The descendent of Isildur, Aragorn is the heir to the throne of Gondor, but at the beginning of the trilogy, he hides this identity and pretends to be a ranger named Strider. That Aragorn does not claim his throne, and that the steward Denethor rules Gondor, show the disunity and weakness of man at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. However, Aragorn is not king because he is not yet ready. As much as the trilogy tells of Frodo’s inner steadfastness before constant temptation, it also tells of Aragorn’s transformation from ranger to king. He must grow into his position as king, and his own journey proves vital not only for his rightful coronation but for the very survival and growth of the kingdoms of man. He gains confidence and self-awareness through his courageous support of Frodo and the rest of the fellowship, as well as from his love of Arwen.
Four main points mark Aragorn’s path to becoming king. When he publicly pronounces his identity during the initial meeting of the fellowship, he rouses the jealousy of Boromir, who is heir to the steward of Gondor. Aragorn’s pronouncement and its effects show that the human race does not yet accept Aragorn as king. Aragorn demonstrates his increasingly strong leadership role when he shows conviction and strength before the leaders of Rohan, a second human kingdom he will someday rule. Elrond’s gift to Aragorn of the sword Anduril shows that the elves recognize that Aragorn is king and is ready to lead the battle against Sauron. Finally, and most important, Aragon fully embraces his role as king when he demands the fealty of the men of the mountain, who will obey only the king of Gondor. With this act, Aragorn commits himself to the role of king and gains his first followers. When Aragorn is finally officially crowned, the ceremony is only symbolic—Aragorn has already proven himself to be the true and rightful king.
Though in many ways Frodo is an ordinary hobbit, happy to live among his friends and family in the Shire, his pure, incorruptible heart sets him apart not only from other hobbits but also from the other races of Middle-earth and makes him the ideal candidate to deliver the ring of power to Mordor. Frodo’s mission to destroy the ring involves a treacherous journey and countless dangers, such as orcs, volcanoes, and wraiths, and in facing these obstacles he is no different from the other eight members of the fellowship. However, his task involves much more than this perilous journey to Mordor. His real challenge is to bear the ring without giving in to its temptations. This resistance is Frodo’s inner journey, in which his pure heart is constantly under assault by his darker yearnings for power. The ring tempts others in the fellowship, however good and pure they are. Gandalf, Aragorn, Sam, and Bilbo all have their eyes widen when the ring is before them, and their own weaknesses, despite their often remarkable physical strength, prove how difficult a task for Frodo carrying the ring really is. The difficulty makes his success all the more impressive.
Though the ring is eventually destroyed at Mount Doom, Frodo does not let the ring go on his own, and the destruction of the ring is more an act of chance than an act of will. At the last minute, Frodo is overcome by the ring and gives in to its power, and only in a final struggle with Gollum is the ring torn away from him. In this sense, Frodo fails in his task. However, since no one in Middle-earth was better equipped to carry out the mission than Frodo was, perhaps Frodo’s final struggle suggests that the task would have been impossible for any individual to accomplish without the intervention of luck or providence. Frodo is a hero, certainly, but in many ways the entire fellowship is as responsible for the victory as Frodo himself is.
Frodo carries himself throughout the trilogy with composure and calm, hardly ever flagging in his optimism and dedication to the task at hand, and only when he returns to the Shire and fails to readjust to life there does he reveal how traumatized he has been by the journey. Frodo’s journey took him beyond the point of no return, and though the memory of the Shire was what kept him going in the darkest moments, he cannot actually go back. Like Bilbo, Frodo feels compelled to write down his adventures, but even this does not put him at ease. Ultimately, he departs Middle-earth with the elves, a final gesture that suggests that although Frodo did not actually die during his efforts, he did pay for his journey with his life in the Shire.
While most of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings are either good or evil, the wretched creature Gollum constantly struggles between the two. Gollum was once a good hobbit named Sméagol, and this past identity comes to represent Gollum’s good side, the part of him that loves and wants to help his “master,” Frodo. However, Sméagol the hobbit had a glaring weakness. During a fishing trip, his companion found the ring in the water, and Sméagol wanted it so much that he killed the other hobbit to get it. This heinous act eventually transformed Sméagol into the slimy, hunched Gollum who follows Frodo. Gollum, the dark side of Sméagol, covets the ring, which he calls “my precious,” so much that he is willing to kill for it again. Gollum and Sméagol struggle with each other, often arguing about what course of action to take and how far to go to gain possession of the ring. The evil Gollum side usually wins, and in the trilogy, Gollum serves as a symbol of how the ring can transform a basically decent person into a dirty, smelly, swamp creature.
Gollum serves as a foil to Frodo, his physical presence implicitly emphasizing the younger hobbit’s strength and purity. However, Gollum is not pure evil—that distinction goes to Sauron. Instead, Gollum is pure servility, and this characteristic unites both his good and dark sides and allows him to function as a guide for Frodo. The opposite of servility—strength of character and individual will—become those qualities that a good ring-bearer must have, qualities that Frodo clearly has in abundance.
Sam views Frodo much as Frodo views the ring, as something to be protected and guided to a final destination, and Sam’s dedication makes him one of the most important members of the fellowship. While Aragorn is the star fighter of the group, it is Sam who proves the most indispensable to Frodo, and the two are so isolated in their journey that they usually don’t know what the other members of the fellowship are doing or facing. Though the other members make it possible for Frodo and Sam to continue on their journey, Sam himself makes it possible for Frodo to carry on. Sam takes his responsibilities as Frodo’s companion very seriously, and he upholds his vow never to leave Frodo even when circumstances are at their most dangerous. When an exhausted Frodo falters near the end of The Return of the King, Sam literally carries his friend the rest of the distance to Mount Doom. Sam is loyal as well as pure, and this purity helps him resist the power of the ring. Sam has countless opportunities to steal the ring from Frodo, but he takes it only when he believes Frodo is dead. He returns the ring with little hesitation, a selfless act that suggests that had Frodo actually died, Sam would have had the strength to carry out the destruction of it on his own.
Frodo’s strength at times seems almost otherworldly, but Sam’s is very much of the world, and this distinction becomes clear at the end of The Return of the King. While Frodo struggles to readjust to normal life in the Shire, Sam thrives. He bravely approaches the woman he has always loved, marries her, and soon is a father of two. The journey to Mordor gave Sam new confidence and maturity, and our final glimpse of him shows him to be on his way to a long, happy life. Frodo, however, has been changed by the journey in a way the Shire can no longer accommodate, and his only option is to leave.
Another theme that appears several times in The Lord of the Rings is the conflict between nature and industry. Tolkien had been raised in the countryside and was very attached to nature, so you could understand his disappointment with his fellow humans when industry and machines began taking over. Because of his childhood home, he made a noticeable connection between evil and metal by making the Shire a rural place and filling Mordor and Isengard (the antagonists) with machines, forges, fire, wheels, and other objects associated with manufac... Read more→
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