The Fellowship of the Ring

J. R. R. Tolkien
Main Ideas

Symbols

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

The Rings of Power

The Rings of Power represent pure, limitless power and its attendant responsibilities and dangers. The One Ring of Sauron confers almost unimaginable power to its wearer; however, in return, it exerts an immense pressure on its wearer, and inevitably corrupts him or her. The Three Elven Rings, on the other hand, are imbued with a different sort of power, one closely tied to learning and building. Galadriel’s ring, for instance, gives the Lady of Lórien the power of sight into the unknown, which she uses to good ends. Galadriel’s ability to use her ring responsibly is rooted in the unwavering self-control she demonstrates when she refuses the take the One Ring from Frodo.

The Sword of Elendil

The legendary Sword that was Broken once belonged to Elendil, an ancient ancestor of Aragorn’s line who died in battle at the Siege of Barad-dûr, the assault on Sauron’s stronghold. The sword was broken under Elendil when he died, and its shattered remains have been passed down for generations as an heirloom of his once-great kingdom, now fallen into decay. Aragorn, Elendil’s distant heir, carries the fragments of the sword with him. When Aragorn has the sword reforged in Rivendell, renaming it Andúril, it becomes a symbol of Aragorn’s greatness and a sign that Aragorn is officially setting out to claim his birthright in the House of Isildur. In a sense, the sword mirrors Aragorn himself. When we first meet Aragorn, he appears to be merely a haggard, weatherworn Ranger, but later he is revealed to be the heir of an ancient and glorious lineage—just as the sword, initially merely a collection of shattered metal fragments, is transformed into a weapon of great beauty and power.

The Mirror of Galadriel

Galadriel’s mirror, into which she invites Frodo and Sam to gaze, serves as a symbol of the ambiguity of the gift of knowledge and the ultimate incomprehensibility of fate. Looking into the mirror, one sees events and places that have been, or that are, or that may be— though one is never sure which. It is impossible, therefore, to try to escape what is shown in the mirror, or to alter one’s actions to fit the scenes that are shown. The events shown in the mirror will happen, or perhaps have happened already; as such, the reasons or explanations for these fated happenings are largely irrelevant and inconsequential. The only matter of importance regarding the knowledge the mirror reveals is what one ultimately does with that knowledge—whether one uses it responsibly, or toward evil ends. Even Galadriel herself, though a being of great power, has no control over the events depicted in the mirror. At times, the force of fate is indeed great, and no being in Middle-earth has the power to stop it.