The Two Towers
Analysis of Major Characters
Like the other Hobbits in the novel, Frodo is not so much a born hero as one who has had heroism thrust upon him. Compared to the other heroes—the stout-hearted Gimli, the far-seeing Legolas, or the noble Théoden, for instance—Frodo appears almost absurdly underqualified for the pivotal role he plays in The Lord of the Rings. We never see him act with overt valor or fearless courage. Frodo’s bravery, on the rare occasions when we witness it, seems almost involuntary: his seemingly bold action of reaching for the Ring when he fears the Enemy has seen him in Mordor, for instance, is not really courageous, as his hand is described as reaching for the Ring on its own. The last image we see of Frodo in The Two Towers—paralyzed and comatose—is pitiable, a far cry from heroic. Furthermore, Frodo possesses a readiness to trust others, which, though perhaps a noble instinct, gets him into trouble in his dealings with Gollum. Frodo goes out of his way to prove to Gollum that the hobbits are trustworthy masters, only to be betrayed later when Gollum leads Frodo and Sam into the lair of Shelob. Frodo is a bit too unassuming and unintimidating to be powerful, but he is all the more endearing to us for that reason.
Despite his lack of heroic stature—or perhaps because of it—Frodo is well liked by those who know him intimately. His closest friend is his servant Sam, whom Frodo refuses to treat as a servant, always addressing him as an equal. When Sam gazes on Frodo sleeping, Sam’s feelings of fondness push him to tell himself how much he cares for Frodo—a private moment of genuine sentiment. Sam is quite simply devoted to his master. Even the wretched and untrustworthy Gollum displays what appears to be genuine affection for Frodo. Gollum caresses Frodo as he sleeps, not because Gollum is sneaking around his master (as Sam suspects), but simply because he likes Frodo. Frodo is a sympathetic character whose ordinary failings are our own, and whose goodness and steadiness make him undeniably likable.
In the early parts of The Lord of the Rings, Sam comes across as a rather flat character, a sidekick to the more interesting and dynamic Frodo, whom he serves. But from a psychological point of view, Sam is among the most interesting and complex characters in the novel. Like his probable namesake, Pickwick’s servant Sam in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, Frodo’s Sam is earthy and commonsensical, fond of his beer and his bread, clever though sometimes forgetful—as when he forgets he has a magic Elf rope in his bag. Over the course of The Two Towers, Sam changes more than any other character. Initially, he is subservient and not quite capable of independent judgment. His constant references to Frodo as “Mister Frodo”—a formal title that other characters do not use even when addressing kings or Wizards—makes us wonder whether Sam suffers from a sense of inferiority. Frodo never orders Sam around as a master would command a servant, yet Sam continually speaks of himself as serving Frodo.
Eventually, Sam is a servant no more. By the end of The Two Towers, when his master lies speechless and paralyzed, Sam is forced to affirm his own strength and assume the role of Ring-bearer himself. In being forced to make his own decisions, he becomes his own master, thereby becoming a symbol of the potential for leadership and heroism that may lie dormant in the most unsuspecting people, perhaps even ourselves.
Gandalf the White
Gandalf is the supreme force of good in the novel, a worthy opponent of the evil Saruman and Sauron. Gandalf’s goodness and power are such as to make him seem a near-religious figure at times; indeed, there is Christian symbolism attached to the wizard, even though the mythology of The Lord of the Rings is primarily pagan. Wearing a white cloak and riding a white steed, Gandalf is associated with the Christian color of spiritual purity. In a distinctly Christ-like resurrection, the wizard has died and returned from the grave, having fallen to his death in the preceding volume of the novel. Gandalf has passed through the greatest trial of existence—that of death—and has survived with his powers enormously enhanced. Furthermore, the wizard’s timely arrival with military backup during the siege of Hornburg makes him seem almost a miracle worker.
However Christlike Gandalf may seem, though, he is no transcendent figure floating over the action. He maintains firm personal connections with all the characters, regardless of race or rank; he addresses even the lowliest members of the Fellowship by their full names and with great respect. Tolkien reminds us that even the immensely powerful Gandalf occasionally needs human help, as when the wizard asks Théoden to give him the horse Shadowfax. This human connection brings Gandalf down to earth, enabling us to identify with him more than we might have expected.
Pippin, together with his companion Merry, represents the entire Hobbit race in the first half of The Two Towers, as Frodo and Sam do not appear in this portion of the story at all. Pippin is typically Hobbitlike in his kindness, humility, and ordinary mixture of flaws and fears. He is more clever and quick-thinking than he is bold or courageous—as when he engineers his escape from the Orcs not by attacking them, but by profiting from a knife that falls near his hand bindings. Still, even if Pippin is not a typical adventure hero, he shows a firmness of purpose and a quick-wittedness that make him a valuable member of the Fellowship.
The honorable Pippin is a highly likable character. He is thoughtful and generous, as when he loans his beloved tobacco pipe to Gimli, who yearns for a good smoke. Pippin likes to relax, as we see when Gandalf comes upon him and Merry smoking and chatting at Saruman’s headquarters. Pippin values companionship highly; one of his few moments of relief during his Orc captivity is when he happens to be thrown on the ground near Merry, with whom he is able to enjoy a brief conversation before being silenced. Pippin and his friend Merry are a refreshing presence in The Two Towers, largely because they are not superhuman or larger than life, as so many of the others are. Instead, these two hobbits are simple creatures with simple pleasures and failings. Their ordinary natures help us to identify with their mission, as we can picture ourselves in their places.
While a wide variety of creepy nonhuman creatures populate the world of The Lord of the Rings—ranging from the dark Nazgûl to the revolting Shelob—Gollum stands out from the rest as psychologically intriguing. Capable of speech, he is quite forthcoming in sharing his inner thoughts with anyone who cares to hear them, even talking out loud when no one is there to hear. As such, Gollum is something more than a mere monster. By the same token, he is not quite a villain either, as he lacks the grand stature of Sauron or Saruman, or even of Wormtongue. We cannot imagine any of these other wicked figures splashing around in the water in search of fish or whining about how bread burns his throat. Moreover, though Gollum acts like a servant, it is hard for us to believe that he kowtows to Frodo only in order to win the hobbit’s trust. Rather, this wretched subservience seems to be Gollum’s natural state—at least, his natural state after years of the deleterious effects of possessing the Ring. On the whole, Gollum’s morality is almost completely impossible to guess for most of the novel. While other characters are clearly evil or clearly good, Gollum acts as if he is on the side of good, but he may perhaps be treacherous. Until the end of The Two Towers, we are never quite sure.
Gollum’s fondness for Frodo is one of the mysteries of the creature’s personality. Of course, Gollum willingly leads Frodo to a probable death at the end, and he is no true friend to the hobbit. But still there is a striking and surprising display of real affection for the one whom Gollum calls master, even beneath the false flattery he issues to Frodo in order to gain trust. When Sam catches Gollum fondly caressing the sleeping Frodo, there is no other explanation for what the creature is doing than showing that he loves his master. Sam may suspiciously describe Gollum’s activity as “sneaking” around Frodo, but we feel that, strangely enough, Frodo’s betrayer loves and respects him in his own odd way. We may be inclined to think that at these moments, Gollum’s original nature—his lost identity as Sméagol—shows through, perhaps in response to seeing his earlier self in Frodo.
by CBCoulter, July 11, 2012
In the Sparknotes guide to The Lord of the Rings, on page 186 in the Character List for The Return of the King, Eomer is mis-identified as Theodan's son and heir. This is incorrect; Eomer is Theodan's nephew. Theodred was Theodan's son, and he was killed by Orcs, making Eomer, next in line for the throne, the new heir.
Is this error put in to trip up folks who aren't going to read the book, or is it a serious editing oversight?
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