Tolkien’s Characters

by G. Russell Gaynor
(a.k.a. Reiter)

            My editor will tell you, my openings are most often a troublesome thing. But this one is pretty easy.


            Did you notice that?

            Just mentioning the man’s name causes a hesitation, doesn’t it? There are a myriad of reasons to explain why that almost always happens, and they can all be found in Middle-Earth. From The Lord of the Rings (in which, for the purposes of this article, I will include The Hobbit as the prelude to that trilogy) through The Silmarillion, Tolkien established a blueprint for world-building that is often duplicated and – in the opinion of this writer – seldom rivaled. So, it is with a humble bow of gratitude that I begin this discussion, skimming over – ever so much more than actually delving into – the characters of Tolkien.

            Without going name-by-name through the Tolkienverse, a few things were clear to me when I first read The Lord of the Rings. It came across as an able-bodied alternative to the story of King Arthur, serving as a mythological template for all of Europe… or at least as it might have been seen through the eyes of a World War I veteran.

            While others have gone so far as to draw direct lines between Tolkien and the writers he read while growing up in England in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I will take this tack and see if I can hammer it home.

            I could argue that Star Wars is simply a ramped-up Space Opera version of the tales of Middle-Earth; it would be more charitable to simply say the writer of the plight of the Rebel Alliance was impacted by Middle-Earth. There are similarities between the actual Han Solo and the assumed demeanor of the mysterious Ranger we would later come to call King Aragorn. We could also go on almost endlessly about how Sauron and Emperor Palpatine attended the same charm school… and how the One Ring definitely had some Force-like capabilities… but getting into that discussion might cause us to miss the train I believe John wanted us to catch.

            A constant running rampant through the very core of Middle-Earth was the perspective of Good versus Evil. Whether the struggle was internalized or was the means through which the story progressed, Tolkien’s characters were landmarks of humanity, embracing the very best and worst of our kind. After I initiated my research into the pages I cherish, it struck me that there was indeed a message tucked away in the folds of fantasy, one that only makes me admire the skill of the architect of this world even more.

            The Seven Deadly Sins…

            The Elves of Middle-Earth are truly magnificent creatures. Imbued with magic, and close to nature, they are the pinnacle of skill and power. And yet, despite their elevated position, they often trip over their pride, failing to take necessary action when the moment is thrust upon them.

            The Dwarves are certainly good-hearted folk and are often comforted by the simple pleasures of life. But it is their greed and gluttony which leads them to their most troubled times; both for the King Under the Mountain and those who dug so deep that they disturbed Durin’s Bane, a Balrog.

            The Ents are among the oldest living creatures of Middle-Earth; powerful and noble creatures of the wood. Still, one does not have to go too far to find examples of sloth demonstrated by their kind. Cultural differences aside, taking an hour to say ‘hello’ while your own life is on the line is a hard point to defend.

            Furthermore, it is not an arduous task to see how Tolkien gives us examples of envy. Boromir is envious of Aragorn and Frodo… Éowyn is envious of Arwen… Faramir is envious of Boromir, Théoden is envious of just about everyone.. the list goes on and on.

            We have the One Ring to thank for being the embodiment of lust, and though the object is a character without one single line in the book, its message and meaning are very, very clear. As it lusts after its master, those who come in contact with the Ring must answer the challenge of giving into their lusts or maintaining their integrity. The picture and story of Gollum is the quintessential example of what it looks like to utterly fail that test. He therefore stands as the example of the fallibility of even the Hobbits. Few in Middle-Earth pass this test, and none of them are the basic definition of Human – begging the question of what was Tolkien trying to tell us about ourselves.

            An answer to that question might be found in the Hobbit, often standing as incarnate versions of the Seven Heavenly Virtues throughout the story. While they are not infallible, the pages of Tolkien are teeming with examples of the Hobbits demonstrating acts of prudence, temperance, courage, justice, faith, hope, and charity (many of them observed before the dwarves even depart from the home of Bilbo Baggins).

            There is one more point I came across in my readings and life experience, though it was not until I observed it in the film Starman that I was enlightened enough to where I could recognize it in other offerings. While no one Human succeeds in their test of the One Ring, something happens when Humans are united against a common foe. It is as Starman (Jeff Bridges) said to Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith), ‘Humans are at their best when things are worst’. It is also at those times that we will find Humans truly united. We are simply looking for those Gandalfs and Aragorns, those who are larger than life and much greater than the normal confines of humanity, so we can name the nexus point around which we will gather and find the means to flourish.

            But before any campaign can get underway, secure yourself a Hobbit in your heart. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a little magic and fortitude on your side as we address the obstacles of life and our existence. So keep an eye out for the Elves and Dwarves that we will no doubt encounter along the way. And for goodness sake, make sure you’re wearing your shirt made of mithrill!!!

By G Russell Gaynor


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