Tolkien fact 67 – Purpose; Pt. 3: The Three Kindreds

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Legolas

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.

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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.

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Fun fact: Legolas’ hair color is never mentioned in the literature; what if he had dark hair?

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.

Gimli

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).

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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.

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Why it mattersThe 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.

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Tolkien fact 66 – Purpose; Pt. 2: The Other Hobbits

J.R.R. Tolkien has often been criticized about the lack of deep characters in his work. Many would suggest this comes from his attempt to have fifteen main characters in The Hobbit and nine in The Lord of the Rings. Of course, to those that have a real appreciation of his work (or are blinded by fanatical devotion to everything he ever wrote), these criticisms are not to be taken that seriously. Tolkien obviously did not try to make every Dwarf in The Hobbit a main character in the same way the entire Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings  does not contribute to the story equally. I’m not here to pass judgement as a literary scholar (as I have no such degree) about the depth Tolkien’s characters do or do not possess,  but I would like to look closely at the characters he created and examine how exactly they fit into the epic he wove.

In part 1 of this mini series about Purpose in The Lord of the Rings, we looked at the broader swath of how the different races of the Fellowship of the Ring contribute to the narrative at large. I would now like to zoom in a little more on each individual character and see how they all supplement the plot and main ideas of the story. What I am not going to do with this post is try to dissect and interpret the hidden meanings and symbolism of all of the characters’ actions; I want to simply examine why each one is important to this book.

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To accomplish this more easily, I have arbitrarily broken up the Fellowship into smaller parts to both examine groups of the characters and then the individuals. Seeing as how there are nine members of the Fellowship, I have split the characters into three divisions of my own preference: what I call The Other Hobbits, The Three Kindreds, and The Three Keys. These will be explained a little more as we go. As I stated before, I’m not interested (at least not in this particular post) about what each character necessarily represents metaphorically, but more specifically what they contribute to the narrative and why they exist in a practical sense. Hopefully this will also make more sense as we move forward. Lastly, I will give my personal verdict as to whether or not each character was really necessary to include and how their function might have been revised if they were excluded.

In this post, we’ll look at The Other Hobbits of the Fellowship. Parts 3 and 4 will subsequently address The Three Kindreds and The Three Keys.

Note: I will skip most of the trivia and biographical facts for each character as these won’t really contribute much to this discussion and all of that stuff would just be me copying from Wikipedia anyways. Don’t judge me! It’s hard enough remembering the birthdays of people in real life, let alone fictional characters!

The Other Hobbits

The first group I want to take a closer look at in the Fellowship is what I’m calling The Other Hobbits (mostly because I couldn’t think of a more clever name). These will include the three halflings that are not Frodo as he serves more of a main character function and they (arguably) do not; but, while they may not be the sole Ring-bearer, they are not to be outdone in terms of bravery and importance from a narrative perspective. These hobbits all work together, sometimes as a team and sometimes separately, to push the plot along and feed the fire of the fantastical story being developed. Let’s look at them one-by-one and see how Tolkien accomplished this through them (or if he failed at the attempt). The first character we are looking at is Meriadoc Brandybuck; more commonly known as Merry.

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What he does: The first time we have real and meaningful interaction with Merry is when he rides up out of the fog as the hobbits are being taken to the ferry by Farmer Maggot. After the initial scare of thinking he is a Black Rider, he leads the way to Crickhollow (where Frodo is meant to be staying) and from there the real journey begins. It is indeed Merry’s idea to take the “shortcut” through the Old Forest on their way east. This may have placed the halflings in many unnecessary and unexpected dangers but in the end provided some of the most important plot devices in the story. The most immediate of these being that the hobbits were able to evade the Black Riders entirely for the several days they were off the main road. After an eerie trek through the Old Forest and a close-encounter with a bad-tempered tree, they meet Tom Bombadil, an interesting danger in himself, who later saves them from the barrow-wight. Here they receive the barrow blades. These were forged to combat the Witch-king and his armies at a time when darkness threatened the north. This proves most fortunate as Merry uses one of these very blades to aid Éowyn in defeating the Witch-king at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, one of the greatest accomplishments of the entire story.

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Well before this, however, both Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs. This leads to the Three Hunters (Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas) pursuing the band of Uruks in hopes of saving their small friends. Things do not quite work out that perfectly, though perhaps it was better for the story that way. Merry and Pippin, after escaping from the orcs with help from the Riders of Rohan, journey into Fangorn Forest where they meet Treebeard, an ent, and also where the Three Hunters are reunited with Gandalf. The hobbits help Treebeard and the other ents realize exactly what needs to be done about Saruman and his orcs, which leads to the Last March of the Ents on Isengard and the ultimate defeat of Saruman. At the same time, though they did not find the hobbits, Aragorn and his two companions follow Gandalf to Edoras which evetually leads to the salvation of Rohan. Skipping ahead, perhaps the most pertinent contribution to the War of the Ring by Merry, is his humble oath and swearing of himself to King Théoden of Rohan. He accepts Merry’s service and makes him Holdwine of the Mark. This proves to be very important as, after Pippin leaves with Gandalf for Gondor, Merry is alone in the midst of the Rohirrim as they prepare for war. Forbidden by the king to ride with them to Gondor, Merry is taken up by Dernhelm (later revealed to be Éowyn) and gets the opportunity to fight for his new master. As mentioned before, this ultimately proves very fortunate as Merry goes unnoticed by the Witch-king and is able to stab him with the barrow blade, allowing Éowyn to make the final blow.

Why it matters: I think it would be safe to say that Merry’s contribution in the defeat of the Witch-king alone is enough to justify his inclusion in the story. But that’s the thing: that event by itself is a result of so many other interwoven decisions and actions made by him and other characters leading up to that. As we’ll see as we continue through the rest of the Fellowship, it is not easy to take any of them out of the narrative and revise their role. Had Merry not been captured by the orcs, the Fellowship might not have journeyed westward and never have come to Rohan or met Gandalf until it was too late. He also provides us with a point of view from within the ranks of the Rohirrim and gets us closer to the king than perhaps we would see from another character. My verdict on Merry is that he is essential; his Witch-king take-down alone justifies this, I think.

Pippin

What he does: Many of the details of Peregrin Took’s contribution to the story are the same as Merry’s for a large part it, so I’ll try to avoid doubling down. Picking up on Pippin’s unique contribution in the latter parts of the narrative finds him at the foot of Orthanc, as the parley with Saruman is coming to an end. From a window high above, a heavy, globular stone is tossed and smashes one of the front steps of the tower, rolling towards one of the many standing pools of water scattered across the court of Isengard as a result of the fury of the ents. Pippin saves the stone from being lost and picks it up. He reluctantly hands it over to Gandalf, but the damage is already done.

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Pippin’s temptation later gets the best of him and he sneaks the stone away from the wizard while he sleeps. The hobbit gazes into the ball (later revealed to be a Palantír, a Seeing-stone of Númenor) and has an encounter with Sauron, the Dark Lord himself. The result of this is twofold: firstly, Sauron seeing Pippin in the stone was likely a contributing factor to his over confidence in the War of the Ring. This alone did not cause the Dark Lord to over-extend his reach, but certainly gave him a false hope of domination. This is primarily due to him thinking Pippin was the Ring-bearer. Sauron thought Saruman had caught the most important prize of all and was over-excited to finally get his lost Ring back. Secondly, as punishment for his disobedience, Gandalf makes Pippin ride with him to Gondor. A long chain of events results from this, the most important being Pippin’s meeting with Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. Like Merry to Théoden, Pippin swears fealty to the Steward and becomes a member of the Guard of Minas Tirith. This, also like Merry’s relationship to the king of Rohan, allows Pippin almost-unfettered access to the highest places and events of the White City, and a unique perspective of the royalty of Gondor. Finally, when Faramir is brought back to the city and is feared dead by almost everyone, including his own father, Pippin is the one with sense enough to see that it is not so, and stands up to the quickly-waning sanity of Denethor. As Denethor gives the orders for both father and son to be burned alive, Pippin runs to fetch help from Gandalf. The wizard arrives just in time to save Faramir’s life and see the final, sad moments of Denethor’s.

Why it matters: Perhaps Pippin’s peril does not seem to hold as much weight as Merry’s. After all, yeah it was nice he saved a guy’s life, but what did that really accomplish? Sure, Sauron may have gotten fooled for a little bit with his run-in with the hobbit in the Seeing-stone, but what did that ultimately matter? Maybe not much in the long run. Had he not looked into the Palantír, maybe very little would actually be different in the overall narrative structure. We would, as readers, get a lot less information about Denethor and the happenings in Gondor while the Rohirrim were making their way there, and we probably would’ve lost the other son of the Steward, but maybe nothing drastic. I have a personal favor for the chapters with Pippin in Minas Tirith and do think it’s crucial to the story in providing that counterpart perspective to Merry’s Rohan story, but that is just my opinion. My verdict on Pippin’s inclusion is that he is not entirely necessary, though enjoyable.

Sam

What he does: Beloved Samwise Gamgee is the third “other” hobbit in the Fellowship, but perhaps number 1 in the hearts of most readers. There is so much to say about Sam, but I don’t want to fill up the rest of the post on one character. To save time and condense my thoughts, I’ll break Sam’s contribution up into three possible roles he could be described as fulfilling in the narrative:

  1. The servant: In hobbit society, there are very real divisions between families and classes; some are simply born into the higher class and are thus born into more of the role of servant-hood than anything else. This is not to say that all servants stay servants, as Sam is the prime example, but to understand Sam’s role in The Lord of the Rings one must take into account the reality that Sam is not on the same caste level of the other hobbits. This is seen by Sam’s willful attendance to some of the more menial work among the characters. He cooks often and runs errands and takes more than his share of the load and trouble the Fellowship experiences. He knows his place as the story progresses and he finds himself faced with the decision to follow his master, Frodo, or try to head back home. He doesn’t for a second consider leaving his master and acts as though it is his life’s duty to stay by Frodo’s side.sam banner
  2. The friend: Perhaps the most heart-warming aspect of Sam’s many-faceted role is his undying devotion to not only be Frodo’s servant, but also his friend. Sam is constantly defending Frodo throughout the story: from Gollum, from Shelob, and from entire mobs of orcs at Cirith Ungol. He is constantly thinking about Frodo’s well-being and standing up for him, perhaps to the point of stepping out of place as far as servants go, but not shying away from being a true-hearted friend. Sam goes above and beyond what any servant should do, and risks his life as one friend would for another. He loves Frodo. Our modern, homophobic society can’t imagine love between two men meaning anything but “they are gay,” but this is far from that. The love Sam has for Frodo is the love men want to have for each other but can’t shirk their pride long enough to make it happen. Sam is the best friend to have and that plays out in the narrative consistently.
  3. The hero: Referred to by Tolkien as “the chief hero” of the story, Sam could be considered to be one of the main characters of The Lord of the Rings. I am of the persuasion that Frodo is indeed the main character, seeing as how the story follows him and he is the chief person the story revolves around, but I can attest to the fact that Sam’s role is equally important and he is indeed the true hero of the story. His naivety and outright dull-wittedness is largely overridden by his heroism and valor in the latter chapters of the book. He fends off Gollum, absolutely defeats Shelob, and is brave enough to storm the Tower of Cirith Ungol to reclaim his master. Perhaps the most heroic acts he performs involves the One Ring. He makes the desperate decision to take the Ring off of his master when he thought he was dead, and then, in perhaps the most moving scene of the book, he physically carries his weakened master up the face of Mount Doom.sam and frodo bannerOn top of all of this, the key literary function Sam serves is to provide the reader with his perspective. As Frodo slowly slips deeper into the veil of the Ring’s power, he becomes more and more distant; more and more unrelatable to the audience. As this occurs, the narrative naturally shifts to Sam’s perspective. The slow-thinking, but sure-hearted hobbit gives a simple, straight, and more innocent tinge to the final, darker parts of the story.

Why it matters: It should go without saying that Sam’s role in the story is anything but useless. You would have to be a monster to not be moved by the love the hobbit has for his master and friend, and his devotion to the task at hand is admirable to even the most fearless reader. It’s hard to imagine The Lord of the Rings without the Gamgee hobbit involved. “Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam,” is an understatement. A lot of singular acts Sam does justifies his inclusion in the story, not the least being his taking of the Ring before Frodo is captured by the orcs. My verdict on Sam Gamgee, in case it hasn’t been made clear enough, is that he is 100% necessary to the integrity of the story and everything the narrative stands for.


 

This concludes part 2 of my take on Purpose in The Lord of the Rings. The next part will contain the second group of the Fellowship characters, the Three Kindreds, where I talk about the roles Boromir, Gimli, and Legolas play in the story. Do they matter in the long run or did Tolkien just put them in to be able to write more about Dwarves and Elves and snobby Men? We’ll discuss it next time!

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Tolkien fact 65 – Purpose; Pt. 1: The Fellowship Races

It is no secret that Professor Tolkien had a “cordial dislike” for allegory (Tolkien Fact 2). He had no intentions of pushing an agenda on his audience through forced perceptions of characters and events. He favored history, “true or feigned,” and thus wrote out of that preference about characters and places and languages that do not necessarily represent something or are coercively trying to convey a double meaning in the real world. With that being said, he was also a writer, and that meant he was well aware his writing had to be more than simply ink on a page. He wrote primarily for his own enjoyment, but knew that anything worth writing had to be worth reading, and things that are worth reading go deeper than the thickness of the paper the writing is on. In other words, his works did have meaning behind them, and I want to address some of that.

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Tolkien is very well-known for fathering many elements of modern fantasy. Although he did not create many of the races and creatures in his work, he might as well have done so. The way he has shaped and fashioned his world with its languages and races and characters is a hallmark of his wisdom and literary intellect. The creatures and places so many readers have come to love over the years are enduring and are etched into our hearts with as much purpose as if Tolkien himself had told us about them in person. In particular, in The Lord of the Rings, those main characters involved in the Fellowship that accompanies the Ring across Middle-earth have remained with us since our first time reading the words on the pages. I want to discuss a little more in-depth their purposes in the narrative: first, how their races in general relate to the story, and then how each individual character contributes to it. Lastly, as an added bonus, I want to talk about some of the other, non-Fellowship-related races and characters and look a little more closely at how they play out their roles. I hope to do this in a few parts so the post isn’t a mile long and so I can collect and direct my thoughts more clearly.

DISCLAIMER:  In no way at all will I be claiming that all of my thoughts written out here are facts about how Tolkien saw his characters and people groups. I will make some references to things he did actually say about some matters, but for the most part be aware that the following thoughts are simply how I see these matters playing out. Enjoy it!

 

Men

General Purpose

The least fantastical, but most important, element in the Fellowship is Men. Many words come to mind when thinking about the race of Men in Middle-earth: valiant, honorable, doughty, strong, courageous, capable. Tolkien knew how to portray the race of his own people in his stories to make it desirable to be one of them…and then realize that you are one of them! Labelled the After-comers, the Second-born, Men were not the first free-thinking creatures in Middle-earth, nor did they even play an important role in its history until late in the First Age. The Silmarillion has chapters and pages of story before the first Man is introduced. However, when they finally do come on the scene, their might and value is soon shown.

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Tolkien takes a world that is vastly fantastical and almost supernaturally magical, and tosses Men right into the mix of it. Men are mortal, which may seem like a redundant thing to note, but they are the second of the Children of  Ilúvatar (Elves being the first) and they are unlike their older brethren in that they have limited lifespans and are not bound to the earth (this is addressed below in talking about Elves). This means that the lives of Men are characterized by sorrow, by death, and by the grasping at immortality: the thing that is withheld from them. As a result, Tolkien constantly references Men with a tinge of sorrow: battle and war are always threats to their cities and lands, their songs are filled with the pain of loss and wanting, and misery can even be seen in the simple fact their tombs and mounds for their dead are so elaborate. Death is a real issue for the Men of Middle-earth, as Tolkien knew it was for the men of the real world too. The Men in his stories give his readers a handhold to grab onto while the magic and wonder of the tales take them to improbable places and impossible events. They give the reader a sense of hope through adversity and, while the corruption and depravity of Men is a very real thing, redemption is so much sweeter as a result.

Purpose in the Fellowship of the Ring

In the Fellowship, the ideas of immortality and power-lust play important roles. The Ring has been known to prolong life (like Gollum and Bilbo); though not explicitly stated, why wouldn’t the Men who have been hanging around this Ring for weeks and weeks not be tempted to take it and live “forever?” Tolkien places the valiant, yet easily-corrupted Men in positions of leadership in the Nine Walkers and throws in the ultimate source of power and temptation among their group. What could go wrong? The internal conflict (both within the Men and within the group) demonstrates the reality all Men face that even the most-esteemed or courageous can be brought low by the smallest provocation, a fact that is not only true in Middle-earth but in our world as well. This weakness of Men allows any reader to put themselves in the Fellowship and speculate just how well they could resist the Ring’s lure. This mental exercise is prevalent throughout the narrative, even after the Fellowship breaks, but hits home for us as the audience most when Men are involved.

Hobbits

General Purpose

A subset of Men (arguably) and the first race we encounter in The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are a very peculiar people. As described in the prologue to the book, they are short in stature (perhaps their most endearing trait), love to cook, love to garden, love to eat, love to… well, do anything with food and drink, and each have a small “seed of courage” hidden within them. Since the release of The Hobbit, numerous readers have fallen in love with the quirky, plump creatures and their land of the Shire. (Who doesn’t want to eat seven hearty meals every day?) They lead lives of complacency and seem to have no real troubles as a result. But what is really so intriguing about them? Why are they in the Fellowship and why are they the primary characters in the book?

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As mentioned above, the fact that hobbits are related to Men is not enough on its own for them to be interesting and relatable to readers. Tolkien knew this too. These weren’t simply midgets or human children he hoped people would like because they’re small. He needed to craft their characteristics and intrinsic values in such a way that both emphasized their stature and made what seemed to be disadvantages actually turn out to be the primary advantages they possess over other races. He accomplished this fantastically. We love hobbits for this reason: the small overcomes the large and that’s not supposed to happen. It is a common theme in The Lord of the Rings that the weak confound the strong and hobbits are the prime example. Beyond this, the lifestyle a typical hobbit seems to lead can be enticing. Their carefree vibes resonate with busy, tired, and fed-up audiences who slave away at jobs and relationships for what seems like an eternity. The temptation to covet the hobbit way of life is not uncommon among fans of The Lord of the Rings,  but is it all wine and potatoes to be a Shireling (Shire-ite? Shire-ean? Shire-person?)? I would have to say it is not. I make this claim due to the simple fact that if wine and potatoes are all you do, it will be all you know, and this is the exact problem we see the hobbits having in the book. Xenophobia (the fear of people from other countries; in this case, other regions) is all-too-common in the hobbit world. These small people help to give us a healthy dose of reality check when it comes to the way we see others outside of our known culture. I don’t even necessarily mean people from other countries: people who are from another part of our own country, those who are in other religions, or those who are across the aisle politically might as well be considered “aliens” to some of us. We live this out vicariously through the hobbits in Tolkien’s work as they are thrust into places and among people that are very different from them and are forced to deal with the situations.

Purpose in the Fellowship of the Ring

Building off of this idea of hobbits being out of place for the majority of the story, perhaps there is no other place they are out of their depth than in the Fellowship of the Ring. Why are they even in it? Mythos and hobbit lore aside, Tolkien uses hobbits in the main group of characters simply for this: for audiences to be able to understand the story. Let me explain. Through the Men in the Fellowship, we are able to see the struggles of mortals in dire situations and how we might handle those situations ourselves. With hobbits, there is a similar feeling. We can put ourselves in the (very small…actually…non-existent) shoes of the hobbits as they are mortals as well, but that is not the primary reason for their inclusion. The fundamental literary device the hobbits represent is the concept of the fish-out-of-water. Most authors and directors utilize this important aspect of narrative design when crafting stories that would be difficult for an audience to comprehend if they were just thrown into it without a guide. In other words, Tolkien can use a lot of expository text about the landscapes, languages, and other races the hobbits encounter in the book because, for the most part, they have little-to-no idea about what’s going on around them. If Tolkien had chosen to tell the story only from Gandalf or Aragorn’s perspective there would be no organic reason and no good opportunity to describe the differences in Elf kinds or the importance of Minas Tirith or even the significance of Elrond; these characters already know all about those things and reading a conversation between Aragorn and Butterbur about the layout of Bree would seem moot and redundant. However, throw some hobbits into the room that have never been outside of the Shire and now we have a more natural opportunity to present important information about the Bree-land and allow the reader to glean that information as well. In a story like The Lord of the Rings where having background about locations, people, and languages is so important, the role the hobbits play in being a part of the Fellowship is a necessity.

Elves

General Purpose

The nimble, pointy-eared Firstborn of Middle-earth are some of the most well-developed and intriguing peoples Tolkien attempted to portray. With a fictitious history spanning back thousands of years and through legendary stories that are mere memories at the time of The Lord of the Rings, Elves are highly mysterious and equally fascinating. On the surface they appear to be like Men, more or less, but any further inspection reveals cultures and thoughts and magic that is far beyond anything the Men of Middle-earth could comprehend. The primary difference between the Firstborn and the After-comers is the little detail that Elves are immortal. Now, this does not mean they are invincible. The immortality Elves possess means that they will not die of sickness or old age. They can, however, be slain by severe physical trauma and withering grief, though even if they are killed they remain “bound to the world,” while Men die and pass away beyond the confines of the earth (briefly touched on in Tolkien fact 33).

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As mentioned above, this immortality is exactly what mortals seek, or so they think. Throughout the story, Tolkien consistently gives the impression that everything is not mallorns and elanor when you are forced to live forever. The main Elven characters often lament the fluidity of the world, while they remain and it changes around them. They see entire forests and even lands disappear as they outlive them. Some Elves befriend mortals and are forced to watch them wither and die, wondering what the fate of their own kind will be when time comes to an end. Tolkien himself remarks that a main theme of his work is Death (also discussed briefly in the previous link) and that Elves help to give a backdrop and reference point for looking at Death from another perspective.

Purpose in the Fellowship of the Ring

The inclusion of the Elf kindred in the main ring of characters is significant. Though Man-like enough, Elves are hard to relate to. They have amazing vision, are impossibly light-footed, and, beyond that, they live forever. The only things we really have in common with Elves is that we have four limbs and other similar extremities. While much is mentioned about Elven culture over the course of the stories Tolkien wrote, the reader is still pretty clueless about exactly what goes on in Elven societies. It is for precisely this reason that Elves are included as main characters. Tolkien absolutely believed in transcendence; that there is something beyond mortal man. This concept made its way into the primary narrative of the book in the form of characters that were beyond comprehension of those characters we as readers would be relating to. The fact that Elves are constantly at the forefront of the story forces the audience to keep addressing the idea that there are things beyond themselves. Tolkien did believe in God, but a much more subtle and tactful use of transcendence rears up in The Lord of the Rings through the pointy-eared creatures who can see really far. The abilities of the Men and hobbits are heavily contrasted against the abilities of the Elves: whether it’s their agility, their combat prowess, or their subtle magical arts. Elves keep the readers connected to the fantasy elements of Tolkien while making them consider their own place in the world.

Dwarves

General Purpose

The history of the dwarves is a little fuzzy in the Tolkien mythology. A great account is given in The Silmarillion but supposedly that is told from the perspective of Elves and may actually have been different from the real account; whatever. The origins aren’t that important for our purposes here, so I’ll move on. Needless to say, dwarves are very interesting. In height somewhere between hobbits and Men, dwarves are stocky, stubborn, and stouthearted. They are notorious for their mining and craftsmanship (or craftsdwarfship…get it?). Their mines are deep and their halls are splendid to behold. The dwarven cities and realms of Middle-earth are some of the wealthiest places one can journey to, but this extravagance comes at a price.

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Dwarves are typically greedy. Though not inherently evil by any means, the dwarven folk have minds of metal and gems and rarely give their love to anything beside (even to the opposite sex; some dwarves remain single all their lives so they don’t have to sacrifice precious crafting time). This is not to be racist and assume that all dwarves are mindless penny-pinchers, but it would be a safe assumption that all dwarves have a deep desire to mine and work with their hands over almost anything else (though combat may be high on the list for some as well). Tolkien cleverly and fortunately resists the temptation to simply turn dwarves into caricatures of their weaknesses. In the same way he does not portray every Man as a lustful, tongue-lolling Ring snatcher, he also does not make his dwarves as a symbol for greed or anything like that. Greed is a natural temptation for them, yes, but not anything more. They do not all have an irrational desire to devote their whole lives to gold, but the unfortunate bent is there in some ways. Dwarves are very different from Men in many regards, but perhaps more like to them than Elves. Dwarves are mortal, but tend to be very long-lived, thus sharing the problems of both the mortals and immortals in one  way or another.

Purpose in the Fellowship of the Ring

This in-between state of the dwarves makes them perfect candidates for main characters. Their mortality and obvious weaknesses allow readers to connect to them more readily than Elves, but their aberrant love for the earth (as in the actual earth, not necessarily living things like the Elves tend to favor) distances them from the audience in much the same way the Elves are. Dwarves also tend to be more practical, which is a very relatable trait to have in a genre that tends to throw practicality out the window. Most fantasy relies on its fictional reality to accommodate its less-than-logical elements. Tolkien fantasy is a little more mature than that. Having a dwarf as a main character allows the readers to see the common sense responses many of them may be having to the current situation the character are in. Dwarves are slow to lose their bearings in a tight spot and are great narrative anchors for readers to rely on for unwavering determination; it’s just reassuring to have dwarves around.

Wizards

General Purpose

Lastly, let’s take a look at the final component of the Fellowship: the race of the Wizards. Also known as the Istari, the Tolkien wizards are perhaps the most famous part of his fictional work. Almost all modern ideas of fictitious wizardry are some kind of derivative of that found in his stories. Wizards are tremendous characters. Perhaps best known for their power and magic, there is so much more to them as literary devices than just their combat and puzzle-solving capabilities. As with the Elves, so little is known about their origins and culture. Tolkien’s wizards are actually angel-like beings that have come to Middle-earth in flesh and bone to help fight against the Dark Lord. That’s about all we get as far as background goes, but for the story’s sake this is all we need. The insufficient amount of information we have about them adds to their mystery and intrigue, much in the same fashion the odd cultures of the Elves bring us into a mindset that their is something more to them than meets the eye; they are more than old guys with staves.

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The idea of transcendence comes back to mind when we consider the significance of the wizards. They possess knowledge and wisdom and power that is far beyond anything other race presented in the stories. Their tact and subtleties allow them to rally armies and turn the tides of the world with mere words, let alone the magical might they could display if need presses. Wizards are representations of power, both the cloaked and the unrestrained.

Purpose in the Fellowship of the Ring

This inherent power wizards possess make them natural leaders and overseers. Readers clearly and immediately get the sense that wizards are nobody’s fools and are not easily swayed or daunted. The audience is allowed a breath of relief while a wizard is in the mix, knowing that the simple presence of their power is enough to face any challenge their followers will meet. This is not to remove tension and drama entirely, as wizards are not gods, but merely a very reliable champion and standard to rally around. Readers should feel safe and sheltered in the presence of an Istari, but at the same time realize that if any happened to that keystone character, the entire situation may crumble around the remainder of the characters. It’s hard to not put all of your eggs in one wizard basket, but if you do, beware! They are not invincible and not all of their plans are foolproof!


So these are the races of the Fellowship. Readers can rest assured that no race in Tolkien’s work will ever be a definite allegory or objective symbol for any one idea or concept. The applicability of the races and characters and events in his stories is what intrigues me the most. I love thinking about these things and challenging the way I see things both in Middle-earth and also seeing how that applies to my life. Tolkien has a way of bringing you into his world but also changing the world you already are in as well. (Sorry, I’m getting too deep now; I should probably wrap it up.)

Next up, in part 2, we’ll begin looking at each specific character in the Fellowship and see how they contribute to the sum of the narrative, starting with some Hobbits!

Then, in part 3, we continue the trend with the “Three Kindreds.”

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Previous Post: Tolkien fact 64

Tolkien fact 64 – PG-13 is an Understatement

“I loved Liv Tyler as Arwen! What a strong female character!” “Oh! Those Black Riders in the movie were so creepy!” “I mean, I like The Lord of the Rings and all, but Game of Thrones is just so much more gritty and realistic.”

These are but a small sample of conversations you may hear when the topic of the The Lord of the Rings movies comes up: Some love them. Some hate them. Some just prefer other fantasy over them. I’m not here to argue why The Lord of the Rings is better than Game of Thrones, but I am here to address an interesting point about these movies so many have come to know and love: the books are different, and therefore the movies could’ve been much different. Peter Jackson has been criticized a lot over these films and that’s not what I mean to do here. I simply want to look at the book and see how much different the films I would make out of it would be. Let me spoil something up front: they wouldn’t be rated PG-13, and justly so.

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As an amateur film-lover (and wanna-be, self-proclaimed critic), I love talking about movies (usually playing the devil’s advocate) and I enjoy hearing what other people think about movies. Movies are easy to connect to others through and, seeing as how this blog is devoted to all things Tolkien, I find it very easy to connect to others who enjoy the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, as much as I may have personally enjoyed them (and continue to enjoy them on the reg) it may come as a surprise to some that they were not and are not received well by some audiences. Now, the The Hobbit movies are another story entirely, but it’s hard to look at the The Lord of the Rings films and not see them as deserving of their 800-something nominations and 470-something awards. They’re objectively “good” movies (for what that’s worth). But that’s not what I mean when I say people still criticize them. By this I mainly mean that many fans of the book (whom the general public would scorn and call ‘nerds’) were and are upset by some of the changes to the story for the film’s adaptation.

Let me pause here and address that: Personally, I think the books are un-filmable. I hold this thought in contention and balance with the seemingly-contradictory view that Peter Jackson’s movies are amazing. I do this by taking everything I see on film with a grain of salt. By that I mean I try to watch the movies as though the books didn’t exist. I ask myself things like, “Do I have good reason to care about this character right now? Is what they’re doing relevant to other parts of the story? Was that scene realistic in this world?” and so on. The films alone are great, but in comparison to the book…eh, not so much. There are many departures from the book that I feel were necessary to make the literature fit onto the silver screen, so to speak. The way the story sits on the pages, a direct-to-film adaptation would be slow, boring, and somewhat dry (so, obviously I would love it; but general audiences would despise it, and that’s where the money comes from). Peter Jackson took a slow, sonorous, and lengthy epic about small people turning the big gears of the world and made it into a combat-based action movie; and it worked brilliantly! While it remains at its core The Lord of the Rings, it is nothing really like its text-based counterpart.

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With that said, I now want to address the main point of this article (finally, sorry): what would the films actually be rated if they were true to the book’s narrative? I want to do that, not by going through every scene in the book and trying assign a rating based on every little detail, but by examining some of the scenes that were actually converted into Jackson’s films already, as well as a handful that were not, but could affect the rating in major ways. Here we go!

Well…actually…sorry. Before we do that, I think it would be appropriate to briefly touch on the system used to rate modern films. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is responsible for rating every major film for the general public’s good, but this is not enforced by any law. Films can and are released without such a rating, but many theaters can and do refuse to show those. The ratings that we are all probably familiar with are as follows:

G – General Audiences: All ages admitted; typically nothing in these movies would offend even the most cautious parent.

PG – Parent Guidance Suggested: There may be some things that would offend some younger audiences. Violence in these movies would be very mild. Profanity can be present in these movies but it will be mild and not sexually-oriented. Brief, partial nudity may be present, but never in a sexual context.

PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned: Material in these movies will be inapproriate for younger audiences and maybe even teenagers. Drug-related material may be found in these movies. They can contain multiple expletives, with sexually-derived ones present too, but only one or two instances of “hard” curse words. Nudity may be present, but no actual sex scenes (supposedly). Frightening or thrilling action and horror scenes will typically receive this rating as well.

R- Restricted: If you’re under 17, you have to have a guardian with you for these. These will mainly be adult movies with a lot of adult content. The reigns are removed when it comes to most sex and profanity. Violence, horror, and gore are pretty liberal in these movies. Most kids and teenagers do not need to see these movies.

With a clear frame of reference, we can now go on with the show:

1. The Black Riders

Any person that read the book before the year 2001 (which would not include me)and was looking forward to seeing their favorite parts of the book portrayed on the big screen had a lot to be thankful for, as Peter Jackson did many things correctly both visually and from a narrative perspective. In the book, the Black Riders are terrifying foes (see Tolkien Fact 44 for more info) and some of the scenes with them in it are some of the more nail-biting experiences I’ve had while reading a book.

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The hobbits move through the forests and fields of the Shire and you get the sense Black Riders are everywhere, but the first real encounter with them is at Weathertop. The movie does a great job making this scene dramatic and intense, but the book is more focused on the horror of the moment. The hobbits huddle around a fire, knowing that danger is out there and that the Black Riders are aware of their location; they sit in silence, facing away from the fire and staring into the pitch black of night all around them, wondering when the Riders will show up. Suddenly, they get the impression, rather than actually see, that huge shapes and shadows are looming up outside of the ring of the firelight and… *shudder*. I can’t go on. It’s too intense. Just imagine it on film, though: The camera is with the hobbits by the fire, looking over one of their shoulders into the blackness. There’s no music. You can only hear the sounds of their shallow, frightened breathing. Something moves in the night, only feet away from the camp: a shadow, black moving on black. The hobbits hold their breath. There’s no sound. The shadows move closer and grow larger but there are no footsteps. The huge shapes move into the flickering light of the low-burning fire. Huge, man-shaped figures in trailing, tattered, black robes seem to float slowly towards the camera… *shudder*. I think I’ll stop here, before I get too scared to sleep tonight (and before this turns into a fan-fiction). So, one could imagine perhaps a more terrifying scene than the one portrayed in the current films. However, as scary as the actual scene is, this may not alone warrant an R-rating. Maybe PG-13. Let’s move on.

2. Orcs

Needless to say, Tolkien is not known for his use of curse words in his writing. In typical British fashion, insults like ‘ass’ do come up in his work, but are meant to be no more than the modern equivalent to calling someone dumb or, literally, a donkey (as the origin of the curse probably comes from). The current movies are rated PG-13 not for any kind of profanity, but would a more book-hugging film be? Obviously, those who are reading this that have read The Lord of the Rings know that there is no explicit language in the book, at least you wouldn’t be able to find any with a word-search. However, Tolkien is known for the creation of one of the most foul and despicable races in modern fantasy: the orcs. The movies have done a brilliant job with the visual design, audio design, and overall feel of the loathsome creatures. You can see the difference between the distinct types and tribes of orcs (Tolkien fact 52) and get the sense that they are not nice guys to be around. But what does the book say about them? In the pages of the novel, we see the same ugly, depraved, and ruthless species, but other details are given about them that may not come out exactly in the film.

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When Merry and Pippin are being lugged and herded across the plains of Rohan, we get a chance to listen in on some conversations and quarrels between the different groups present. Tolkien often describes the orcs as cursing and swearing, though he never writes out the words himself. One is left with the impression that this sweaty, grimy, smelling troop of goblins is hideous to see and grating on the ears in terms of the foul things coming out of their mouths. I imagine a bunch of inmates in the worst prison being forced to work a construction site together in the middle of Iraq. (Although, I have nothing against all inmates, construction workers, or Iraqi people. Just imagine some tough guys sweating and cursing a lot.) I’m not sure exactly what the “worst” dirty words were back in the 40’s and 50’s in Europe, but I bet they weren’t much different than the ones we use today. I bet Tolkien knew exactly what the orcs were saying, and they would probably use up their 1-2 “f-word limit” pretty quickly in a PG-13 movie. I would say an R-rating may be justified to accurately portray the orc society and customs.

3. Barrow-wight’s Lair

One of my favorite scenes in the book is left out of our modern film adaptation, and that’s the time when our unfortunate hobbits are captured by a Barrow-wight. (Tolkien fact 40) This takes place immediately after, and in contrast to, the scene with Tom Bombadil (also not featured in the movies). The hobbits leave his house and attempt to traverse the Barrow-downs. Obviously, something has to go wrong in a good story, and it goes very wrong in this case. The group strays into thick fog and wanders into the midst of the barrows. The fog is so thick that they can’t see each other close by and night is setting in: a perfect setup for a horror story, and Tolkien takes advantage of it. Frodo thinks he sees the opening in the hills they thought they saw earlier that day from far off but as he runs ahead in excitement he realizes where they have wandered into.

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The shapes he thought were hills marking the exit to the downs were actually huge standing stones, ominous and chilling. As he turns, he realizes he is separated from his friends and calls out. He thinks he hears responses but they seem far away. He runs blindly towards the calls as he can best guess but eventually the calls trail off into a wailing, “Help!…” Frodo is left alone in deep fog that is beginning to tatter and shred as a chilling night breeze picks up, leaving us with one of my favorite scenes in the book for its creep-value:

“[Frodo] imagined suddenly that he caught a muffled cry, and he made towards it; and even as he went forward the mist was rolled up and thrust aside, and the starry sky was unveiled. A glance showed him that he was now facing southwards and was on a round hill-top, which he must have climbed from the north. Out of the east the biting wind was blowing. To his right there loomed against the westward stars a dark black shape. A great barrow stood there.

‘Where are you?’ he cried again, both angry and afraid.

‘Here!’ said a voice, deep and cold, that seemed to come out of the ground. ‘I am waiting for you!’

‘No!’ said Frodo; but he did not run away. His knees gave way, and he fell on the ground. Nothing happened, and there was no sound. Trembling he looked up, in time to see a tall dark figure like a shadow against the stars. It leaned over him. He thought there were two eyes, very cold though lit with a pale light that seemed to come from some remote distance. Then a grip stronger and colder than iron seized him. The icy touch froze his bones, and he remembered no more.”

Then we actually get into the dank, dark barrow. Frodo wakes up in the tomb with his friends lying next to him, looking dead. He has a dreadful encounter with a creaking, creepy hand crawling around the corner to get them, but I won’t go into much detail. Let me just say it’s scary. So, we have this horrifying story, comparable maybe to the Weathertop scene with the Black Riders in terms of how scary it is, but maybe that alone wouldn’t warrant an R-rating either. However, this scene isn’t the only part I’m concerned about in the chapter.

Eventually, (spoilers) Tom Bombadil rescues the hobbits. However, they were dressed in some kind of ancient burial clothing by the wight and had lost the clothes and gear they had on them when they were captured. Tom instructs them to remove their clothes and run free over the fields naked while he goes and finds their ponies. Naked. Imagine that odd scene in a movie. Didn’t think there was nudity in Tolkien? Well, there is. Four naked hobbits. Obviously, they could be shown above the waist in a movie and the nudity is by no means sexual in the least, but it’s there and the MPAA would have to consider the idea of four naked hobbits (an idea I keep repeating with emphasis because it’s funny) when they rate this hypothetical movie. Enjoy your thoughts of naked hobbits.

4. Combat in general

Perhaps one of the easiest things to consider when thinking about how much more adult The Lord of the Rings could be is violence. I said earlier that Jackson took a book that was not by any means an action-based or thriller novel and turned it into a movie that was like that and, while that’s true, the books still do contain a decent amount of action and violence. All of the major battles from the movies, and more, are in the books in more or less detail. Some things had to be stretched or squished to make the movie feel more natural but for the most part the movies do justice to the battles. However, lovers of Game of Thrones and action-based fantasy or thrillers may scoff at the lack of blood and gore in these movies.

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Tolkien did not shy away from violence and yet did not focus on it or let it take over the story he was trying to tell; it was a natural part of the narrative he was fleshing out and he used it when it was necessary. Peter Jackson has also not be known to shy away from violence and gore in some of his previous films and there is a fair share of violence and even some blood in his The Lord of the Rings adaptation. Orcs get beheaded, blood spurts out of orcs while they die (sometimes), but mainly we don’t see much of the “real” or “gritty” side of the battles portrayed. The violence present is doubtless the only real reason it is a PG-13 movie to begin (lacking drugs, language, and nudity anyways), but the violence we get is pretty tame for a movie that has large segments of our heroes mercilessly slaying orcs. The natural progression of this aspect into reality is to increase the gore, the violent deaths, and the overall feel of battle. For the most part, the battles are there to serve as proving grounds for our characters; chances for them to show that they too can kill droves of bad guys and save the day in the end. But the battles are a little grimmer than that in the book. Tolkien does a great job of only giving detail when it matters (yes, all of the details about location and tree colors are important to true fans, mind you) and he doesn’t hesitate to portray war like it is: desperate and wicked. He talks of orcs and wild men hewing the bodies of those that are already dead in the Battle of Helms Deep. You can also imagine that the men and orcs aren’t worried about their mothers hearing what they are saying while they’re in the middle of battle; in other words, I bet there is a lot of cursing going on. Now, this is not to say that I want to see these things in a version of The Lord of the Rings but if a movie was going to attempt realism in this fictional world, these are the kind of things you could logical expect to see.

5. Shelob’s Lair

The final scene I want to touch on is, once again, a horror scene. Shelob is nothing to mess with, in both the book and movie. This huge spider-form of evil is wicked, malicious, and always hungry. The scene in the movie where she is silently sneaking up on Frodo and he doesn’t know it is one of my favorite in the trilogy. However, as much as I enjoy the changes for the film, the original scene is equally as cool, though 20X more scary. Frodo and Sam do not actually get tricked by Gollum into splitting up (though it adds a nice element of despair to the movie) and they both head into Shelob’s lair, though they don’t know who lives there. It’s pitch black and they can’t see anything. They can only feel that the tunnels they are walking through are large and the smell is horrendous. The smell gets stronger and stronger and a presence of foreboding weighs on them more and more as they get closer to Shelob’s den.

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Imagine this in movie-form: obviously a pitch black scene is largely un-filmable. Though darkness is scary, you have to have some kind of contrast for reference to actually be afraid in it, at least in a movie. One option would be a black screen and then some kind of jump scare with Frodo pulling out the Phial of Galadriel and seeing Shelob, but I feel like that would be a cheap shot and not interesting. My preference, though different, may be a little scarier and possibly horrifying enough to get an R-rating; I don’t know. When Sam and Frodo enter the tunnels, a night-vision camera comes on.

cloverfield

Use of night vision in movie Cloverfield; obviously my movie wouldn’t use a handheld camera… or would it?

Yes, this may be cheesy and out of place, but I would hope, if done correctly, this would add to the effect of the scene being eerie and the feeling of the hobbits being out of place as well. The camera is fixed to go in front of the hobbits, looking back at them, so the audience can’t see where they’re going, only what’s around them. As they progress, maybe some kind of ominous music, strings or something eerie, comes in and builds as the tension ratchets up. The voices of the hobbits quicken and their breathing becomes sharp and they no longer worry about whispering. They also stop worrying about where they’re stepping and jog together, slipping and stumbling on things lying on the floor of the tunnel; we can see these things are bones, heads, body parts, and weapons and clothes of people Shelob has consumed, but the hobbits don’t know. When they approach the entrance to Shelob’s actual lair, they can’t see in it, but we can. Two huge clusters of bulbous eyes and huge fangs and long hairy limbs curled up underneath her, only feet away from the hobbits. They only make mention of the smell, but we know the real danger. It’s scenes like this that are scary to me: situations where the audience knows the danger that the characters can’t possibly be aware of and also are hopeless to get through. Maybe this also wouldn’t be R-rated either, but I would hesitate to bring my kids if I knew a scene like that was in a movie. Think of all the sleepless nights kids and teenagers have over less.


In conclusion, these are just a handful of scenes and ideas that could be different in another version of the movies. There are more scenes that come to mind that may have more adult features in the book, but I feel these are the prominent ones to point out. Perhaps not all of these alone, or even together would get the MPAA’s R-rating, but I feel like some of them would make the decision a little harder for that group. Like I said, the current movies are more than fine to me. The PG-13 rating is also a good medium for them. I cringe to think how lame the action would be if a PG rating were to be slapped on them. Again, I don’t bring these points up to say that I want to see an R-rated adaptation. An R-rating would prevent so many people from seeing this amazing story played out. I certainly would not be as big of a fan as I am now if the movies had been rated R, as I was too young when they were released. I’m glad and thankful to be able to have complaints in the first place about a The Lord of the Rings trilogy; it’s truly a blessing to have such a masterful adaptation of a film that I would say you really shouldn’t attempt to film in the first place.

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Tolkien fact 63 – “What do your elf eyes see?”

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There are many different settings, events, themes, and characters from The Lord of the Rings that have endured time and transcended the pages of the book and pictures of the big screen. Much of Tolkien’s world has been immortalized and solidified in our minds with fan-created artwork, short stories, websites (like this), and, best (or worst) of all, memes. Many memes have their origins in Middle-earth: “One Does Not Simply… Boromir,” “I Have No Memory…Gandalf,” among others.

legolas

But perhaps the most famous and well-known, even among people who aren’t familiar with the books or movies, is good ol’ Legolas announcing what his “elf eyes see,”  resulting in one of the most comical (though annoying and immature) Lord of the Rings memes on the web. At the same time, there is perhaps no other meme based on a scene from the movie that is more false than this one.

Let me explain: the meme itself is accurate. The Uruks really were taking the hobbits to Isengard. The orcs captured Merry and Pippin and were in transit to Saruman at this point of the story. Legolas’ elf eyes really did see that. However, the line immediately preceding what would soon live in Internet infamy is downright wrong.

Aragorn asks Legolas: “Legolas, what do your elf eyes see?” Legolas replies, looking off into the distance, “The Uruks have turned northeast. They are taking the hobbits to Isengard! [to Isengard!] [to Isengard!]” …and the ensuing song happily turns our brains to mush.

Now, the discrepancy that is glaring to me in this quote probably passes right over 99% of other viewers, not due to intellect or being inattentive , but simply due to a lack of knowledge (or care) of the map this world is based on.

Fear not! My cartographic obsession with Middle-earth finally comes in handy!

Emyn muil map

The map above roughly shows the area Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are at when the scene in the movie is taking place (circled in red).

This map shows where Isengard is located (circled in blue):

isengard map

This is the same map with the Cardinal directions overlaid on top of the area roughly where the company of Uruks is at the time Legolas is speaking:

compass map

This map shows the direction “northeast” marked in green:

northeast map

So, I hope you can see where I’m going with this. Obviously the orcs were NOT turning northeast.

This scene is only in the movie and so the book does not share this inconsistency, but this also means we can only speculate as to how this error made it through the movie making process. Was the line written wrong originally? Did Orlando Bloom misread the line? Even if either of these two possibilities took place, how did this mistake get through editing? It is likely the editors simply missed it. Or they may have also noticed it and, like I mentioned before, knew that hardly anyone would take note of it. Did you notice it before you read this (or heard it somewhere else)? Unfortunately, at least for me, when such errors are brought to light in movies I enjoy, it tends to take me out of the experience the next time I watch it. This particular discrepancy is forgivable, though glaringly obvious after you notice it.

What can we learn from this?

  1. Even the best movies aren’t perfect.
  2. You can’t always trust an elf’s eyes.
  3. thehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbitsthehobbits

Tolkien fact 62 – Isildur and the Ring

“…but the hearts of Men are easily corrupted.” Galadriel has few other words to say in the movies about Isildur, son of Elendil, the warrior who cut the One Ring from the hand of Sauron. Isildur may indeed be famous for his corruption, but there is more history to this Gondorian King and his account of the Ring than one may be able to glean from the movies alone.

isildur

At the end of the Second Age Isildur used the broken blade of his father (Narsil) to cut the One Ring from the Dark Lord’s hand, thus ending the battle and (for a time) defeating Sauron. Upon this unexpected victory, Isildur claimed the Ring as his own, realizing Its tremendous power and yet remaining, at first, unaware of Its malicious intent. He took It as a sort of consolation and “weregild” for the grievous losses suffered during the war, including his father, Elendil, and brother, Anárion. Against the council of the High-elven kings (Círdan and Elrond), Isildur did not destroy the Ring, but instead kept It for himself, to be an heirloom in his kingdom.

Not long after the end of the battle, Isildur returned briefly to Minas Tirith. Here he writes his personal description of the Ring:

“It was hot when I first took it, hot as a glede, and my hand was scorched, so that I doubt if ever again I shall be free of the pain of it. Yet even as I write it is cooled, and it seemeth to shrink, though it loseth neither its beauty nor its shape…”

He then goes on to describe the fiery writing that faded when it finally cooled, having left the heat of Sauron’s hand. This writing he believed to be in the Black Speech of Mordor, though he never knew what it said. Perhaps the most alarming quote by Isildur is:

“…I will risk no hurt to this thing: of all the works of Sauron the only fair. It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”

This quote is eerily similar to a future bearer of the Ring; someone who very famously refers to It as his “Presciousss.” (…It’s Gollum. The person I was referring to is Gollum, if you didn’t get that.)

Isildur then left Minas Tirith to claim his kingship of the north kingdom of Arnor, while the south kingdom of Gondor was to be entrusted to the heirs of Anárion. As his company journeyed north along the banks of the Anduin they were waylaid by a band of orcs near the Gladden Fields. Isildur and his men were far outnumbered and, though they drove the orcs back once, defeat was eminent. Before the battle had begun, he sent his equire, Ohtar, away with the shards of Narsil. These were delivered to Isildur’s youngest son, Valandil, who was only ten years old and staying at Rivendell at the time. Isildur’s oldest son counselled him to flee and save the Ring, and he did.

Isildur put the Ring on, became invisible, and slipped away from the battle, leaving his servants and sons to perish, though he regretted it before the end. He attempted to cross the river but, as he swam, the Ring changed Its size and slipped from his finger. Orcs then spotted him and slew him with arrows. The orcs were not aware Isildur was in possession of the Ring and neither It nor his body was recovered then. Only three men of that company escaped the Disaster of the Gladden Fields as it was later called, including Ohtar. Few people thereafter knew that Isildur lost the Ring that day and even Sauron was at a loss as to where It had ended up.

It would be another 2460 years before anything else is heard of the Ring, and that fateful chance is the spark to set in motion the events of The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien fact 61 – The Dead Marshes

One of the more eerie parts of The Two Towers has Frodo and Sam following Gollum through a vast marshland shortly after they encounter him. In the midst of the fens they discover that the marshes are not normal at all, but house very disturbing images in their murky waters.

dead marshes

Just to the northwest of Mordor, between the Black Gate and the Emyn Muil, lies a large expanse of bogs and fens stretching for miles and miles across the barren land. Gollum seems to be very familiar with this area and describes its history to Frodo and Sam briefly.

The area was named the Dead Marshes and Sam quickly discovers why. At one point in their trek across the desolate land, small lights appear: little flickers of flame with no sign of their sources. These pop up all around the travelers and Gollum immediately warns the other two to not follow these lights, calling them “tricksy.”

Soon after, Sam stumbles and lands on his hands on the edge of a large mere. In the stagnant water he sees very clearly the image of a dead face and quickly pulls himself away. When he questions Gollum about it, he gets the following response:

“…You should not look in when the candles are lit…All dead, all rotten. Elves, and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes. There was a great battle long ago, yes…They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates. But the Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping.”

To this, Sam replies with logic, saying that the bodies couldn’t have lain there for “an age and more,” asking if there was “some devilry hatched in the Dark Land.” Gollum replies:

“Who knows?.. You cannot reach them, you cannot touch them. We tried once, yes, precious. I tried once; but you cannot reach them. Only shapes to see, perhaps, not to touch.”

This description is about all there is in the legendarium about these Marshes, so far as you can trust Gollum’s account. Although not thoroughly explained in the film, it would appear as though there are no real bodies or corpses in the waters of the Marshes, just some image to trick unfortunate travels or something more sinister. The images are never mentioned nor explained again and neither are the lights. The battle Gollum alludes to is the Batttle of Dagorlad in which Sauron was first overthrown at the end of the Second Age.

Gollum leads Frodo and Sam out of the swamp over the course of several nights (refusing to travels while the Sun is out) and they have little other troubles besides the occasional fright of a flying Ring-wraith.