The Lord of the Rings

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Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Water

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, water serves as a lifesaving force for the good beings of Middle-earth. Gandalf and Aragorn are saved from death after long falls when they land in bodies of water. When Arwen races to Rivendell on horseback with a badly injured Frodo, she escapes the pursuing ringwraiths when they are flooded by water. Similarly, Saruman's tower loses its power when its plain is flooded. Water also suggests the afterlife. The elves depart Middle-earth on a boat and sail out to a great body of water. When Boromir dies, his dead body is placed on a pyre and sent down a river. Although he is dead, this journey suggests that he will live on in the memory of others.

The Ring

The ring is the center of the trilogy, and it gains multiple, changeable meanings as Frodo’s journey proceeds. Created by the evil Sauron, it is at first synonymous with its maker’s evil power. Those who encounter the ring are overcome with longing for power over others, and the ring could give more power to Sauron. For all, the ring suggests the dangerous urges that lurk even in the most pure-hearted beings of Middle-earth. It also suggests slavery and weakness, since whoever gives in to the temptation of the ring becomes a slave to it. Gollum is an example of what happens physically when one succumbs to the ring. Man, too, is weak, and Isildur failed to destroy the ring in Mordor. The fact that weakness affects every race of Middle-earth shows the extent of the ring’s power.

As the trilogy proceeds, new symbols emerge to counteract the temptation of the ring. The sword Anduril suggests good and unity, rather than evil and disunity. When Elrond presents the sword to Aragorn, he says that the fate of Arwen has been linked to the fate of the ring: as the ring grows stronger, she grows weaker. Arwen, therefore, serves as a kind of symbol herself, the very opposite of Sauron: the anti-ring, the symbol of hope and good.

Mount Doom

Mount Doom is both the birthplace of the ring and the place where it can be destroyed. This is Frodo’s ultimate destination, and it also presents him with his greatest challenge. Destroying the ring is in many ways more difficult than reaching Mount Doom, and twice we see characters fail when faced with the task. Isildur, after defeating Sauron’s armies, enters the fiery mountain intending to destroy the ring, but at the last moment he turns back and decides to keep it for himself. When Frodo brings the ring to Mount Doom, he, too, intends to destroy it, but like Isildur, he decides at the last minute to keep it. Though the ring is ultimately destroyed after Frodo and Gollum’s struggle for it, Frodo did not let it go on his own. Though he passes many tests on his journey, Frodo fails in this final test at Mount Doom. Mount Doom in this case suggests the darkness and weakness that exists even in the most pure-hearted, a lure so powerful that even the most determined voyager needs additional help to resist temptation. Mount Doom also marks the furthest Frodo gets from the security and familiarity of the Shire. He is as out of place at Mount Doom as the ring was in the Shire, and this is the place where Frodo comes closest to actually giving himself over to evil.