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.
The Impact of The Lord of The Rings on popular culture
“The Impact of The Lord of The Rings on popular culture” The Lord of the Rings is one of the most popular and spectacular series of all time. The movies are based on the books written by J.R.R Tolkien and since the publication, the books have had a profound impact on popular culture. Moreover, the film adaptations by Peter Jackson have even much more extended the influence of the series on culture.
Among others, the series influenced books, writers, and entertainment industry. Before the books were brought to the big screen, they had already permanently influenced the culture. The consequences of launching Lord of The Rings turned out to be ubiquitous and far-reaching. The books were released over sixty years ago but they are still universal and extremely popular. Even though Tolkien did not invent fantasy, he defined the genre. Many other books which belong to the category of young adult, can owe their success to him. Moreover, Tolkien’s book opened doors for many writers and publishers to produce books of similar type, for instance, Tolkien and his works were an inspiration for
George R.R Martin. Lord of the Rings, were one of the first movies which were based on the books from young adult literary genre thus it can be said that Peter Jackson’s adaptations started a trend in making movies based on that particular category. After the Lord of the Rings movies were released, more and more fantasy books have been brought to the silver screen. Even though previously there were films which were founded on novels, they were classical ones such as Gone with the Wind. Furthermore, in the movies Jackson used innovative special effects which are used in movies to date. The series also popularised the use of CGI without which creating many fantasy and superhero movies would be impossible. The movies turned out to be great blockbusters and even brought Tolkien’s books more recognition. As movies provide the visual representation of the story, many fans of the novels started to recreate their favourite characters. What is more, there were also created video games which are based on the plot of the franchise, action figures, and even jewellery on the image of the one which was used in the movies.
Summing up, J.R.R Tolkien’s books, and later the novels’ adaptations have had a tremendous impact on the culture and entertainment industry. Although the series is already quite old, its popularity does not fall. Multiple books, movies, video games, and cosplays which are inspired by the novels, prove that Lord of the Rings series is spectacular and that the popularity of it is imperishable.
The Significance of Setting in Hobbit
While it may be easy to underestimate the importance of scenic descriptions, setting plays an important role in most literature – including character-driven fantasy. Setting can be written to represent conflicting forces or ideals, and to help illustrate the conflict and overarching idea of a story to the reader. One work of literature that utilizes setting to emphasize conflict and enhance the development of the plot is the novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Throughout the novel, Tolkien emphasizes the importance of two central locations: Bilbo’s home in The Hill, and the mountain where Smaug the dragon lives. Not only do these places differ in location, as many miles separate The Hill from Smaug’s Mountain, but they also represent contrasting traits from the perspective of Bilbo. Through his contrast between The Hill and Smaug’s Mountain, Tolkien illustrates how Blbo’s character develops throughout the progression of the story.
From the beginning of the novel, when Bilbo first describes his hobbit hole in The Hill, the importance of the hobbit hole to Bilbo is obvious. Not only does the quaint hobbit hole represent safety, comfort, and happiness to Bilbo – it also contains countless memories of his family, who originally built the home, and his childhood. Bilbo acknowledges his love and familiarity for his home when he says “…it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort” (Tolkien 1). Essentially, the hobbit hole represents everything Bilbo has ever known, and everything he values. As the story progresses, however, and Bilbo gets further away from his home in The Hill, Bilbo’s character changes drastically – he becomes more knowledgeable, and his values change. By the time he reaches Smaug’s Mountain, Bilbo has faced numerous conflicts, from getting lost in Gollum’s cave and managing to escape to fighting the spiders who attacked him and his friends when traversing through a forest to the army. Overall, The Hill helps convey to the reader how Bilbo’s character develops and becomes a hero – as his journey progresses, he learns to goup against his fears and discomfort, the opposite of what The Hill offered to him, and he learns that adventure is not as bad as he first thought it was.
Whereas The Hill is a safe and comforting place for Bilbo, Smaug’s Mountain contains the opposite: an unknown territory of danger and malice. The mountain seems ominous from the second Bilbo and the others reach “…the dark cavernous opening in a great cliff-wall between the arms of the Mountain” (Tolkien 189). To Bilbo, Smaug’s Mountain is the apex of less favorable aspects of adventure, and represents exactly what Bilbo seems to be afraid of: danger, uneasiness, and change. Before Bilbo even knows what the adventure will be, he vehemently refuses Gandalf when he first travels to Bilbo’s home in The Hill to propose the idea of adventure to him. Bilbo justifies his own refusal for adventure by stating “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures… I can’t think what anybody sees in them” (Tolkien 6). However, by the time Bilbo reaches the mountain, his outlook on adventure, along with his character, has changed drastically. Along the way, Bilbo not only experienced danger but learned to face and overcome it. Bilbo’s journey, and the conflicts he faced throughout it, developed and revealed his inner hero. When he finally reaches Smaug’s Mountain, the adventure’s end goal, Bilbo is no longer the same timid person he used to be. While still fearful of facing the dragon, Bilbo has learned that he is capable of undergoing conflict and facing the unknown. Smaug’s Mountain illustrates Bilbo’s development as a hero – while it may be a source of unknown danger, by the time Bilbo enters it, he is both competent and confident in himself.
Overall, The Hill and Smaug’s Mountain play different aspects in the story, but both locations work to develop the plot and characters. Whereas Tolkien introduces The Hill from the very beginning of the novel, Bilbo does not arrive at Smaug’s Mountain until near the end of the novel. Ultimately, The Hill starts the adventure, and Smaug’s Mountain ends it, as reaching it and defeating Smaug appears to be the very goal of Bilbo’s adventure. By writing the locations so far apart from each other, both in location and order of appearance in the novel, Tolkien emphasizes how Bilbo’s character changes throughout the progression of the story. The journey that transpires on the way to the mountain forces Bilbo to adapt to change and learn how to face danger, and therefore acknowledge his inner heroism. When Bilbo leaves The Hill to transpire the journey, he appears timid and weak, and even views himself as such – by the time he reaches Smaug’s Mountain, he has conquered various dangers and conflict, and therefore knows his capability greater than he once thought.
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.
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.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit And The Role of Overlooked Potentials and Underestimated Abilities
Bilbo’s sword, Sting, plays a large role in The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien — a role that almost appears to be incongruous for its size. Through each one of its appearances, Sting’s increased significance as a plot element simultaneously symbolizes steps forward in Bilbo’s journey in becoming a true hero. The roles of the weapon with overlooked potentials and the hobbit with underestimated abilities eventually are revealed to be more significant than imagined.
Bilbo’s encounter with the trolls is what leads to the discovery of Sting. Because his experience with the trolls is his first encounter with the true perils of the world outside the Shire, Bilbo’s actions reflect those of a typical hobbit with an easy, sheltered life. Although he escapes the trolls alive, he is painted as a character of extreme cowardice in this part of the novel, as he hides in a bush while his dwarf-friends take on the statuses of future troll-fodder. Nevertheless, after the trolls are turned into stone, his success in overcoming his first taste of danger is rewarded with the discovery of Sting in the troll’s cave. Compared to the other precious elvin-made swords found in the cave, Sting appears insignificant, as it “would have made only a tiny pocket-knife for a troll, but it was as good as a short sword for the hobbit” (Tolkien 42). Like Sting, Bilbo appears useless and incapable of any great deed at this point in the novel. For a stretch of time afterwards, during which the dwarves regard Bilbo as a burden due to his useless presence, the hobbit forgets about his sword.
However, when Bilbo is abandoned in the goblin tunnels, he remembers the dagger he keeps in his possession. During this time of despair, Sting brings a ray of hope to Bilbo. As he goes on to meet Gollum, Bilbo finds that his hope is justified when Gollum puts on a polite exterior, “anxious to appear friendly, at any rate for the moment, and until he found out more about the sword and the hobbit” (73). The presence of Sting, combined with Bilbo’s composed demeanor, makes Gollum wary long enough for Bilbo to plot his escape.
After this episode, in which Sting plays a small but vital part by bestowing hope to Bilbo and apprehension to Gollum, the idea of Bilbo being a capable hero becomes less ludicrous to the dwarves. As Bilbo proudly boasts of his adventures to them, they regard him in an awe that he previously did not receive. Although Bilbo obtains Sting early on in the novel, it is not until he kills the giant spider in the forest that he gives his sword a name: “Somehow, the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or anyone else, made a great difference to Mr Baggins. He felt like a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath. ‘I will give you a name,’ he said to it, ‘and I shall call you Sting’” (156). The scene that follows, in which Bilbo’s first impulse upon seeing his friends trapped by spiders is to rescue them by himself, contrasts sharply with the inept way in which he handled the imprisonment of his friends by the trolls as a greenhorn adventurer earlier on in the novel. Such exponential growth in bravery and selflessness reflects Bilbo’s extreme growth in terms of heroism. Even though Bilbo has already successfully escaped Gollum on his own, the virtue of saving one’s own life pales in comparison to the chivalry present in the desire to rescue others, especially if one may be put at risk as a result. As he fearlessly slashes apart the spiderwebs that imprison the dwarves, Bilbo demonstrates that he has not only acquired knowledge and wisdom in dealing with the evils of the world, but has also achieved a level of undeniable heroism.
In this manner, the naming of Bilbo’s sword foreshadows the last test Bilbo must, and does, overcome in order to gain the status of a true hero.The significance of Sting in the plot of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is made obvious at the same rate in which Bilbo’s heroism develops to its full potential. Both Sting and Bilbo have the potential to attain a greatness even those regarded with great esteem cannot achieve.
How Children’s Story Becomes a Myth
“Mr. Baggins began as a comic tale among conventional and inconsistent fairy-tale dwarves, and got drawn into the edge of it – so that even Sauron the terrible peeped over the edge.”
-J.R.R Tolkien, letter to his publisher (quoted in Carpenter 1977, 182).
The Hobbit started as little more than a bedtime story for Tolkien’s children. Like most of his fellow academics, Tolkien viewed fantasy as limited to childhood. The result was a book written in a chatty, informal style that contrasts sharply with that of its serious successors. The narrator makes frequent patronising and intrusive asides, such as “And what would you do, if an uninvited dwarf came and hung his things up in your hall without a word of explanation?” (H, 18). The language approximates baby-talk at times (nasty, dirty wet hole oozy smell”), and modifiers (“terribly”, “lots and lots”) abound.
Many critics, including Tolkien himself, have viewed this as the chief weakness of the book. Although the tone does evoke the oral tradition through which myths were originally created, it detracts from the power of the book. It renders villains are more comic than truly threatening, its heroes more endearing than awe-inspiring. One commentator feels that The Hobbit “lacks a certain intellectual weight” and “deserves little serious, purely literary criticism” (Helms 1974: 53).
The important words here are “purely literary”. The novel cannot be studied in isolation, but must be seen against the broader backdrop of Tolkien’s literary philosophy and the entire mythic tradition. For the writing of The Hobbit both influenced and was influenced by the profound intellectual change its author was undergoing, namely the development of the philosophy of mythopoeia, or myth-making.
In his lecture “On Fairy Stories”, delivered only a few months after The Hobbit was published, Tolkien expressed the view that myth represents truth about humanity and its environment far better than the crude factuality of science is able to. It allows people to see in a new light what has become commonplace and drab. Although Elves, for instance, do not “exist” in a scientific sense, they embody the creative skill and immortality of the human spirit, and therefore do exist.
As Tolkien put it, the storyteller “makes a Secondary World in which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true”: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside”. He called this process sub-creation: by creating a parallel world, the myth-maker emulates God, the supreme creator. The Bible is the ultimate, divine fairy story because it reconciles historic with mythic truth, and all man-made myth will reflect this. Tolkien famously disliked allegory, and saw myth as an entirely different art form.
In addition, Tolkien believed, fairy stories offer an escape from the gloom of modern life and, through eucatastrophe, or the happy ending, provide a joy similar to religious ecstasy. However, he could find no mythology indigenous to his native country, and so, in his own words, set out to create “a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogenic to the level of the romantic fairy story which I could dedicate simply to England” (quoted in Rogers & Rogers 1980: 30).
In true mythopoetic tradition, The Hobbit borrows extensively from the ancient and medieval, only a few of which can be detailed in this essay. The Old English poem Beowulf inspired, among others, its chief villain, Smaug. In his other well-known lecture, entitled Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien rebuffed scholars critical of the central theme monsters occupy in the poem, and argues that “they are essential [and] give it its lofty tone and high seriousness”. They embody radical evil, he argues, and make true heroism possible. Thus when Bilbo encounters the dragon’s hoard, he takes a cup, just as the nameless servant in Beowulf does. Both works end in a dragon-slaying, but even more interestingly, they begin in the defeat of quite similar creatures: Grendel in Beowulf, Gollum in Hobbit.
Smaug is a creation of several other sources, some that the author himself would dispute. His name is derived from the Germanic verb smugan meaning “to squeeze through a hole”. He is a fusion of serpent and bird, symbolising the union of earth and sky, or, in psychoanalytical terms, id and superego. Therefore, his death brings about the equilibrium of both slayer and community. The dragon also reminds of the Biblical serpent, and with great skill tempts Bilbo into doubting his party (Nitsche 1979: 44). There are even echoes of parable when Smaug’s vanity and greed causes him to reveal his weak spot and thereby brings about his downfall.
Tolkien was also heavily influenced by Norse mythology. The Hobbit’s elves, trolls and especially dwarves, which forge beautiful and valuable treasures deep inside mountains, are Nordic creations. The name of the head dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield, is found in the Prose Edda, and is derived from the Icelandic words Thorin, meaning “bold one” and Eikinskjaldi, meaning “with oak-shield”. Another uniquely Nordic feature is the importance of luck in the composition of a hero, although in Tolkien the Catholic “luck” definitely contains elements of divine providence.
The riddle-contest, which has been called the pivot of the story and which the narrator assures us is “sacred and of immense antiquity” (H, 84), mirrors The Saga of Kind Hedrik the Wise, where Odin disguises himself and wins a riddle contest by asking a question that is not a riddle. As in fairy tales the world over, rhymes and music play an important role throughout The Hobbit in mirroring the order or disorder in nature. Rituals, in general, and especially feasting, signify fellowship and equilibrium. This explains why a period of intense danger and suffering in the company’s journey is always followed by a feast provided by a hospitable representative of Middle Earth.
The character of Beorn has a rich mythic heritage. Bears are revered by the Celts and respected by the Norse for their primitive power. Beorn derives his name from the Nordic words for warrior, beorn and bear, bjorn. He is perhaps modelled on the legendary beserkers, warriors who went into such a frenzy during battle that they performed extraordinary feats. As both man and bear, he represents the unity of nature and society, much long-for by humanity since the fall. He embodies both the cruelty and honesty of nature. For this reason, shamans often assumed animalistic qualities during rituals (O’Neill 1979: 118). The fact that both Bear (earth) and Eagles (sky) offer their assistance on more than one occasion again symbolises the unity between all aspects of nature and of the human psyche once evil is defeated.
However, “one learns little by raking through a compost heap to see what dead plants originally went into it. Far better to observe its effect on the new and growing plants which it is enriching” (Carpenter 1977: 182). Despite the above-mentioned influences, and many others, Tolkien was not interested in merely rehashing other people’s stories, but in mythopoeia. Although Tolkien did not begin The Hobbit with this intention, he soon found himself, quite unexpectedly “discovering” a world with its own scientific laws, races and even proverbs, such as “escaping goblins to be caught by wolves” (H, 101).
If there is a specific point where The Hobbit first begins to transcend its modest beginnings, it is surely with Bilbo’s discovery of the ring. The importance of this part of the book makes for an odd, unconventional structure, one surely unplanned by the author himself. The sentence “It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it” marks the beginning of a change in tone – it remains simple and informal, but begins to deepen and mature.
The enchanted talisman is a potent mythical symbol, and with the words “it quietly slipped on to his groping forefinger”, Tolkien already implies that the ring has a will of its own. It is Bilbo’s (and the reader’s) first experience of real magical power, as opposed to Gandalf’s earlier fireworks. The ring is the link between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and its discovery is as much a turning point in Tolkien’s career as in his protagonist’s.
Another link is the troglodyte Gollum, the first embodiment of real, adult evil. He is the age-old figure of the “unhuman”, made even more disconcerting because he was once a hobbit and thus, in Jungian terms, represents Bilbo’s shadow side. It is fitting the Bilbo should discover this aspect of himself at the edge of a deep, murky lake, after a physical descent into the mountain. This is representative of the descent into his psyche. The hero’s journey into the underworld, of which Orpheus’ is the most well-known, has always been accompanied by his isolation, entrapment and loss of control over enchantment. His quest is to emerge with certain powerful symbols that will mark his initiation into manhood. To keep the ring, Bilbo has to confront his long-suppressed Took side, a side he does not fully embrace until he has descended once more, into Smaug’s mountain.
The dragon’s death is another turning point in The Hobbit for both thematic and character development. The hitherto clear-cut lines between good and evil begin to blur, and the theme of the nature of heroism is developed. Thorin, until now the character closest to the conventional fairy tale hero, becomes stubborn and greedy. Although he remains firmly on the side of good, his position is usurped by Bard, who epitomises the courage and selflessness required by the hero of a fairy tale.
Of course, neither of these traditional heroes are The Hobbit’s most important hero. That title belongs to Bilbo, the “unhero” with his many flaws. Because he is all too human, his growth gives hope and inspiration to ordinary people. Tolkien certainly identified with him, writing “I am in fact a hobbit (in all but size)” and equating hobbits, in their lack of imagination but potential for courage, with the English in general (quoted in Rogers & Rogers 1980: 126).
Bilbo’s sacrifice of the Arkenstone, his most noble act, develops the very Christian theme that renunciation can be a more powerful act than acquisition. The approval of Gandalf, the guide and teacher that is in this world but not quite of it, reinforces the religious undertones. It is he who reminds Bilbo at the end of his journey that he was merely a small player in a divine plan:
Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies just because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? [Y]ou are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all! (H, 285).
Because Tolkien wanted to retain a remoteness and fantastical quality, there is not explicit mention of a Christian God in The Hobbit. However, God is present – by creating a world both like and unlike his own, the author believed he was paying tribute to God. By awakening humanity’s imagination, he would thereby waken its spirituality and religious inclination.
The Lord of the Rings would have been impossible of not for its predecessor. “Tolkien learned so much in writing The Hobbit that he had to do the whole thing again, differently” (Helms 1974: 53). The book played a vital role in teaching its author the immense possibilities of fantasy. It itself does not exhaust these possibilities, but merely begins to explore them. It starts unambitiously, but in drawing from the rich store of world folklore and the author’s imagination, soon develops into a myth that, like all good fantasy, speaks as clearly to the mythopoetic imagination today as it did in Tolkien’s time.
Carpenter, H. 1977. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Helms, R. 1974. Myth, Magic and Meaning in Tolkien’s World. London: Granada Publishing.
Nitshe, J.C. 1979. Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England. New York: St. Martin’s.
O’Neill, T.R. 1979. The Individuated Hobbit. Boston: Hougton Mifflin.
Rogers, D. & Rogers, I.A. 1980. J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Twayne.
Tolkien, J.R.R. 1937. The Hobbit. London: George Allen & Unwin.
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” and Freyja “the most renowned of the goddesses” . 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” . 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” 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”. 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” .
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”, 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” .
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.
- Anderson, 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.
“A Leaf by Niggle” by J.R.R. Tolkien: God and the Artist
Being overcome with feelings of anger, sadness, happiness, joy, worry, disgust-whatever it may be, with fingers dry from flipping pages like they have got a mind of their own, and eyes frantically scanning for sentences and words-for whatever happens next. Sometimes being so transfixed with something-it needs to be read over again and again. Then eventually, your nose is dug so deep into a book that all you can smell is its pages. That is when you know you are no longer in this world.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s A Leaf by Niggle, at its simplest, is a fascinating tale about an artist living in a society that holds art with little to no regard. Paired with his essay, “On Fairy Stories”, where attempts to define a fairy story; the two works help gain insight into Tolkien’s concept of “Subcreation”. They also present his own ideas about himself, about art and the role of the artist, as well as the importance of relationships with the community and God. With both works Tolkien argues that humanity has an important relationship with its creator. This relationship includes God the creator, creating the primary world and the emulation of God by humanity, the artists, the sub-creator, in lesser acts of creation in his image-the new Secondary Worlds that are as real and true as the primary.
In Niggle’s world, very few appreciated art. When Parish “looked at Niggle’s pictures (which was seldom) he saw only green and grey patches and black lines, which seemed to him nonsensical”. Tompkins argues that Niggle was an incompetent and useless artist because “he could not have designed a telling poster to save his life”. He says that “art for art’s sake” is “old fashioned”. This also brings about Tolkien’s the argument of the usefulness and purpose of art. Niggle’s art is valuable because it is beautiful, just as Faerie is “indescribable, though not imperceptible”. It is valuable because it captivates the mind in a powerful life altering way. Tolkien says in his essay: But it is one of the lessons of fairy-stories (if we can speak of the lessons of things that do not lecture) that on callow, lumpish, and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity, and even sometimes wisdom.
Many may recall a time they were so captivated by art in any that they came out of it changed; Atkins, Parish even Niggle himself are examples of this. Atkins is so intrigued by Niggle’s painting that he goes as far as to have a remnant of it displayed in a museum. And while he was in the painting, Parish “often wandered about looking at trees, and especially at the Tree”. He learned to appreciate art and beauty which is undoubtly unlike him in the beginning of the story. Niggle learned to accept the practical things. The story of Niggle on his journey from home to the purgatorial stage in the workhouse, then into his own completed painting, not only reflects Tolkien’s concerns with himself as an artist, but dwells upon the nature of the artist and their role in humanity as a sub-creator.
Niggle creates a Secondary World, his version of Faerie that was noticed by a few but enchanted many. It enchanted them to the point that it aided them in preparing for their journey beyond the mountains. Faerie contains not only elves, fays, troll, birds, water stones, but it also contains “mortal men, when [they] are enchanted”. Great art transports whom becomes enchanted with it to Faerie, or a Secondary World, just as what Niggle’s Parish and Tolkien’s own works and ever-expanding mythology does. Leaf by Niggle also explores the role and relationship the artist has with God. Niggle’s experience in his purgatory-although it was never called that-was necessary for him. Purgatory implies a ‘purging’ of impurities, and a perfecting of a person. Niggle’s Parish-his painting as it is later called-only manifests into reality as a result of Niggle’s stay in the workhouse. The disembodied voices serve to set up Niggle’s confinement for a purpose and for his own benefit. This purpose being the creation of Niggle’s Parish “the best introduction to the mountains”.
In his essay, Tolkien wrote: Then these natural objects can only be arrayed with a personal significance and glory by a gift, the gift of a person, of a man. Personality can only be derived from a person. The gods may derive their colour and beauty from the high splendours of nature, but it was Man who obtained these for them, abstracted them from sun and moon and cloud; their personality they get direct from him; the shadow or flicker of divinity that is upon them they receive through him from the invisible world, the Supernatural. Tolkien explains that man’s creations are unique and something unlike anything God could have made. If God gave everything, then nothing is uniquely ours. God created the gift of the Primary World, and it is the role of the artist, to sub-create; to use his gift to make Secondary Worlds. Niggle says in the end, “it is a gift” as he refers to his art and to the result of it: Niggle’s Parish-his sub-creation. He had been given the gift of creativity and the primary world, and he turned that gift into something that adds to creation. Perhaps Niggle is purged in the workhouse to become a more successful sub-creator, and maybe what lies beyond the mountains is not eternal bliss, but a sub-creative eternity.
Leaf by Niggle can have allegorical meaning that extends far more than just from the words printed on its pages. It presents Tolkien’s ideas of the role of the artist. It is as much of a story about an odd little man named Niggle as it is a story that examines the relationship between God, the creator, and the artist, and his sub-creations.
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.