Imagine this scene: you cuddle up in bed with The Lord of the Rings (any one of the three, although The Two Towers is a personal favorite) and you start reading. While reading it feels as if you are transformed into Middle-earth. You can feel the wind on your cheeks and the excitement of the war is pumping through your blood. You feel as if you are right there, in the middle of all the action. You are truly at Helm’s Deep and the Pelennor Fields. This feeling is the sign of a truly wonderful author and his or her magnificent piece of literature. Middle-Earth is truly magical, and, although Tolkein didn’t intend it to be this way, full of archetypes. It’s hard not to put archetypes into literature, every book has archetypes. The definition of an archetype is: a way to describe symbols, colors, or settings to the subconscious mind. The main characters in the books with archetypes are Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn/Strider, Samwise (Sam), Meriadoc (Merry), Peregrin (Pippin), Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Galadriel, and Éowyn. Only the characters on the “good side” will be discussed because there is simply not enough time or room, although I wish there was. All the above characters will be explained in great detail and their roles and importance will also be discussed. So sit back and enjoy reading!
Gandalf is often the character that most people like best. He is mysterious, “Gandalf is greater than you Shire-folk know – as a rule you can only see his jokes and toys (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp.185).”, and he can also be very blunt and down to earth. He has many sides, and some would say personalities, to him. His archetypes are: alchemist, avenger, father, mediator, mentor, messiah, mystic, messenger, teacher, and visionary (Sophia, pp.1). He is the alchemist archetype because he is described as a wizard and all wizards are defined as alchemists. He could heal, to a certain extent, and he can perform magic, like magicians. Alchemist are also greatly respected among some and hated by others, and that certainly describes Gandalf. He is the avenger because he was sent to Middle-Earth by Ilúvatar, the god of Middle-Earth to protect the peoples of the land and to try to help them should Sauron rise to power again. He is the father figure because he has the ability to oversee others and kind of preside over their doings. He also fits into that archetype because he has undying devotion and courage for the fellowship. An example would be when he sacrificed himself at the bridge of Khazad-Dûm so that they could escape the mines of Moria, “[Gandalf] staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. `Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp.345).”. Gandalf can also be described as a god, in some ways. Gandalf certainly seems like a god at times. He seems to always know what is happening and why, though sometimes he doesn’t act upon it. He uses his powers for the good of the people of Middle-Earth. He is the mediator because he is always trying to solve disputes. He also has a life-long commitment to resolving disputes and bringing people together to fight together and unite against evil. The mentor archetype describes Gandalf because he teaches them all they know (except Aragorn, who already knows most of it). He teaches them about what lies ahead and about the dark forces that are at work. He has devoted most of his life to teaching people what he knows and helping them to understand. That also explains the teacher archetype and how it applies to him. He is the messiah of the fellowship because he was sent to help them. He has to devote his life to teaching about the evils of the world and how to protect against them, much like Jesus Christ. He is a mystic because he leads a hard life being one of the Istari. He spends most of his days doing mundane things, but when he is busy he can get many important things done. The messenger archetype describes him because he often brings news to people all across Middle-Earth. It is usually bad news, so many people don’t like to see him come, but they are grateful for the warnings and advice he gives them. He is the visionary because he can see the potential that people have for becoming great. He knows what they are really capable of and he proves this by pushing along Aragorn and Frodo. Gandalf’s role in the fellowship is the leader, but when he falls in his battle with the balrog Aragorn becomes the leader of the group. When Gandalf fell he smote the balrog and died in the highest mountain top, but he was brought back, his task was not done. When he came back he came as the white wizard when before he was gray and Saruman was white. Saruman fallowed Sauron and was cast out of the order, while Gandalf was “promoted”. Gandalf became the head of the order and went on to lead the fellowship once more. He was one of the most important roles to the fellowship, but perhaps the most important person, or hobbit, was Frodo.
Frodo was the Ring-bearer. He had to carry the Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it to save Middle-Earth. His archetypes are avenger and hero (Sophia, pp.1). The avenger archetype describes Frodo because he responds to the need to balance the scales of justice by destroying the Ring. He is avenging the peoples of Middle-Earth who died at the hands of Sauron or his servants. He is the hero because he is the one that bears the weight and responsibility of the Ring. This is his hero’s quest. Before the Ring came into his life Frodo was a happy hobbit. After his parents died his Uncle Bilbo, who was actually his cousin but was called his uncle because of their great age difference of 82 years, took him in and raised him on his own. When Bilbo left the Shire he made Frodo his heir and left the Ring to Frodo. Many years passed until Frodo found out that the Ring was actually the One Ring and Gandalf advised him to flee. He took along Sam, his gardener and best friend, Meriadoc, his cousin, and Peregrin, another cousin. They encounter the Nazgûl on the road and they cross paths with Strider, a ranger from the north, who comes to their aid. Frodo gets stabbed at Weathertop by the king of the Nazgûl. He is rushed to Rivendell where Elrond Halfelven heals him. He then goes to the council of Elrond and the fellowship is formed. They journey far and wide and encounter many dangers, including orcs, the balrog, cave trolls, and more unpleasant evil things. They also come to Lothlórien, and elven paradise where Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel reside. Frodo looks into Galadriel’s mirror and sees some of the future and what will happen if he should fail. They all leave Lórien refreshed, but without Gandalf, who fell in Moria. From there they travel by boat down the Anduin River and at the Falls of Rauros they split into three groups, Frodo and Sam going towards Mordor, Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs and are being taken to Isengard, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli pursue them. Boromir fell in battle while defending Merry and Pippin at the falls. Frodo and Sam encounter Gollum and he leads them to Mordor and eventually betrays them. They escape from the trap[ that he lays for them and eventually reach Mount Doom. Frodo discovers that he cannot destroy the Ring and he claims it for himself, but Gollum stacks him and gets the Ring. Gollum is so happy to have the Ring that he dances around and falls off the cliff inside the mountain into the fires of the mountain, thus destroying the Ring. Frodo and Sam are saved by Gandalf and nursed back to health and they eventually go back to the Shire and save it and live peacefully. Later Frodo takes a ship into the west with all the other ring-bearers and leaves Middle-Earth forever (Tolkein – Fellowship). Tolkein wanted Frodo to be the ring-bearer because he wasn’t the natural hero. He wanted Frodo to have to prove his worth and become great. He wanted his story to be about someone who becomes great because of qualities more important than strength or size (Colbert, pp.13). Another important character, and one who people think should be the hero, is Aragorn.
Aragorn is the heir to the throne of Gondor, though he has not claimed his rightful position. He was reluctant to take his birthright because he fears the same weakness that flowed in his ancestor’s veins is also in him, which he proves to be wrong. His archetypes are: father, healer, hero, mediator, teacher, and warrior (Sophia, pp.1). He is the father archetype because he is looked up to throughout the entire quest by everyone. He also has the natural ability to oversee others and he has lots of courage to protect them. He is a healer because he is the heir to the throne. That is the sign of the true king. He goes to Minas Tirith after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and reveals himself as the King by healing many people, especially Éowyn, Faramir, and Merry, who had all been grievously injured (Tolkein – Return, pp. 139-145). He is the hero because he shows great strength and courage in battle and he is key in defeating Sauron. He draws Sauron’s eye away from Mount Doom so that Frodo and Sam have a better chance of succeeding at their task. He puts himself into danger for the good of the world. Aragorn is the mediator because he is always trying to find the best way to resolve conflicts. This is why he makes such a great King later on. He is the teacher of the fellowship because he teaches them about physical and emotional strength and he helps them to get through everything. Lastly, he is the warrior because he is fighting to defend his people, he is fighting to defend all the races of Middle-Earth. That truly makes him a warrior. Aragorn also goes by the name Strider. That is the name that everyone knows him by because he is a ranger from the north. In fact, he is one of the Dúnedain. His ancestors in the past have shown great weaknesses for power and he battles every day with the knowledge that he may someday become the same way. That is very hard on him, but he later proves that his fears are needless, he becomes a wonderful King. Aragorn is perhaps one of the best characters, but someone who is greater is Samwise Gamgee, or Sam.
Sam is Frodo’s gardener and best friend. His archetype is the companion (Sophia, pp.1). There may only be one archetype that describes him, but it is a powerful one. He is the companion because he never leaves Frodo. He would go to the ends of the earth to be with Frodo and protect him. That is a strong bond between two people and it really shows in the books. If everyone had a friend like Sam then no one would be left out or sad. Sam keeps Frodo’s spirits up when things look bad and he is the one that really pulls Frodo through, at one point even carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom when Frodo becomes too tired and weak to walk. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get (Tolkein – Return, pp.218)!” Sam is really the only reason that Frodo got as far as he did. Sam is as much the hero as Frodo is. Two more people also deserve the companion archetype, Merry and Pippin.
The two young hobbits, Merry and Pippin, are both rather jokesters at the beginning of the quest, but they prove to be great warriors and companions to the fellowship and each other as the story progresses. Their archetypes are companion and warrior (Sophia, pp.1). They are the companion archetype because their friendship never fails. They will always be there for those that are important to them. They will go through anything to protect the people they love, even fight evil. They are the warrior archetype because they go through many battles and they each play an important role. Merry helps Éowyn defeat the witch King and Pippin helps Faramir by not letting Dénethor burn him to death. They both play very important roles, although they almost never got to go. At the beginning Elrond wanted Sam, Merry, and Pippin to go back to the Shire but they all insisted and, at Gandalf’s persuasion, they were allowed to go. These two can be put together because they are so close. When they are separated in the third book the pain they go through by being separated is clearly visible. “I wish Merry was here (Tolkein – Return, pp. 168). Merry becomes a warrior of Rohan under King Théoden and Pippin becomes a guard of the Citadel in Minas Tirith under Dénethor, the steward of Gondor. Another pair tat can be put together are Legolas and Gimli, although they hated each other at the beginning, they became great friends by the end of the first book.
Legolas is an elf and Gimli is a dwarf, quite an unlikely pair, but they become inseparable. “and in the third were Legolas and Gimli, who had now become fast friends (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp. 388). Their archetype is warrior (Sophia, pp.1). They are both excellent fighters and will fight to the death for their friends. Their skills also help the fellowship many times during the long journey. Legolas helps them with all the elven people that they encounter, especially in Lothlórien, while Gimli usually provides comic relief in his blustering ways. They make quite a pair. They learn to cross the rift that has pulled apart the races of the elves and dwarfs for so long. They are the ones that start to mend that rift. Many people should learn from their friendship. The elves and the dwarves had been fighting for many years, because Sauron had pitted them against each other. They represent the races of elves and dwarves in the fellowship and they do it quite well. Gimli is chosen because of his great fighting skills and Legolas is chosen partly because of his skill with his bow and knives, but also because he is the son of Thrandúil, King of the elven race in Northern Mirkwood. Boromir also came of noble birth, but he is the son of a steward, Dénethor.
Boromir is the first son of Lord Dénethor. He is the favorite and the one sent to Rivendell to represent Gondor at the Council of Elrond. His archetypes are martyr and warrior (Sophia, pp.1). He was a martyr because he died defending Merry and Pippin from orcs on Amon Hen near the Falls of Rauros. He had just been corrupted by the Ring and he had tried to forcefully take it from Frodo. Frodo got away and Boromir realized what he had done, “He rose and passed his had over his eyes, dashing away the tears. `What have I said?’ he cried. `What have I done? Frodo, Frodo!’ he called. `Come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!’ (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp. 416).”. He defended the hobbits as a way of repenting for what he had done and trying to make up for his horrible act. He was a warrior because for many long years before the quest he had helped to keep Mordor’s forces from taking over Osgiliath, a ruined city near Minas Tirith. He also proved very helpful to the fellowship as they went on their quest and had to face many evil creatures. Another person, or should I say elf, who was a great help to the fellowship was Galadriel.
Galadriel is the Lady of the realm of Lothlórien, an elven paradise. Her archetypes are angel, mother, and visionary (Sophia, pp.1). Galadriel is often looked at as an angel, especially by Gimli, who had taken a deep fascination with her and ever spoke of her in the highest honor. As the fellowship is leaving Lothlórien Gimli says these words to Legolas about Galadriel, “I have looked the last upon that which is fairest…Henceforward I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp394).”. For her gift to Gimli she had asked him what he wanted and he said that he wanted a single strand of her hair, she gave him three. She is the mother archetype because she is like Mother Nature, an “Earth Mother”. Her primary role is to sustain Lórien, and Earth Mothers have been credited with creating and nourishing life (Colbert, pp.43). She is the visionary archetype because of her mirror and her ability to see what will come to pass. “Many things I can command the mirror to reveal…and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the mirror free to work, I cannot tell, For it shows things that where, and things that are, and some things that may yet be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp. 377).”. She was perhaps one of the people that made the biggest difference in the fellowship. She let them rest and grieve for Gandalf in Lórien. She also had the strength to refuse the ring when Frodo offered it to her. “I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp. 381).”. She replies by saying what she could become and how she could use the ring, but the she realizes that she cannot, “Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad…’I pass the test…I will diminish, and go into the west, and remain Galadriel (Tolkein – Fellowship, pp. 381).”. That was a big thing for her, since if the ring is destroyed Lothlórien will diminish and the elves will have to sail west, leaving Middle-Earth forever. Another powerful woman in the books is Éowyn, shield maiden of Rohan and niece to the King.
Éowyn is one of the best characters. Her archetype is warrior (Sophia, pp.1). She does the most valiant and courageous thing, other than destroy the Ring. She kills the Witch King, the king of the Nazgûl, “with the last of her strength she drover her sword between crown and mantle…then a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world (Tolkein – Return, pp. 117).”. She is one of the strongest characters, except for one thing, she is in love with Aragorn, but she is not really in love with him, she is in love with him being King. She wants to be queen, so she really falls in love with his position of power. She hates being a shield maiden and being left to care for the women and children, she wishes to fight and help defend her people.
Thus ends the discussion on archetypes. Archetypes are important to our lives because they describe symbols, colors, or settings to the subconscious mind. The characters that were discussed were the following: Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn/Strider, Samwise (Sam), Meriadoc (Merry), Peregrin (Pippin), Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Galadriel, and Éowyn. Archetypes are a way of life, most people don’t even know what they are, but their subconscious recognizes it. It’s really a way for us to make sense of things and relate things that we may not understand to ones that we do. Now, next time you’re reading The Lord of the Rings, pause and think of what the characters stand for, just think about it.
Colbert, David. The Magical Worlds of The Lord of the Rings. New York: Berkley
Publishing Group, 2002
Guearin, Labor, Morgan, and Willingham. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to
Literature. New York: Harper and Rowe, 1979
Sophia, Cassiel. “A gallery of archetypes”. Online. December 10, 2003
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Return of the King. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965