Rings,” she discusses the history of the depiction of trees in various pieces of literature and legend and describes in some detail literary trees, which have some similarity to the Ents, and which were not fixed in one place but were ambulatory. The Ents provide nature’s perspective about ecology by describing what it feels like to be destroyed by an evil force. A significant point this author makes about environmental concerns is that nature is not passive in Tolkien’s work. For instance, the Fangorn Forest fights back against its enemies and the forest is “tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine-loving enemy” (Cohen 117). This is a clear reference to the ecological threat posed to nature, not only in Tolkien’s world, but in our own. In another instance, the great eagle Gwaihir the Windlord swoops down and stands before Gandalf; the two of them have a conversation and Gwaihir expresses affection and duty as he vows to carry Gandalf to safety: “‘I would bear you…whither you will, even were you made of stone’” (Tolkien 949). We see personification in the ways in which a tree and an animal think and behave like a human being.
There can be no doubt that Tolkien had a love for nature, as evidenced by his lyrical, beautifully expressed descriptions of forests and other landscapes in the novel: “Frodo looked back and caught a gleam of white foam among the grey tree-stems…It seemed to him that he would never hear again a running water so beautiful, for ever blending its innumerable notes in an endless changeful music” (Tolkien 346). A second example of Tolkien’s admiration of the natural world is apparent as he says, “A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows…there was a warm and gentle breeze blowing softly in the valley” (Tolkien 115). However, Tolkien goes beyond description of nature’s beauties by instilling messages about protecting our environment. This idea about Tolkien’s view is supported by Danièle Barberis in her article, “Tolkien: The Lord of the Mines –Or a Comparative Study Between Mining During the Third Age of Middle-Earth by Dwarves and Mining During Our Age by Men (or Big-People).” She argues that since the Dwarves are important characters in the work, there is a connection between Tolkien’s story and the mining industry. Barberis discusses the difference between the ways in which the Dwarves conduct mining in The Lord of the Ringsand the way in which mining would be conducted by the “Big People,” or humans. The author discusses the fact that, “sustainable development often involves the issue of environmental protection,” yet in more recent times, the focus is more on “short-term profit exploitation” (Barberis 61). She draws a contrast between Men’s goal in mining and the Dwarves’ goal by mentioning Gimli’s reluctance to reveal the location of some beautiful caves. Gimli does not want the caves to be spoiled by greedy exploitation. Therefore, according to Barberis, “Gimli does not suggest intensive mining; rather he suggests the most appropriate way to use these caves is simply to respect their beauty” (Barberis 61). Dwarves represent the proper stewardship of nature, in which it is treated with respect and appreciation; on the other hand, Men represent the abuse of nature, in which it is treated as a commodity to be used for profit or power. Therefore, Tolkien’s message is that we can admire the beauty of nature, but that we also have a duty to respect and protect it.
In spite of the beauty of nature that he presents throughout the novel, Tolkien gives us a view of the other side of nature that can be dark, dangerous and deadly. While much of nature is glorified in its beauty and natural state, there are also parts of nature that pose a threat. One of the best examples of this is the Old Forest that the Hobbits must travel through on their journey. Unlike the Ents, the trees in this forest have malicious intent towards the Hobbits, and the Hobbits can sense it: “For the moment there was no whispering or movement among the branches; but they all got an uncomfortable feeling that they were being watched with disapproval, deepening to dislike and even enmity…they expected a sudden blow” (Tolkien 111). Having a will of their own, the trees attempt to confuse and block the Hobbits by shifting around and obscuring the pathways. The air within the forest became hot and stuffy and it got to the point that the Hobbits could not even see very far ahead. The ill intent of the trees became more and more noticeable: “Now stronger than ever they felt again the ill will of the wood pressing on them …They were depressed” (Tolkien 112). Cleverly, the trees cause the Hobbits to become very sleepy and to be bothered by hoards of flies; this causes Merry to seek shelter close to the trees where it was cooler and where there were fewer flies. Once the trees have their prey weakened and within reach they begin to swallow them into the earth. The trees cause huge opening to appear in the ground and the sleepy Hobbits either stumble in or are pulled in: “Pippin had vanished. The crack by which he has laid himself had closed together, so that not a chink could be seen. Merry was trapped: another crack had closed about his waste; his legs lay outside, but the rest of him was inside a dark opening, the edges of which gripped like a pair of pincers” (Tolkien 117). Nature can be a force of darkness; this idea is discussed in an article, “The Lord of the Rings(3) –The Mythic Dimension” by T.A. Shippey. She specifically discusses the dual nature of trees, which are sometimes shown as beautiful and benign, and at other times dangerous and deadly.
Water, also an important element of the natural world, plays a dual role in the story. In one sense, it provides rejuvenation for the weary travelers and is also a means to cleanse and be more comfortable. On the other hand, when the Fellowship meets the source of the Silverlode, Gimli warns the others not to drink: “‘Here is the spring from which the Silverlode rises…Do not drink of it’” (Tolkien 334). Presumably the water presents a threat, based on Gimli’s response. Legolas also talks about the Nimrodel and tells the others that its falling water may “…bring us forgetfulness of grief” (Tolkien 339). Although at face value this may seem like a positive result, the fact is that the ability of the water to alter men’s minds symbolizes the destructive power of nature.
There are other dangers within bodies of water, as we see in the scene in which the Fellowship has arrived at Moria. They are detained for sometime as Gandalf tires to decipher the password to get in. As they are standing near a stagnant lake, Boromir picks up a large stone and throws it into the water. Frodo is immediately alarmed and chastises Boromir, saying, “‘Why did you do that? … I hate this place too, and I am afraid. I don’t know of what: not of wolves, or the dark behind the doors, but of something else. I am afraid of the pool. Don’t disturb it!’” (Tolkien 307-308). Frodo was right to fear the pool because something within in attacks them: “The others swung round and saw the waters of the lake seething, as if a host of snakes were swimming up from the southern end. Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Frodo’s foot, and was dragging him into the water” (Tolkien 308). This scene could be interpreted in two ways. One could be the message that nature has hidden dangerous for the unwary, and that we should not expect it to always be benign and safe. The other idea could be is that when man bothers or disrupts nature, nature retaliates.
Any attempt to abuse nature for power and gain is eventually avenged in Tolkien’s work. We see this when Saruman commands his Orc army to destroy trees and to build structures for use in creating Saruman’s “precious machinery” of war. The path of destruction that Saruman and his minions leave behind them causes the Ents to call him “the tree killer!” For a time Saruman was successful in bending nature to his will, but his victory was doomed to failure. The Ents rise up against him, and though many of them are killed in battle, they manage to destroy Saruman’s evil stronghold, causing water from the Isen to be diverted and to flood it. Proud of his hard-one victory, Treebeard says, “‘We have worked hard; we have done more stone-cracking and earth-gnawing today than we have done in many a long year before…when night falls do not linger near this gate or in the old tunnel! Water may come through — and it will be foul water for a while, until all the filth of Saruman is washed away. Then Isen can run clean again’” (Tolkien 569). The power of nature, even against seemingly insurmountable odds, is very evident in this portion of the novel.
There are many beautiful descriptions of water in The Lord of the Rings, but there is also a description of a particularly horrible body of water called the Dead Marshes. Far from being fresh, clean and beautiful, these marshes are horrifying, malignant and filled with drowned corpses. As Sam, Frodo and Gollum are working their way across these dark bodies of water, Gollum describes the eerie scene: “‘Yes, the are all round us…The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses, yes, yes. Don’t you heed them! Don’t look! Don’t follow them!’” (Tolkien 627). When Sam trips and his face comes very close to the surface of the marsh water, he springs up and cries, “‘There are dead things, dead faces in the water…Dead faces!’” (Tolkien 627). Frodo falls into a dreamlike state, similar to how he was affected in the dark forest. The water seems to lure him closer as if to swallow him along with its other victims. The Dead Marshes hold the corpses of both good and evil creatures and is simply seen as a dangerous place for any living thing. Describing what he sees in the Dead Marshes, Frodo says, “‘They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water…grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair… But all foul, all rotting, all dead’” (Tolkien 628). It is not a surprise that Gollum, Frodo and Sam are eager to leave this cursed place, even though it takes them to an even more cursed destination, Mordor.
Nature plays an integral part in the story line in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It has significant symbolic value as a means of interpreting characters’ personalities and motivations. It helps us determine twists and turns in then storyline. Nature is not simply a background to the story, but is a living part of it and in fact is one of the most important elements. Furthermore, nature can be benevolent and beautiful or malicious and ugly. It is interesting to note, however, nature usually is not the aggressor, but attacks or retaliates when it is disturbed in some way. Those who care for nature and treat it with respect are shown to be the heroes; conversely, those who no respect for nature and destroy it for their own gain are the villains. Tolkien’s message is that we can judge by their interaction with nature and that we should never assume that we are the masters of the natural world; it can rise up and turn against us.