J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic high fantasy novel, “The Lord Of The Rings”, which has often been divided into three books “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers”, and “The Return of the King”, was written during WW2 and was published in 1954 and 1955. It has survived several adaptations, ranging from half of an animated film to the highly successful film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, and has an enormous global fanbase as well as a cult following. It is one of the most-read books on Earth, and appeals to all audiences, although it was primarily aimed at adults.”The Lord Of The Rings” centres on the archetypal orphaned hero – Frodo Baggins – who embarks on a quest to re-right the equilibrium of Middle-Earth (J.R.R. Tolkien’s intricate invented world) of the evil One Ring, a magical object belonging to the Dark Lord Sauron that would allow him to exert his power over the whole world if it ever came into his grasp. This epic fantasy is the ultimate battle between good and evil, and Tolkien uses paradigms throughout the novel as he constructs one of the most well-known tales of the Western world, creating unconscious feelings and associations in the reader and therefore deepening the emotional experience of “The Lord of the Rings”.
“The Lord of the Rings” is filled with archetypes, who are instantly recognisable characters that symbolise certain things, and are used to allow familiarity between readers and the characters as their roles are made evident via their recognised archetype. One of the most common conventions, the hero, is filled by Frodo Baggins, the child-like hobbit who inherits the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron through his beloved uncle, Bilbo Baggins. Frodo is reluctant to leave his home, the Shire, a defining characteristic of the hero, and only starts his journey under urgency. His story, which is carefully mapped throughout the novel, is a concept that is used frequently in high fantasy literature, known as The Hero’s Quest. The Hero’s Quest, upon which the main narrative of the novel is based on, depicts the adventures of the hero on his reluctant journey to restore balance to the world. In “The Lord of the Rings”, Frodo, as the ring-bearer, bears the responsibility of defeating the Dark Lord Sauron by destroying his ring, and is thus the protagonist of the novel. While he needs guidance and help, it is ultimately by his hand that the world of Middle-Earth must be saved, as is shown by this quote: “I will take the ring” he [Frodo] said, “though I do not know the way” …”this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and…if you do not find a way, no one will.” There are many familiar characteristics used in Frodo’s quest; in the beginning of the novel he is threatened by an unknown force – the Dark Lord Sauron, in the form of the Nazgul, his wraith servants – and is forced to leave the Shire. He journeys to Rivendell with his friends Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, as well as his faithful gardener, Samwise Gamgee, and the mysterious ranger of the north, Strider, where he is initiated and becomes part of the Fellowship of the Ring. He encounters many challenges and obstacles along the way, such as the monstrous spider Shelob (also an archetype – that of the monster) in the caves at the top of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, and the growing power and seduction of the One Ring he carries (the symbol of corrupt power and temptation in the novel). By the end of the journey, Frodo has matured and gained wisdom of his own, as well as found out about his uncle’s past and himself. He is changed, no longer the shildish hobbit he once was, but a Ring-bearer, who accepts his fate to leave Middle-Earth with the other bearers. As he tells his loyal companion, Samwise Gamgee “We tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me”.
To contrast with the good and innocent hero (the protagonist), there is an evil Dark Lord (antagonist), who is often obsessed with world domination and killing the hero. This villain is always portrayed as nearly impossible to defeat, either through his magical powers or his enormous armed forces. In the case of “The Lord of the Rings”, the Dark Lord Sauron has both, as he has created an army of twisted elves called orcs with his mysterious and powerful magic. Good versus is evil is a common distinguishing concept of High Fantasy,and the battle between Frodo and Sauron fulfills this archetype, as Sauron seeks to retrieve the One Ring from Frodo and cause Middle-Earth to fall into Shadow. Sauron, a fallen divine being of the land of Valinor, who in “The Lord of the Rings” speaks the rough and guttural language of Mordor to reflect his evil nature, gave to the elves the knowledge of smiths-magic, teaching them how to forge the rings of power, and then betrayed them and created “one ring to rule them all”, revealing his ill intents. He is, at the end of the novel, defeated, and good triumphs, as it does in any fantasy book.
Other regularly used archetypes are found in “The Lord of the Rings”, including Gandalf the Grey, who is also known as The Grey Pilgrim, Mathrandir, and later Gandalf the White, is the archetype of the wise old man, mentor and messenger, providing Frodo and the side of the Good with news, help, and advice. He takes Frodo under his wing, tells him of his peril at the beginning of the novel and gives him hope and encouragement. ” [The Ring] It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it. It would possess him.”…”I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” He also brings news to and unites the different races of Middle-Earth, warning Theodin King of Rohan of the approaching army of orcs and Urukhai, and later bringing aid to Helm’s Deep in the form of elves and the Rohirrim. Another quintessential character is Galadriel, Lady of the Light, the elven ruler of Lothlorien, whose partner is Celeborn (the good mother archetype as well as the wise old woman). Galadriel appears as a warm, loving, wise mother, who has both knowledge and the skill to use it subtly to better her realm. She and her Ring nourish Lothlorien, and allow it to flourish while darkness abounds in other regions of Middle-Earth.
In “The Lord of the Rings”, like many other high fantasy novels, the hero is accompanied by skilled and loyal companions who aid him in his quest. Frodo’s hobbit friends Merry (Meriadoc Brandybuck) and Pippin (Peregrin Took), as well as his ever-faithful companion, Sam (Samwise Gamgee), while short and sometimes very naïve and child-like in their behaviour (representing both the companion and child archetype), are not afraid to rough it up as they journey with Frodo on his quest. When the Fellowship of the Ring is formed, the elf-prince Legolas, the dwarven Gimli, and the two men, Boromir son of the Steward of Gondor and Aragorn (Strider) of the Dunedain and heir to the throne of Gondor join the hobbits, and form the tightly knit group of skilled companions for Frodo. They each have certain skills, with weapons and otherwise, that make them important and necessary to Frodo’s journey. Aragorn especially, who is a classic exemplar of a king in exile come to fulfill his destiny, plays a crucial role throughout the novel.
While these are only a few of the immense amount archetypal figures that feature in “The Lord of the Rings”, the above are some of the central characters. Their models have been used time and time again throughout fantasy literature, and are known to most readers in some form or another. They each play a specific role that is denoted by their archetype, and remain in that role no matter which book they appear in. Hopefully, when reading this, you were able to recognise most of these characterisations from other fantasy novels you have read or fantasy book adaptations you have seen, and found yourself able to link certain emotions and notions to each archetype.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions,
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