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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Who is the single most important character in LOTR?
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Fionnan2
Rivendell

Aug 20 2007, 10:49pm

Post #1 of 33 (380 views)
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Who is the single most important character in LOTR? Can't Post

 

Fionnan


sevilodorf
Gondor


Aug 20 2007, 11:58pm

Post #2 of 33 (202 views)
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Sauron [In reply to] Can't Post

Without his desire for power, none of the story would have happened.

Sev's home away from home: http://burpingtroll.com


Ataahua
Superuser / Moderator


Aug 21 2007, 12:57am

Post #3 of 33 (218 views)
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Hmmm - it's a toss-up [In reply to] Can't Post

between Melkor and Feanor. Without the Silmarils and Feanor's pride the Noldor wouldn't have returned to Middle-earth and the long, dramatic doom around the jewels have affected so many would not have occurred. But Melkor caused so much damage to the landscape and lives of Elves and Men - and even if the Noldor hadn't returned, Melkor would have had Men to be evil towards.

But without the Elves there wouldn't have been Orcs (according to one theory of the Orcs' creation). And no Noldor in Middle-earth means no Celebrimbor to be tricked into making Rings of Power...

I can't decide between the two.


Edited to add: Sorry, I'm thinking of the wider world of LOTR, not just the book itself. If we're sticking to the book, then Sauron - for the reasons Sevilodorf mentioned.

.

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


Ataahua's stories


(This post was edited by Ataahua on Aug 21 2007, 12:58am)


Penthe
Gondor


Aug 21 2007, 3:09am

Post #4 of 33 (194 views)
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Frodo [In reply to] Can't Post

Because without him the story would just finish. If Sauron won the war (which he would have surely) there would be no point to the story, because all potential for growth, change and development would cease immediately. And Winston Smith (the orc version at least) would rewrite history so that none of Sauron's discomfort would ever be known to anyone.

My other thought was immediately 'the reader' because not only is there a real one (i.e. thou and me), but also the ever important and much argued about implied reader. I think old friend implied reader is the most important character in the book, because that character shapes and determines everything that the narrator tells us.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 21 2007, 7:23am

Post #5 of 33 (184 views)
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Middle-Earth / [In reply to] Can't Post

 

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.

(This post was edited by FarFromHome on Aug 21 2007, 7:23am)


Darkstone
Immortal


Aug 21 2007, 12:31pm

Post #6 of 33 (192 views)
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Yup. [In reply to] Can't Post

It's the world itself that every reader falls in love with.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”



(This post was edited by Darkstone on Aug 21 2007, 12:33pm)


Elven
Valinor


Aug 21 2007, 12:59pm

Post #7 of 33 (164 views)
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The Fellowship ... [In reply to] Can't Post

I see it as a character or a single identity - complex, yet archetypicaly, composed of splinter personalities, which are individual, yet opderate as one.


Heart
Elven


SILVERCHAIRS Daniel Johns gets the crowd going at the 'Big Day Out Festival' at Minas Tirith before Denethors famous stage dive.


Tolkien was a Capricorn!
..*sing & sway* "All we are saying ..Is Give Pete A Chance" ...
"Your friends are with you Peter"


Beren IV
Gondor


Aug 21 2007, 7:02pm

Post #8 of 33 (178 views)
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I quite agree [In reply to] Can't Post

I wonder, though, what Tolkien would have said. That might matter a whole lot depending on when he was asked.

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


Darkstone
Immortal


Aug 21 2007, 7:45pm

Post #9 of 33 (164 views)
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Well... [In reply to] Can't Post

I bet Tolkien would have said Sindarin.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”



FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 21 2007, 8:44pm

Post #10 of 33 (148 views)
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Or perhaps the Story / [In reply to] Can't Post

 

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Darkstone
Immortal


Aug 21 2007, 9:00pm

Post #11 of 33 (162 views)
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Dunno [In reply to] Can't Post

 "The invention of languages is the foundation. The 'stories' were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows."
-Letter219

"Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real, but it is true."
- Letter 264.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”



FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 21 2007, 9:31pm

Post #12 of 33 (157 views)
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That first quote [In reply to] Can't Post

really clinches it, doesn't it? Tolkien's answer to the question is right there!

Somehow I still find his languages disappointingly incomplete, though. He seems to spend a lot of time figuring out how to represent his Elvish languages in English spelling, and then creates Elvish scripts but mostly uses them to transliterate English! And then he writes "translations" of non-existent Elvish texts, like the Elvish poetry in LotR, or the CoH. It's as if what he really likes most is the interface between languages. An interesting topic that, as a part-time translator, I like to think about myself sometimes.

I think it leads to the bigger question of "translating" between cultures and ways of thinking. Even translating between two modern languages involves thinking about the cultural differences that make people react to the same words in different ways. For me, one of the interesting things about LotR is the sense that the story is "translating" the experiences of people who saw the world quite differently from us. It's a bit like the sense you get in Beowulf too, although there the poet wasn't talking to us at all, and we're left trying to understand things that must have been familiar in his culture but that we know nothing about.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Donry
Tol Eressea


Aug 22 2007, 3:44am

Post #13 of 33 (145 views)
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At first I wanted to say... [In reply to] Can't Post

Bilbo, as without him, certain members of the White Council may not have deduced the race of Hobbits were so strong willed when it came to the ring.
But Middle Earth is an answer I like a lot....I have may have to go with that one.

What's the matter, James? No glib remark? No pithy comeback?"


a.s.
Valinor


Aug 22 2007, 11:46am

Post #14 of 33 (147 views)
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Frodo [In reply to] Can't Post

Frodo is the microcosm through whch we understand the entirety. LOTR is Frodo's story, and everything that is important about the fate of mortal and immortal beings in Arda is played out in the context of Frodo's leaving the Shire, travelling through torment, falling and being saved on Mt. Doom, and retiring to the West.

Without Frodo's story, it's just an adventure tale with great settings and unusual depth.

a.s.

"an seileachan"

"The success of love is in the loving - it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done."

~~Mother Theresa


Curious
Half-elven

Aug 30 2007, 8:08pm

Post #15 of 33 (121 views)
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God. [In reply to] Can't Post

For me, the whole book is about God, and faith in God. The fact that God is never named doesn't mean He isn't present, always and everywhere, throughout the book. People often refer to Him as luck or chance, as Gandalf frequently notes. Bilbo sometimes referred to Him as the Road, which is not so different from the Way or the Tao. Eru appears by implication, as in the following quote from Gandalf:

"So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in the world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought."

Instead of God (or Eru, or Illuvatar) I could say Manwe, but Manwe was really just God's steward, just as Gandalf is Manwe's steward. And then what of the other Valar? It all goes back to God, even if we have to read The Silmarillion and Tolkien's letters to understand what he implies or hints at in the text of LotR.


Pallando
Lorien


Aug 30 2007, 8:18pm

Post #16 of 33 (123 views)
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Air (as long as we have digressed from "character") [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I wonder, though, what Tolkien would have said. That might matter a whole lot depending on when he was asked.



__________________________________________
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?


Pallando
Lorien


Aug 30 2007, 8:30pm

Post #17 of 33 (114 views)
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Not... [In reply to] Can't Post

There's Eru/Iluvatar, and whatever other synonyms you can dig up, but "God" is not a character of Tolkien. And for good reason I believe.

Nice of you to drop by, C.!

P


__________________________________________
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?


Beren IV
Gondor


Aug 31 2007, 4:22pm

Post #18 of 33 (115 views)
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I don't understand [In reply to] Can't Post

Were you replying to my quote?

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


Pallando
Lorien


Aug 31 2007, 7:53pm

Post #19 of 33 (132 views)
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'Well, no, to speak in courtesy, no,'... [In reply to] Can't Post

   
Not directly, but yes, partly and inclusively. The question was about the "...single most important character..." and the writer was seemingly asking about a sentient character in the story. I know...sometimes I have less patience than I probably should when someone decides to act clever and it doesn't work (imho). And I thought this thread just got way out of hand, with answers like Middle-earth, the "story", God, for heaven's sake, and, of course, the universal justification: in the absence of these there would be on LotR. So I said "air" to illustrate that point in reduc. ad abs.

But no, not directed to you directly, B. Cheers.

P

'Well, yes, to speak in courtesy, yes,'




__________________________________________
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?


Beren IV
Gondor


Sep 1 2007, 3:07am

Post #20 of 33 (125 views)
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I'll explain, then: [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien, as he grew older, became more and more obsessed with the religious significance of what he was writing, and indeed the religious significance of everything, to the exclusion of reality. As such, as Curious says, in his later years, Tolkien's answer would have been God. Earlier in his life, however, Tolkien would have agreed that the main character is obviously Frodo, although at secondary times in the book, Aragorn and Sam both fill the primary role.

If you ask me, I don't think that there is a single main character in LotR, mainly because LotR follows two major plots simultaneously: Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring, and Aragorn's quest to reunite mankind. LotR really is two intertwined stories, each with its own central hero, not a single narrative. Of the two, Frodo's quest is clearly the greater, so that makes Frodo the main character - but to say that is to simplify it to the point of irrelevance.

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


Pallando
Lorien


Sep 1 2007, 7:14pm

Post #21 of 33 (106 views)
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I have to respectfully disagree... [In reply to] Can't Post

That (your words:)

"Tolkien, as he grew older, became more and more obsessed with the religious significance of what he was writing,..."

First of all, I think it's somewhat irrelevant. What does it matter what was going through JRR's head later in his life? We're talking about a book he wrote in the 40's and published in the early 50's, and the Sil was put together by his son after he died. So what is relevant vis-a-vis the author's "mind" when he's an old man in this context? None, imho. What is important and what one should be concerned with is what was on Tolkien's mind when he was actively writing his work. And as he says in Letters (I can't quote specifically here and now), Tolkien explicitly has denied being concerned about the religious aspects of his writings. But maybe you are speaking of another time. But whatever, his later thoughts have no bearing on what he earlier wrote, again imho.

Also, in HoME, Christopher said that it was consistency with cosmology and astronomy (early flat earth, light from trees, etc. that classical physics can show to be impossible) with which Tolkien was concerned with in his later years, and seemingly, considerably more than his concern for consistency with Church doctrine as you imply. Christopher helped convinced him it wasn't worth the time to make everything consistent with scientific fact and besides - no one cared!! The light from two trees is a beautiful fantasy and everyone knew it was fantasy.

Finally, knowledgeable and respected posters on this board, erstwhile or no, may also have hidden agendas to attempt to 'slide in', if you're not closely observant. One must be able to identify them when they appear, and see them "in their fair cloak" lest one person's agenda develop into "fact" in such a closed setting as ours. Cheers.

P


__________________________________________
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?


squire
Valinor


Sep 1 2007, 8:05pm

Post #22 of 33 (105 views)
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Asking for a couple of points of clarification [In reply to] Can't Post

Could you clarify a little bit what you mean by:

"Christopher helped convinced [sic] him it wasn't worth the time to make everything consistent with scientific fact"

I've never seen many references to C. Tolkien's ability to affect his father's work when the two were collaborating. Can you tell us where you came across this example?

Also, you said

"What is important and what one should be concerned with is what was on Tolkien's mind when he was actively writing his work. And as he says in Letters ..., Tolkien explicitly has denied being concerned about the religious aspects of his writings."

If I understand you, you are saying that Tolkien's cosmological or theological jiggering of Silmarillion-type concepts, like Elvish reincarnation, the flat earth, and the possibility of Divine redemption in Middle-earth, generally took place in the 1950s, after LotR was finished, and so shouldn't be invoked in a discussion of how important God "as a character" was to him when writing LotR.

But in looking these things up, I see that Tolkien said (perhaps in the very letter you are referring to) that "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision". (Letter 142, Dec 1953) On the other hand, around the same time, he pointed out "the only thing that annoyed me [about the criticism of LotR] was one that it 'contained no religion', when as he puts it, "It is a monotheistic world of 'natural theology'"; on the other hand he concedes that "the 'Third Age' was not a Christian world.' (all from Letter 165, summer 1955)

I take several points from Tolkien's letters here: one, it seems unwise to say as you do that "Tolkien explicitly has denied being concerned about the religious aspects of his writings"; two, the writing of LotR took 13 years, over which time Tolkien's understanding of his own "intentions" changed - his use of the phrase "unconscious" shows that even he might concede that an author's "intentions" can hardly be the only path to understanding his work; three, just as we had a rather lively debate a few months ago about what the "first words spoken" in LotR were, because the question turned out to be less discriminate than the poor poster had guessed, so too here: "The most important character" is just not a very interesting way to think about LotR, compared to the one of who the characters are, and what their respective roles in the book are. God is certainly in there, one way or another, I'd say.

But if pressed to take the single most conventional approach to the question, I'd agree that Frodo is probably it. Though I like Aragorn a lot more.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
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FarFromHome
Valinor


Sep 1 2007, 8:24pm

Post #23 of 33 (114 views)
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Well, you're right of course [In reply to] Can't Post

that "Middle-Earth" and "the Story" aren't actually characters, so maybe I shouldn't have considered them in answering the question.

But I wasn't just being flippant. Middle-Earth is like a character to me - it's probably more vivid and memorable than any one character in the book.

And what made me think of the Story itself as a character is Tolkien's On Fairy Stories, where he talks about the importance of Story as an aim in itself. Frodo and Sam also have a long discussion about stories, which for me is one of the most interesting passages in LotR.

And unlike in a conventional novel, where usually one character is the focus and everyone else revolves around them, I don't think that's the case for LotR - all the characters are there to serve the story, and no one character is singled out. Of course, Frodo is the most obvious candidate for "most important" character, but after a certain point we no longer see his thoughts, and Sam becomes central to the narrative. Then there's the other storyline, where Aragorn is "most important", but again we seldom see his thoughts, and it's mostly as an agent of the story that he's important.

So if by "most important" we mean most memorable, most detailed and closely-drawn, I think Middle-Earth is a good candidate. But if "most important" means most necessary to the plot, i.e. the character without whom the story would not work, then it's almost impossible to say. The story is so tighly plotted that the Ring could not have been destroyed if any one of a dozen characters had acted differently than they did. Frodo, Sam, Gollum, Gandalf, Aragorn, Theoden, Eowyn, Merry, Faramir, and probably a number of other characters are all equally important to the extent that without them the quest would have failed. That's why I decided not to pick any one of them. But if you think we should stick to a simple vote on one of the cast of characters, then I would choose Sam. Tolkien called him the "chief hero" of LotR, and that's good enough for me.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Pallando
Lorien


Sep 1 2007, 9:29pm

Post #24 of 33 (101 views)
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Fair enough. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
that "Middle-Earth" and "the Story" aren't actually characters, so maybe I shouldn't have considered them in answering the question.

But I wasn't just being flippant. Middle-Earth is like a character to me - it's probably more vivid and memorable than any one character in the book.

And what made me think of the Story itself as a character is Tolkien's On Fairy Stories, where he talks about the importance of Story as an aim in itself. Frodo and Sam also have a long discussion about stories, which for me is one of the most interesting passages in LotR.

And unlike in a conventional novel, where usually one character is the focus and everyone else revolves around them, I don't think that's the case for LotR - all the characters are there to serve the story, and no one character is singled out. Of course, Frodo is the most obvious candidate for "most important" character, but after a certain point we no longer see his thoughts, and Sam becomes central to the narrative. Then there's the other storyline, where Aragorn is "most important", but again we seldom see his thoughts, and it's mostly as an agent of the story that he's important.

So if by "most important" we mean most memorable, most detailed and closely-drawn, I think Middle-Earth is a good candidate. But if "most important" means most necessary to the plot, i.e. the character without whom the story would not work, then it's almost impossible to say. The story is so tighly plotted that the Ring could not have been destroyed if any one of a dozen characters had acted differently than they did. Frodo, Sam, Gollum, Gandalf, Aragorn, Theoden, Eowyn, Merry, Faramir, and probably a number of other characters are all equally important to the extent that without them the quest would have failed. That's why I decided not to pick any one of them. But if you think we should stick to a simple vote on one of the cast of characters, then I would choose Sam. Tolkien called him the "chief hero" of LotR, and that's good enough for me.



__________________________________________
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?


Pallando
Lorien


Sep 1 2007, 9:58pm

Post #25 of 33 (102 views)
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Thanks for the reply... [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree and appreciate that it's important to keep the discussion honest by providing references and requesting them when you might not accept a statement on its face (even more so than ensuring that folks know to whom a typographical mistake belongs), but as I've recently moved, some of my HoMEs are still boxed and I was writing from memory. Not an excuse here but I'll keep my eye out for what gave me the notion you question.

Your statements regarding "theological jiggering" I think misses my point or perhaps I was unclear in expressing it. Regardless of Tolkien's second thoughts on LR's religiosity, my point was that he (according to CT) had serious concerns about his early world holding to Kepler's Laws: celestial mechanics (an area I'm very familiar with). It's not put in those specific words in HoME or anywhere else, but in my trying to be specific about what I think were JRRT's concerns from post-LR publishing, it was those.

I'm not going to traipse all through HoMEs today so I can put a handy quote in, but my impression as I read those works was that Tolkien was now most concerned with SCIENCE and not looking uneducated in their celestial laws, (such as Kepler's) and so he felt the need for round earths and such. CT had some role in talking JRR out of this complete "rejiggering" the Sil that would be required to be so consistent. If you still think this needs citation, by all means tell me and I'll find it sometime soon.

P.


__________________________________________
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?

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