The Lord of the Rings

by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Characters Discussed

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Frodo Baggins

Frodo Baggins, the principal protagonist. Frodo is a hobbit, a member of a diminutive, peace-loving race that inhabits the Shire, a rural area in the northwest of Middle-earth. From his Uncle Bilbo, Frodo inherits a magic ring that confers the power of invisibility upon its wearer. Although he at first regards it as merely a useful toy, he comes to learn that it is in fact the Ruling Ring, an enormously powerful talisman created and lost by Sauron, the malevolent Dark Lord, ages before. Should Sauron recover the Ring, he will become powerful enough to plunge Middle-earth into an age of darkness. The Ring is a potent weapon that enables its wearer to control the wills of others, but it is inherently evil, inevitably corrupting its possessors. Rather than attempt to use it to defeat Sauron, therefore, Frodo seeks to destroy it. This, however, can be done only where the Ring was made: in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom, in the heart of Sauron’s kingdom. Pursued by Sauron’s emissaries—including monsters such as Orcs, Trolls, and the terrifying Ringwraiths—Frodo and a handful of companions undertake the apparently hopeless quest of carrying the Ring to Mount Doom. Along the way, Frodo bears the colossal burden of the Ring, which exerts an inexorable pressure upon his mind and spirit. He yields to its temptation only when he is on the point of accomplishing his quest, claiming the Ring for himself as he stands by the fiery fissures of Mount Doom. He is saved at the last moment by Gollum, who bites the Ring—and a finger—from Frodo’s hand and falls into the abyss, destroying the Ring and vanquishing Sauron. A small, unassuming member of an obscure race, Frodo is outwardly ordinary, an unlikely hero in a titanic struggle for world supremacy, yet his simplicity and essential goodness give him the ability to resist the Ring’s pull far longer than a seemingly more powerful character could. Although he is terribly worn, Frodo is ennobled by his long ordeal. A somewhat bourgeois and self-interested country squire at the story’s beginning, he becomes a saintlike figure by its conclusion.

Samwise (Sam) Gamgee

Samwise (Sam) Gamgee, Frodo’s faithful servant and companion, who accompanies him for the duration of the quest. Like Frodo, Sam begins the story as a cheerful but simple character and unlikely hero; he too gains in dignity and stature over the course of the tale. Although he leaves the Shire as a working-class gardener’s son, he returns vastly broadened by his adventures. He becomes the mayor of Hobbiton, the Shire’s principal community.

Meriadoc (Merry) Brandybuck

Meriadoc (Merry) Brandybuck, a young hobbit, one of Frodo’s companions. Merry earns renown by helping to kill the chief Ringwraith during the major battle of the War of the Ring. Upon returning, he leads the hobbits in freeing the Shire, which has fallen under the control of a band of evil men.

Peregrin (Pippin) Took

Peregrin (Pippin) Took, another of Frodo’s companions, also a young hobbit. In Gondor, Pippin helps to save the life of the Lord Faramir; in the climactic battle, he kills a huge Troll and is nearly killed himself.


Gandalf, also known as Mithrandir, a wizard, an old-looking but seemingly ageless man with various magical skills, notably a control over fires and lights. Accompanying Frodo and the others, he is pulled into an abyss by a powerful demon and apparently killed. He returns from death with heightened powers, and it becomes clear that he is in fact an angelic emissary sent to Middle-earth to oppose the forces of darkness. The leader of the...

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resistance to Sauron, Gandalf is the principal architect of the allied victory in the War of the Ring.


Aragorn, initially known to the hobbits only as Strider, a wandering man expert in the ways of the wild. After Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin flee the Shire with the Ringwraiths in pursuit, Aragorn leads the terrified hobbits through the northern wilderness to the safety of Rivendell. There, they learn that he is in fact the heir of the ancient kings of Middle-earth. After Gandalf’s fall, Aragorn again leads Frodo and his companions on the quest to destroy the Ring. His lineage is revealed to the world when he arrives in Gondor, the principal kingdom of the southwest and the chief bulwark against Sauron’s forces. Although Gandalf is the spiritual leader and grand strategist of the allied campaign, Aragorn becomes its military and tactical head. After Sauron’s defeat, he is crowned under the name King Elessar, and he works to restore the former glory of his kingdom.


Gimli, a Dwarf, one of a race of short, tough people expert in mining and metalwork and noted for their use of axes in battle. Gimli is one of the nine members of the company that sets out from Rivendell on the quest to destroy the Ring.


Legolas, an Elf, a member of an ancient race of tall, beautiful, and supremely talented people who live in near-perfect harmony with nature. An expert bowman, he is another member of the company. Although Elves and Dwarves are historical enemies, he and Gimli become close friends.


Boromir, a nobleman of Gondor who joins the company in Rivendell. A valiant, powerful warrior, he nevertheless is unable to resist the corrupting force of the Ring, which he wants to use as a weapon against Sauron. Boromir’s attempt to take the Ring from Frodo by force leads to the splitting of the fellowship. When Frodo flees from him, he repents; shortly thereafter, he is killed defending Merry and Pippin from a band of Orcs.


Gollum, also known as Smeágol, a pathetic, shriveled, formerly hobbitlike creature who long possessed the Ring, which has driven him insane. Consumed by desire for it, he pursues Frodo to the summit of Mount Doom, where he seizes the Ring but falls to his death. A tormented being, he is perhaps the most complex and interesting character in the book. After Frodo and Sam leave the rest of the company, they capture Gollum, who promises to act as their guide on the journey to Mount Doom. Along the way, Gollum grows to love and respect Frodo, and he is nearly redeemed; sadly, Sam inadvertently interferes at the critical moment. Gollum then betrays the hobbits by leading them to Shelob’s lair.


Sauron, also known as The Dark Lord, an enormously powerful, malevolent spirit who rules over the desolate land of Mordor in the southeast of Middle-earth. He lost the Ring, which contains much of his power, in an epic battle ages earlier. Having rebuilt his armies of Orcs and Trolls into a force of overwhelming strength, he initiates a frantic search for the Ring—the only weapon that could defeat him—before launching a campaign of conquest. Sauron personifies the ruthless will to power, but his strength is also his weakness: He cannot comprehend that anyone in possession of the Ring would not use it to dominate others. He is thus blind to the central point of the allied strategy and fails to defend against the Ring’s destruction.

The Ringwraiths

The Ringwraiths, also known as the Black Riders, Sauron’s chief servants. Ghostly and terrifying spirits of men, they are invisible unless clothed, and they are able to sense the Ring’s presence. Dressed in black and riding black horses, they pursue the hobbits from the Shire to Rivendell. Later, mounted on huge, predatory flying reptiles, they reappear to daunt the allied troops.


Elrond, the half-human, half-Elf ruler of Rivendell, the northern haven where the representatives of the “free peoples” (Elves, Dwarves, men, and hobbits) meet to discuss the fate of the Ring. Elrond takes little direct part in the War of the Ring, but his wisdom is revered by all; it is his advice that convinces the council to seek the Ring’s destruction.


Galadriel, an Elf queen who rules the forest realm of Lothlórien, where the company of the Ring takes refuge after Gandalf’s fall. Wise, powerful, and supremely beautiful, she rejects Frodo’s offer to give her the Ring, recognizing that it would turn her into a tyrant.


Celeborn, Galadriel’s husband, an Elf king.


Théoden, the elderly king of Rohan, a broad realm of grassy plains to the north of Gondor. Rohan, which is renowned for its horses and its cavalry, is Gondor’s traditional ally. In his dotage, however, Théoden has fallen under the sway of Wormtongue, an evil counselor in the pay of the treacherous wizard Saruman. When war threatens, therefore, Théoden at first seeks to remain neutral. Gandalf visits Rohan and exposes Wormtongue’s treachery; reinvigorated, Théoden leads his troops heroically. He is killed at the climactic moment of the war’s greatest battle.


Éomer, Théoden’s nephew, who becomes king of Rohan after Théoden’s death. A mighty warrior, he becomes Aragorn’s friend and steadfast ally.


Éowyn, Éomer’s sister. Distraught over her unrequited love for Aragorn, she disguises herself as a man and rides to battle with Rohan’s army. With the aid of Merry, she kills the chief Ringwraith, but she is badly wounded. While convalescing, she falls in love with Faramir, whom she marries after the war’s end.


Treebeard, also known as Fangorn, the chief of the Ents, large, ancient, physically powerful treelike beings who care for the forests of Middle-earth. After meeting Merry and Pippin, who have fled into his forest to escape Orcs, Treebeard decides to lead the Ents to battle against his treacherous neighbor Saruman.


Quickbeam, also known as Bregalad, a young, talkative Ent who befriends Merry and Pippin.


Saruman, a wizard who resembles Gandalf in appearance and power but who has forsaken the side of right. Abandoning his role as a leader of the free peoples, he creates his own army of Orcs and enters into league with Sauron, but he betrays his ally by continuing to seek the Ring for himself. His armies are defeated by the forces of Rohan, and his fortress is smashed by the Ents; he is thus left stranded in his impregnable tower, reviled by all. He reappears late in the story as Sharkey, the leader of the ruffians who devastate the Shire in Frodo’s absence. After his men are defeated by the hobbits, he is killed by Wormtongue, his former servant.


Wormtongue, also known as Gríma, Théoden’s corrupt counselor and an agent of Saruman. When Saruman scorns him before a mob of angry hobbits, Wormtongue cuts the wizard’s throat, and he is in turn killed by the crowd.


Faramir, Boromir’s younger brother, a nobleman of Gondor. He assists Frodo and Sam on their journey and is later wounded in battle. After his recovery, Aragorn appoints him lord over one of Gondor’s provinces, and he marries Éowyn.


Denethor, the father of Boromir and Faramir. A proud, bitter man, he is the last in the long line of regents who have ruled Gondor since the disappearance of the last king. He resents the coming of Aragorn, whom he sees as an uncouth pretender come to supplant him. Eventually, jealousy and despair drive him mad. When he believes that Sauron is about to overcome Gondor, he burns himself to death; he attempts to burn his wounded son Faramir as well, but he is stopped by Pippin and Beregond.


Beregond, a soldier of Gondor and a member of Denethor’s personal guard. He earns Denethor’s hatred by resisting the order to burn Faramir, an act for which Aragorn later rewards him.


Bergil, Beregond’s son, a boy who acts as Pippin’s guide to Gondor’s capital.

Tom Bombadil

Tom Bombadil, a clownish but mysterious and powerful being who twice rescues the hobbits soon after they leave the Shire. Reputed to be the oldest being in Middle-earth, he is able to control the forces of nature within the bounds of his own small territory.


Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife, a river sprite.

Barliman Butterbur

Barliman Butterbur, the proprietor of the Prancing Pony, an inn in the village of Bree where the hobbits find shelter during their flight to Rivendell.

Bill Ferny

Bill Ferny, an evil, sullen resident of Bree who assists the Ringwraiths.


Glorfindel, an Elf lord who helps the hobbits on the last stage of the journey to Rivendell.


Gwaihir, the chief of a race of giant talking eagles. Early in the narrative, Gwaihir helps Gandalf escape from Saruman’s prison; later, he and his relatives save Frodo and Sam from the eruption of Mount Doom.

Arwen Undómiel

Arwen Undómiel, Elrond’s daughter, who renounces immortality—the birthright of the Elves—to marry Aragorn.


Shadowfax, Gandalf’s horse, the fastest in Middle-earth.

Prince Imrahil

Prince Imrahil, a nobleman of Gondor.


Ghân-buri-Ghân, the chief of a race of wild men who inhabit the wilderness between Gondor and Rohan.


Shelob, a huge, ancient spider to whose lair Gollum leads Frodo and Sam.

Bilbo Baggins

Bilbo Baggins, Frodo’s uncle, whose finding of the Ring is recounted in Tolkien’s earlier The Hobbit (1938). Bilbo appears only briefly in The Lord of the Rings.

Farmer Maggot

Farmer Maggot, a prosperous hobbit who assists Frodo.

Fredegar (Fatty) Bolger

Fredegar (Fatty) Bolger, a likable but somewhat timid hobbit who declines to accompany Frodo.

Hamfast (Gaffer) Gamgee

Hamfast (Gaffer) Gamgee, Sam’s father, a retired gardener and village oracle.

Rose (Rosie) Cotton

Rose (Rosie) Cotton, Sam’s sweetheart, who later becomes his wife.

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Bilbo’s cousin by marriage, a cantankerous, disagreeable relative who seeks Frodo’s property. She redeems herself by her spirited resistance of the ruffians who occupy the Shire.

Lotho Sackville-Baggins

Lotho Sackville-Baggins, Lobelia’s worthless son, who conspires with Saruman to take over the Shire. Installed as a puppet ruler, he loses control of the ruffians and is murdered by Wormtongue.


Círdan, a mystical, visionary Elf who is the keeper of the Grey Havens, the gateway to the immortal lands of the Elves across the western sea. At the story’s conclusion, Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel board a ship at the Grey Havens and leave Middle-earth forever.


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Tolkien has, on occasion, been criticized by mainstream literary critics for simplistic and stereotypical characterization and, when compared to the detailed characters of Henry James or Faulkner, his Gandalf and Aragorn do come across as thin. Such criticism, however, is largely a matter of condemning an apple for not being an orange. When examining Tolkien's use of character development, his technique should be compared not to that of the masters of the realistic tradition, but rather to that of the writers of the romance and epic, both medieval and modern. Within this context, Gandalf, Aragorn, and the rest seem surprisingly well rounded. Like most of the great heroes of romance, from King Arthur to Ivanhoe, from Captain Ahab to Sherlock Holmes, they have a vitality that induces the reader to care what happens to them. Similarly, in his comic portrayal of Sam Gamgee, although it has occasionally caused him to be accused of class prejudice, Tolkien has transcended the forelock-tugging stereotype of the British bumpkin and created a living, growing character, someone who is fully capable of both love and heroism.

Finally there is the matter of Frodo Baggins, Tolkien's protagonist. In Frodo, Tolkien does approach the complexity of character which one is accustomed to finding in the modern novel. The Hobbit's growth from good-hearted but shallow young country squire to suffering tragic hero is perhaps the novel's greatest triumph. Much of the latter half of The Lord of the Rings can be seen as consisting of two parallel movements. On the one hand, the great armies of Gondor and Mordor maneuver openly for their chance at military victory while, on the other hand, Frodo, sometimes accompanied by Sam, attempts to slip in the back way. Ironically, of course, one realizes that the military campaign — at the center of most epic fiction — is, in The Lord of the Rings, actually peripheral to Frodo's personal struggle both with the monsters that beset him in Mordor and, more importantly, with the monster that is within his own heart.