The enduring conflict between good and evil is the underlying theme of the trilogy, but Tolkien develops others in connection with it. He explores the positive and negative sides of power, the nature of heroism, and the role of friendship. To Frodo Baggins, favorite nephew of the ring-finder Bilbo Baggins, is entrusted the task of saving Middle-earth from the control of the master of evil, Sauron. Frodo's task reverses the basic quest pattern: instead of finding a treasure, Frodo is sent to destroy what Sauron values above all, the One Ring.
Sauron had poured much of his power into the One Ring to strengthen his control over the nineteen Rings of Power. Of these nineteen rings, only the Three made by the elves for themselves have never been touched by Sauron and his evil. The Seven, originally distributed to dwarf leaders, have been destroyed and do not affect events in the trilogy. The major concentration of evil confronted by Frodo comes from the Ringwraith, or Nazgul, who are men enslaved by Sauron through the Nine Rings. Sauron, having learned from Gollum the whereabouts of the One Ring, sends the Nazgul to recover it. Since the defeat in which the Ring was cut from his hand, Sauron himself can no longer assume a physical form. He can, however, act through those who have submitted their minds and wills to his service. The nature of the Rings of Power and of the Ringwraiths is made clear to Frodo before he accepts the responsibility for destroying the Ring. The wizard Gandalf and Elrond, great leader of the elves of Middle-earth, determine who will accompany Frodo on his quest. Since there are nine enslaved Nazgul, they include nine individuals in the Fellowship of the Ring, representing the people of Middleearth: four hobbits (Frodo, his servant Sam, and two young friends, Pippin and Merry); the elf Legolas; the dwarf Gimli; two men, Aragorn and Boromir; and Gandalf himself.
The fellows all demonstrate some aspect of heroism. Gandalf has about him an aura of supernatural power. He risks his life and his power when he is pitted against other supernatural forces: his fellow wizard Saruman, turned evil by desire for the Ring; the Balrog of Moria, who leads him to at least a symbolic death; and the Lord of the Nazgul, who is reinforced by the great strength of Sauron. Although Gandalf is clearly a hero, his heroism is beyond human imitation.
Human heroes abound in the...
(The entire section is 982 words.)