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...
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