The third part of this mini series on Purpose in The Lord of the Rings finds us two-thirds of the way through the Fellowship. Leading up to this, we’ve looked at how each race involved in the Fellowship contributes to the story in a general sense in Part 1. Then, beginning with Part 2, we started looking a little more specifically at how individual characters interact with the narrative, putting the “Other Hobbits” under the microscope first. Now that we’ve seen what some of the halflings have to offer, let’s move on to perhaps a more robust section of the Fellowship: the trio that I have arbitrarily dubbed the “Three Kindreds.”
This part of the series will include analysis of Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli. I have divided the characters in this way to be able to talk about the Hobbits other than Frodo as a group (Part 2), the three main races of Middle-earth as a group (Part 3; the one you’re currently reading), and the remaining three “main” characters as a group (forthcoming Part 4). As stated in the previous posts about Purpose, this is by no means a break-down or dissection of the characters in a metaphorical or symbolic sense, but rather a cut-and-dry, brute-force analysis of how exactly each character in the Fellowship contributes to the story and why they are important. Let’s begin:
The Three Kindreds
Tolkien’s universe is well-known for its splendor, its depth, and its believable history. One of the main facets of his world is the idea that this ultimate being, Ilúvatar (basically God), created the entire universe and everything in it for the enjoyment of his Children. These Children are what are some times referred to as the Three Kindreds: Elves, Men, and Dwarves. The Elves are considered the First Born and are immortal and are bound to the world as long as it exists. Men are the After-comers, or Usurpers. They are mortal and are not bound to the world, but eventually die and leave it for a destination wholly unknown to the Elves. Lastly, the Dwarves are a peculiar race. They were not, strictly speaking, created by Ilúvatar but rather by one of the angelic Vala, and adopted as His Children out of pity and mercy. These three races are represented fantastically in the Fellowship of the Ring by three important characters, the first of which is the valiant Boromir.
What he does: We first meet Boromir son of Denethor at Rivendell in the Council of Elrond. Since his first sighting of the little Ring Frodo brought forth at the meeting, and his subsequent comprehension of what exactly it portended, Boromir’s life was never the same.
Boromir, from the start of the journey, gives off this characteristic masculinity and sheer strength of will that follows him through the remainder of his time with the Fellowship. His doughty spirit and undaunted persona more than makes up for any courage the Hobbits may seem to lack. He does not at all like the option to travel through Moria when the company has to make its first tough decision, and yet does not cower or blanch when their path leads there out of necessity. Boromir is doubtlessly practical, warning the party to each bring some wood with them before attempting the Redhorn pass over the mountain. This turns out to be one of the only reasons they survive through that ordeal. His own body is repeatedly sacrificed for the good of the Fellowship, beginning with him beating and forcing a path through the huge snow drifts on Caradhras. Not to be outdone in combat by another Man, let alone an Elf or Dwarf, Boromir consistently fights tooth-and-nail for his companions, even when the situations seem hopeless (as they often do for the Fellowship). Lastly, his famous final act can be considered both a tragic failure and a heroic success. Boromir is infamously known for his attempt to take the Ring from Frodo at Amon Hen. His power lust gets the better of him and he makes a foolish mistake and scares Frodo off. He soon atones for this crime (at least partially) by valiantly sacrificing himself in an attempt to save Merry and Pippin. His final words to Aragorn, while surrounded by the bodies of at least twenty large orcs, speak of regret and failure, but also give hope (and grief) to the ranger in that Boromir suggests the Hobbits are not dead, but captured.
Why it matters: At first, it may seem to readers that Boromir exists in the first part of the story only to provide a form of doubt and conflict within the Fellowship. That may or may not be true. Regardless, that’s not what I’m addressing here. This Man of Gondor’s fate, as I stated previously, was bound to the Ring the moment he saw it at Rivendell. His commitment to the Fellowship was at least genuine in the sense that he indeed did intend to see the Ring safely to Gondor but, as we learn later on, perhaps no further than that. He holds true to his new-found companions and gives his all to see them survive and succeed. His fire and hand plowed trail on Caradhras may very well be the only reason the Hobbits made it past that stage of the trek. His prowess and strength of will in combat can not be easily be overlooked either; I can not say he was necessarily fearless, but if he was afraid at any point he surely did not let that affect him. An argument perhaps could be made that his fighting skills were not altogether necessary for the Fellowship to survive the trials and battles they faced, seeing as they had Aragorn, an Elf, a Dwarf, and a Wizard in the company. This may be true. One could also support this argument that, though doubtlessly valiant and heroic in the end, his skill in combat was not enough to save Merry and Pippin at Amon Hen. This may also be true in a sense. I will not argue that Boromir’s character was entirely necessary in a straightforward sense, but perhaps only one event is needed to justify his conclusion in this narrative alone.
Boromir’s attempted robbery of Frodo was the climax of the first volume and also the turning point in the breaking of the Fellowship, but how is that really so important for Boromir specifically? I think it’s pretty obvious: Boromir’s selfishness and lack of self control could only lead to this tragic conclusion if he remained in the presence of the Ring for any decent amount of time; it was inevitable. No other character necessarily was tempted in the way Boromir was: he had his home kingdom in mind that he had grown up fighting for and seen valiant men die for. Now he has this seeming hope at hand with the Ring of the Enemy in his reach that could perhaps be used to finally defeat the forces of Mordor. This fallen Man’s corruption and greed provided Frodo with a real look at how the Ring could affect his companions and how truly perilous their mission was. Not that Frodo thought the quest was a cake-walk before the events at Amon Hen, but seeing the lust and fire in Boromir’s eyes forced him to come to terms with what exactly was at stake. This is not to say another character could not have been set up for this purpose in the narrative, but a desperate Man longing for help for his homeland makes much more sense than most other contingent situations.
What he does: Legolas Greenleaf joins the Company after bringing news to Rivendell of Gollum’s escape from the Woodland Realm. His character is somewhat of a conundrum in the book as he is an Elf. Although Elves are very similar to Men in Tolkien’s work, the differences are enough to almost put the Firstborn on another level of comprehension. For instance, Legolas (and other Elves in general) is very quick to speak of his love and wonder for trees but does not say much else.
In the Fellowship, he serves many practical purposes in that he is very valiant in combat and his Elven agility comes in handy often. He’s a true shot with his bow and just as skilled with his knives when his arrows are spent and the enemies are close. His light footsteps allow him to traverse over snow where the rest of the Company can not go. When the Fellowship enters Lórien, it is Legolas who converses with his kin and convinces the patrolling Elves that his company is of no threat. He later shoots down what turns out to be a fell beast a Nazgûl was riding on. His Elven far-sight allows the Three Hunters to see the Riders of Rohan far off on the plains before they encounter them. Many, many other examples can be found of the same sort throughout the story so I’ll not list any more here. One last element to point out from Legolas’ contribution to the story is his close and odd friendship with Gimli the Dwarf. The importance of this is discussed elsewhere in-depth and in better ways than I probably could so I will not address it much here; just know that their relationship is important.Why it matters: As I brought up when talking about Boromir, Legolas’ strength in arms could be argued as not entirely necessary to the narrative. Legolas does indeed provide invaluable ranged support with his bow throughout all the battles in The Lord of the Rings and doesn’t end up dead (as Boromir does), but is this enough to justify his inclusion in the Fellowship? Or did Tolkien just want to slap an Elf in there so he could talk about how cool and different his made-up race is? I honestly can’t say. Aside from his intricate relationship with Gimli (as also noted below) Legolas does not speak much nor does he necessarily provide much along the lines of “important” substance in the story; he does not hold a conversation with Sauron nor does he combat a Nazgûl one-on-one at any point. Of course, his character is interesting and when he does speak it is very intriguing and about something surrounded in Elven-mystery, but is he completely necessary in a straight-forward, narrative-specific sense? Maybe not.
What he does: We meet Gimli the Dwarf in Rivendell as well. He and the other Dwarves with him bring dark news from the northeast of trouble brewing between Mordor and the Dwarven settlements. Right off the bat, Gimli son of Glóin is very gruff yet practical and hardy. He fearlessly faces the first string of trials and hardships of the Company’s journey: snow, Wargs, dark, and goblins alike. His Dwarven-sense comes in handy when the Nine Walkers find themselves deep underground in the ancient realm of Khazad-dûm (now the Black Pit).
The Dwarf becomes enamored of the Lady Galadriel in Lothlórien and receives a special gift: three of the Elf-queen’s long, golden hairs; an odd gift for a peculiar character. Gimli soon afterwards finds himself to be one the Three Hunters, hot on the trail of the Uruk-hai that captured the Hobbits. After the tireless pursuit, the Hunters and freshly-resurrected Gandalf make their way through the rest of the story of The Two Towers and The Return of the King as Gimli proves to be both a sturdy fighter and quite the orator, at least when it comes to talking about the Glittering Caves behind Helm’s Deep. As mentioned above when talking about Legolas’ contributions, one of the Gimli’s most profound additions to the story is his strange bond he forms with his Elven companion. This friendship begins in Lórien and continues through the ups and downs of the rest of the story: the two ride on the same horse, play a friendly game of counting how many Orcs they slay at Helm’s Deep, and ultimately making what they think is their last stand together at the Black Gate at Aragorn’s bidding.
Why it matters: The inclusions of both Gimli and Legolas are tightly wound together. Perhaps what I am about to say with regards to Gimli’s inclusion would seem to contradict what I concluded about Legolas above, but, when considered together, the synergy the Elf and Dwarf create might carry more weight than either one alone. Both characters, therefore, might justify their involvement in the Fellowship solely through their bravery and skills with their respective weapons. Who knows how things may have fared had both Legolas and Gimli not been with the Company from the beginning. I can not say much objectively to that, unfortunately, and that would appeared maybe to go against the entire purpose of this blog, as found in its namesake (Tolkien Facts), but I set out to observe and deliberate about the exact necessity of these characters from a narrative viewpoint and it turns out to be a little less objective than perhaps I though it would be. Is Gimli alone of great necessity to the story? Maybe about as much as Legolas alone is. However, both of these two together make a sound fit in the Fellowship and it is hard to imagine It without them.
This (perhaps a little unsatisfactorily) concludes the third part of the series on Purpose in the Fellowship. Again, and probably not for the last time, the point of this series is not to make a judgement of how these characters interact with readers or try to measure how well Tolkien made them seem real or what exactly each character represents. The web of the narrative in The Lord of the Rings is intricate and thickly-woven and I wanted to write my thoughts out on how the characters Tolkien created are all stuck into that web. How are some of the strings connected? Do some strings carry more weight than others? Which strings are the most central and necessary? I love the story first and foremost and of course the applicability comes into play afterwards and in more subtle ways; perhaps more subtly than I could put into actual words on a blog. Therefore, I leave it here until Part 4 comes around and we look at the Main Characters and their Purpose in the Fellowship.