Galadriel: “You are a ring-bearer, Frodo. To bear a ring of power is to be alone. This task was appointed to you. And if you do not find a way, no one will.”
—The Fellowship of the Ring
Galadriel, the Lady of the Woods, says these words to Frodo near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. The fellowship has just barely escaped from the mines of Moria, where they believe Gandalf has been killed. The experience has made them all uneasy. As the others sleep, Galadriel makes Frodo look into a mirror, in which he sees visions of what will happen if his mission fails: among other tragedies, the Shire will be overrun by orcs and his friends will be imprisoned. She tells Frodo that the fellowship has broken and that one by one the others will come after the ring, a statement that anticipates Boromir’s attempt to steal the ring at the end of the film. Frightened by the awesome responsibility before him, Frodo offers Galadriel the ring, which she refuses.
When Frodo says he cannot accomplish his task on his own, Galadriel responds with the quotation above. She means to encourage him but also to let him know that his journey has just begun. The fellowship has given him a start, but the task ahead is his and his alone. He no longer needs the others, and, indeed, he separates from them at the end of the film. These words also serve as a warning for Frodo, alerting him to the solitude he’ll struggle with as long as he has the ring. Frodo will wrestle with solitude even after he’s destroyed the ring and returned to the Shire. When Galadriel tells Frodo, “To bear a ring of power is to be alone,” she demonstrates her understanding of exactly how enormous Frodo’s task is, and how separate he is from the rest of the fellowship. His task is completely solitary, and it will consume his life.
Sam: “I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise. Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee. And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”
—The Fellowship of the Ring
When Frodo breaks off from his companions at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, all except Sam willingly let him go, understanding his decision to travel alone. As Frodo rows away from shore, Sam, who cannot swim, runs into the water after him. Sam quickly starts drowning, and Frodo reaches into the water to save him. Once aboard the boat, Sam uses these words to explain his refusal to let Frodo go on alone. The promise he refers to is the promise he made to Gandalf when Gandalf recruited him to be Frodo’s traveling partner. Sam may seem like just a bumbling hobbit, but his steadfastness, even in the face of Frodo’s willful determination, shows him to have a tough inner core that will prove invaluable to Frodo as the journey continues.
Sam’s affirmation of his promise to stay with Frodo suggests how fully interdependent the two friends are. From this point on, Sam will be Frodo’s protector, but here, Frodo protects Sam’s life. As harsh and solitary as Frodo’s task is, Sam is always right beside him, providing as much support as possible. As pure a heart as Frodo must have to bear the ring and destroy it in Mount Doom, Sam must have a similarly pure heart to support his friend so completely and never desire the ring for himself. With his actions and these words, Sam shows that his relationship with Frodo is different from everyone else’s, and he contradicts Galadriel’s message about the breakup of the fellowship of the ring. The fellowship, Sam’s actions and words suggest, has merely been reconstituted from a group of nine to a group of two. With these words, Sam shows that he, like Frodo, understands the nature of his mission.
Gollum/Sméagol: “We needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses, wicked, tricksy, false. No, not master . . . Master’s my friend. You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you. Not listening. I’m not listening. You’re a liar. And a thief. Murderer. Go away. . . . I hate you. . . . Leave now and never come back.”
—The Two Towers
Though this passage appears to be a dialogue, it is actually a monologue, and it exemplifies the internal debate that consumes Gollum. In The Two Towers, Gollum has agreed to lead Sam and Frodo to Mordor. This particular internal argument occurs one night as Sam and Frodo sleep, but it is not the only passage of its kind, and we might assume that this is only part of an ongoing debate in Gollum’s mind. Whenever Gollum has a quiet moment, this debate overtakes him. The conflict is between his good and bad intentions, and these intentions manifest themselves in his double identity, Gollum/Sméagol. Sometimes the doting, kind Sméagol seems to genuinely like Frodo, who has shown him pity and kindness, and to want to help him. Gollum, however, seems to be merely biding his time with the hobbits, waiting for the perfect moment to steal the ring of power, by force if necessary.
This particular debate between Gollum and Sméagol bodes both good and ill for Frodo and his mission. It shows clearly the anguish the ring causes its bearer, and Gollum’s pathetic existence is a constant reminder of what may be in store for Frodo. However, this debate also shows clearly how different Frodo and Gollum are. As Gollum understands it, his choice is between the ring, which he calls his “precious,” and Frodo, his “master.” In other words, he must choose between two things of value, both of which are worth more than he himself is. Whatever he chooses, Gollum will remain inferior and subservient, and he hints at the reason for his low opinion of himself in the penultimate line, in which Gollum accuses Sméagol of being “a liar. And a thief. Murderer.” We don’t understand until The Return of the King that Sméagol killed his friend to get the ring. Because of the guilt Gollum continues to feel about this act, he’ll never be free from his need for the ring. Frodo, on the other hand, who has acquired the ring in a much more innocent way, might not have to undergo a similar struggle. Frodo has never been reliant on or covetous of the ring, and, if he completes his mission successfully, he never will be. For Gollum, it’s too late.
Sam: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. . . . Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. . . . There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
—The Two Towers
Sam makes this speech to Frodo at the end of The Two Towers, when the hobbits have reached a low point. They’d been close to the gates of Mordor when Faramir captured them and took them and the ring to Gondor. Just before Sam makes this speech, a weakened, hypnotized Frodo nearly hands the ring to a wraith. Success in the mission seems unlikely. However, as Sam gives this inspiring oration, we see images of Rohan’s victory over the forces of Saruman and the Ents wreaking havoc on his tower, good signs that suggest Sam and Frodo’s fortune is about to turn. Indeed, Faramir is so moved by Sam’s words that he sets the hobbits free, rather than hold them and the ring in Gondor.
Sam’s words inspire those who listen, and they also reveal Sam’s growing wisdom. Frodo is not the only one undergoing a difficult journey—Sam is as well. He no longer speaks as a fresh-faced youth but with the wisdom of age and experience. He refers back to childhood stories, another component of the innocence of the Shire, now a thing of the past for Sam and Frodo. Here, Sam finds a way of looking back without regret, and in the Shire’s innocence he finds the inspiration he and Frodo need to push forward. The Shire is never far from Sam’s mind, and he draws his strength from his memories of it. Frodo, on the other hand, will never be able to go back to the Shire. The answer Sam claims to have found will never come to Frodo. This passage does, however, anticipate the fact that Frodo will turn his adventures into a story. When his journey is over, composing this story will be as close as he comes to finding the peace of mind that Sam does.
Elrond: “As Sauron’s power grows, her strength wanes. Arwen’s life is now tied to the fate of the ring. . . . The man who can wield the power of this sword can summon to him an army more deadly than any that walks this earth. Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.”
—The Return of the King
Elrond delivers this message to Aragorn in The Return of the King, as the fellowship travels with the riders of Rohan to Minas Tirith to defend Gondor against the forces of Sauron. One evening, Aragorn dreams that Arwen chooses immortal life and cannot marry him, and he wakes up to find Elrond, king of the elves and Arwen’s father, waiting for him. Elrond tells Aragorn that, contrary to Aragorn’s dream, Arwen has chosen mortal life, and her survival now depends on the defeat of Sauron’s army. Aragorn has been motivated all along to protect Middle-earth and restore balance and peace to all its realms, but Elrond’s news of Arwen gives Aragorn another reason to fight. Arwen has risked her life for the chance of being with him, and Elrond is entrusting Aragorn with the task of protecting her. Elrond gives Aragorn a sword, a sign that he now commits himself fully to supporting the human cause.
The sword Elrond gives Aragorn is Anduril, which was forged from the shards of the sword Narsil. Isildur used a shard of Narsil to fight Sauron and cut the ring from Sauron’s finger, and legend claimed that the sword would not be reforged until the ring was found and Sauron returned. By giving Aragorn this gift, Elrond anoints him as Isildur’s heir, finally ready to take over Isildur’s role as king of Gondor. This moment marks the final step in Aragorn’s embracing his status as king, and he uses his status to recruit the men of the mountain to join his army. Elrond says that Anduril can gather an army as great as any “that walks this earth.” In other words, at this moment, the forces of good finally have a weapon as powerful as Sauron’s ring, and final battle can begin. With the support of Elrond firmly behind him, Aragorn has no choice but to accept his destiny as king of Gondor and set out to save both Middle-earth and his love.
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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