Aragorn (Strider, Elessar)
Aragorn is the traditional hero of The Lord of the Rings—the noble warrior who, through valiant martial acts, wins back his crown and marries the fair maiden in the end. Tolkien’s choice to make hobbits (the everyday people) the protagonists of his story forces Aragorn into a subordinate position in the narrative, but the reader’s response to Aragorn remains what it would be for a conventional medieval epic or romance hero—a King Arthur, a Roland, or a Beowulf. Aragorn is heir to the throne of Isildur, rightful king of Gondor, who leads his followers against the Dark Lord Sauron and eventually returns victorious as king of the united Gondor and Arnor, the Northern Kingdom, ushering in a kind of renaissance after the War of the Ring.
Aragorn first appears in The Lord of the Rings as the rough and suspicious-looking Ranger called Strider, sent by Gandalf to help Frodo and his companions on their journey to Rivendell. From the beginning, he must caution them against carelessness as the Black Riders pursue them. He is able to protect them on Weathertop from a full assault by the Riders, and is able temporarily to stave off the lethal effects of Frodo’s wound until he can reach Rivendell and Elrond’s care. In Rivendell, Aragorn reforges the sword of his ancestor Elendil to use in the coming struggle against Sauron. A logical choice to join the Fellowship of the Ring, he takes over as leader of the Fellowship when Gandalf falls to the Balrog in Moria. Aragorn leads the group to Lothlórien and then down the river Anduin to Parth Galen, where the Fellowship is broken after Boromir’s death, Frodo’s departure for Mordor, and Merry and Pippin’s capture by orcs. With Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn pursues the orcs into Rohan, where he is befriended by Éomer, captain of the Rohirrim. Reunited with Gandalf at Fangorn Forest, he accompanies the wizard to Edoras, where they gain the alliance of Rohan’s King Théoden. With the Rohirrim, Aragorn fights at the Battle of the Hornburg at Helm’s Deep, after which he is with Gandalf and Théoden when they confront Saruman at Orthanc. Here he gains possession of a palantír, which is by rights his own property as Isildur’s heir. Through this seeing-stone, he strives mentally with Sauron himself, revealing his existence to the Dark Lord and displaying the reforged sword. This helps to draw Sauron’s attention from the true threat, which is Frodo and the ring.
From here, Aragorn travels the Paths of the Dead, demanding the allegiance of the Army of the Dead, oathbreakers who can be put to rest by fulfilling their oath to Isildur through aiding his heir. He leads the Grey Company against Sauron’s fleet of corsairs approaching Minas Tirith from the south, and captures the ships, which he sails with an army of Gondor’s allies up the Anduin in time to turn the tide of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. He refuses to enter the city as king after the battle but does enter secretly to heal the wounded in the Houses of Healing, an act that signifies he is the true king. He leads the army in a final desperate assault on the Black Gate of Mordor, which gives Frodo and Sam enough time to complete their quest and destroy the One Ring. At the conclusion of the war, he returns to Minas Tirith; is crowned by Gandalf; finds a seedling of the White Tree—symbol of his line; and marries Arwen, the elf maiden who is daughter of Elrond. He takes the name King Elessar, using the Quenya name meaning “elfstone,” referring to the green stone he wears around his neck, a gift from Arwen.
Aragorn is more than a two-dimensional hero. He is humanized by his doubts, his humility, his hesitancy to claim his throne, and his frustrated love for Arwen: Her father will permit her to marry no one less than the restored king of Arnor and Gondor. Aragorn’s descent to the dead and return to the world as the conquering hero parallel similar descents of epic heroes like Odysseus and Aeneas, and put him into that mythic category. In Tolkien’s appendices to The Return of the King, much of Aragorn’s back story is told: He was raised in Rivendell by Elrond, in order to keep his existence a secret from Sauron. Elrond finally revealed his true identity to him when he was 20 years old. At that same time, he met and fell in love with Elrond’s daughter, Arwen. Elrond did not encourage their courtship, so Aragorn left Rivendell and for decades fought against the Dark Lord, serving in disguise for a time with both King Thengel of Rohan and with Ecthelion, steward of Gondor. At the age of 49, he met Arwen again in Lórien, where they pledged their love to each other on Cerin Amroth. He forged a friendship with Gandalf during these years, and shortly before the War of the Ring, at Gandalf’s request, he tracked down and captured the creature Gollum.
After the War of the Ring, Aragorn reigned for 120 years as King Elessar, bringing peace and prosperity to the reunited kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, after which he was succeeded by his son Eldarion. After his death, Arwen (having renounced her immortality) pined for several years before dying in Lothlórien and being buried on Cerin Amroth.
In The Lord of the Rings, his importance lies chiefly in his relationship with his cousin Frodo. He passes on the One Ring to Frodo, and thereby inadvertently ensures that Frodo must be the Ringbearer, taking on the task of destroying the ring to keep it from the hands of Sauron. Bilbo, having never married, adopts the orphaned Frodo as his heir. After reaching the advanced age of 111, Bilbo decides to leave the Shire forever and to live among his friends, the elves, at Rivendell. He bequeaths his home, Bag End, to Frodo, along with most of his possessions, including the ring. When Frodo arrives at Rivendell and confers with Bilbo, he finds Bilbo living as an honored friend of the elves; in fact, Bilbo volunteers to bear the ring to Mordor himself, though his offer is not taken seriously because of his advanced age. But he gives Frodo his elven mithril mail coat, which will turn any blade, as well as his elvish sword Sting.
When Frodo returns to Rivendell, he finds Bilbo much frailer than before, and the older hobbit gives Frodo the Red Book of Westmarch, in which he has recorded his memoirs, and in which he wants Frodo to record his own. At the end of the trilogy, Bilbo travels with Elrond and the court of Rivendell to the Grey Havens to take a ship to the Undying Lands beyond the western sea. He is joined by Frodo, both Ring-bearers being unable to live any longer in the mundane world.
Bilbo’s function in the novel is significant: The fact that he bore the ring for more than 60 years without succumbing to its evil influence is good evidence that hobbits, as a humble and simple people, may provide a Ring-bearer most able to accomplish the quest. But the dangers of the ring are also evident in Bilbo. Gandalf must warn him several times to leave it behind at Bag End, though it still mysteriously finds its way into Bilbo’s pocket. When he asks to see the ring in Rivendell, Bilbo snatches at it like a greedy animal, an act that Frodo ultimately repeats when he believes that Sam wants to take the ring from him in Mordor.
Bilbo’s other function in the tale is that of storyteller. His memoirs and notes recorded in the Red Book are passed on to Frodo, and ultimately to Sam. The implication is that Tolkien used this book, or some text derived from it, to provide the story that he records as The Lord of the Rings.
Boromir, eldest son of Denethor of Minas Tirith, is heir to the stewardship of Gondor. One of the Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir proves a courageous but flawed individual who yields to the temptation of the One Ring and attacks Frodo at Amon Hen, but ultimately he redeems himself, giving his life in a fruitless attempt to save Merry and Pippin from the orcs who kidnap them.
Boromir first appears in The Lord of the Rings at the Council of Elrond. He has come to Rivendell seeking an interpretation of a dark dream that his brother Faramir has had, in which a voice directed them to seek the sword that was broken, where they would find Isildur’s Bane and where a Halfling would stand forth. Boromir had insisted that he take on the arduous journey to Rivendell, which has taken him more than three months, in order to find someone to make sense of the prophetic dream. In Imladris, he takes part in the Council of Elrond, arguing from the beginning that the ring should be brought to Minas Tirith, to be used as a last resort to protect the city. Although the council decides otherwise, Boromir becomes a part of the Fellowship and proves his worth on Mount Caradhras, where he burrows through the snow and (having grown fond of Merry and Pippin) carries the hobbits to safety. In Lórien, Boromir is uncomfortable with Galadriel’s reading his thoughts, and on the way down the Anduin, he continually tries to persuade Aragorn that the company should go first to Minas Tirith. His obsession with the ring grows as the company travels farther south, until he begins talking to himself about it.
On Amon Hen, the lure of the ring finally proves too powerful for Boromir to resist. He finds Frodo alone on the mountain, and after trying unsuccessfully to convince the hobbit to bring the ring to Gondor, he tries to take it from him by force, so that Frodo is obliged to use the ring to escape. Boromir repents immediately and returns to camp to report Frodo’s disappearance.
In the opening chapter of The Two Towers, Boromir fights boldly, slaying 20 orcs before succumbing himself as he attempts to protect Merry and Pippin from the company of orcs who have come to take them to Isengard. In his dying words, he repents his madness and accepts his death as a just retribution. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli give him an honorable funeral and send his body down the river (where it is eventually seen by Boromir’s brother, Faramir).
Boromir’s actions convince Frodo to go on alone, since he feels he cannot trust any of his companions not to give in to the One Ring’s allure. However, good comes from this evil (a theme that consistently recurs throughout The Lord of the Rings), since the orcs who attack the camp kidnap the wrong hobbits, and the ring eludes their grasp.
Boromir is strong, courageous, intrepid, and proud. He is justly proud of his people for their long defiance of Sauron, and he is the champion and hope of these people. Born into a ruling family, he chafes at the restriction placed on him, that he must be steward and not king in Gondor. Essentially, Boromir is a tragic figure. His obsession with the ring proves to be the flaw that initiates his downfall, which is deserved but understandable, since he hopes to use the ring for good, unaware that it can only corrupt those who desire its power. In the end, he achieves a tragic knowledge, recognizing his error and his failure.
Denethor II is the 26th and last of the line of ruling stewards of Gondor. He is proud, willful, courageous, and, until his reason leaves him at the end of his life, a wise ruler.
In his youth, even as heir to the stewardship, Denethor was overshadowed by the deeds of Thorongil, who was actually Aragorn in disguise and had come to Gondor to serve Denethor’s father, Ecthelion II. From this point, Denethor became suspicious that Gandalf was planning to put Aragorn on the throne of Gondor as Isildur’s heir, a development he opposed since it would disinherit his own line. He married Finduilas, the daughter of Adrahil, prince of Dol Amroth (and sister of Prince Imrahil, ally of Gondor and Captain of the West in The Return of the King). With her, Denethor fathered two sons, Boromir and Faramir, but when Finduilas died after 12 years of marriage, Denethor became even more solitary and withdrawn than he had been before.
With the foresight characteristic of the Dúnedain, Denethor anticipated early in life that Sauron’s great assault on Minas Tirith would come during his stewardship. Accordingly, he did everything he could to build up the city’s defenses and to keep the enemy from encroaching on Gondor’s territory, fortifying an outpost at Osgiliath and harassing Southron men coming north to join with Sauron’s legions. Seeking all the knowledge he could find concerning Sauron’s forces, he began to look into the palantír of Minas Tirith, where he was able to see only what the Dark Lord permitted him to see. Since this included solely images of Mordor’s invincible power, Denethor grew more and more despairing. His stubborn self-reliance and willfulness, coupled with his distrust of Gandalf, cut him off from the wisest counselors and allies available to him, ultimately making him feel the weight of responsibility alone, against overwhelming odds. The death of Boromir, his son and heir, left him feeling hopeless.
Denethor first appears in The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf brings Pippin to see him. His distrust of Gandalf is clear in that scene, though his love for his son is manifested in his tenderness toward the hobbit. Spiteful of his living son, whom he blames for not bringing him the One Ring when he had the opportunity, and whom he consequently wishes had died in Boromir’s place, Denethor sends Faramir on a suicide mission. But when Faramir is brought back wounded and near death, this event—coupled with the dangers he has seen in the palantír, which probably include the fleet of Sauron’s Corsairs moving up the Anduin toward Minas Tirith—seems to unhinge Denethor’s last hold on sanity. Despairing, convinced that his line and his city are on the verge of dying, he builds a funeral pyre on which he plans to burn himself and the unconscious Faramir. It is only the quick actions of Pippin, who calls the guard Beregond and Gandalf to help, that save Faramir, but no one can save Denethor from himself, and he dies in flames.
Denethor’s story is a tragic one. He has many of the virtues and all of the vices of his son Boromir, but unlike his son, he has no moment of redemption or self-realization in the end. As a warrior lord, he compares unfavorably to Théoden, king of the Mark, who dies fighting in what seems a lost cause, rather than despairing and shunning the final battle.
Elrond’s central role in the councils of the leaders of the West in their struggle against the Dark Lord is clear in The Lord of the Rings from very early in the story. His palace of Rivendell in the valley of Imladris is the first goal of the hobbits as they leave the Shire, and it becomes more and more important as an isle of safety and refuge as Frodo and his companions flee across Eriador with the Black Riders in hot pursuit. It is Elrond’s skill at healing that ultimately saves Frodo’s life, and this, we realize, is only a small portion of his great understanding of what Tolkien calls “lore.”
Thus, Elrond’s home is first and foremost a haven against the forces of Mordor. Far from being a fortress, however, the sanctuary of Rivendell is a place of feasting, merriment, and the sharing of elven lore through song. It keeps alive the spirit and culture of the Eldar during the dark days of Sauron’s creeping shadow. With Lothlórien, it is one of the only safe havens for elves and men, and it is kept so—as it becomes clear at the end of The Return of the King—by Elrond’s possession and use of Vilya, greatest of the Three Rings of Power possessed by the elves.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, the Council of Elrond in Rivendell is the primary event that initiates Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring. Elrond’s preeminence is clear both as convener of the council and as the speaker with the greatest experience, wisdom, and personal knowledge of events. Elrond’s own memory extends back over more than two ages of Middle-earth. Having witnessed firsthand Isildur’s fascination with the ring and refusal to destroy it, Elrond knows better than anyone the danger of the Free Peoples’ trying to use the ring themselves. Thus, he supports and aids Frodo’s quest. Later in the trilogy, he sends his sons to help Aragorn in his battle against the Corsairs and on the Pelennor Fields, and ultimately he gives his daughter Arwen to be Aragorn’s bride. Finally, at the end of The Return of the King, Elrond joins Galadriel, Gandalf, and the Ring-bearers as they sail into the West, leaving Middle-earth forever.
Most of Elrond’s story is untold in The Lord of the Rings and must be gleaned from the appendices to The Return of the King and from The Silmarillion. He was born in the waning years of the First Age, and therefore by the time of the War of the Ring, he was more than 6,000 years old. He was the son of the mortal Eärendil the Mariner and the elf princess Elwing; thus, he and his brother, Elros, were peredhil, or half-elven. At the end of the First Age, the Valar gave Elrond and Elros the opportunity to choose whether they would embrace the fate of elves or of men. Elros chose the fate of men and became the founder of the line of kings of Númenor (and therefore was the distant ancestor of Aragorn). Elrond chose the fate of elves and became a part of the retinue of Gil-galad, last king of the Eldar in Middle-earth. Midway through the Second Age, Gil-galad sent Elrond into Eregion (just west of the Misty Mountains near Moria) to help defend the territory against Sauron, who had recently come to power. But that country fell to the Dark Lord, and Elrond fled with the surviving Noldor of that region to the valley of Imladris, where he built Rivendell. At the end of the Second Age, Elrond took part as herald of King Gilgalad in the Last Alliance of elves and men that finally defeated Sauron, though both Gil-galad and Elendil, leader of men, were killed. It was apparently at that point that Gil-galad bequeathed the ring Vilya to Elrond.
Early in the Third Age, Elrond married Celebrían, who was the daughter of Celeborn and Galadriel, and with her had three children: their sons Elladan and Elrohir and their daughter, Arwen. Over the years, Rivendell became more and more a place of refuge, especially when the power of Sauron began to grow again. When the northern kingdoms of the Dúnedain were wiped out, Elrond did all he could to help the surviving Dúnedain, even to the point of protecting the heirs of Isildur and keeping safe in Rivendell the broken sword of Elendil, which prophecy said would be forged again when the one arose who would reunite the Dúnedain kingdoms.
Aragorn was raised in Rivendell as Elrond’s own son until he was old enough to learn his true parentage. In Rivendell, Aragorn and Arwen fell in love, but Elrond forebad their marriage, knowing that it would almost certainly mean that Arwen would choose the fate of her husband rather than her people. He told Aragorn that he would only allow Arwen to marry one who was king of both Gondor and Arnor. After the War of the Ring, when Aragorn had restored the royal line of Elendil, Elrond gave Arwen in marriage to Aragorn. He spent a long time in council with his daughter, and she made the choice to become mortal. Thus, when Elrond rode to the Grey Havens at the end of The Return of the King, he rode without his beloved Arwen, who had given up her place on the ship to Frodo, the Ring-bearer.
Tolkien is often criticized for his lack of strong women characters, and if one considers Galadriel to be the chief female character in The Lord of the Rings, it is easy to understand that criticism, since she is an ethereal, ideal presence rather than an active character in the narrative. Tolkien’s main sources are Old English poems and Norse sagas whose chief action concerns the generally male-dominated subject of warfare, so this is not surprising. However, in some medieval Norse sources, women appear as “shield-maidens”: unmarried women who choose to fight alongside men as warriors. The most famous of these women is undoubtedly Brynhild in the Völsunga Saga, but shield-maidens appear in other sources as well, including Hervarar Saga, Hrólfs Saga Gautrekssonar, and the Gesta Danorum. Thus, Tolkien has literary precedents for his most dynamic female character: Éowyn, shield-maiden of Rohan, is the one woman in the text of The Lord of the Rings who performs heroic actions as important as those of the male characters.
Éowyn was the daughter of Théodwyn, King Théoden’s sister, and Éomund, marshal of the Mark. After her parents’ early death, she and her brother, Éomer, were raised by their uncle the king, who regarded Éowyn as his own daughter. This was both a blessing and a curse, since it meant that she spent her life in constant attendance on Théoden during his long decline into depression and dotage. She grew to deplore the decline of the royal house of Rohan, and she desired to bring its glory back. Éowyn learned the skills of riding and swordplay as well as any male Rider of Rohan, but she was never given the opportunity to use them as she was consistently relegated to the kinds of services deemed more appropriate for a woman. She saw the opportunities her brother, Éomer, had to perform martial feats of glory and wanted such opportunities for herself.
When Éowyn first appears in The Two Towers, she is strongly attracted to Aragorn, the ideal warrior king. As suggested in the commentary, many critics agree that it is not really the case that Éowyn is in love with Aragorn so much as that Éowyn actually wants to be Aragorn. But her attraction is not reciprocated. Telling her that he is pledged to Arwen, Aragorn rejects her, though he pities her—something that she cannot bear. Aragorn also turns her down when she insists on riding with him along the Paths of the Dead, and when he leaves, she mourns both for his almost certain death and her own inability to accompany him into battle.
Ordered by Théoden to remain in Rohan as viceroy as he takes the host of Rohan into battle against Mordor, Éowyn decides to disobey and to ride along, disguised as a young male warrior named Dernhelm. She carries Merry along with her, since he has also been ordered not to ride, and Merry sees in her eyes a kind of desperation: Éowyn seems to look upon the battle as a kind of suicide. If she cannot change her life, she will die gloriously in battle like the warrior she longs to be. She nearly gets her wish in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Fiercely loyal to her father figure, she is the only one of the Rohirrim to stand by her lord Théoden when he is felled by the seemingly invincible lord of the Nazgûl. In this, she demonstrates as well as anyone in the novel the spirit of what Tolkien called the Northern heroic code. Like an AngloSaxon warrior, she will not leave her fallen lord no matter how overwhelming the odds are against her; rather, she will fight on to the death. With Merry’s help, she is able to kill both the Nazgûl and his monstrous steed and thus fulfill the prophecy that the Chief Nazgûl could not be slain by any man.
Having developed the sickness known as the Black Breath, contracted through contact with the Nazgûl, Éowyn is taken into Minas Tirith to be cared for in the Houses of Healing. Here Aragorn cures the physical illness but worries that Éowyn has lost the will to live. But in the Houses, she heals in spirit as well when she meets and falls truly in love with Faramir, a man who, rejected and undervalued himself, really understands her and admires her for herself. Ultimately, the two are married, and Éowyn becomes the Lady of Ithilien.
Faramir was the younger son of Denethor, steward of Gondor, and was the brother of Boromir, one of the Fellowship of the Ring. He became steward of Gondor upon the death of his father and thus oversaw the ceremonies that crowned Aragorn king of Gondor. After the War of the Ring, he was made prince of Ithilien and married Lady Éowyn of Rohan.
Faramir first appears in The Two Towers as the captain of a select company from Gondor waging a kind of guerrilla war on Sauron’s forces in Ithilien. Here Frodo and Sam come into his power, and in a situation clearly meant to show him as a foil to his brother, Boromir, Faramir declines to try to take the One Ring from Frodo. In this same scene, Faramir reveals that, although war is inevitable if an implacable enemy seeks to enslave his country, he does not love battle or seek glory as its own end. In fact, Faramir is more interested in music and in lore, and therefore is less valued by his father than Boromir, to whom martial prowess is all.
Faramir is an adept warrior who, although sent into what appears to be a suicide mission by his father, returns to Minas Tirith leading an orderly defeat from the city’s outer defenses at Osgiliath, only to be wounded by an arrow from the Lord of the Nazgûl. This brings him near death, and his father, Denethor, believing that his line has ended and despairing of life, nearly burns Faramir on his own funeral pyre. Only the quick thinking of Pippin and the intervention of Gandalf save Faramir from burning.
Faramir is finally healed through the efforts of Aragorn, the true king, and while he recovers in the Halls of Healing, he meets Éowyn, the wounded shield-maiden of Rohan. Here the son rejected by his father falls in love with the lady rejected by her lover (Aragorn), and the two form a special bond. At the end of The Return of the King, Aragorn makes him and his heirs stewards of Gondor in perpetuity, as well as prince of Ithilien and lord of Emyn Arnen (the hills country across the Anduin River from Minas Tirith). He lives in Emyn Arnen after marrying the Lady Éowyn of Rohan.
More than his father or his brother, Faramir is the character in the novel who embodies the character of the men of Gondor. He is a powerful and courageous warrior but is also a lover of peace, and his respect for history and the arts exemplifies the qualities that make the people of Gondor superior to many other nations of men and underscores their relationship with the men of Númenor, who had lived close to the elves and to the Undying Lands.
Frodo is the protagonist of The Lord of the Rings, the character on whom the fate of all the free peoples of Middle-earth depends. His quest to destroy the One Ring, the Ring of Power created by the Dark Lord Sauron to control all men, elves, and dwarves, is taken on voluntarily as Frodo, aware of his own weaknesses, sets off to unmake the ring in the place where it was first forged—Mount Doom in Sauron’s dark land of Mordor.
Frodo, the son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck, was orphaned at the age of 12 and later adopted by his cousin Bilbo. He and Bilbo had the same birthday—September 22—and Bilbo’s 111th birthday party, which opens The Lord of the Rings, is Frodo’s 33rd, the time when hobbits traditionally come of age. He becomes Bilbo’s heir and inherits the ancestral home, Bag End, upon Bilbo’s departure, living there for 17 years until, at age 50, he is persuaded by the wizard Gandalf to leave the Shire and take the ring with him. Aided by his friends (Merry, Pippin, and Sam) and the Ranger called Strider, Frodo arrives at Rivendell after a near-fatal wound from one of the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths, but in Rivendell he agrees to take on the burden of bearing the ring. Accompanied by eight others (including the dwarf Gimli, the elf Legolas, and the man Boromir from the kingdom of Gondor), Frodo sets out for Mordor. On the way, Boromir is corrupted by desire for the ring and attacks Frodo, after which Frodo goes on alone, accompanied by his servant, Sam. They are aided by the creature Gollum, and after serious hardships and dangers, Frodo and Sam arrive at the Cracks of Doom. Here, however, Frodo is not able to fulfill the quest. Overcome by the lure of the ring, he claims it for himself, and it is only when Gollum snatches the ring from him that it falls, with Gollum himself, into the fiery mountain.
Frodo is not a typical hero. He is not unusually brave, powerful, or talented. He makes some serious mistakes at the beginning of his quest, procrastinating so that he leaves the Shire too late (after the Black Riders are already seeking him), acting foolishly at the Prancing Pony in Bree and drawing attention to himself, and yielding to the temptation to put on the ring on Weathertop. But he matures during his journey and comes back a wiser though wounded personality. His choice as Ring-bearer demonstrates that even the least likely person may be heroic if he steps forward to do what needs to be done at the right time. Further, the more traditional heroes of the story—Aragorn, Gandalf, and the rest—could not have managed the task of the Ringbearer because they are not possessed of the humility needed to resist the call to power that emanates from the ring. Even Frodo is unable to resist it at the last moment. But he does demonstrate a remarkably stalwart endurance, a persistence against great odds, a kind of passive heroism. Further, he shows great sympathy and charity when he attempts to draw out the good that he feels is still within Gollum during the time that creature leads him toward Mordor. For Frodo, Gollum serves as an important example. He demonstrates what the ring can do to its bearer if the bearer gives in to it, and he also gives Frodo some hope: If there is still good in Gollum that can be reached, and if the creature can be saved, then Frodo can see hope for himself for surviving the ordeal of bearing the ring.
Frodo is celebrated in song and legend after the quest is over as “Frodo of the Nine Fingers,” but he returns home to the Shire a somewhat broken hobbit, recalling a shell-shocked returning veteran from World War I. He cannot adjust to life in the Shire and ultimately passes over the sea to the Undying Lands, so that he achieves a kind of apotheosis at the end of the story. It is Frodo’s own version of the story, recorded in the Red Book of Westmarch, that is purportedly Tolkien’s source for the story of the War of the Ring and the end of the Third Age.
In The Lord of the Rings, Galadriel appears as the queen of the woodland realm of Lothlórien. She is tall and beautiful, with golden hair, and is clearly the most powerful of the Eldar in Middle-earth. She rules the Golden Wood with her husband, Celeborn, and keeps her woodland realm hidden from the outside world. Aragorn, however, is able to lead the Companions of the Ring into the secret wood after the fall of Gandalf in Moria, and by Galadriel’s permission, the members of the Fellowship are sheltered and cared for until they are ready to move on in their quest.
Galadriel’s power is clearly as great as any in Middle-earth. With the help of Nenya, one of the three great elven rings, she is able to keep Lothlórien a refuge hidden from Sauron and his minions. She also has the ability to see into the thoughts of others, a power that makes some of the Fellowship uncomfortable—most notably Boromir, whose desire for the ring cannot be hidden from her. With her mirror, Galadriel is able to show Frodo and Sam glimpses of the future that may help them in their quest. She also distributes valuable gifts to the Fellowship to aid them on their way, including grey elven cloaks that keep them warm and keep them from being seen too easily; a box of soil and the seed of a Mallorn tree, which help Sam regenerate the Shire upon his return; and, most notably, a phial that provides light in the darkest places for Frodo and Sam.
Galadriel makes her deepest impressions first on Gimli, who serves her and protects her image the way a medieval courtly lover might protect the name of his beloved (to him she gives a lock of her golden hair); and, second, on Sam, for whom she serves as a kind of ideal anima figure, whose image comes before him with the light of her phial in the difficult places of Mordor and Shelob’s lair. Most impressively, Galadriel is one of two figures (the other being Gandalf) to whom Frodo offers the One Ring. Her power and apparent goodness make such a deep impression on the hobbit that he honestly believes she would be a better keeper of the ring than he. To her credit, Galadriel recognizes that the power of the ring can only corrupt good intentions, and it would ultimately turn her into a Dark Queen to replace the Dark Lord; therefore, she refuses the offer. She is last seen in The Return of the King riding westward to the Grey Havens after the end of the War of the Ring, where she boards a ship to the Undying Lands and passes away into the West with the Ring-bearers, Gandalf, Elrond, and many of her people.
Readers of The Lord of the Rings may know little of Galadriel’s back story, though much of this is revealed in the appendices to The Return of the King and in The Silmarillion. Galadriel was the daughter of Finarfin and sister of Finrod, and hence one of the great queens of the Noldor, or High-elves. She was the only woman to take a leading role in the rebellion of the Noldor in Valinor, siding with Fëanor in inciting the Noldor to leave the Undying Lands—against the express wishes of the Valar (the guardian angels of Arda)—to seek out Morgoth in Middle-earth and make war upon him after his theft of the Silmarils. During the long struggle in the First Age of Middle-earth, Galadriel lived for the most part in Doriath with Thingol, and she became very close to Melian, the Maia who had married Thingol. From Melian she learned a great deal of wisdom. In Doriath, she married the Sindarin elf Celeborn, and with him she had one child, her daughter, Celebrían.
Galadriel and Celeborn escaped the destruction of Doriath near the end of the First Age; in fact, Galadriel was the only one of the leaders of the Noldorian exodus who survived the First Age. When, at the end of the age, the Valar permitted all Noldor who wished to return to the Undying Lands, Galadriel was expressly excluded from the pardon. During the Second Age, she and Celeborn founded the kingdom of Lothlórien, which Galadriel modeled on Melian’s Doriath, even giving the land a protective shield, like the Girdle of Melian, to keep it hidden. During the Third Age, Galadriel was the most powerful of the Eldar remaining in Middle-earth, and she was a persistent and dedicated foe of Sauron, aiding his enemies to the best of her ability. Soon after the beginning of the Third Age, her daughter, Celebrían, married Elrond Halfelven and with him had two sons (Elladan and Elrohir) and a daughter, Arwen. Celebrían was wounded by orcs and passed over the sea to the west, but Arwen spent much of her youth with her grandmother in Lothlórien. Galadriel, in league with Elrond, was instrumental in preventing the union of Arwen and Aragorn until Aragorn had attained the throne of Gondor.
In the end, it was in part Galadriel’s stalwart opposition to Sauron, but more important her rejection of the One Ring when she had it in her grasp, that ensured her final pardon by the Valar and the end of her exile from the Blessed Realm. When she refuses the ring in The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel remarks that she has passed the test, and that she will now diminish and pass into the West. Without a knowledge of her history, it is difficult for a reader to see exactly what she means by this. The test, however, seems to have been a test of her desire for ultimate power—a desire that she had manifested when she rebelled against the Valar in the First Age. By the time of the War of the Ring, that desire is apparently not as powerful as her desire for justice and the defeat of the Dark Lord, and thus she finally earns her pardon.
Gandalf is the archetypal “wise old man” figure, familiar from tradition (e.g., Merlin) and popular culture (e.g., Obi-wan Kenobi, Albus Dumbledore). David Riga has explored Gandalf’s relationship to the Merlin tradition, pointing out what Tolkien has drawn from that tradition and how he has transformed it. Most important, Tolkien has de-emphasized the wizard figure’s character as powerful magician and stressed instead the traditional role as teacher and counselor (Riga 31). He has also made Gandalf a force for good, displacing the dark side of Merlin’s traditional character (represented in his traditionally having been the son of a demon) onto Saruman, the dark necromancer (Riga 34). Thus, Gandalf is an authority figure embodying qualities such as wisdom, morality, and a willingness to help the hero. Gandalf is popularly perceived as a “wizard,” while in fact (according to The Silmarillion) he is a spiritual being—a Maia—sent into Middle-earth about the year 1000 in the Third Age by the Valar (the angelic guardians of Arda) for the sole purpose of combating the evil potential of Sauron. Gandalf and the other members of his order (the Istari) were given mortal bodies—ageless, like those of the elves, but, like the elves, capable of destruction. Of the five Istari, Gandalf the Grey ranks second to Saruman the White in power. Ultimately, Gandalf is the only one of the Istari who remains faithful to his responsibility over the course of two millennia, and it is Gandalf who is most responsible for the final defeat of the Dark Lord.
In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is the first to recognize that Bilbo’s ring is the One Ring, and he is instrumental in Bilbo’s transferring the ring to Frodo and in spurring Frodo to bring it to Rivendell. At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf best knows the ring’s history and is most fully aware of its dangers. He proposes destroying the ring in the Cracks of Doom, and he subsequently becomes leader of the Fellowship of the Ring, pledged to aid the Ring-bearer as far as possible. Gandalf, however, falls in Moria in battle with the Balrog, saving the rest of the fellowship from a monster beyond any of their powers. It must be assumed that Gandalf does die in Moria, his mortal body destroyed along with that of the equally powerful Balrog. Gandalf, however, is sent back into the world and given a resurrected body as Gandalf the White, presumably for the purpose of completing his task of defeating Sauron.
On his great horse Shadowfax, Gandalf the White rides to Edoras, where he is able to help King Théoden turn from listening to the persuasive defeatism of Gríma Wormtongue, Saruman’s spy, and to persuade the king to join in the fight against Saruman. At the Battle of the Hornburg, Gandalf arrives with the dawn, bringing reinforcements who turn the tide of the battle. He confronts Saruman at Orthanc, breaking his staff and expelling him from the Order of the Istari. After Pippin’s unauthorized use of the palantír, Gandalf takes the hobbit on Shadowfax to Minas Tirith, where he attempts to counsel the maddened steward Denethor. When the Battle of the Pelennor Fields erupts, Gandalf stands at the gates of the city, confronting the Lord of the Nazgûl alone when he breaks down the gates and threatens to enter the city. Finally, acknowledged by Aragorn to be the true leader of all the armies of the West in the war on Sauron, Gandalf helps lead the army in its last desperate attack on the Black Gate of Mordor. Here, he fights bravely until the eruption of Mount Doom indicates the destruction of the ring and sends Sauron’s troops into a disordered rout. As an acknowledgment of his indispensability in the achievement of the reunited kingdom of Gondor and Arnor, Aragorn gives Gandalf the privilege of crowning him king.
With the destruction of Sauron, Gandalf’s purpose in Middle-earth has been accomplished, and at the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, he rides to the Grey Havens, where he passes over the sea to the Undying Lands.
Gandalf is a fascinating character. Bristly and quick-tempered, he can also be jovial and goodhumored in friendly company. He is Frodo’s mentor and, with the possible exception of Elrond, the wisest of all the captains of the West. The folk of the Shire see him as simply a wonder-worker who can set off colorful fireworks. In Rohan and Minas Tirith, he is viewed by some as a troublemaker, always showing up just as danger is about to ensue. Among the elves, he is welcomed as Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim. He wears the ring Narya, the ring of fire and one of the three elven rings kept hidden from Sauron.
Despite his great power, Gandalf never tries to force any of the free peoples of Middle-earth to follow him or do as he demands. That, he realizes, would be the way of Sauron, and he knows that to displace a tyrant by becoming as bad as what one fights is no victory. This is why he also refuses to wear the One Ring when Frodo offers it to him. His way must be by persuasion and exhortation, enabling the Free Peoples to fight for themselves. Only when the forces arrayed against them are beyond the power of mortals to engage does Gandalf step in to show his own great power, as he does against the Balrog and against the Witch-king.
The most obvious Christ figure in the trilogy, Gandalf faces temptation to power in the form of the ring; sacrifices himself for his companions; dies; and is reborn in a new body, arrayed in pure whiteness, to lead the allied forces of the West against a creature of pure evil in an Armageddon-like battle. Ultimately, he saves Middle-earth. As a Christ figure, Gandalf is particularly significant in this novel because of his moral counsel. Most notable in this vein is his advice regarding Gollum: When Frodo remarks that he wishes Bilbo would have killed the creature, Gandalf cautions him that life and death are not his to give, and that Gollum still has a part to play in the working out of events. Similarly, he spares the life of Saruman, who twice comes within his power. All life is precious, Gandalf seems to suggest, and redemption is possible even for the Gollums of the world.
Gimli’s father, Gloin, was one of the dwarves who traveled with Bilbo to the LonelyMountain in Tolkien’s earlier book, The Hobbit. In The Lord of the Rings, Gloin is sent to Rivendell as an ambassador from the reestablished Kingdom Under the Mountain, and he brings Gimli along. At the Council of Elrond, Gimli volunteers to represent his people as a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. As one of Durin’s line, Gimli is deeply moved by the Fellowship’s visit to Moria (or Khazad-dûm), the ancestral home of his people, and he is devastated to learn that his kinsman Balin, who had sought to reestablish a dwarf presence there, had been slaughtered with all his party by orcs. Gimli is also the first of his people to enter Lothlórien since the time of Durin. Because of the distrust between the peoples, the elves insist that Gimli be blindfolded, a condition over which he is ready to break from the Fellowship. Aragorn’s suggestion that all the company be blindfolded appeases Gimli. In Lórien, Gimli becomes devoted to Galadriel, and at their parting, he begs her for a lock of golden hair. He becomes her champion and defender and later challenges Éomer of Rohan to answer him in battle if he does not admit that Galadriel is the fairest creature in Middle-earth.
After the Fellowship of the Ring is broken, Gimli joins Aragorn and Legolas in their pursuit of Merry and Pippin, carried off by orcs toward Isengard. Gimli fights at Helm’s Deep, where he and the elf Legolas engage in a contest to determine which of them can destroy the most orcs. It is at Helm’s Deep that Gimli first becomes aware of the caves of Aglarond and swears he will come back to explore them, obtaining a promise from his new close friend Legolas to accompany him in exchange for his exploring the forest of Fangorn with the elf.
Gimli follows Aragorn on his trek through the Paths of the Dead, though terrified of the journey—a feeling he chides himself for since dwarves are at home underground. With Aragorn and Legolas, he helps bring the fleet up the Anduin River to raise the siege of Minas Tirith. Ultimately, he rides with the armies of the West to make war at the Black Gate, where he fights with honor. Gimli is proud of his heritage, tenacious, stalwart, strong with his axe, and loyal to his friends. His love for Galadriel and his lifelong friendship with Legolas earn him the title “elf friend.”
After the War of the Ring, according to Tolkien’s appendices to The Return of the King, Gimli brought a company of folk from the dwarf kingdom in Erebor south to Helm’s Deep, where he became lord of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond. He and his people forged new gates of mithril for the city of Minas Tirith, to replace those that had been broken down by the Witch-king, and he remained great friends with the people of Rohan and Gondor, and with the elves of Ithilien, whose lord was his good friend Legolas. Finally, after the death of Aragorn, Legolas longed to follow his people across the sea to the Undying Lands, and he took with him Gimli, the elf friend who left Middle-earth not only to remain with his friend Legolas but also because he desired to see the Lady Galadriel once more.
Gollum was in possession of the One Ring for some 500 years before it was taken from him by Bilbo Baggins in the riddle contest described in The Hobbit. Apparently originally a member of the branch of hobbits called Stoors, who lived not in the Shire but in the Gladden Fields east of the Anduin River, Gollum’s true name was Sméagol. His cousin Déagol had found the ring in the river, but Sméagol, immediately overtaken by an irresistible desire for it, killed his cousin and kept the ring for himself, eventually leaving civilization to dwell in the darkness of the caves under the Misty Mountains with his one obsession, the ring, which he called his Precious.
The first references to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings occur in the Council of Elrond, where Gandalf tells of how the creature had left the mountains to try to track down Bilbo and the ring but was captured by servants of the Dark Lord and held prisoner by Sauron for some time. From him, Sauron learned of the existence of “Baggins” and ultimately sent out the Black Riders to track down Frodo and the ring. Gandalf also reveals that after Gollum was freed by Sauron, Aragorn had captured him, and Gandalf had questioned him to complete his knowledge of the whole history of the ring. He had then been turned over to the elves of Mirkwood to hold as prisoner, but Legolas reveals to the council that Gollum has escaped after a raid by orcs and is now at large again.
As the story of The Fellowship of the Ring progresses, Gollum remains in the background but very much on the minds of the Fellowship. He enters Moria and follows the company through the mines, where Gandalf tells Frodo that Gollum should not be killed, and that the creature has some important part to play in the quest of the One Ring. Gollum continues to track the company through Lórien, where he is chased away by elves. He appears in the water one night as Aragorn watches the company’s boats on the Anduin. He continues to follow Frodo and Sam as they make their way toward Mordor, until finally the hobbits are able to capture him in the Emyn Muil, tying him with elven rope, which burns his skin. Sam is ready to kill the creature, but Frodo takes Gandalf’s words to heart, so that finally Gollum takes an oath by the ring itself to be a faithful servant of Frodo, master of the Precious.
Sam continues to be suspicious of Gollum as he leads the hobbits faithfully through the Dead Marshes, and then toward Cirith Ungol, the least heavily guarded path into Mordor. Frodo, however, straining more and more under the pressure of the ring, feels that there must be some spark of good in Gollum; in fact, Frodo must believe this, because he must believe that he will come out of this quest with his true self intact. Frodo’s merciful treatment of Gollum seems to be taking effect, as Sméagol— he goes by his true name when he faithfully serves his master—remains true to his word. Their relationship is strained when Frodo tricks Gollum into capture by the men of Faramir’s company, but he does so only to save Gollum’s life. At one point, Tolkien presents the two sides of Gollum’s personality in a debate over whether to betray Frodo. The turning point in Gollum’s struggle comes through a misunderstanding. Finding his master asleep, Gollum feels an unwonted surge of affection and, reaching toward Frodo with a touch of love, he is chastised by Sam, who believes he intends Frodo harm. Thwarted in his good intentions, Gollum finally yields to his worse nature and betrays the hobbits to Shelob, hoping to obtain the ring after the monster has finished with the hobbits.
When this plan fails, Gollum attacks the hobbits on Mount Doom. Sam interposes himself between Gollum and Frodo, but this time cannot bring himself to slay the creature. He chases Gollum off, only to see him reappear at the Cracks of Doom to struggle with Frodo for possession of the ring after Frodo claims it for his own. When Gollum bites off Frodo’s ring finger to obtain the ring, he falls with it into the Cracks and is destroyed along with his Precious.
There is virtually nothing admirable about Gollum as a character. He is a sneak, a liar, a murderer, and a thief. He breaks his oath and betrays the hobbits to a monstrous spider, and even at his best, he is groveling, fawning, insincere, and annoying. Yet there is a spark of good in him. It struggles with his dominant personality, and Tolkien pictures this in the form of an outward discussion between the two halves of Sméagol’s psyche. Even after 500 years of greed, egotism, and obsession, he is able to appreciate the kindness that Frodo shows him and is on the verge of responding in kind before Sam’s destructive accusation. Gollum demonstrates Tolkien’s belief that anyone is capable of redemption.
A Sindarin (or Grey) elf, Legolas is the son of Thranduil, king of the Woodland Realm. He is sent to Rivendell as a messenger, where he reports to the Council of Elrond, bringing the news that in the course of an orc attack, the creature Gollum has escaped from the elves of Mirkwood. He subsequently represents his people as one of the nine companions forming the Fellowship of the Ring. He travels with the Ring-bearer through Moria to Lothlórien, and when the Fellowship is broken, he joins Aragorn and the dwarf Gimli to pursue the orcs who have kidnapped Merry and Pippin. After reuniting with Gandalf and meeting with King Théoden of Rohan, Legolas takes part in the battle at Helm’s Deep. With Aragorn, he travels the Paths of the Dead and defeats Sauron’s southern fleet, afterward sailing to Minas Tirith from the south and helping to win the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Legolas brings to the quest of the One Ring the sharp eyes and endurance of his race, as well as great skill with a bow and a spirit of loyalty to the cause and company of the Fellowship. In particular, he becomes great friends with the dwarf Gimli, despite the historical animosity between their two peoples. They form a friendly rivalry in the battle at Helm’s Deep, counting the number of orcs each is able to fell. With Gimli, he explores the caves of Aglarond at Helm’s Deep, and the dwarf returns the favor by exploring Fangorn Forest with Legolas. Fangorn, whose trees are the oldest in Middleearth, is a place of wonders for Legolas, who, like all elves, loves the woodlands.
In his journey south with Aragorn, the woodland elf Legolas gets his first glimpse of the sea, a glimpse that wakes in him a longing characteristic of his people. According to the appendices to Tolkien’s Return of the King, after the War of the Ring, Legolas brought a contingent of elves from the Woodland Realm to Ithilien, that war-torn area between Gondor and Mordor, in order to restore the land. After the death of King Aragorn, Legolas finally succumbed to his longing for the sea and sailed westward to the Undying Lands, taking with him his lifelong friend, Gimli.
Lord of the Nazgûl (Witch-king of Angmar)
When the Black Riders first appear in The Fellowship of the Ring, they are shadowy figures whose main function seems to be to terrify Frodo as well as the readers. Their identity and background are unknown—they are simply ghostlike beings in black cloaks riding black steeds, who have clearly been sent by Sauron to seek out the One Ring and its bearer. Strider makes it clear to Frodo and his companions that the Riders are even more dangerous than they seem. On Weathertop, Frodo’s use of the ring puts him into the Riders’ state of being and brings him face-to-face with the lord of the Ringwraiths, who wounds him nearly to the death before Aragorn can rescue him. It takes all of Elrond’s skill to heal Frodo of the Black Breath, the malady caused by a wound from the “morgul blades” of the Riders. Meanwhile, although the Riders have been swept away by the waters of the Bruinen, like Pharaoh’s army in the book of Exodus, they cannot be killed in this way and thus will return on monstrous flying steeds in the later volumes of the trilogy.
Frodo, and the reader, learn much more of the Riders’ background by the time they leave Rivendell. The Riders are, in fact, the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths. They are men who, seduced by the power that Sauron’s Nine Rings gave them, used the rings for their own evil purposes and became enslaved to the ring’s true master, Sauron. Now they have become wraiths—insubstantial bodies but still capable of great feats of power and terror—and they are the Dark Lord’s most feared weapons. The chief of these wraiths, the lord of the Nazgûl, was originally a human sorcerer and king who in earlier days was known as the Witch-king of Angmar.
The Witch-king is the chief captain of Sauron’s armies. His fortress is Minas Morgul, past which Frodo and Sam must make their way as they enter Mordor. Fortunately for the hobbits, they arrive just as the lord of the Nazgûl is riding out at the head of the great host that is about to assail Minas Tirith, and although he seems to sense Frodo’s presence, or the ring’s, he pauses only briefly before moving ahead with the army.
In the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Witchking drives all before him. He wounds Faramir with an arrow and brings on the Black Breath, so that Aragorn’s touch is required to heal the wound. He has reached the gates of the city when he finds Gandalf standing against him. We do not see how that confrontation turns out, since at that very moment, the Riders of Rohan arrive unexpectedly, and the Nazgûl chief turns to encounter this new threat. He strikes down Théoden but is confronted by the disguised Éowyn. According to an old prophecy, the Witch-king cannot be slain by the hand of man, and he laughs as he tells Éowyn so. She informs him that she is a woman, and when the hobbit Merry strikes the first blow, Éowyn finishes the task, destroying the Witch-king and robbing Sauron of his most trusted aide.
Some of the lore from the rest of Tolkien’s legendarium adds to an understanding of the Witchking’s character. He was originally Númenórean but left Númenor before its destruction to become an ally of Sauron in Middle-earth. He and the other Nazgûl first appeared as Ringwraiths in the third millennium of the Second Age, but they disappeared after Sauron’s defeat. They returned as Sauron began to grow in power, and the Witchking built his realm in Angmar in the middle of the Third Age. He established his realm in the North, building a fortress at the northernmost peak of the Misty Mountains. After the Dúnedain kingdom in the North had split into three squabbling territories, he was able to conquer each kingdom one by one. When he attacked the western kingdom of Cardolan in the year 1409, many of the remaining Dúnedain there took refuge in the Barrow-downs, from which they fought a guerrilla war against the Witch-king. They were ultimately wiped out, but the sword with which Merry first wounds the Nazgûl lord in The Return of the King is a sword from the Barrow-downs, forged originally to battle the Witch-king.
After setting up his throne in the city of Fornost, the Witch-king was ultimately defeated by a force of men from Gondor (led by Eärnur) and elves from Rivendell (led by Glorfindel). A great battle was fought between the North Downs and Lake Evendim, and the Witch-king was defeated. Angmar fell, and the Witch-king returned to Mordor, where he and the other eight Nazgûl captured Minas Ithil from Gondor and renamed it Minas Morgul in the year 2000 of the Third Age. Eärnur, having become king of Gondor, rode out against the Witch-king at Minus Morgul but was never seen again. Thus, the Witch-king was responsible for the death of the last monarch in the line of Anárion, and Gondor was left without a king.
When Sauron returned to Mordor, the Witchking was sent to be lord of Dol Guldur. Later, at the outset of the War of the Ring, the Witch-king led the assault on Osgiliath when it was defended by Boromir and Faramir, but from there he left in secret with the rest of the Nazgûl to search for Baggins in the Shire on information supplied by the captured Gollum. This is the point at which the Nazgûl’s role in The Lord of the Rings begins.
As a character, the Witch-king has little to distinguish him beyond his ghostly evil. But he is Tolkien’s premier example of what can happen to a man who, obsessed by power and greed, ceases to be completely human. The Witch-king lacks distinguishing characteristics because he lacks the humanity that would make him an individual.
Merry (Meriadoc) Brandybuck
Merry is a close friend of Frodo and, with Pippin and Sam, accompanies him from the Shire to Rivendell when Frodo leaves Hobbiton with the One Ring. He is overcome in the Barrow-downs and nearly turned into a human sacrifice there by Barrow-wights before being rescued by Tom Bombadil. However, he obtains a sword from the arms in the barrow, one that had been forged ages before against the Witch-king of Angmar.
Merry becomes one of the Companions of the Ring and travels with the Fellowship through Moria and Lórien before being captured with Pippin by orcs at Parth Galen. The orcs, who seek to bring the hobbits to Saruman at Isengard, are slaughtered by the Rohirrim under the command of Éomer, while Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn Forest. Here, they are befriended by Treebeard the ent, and their story helps to rouse the ents to make war on Isengard and subdue Saruman. After that battle, Merry pledges his loyalty to Théoden, king of Rohan, and becomes the king’s squire, but Théoden will not allow Merry to ride with him and the other Rohirrim to raise the siege of Minas Tirith. But the disguised Éowyn takes Merry on her own horse all the way to Gondor. There, in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Éowyn and Merry defend the fallen Théoden from the Witch-king, chief of the Nazgûl, and are able to slay him, Merry striking the blow with the ancient sword that had been forged to battle the Witch-king in the distant past. He comes close to dying of the Black Breath, contracted when he wounded the Nazgûl, but is healed by the hand of Aragorn, the true king. Upon his return to the Shire, Merry is instrumental in defeating the supporters of “Sharkey,” or Saruman, at the Battle of Bywater. For this, he is honored for the rest of his life in the Shire.
From the beginning of the tale, Merry seems to have more confidence and common sense than the other hobbits. He leads them through the Old Forest, and in Bree, it is Merry who spends his time patrolling outside the Prancing Pony until he spots a Black Rider and brings the news to the others. His natural courage is displayed when he chases the Black Rider himself. Merry also dreams of being the ancient warrior when he is unconscious in the Barrow-downs, which may be an indication of his innate bravery. When, because of his size, he is left behind as the Rohirrim ride to battle, he cannot bear feeling useless, and his courage and loyalty are manifested in his battle with the Witch-king. Finally, Merry takes command and conducts the hobbits’ strategy at the Battle of Bywater, after which he is a great hero of the Shire.
In the appendices to The Return of the King, Tolkien recorded the major events that affected Merry after the end of the War of the Ring. He was made a knight of Rohan by King Éomer and ultimately became master of Buckland after his father’s death, when he became known as “Meriadoc the Magnificent.” Like Pippin, he was one of the counselors of the Northern Kingdom after King Aragorn reestablished that realm. Eventually, he married Fatty Bolger’s sister, Estella. Toward the end of his life, Merry traveled with Pippin back to Rohan and was with King Éomer before his death, after which the two hobbits moved on to Minas Tirith, where they eventually died and were buried with great honor.
Pippin (Peregrin) Took
Pippin (Peregrin) is the youngest of the hobbits who leave the Shire in the company of Frodo in order to bear the One Ring to Rivendell. At 28, he has not yet reached 33, at which point hobbits traditionally come of age. Pippin is chosen to be one of the Fellowship of the Ring, traveling through Moria and Lothlórien with the rest of the company until he and his kinsman Merry are captured by orcs at Parth Galen and carried off toward Isengard, despite the best efforts of Boromir, who is killed trying to protect them. He and Merry are able to escape into Fangorn Forest when the band of orcs carrying them is attacked and destroyed by the Rohirrim. Here they meet the ent Treebeard who, after hearing their story, convinces his fellow ents to lead an attack on Saruman at Isengard. After that battle, briefly reunited with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, Pippin makes the error of looking into Saruman’s palantír, or seeingstone, where he comes under the Eye of Sauron. For his own protection, he is immediately rushed by Gandalf to the city of Minas Tirith, where he pledges his fealty to Denethor, steward of Gondor, and becomes a guard of the citadel of Minas Tirith. He is instrumental in saving the life of Denethor’s son Faramir when the mad steward seeks to burn his son on the funeral pyre he has prepared for himself. Pippin later goes with the forces of the West to attack the Morannon, the black Gate of Mordor, and he kills a giant troll in that battle. After the conclusion of the War of the Ring, Pippin is made a knight of Gondor and king’s messenger by Aragorn, the new king of Gondor. After returning home with his fellow hobbits, Pippin is instrumental in defeating the supporters of Saruman in the Battle of Bywater.
Pippin begins the story as an impetuous and overly curious youth whose ungoverned impulses sometimes get him or his companions into trouble. At the Prancing Pony in Bree, where the hobbits are trying to keep a low profile, Pippin entertains his new acquaintances in the pub with tales of the Shire, and he nearly tells the story of Bilbo’s disappearance before he is interrupted by Frodo. In Moria, Pippin drops a stone into a well out of curiosity, an act that apparently alerts the enemy to the company’s presence in the mines. Worst of all, Pippin’s curiosity about the palantír comes close to getting him killed and nearly alerts Sauron to the Fellowship’s secret plans to destroy the One Ring.
There are times, however, when Pippin’s impetuosity demonstrates an inherent kindness or courage that demands the reader’s sympathy. When Gimli grumbles about the difficulty he and Legolas and Aragorn have had tracking the hobbits, Pippin offers him his own pipe so that the dwarf can smoke the pipeweed they have found at Isengard. When he and Merry are captured by the orcs, Pippin finds a way to cut his bonds and leave a trail that helps Aragorn track them. As the story moves on, Pippin’s spontaneity is channeled into sometimes impulsive acts of social responsibility. He pledges his service to Denethor largely in compensation for the life that Boromir gave to protect him. He recognizes Denethor’s madness and warns Gandalf and the guard Beregond in time to save Faramir. He slays the troll at the Black Gate chiefly to save the life of his friend Beregond. Back in the Shire, Pippin rides through the night of November 2 to bring back forces led by his father, Paladin, who help to win the Battle of Bywater. Pippin ends the story a great hero, one who has developed significantly from the immature hobbit of the tale’s opening chapters.
In his appendices to The Return of the King, Tolkien provides information about Pippin’s life after the War of the Ring. He succeeded his father as 32nd thain (nominal ruler) of the Shire and, along with Merry and Sam, was a counselor of the reestablished Northern Kingdom under Aragorn. He married Mistress Diamond of Long Cleeve (who was a descendant of the famous Bullroarer Took), and they had a son named Faramir (who later married one of Sam Gamgee’s daughters). Toward the end of his life, Pippin returned to Minas Tirith with Merry, and the two were ultimately buried there among the heroes of Gondor.
Sam (Samwise) Gamgee
Sam is Frodo’s faithful friend and servant, without whom Frodo could not have achieved his quest to destroy the One Ring. It is Sam’s relentless dedication to accomplishing the task he has set out to do, even when it entails carrying Frodo up the side of Mount Doom, that led Tolkien to call him the “chief hero” of The Lord of the Rings. Sam begins as a simple and common hobbit, with the everyday virtues of common sense, humility, and loyalty, and ultimately develops into a mature hobbit of great courage who embodies what Tolkien called the Northern heroic code—the determination to fight on against overwhelming odds even when the cause seems hopeless.
Sam is the son of Hamfest Gamgee, known as “the Gaffer,” whom he succeeded as gardener at Bag End. From Bilbo, Sam learned to read and to appreciate the wider world, particularly the lore of the elves. Devoted to Frodo after Bilbo departed Bag End, Sam insists on making the journey to Rivendell with Frodo and accompanying him with the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring when it is decided that the One Ring must be destroyed. Sam alone travels with Frodo through the dead lands that lead to Mordor, and he distrusts the help of Gollum. So distrustful is he of Gollum that his outburst at the point when the creature is feeling the first inklings of love for his master, Frodo, destroys the best chance for Gollum’s rehabilitation. Sam partly atones for this later when he refuses to kill Gollum at the Cracks of Doom, but the damage that he did with the earlier incident cannot be undone.
In Mordor, however, Sam inadvertently saves the quest when he briefly becomes the Ring-bearer due to his belief that Frodo has been killed; hence, he prevents the orcs searching Frodo’s body from finding the ring. Sam’s courage and faithfulness allows him to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol and to inspire Frodo to keep going as the stress becomes more and more crushing the closer the hobbits get to the Cracks of Doom; he finally carries Frodo on his shoulders for the last part of the journey.
Sam’s unflinching devotion to his “master” may rankle many contemporary readers, particularly contemporary American readers, smacking as it does of the very class-conscious British society of the earlier 20th century. One wonders whether the “ideal servant” represented by Sam is a figment of Tolkien’s upper-class imagination. The world of Middle-earth, however, is not the modern world but one inspired by the medieval texts with which Tolkien was familiar, and in such a society a masterservant relationship is not out of place. In contemporary terms, Sam is a common man who, placed in extraordinary circumstances, proves capable of heroic deeds. He does so largely because he is motivated by a selfless love and a sense of duty. But he is also successful because he is capable of seeing beyond the present evil to the ultimate victory of goodness and beauty. He has a spiritual sense that leads him almost instinctively to love the elves and their lore, and that causes him, when staring at a star breaking through the gloom of Mordor, to recognize the eternal goodness that transcends the temporary evil of Sauron in Middle-earth.
Sam is a great lover of the Shire, and of its trees and gardens. Upon the hobbits’ return to the Shire, he uses a box of earth from the elvish realm of Lothlórien to bring fertility back to the land, planting the seed of a Mallorn tree in the place of Bilbo’s Party Tree, which had been destroyed in his absence. Sam adjusts well to everyday life in the Shire, even after his adventures in the wide world, and he marries Rosie Cotton and has a daughter whom, at Frodo’s suggestion, he names Elanor. The three move into Bag End with Frodo until Frodo goes over the sea to the Undying Lands, leaving Bag End to Sam.
According to the appendices to The Return of the King, Sam became mayor of Hobbiton and was reelected six times; had 13 children; and finally, after the death of Rosie, left the Shire and passed over the sea to the Undying Lands as the last of the Ring-bearers.
Saruman the White (Sharkey)
Saruman is, like Gandalf, one of the Istari (known as wizards), whom the Valar (the angelic guardians) sent from Valinor to Middle-earth in about the year 1000 of the Third Age. Their task was to counter the growing power of Sauron and to unite the Free Peoples of Middle-earth against the Dark Lord’s aggression. Saruman, called the White, was chief of the Istari, and grew wise and powerful. He was the subtlest of all the enemies of Sauron, and the most articulate and persuasive speaker on the White Council—an assembly of the leaders of the West (including the Istari and the chief leaders among the Eldar) who met periodically to confer about how to deal best with Sauron’s threat. He became so powerful that he was made leader of the White Council.
Saruman befriended the men of Rohan and of Gondor, and he spent a good deal of time in the libraries of Minas Tirith, researching the history of the Second Age and the Rings of Power that Sauron caused to be forged by the elves of Eregion. In particular, he became an expert on the history of the One Ring. Through his wisdom and foresight, he was able to discern that the One Ring had become active in Middle-earth again, and that it was searching for its true master, Sauron. About this same time, he also persuaded Beren, the ruling steward of Gondor, to let him have the keys to Orthanc, the great tower in the fortress of Isengard, which Gondor had built to guard the strategically located Gap of Rohan. Unbeknowst to his fellow members of the White Council, Saruman wanted access to the tower so that he could search for the palantír (a seeing-stone) that he knew was still held in Orthanc.
We first hear of Saruman at the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring. Here Gandalf reports that Saruman had captured him and held him prisoner in Orthanc. This was merely the culmination of a number of steps Saruman had taken that indicated he had become more interested in consolidating his own power than in blocking Sauron’s plans. When the White Council had met some years before, and Gandalf had proposed that the council take steps to eliminate the Necromancer in Dol Guldur (who was, in fact, Sauron before his return to Mordor), Saruman, as leader of the council, had blocked the proposal. It is now clear that, desiring the ring for himself, he hopes to be able to track any progress made by the ring in moving toward Sauron. In addition, Saruman has taken control of Orthanc himself and has begun to fortify it, with the goal of launching an attack on Rohan first. In preparation for this, he has sent his spy, Wormtongue, to the court of Théoden, king of the Mark, with the hope of keeping the king weak and impotent.
By the time he had imprisoned Gandalf, it had become clear that Saruman had been using the palantír to gather as much knowledge as he could, and that he had locked wills with Sauron himself through his use of the seeing-stone. Saruman believes that he has fooled Sauron into thinking that he will be an ally of the Dark Lord, when in fact he seeks the ring only for himself. He believes, in addition, that Gandalf has knowledge of the ring’s whereabouts.
As the story unfolds in the trilogy, Saruman’s true colors are revealed. In preparation for war, Saruman has committed what Tolkien represents as crimes against nature. He appears to have bred orcs with men to produce a kind of hybrid superorc, the Uruk-hai. He has also created factory-like buildings to manufacture weapons, and to fuel his enterprises, he has been despoiling Fangorn Forest, which lies on his borders. He also sends his orcs, under his insignia of the White Hand, to capture hobbits from the Company of the Ring and bring them to Orthanc. This makes it clear that through his network of spies and from his research into historical lore Saruman has worked out that the ring is in the possession of a hobbit. Finally, he sends his army of orcs to crush Rohan.
These last three acts finally bring about Saruman’s downfall, for Merry and Pippin, escaping from their orc kidnappers into Fangorn Forest, befriend the ent Treebeard, who is already angry at the destruction of the trees in his care, and the hobbits’ story ultimately sends the ents to war on Isengard. Further, Gandalf exposes the treachery of Wormtongue, and the newly revitalized Théoden is able to destroy the orc army at Helm’s Deep—with the help of Gandalf and the ents.
Saruman is defeated but unrepentant in his tower and still possesses his great powers of persuasion. Confronted by Gandalf, Théoden, Aragorn, and others in his tower of Orthanc, he is unable to regain Théoden’s trust with his wheedling rhetoric, and his power and staff are broken by Gandalf, who has become Gandalf the White, replacing him in authority. Ultimately released from prison by the kindly Treebeard, Saruman makes his way with his bitter servant Wormtongue to the Shire, where he has kept spies for some time, and where he has, in Frodo’s absence, lent support to Lotho SackvilleBaggins in his rise to dictatorial status. When Saruman arrives in the Shire, he has Lotho murdered and, as “Sharkey,” takes over control for himself, destroying much of the beauty of the Shire by his own devastating brand of industrialization, just as he had plundered Fangorn.
Saruman has always been an egoist concerned ultimately with his own power, and even in his fallen and shamed state, he seeks to become powerful even in the small corner of Middle-earth called the Shire. Furthermore, he blames the hobbits for his own downfall, and this forms a large part of his motivation for destroying the beauty and peace of the Shire. Defeated by the hobbits, he is pardoned by Frodo, an act of mercy that takes the vindictive joy out of his evil policies. In the end, his throat is slit by his own servant, Wormtongue, and he is scattered like smoke. He will never return to Valinor.
Saruman, a foil to Gandalf, is a powerful wizard corrupted by his own pride, which colors any good intentions until it becomes his sole motivation for anything he does. Called a “politician” by Tom Shippey, Saruman is a very modern character whose concerns are all for self but who can cover over selfish intentions with convincing language.
Sauron (Dark Lord, Lord of the Rings)
The title character of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is the focus of the narrative for nearly the entire trilogy. The actions of all of the other characters are intended either to aid or thwart him in his desire to rule all of Middle-earth through coercion and terror. His forces—made up of orcs, trolls, evil or deluded men, werewolves, and the terrifying Nazgûl (the Ringwraiths)—seem overwhelming, and for most of the book, the resistance of the Free Peoples to his domination seems a lost cause. Glorious acts might be performed in a war against this enemy, but victory by force will not be possible. But since much of Sauron’s power is contained in the One Ring of Power, the one hope left to the Free Peoples is the destruction of the ring, which offers the promise of ultimate power—and which is, because of its connection with Sauron, an ultimately corrupting power.
When Sauron actually does appear in the narrative, it is as a disembodied, searching red Eye. Essentially Sauron is pure will, a will to power, and his Eye is cast on those things he desires, those things he wishes to dominate. In particular, the Eye is searching for the Ring of Power. Frodo experiences it first on Amon Hen, when he places the ring on his finger and feels the Eye searching for him. Pippin stares into the Eye when he looks into the palantír of Orthanc, and it shocks him into unconsciousness. As he moves closer to Orodruin and the Cracks of Doom, Frodo feels the Eye searching for him, and when the ring is thrown into the volcano, Sauron’s Eye is drawn there and knows it has been fooled.
For the most part, the presence of Sauron is made known throughout the trilogy by the Nazgûl, his most terrifying servants, who appear first as Black Riders seeking for Frodo in the Shire and all the way to Rivendell. The Witch-king of Angmar, chief of the Nazgûl, is doing his master’s will when he attacks Frodo on Weathertop and Faramir on the Pelennor Fields, as well as when he besieges Minas Tirith and kills King Théoden. Sauron himself is disembodied, a fact that makes him all the more clearly a figure of pure evil, the abstract evil that permeates the world and against which human beings must constantly strive in any variety of specific and concrete forms.
It is clear in The Lord of the Rings, however, that Sauron did at one time possess a body. Through The Fellowship of the Ring, and particularly in the “Council of Elrond” chapter, we learn that midway through the Second Age of Middle-earth, Sauron had tricked the elves of Eregion, known for their craftsmanship, into forging the Rings of Power— three for the elves, seven for the dwarves, and nine for mortal men—while he forged the One Ring in secret for the purpose of controlling all the others and bringing their owners under his authority. We also learn of his final defeat at the end of the Second Age by the Last Alliance of elves and men, led by Gil-galad and Elendil. He had killed both his enemies but was nearly destroyed himself, and Isildur, son of Elendil, had cut the ring from Sauron’s finger.
Tolkien’s full legendarium, particularly as published in The Silmarillion, does provide a good deal more information about Sauron’s origins and history. He was originally a Maia in the service of Aulë the Smith, craftsman of the Valar. The Maiar were angelic creatures somewhat lower than the Valar (others appearing in The Lord of the Rings are Gandalf, Saruman, and the Balrog). But early in the First Age of Middle Earth, Sauron was seduced by the rebel Vala Melkor, known as Morgoth. During the wars that pitted the Valar and the Eldar against Morgoth and his creatures—orcs, dragons, Balrogs, and werewolves—Sauron acted as Morgoth’s chief lieutenant. Most significant, he held the fortress of Angband for Morgoth, and it was there that he imprisoned Finrod and Beren, as told in The Silmarillion, ultimately killing Finrod (son of Finarfin and brother of Galadriel). But as the tale of Beren and Lúthien tells, Lúthien was able to save Beren with the help of the great hound Huan, who fought Sauron (who had taken the shape of a wolf to do battle). Defeated, Sauron had to surrender his fortress and flee Angband. At the end of the First Age, when Morgoth was driven forever from Arda, the Valar offered Sauron clemency, but only on condition that he return to Valinor to be judged. This was essentially Sauron’s last chance to repent and to turn from evil, but his pride was too great to allow him to submit to such judgment, and he escaped and hid himself for the first several hundred years of the Second Age.
But by about the year 1000 of the Second Age, Sauron had begun to build up his fortress of Baraddûr in Mordor. Disguised under the name of Annatar, he won the trust of the Noldor of Eregion, and about 1500, he began working with them to produce the Rings of Power. He placed much of his own power in the One Ring, and with it he completed his fortress in Mordor. Once he had corrupted men with the Nine Rings, he began to style himself “King of Men”—a claim that aroused the ire of the men of Númenor. An invasion of Middle-earth by Ar-Pharazon and the Númenóreans scattered Sauron’s forces, who fled in fear, and Sauron surrendered and was taken back to Númenor. Within 50 years, however, he had succeeded in corrupting Ar-Pharazon, playing on his fear of death and persuading him to attack Valinor and the Undying Lands themselves. The Valar destroyed Númenor, and in the destruction, Sauron lost whatever beauty he had possessed and was never again able to assume a fair form. But he did return to Mordor and ultimately was defeated by the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age.
In the Third Age, Sauron did not fully emerge until the end of the third millennium, although he had directed his Nazgúl against the Dúnedain kingdoms while he searched in vain for the lost One Ring. Disguised as “the Necromancer” in Dol Guldur, his identity was ultimately revealed, and he returned to Mordor, where he gathered his power to finally crush the Free Peoples. That is the point at which The Lord of the Rings begins.
Théoden, 17th king of Rohan, ascended to the throne at the age of 36 upon the death of his father, Thengel. He was a promising leader in his youth, but personal tragedies sapped his resolve and his vigor so that, as he grew older, his spirit declined and he lost the will to command. He was married to Queen Elfhild, who died while giving birth to their only son, Théodred. Théoden’s beloved sister, Théodwyn, also died early in his reign, leaving two young children, Éomer and Éowyn, whom Théoden raised as his own, their father (Éomund of Eastfold) having also died, in battle with orcs.
The wizard Saruman, hoping to capitalize on Théoden’s weakness, seduced Gríma (known as Wormtongue), one of the counselors of Rohan,into his service, apparently promising the traitor Théoden’s niece, Éowyn, as his prize. Using deceit and flattery, Gríma wormed his way into Théoden’s confidence to become his chief counselor, feeding the king defeatist and hopeless counsel, and turning him against his nephew, Éomer, chief representative of the war party that now advocates for decisive armed resistance to Saruman. When Théoden first appears in The Two Towers, he is in mourning over one more tragedy: His son and heir, Théodred, has just been slain by Saruman’s orcs. When Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive at the palace of Edoras, Théoden is all but paralyzed with despair and apathy, and through Wormtongue’s urging, he greets Gandalf with insolence and discourtesy. But Gandalf exposes Gríma’s treachery and sees that he is exiled, and also restores Éomer to the king’s good graces. More important, Gandalf is able to cure Théoden of his depression and to restore the king’s confidence. Théoden was not feeble in body, only in spirit, and now, restored to vitality, he rides at the head of his own army to Helm’s Deep, where he and his people hold out against the overwhelming force of Saruman’s orcs until Gandalf arrives with reinforcements and Saruman is defeated. With Gandalf and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, Théoden confronts Saruman at the tower of Orthanc, and despite Saruman’s attempts to cajole him into an alliance, Théoden resists the temptation to succumb once again to flattering words and rejects Saruman completely.
Later, when he receives the summons from Gondor telling him that Minas Tirith is under attack, Théoden decisively leads 6,000 Rohirrim cavalry on a quick march south in time to break the ranks of the enemy forces laying siege to Minas Tirith. He leads a gallant charge across the Pelennor Fields and defeats the army of Haradrim, Southron men in league with Mordor. After this successful charge, however, Théoden is attacked by the Lord of the Nazgûl and mortally wounded. His death is avenged by his niece, Éowyn, and his squire, the hobbit Merry, and he names Éomer his heir with his dying breath. After the conclusion of the War of the Ring, Éomer brings Théoden’s body back to Rohan to rest with his royal ancestors in his native soil.
In many ways, Théoden serves as a foil to Denethor, steward of Gondor. Like Denethor, he loses his son; like Denethor, he falls into despondency. But whereas Denethor ultimately gives in to despair, declining to lead his own people even as they are under attack by the forces of Mordor, choosing instead to die on his own funeral pyre in anticipation of his city’s conflagration, Théoden opts to ride at the head of his own army, despite his advanced age, and to fight valiantly, even for a cause that seems hopeless. Thus, Théoden embodies what Tolkien called the Northern heroic code— the courage to keep fighting in a losing cause, until death if necessary. Théoden is Tolkien’s ideal of the Germanic warrior king.
Treebeard is an ent, a herder and guardian of the trees of Fangorn Forest, who befriends Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers and, as a result of their news concerning Saruman, is instrumental in convincing the other ents to attack Isengard and bring an end to Saruman’s destructive plans.
Saruman’s industrialization of the land bordering Fangorn Forest, and his destruction of the trees in conjunction with that process has angered the ents for some time, but Merry and Pippin’s reports demonstrate Saruman’s broader intentions and his desire for supreme power. It is at this point that Treebeard calls an Entmoot—a kind of parliament of the ents. Because ents, who manifest many of the qualities of the trees they tend, take such a long time to speak or to decide on anything, Entmoots generally last for quite some time, but this one is over in only a few days, and the ents, now aroused, march on Isengard. When they are angry, ents are able to perform immediately the kind of feats that trees can perform over long ages, so that they are able to move earth and crack rocks in only a short time. With Treebeard in command, the ents destroy Saruman’s factories and flood Isengard, bringing the wizard’s power to an end. It seems clear that Treebeard is also responsible for sending a force of ents and huorns (ents who have become nearly indistinguishable from trees) to Helm’s Deep to help destroy the orcs there. Finally, Treebeard is left to guard Saruman, but in the end he allows the deposed wizard to go free since he cannot bear to see any living thing locked in a cage.
Treebeard (the name is a translation of his Sindarin name, Fangorn) seems chiefly to represent the characteristics of ents in general. Some 14 feet tall and bearded, he looks like a cross between a tree and a man. He speaks and acts slowly, often chastising Merry and Pippin for being so “hasty.” At the time of the War of the Ring, he is the oldest living being in Middle-earth. He was born before the First Age, apparently at the same time that the elves were awakened, and he tells the hobbits that ents were taught to speak by the elves. Ents seem to be the spirits and protectors of nature; thus, Treebeard cannot stand to see a man imprisoned since for him freedom is the natural state of living things. The tragedy of the ents, which Treebeard bemoans often, is their separation from the entwives at the end of the First Age. The entwives, who were concerned with vegetables, flowers, and other kinds of vegetation, crossed the Anduin River and were never seen again by the ents, who stayed in Fangorn Forest, the oldest forest in Middle-earth (along with the Old Forest near the Shire), and have been left to grow old without hope of renewal or of producing entlings. This is a curious aspect of the novel, and it may be Tolkien’s way of suggesting that once the Fourth Age of Middle-earth began—which is the age of men—there would be no one left to protect the natural resources of the world except for men themselves, who must care for the trees the way the ents would if they were still alive.
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