Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Frodo and Sam’s destination is Mordor, specifically the volcanic Mount Doom, in which they intend to destroy the ring of power. Though their journey is hard, their destination is almost always in sight, at the edge of the horizon. However, actually reaching Mordor proves to be extremely difficult. The hobbits frequently find themselves going in circles. When they finally arrive at Mordor, Faramir captures them and brings them back to Osgiliath. Later, Gollum leads them back to the gates of Mordor, only to propose a different way in. Sam and Frodo seem to be always on their way to Mordor, but they never quite arrive. Mordor is the place that drives their every action and the goal they hold above all else. The closer they get, the further off Mordor seems, and their journey takes on epic proportions, outlasting two tremendous battles.
The journey to Mordor is fraught with setbacks not only because Mordor is located in difficult terrain and guarded by dangerous monsters, but also because this journey represents another journey, a spiritual quest that Frodo, as well as Sam and other characters, must undertake. This journey takes Frodo to a private Mordor, the dark core of his soul, where even his pure heart is no match for the temptations of the ring. The many delays in the journey to the actual Mordor suggest the many trials and tribulations Frodo must face in confronting his internal Mordor. The hobbits eventually reach Mordor, and Frodo faces his inner darkness. Though he returns to the Shire, the Mordor he’s seen within himself precludes his journey coming to a completely peaceful end.
The temptation of the ring is the motivating force behind every action in The Lord of the Rings, whether characters are fighting the temptation, nurturing it, denying it, or preventing someone else from giving in to it. Characters of every race pursue the ring. The ringwraiths and Sauron seek it constantly. Gollum attacks Frodo several times to try to take it from him. The sons of Denethor, Boromir and Faramir, both try to take it from Frodo. The ring tempts Gandalf and Galadriel, each of them drawn to the thought of the immense power it could give them. Even pure-hearted Sam briefly wonders how it would be to possess the ring. No one, apparently, is immune to its temptation, and Frodo is no exception. Though he is chosen as ring-bearer because he is most resistant to the ring’s lure, Frodo must constantly fight his desire for it. He is sometimes tempted to hand it over to his more powerful friends, while at other times he wants to keep it for himself. When he finally arrives at Mount Doom, Frodo elects to keep the ring, despite the tremendous anguish it has caused him. At no other moment in the trilogy is Frodo more tempted by the ring’s power. Frodo gives up the ring only because Gollum appears and fights him for it, a fight that leads to its destruction. The ring that has possessed so many and that has served as a kind of connective tissue among all the races of Middle-earth is ultimately destroyed by its own power.
The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy about a journey, but this large journey consists of many smaller journeys that advance the greater one. Individuals and groups are constantly setting off for someplace, to pursue a goal of their own, rescue someone, or escape. Merry and Pippin engage in an unintentional journey when they join forces with Frodo and Sam early in The Fellowship of the Ring. Aragorn takes many dramatic journeys across Middle-earth on his horse, a Lone-Ranger-type figure taking the brave and necessary steps to save his people. Gollum journeys with Frodo and Sam and also within his own conflicted soul. The elves journey to their land of immortality, though Arwen elects to remain behind—her own journey will be one that leads her to Aragorn and a mortal life. The last time we see Frodo in The Return of the King, he is embarking on yet another journey, this time with the elves, to pursue his next adventure. A constant feeling of movement stretches through all three films, and, though the destinations are always clear, the journeys often seem to have no end in sight.